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Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments [1815]

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Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003). http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/861

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About this Title:

Principles of Politics, first published in 1815, is a “microcosm of [Constant’s] whole political philosophy and an expression of his political experience,” says Nicholas Capaldi in his Introduction. In Principles, Constant “explores many subjects: law, sovereignty, and representation; power and accountability; government, property and taxation; wealth and poverty; war, peace, and the maintenance of public order; and above all freedom, of the individual, of the press, and of religion… . Constant saw freedom as an organic phenomenon: to attack it in any particular way was to attack it generally.” While Constant’s fluid, dynamic style and lofty eloquence do not always make for easy reading, his text forms a coherent whole, and in his translation Dennis O’Keeffe has focused on retaining the “general elegance and subtle rhetoric” of the original. This translation is based on Etienne Hofmann’s critical edition of Principes de politique (1980), complete with Constant’s additions to the original work.

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This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [[i]]
Principles of Politics
Edition: current; Page: [[ii]]

Benjamin Constant

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Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
BENJAMIN CONSTANT
Edited by Etienne Hofmann
Translated from the French by Dennis O’Keeffe
Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi
Liberty Fund
Indianapolis
Edition: current; Page: [[iv]]

This book is published by Liberty Fund, Inc., a foundation established to encourage study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.

The cuneiform inscription that serves as our logo and as the design motif for our endpapers is the earliest-known written appearance of the word “freedom” (amagi), or “liberty.” It is taken from a clay document written about 2300 bc in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.

© 2003 by Liberty Fund, Inc. All rights reserved.

English translation of the Etienne Hofmann edition of Principes de politique of Benjamin Constant, by permission of Librairie Droz S.A., Geneva.

Originally published as Principes de politique applicables à tous les gouvernements, edited by Etienne Hofmann, Librairie Droz S.A., Geneva, 1980.

Frontispiece © Bettmann/CORBIS; after a painting by Lina Vallier

Printed in the United States of America

07 06 05 04 03 c 5 4 3 2 1

07 06 05 04 03 p 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Constant, Benjamin, 1767–1830.

[Principes de politique applicables à tous les gouvernements. English]

Principles of politics applicable to all governments / Benjamin Constant; edited by Etienne Hofmann; translated from the French by Dennis O’Keeffe; introduction by Nicholas Capaldi.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 0-86597-395-4 (alk. paper) — isbn 0-86597-396-2 (pbk.: alk. paper)

1. Liberalism—France. 2. Democracy—France. 3. France—Politics and government—1814–1830. I. Hofmann, Etienne. II. O’Keeffe, Dennis. III. Title.

jn2509.c6613 2003

320′.01—dc21

2003047474

Liberty Fund, Inc.

8335 Allison Pointe Trail, Suite 300

Indianapolis, Indiana 46250-1684

Edition: current; Page: [[v]]

CONTENTS

  • Translator’s Note xi
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction xvii
  • Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
    • Book I. On Received Ideas About the Scope of Political Authority 1
      • 1. The purpose of this work. 3
      • 2. Rousseau’s first principle on the origin of political authority. 6
      • 3. Rousseau’s second principle on the scope of political authority. 8
      • 4. Rousseau’s arguments for boundless political authority. 15
      • 5. That Rousseau’s error comes from his wanting to distinguish the prerogatives of society from those of the government. 17
      • 6. The consequences of Rousseau’s theory. 19
      • 7. On Hobbes. 21
      • 8. Hobbes’s opinion reproduced. 23
      • 9. On the inconsistency with which Rousseau has been reproached. 24
    • Book II. On the Principles to Replace Received Ideas on the Extent of Political Authority 29
      • 1. On the limitation of political authority. 31
      • 2. On the rights of the majority. 32
      • 3. On the organization of government when political power is not limited. 35
      • 4. Objection to the possibility of limiting political authority. 36
      • 5. On the limits of political authority restricted to a minimum. 38
      • 6. On individual rights when political authority is thus restricted. 39
      • 7. On the principle of utility substituted for the idea of individual rights. 39
      Edition: current; Page: [[vi]]
    • Book III. On Arguments and Hypotheses in Favor of the Extension of Political Authority 45
      • 1. On the extension of political authority beyond its necessary minimum, on the grounds of utility. 47
      • 2. On the hypotheses without which extension of political authority is illegitimate. 49
      • 3. Are governors necessarily less liable to error than the governed? 50
      • 4. Are governmental mistakes less dangerous than those of individuals? 55
      • 5. On the nature of the means political authority can use on the grounds of utility. 57
    • Book IV. On the Proliferation of the Laws 61
      • 1. Natural causes of the proliferation of the laws. 63
      • 2. The idea which usually develops about the effects which the proliferation of the laws has and the falsity of that idea. 63
      • 3. That the principal benefit which supporters of democratic government are looking for in the proliferation of the laws does not exist. 65
      • 4. On the corruption which the proliferation of the laws causes among the agents of the government. 66
      • 5. Another drawback of the proliferation of the laws. 67
    • Book V. On Arbitrary Measures 71
      • 1. On arbitrary measures and why people have always protested less about them than about attacks on property. 73
      • 2. On the grounds for arbitrary measures and the prerogative of preventing crimes. 74
      • 3. Specious argument in support of arbitrary government. 77
      • 4. On the effect of arbitrary measures in terms of moral life, industry, and the duration of governments. 78
      • 5. On the influence of arbitrary rule on the governors themselves. 80
    • Book VI. On Coups d’Etat 83
      • 1. On the admiration for coups d’Etat. 85
      • 2. On coups d’Etat in countries with written constitutions. 89
      • 3. The condition necessary to stop constitutional violations. 93
      Edition: current; Page: [[vii]]
    • Book VII. On Freedom of Thought 101
      • 1. The object of the following three books. 103
      • 2. On freedom of thought. 103
      • 3. On the expression of thought. 105
      • 4. Continuation of the same subject. 112
      • 5. Continuation of the same subject. 117
      • 6. Some necessary explication. 123
      • 7. Final observations. 124
    • Book VIII. On Religious Freedom 129
      • 1.Why religion was so often attacked by the men of the Enlightenment. 131
      • 2. On civil intolerance. 135
      • 3. On the proliferation of sects. 137
      • 4. On the maintenance of religion by government against the spirit of inquiry. 139
      • 5. On the reestablishment of religion by government. 140
      • 6. On the axiom that the people must have a religion. 141
      • 7. On the utilitarian case for religion. 142
      • 8. Another effect of the axiom that the people must have a religion. 143
      • 9. On tolerance when government gets involved. 144
      • 10. On the persecution of a religious belief. 144
    • Book IX. On Legal Safeguards 149
      • 1. On the independence of the courts. 151
      • 2. On the abridgment of due process. 153
      • 3. On punishments. 157
      • 4. On the prerogative of exercising mercy. 160
    • Book X. On the Action of Government with Regard to Property 163
      • 1.The purpose of this book. 165
      • 2. The natural division of the inhabitants of the same territory into two classes. 165
      • 3. On property. 167
      • 4. On the status property should occupy in political institutions 168
      • 5. On examples drawn from antiquity. 171
      • 6. On the proprietorial spirit. 173 Edition: current; Page: [[viii]]
      • 7. That territorial property alone brings together all the advantages of property. 174
      • 8. On property in public funds. 179
      • 9. On the amount of landed property which society has the right to insist upon for the exercise of political rights. 182
      • 10. That owners have no interest in abusing power vis-à-vis nonowners. 183
      • 11. On hereditary privileges compared to property. 185
      • 12. Necessary comment. 186
      • 13. On the best way of giving proprietors a large political influence. 190
      • 14. On the action of government on property. 192
      • 15. On laws which favor the accumulation of property in the same hands. 193
      • 16. On laws which enforce the wider spreading of property. 196
    • Book XI. On Taxation 203
      • 1.The object of this book. 205
      • 2. The first right of the governed with regard to taxation. 205
      • 3. The second right of the governed with regard to taxation. 207
      • 4. On various types of taxes. 207
      • 5. How taxation becomes contrary to individual rights. 212
      • 6. That taxes bearing on capital are contrary to individual rights. 214
      • 7. That the interest of the state in matters of taxation is consistent with individual rights. 215
      • 8. An incontestable axiom. 219
      • 9. The drawback of excessive taxation. 220
      • 10. A further drawback of excessive taxation. 221
    • Book XII. On government jurisdiction over economic activity and population 225
      • 1.Preliminary observation. 227
      • 2. On legitimate political jurisdiction vis-à-vis economic activity. 228
      • 3. That there are two branches of government intervention with regard to economic activity. 228
      • 4. On privileges and prohibitions. 229
      • 5. On the general effect of prohibitions. 247 Edition: current; Page: [[ix]]
      • 6. On things which push governments in this mistaken direction. 248
      • 7. On the supports offered by government. 251
      • 8. On the equilibrium of production. 255
      • 9. A final example of the adverse effects of government intervention. 258
      • 10. Conclusions from the above reflections. 259
      • 11. On government measures in relation to population. 260
    • Book XIII. On War 275
      • 1. From what point of view war can be considered as having advantages. 277
      • 2. On the pretexts for war. 279
      • 3. The effect of the politics of war on the domestic condition of nations. 282
      • 4. On safeguards against the war mania of governments. 286
      • 5. On the mode of forming and maintaining armies. 289
    • Book XIV. On Government Action on Enlightenment 295
      • 1. Questions to be dealt with in this book. 297
      • 2. On the value attributed to errors. 298
      • 3. On government in support of truth. 301
      • 4. On government protection of enlightenment. 304
      • 5. On the upholding of morality. 307
      • 6. On the contribution of government to education. 308
      • 7. On government duties vis-à-vis enlightenment. 315
    • Book XV. The Outcome of Preceding Discussion Relative to the Action of Government 319
      • 1. The outcome of the preceding discussion. 321
      • 2. On three pernicious ideas. 322
      • 3. On ideas of uniformity. 322
      • 4. Application of this principle to the composition of representative assemblies. 326
      • 5. Further thoughts on the preceding chapter. 328
      • 6. On ideas of stability. 338
      • 7. On premature ameliorations. 340
      • 8. On a false way of reasoning. 345
      Edition: current; Page: [[x]]
    • Book XVI. On Political Authority in the Ancient World 349
      • 1. Why among the ancients political authority could be more extensive than in modern times. 351
      • 2. The first difference between the social State of the ancients and that of modern times. 352
      • 3. The second difference. 353
      • 4. The third difference. 355
      • 5. The fourth difference. 358
      • 6. The fifth difference. 359
      • 7. The result of these differences between the ancients and the moderns. 361
      • 8. Modern imitators of the republics of antiquity. 365
    • Book XVII. On the True Principles of Freedom 381
      • 1. On the inviolability of the true principles of freedom. 383
      • 2. That the circumscription of political authority, within its precise limits, does not tend at all to weaken the necessary action of the government. 385
      • 3. Final thoughts on civil freedom and political freedom. 386
      • 4. Apologia for despotism by Louis XIV. 392
    • Book XVIII. On the Duties of Individuals to Political Authority 395
      • 1. Difficulties with regard to the question of resistance. 397
      • 2. On obedience to the law. 398
      • 3. On revolutions. 405
      • 4. On the duties of enlightened men during revolutions. 407
      • 5. Continuation of the same subject. 413
      • 6. On the duties of enlightened men after violent revolutions. 419
    • Additions to the Work Entitled Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 425
  • Index 535
Edition: current; Page: [[xi]]

Translator’s Note

Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments (1810) by Benjamin Constant (1767–1830) has never before been translated into English in its entirety. It is hard to judge why it is not better known, why it has been relatively neglected. It is written in graceful and clear prose. It is informed by very wide reading and understanding of philosophy, history, economics, politics, and law. The failure of recent scholarship to pay this enormous work more attention may be attributed to the general demise of liberal thought which began in mid-nineteenth-century France and which itself remains unexplained. Frédéric Bastiat (1801–1850), another significant social scientist, in some ways Constant’s heir, has suffered similarly from neglect by posterity. Neither man is included in The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (edited by Alan Bullock et al., London, Macmillan, 1988) nor in Roger Scruton’s Dictionary of Politics (London, Macmillan, 1982). Scruton later came to regard the omission of Constant in this first edition as a serious underestimation of a writer now emerging as a formidable figure in the debate on political and economic modernity. Scruton’s 1996 edition (London, Macmillan), therefore, while it still omits Bastiat, has included a pithy summary of the main positions of Principles of Politics.

This first complete translation into English of Principles of Politics is based solely on Etienne Hofmann’s 1980 edition. Constant’s book in fact appears as Tome II of this 1980 publication by Librairie Droz of Geneva, Tome I of which is a version of Hofmann’s Ph.D. dissertation on Constant. I have translated all eighteen books, together with the lengthy Additions which Constant appended to them. The latter are a series of summaries, extensions, and further thoughts on the eighteen books of the main text. My intention throughout has been to retain as much as possible of the general elegance and subtle rhetoric of Constant’s writing while seeking to render it in accurate, graceful, and accessible English. Where meaning and aesthetic effect permit, I have not only kept to an English prose as close as possible to the exact sense of the French original but have also striven where Edition: current; Page: [[xii]] the French vocabulary has close English counterparts to use those counterparts. The only notable exception is the word “liberté” with its two possible translations in English, “freedom” and “liberty.” In most cases I have preferred the word freedom as capturing in English a truer representation of liberté with its nuanced variations in French.

As far as the English language permits, I have also attempted to retain in translation even the longest of Constant’s very long sentences. There is no disadvantage to exposition and meaning in this, since even within these very long sentences there is a shining clarity to be found. Only where the length of sentence hindered intelligibility in English have I broken the construction. Thus for the most part I have kept the original structure.

This translation does not attempt to reproduce Dr. Hofmann’s elaborate apparatus criticus. Most students or even professional teachers of politics do not need to know, when they are working on Constant in English, in which handwritten folio a particular passage appears in the French original. Nor are slight errors or verbal infelicities in the original text of great interest to those whose first wish is to read an accurate English version of Constant’s meaning. Thus, I have kept only those many footnotes which are intended to add to the reader’s understanding of Constant’s thinking and erudition. I have added a few footnotes of my own by way of clarification and commentary. In those instances in which Hofmann uses the French first-person plural, “nous,” I have subsituted the word “Hofmann.”

Constant’s text has some errors. Sometimes there are references with inaccurate page or tome details. Sometimes there are mechanical slips in the writing. Hofmann often identifies these. I have mostly corrected them in the translation, so that the text reads more comfortably and fluently. Constant was particularly lax in referring to titles of works (and titles of chapters within works) of Jeremy Bentham. He commonly gives these titles in paraphrased or shortened form. In a work originally constructed with none of the benefits of a technology we now take for granted, it did not seem to me to the purpose that the reader in English be informed of every last little slip of administration or error in vocabulary.

There is one kind of inconsistency to which, however, the attention of readers should be drawn. Sometimes in the main text Constant is not consistent with his chapter titles, which are listed at the front of each book and appear again at the head of each chapter. Sometimes the titles vary between the two locations. I have drawn readers’ attention to these differences as, potentially at least, of some conceptual importance.

There would be a greater case for noting, as Hofmann’s text constantly Edition: current; Page: [[xiii]] does, which sentences and paragraphs from Principles of Politics also appear verbatim in Constant’s earlier or later works. Even these notes, however, seem likely to be of great concern only to those readers who would also be able to consult the French text at will. In the English text they would serve mostly to interrupt the flow of the reading. For this reason I have not included them. I have, however, inserted in the text Hofmann’s page numbers in brackets.

The Additions, longer by far than any of the individual eighteen books of the main text, are intended by Constant both to tighten and to extend and elaborate the arguments of the main text. Constant often picks out a phrase or clause from his original text in order to expand on it in his Additions. In the English version of the Additions these key phrases or clauses appear in italics. Where the word order of English translation permits, I have translated the chosen words in the Additions with the same English used to translate the main text. Where the word order of English is different I have merely translated Constant’s chosen words in the Additions. Little meaning has been lost; and, indeed, Constant was fairly careless in his own word sequence and self-quotation. His phrases chosen from the main text to be included in the Additions are quite often abbreviated or altered in some ways. For the most part the Additions stand as commentary in their own right.

Constant often emphasized other writers’ words and occasionally his own by underlining. In the English text, such underlining is indicated by the use of italics. Where Constant quotes the verbatim words of another writer, those words are shown in the new English text within quotation marks.

The shortcomings of some of the basic vocabulary have simply to be accepted. Constant uses “power,” “authority,” “government,” “the governors,” the “governing class,” “social authority,” and sometimes even “force” more or less synonymously. The important conceptual distinctions which mainstream twentieth-century philosophers and social theorists, guided by Max Weber, have made between the concepts of authority and power are not there in Principles, or at least not overtly. The distinction was not new to Weber. It can be found in Machiavelli. Not till Weber, however, does the distinction become important in political writing, and Constant is not privy to it. Modern Western political science tends, under Weber’s tutelage, to see authority as a special kind of power—legitimated and lawful—above all because it is acceded to by the people over whom it is wielded.

Constant is, however, though not verbally, at least conceptually in tune with the distinction. One might say that his most important adjective is legitimate. For him proper government is legitimate government, and illegitimate Edition: current; Page: [[xiv]] government is despotism. Even one arbitrary (despotic) act is for Constant a step on the road toward despotism. Constant’s most repeated theme throughout the book is the disastrous results which flow from the abandonment of the rule of law.

Much of Constant’s political life was shaped by his experience of the French Revolution, and his subsequent thinking and writing were in reaction to what he regarded as a republicanism gone catastrophically astray. Constant is, like Machiavelli, whom he much admired, by preference a republican, but he is perfectly willing to admit that monarchy can be a civilized form of government. Principles of Politics deliberately eschews all constitutional questions such as republicanism versus monarchy and the various merits of different arrangements of first and second chambers, modes of election, and so on. Instead, Constant is out to construct, as the full title of his work makes clear, a lawful politics “applicable to all forms of government.”

Edition: current; Page: [[xv]]

Acknowledgments

I am greatly indebted to Liberty Fund for their generous provision of financial assistance with this translation. In the early stage of the enterprise this generosity allowed me to be relieved of some 50 percent of my duties at the University of North London over the course of an entire academic year. The work has been a truly remarkable experience, a wonderful exposure to an extraordinarily powerful and endearing mind.

Many scholars have helped the translation on its way. I must especially thank Dr. Simon Green of All Souls College, Oxford, who was first to persuade me of Constant’s outstanding intellectual penetration and prescience. Professor David Marsland of Brunel University has been a constant source of encouragement and optimism. I must add that Dr. Sean Gabb has been throughout more than willing to share with me his extraordinary command of the mysteries of information technology whenever I needed advice or when my computer decided to behave eccentrically.

A number of expert French scholars have helped me with occasional queries. I must mention with gratitude my encouraging colleague at the University of North London, Dr. Lucile Desblache. My old friend Mr. Allan Inglis was generous with advice on some of the more archaic language in the text. With regard to the Latin passages, I have been fortunate that my brother, Mr. Patrick O’Keeffe, has a classical erudition which he was always willing to put promptly at my service.

Professor Pierre Garello gave me detailed and invaluable advice on the very complex economics vocabulary in Books X, XI, and XII. I am much obliged to him.

I must express my particular thanks to Mr. Michael Winterburn for his invaluable and unstinting help and advice. We have spent many hours in concentrated discussion of Constant and Les Principes de politique.

Last as well as first in my thanks must come my wife, Mary. As in everything else, her support and advice have been indispensable during this translation.

Edition: current; Page: [[xvi]] Edition: current; Page: [[xvii]]

Introduction

Benjamin Constant was the key thinker in the French classical liberal tradition between Montesquieu and Tocqueville. He was born 25 October 1767 in Lausanne, Switzerland, to Henriette de Chandieu and Juste Constant de Rebecque. His mother, who died shortly after childbirth, was a descendant of a French Huguenot family that had sought refuge in Switzerland from religious persecution. The Protestant—or more specifically, Calvinist—heritage remained an important part of Constant’s framework. His father was a professional soldier in a Swiss regiment in the service of the Netherlands. Constant wrote a detailed account of his private life from 1767 to 1787 in Le Cahier rouge (not published until 1907); subsequently he maintained a Journal intime (published in unexpurgated form in 1952).

The great intellectual event of Constant’s life occurred when he was sent to Edinburgh to study between 1783 and 1785. There he learned to speak flawless English; he read William Blackstone, David Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, and Dugald Stewart, as well as Edward Gibbon, Edmund Burke, and William Godwin. The Scottish Enlightenment remained the formative influence on his thought. In a manner not unlike Montesquieu’s, throughout the rest of his life, Constant sought to introduce the principles of British classical liberalism into French political life.

From 1788 until 1794, Constant served in the court of the duke of Brunswick, and in 1789 married a lady of the court, Wilhelmine von Cramm. In 1793, Constant began a relationship with Charlotte von Hardenburg, to whom he was secretly married fifteen years later. This relationship was depicted in a novel, Cécile, which was not discovered and published until 1951. In 1794, he met Mme. Germaine de Staël (1766–1817), divorced his then-wife Wilhelmine, and returned with Mme. de Staël to Paris in 1795.

Thus began the stormy intellectual and political relationship between Constant and Mme. de Staël. Germaine de Staël, daughter of the statesman and financier Jacques Necker, was herself a leading intellectual and later the author of important works of literature as well as works on literary theory, Edition: current; Page: [[xviii]] romanticism, and the thought of Rousseau. She was the center of Paris’s most brilliant salon and a political activist. Her political model, also influenced by Montesquieu, adhered to British constitutional monarchy, and her political sympathies in France were with the Girondist faction. She has been described as perhaps the most brilliant and influential woman in Europe in her time. Constant, in his novel Cécile, described a Mme. de Malbée (i.e., Mme. de Staël) as follows: “Her intellect, the most far-ranging that has ever belonged to any woman, and possibly to any man either, had, in serious discussion, more force than grace, and in what touched the emotional life, a hint of sententiousness and affectation. But in her gaiety there was a certain indefinable charm, a kind of childlike friendliness which captivated the heart and established for the moment a complete intimacy between her and whoever she was talking to.” Constant may have fathered her third child, a daughter, Albertine.

Although not originally a French citizen and not present during the dark days of the Revolution, Constant, through his association with Mme. de Staël, became a supporter of the Directory. Within that group, Constant identified not with those who wanted a restored but constitutional monarchy, but instead with those who were working for a republic with citizenship based on the ownership of property. Constant became a French citizen in 1798. Following the coup d’état of 18 brumaire (1799) he was appointed to the new Tribunate, but by 1802 his classical liberal views and association with Mme. de Staël and the classical liberal economist Jean-Baptiste Say had alienated Napoleon. In 1803, he accompanied Mme. de Staël into exile in Germany and Switzerland. During this time they met Goethe, Schiller, and the von Schlegel brothers, and both Constant and Mme. de Staël became imbued with German romanticism. Constant began working on his religious writings, some of which constitute On Religion Considered in Its Source, Its Forms, and Its Developments (published in five volumes between 1824 and 1831).

For the next twelve years, until 1815, Constant was an implacable enemy of Napoleon. One result was a classic critique of authoritarianism, The Spirit of Conquest and Usurpation and Their Relation to European Civilization (1814). Constant was also an adviser to Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, a former Napoleonic general, then Prince Royal of Sweden, and an aspirant to the French throne. When Napoleon briefly returned to power and seemed on the verge of accepting the British model of constitutional monarchy, he, along with Constant’s then-mistress Madame Récamier, a friend of Mme. de Staël and reputed to be the most beautiful woman in Europe, met with and persuaded Constant to become conseiller d’état. During this “Hundred Edition: current; Page: [[xix]] Days” period, Constant even drew up a new constitution known as the “Benjamine.” It was under this inspiration that Constant completed and published his longtime work in progress, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments. This is to be distinguished from the longer 1810 version, edited in 1980 by Etienne Hofmann, on which the 2003 Liberty Fund translation is based. Clearly there is a huge affinity of subject matter, often explicably so. Even so, where the 1815 version is short and pointed, the 1810 is long and discursive. Where the 1815 version focuses repeatedly on constitutional questions and in particular on the civilizational possibilities of constitutional monarchy, the 1810 version explicitly eschews constitutional issues, cleaving instead to a search for the philosophical, economic, and jurisprudential principles which undergird any free society. And in 1810, the bias, if there is one, is slight, but leans all the same towards a republicanism somewhat akin to that of Machiavelli, whom Constant much admired.

On learning of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, Constant fled to England and published what many consider to be the first romantic novel, Adolphe (1816). He also wrote an apologia that was acceptable to Louis XVIII, paving the way for a return to Paris. During the remainder of his life, Constant was a prolific author and journalist. In 1819, he published the classic essay “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with That of the Moderns.” The core of the argument is prefigured in Book XVI of the 1810 edition of The Principles, which deals with the differences between ancient (political) and modern (civil) freedom. He was to repeat this argument in a famous speech, but this book is the locus classicus. As François Furet has argued, every subsequent French thinker, including Constant, is judged by his interpretation of the Revolution. Constant, like Mme. de Staël, sought to explain how Rousseau’s notion of the general will had been used by Robespierre and others to transform the French Revolution into the Reign of Terror. Constant argued that it was the attempt to institute ancient liberty in a modern context that led to this perversion. Constant went on to argue that representative government was the system the moderns had devised for preserving liberty. His persistent defense of freedom of the press and vociferous opposition to the slave trade are representative of the stands he took on a number of issues.

Constant subsequently served in the Chamber of Deputies, being elected as a deputy for Paris in 1824 and from the Lower Rhine in 1827. Despite failing health, he supported the July Revolution of Louis-Philippe and served as conseiller d’état again until his death on December 8, 1830. Like so many other great French thinkers and authors, he is buried in Père-Lachaise Edition: current; Page: [[xx]] cemetery in Paris, and also like so many others, he had persistently been denied membership in the Académie Française. At the time of Constant’s death, Louis Blanc and others tried unsuccessfully to have him entombed in the Panthéon. One of the things that distinguished Constant from other classical liberals of his time, whether French or British, was his recognition of the importance of the spiritual dimension for the sustenance of liberal culture. This view is reflected in On Religion and a massive amount of unpublished religious speculation that accumulated over his lifetime.

Constant’s Principles of Politics is a microcosm of his whole political philosophy and an expression of his political experience. As far back as the period between 1800 and 1803, Constant had begun a project of both translating and commenting on Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. This evolved into an 1806 draft commentary on Smith’s Wealth of Nations, and finally, in 1815, during the Hundred Days, into an essay on the Acte additional aux constitutions de l’empire—the “Benjamine.” Out of embarrassment over its Napoleonic association, Constant did not include it in his Cours de politique constitutionelle of 1818–20. It was included in the 1861 edition of the Cours edited by Édouard Laboulaye.

The Principes de politique in all its versions reflected the immense impact of the French Revolution on Constant’s thinking. The 1810 edition, however, expresses in purest form the ideas which Constant believed universally applicable to all civilized government. Unlike the 1815 edition, it is in no sense a manual of applied politics. It does not focus on constitutional monarchy or the constitutional balancing of powers and the control of ministers. Despite Constant’s gently apparent republicanism, it readily accepts that republics can be despotic and monarchies decent.

Constant, like Tocqueville and Mill afterward, was obsessed with the dangers of popular sovereignty. As he pointed out, where there are no limits on the legislature or the representative body, the representatives (e.g., the Convention during the French Revolution) become not the defenders of liberty, but the agents of tyranny. Constant was focused above all on liberty. The Revolution had destroyed the ancien régime and all its constituent intermediary institutions. Without intermediary institutions, a society of atomized individuals faced an all-powerful state. In order to restore and preserve liberty, new intermediary institutions needed to be established. Prime among these was the free press. It was the free press that provided a context not only for public discussion, but for calling attention to governmental (ministerial) abuse.

In the Principles Constant reasserts his lifelong commitment to individual and institutional freedom and the absence of arbitrary power. He affirms Edition: current; Page: [[xxi]] that even a single arbitrary act sets government on the road to despotism. Constant always saw freedom as an organic phenomenon: to attack it in any particular was to attack it generally. To construct this thesis he explores many subjects: law, sovereignty, and representation; power and accountability; government, property and taxation; wealth and poverty; war, peace and the maintenance of public order; and above all freedom, of the individual, of the press, and of religion. Early in his text he tackles the difficult issue of the general will. Although recognizing its existence in the abstract, Constant immediately asserts the Lockean view that citizens have rights independent of all social and political authority, and he goes on via a comprehensive critique to enumerate the dangers of Rousseau’s views. Individual freedoms reflecting individual rights are sacrosanct even in the face of the popular will. Constant returns again and again with arguments against those who assert the prerogatives of society against those of the individual—Rousseau, Hobbes, and Mably—and equally with arguments favourable to individualism, where he relies very heavily on British commentary from Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and others.

Constant’s preference throughout The Principles is for limited but strong government. He asserts unambiguously that all successful government must secure the two essentials of internal order and external defense of the realm.

In the first half of The Principles, Constant focuses on the specific liberties that were so important to him: private property, freedom of the press, religious liberty, individual liberty, and due process. The legal reflection is extensive, both abstract and focusing on individual examples. In Books IV and V, Constant focuses on the rule of law: the need for due process in order to protect individual rights; laws that lay down the neutral rules of the game, so that individuals can pursue their private economic interests with security; the importance of jury trials; the significance of pardon as a check on the system itself; and the need for judicial independence. Much of this part of Constant’s thinking is resonant of the Federalist Papers.

The discussion of individual rights, limited government, and the sacrosanct nature of property constitute Constant an apostle of economic modernity. The discussion of property in Book X is a masterpiece. Eschewing abstract arguments, Constant appeals to Smith and Say to show the connections between politics and economics: how prosperity is enhanced by privatization and how the national wealth is undermined by debt, irresponsible taxation, and the delusions of grandeur from which Edition: current; Page: [[xxii]] public officials who oversee the surplus created by taxation too often suffer. In Book XVIII, Constant both looks back to the Revolution and anticipates events of our own time with his reflections on the dangers of a civil religion or any form of civil intolerance. Citing Holbach’s System of Nature, Constant is able to see the dangers of an atheistic secularism itself turned into a civic religion.

Both Tocqueville and Guizot were intrigued by Constant’s reflection on the concept of sovereignty and the insight that democracy could be a source of despotism, perhaps the greatest threat to liberal culture. If Constant’s brand of liberalism (as well as Tocqueville’s) did not prevail on the continent of Europe, it was because European thinking remained mired in some consideration of a collective good. Hegel was greatly influenced by Constant’s conception of a monarch who reflected the entire “state” (i.e., community) and the concern for reflecting the important specific interests in the legislature. We can foresee John Stuart Mill in, among other things, Constant’s comment that there is a part of human existence that remains individual and independent, and which is, by right, outside any social competence. Perhaps the most enduring contribution of all of his work is, as Benedetto Croce said, in his having raised the question of whether liberal culture can survive without a soul.

Nicholas Capaldi
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Principles of Politics

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BOOK I: On Received Ideas About the Scope of Political Authority

  • Ch. 1. The purpose of this work. 3
  • Ch. 2. Rousseau’s first principle on the origin of political authority. 6
  • Ch. 3. Rousseau’s second principle on the scope of political authority. 8
  • Ch. 4. Rousseau’s arguments for boundless political authority. 15
  • Ch. 5. That Rousseau’s error comes from his wanting to distinguish the prerogatives of society from those of the government. 17
  • Ch. 6. The consequences of Rousseau’s theory. 19
  • Ch. 7. On Hobbes. 21
  • Ch. 8. Hobbes’s opinion reproduced. 23
  • Ch. 9. On the inconsistency with which Rousseau has been reproached. 24
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chapter one: The Purpose of This Work

Research relating to the constitutional organization of government having been, since The Social Contract and The Spirit of the Laws, the favorite speculative focus of the most enlightened of our writers in France, is now very decidedly out of favor today. I am not examining here at all whether this disfavor is justified; but it is certainly quite understandable.1 In a few years we have tried some five or six constitutions2 and found ourselves the worse for it. No argument can prevail against such an experience.

Moreover, if despite the universal distaste today for all discussions of this type, one wished to give oneself over to reflecting on the nature of governments, and their forms, limits, and prerogatives, one would probably make the opposite mistake to the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [20] current one, but one no less gross and deadly. When certain ideas are associated with certain words, one may repeatedly seek in vain to show that the association is false. The reproduction of the words will for ages summon up these same Edition: current; Page: [[4]] ideas.3 It was in the name of freedom that we got prisons, scaffolds, and endless multiplied persecution. Quite understandably, this name, which signals a thousand odious and tyrannical measures, can be pronounced today only in a mood of distrust or malevolence.

Extremes do not only touch but also follow each other. One exaggeration always produces a contrary one. This applies especially to a nation in which everyone’s aim is to show off, and as Voltaire said, everyone is more concerned to hit hard than accurately.4 The ambition of the writers of the day is at all times to seem more convinced than anyone else of the reigning opinion. They watch which way the crowd is rushing. Then they dash as fast as they can to overtake it. They think thereby to acquire glory for providing an inspiration they actually got from others. They hope we will take them for the inventors of what they imitate and that because they run panting in front of the crowd they have just overtaken, they will seem like the leaders of the band, though the latter do not even suspect they exist.5

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [21] A man of horrible memory, whose name should not soil any writing, since death has justly settled his personal account, said, on examining the Edition: current; Page: [[5]] English constitution: “I see a king there, and recoil in horror. Royalty is against nature.”6 Some anonymous writer, in a recently published essay, likewise declares all republican government unnatural.7 It really is true that in certain eras you have to go round the whole circle of follies before coming back to reason.

Yet if it is proven that all research on constitutions, properly so called, must, after the upheavals we have suffered, necessarily be for some people a subject to go mad about, while for everyone else it is a matter of indifference, there are nevertheless principles of politics independent of all constitutions, and these seem to me still worth developing. Applicable under all forms of government, no threat to the basis of any social order, compatible with monarchy and republicanism alike, whatever versions either may take, these principles can be discussed frankly and freely. They are especially open to discussion in an Empire whose leader has just proclaimed, in the most unforgettable way, the freedom of the press, and declared independence of thought the first conquest of our century.

Among these principles one seems to me of the greatest importance. It has been overlooked by writers of all parties. Montesquieu was not concerned with it. Rousseau in his The Social Contract based his eloquent and absurd theory on subverting it. All the ills of the French Revolution come from this subversion. All the crimes with which our demagogues have appalled the world have been sanctioned by it. This book is about the reestablishment of this principle, and its developments and consequences, as well as Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [22] its application to all forms of government, whether monarchical or republican.

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chapter two: Rousseau’s First Principle on the Origin of Political Authority

Rousseau begins by establishing that any authority which governs a nation must come from the general will.8 This is not a principle I claim to challenge. In our day people have tried to obfuscate it; and the evils which have been caused and the crimes committed on the pretext that this was to execute the general will, lend seeming support to the arguments of those who would like to locate the authority of government in another source.9 Nevertheless, all these arguments are powerless against the straightforward definition of the words we use. Short of reviving the doctrine of divine right, we ought to agree that the law must be the expression of the will of everybody or at least of a few people. Now, if it is the latter, what might be the source of the exclusive privilege conceded to this small number? If it is force, force belongs to anyone who can grab it. It does not constitute law, or if you recognize it as legitimate, this will be true whoever has seized it; and everyone will want to win it in turn. If you think that the power of this small group is sanctioned by everyone else, that power then becomes the general will.

This principle holds for all institutions. Theocracy, royalty, and aristocracy, when they command minds, are the general will. When they do not command minds, they cannot be anything else but force. In sum, the world knows only two kinds of power. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [23] There is force, the illegitimate kind; and there is the legitimate kind, the general will.

The objections we may raise against this will, bear either on the difficulty of recognizing or expressing it, or on the degree of power granted to the authority emanating from it. One could claim, often justifiably, that what Edition: current; Page: [[7]] people call the general will is no such thing and that the things subjected to it should not be. In this case, however, it is no longer legitimacy that is being attacked but its rightful powers or the fidelity of its interpreters.

This principle does not deny the legitimacy of any form of government. In some circumstances society may want a monarchy and in others a republic. So these two institutions may therefore be equally legitimate and natural. Those who declare one or the other illegitimate or against nature are either party mouthpieces and do not say what they think, or else they are ideological dupes and do not know what they are saying.

There are only two forms of government, if we may even give them that title at all, which are essentially and eternally illegitimate, because no society could want them: anarchy and despotism. Moreover, I am not sure that the distinction which often favors the latter is not illusory. Despotism and anarchy are more alike than people think. In our era, people gave the name “anarchy,”10 meaning the absence of government, to a government which was the most despotic that has ever existed on earth: a committee of a few men, who endowed their functionaries with boundless power, with courts tolerating no appeal, with laws based on mere suspicions, with judgments without due process, with numberless incarcerations and a hundred judicial murders a day. This is to abuse terms and confound ideas, however. The Revolutionary government Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [24] was most certainly not an absence of government.

Government is the use of public force against individuals. When it is used to stop them hurting each other, it is a good government. When it is used to oppress them, it is a frightful government, but in no sense is it anarchic. The Committee of Public Safety was government; so was the Revolutionary Tribunal. The law of suspects embodied government too. This was detestable, but certainly not anarchic. It was not for lack of government that the French people were butchered by executioners. On the contrary, it happened only because executioners were doing the governing. Government was most Edition: current; Page: [[8]] certainly not absent. Rather, an atrocious and ubiquitous government was always present. This was absolutely not anarchy, but despotism.

Despotism resembles anarchy in that it destroys public safeguards and tramples on due process. It differs from anarchy only in that it then demands for itself the due process it has destroyed and enslaves its victims in order to sacrifice them.

It is not true that despotism protects us against anarchy. We think it does only because for a long time our Europe has not seen a real despotism. But let us turn our gaze on the Roman empire after Constantine. We find that the legions were endlessly in revolt, with generals proclaiming themselves emperors and nineteen pretenders to the crown simultaneously raising the flag of rebellion. Without going back to ancient history, let us look at the sort of spectacle presented by the territories ruled by the sultan.11

Anarchy and despotism bring back the savage state into the social state. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [25] But while anarchy puts all men there, despotism puts itself there on its own and beats its slaves, pinioned as they are, with the chains it has cast off.

Whatever may remain unexamined in this comparison, one thing is certain: this comparison will not suffice to tip the balance in favor of either of the two things concerned. So mankind cannot want either anarchy or despotism. Any other form of government can be useful, any other can be good, any other can be what a society desires and, as a consequence, can be legitimate.

chapter three: Rousseau’s Second Principle on the Scope of Political Authority

If Rousseau’s first principle is an incontestable truth, this is not so of a second axiom, which he lays down and develops with all the prestigious force of his eloquence. “The clauses of the social contract,” he says, “boil down to just one, namely the total surrendering of each member along with all his rights to the community.”12 The implication is that the general will must exercise unlimited authority over individual existence.

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Political writers before and after Jean-Jacques Rousseau have mostly expressed the same view.13 None has rejected it formally.14

“In all government there must be an absolute authority,” says the author of Natural Politics. “Wherever that authority resides, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [26] it must employ as it chooses all the powers of the society” and work out what all the particular political orientations are in order to oblige them to fall in with the overall view. However the sovereign power is distributed, the overall quantum is unlimited.15

Mably says it is an axiom accepted everywhere on earth that legislative power, that which declares and realizes the general will, must not be limited by anything.16

The supporters of despotism have in this respect come close to Rousseau’s theory. “For a society to subsist,” says M. Ferrand (The Spirit of Edition: current; Page: [[10]] History, I, 134), “it is necessary that there exist somewhere a power greater than any obstacle,17 which directs individual wills and suppresses factionalist passions.”18

Some writers,19 of whom Montesquieu is one, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [27] have placed certain apparent restrictions on this doctrine. These have always been too vague, however, to serve to define fixed limits to political authority. To say that justice existed before the laws (The Spirit of the Laws, Livre I)20 is indeed to imply that the laws, and therefore the general will, of which the laws are only the expression, must be subordinate to justice. But what a set of developments this truth in turn demands if it is to be applied! In the absence of such developments, what follows from this assertion by Montesquieu? That the holders of power have often set off from the principle that justice precedes the laws in order to subject individuals to retrospective laws or deprive them of the benefits of existing ones, in this way hiding the most revolting iniquities behind a sham respect for justice. How crucial it is in matters of this sort to be wary of undefined axioms!

M. de Montesquieu, moreover, in his definition of liberty, misconstrues all the limits of political authority. Liberty, he says, is the right to do anything the law permits.21 Doubtless there is no liberty at all when the citizens cannot do everything the law does not forbid. But so many things could be made illegal that there would still be no liberty.

M. de Montesquieu, like most political writers, seems to me to confuse two things: freedom and constitutional security. Freedom consists in Edition: current; Page: [[11]] individual rights; social rights, on the other hand, provide constitutional security.22

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [28] The axiom of the people’s sovereignty has been thought of as a principle of freedom. It is in fact a principle of constitutional guarantee. It aims to prevent any individual from seizing the authority which belongs only to the political society as a whole. It determines nothing, however, about the nature of this authority itself. It in no way adds to the sum of individual liberties, therefore, and if we do not turn to other principles for determining the extent of this sovereignty, freedom could be lost, despite the principle of the sovereignty of the people, or even because of it.

M. de Montesquieu’s maxim, that individuals have the right to do everything the law permits, is similarly a principle of guarantee. It means that no one has the right to stop someone else doing what the law does not forbid. It does not explain, however, what the law is or is not justified in forbidding. Now, it seems to me that this is exactly where freedom resides. It consists only in what individuals have the right to do and society has no right to prevent.

Since the time of M. de Montesquieu some well-known men have protested against Rousseau’s maxim. Beccaria, in his treatise On Offenses and Punishments,23 and Condorcet, in Commentaries on Public Education,24 have reasoned from opposite principles. Franklin produced a pamphlet seeking Edition: current; Page: [[12]] to show that we should have the smallest extent of government possible.25 Paine defined Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [29] government authority as a necessary evil.26 Siéyès, finally, in an opinion delivered in Parliament, declared that political authority was not boundless.27 It does not seem, however, that the arguments of these writers have made much impression. People still speak endlessly of a power without limits residing in the people or its leaders, as of a thing beyond doubt; and the author of certain essays on morality and politics has recently reproduced, in support of absolute power, all the arguments of Rousseau on sovereignty.28

The Constituent Assembly, at the start, seemed to recognize individual rights, independent of society. Such was the origin of the Declaration of Rights. The Assembly, however, soon deviated from this principle. It set the example by pursuing individual existence into its most intimate retreats. It was imitated and surpassed by the governments which replaced it.

The party men, however pure their intentions, are bound to detest the limitation of political authority. They see themselves as its presumptive heirs and tend to look after their future property even when it is in the hands of their enemies. They distrust this or that kind of government, or such and such a class of governing politicians, but just let them organize government Edition: current; Page: [[13]] in their own way, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [30] allow them to entrust it to the representatives they want, and they will not think they can extend it far enough.

So we can regard Rousseau’s theory that political power is unlimited as the only one adopted to date. This is the theory which seems to me false and dangerous. In my view, this is the theory we must hold responsible for most of the difficulties the establishment of freedom has encountered among various nations, for most of the abuses which worm their way into all governments of whatever type, and indeed for most of the crimes which civil strife and political upheaval drag in their wake. It was just this theory which inspired our Revolution and those horrors for which liberty for all was at once the pretext and the victim. I do not mean that the countless iniquities we witnessed and suffered were not usually caused in the immediate sense by the factional interests of the men who had seized power. But these men had managed to get the machinery of public enforcement into their guilty hands only by veiling the interests which controlled them, by laying claim to seemingly disinterested principles and opinions which served them as a banner. Now, all their principles and opinions rested on the theory this chapter has related, rested, that is, on the supposition that society may exercise over its members an unlimited authority and that everything the general will ordains, is rendered legitimate by that alone.

It is worth refuting this theory, therefore. It is useful in general to correct opinions, however metaphysical or abstract they seem to us, because vested interests seek their weapons in opinions.

Interests and opinions differ, first of all, in that the former are hidden and the latter displayed, necessarily, since the latter divide while the former unite. Secondly, interests vary for each individual according to his situation, his tastes, or his circumstances, while opinions are the same, or seem so, as between all people who act together. Finally, each individual can direct only himself in the reckoning of his interests. When he wants other people to support him, he has to present them with opinions which mislead them as to his real views. If you expose the falsity of the opinion he advances, you deprive him of his main support. You annihilate his means of influencing those around him, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [31] you destroy the flag, and the army vanishes.

I know that today we have given up refuting ideas we want to fight, professing a general aversion for all theories, of whatever sort. People say all metaphysics is unworthy of our attention. But the antimetaphysical stance has always seemed to me unworthy of thinking people. Its declamations are doubly dangerous. They are as forceful against truth as against error. They Edition: current; Page: [[14]] tend to make reason wither, to hold our intellectual faculties up to ridicule and to discredit what is noblest in us. Secondly, they do not even possess the advantage commonly supposed. Averting ideas you think dangerous by scorning them or suppressing them violently, is to suspend their present consequences only very briefly, and to double their influence to come. We should not be misled by silence nor take it for agreement. For as long as reason is not convinced, error is ready to reappear at the first event which unleashes it. It then takes advantage of the very oppression it has experienced. Our efforts will be in vain. Thought alone can do battle with thought. Reasoning alone can correct mistakes of reasoning. When power repulses reason it does not fail only against the truth; it also fails against error. To disarm error you have to refute it. Anything else is rank charlatanism, renewed century after century, to the profit of a few, and the misfortune and shame of the rest.

Indeed, if contempt for the intellectual life had been able to preserve men from its dangerous deviations, they would long ago have reaped the benefits of this much-praised protection. There is nothing new about contempt for the mind. It is not novel always to appeal to force against thought, nor to set up a small number of privileged persons to the detriment of all other people, the latter’s mental activity being treated as superfluous, and their reflection considered idle and dangerous. From the time of the Goths till today we have seen this mental outlook reproduce itself. From their day till this people have denounced metaphysics and theorizing; yet the theories have always made their reappearance. Before us, people said equality was only a chimera, a vain abstraction, a Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [32] meaningless theory. Men who wanted to define equality properly in order to separate it from the exaggerations which disfigured it, were treated as dreamers and troublemakers, and an ill-defined equality has never stopped returning to the attack. The Jacquerie, the Levelers, and the revolutionaries of our time have abused this theory, precisely because it had been forbidden rather than put right: incontestable proof of the inadequacy of the measures, taken by the opponents of abstract ideas, first to ward off their attacks, and secondly, so they said, to keep such ideas away from the blind and stupid species they so condescendingly governed. The effect of such measures is never more than temporary. When false theories have misled people, they are ready to listen to commonplaces against theory in general, some through exhaustion, others out of vested interest, but most by way of imitation. But when they have recovered from their weariness or been freed from their fears, they Edition: current; Page: [[15]] remember that theory is not a bad thing in itself, that everything has its theoretical side, that theory is no more than practice systematized into rules according to experience, and practice only theory applied. They feel that nature did not give them reason just so it could be mute or sterile. They blush at having abdicated the very core of their dignity as human beings. They adopt theories again. If these have not been corrected, if they have been mere objects of disdain, they take them up anew with all their vices intact and are once again entrapped by them in all the errors which led them to reject them before. To hold that because false theories bring grave dangers we must renounce all theories, is to take from men the surest remedy for precisely such dangers. It is to hold that because error has dire consequences, we should refuse ever to search for truth.

So I have tried to fight faulty arguments with ones which seem just to me. I have tried to oppose false metaphysics with metaphysics which I believe to be true. If I have succeeded, I will flatter myself that I have been more helpful than those who demand silence. Their legacy to the future is a set of unresolved issues. In their narrow-minded and suspicious caution they compound the ill effects of wrong ideas by the very fact that they do not allow such ideas to be examined. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [33]

chapter four: Rousseau’s Arguments for Boundless Political Authority

Rousseau defines the social contract as involving the unconditional surrender of each individual, along with all his rights, to society as a whole (Constant’s emphasis).29 To reassure us as to the consequences of this total handing over of every aspect of our lives to the advantage of an abstract entity, he says that the sovereign, that is, the social body as a whole, cannot harm either the collectivity of all its members, or any one of those members individually; that every person makes a total surrender, so that the condition is the same for all members and none has an interest in making it onerous for others; that each person, giving himself to everyone else, gives himself to no one; that everyone acquires over all other members the same rights Edition: current; Page: [[16]] he cedes to them, and gains the equivalent of all he loses, along with more strength to protect what is his own.30 But he forgets that all the life-preserving properties which he confers on the abstract being he calls sovereignty, are born in the fact that this being is made up of all the separate individuals without exception. Now, as soon as the sovereign body has to use the force it possesses, that is to say, as soon as it is necessary to establish political authority, since the sovereign body cannot exercise this itself, it delegates and all its properties disappear. The action carried out in the name of all, being necessarily willy-nilly in the hands of one individual or a few people, it follows that in handing yourself over to everyone else, it is certainly not true that you are giving yourself to no one. On the contrary, it is to surrender yourself to those who act in the name Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [34] of all. It follows that in handing yourself over entirely, you do not enter a universally equal condition, since some people profit exclusively from the sacrifice of the rest. It is not true that no one has an interest in making things hard for other people, since some members are not in the common situation. It is not true that all members acquire the same rights they give up. They do not all regain the equivalent of what they lose, and the outcome of what they sacrifice is or may be the setting up of a power which takes away from them what they do have.

How is it that these obvious considerations did not convince Rousseau of the error and dangers of his theory? It is because he let himself be misled by an oversubtle distinction. A double hazard is to be feared when we examine important questions. Men go wrong, sometimes because they misconstrue the distinctions between two ideas and sometimes because they base on a simple idea distinctions which do not apply.

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chapter five: That Rousseau’s Error Comes from His Wanting to Distinguish the Prerogatives of Society from Those of the Government

Rousseau distinguished the prerogatives of society from those of government.31 This distinction is admissible only when the word “government” is understood in a very restricted sense. Rousseau, however, took it in its widest sense, as the bringing together, not only of all properly constituted powers but of all the constitutional ways individuals have for contributing among themselves, in expressing their individual wills, to the formation of the general will.32 According to these stipulations, any citizen Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [35] who, in England, elects his representatives, or any Frenchman who, under the Republic, voted in a primary assembly, should be regarded as involved in government. Once the word “government” is taken in this way, any distinction between its prerogatives and those of society itself is rendered illusory and can become in practice an incalculable danger. Society cannot itself exercise the prerogatives bestowed on it by its members. Therefore it delegates them. It sets up what we call a government. From then on any distinction between society’s prerogatives and those of government is an abstraction, a chimera. For on the one hand, if society had a legitimate authority greater than the one it delegated, the part it did not delegate would, by reason of its not being exercisable, be effectively void. A right one cannot exercise oneself, nor delegate to others, is a right which does not exist. On the other hand, the recognition of such rights would inevitably entail the disadvantage that those in whom the delegated part had been invested would inexorably contrive to have the rest delegated to them too. An example will clarify my point. I assume that we recognize—it has often been done—that society has a right to expel a Edition: current; Page: [[18]] minority part of itself which has given it deep offense. No one attributes this terrible prerogative to the government, but when the latter wants to grab it, what does it do? It identifies the unfortunate minority, at once outlawed and feared, with all life’s difficulties and dangers. It then appeals to the nation. It is not as its prerogative that it seeks to persecute, on mere suspicion, wholly innocent individuals. But it quotes the imprescribable prerogative of the whole society, of the all-powerful majority, of the sovereign nation whose well-being is the highest law. The government can do nothing, it says, but the nation can do everything. And soon the nation speaks. By this I mean that a few men, either low types or madmen, or hirelings, or men consumed with remorse, or terror-struck, set themselves up as its instruments at the same time as they silence it, and proclaim its omnipotence at the same time as they menace it. In this way, by an easy and swift maneuver, the government seizes the real and terrible power previously regarded as the abstract right of the whole society.

There really is a prerogative—when we are speaking abstractly—that the society does possess and does not delegate to the government, namely the right to change the organization of the government itself. To delegate this right would set up a vicious circle, since the government could use it Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [36] to transform itself into a tyranny. But this very exception confirms the rule. If society does not delegate this prerogative, neither does it exercise it itself. Just as it would be absurd to delegate it, so it is impossible to exercise it and dangerous to proclaim it.

The people, Rousseau observes, are sovereign in one respect and subject in another.33 In practice, however, the two cases are confused. It is easy for powerful men to oppress the people as their subjects, to force them to manifest in their sovereign role the will which these powerful men are dictating. To achieve this, all that is needed is that the individual members of society be terror-struck and then that a hypocritical homage be rendered to the society en masse.

Thus one can recognize as society’s only those rights which the government can exercise without their becoming dangerous. Sovereignty being an abstract thing and the real thing, the exercise of sovereignty, that is to say, the government, being necessarily delegated to beings of a quite different Edition: current; Page: [[19]] nature from the sovereign, since they are not abstract beings, we need to take precautionary measures against the sovereign power, because of the nature of those who exercise it, as we would take them in the case of an excessively powerful weapon which might fall into unreliable hands.

chapter six: The Consequences of Rousseau’s Theory

When you have affirmed on principle the view that the prerogatives of society always become, finally, those of government, you understand immediately how necessary it is that political power be limited. If it is not, individual existence is on the one hand subjected without qualification to the general will, while on the other, the general will finds itself represented without appeal by the will of the governors. These representatives of the general will have Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [37] powers all the more formidable in that they call themselves mere pliant instruments of this alleged will and possess the means of enforcement or enticement necessary to ensure that it is manifested in ways which suit them. What no tyrant would dare to do in his own name, the latter legitimate by the unlimited extension of boundless political authority. They seek the enlargement of the powers they need, from the very owner of political authority, that is, the people, whose omnipotence is there only to justify their encroachments. The most unjust laws and oppressive institutions are obligatory, as the expression of the general will. For individuals, says Rousseau, having alienated their all to the benefit of the collectivity, can have no will other than that general will. Obeying this, they obey only themselves, and are all the freer the more implicitly they obey.34

Such are the consequences of this theoretical system as we see them appear in all eras of history. Their most frightening scope, however, was the one they developed during our Revolution, when revered principles were made into wounds, perhaps incurably. The more popular the government it was intended to give France, the worse were these wounds. When no limit to political authority is acknowledged, the people’s leaders, in a popular government, are not defenders of freedom, but aspiring tyrants, aiming not to Edition: current; Page: [[20]] break, but rather to assume the boundless power which presses on the citizens. When it has a representative constitution, a nation is free only when its delegates are held in check. It would be easy to show, by means of countless examples, that the grossest sophisms of the most ardent apostles of the Terror, in the most revolting circumstances, were only perfectly consistent Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [38] consequences of Rousseau’s principles.35 The omnipotent nation is as dangerous as a tyrant, indeed more dangerous. Tyranny is not constituted by there being few governors. Nor does a large number of governors guarantee freedom. The degree of political power alone, in whatever hands it is placed, makes a constitution free or a government oppressive; and once tyranny subsists, it is all the more frightful if the tyrannical group is large.

Doubtless, the overextension of political power does not always have equally dire consequences. The nature of things and people’s dispositions may sometimes soften the excesses; but such a political system always has serious drawbacks nevertheless. This doctrine creates and then carelessly casts into our human arrangements a degree of power which is too great to be manageable and one which is an evil whatever hands you place it in. Entrust it to one person, to several, to all, you will still find it an evil. You lay the blame on the power-holders and depending on the circumstances, you will have to indict in turn monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, mixed constitutions, and representative government. And you will be wrong. The condemnation must be of the extent of the power and not of those in whom it is vested. It is against the weapon and not the person wielding it we need to rail. There are things too heavy for human hands.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [39] Look at the fruitless efforts of different peoples to remedy the evils of the unlimited power with which they think society invested. They do not know to whom to entrust it. The Carthaginians created in succession the Suffetes to rein in the aristocracy of the Senate, the Tribunal of the Hundred to suppress the Suffetes, the Tribunal of the Five to control the Hundred. Condillac says they wanted to put a brake on one authority, and they established a counterforce which was equally in need of restraining, thus always leaving the abuses to which they thought they brought a remedy to carry on.36

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The mistake of Rousseau and of writers who are the greatest friends of freedom, when they grant society a boundless power, comes from the way their ideas on politics were formed. They have seen in history a small number of men, or even one alone, in possession of immense power, which did a lot of harm. But their wrath has been directed against the wielders of power and not the power itself. Instead of destroying it, they have dreamed only of relocating it. It was a plague; but they took it as something to be conquered; and they endowed the whole society with it. Inevitably it moved from there to the majority and from the majority into a few hands. It has done just as much harm as before, and hostility to all political institutions has accumulated in the form of examples, objections, arguments, and evidence.

chapter seven: On Hobbes

The man who reduced despotism to a theoretical system most cleverly, Hobbes, was quick to support unlimited political power, in order to declare thereby in favor of the legitimacy of absolute government by a single person. The sovereign, he says (and by this word he understands the general will), is irreprehensible in his actions. All individuals Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [40] must obey, and they cannot call upon him to account for his measures. Sovereignty is absolute, a truth which has always been recognized, even by those who have stirred up rebellions, or instigated civil wars. Their motive was not the annihilation of sovereignty; but rather to move its exercise elsewhere. Democracy is an absolute sovereignty placed in the hands of everyone; aristocracy is absolute sovereignty in the hands of a few; and monarchy is absolute sovereignty in the hands of one person. The people were able to give up this absolute sovereignty in favor of a monarch, who then became its legitimate possessor.37

We can clearly see that the absolute character with which Hobbes endows political authority is the basis of his entire system. This word “absolute” changes the very nature of the question and involves us in a novel chain of consequences. This is the point where the writer leaves the road of truth in order to stride off by way of sophism to the conclusion he set for himself from the start. He shows that men’s conventions being Edition: current; Page: [[22]] insufficient to secure obedience, there has to be a coercive force to compel this, that given that a society must defend itself against foreign aggression, there has to be a common force to arm for the common defense; that the existence of conflicting claims among men means there must be laws to establish their rights. He concludes from the first point that the sovereign has an absolute right to punish, from the second that he has an absolute right to wage war, and from the third that he is absolute in legislative power. Nothing could be more false than these conclusions. The sovereign does have the right to punish, but only for culpable actions. He does have the right to wage war, but only when society is attacked. He does have the right Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [41] to make laws, but only when they are necessary and insofar as they are just. There is, therefore, nothing “absolute,” nothing arbitrary in these prerogatives. Democracy is power in the hands of all, but power only in such measure as is needed for the security of the society. Aristocracy is this same authority entrusted to a few; and monarchy is the same thing brought together in one person. The people can divest themselves of this authority in favor of a single man or of a small number, but their power remains limited, like that of the people who vested it in them. With this cutting out of a single word, one Hobbes had inserted gratuitously into the construction of a sentence, his whole frightful system collapses. On the contrary, with the word “absolute,” neither liberty, nor, as we will see subsequently, peace, nor happiness, is possible under any institutional arrangements. Popular government is only a convulsive tyranny; monarchical government only a more morose and taciturn despotism.

When we see a distinguished author arrive by way of specious arguments at manifestly absurd results, it will prove instructive in itself and aid greatly in the refutation of error if, by way of research, we retrace the line of this writer’s thoughts, so to speak, to try and pinpoint where he started to deviate from the truth. Almost all writers start off from some true principle. Once this principle has been posited, however, all it takes to vitiate their whole theory is an invalid distinction, or an ill-defined term, or a superfluous word. In Helvétius, for example, it is an ill-defined term. His starting point is incontestable: all our ideas reach us through our senses. He concludes from this that sensation is everything. To think is to feel, he says, and therefore to feel is to think.38 This is where he goes wrong. The error stems from an ill-defined term, in this case “to feel” or “sensation.” To think Edition: current; Page: [[23]] is to feel; but to feel is not to think. In Rousseau, as we saw, the mistake came from an invalid distinction. He sets out from a truth, namely that the general will must make the law; but he distinguishes the prerogatives of society from those of government. He believes that society must possess boundless political power, and from there he goes astray. It is clear that in Hobbes a superfluous word is the cause of the trouble. He too has a correct starting point, namely that we need a coercive force in order Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [42] to govern human societies. But he slips into his sentence a single unnecessary epithet, the word “absolute,” and his whole argument becomes a tissue of errors.

chapter eight: Hobbes’s Opinion Reproduced

A contemporary writer, the author of Essays on Morality and Politics, has revived Hobbes’s system, only with much less profundity and much weaker inspiration and logic. Like Hobbes, he sets off from the principle of unlimited sovereignty. He has assumed political authority to be absolute and transferred from society to a man he defines as the species personified, the individualized collectivity. Just as Rousseau had said that the social body cannot hurt either the collectivity of members nor any individual member,39 this writer says that the depository of power, the man become society itself, cannot harm society, because all the ill he could do to it, he would experience precisely himself, insofar as he is society itself.40 Just as Rousseau Edition: current; Page: [[24]] says that the individual cannot resist society because he has handed over all his rights to it, without reserve,41 this man claims that the authority of the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [43] depository of power is absolute, because no member of the collectivity can struggle against the collectivity as a whole. He also claims that there can be no responsibility on the part of the depository of power, since no individual can be in dispute with the body of which he is a part, and that the latter can respond only by making him return to the order he should never have left. He then adds, so that we should in no way be fearful of tyranny: now, here is the reason his authority (that of the depository of power) was not arbitrary. “This was no longer a man. This was a people.”42 What a marvelous guarantee this switch in reasoning provides!

chapter nine: On the Inconsistency with Which Rousseau Has Been Reproached

Because he had not felt that political power had to be limited, Rousseau was drawn into a quandary he was able to escape only by undoing with one hand what he had built with the other. He declared that sovereignty could be neither given away,43 nor delegated, nor represented, which was to declare, less roundly, that it could not be exercised. This destroyed in fact the principle he had just proclaimed. Those seeking to explain his Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [44] theory Edition: current; Page: [[25]] have accused him of inconsistency.44 On the contrary, his reasoning was very consistent. Terror-struck at the spectacle of the immense political power he had just created, he had no idea in whose hands to place so monstrous a power and had thought of no defense against the danger inseparable from sovereignty as he had conceived it, save an expedient which made the exercise of that sovereignty impossible. It was only those who adopted his principle, separating it from what made it less disastrous, who were bad reasoners and guilty politicians. It is the principle which needs rejecting, since so long as it does not produce despotism, it is only an inapplicable theory, since it leads to despotism as soon as people do try to apply it.

So it is not inconsistency of which Rousseau must be accused. The reproach he deserves is that he set off from an invalid hypothesis and went astray in superfluous subtleties.

I do not side at all with his detractors. A rabble of inferior minds, who see their brief success as consisting in calling into doubt every redoubtable truth, is excitedly anxious to take away his greatness. This is just one more reason to render him our homage. He was the first writer to popularize the sense of our rights. His was a voice to stir generous hearts and independent spirits. But what he felt so powerfully, he did not know how to define precisely. Several chapters of The Social Contract are worthy of the scholastic writers of the sixteenth century. What is meant by rights which one enjoys all the more for having given them away completely? Just what is a freedom in virtue of which one is all the more free the more unquestioningly one does what runs counter to one’s own wishes?45 These are Edition: current; Page: [[26]] deadly Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [45] theological sophisms such as give weapons to all tyrannies, to the tyranny of one man, to that of a few people, to the legally constituted kind, and to the kind dominated by popular fury! Jean-Jacques’s errors have seduced many friends of freedom, because they were established to counter other, more degrading mistakes. Even so, we cannot refute them strongly enough, because they put insuperable obstacles in the way of any free or moderate constitution, and they supply a banal pretext for all manner of political outrages.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK II: On the Principles to Replace Received Ideas on the Extent of Political Authority

  • Ch. 1. On the limitation of political authority. 31
  • Ch. 2. On the rights of the majority. 32
  • Ch. 3. On the insignificance of the way government is organized when political power is not limited. 35
  • Ch. 4. Objection to the possibility of limiting political authority. 36
  • Ch. 5. On the limits of political authority restricted to a minimum. 38
  • Ch. 6. On individual rights when political authority is thus restricted. 39
  • Ch. 7. On the principle of utility substituted for the idea of individual rights. 39
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chapter one: On the Limitation of Political Authority

A careful distinction must be made between Rousseau’s two principles. The first has to be accepted. All authority which does not issue from the general will is undoubtedly illegitimate. The second must be rejected. The authority which issues from the general will is not legitimate merely by virtue of this, whatever its extent may be and whatever objects it is exercised over. The first of these principles is the most salutary truth, the second the most dangerous of errors. The former is the basis of all freedom, the latter the justification of all despotism.

In a society whose members have equal rights, it is certain that no member can on his own make obligatory laws for the others. It is wrong, however, to say that society as a whole enjoys this faculty without restriction. The body of all citizens is sovereign. This is to say that no individual, no group, no faction, can assume sovereignty except by delegation from that body. It does not follow, however, that the citizen body or those in whom it has vested the exercise of its sovereignty, can use it to dispose sovereignly of individual lives. On the contrary, there is a part of human existence which necessarily remains individual and independent, and by right beyond all political jurisdiction. Sovereignty exists only in a limited and relative way. The jurisdiction of this sovereignty stops where independent, individual existence begins. If society crosses this boundary, it becomes as guilty of tyranny as the despot whose only claim to office is the murderous sword. The legitimacy of government Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [50] depends on its purpose as well as upon its source. When that government is extended to purposes outside its competence, it becomes illegitimate. Political society cannot exceed its jurisdiction without being usurpative, nor can the majority without becoming factious. The assent of the majority is not enough in all circumstances to render its actions lawful. There are acts which nothing can endow with that character. When a government of any sort puts a threatening hand on that part of individual life beyond its proper scope, it matters little on what such authority claims to be based, whether it calls itself individual or nation. Even if it were the whole nation, except for the man it is harassing, it would be no more legitimate for that. If anyone thinks these maxims dangerous, let him think about the other, contrary dispensation which authorized the horrors of Robespierre and the oppressions of Caligula alike.

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chapter two: On the Rights of the Majority

No doubt individuals should submit to the majority. It is not that majority decisions have to be seen as infallible. Any collective decision, that is to say, any decision taken by a group of men, is exposed to two kinds of drawback. When it is dictated by passionate feelings, it is clear these can lead to mistakes. Even when the decisions of the majority are taken in a spirit of calm, however, they are exposed to dangers of another kind. They are formed by negotiation between divergent opinions. Now, if one of the opinions was right, it is clear that the transaction can have been achieved only to the detriment of truth. It may have corrected wrong opinions in some respects, but it has misrepresented the correct opinion or made it less accurate.

It has been shown by mathematical calculations that, when an assembly is held to choose between a certain number of candidates, usually the victor is not the object of the most Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [51] complete agreement, but of the least repugnance.1 The same thing happens to majority opinions as happens to such candidates in an assembly. This is an inevitable ill, however. If we were to conclude, on the grounds of the possible errors of the majority, that we should subordinate our wills to the will of the minority, we would find ourselves with violent or mendacious institutions.

The prerogative of the majority is that of the strongest. It is unjust. It would be still more unjust, however, if the will of the weakest were to prevail. If society has to make a decision, the strongest or the weakest, the most or the least numerous, must triumph. If the right of the majority, that is, the strongest, were not recognized, the right of the minority would be. This is to say that injustice would weigh down on a greater number of people. The liberum veto (the free veto) of Poland, which intended that the laws should have force only nemine contradicente (no one being opposed), did not make all the citizens free, but rather subjected them all to one person. It is in order to conserve the freedom of the greatest number that the most just lawmakers have found themselves obliged to undermine the freedom Edition: current; Page: [[33]] of all.2 We have to resign ourselves to disadvantages inherent in the nature of things and which the nature of things puts right. There is a restorative force in nature. Everything natural carries its remedy with it. That which is artificial, on the contrary, has disadvantages at least as great, and nature furnishes us with no remedy. But what she does do to counter the errors of the majority, is to circumscribe its rights within precise limits. If you say its power is boundless, you abandon all defenses against the consequences of its errors.

The majority can make the law only on issues on which the law must pronounce. On those on which the law must not pronounce, the wish of the majority is no more legitimate than that of the smallest of minorities.

I ask pardon for perhaps overextending this subject—it is so important—and for having recourse to an example in order to make these Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [52] truths more tangible. Let us suppose some men get together for a commercial undertaking. They pool part of their wealth. This is the common wealth. What is left to each man is his private wealth. As a majority, members can direct the use of common funds. If, however, that majority claimed the right to extend its jurisdiction to the rest of the wealth of other members, no law court would uphold this claim.

It is the same with political authority. If the comparison is inexact, this is in respect of one point only, and this inexactitude works in favor of our argument. In the case of our private hypothetical association, there exists outside that association a constraint preventing the majority from oppressing the minority. A small group of men cannot take over the name of the majority in order to tyrannize the association. After all, this association may have entered contractual arrangements for which it is jointly liable, with an outside party. In politics, however, none of these conditions obtains. The political community is not responsible to any outside party. There are only two fractions: the majority and the minority. The majority is the judge when it acts within its competence, and becomes a faction when it exceeds this role. No outside force prevents the majority from sacrificing the minority, or a small band of men from calling themselves the majority in order to control everyone. It is therefore vital to make up for this missing external force, by fixed principles from which the majority never deviates.

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Political authority is like government credit. Governments, being always more powerful than their creditors, are by this very fact forced into more stringent scrupulousness. For if they deviate from this a single time, no coercive force being exercisable against them, confidence is frightened away and no longer to be reassured. Just so, the majority always having the power to trespass upon individual or minority rights, if it does not most scrupulously abstain from such, all security vanishes, for there is no guarantee either against the repetition of such offenses or ever-increasing excesses.

A frequent source of error about the proper scope of political authority is the constant confusion of the common interest with the interests of all. The common interest concerns only society as a whole. The interests of all are simply the sum of individual interests. Apart from fractional interests which concern only an individual or fraction of society and hence fall outside all political jurisdiction, there are further things which concern all the members of society and which Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [53] nevertheless must not be subject to the force of the general will. These things interest each person as an individual and not as a member of the collectivity. Religion is a case in point, for example. Political authority must always act upon the common interest, but it must act on the interests of all only when the common interest is also at stake. The comparison I have previously used will explain what I mean. That part of their wealth individuals hold in common is their common wealth. You could call the sum of what each member retains privately the wealth of all, but if members have not pooled it, it is precisely the wealth of all rather than the common wealth. It is not one undifferentiated thing. It is the sum of all individual fortunes, independent one from another. These are not all of a piece, nor do they merge together. The polity can legitimately make use of the common fund but not of the private wealth of all. It is an error to conclude from the fact that an issue touches on all members of a society that it must be an issue of the common interest. It may be something which touches people only as individuals. Religion, for example, is a case in point. Before we concede the right of government to get involved in this issue, we need to see if it includes any point of common interest, that is to say, if the interests of individuals are of such a nature that they collide and cause mutual offense. It is only then that political involvement is called for, and even then only to prevent friction. If, on the contrary, these interests live side by side without troubling each other, they are not under political jurisdiction. It is de jure that they are not, and we will show that they must not be de facto, since such jurisdiction would merely harass Edition: current; Page: [[35]] them pointlessly. They should retain their independence and their complete individuality.

Most political writers, above all those who wrote according to the most popular principles, fell into a bizarre error when they spoke about majority rights. They represented the majority as a real person whose existence is protracted and which always comprises the same parts. In fact, however, it happens all the time that a section of the population which was in the majority yesterday forms today’s minority. To defend the rights of minorities is therefore to defend the rights of all. Everyone in turn finds himself in the minority. The whole society is divided into a host of minorities which are oppressed in succession. Each one, isolated to be made a victim, becomes again, by a strange metamorphosis, a part of what is called the exalted whole, which serves as a pretext for the sacrifice of some other Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [54] minority. To grant the majority unlimited power is to offer to the people en masse the slaughter of the people piecemeal. Injustice and misfortune make their way round the whole society, becoming ever more oppressive of individuals in isolation in the name of all. At the end of this dreadful rotation, all people find they have lost more, irretrievably, as individuals, than they had transiently gained as members of society.

chapter three: On the Organization of Government When Political Authority Is Not Limited

When political authority is not limited, the organization of government becomes a very secondary question. The mutual supervision of the diverse sections of the government is useful only in preventing one of them from aggrandizing itself at the expense of the others. But if the total sum of their powers is unbounded, if when they band together these government sections are permitted to invade everything, who is to stop them forming coalitions to engage in oppression at will?

What matters to me is not that my personal rights shall not be violated by one such power-group, without the approval of another such, but that this violation be forbidden to all sections of government. It is not enough that the executive’s agents have to invoke the authorization of the legislature. Rather, it is that the legislature shall not authorize their actions except in a specified jurisdiction. It is not worth much that the executive power has no right to act without the assent of a law, if no limits are placed on this assent, if no one declares that there are things about which the legislature has no right to Edition: current; Page: [[36]] make laws, or, in other words, that there are areas of individual existence in relation to which society is not entitled to have any will.

If political authority is not limited, the division of powers,3 ordinarily the guarantee of freedom, becomes a danger and a scourge. The division of powers is excellent in that it draws together, as far as possible, the interests of the governing and the governed. Men in whom executive power is vested have a thousand ways of evading the workings of the law. It is therefore to be feared that if they make the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [55] laws, such laws will be worse for having been made by men who do not fear that they will ever fall on them. If you separate the making of laws from their execution, you achieve this end, that those who make the laws, and are thus governors in principle, are yet governed in application; whilst those who execute the laws, though they are governors in application, are yet among the governed in principle. If, however, in dividing power, you do not put limits on the competence of the law, it can happen that one set of men make the laws, without troubling themselves about the evils occasioned thereby, while another set execute them, in the belief that they are innocent of any harm arising from such laws, because they say they had no hand in their making. Justice and humanity find themselves between these two sets, without being able to speak to either. It would be a thousand times better, then, if the authority which carried out the laws were also charged with making them. At least it would appreciate the difficulties and pains of carrying them out.

chapter four: Objection to the Possibility of Limiting Political Authority

There is one obvious objection to the limitation of political authority. Is it possible to limit it? Is there any force strong enough to prevent its breaking through the barriers we have prescribed for it? Some might say we can use various ingenious combinations to limit power by dividing it. We can put its different parts in opposition and in equilibrium. But how can we ensure that its total sum is not unlimited? How can power be limited other than by power itself?

The limitation of political authority in the abstract would probably be a sterile quest, if one did not then back it up with the guarantees it needs in Edition: current; Page: [[37]] the organization of government. The investigation of these guarantees is not within the purview of this book. Let me merely suggest that it seems possible to me that we might discover political institutions whose foundations are such as to combine the interests of the various power-holders in such a way that their most obvious advantage, as well as the longest term and securest one, would be for them all to stay within their respective spheres and thereby be mutually Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [56] contained. Even so, the first question is still the limitation of overall authority. For before organizing anything, one needs to have determined its nature and extent.

Without wanting, as philosophers too often have, to exaggerate the influence truth has on men, I will say next that it can be affirmed that when certain principles are fully and clearly demonstrated, they work in some sense as a guarantee of themselves. The most forceful interests have a kind of sense of decency which stops them from relying on errors which have been too obviously refuted. At the exact moment when the strife of the French Revolution was again stirring up into a ferment all the prejudices still existing, some errors of the same type did not dare to reappear, for the simple reason that they had been proved to be wrong. The defenders of feudal privilege did not dream of reviving the slavery which Plato in his ideal Republic and Aristotle in his Politics thought indispensable.4

There forms around all the truths people manage to environ with incontestable proof a universal agreement which soon prevails. If it is widely recognized that political authority is not boundless, that such limitless power exists nowhere on earth, no one will ever again dare to demand such power. Experience itself shows this already. Even though political authority has not yet been limited in theory, it is nevertheless in fact more confined today than before. For example, people no longer attribute powers of life and death without trial even to society as a whole. Nor does any modern government claim such a right. If the tyrants of the ancient republics seem to us far more unbridled than the governments of modern history, this must partly be attributed to this. The most monstrous outrages by despotisms based on one man were often due to the doctrine of Edition: current; Page: [[38]] the boundless power of all. So political power can be curtailed. It will be guaranteed first of all by the same force which upholds all recognized truths, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [57] that is, by public opinion. Afterward we can get busy with guaranteeing this in a more fixed way, via the specific organization of political powers. But having obtained and consolidated the first guarantee will always be a great good.

chapter five: On the Limits of Political Authority Restricted to a Minimum

Two things are indispensable for a society to exist and exist happily. First it must be protected against internal disorder and secondly sheltered from foreign invasion. Political authority must therefore be specifically entrusted with repressing this disorder and repulsing this invasion. To this end it must be invested with the right to impose penal laws against crimes, with the right to organize armed force against external enemies, and finally, with the right to demand from individuals the sacrifice of a portion of their individual wealth in order to meet the expenses of these two purposes. The vital jurisdiction of political authority therefore comprises two branches: the punishment of offenses and resistance to aggression.

We must even distinguish two kinds of offenses, those intrinsically harmful and those which offend only as violations of contracted undertakings. Society’s jurisdiction over the first kind is absolute. With regard to the second kind it is only relative. It depends on the nature of the undertaking and on the claim of the injured party. Even when the victim of an assassination or theft would like to pardon the guilty person, society should still punish him, because the offense committed is intrinsically harmful. When, however, the breaking of an agreement is agreed to by all the contracting or involved parties, society has no right to enforce prolonged compliance, just as it has no right to dissolve the agreement on the say-so of one party alone.

It is clear that society’s jurisdiction cannot stop short of these limits, but it can remain within them. We can scarcely imagine a nation in which individual crimes Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [58] remained unpunished and which had prepared no means of resisting the attacks foreign nations might launch against it. But we could imagine one in which the government had no mission other than overseeing these two aims. Individual life and national security would be perfectly assured. The necessary minimum would be done.

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chapter six: On Individual Rights When Political Authority Is Thus Restricted

Individual rights are composed of everything independent of political authority. In the hypothetical case we have just presented in the last chapter, individual rights would consist in the option to do anything which does not hurt others, or in freedom of action, in the right not to be obliged to profess any belief of which one is not convinced, even though it be the majority view, or in religious freedom, in the right to make public one’s thought, using all the means of publicity, provided that that publicity does not harm any individual or provoke any wrong act, finally in the certainty of not being arbitrarily treated, as if one had exceeded the limits of individual rights, that is to say, in being guaranteed not to be arrested, detained, or judged other than according to law and with all due process.

The rights of society cannot be meaningfully distinguished from those of government, because it is impossible to indicate a way in which society can exercise its rights without the government getting involved. The rights of individuals can be usefully distinguished from those of government and society, however, because it is possible, as we see, to indicate the things government and society must refrain from pronouncing on and to leave individuals perfectly free.

chapter seven: On the Principle of Utility Substituted for the Idea of Individual Rights

A writer much to be recommended for the depth, precision, and originality of his thinking, Jeremy Bentham, has recently protested5 Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [59] against the idea of rights and above all of natural, inalienable, and imprescriptible rights. He has claimed that this idea is liable only to mislead us, and that in its place should be put the idea of utility, which he sees as simpler and more Edition: current; Page: [[40]] intelligible. Since this preferred route of his has led him to conclusions just the same as mine, I would rather not dispute his terminology. I must take issue with it, however, because the principle of utility, in the way Bentham presents it to us, seems to me to have the drawbacks common to all vague locutions, and moreover to have its own special dangers.

No doubt by defining the word “utility” appropriately, one can contrive to base on this notion exactly the same rules as those which flow from the idea of natural right and justice. A careful examination of all the questions which seem to put what is useful in opposition to what is just, leads one always to the finding that what is not just is never useful. It is nonetheless true, however, that the word “utility,” in its common meaning, summons up a different notion from that conveyed by justice or right. Now, when usage and common reason attach a fixed meaning to a word, it is dangerous to change that meaning. In vain you go on to explain what you meant. The word stays what it was and your explanation is forgotten.

“One cannot,” says Bentham,6 “reason with fanatics armed with a natural right each one understands as he sees fit, and applies as it suits him.” But by his own admission, the utility principle is quite as susceptible to multiple interpretations and contradictory applications. Utility, he says,7 has often been misapplied. Taken in a narrow sense, it has lent its name to crimes. “But we must not cast back on the principle faults which are contrary to it and which it alone can put right.” Why should this apologia be relevant to utility and not to natural right?

The principle of utility has this further danger natural right does not, that it awakens in the human heart the hope of advantage rather than the feeling of duty. Now, the evaluation of an advantage is arbitrary: it is the imagination which settles it. But neither its errors nor its whims can change the idea of duty.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [60] Actions cannot be more or less just; but they can be more or less useful. In hurting my fellow men, I violate their rights. This is an incontestable truth. But if I judge this violation only by its utility, I can get the calculation wrong, and find utility in the violation. The principle of utility is thus much vaguer than the principle of natural rights.

Far from adopting Bentham’s terminology, I should like as far as is possible to separate the idea of right from the notion of utility. This may be only a difference of wording; but it is more important than one might think.

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Right is a principle; utility is only a result. Right is a cause; utility is only an effect.

To wish to make right subject to utility is like making the eternal laws of arithmetic subject to our everyday interests.

It is no doubt useful for the general transactions of men between themselves that numbers involve unalterable relationships. If we claimed, however, that these relationships exist only because it is useful that this should be so, there would be lots of opportunities for proving that it would be infinitely more useful if these relationships were manipulable. We would forget that their constant utility comes from their invariant character, and ceasing to be unalterable, they would cease to be useful. Thus utility, by having been too favorably treated on superficial grounds, and turned into a cause, rather than being left properly as an effect, would soon vanish totally.

Morality and right are like that too. You destroy utility simply by placing it in the first rank. It is only when the rule has been demonstrated that it is good to bring out its utility.

I ask of the very author I am refuting. Do not the expressions he wants to forbid to us refer to better grounded and more precise ideas than those he claims should replace them? Say to a man: you have the right not to be put to death or arbitrarily plundered. You will give him quite another feeling of security and protection than you will by telling him: it is not useful for you to be put to death or arbitrarily plundered. One can show, as I have already acknowledged, that that is indeed never useful. But in speaking of right, you present an idea independent of any calculation. In speaking of utility, you seem to invite that the whole question be put in doubt, by subjecting it to a new verification.

What could be more absurd, cries Bentham’s ingenious and learned collaborator,8 Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [61] than inalienable rights which have always been alienated, or imprescriptible rights which have been taken away or abandoned? But to say that such rights are inalienable or imprescriptible is only to say that they should not be alienated or taken away or abandoned. One is talking of what ought to be the case, not of what is the case.

By reducing everything to the principle of utility, Bentham condemned himself to an artificial evaluation of the results of all human actions, an evaluation which goes against the simplest and most customary ideas. When he speaks of fraud, theft, etc., he has to admit that if there is loss on one side, there is gain on the other. Then his principle, in order to reject the Edition: current; Page: [[42]] charge of identical actions, has to be that the benefit of the gain is not equivalent to the ill of the loss.9 The benefit and the ill being separate, however, the man who commits the theft will find that his gain matters more to him than another’s loss. Any idea of justice being now out of the question, he will henceforth calculate only his gain. He will say: for me my gain is more than equivalent to the loss by other people. He will thus be held back by nothing except fear of discovery. This theory wipes out all moral motivation.

In repudiating Bentham’s first principle, I am far from belittling that writer’s merits. His work is full of original ideas and profound perspectives. All the consequences he derives from his principle are precious truths in themselves. It is not that the principle is false; it is only the terminology which is wrong. Once he manages to detach himself from his terminology, he brings together in a most admirable structure the soundest notions on political economy, on the caution with which governments should intervene in people’s lives, on population, on religion, on commerce, on the penal laws, on the appropriateness of punishments to crimes. He happened, however, like many estimable writers, to mistake a rewording for a discovery, a rewording to which he then sacrificed everything.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK III: On Arguments and Hypotheses in Favor of the Extension of Political Authority

  • Ch. 1. On the extension of political authority beyond its necessary minimum, on the grounds of utility. 47
  • Ch. 2. On the hypotheses without which extension of political authority is illegitimate. 49
  • Ch. 3. Are governors necessarily less liable to error than the governed? 50
  • Ch. 4. Are governmental mistakes less dangerous than those of individuals? 55
  • Ch. 5. On the nature of the means political authority can use on the grounds of utility. 57
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chapter one: On the Extension of Political Authority beyond Its Necessary Minimum, on the Grounds of Utility

In no nation have individuals enjoyed individual rights in all their fullness. No government has confined the exercise of political authority to strictly necessary limits. All have gone far beyond this, and philosophers in all ages, and writers of all persuasions, have endorsed the extension with the whole weight of their approval.

Among this number I do not count merely ordinary and second-rate minds, but the most distinguished authors of the last two centuries: Fénelon,1 Rousseau, Mably,2 and even in some respects Montesquieu.

M. Necker is not free from the errors with which I reproach those who favor an increase in political authority. He calls the sovereign power the tutor of public happiness3 and, when he deals with commercial prohibitions, he constantly assumes that individuals let themselves be dominated by short-term considerations, and that the sovereign power understands their long-term interests better than they themselves.4 What Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [66] in M. Necker’s case makes this error more excusable and touching, is that he is always so passionately concerned with improving things, and that he sees in government only a more extensive means of benevolence and good works.

Man, such writers say, is a product of law. In the beginning men make institutions, and subsequently institutions make men. Government must seize us from our first moments and surround us with virtue, both by example and precept. It must direct, improve, and enlighten that numerous Edition: current; Page: [[48]] and ignorant class of people who, lacking time for reflection, are forced to receive the verities themselves on others’ say-so and in the form of prejudices. Any time the law abandons us is a time it gives to the passions to tempt, seduce, and control us. Law must excite in us the love of work, engrave in the spirit of youth respect for morality, enthuse the imagination with subtly combined institutions, and dig deep into our hearts and uproot guilty thoughts there, rather than limiting itself to repressing harmful actions. Law should prevent crimes instead of punishing them. Law should regulate our least movements, preside over the spread of enlightenment, over industrial development, over the perfecting of the arts. It must lead, as by the hand, the benighted crowd it must instruct, or the corrupted one it must correct.

In support of this doctrine, these illustrious protagonists cite the most memorable examples of the nations of antiquity, in which all the jobs men pursued, all the actions of their lives, were covered by laws, their least words were dictated, and even their pleasures were legally regulated.5

Imbued with such principles, the leaders of the French Revolution thought themselves so many Lycurguses, Solons, Numas, or Charlemagnes. At this very time, despite the sorry results of their efforts, one is still more inclined to blame the blundering of the entrepreneurs than the nature of the enterprise.

A general observation is necessary before we examine in detail the theory aiming to legitimate the extension of political authority.

This extension is not absolutely necessary, as we believe we have shown. It is driven solely by the hope that it will be useful. The argument for utility once allowed, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [67] however, we are brought back, despite all our efforts, to the disadvantages which flow from the blind, colossal force which seemed to us so terrible when we called it unlimited sovereignty. Utility does not lend itself to precise demonstration. It is a matter of individual opinion and consequently of interminable discussion. You can find utilitarian reasons for all orders and prohibitions. Forbidding citizens to leave their houses would prevent all the crimes which are committed on the highways. To have them appear every morning in front of their town hall would stop vagabonds, thieves, and dangerous men from hiding in the big cities on the lookout for criminal opportunities. This is the kind of thinking which in our day turned Edition: current; Page: [[49]] France into one vast prison. Nothing in nature is immaterial in the rigorous sense of the word. Everything has its cause and its effects. Everything has results, real or possible; everything can be useful or dangerous. In a system in which political authority is sole judge of all these possibilities, it is clear that such authority has absolutely no limits nor could have. If it must be limited, however, everything in its jurisdiction must be so too. What cannot be limited does not belong to such jurisdiction. Now, we have shown jurisdiction must be limited. Therefore, before understanding any system at all in terms of its various prerogatives, we have to see if we can draw a line marking where the exercise of that prerogative must stop. If there is no way of drawing such a line, the prerogative itself must be nonexistent. Authority has been taken beyond its competence. For it is of the essence of that competence that it must not be without limits. Set it up without limits and you fall once again into the bottomless abyss of arbitrary rule. Set it up without limits for a single purpose and there will no longer be any security in the social order. For if the security of a single part of the social order is absent, the security of the rest vanishes. If it is not destroyed de facto it is destroyed de jure. Now, the fact is only an accident. Law alone provides a guarantee. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [68]

chapter two: On the Hypotheses without Which the Extension of Political Authority Is Illegitimate

The imagination can come up with some singularly useful activity for indefinitely extended political authority, always on the assumption that it will be exercised on the side of reason and in the interests of all and of justice, that the means it chooses are always honorable and bound to succeed, that it will manage to govern human faculties without degrading them, that it will act, in a word, in the way the religiously minded understand providence, as a thing linking the force of command with the deepest heartfelt conviction. To adopt these brilliant suppositions, however, one must accept three hypotheses. First, the government must be imagined to be, if not infallible, at least indubitably more enlightened than the governed. This is because to intervene in people’s interpersonal relations with more wisdom than they could show themselves, to steer the development of their faculties and the use of their own resources better than their own judgment could, you must have the assured gift of distinguishing better Edition: current; Page: [[50]] than they what is advantageous from what is harmful. Without this, what gains do you bring to happiness, social order, or morality by enlarging the powers of governments? You create a blind force whose dispositions are abandoned to chance. You draw lots between good and evil, error and truth, and chance decides which will be empowered. Any extension of authority, vested in the governors, taking place always at the expense of the freedom of the governed, furthermore requires, before we can assent to this sacrifice, that it seems probable that the former will make a better use of their extended power than the latter would of their freedom. In the second place, we must suppose that if, in spite of its superior enlightenment, the government gets it wrong, its errors will be less disastrous than those of individuals. Finally, we have to reassure ourselves that the means in the hands of governments will not produce an evil greater than the good they are supposed to achieve.

We are going to look at these three hypotheses in turn. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [69]

chapter three: Are Governors Necessarily Less Liable to Error Than the Governed?

It is easy to affirm that light has to come from elevated places and that an enlightened government must lead the masses. Writing these words, one is conceiving government as an abstract being, made up of all that is finest, most learned, and wisest in a nation. But this idea of government which people devise for themselves contains a confused sense of historical period and a petitio principii. Historical eras are confused in that such people do not distinguish barbarous nations from civilized ones. No doubt when some clan possessing only the crudest notions indispensable to physical survival comes, by way of conquest or any other means, under a government which acquaints it with the first elements of civilization, then the members of that government are more educated than those they govern. Thus we can hold Cecrops, if he existed, more enlightened than the Athenians, Numa than the Romans, Mahomet than the Arabs. But to apply this thinking to a civilized society seems to me a great error. In such a society, there are many who become enlightened, it is true, only with the greatest difficulty, working, as they do in the nature of things, in mechanical occupations. The governors are incontestably superior to them. There is also an educated class, however, of which the governors are a part, and only a very small part. The comparison must not be made between the uneducated classes Edition: current; Page: [[51]] and the governing group, but between the governors and the educated class. The latter must instruct and direct the rest of the nation. But we must distinguish its influence as enlightened from that of a fraction of itself as the government. When the question is posed in this way, it involves a petitio principii to attribute to governments the superiority of enlightenment. It jumps over without examining a prime difficulty which occurs in the formation of governments. Governments can be formed in three ways: by heredity, by election, and by force. We say nothing of this last way. In practice it is not likely to be attacked, because it has the advantage of being able to impose silence. Neither, however, would one take it into one’s head to justify it in principle.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [70] When hereditary monarchy rested on divine right, the very mystery which sanctioned this theocratic institution was able to invest the monarch with superior enlightenment, like some gift from heaven. We find just this attitude in the memoirs written by Louis XIV.6 Nowadays, however, when governments rest on purely human bases, this religious justification is not admissible. Heredity presents us only with a succession of governors brought up to power, and our experience of what results from the two Edition: current; Page: [[52]] elements of chance and flattery is almost too abundant. Election gives governments the sanction of popular opinion. Is this sanction, however, a guarantee of an enlightenment exclusive to those invested with power? The writers who claim so describe a most singular circle. When someone allows himself some doubt on the excellence of the governing group, the people’s choice seems to them an unanswerable reply to these insulting doubts. In this part of their intellectual schema the people are therefore infallible. Let anyone demand, however, the same people’s right to look after their own interests and opinions, and such writers will say this control belongs to the government. This second part of the schema declares the people incapable of proceeding on their own, without falling into error after error. Thus by some prodigy or other Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [71] an ignoble, ridiculous, degraded, and stupid rabble, which cannot behave itself, and which needs endless guidance, suddenly becomes enlightened for a unique and unrepeatable moment, in which it can appoint or accept its leaders, before immediately falling back into blindness and ignorance. The people, as first Machiavelli and later Montesquieu show, almost always make good choices as to specific officeholders. But the very arguments of these writers demonstrate that if we are to make sure that the people’s choice is a good one, the duties they confer have to be very definitely circumscribed, confined within precise limits. “The people,” says Montesquieu,7 “are admirable when it comes to choosing those on whom they have to confer some part of their authority. They know very well that a man has often been to the wars, with such and such a success. They are thus very capable of electing a general. They know that a judge is assiduous, that many people leave his courtroom very pleased with him and that he has not been convicted of corruption. They are well able to elect a senior magistrate therefore. Say they have been struck by the opulence and wealth of a certain citizen. That equips them to make him a town councillor. They have only to make their mind up for reasons they cannot be ignorant of and with regard to self-evident facts.” It will be seen that all the examples M. de Montesquieu rests on, apply only to the functions of political authority kept to a strict minimum. It is the same with what Machiavelli says.8 Men, he observes, although liable to get things generally wrong, do not get them wrong in their particulars. But to ask the people to appoint the government, if its members do anything more than punish crimes and repel invasions, if, that is, such governors Edition: current; Page: [[53]] arrogate to themselves jurisdiction over public opinion, over enlightenment, over unimportant actions, over property, over industry, in a word, over everything, then the people are no longer being asked to pronounce on the particular but on the general. The people’s choice, when it is a free one and the times are untroubled, speaks in favor of the particular talent of the man to whom it entrusts a specific task. The people appreciate a judge by his judgments, a general by his victories. When, however, it comes to indefinite power, bearing on things which are vague, or arbitrary, or without clear limits, the people’s choice proves nothing. In such a situation they do not have anterior facts or self-evident facts on the basis of which to make up their mind. The people’s choice naturally destines Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [72] men of the educated class to political office. But there is no chance that these representatives of the people will be intellectually superior to the rest of their class. Their opinions will be at the level of ideas in the widest circulation. For this very reason they will be excellent at maintaining the society, at negative protection. They will be useless at leadership. For upholding and conserving purposes, the general level suffices. Leadership demands something higher. If you suppose, says Condorcet in the first of his Five Commentaries on Public Education (page 55), that the government is more enlightened than the mass, you must also suppose it less enlightened than lots of individuals.9 We will add that the qualities which lend authority to a government founded on popular choice are always more or less mutually exclusive of those other qualities particularly relevant to the spread of enlightenment. To gain the confidence of the great mass of the people calls for tenacious ideas, a one-sidedness in opinion, a positive way of seeing things and acting, more force than finesse, and greater quickness in Edition: current; Page: [[54]] grasping the whole picture than subtlety in discerning the details. These things are excellent for purposes of repression and surveillance, for everything in the functions of government which is set, established, or precise. But carried over to the world of intelligence, opinion, enlightenment, or morality, they have about them something primitive, inflexible, and coarse, which goes against the aim of improvement or the perfecting of things one has in view. There is one other thought which must not escape us. There is something about power which more or less warps judgment. Force is far more liable to error than Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [73] weakness is. Force finds resources in itself. Weakness needs thought. All things equal, it is always likely that the governors will have views which are less just, less sound, and less impartial than those of the governed. Suppose there are two equally enlightened men, one in power, the other a plain citizen. Do you not feel that the first, endlessly called upon to act, more or less compromised in his actions, in a more exposed position, will have less time to reflect, more reason to persist, and thus more chance of mistakes than the second, who can reflect at leisure, is not pledged to any line, has no reason to defend a wrong idea, has compromised neither his power, nor safety, nor self-esteem, and who finally, if he does embrace that wrong idea passionately, has no way of making it prevail? The chances of mistakes by government ministers are not a reason for putting in doubt the need for the functions of government, in matters of security, internal or external. These functions being a proven necessity, an authority must at all cost be set up to exercise them and run the risk of its mistakes. These are anyway not very dangerous. There is nothing simpler than the questions on which these functions of government call it to pronounce. To preserve the State from enemy invasions, the law must decree that responsible agents will keep an eye on the movements of foreigners and that a body of men will be ready to move at a given signal. To maintain good internal order the law must lay down that particular crimes will be followed by particular punishments. To defray the costs of these two objectives, the law must decree that each citizen will supply the public funds with a given proportion of his wealth. These functions demand from government only the common intelligence and enlightenment vouchsafed by the upbringing of most of the educated class. It is not the same with the numberless, unlimited functions which the government must assume when it exceeds these limits. It is at once less necessary that these new functions should be fulfilled, more difficult to do them well, and more dangerous if they are done badly. They do not have the same Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [74] sanction as the necessary functions. Utility is their only claim. Now, this utility rests only on Edition: current; Page: [[55]] the supposed superior qualities of the governors over the governed. When the only thing we have shown is that this superiority is doubtful, this constitutes for me an irrefutable objection to these functions. Terminology has been behind most false ideas. Impersonal verbs have misled political writers. They thought they were saying something when they said there has to be direction of men’s opinions. One must not abandon men to their erratic minds. There has to be an impact on thought. There are opinions men can usefully take advantage of in order to deceive others. But these words—there has to be, one must, one must not—do not these refer to men too? You would think the talk were about another species. All the sentences which deceive us here, however, come down to saying: men must control the views of men. Men must not leave other men to their erratic thoughts. Men can usefully exploit opinions in order to deceive men. Impersonal verbs seem to have persuaded our philosophers that there is something else besides men in governing groups.

We can reply to those who want to subject the intelligence of the many to that of the few what a famous Roman said to his son when the latter proposed to take a town, with the sacrifice of three hundred soldiers. Would you care to be one of this three hundred? And it should also be added that it is not certain that the town will be taken.10

chapter four: Are Governmental Mistakes Less Dangerous Than Those of Individuals?

Governments being like individuals subject to mistakes, we must now explore whether governmental mistakes are less serious than those of individuals. For one might confine oneself to saying that mistakes being inevitable, it is better that governments make them, and people obey. This would be in some sense to confer on government full powers to get things wrong in our stead. But government mistakes are a serious nuisance in three ways. First of all, they Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [75] create positive ill just by their wrongness in principle. In the second place, however, men, being forced to resign themselves to them, adjust their interests and behavior to them too. Then, when the error is recognized, it is almost as dangerous to destroy it as to Edition: current; Page: [[56]] let it continue. Government, sometimes struck with the danger of continuing with defective arrangements, sometimes with the danger of repudiating them, follows an uncertain and wavering course and ends up doubly offensive. Finally, when the erroneous policy collapses, new troubles result from the upset to people’s calculations and the slighting of their practices. Doubtless individuals can make mistakes too; but several basic differences make theirs far less fatal than those of government. If individuals go astray, the laws are there to check them. When government goes wrong, however, its mistakes are fortified with all the weight of the law. Thus the errors of government are generalized, and condemn individuals to obedience. The mistakes of individual interest are singular. One person’s mistake has absolutely no influence on the conduct of another. When government remains neutral, any mistake is detrimental to him who commits it. Nature has given every man two guides: his interest and experience. If he mistakes his interest, he will soon be enlightened by his personal losses, and what reason will he have for persisting? He need consult no one save himself. Without anyone’s noticing it or forcing it on him, he can withdraw, advance, or change direction, in a word, freely set himself straight. The government’s situation is the exact opposite. Further away from the consequences of its measures and not experiencing their effects in so immediate a way, it discovers its mistake later. When it does discover it, it finds itself in the presence of hostile observers. Quite correctly it is afraid of being discredited by the process of rectification. Between the moment when government strays from the path of virtue and the moment when it notices, lots of time slips by; but even more between the latter point and the moment it starts to retrace its steps, and the very action of retracing is dangerous too. Therefore whenever it is not necessary, that is, whenever there is no question of the punishment of crimes or resistance to foreign invasions, it is better to run the natural risk of individual mistakes than Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [76] the risk of equally likely government ones. The right I guard most jealously, said some philosopher or other, is to be wrong. He spoke truly. If men let governments take this right away, they will no longer have any individual freedom, and this sacrifice will not protect them from mistakes, since government will merely substitute its own for those of individuals.11

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chapter five: On the Nature of the Means Political Authority Can Use on the Grounds of Utility

We come to the third question. Do not the means which governments possess, when they are used on the vague pretext that they are useful, produce harm greater than the good which governments intend to attain?

All human faculties can be abused. But when we fix our gaze on the abuses of these faculties and persuade ourselves in a facile fashion that it is good to restrain them, or when we think that government must constrain man to make the best use possible of these faculties, we are envisaging the question from a very incomplete perspective. One should never lose sight of what the restrictions on these faculties lead to.

The theory of government comprises two comparative terms: the usefulness of the end and the nature of the means. It is a mistake to think just of the first of these, since this leaves out of the reckoning the pressure these means exert, the obstacles they encounter, and therefore the danger and misfortune Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [77] of clashes. One can then make a great show of the advantages one is proposing to obtain. As long as one describes these advantages, one will see the purpose as marvelous and the arrangements beyond reproach. There is no despotism in the world, however inept its plans and oppressive its measures, which does not know how to plead some abstract purpose of a plausible and desirable kind. If this is unattainable, however, or achievable only via means whose resultant ill exceeds the good aspired to, a great deal of eloquence will have been squandered in vain, and we will have been gratuitously subjected to a lot of vexations.

This consideration will guide us in this work. We will apply ourselves mostly to pinning down the results of the means which political authority can use, exercising the powers it assumes, when the pretext for its acts is their utility. We will finish by examining how far the examples the nations of antiquity have left us are applicable to modern peoples, to the practices and customs—in a word, the moral nature—of contemporary societies.

Governments can use two sorts of means—prohibitive or coercive laws, and the acts we call measures for securing public order in ordinary circumstances or “coups d’Etat” in extraordinary ones. Several authors say government has means of a third type. They speak constantly of action on public opinion of a gentle or adroit or indirect kind. To create public opinion, to revive public opinion, to enlighten public opinion—these are words Edition: current; Page: [[58]] we find attributed to the powers of government on every page of all the pamphlets and books, in all the political projects and, during the French Revolution, we found it in all the acts of government. There has always seemed to me, however, to be a troubling side to this thesis. I have always observed that all government measures which seek to influence in this way, result in punishments for those who evade them. Apart from proclamations, which in consequence are seen as mere formalities, government, when it begins with advice, finishes with menaces. Indeed, as Mirabeau put it very well, everything which depends on thought, or opinion, is individual.12 It is Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [78] never as a government that a government persuades. In this capacity a government can only command or punish. Therefore I do not count among the real means of authority these double-faced endeavors which for government are only dissimulation, which it will soon drop as useless or inconvenient. I will return to this subject in a special chapter at the end of this book.13 Here I confine myself to the two means which really are at the disposal of the government.

Republics, when they are at peace, produce endless prohibitive and coercive laws. In troubled times, they are equally liable to coups d’Etat. This form of government has the danger that the men who get to the top do not have the habit of government and do not know how to get around the difficulties. Each time they meet one, they think violence is necessary. They suspend the laws, overturn due process, and bleat stupidly that they have saved the fatherland. But a country made secure each day on such a basis is soon a lost country.

Monarchies, unless they are very stupidly organized, normally restrict themselves to measures for securing public order, though they resort to them widely.

We can say that the multiplicity of laws is a sickness of States which claim to be free, because in these States people demand that the government do everything by means of laws. We have seen our demagogues, having trampled underfoot all ideas of justice and all natural and civil laws, calmly set out again to set up what they called laws.

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One can say that the absence of laws, plus measures for public order and arbitrary acts, are the sickness of governments which make no pretense of being free, because in these governments authority does everything by using men.

This is why in general there is less personal independence in republics, but less personal security in monarchies. I am speaking of these two types of State when they are properly conducted. In republics dominated by factions or monarchies inadequately constituted and established, the two disadvantages go together.

We are going to examine in the first place the effects of the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [79] multiplicity of laws on the happiness and moral life of individuals. We may find that this rash proliferation, which in some eras has thrown disfavor onto everything which is most noble in the world, such as freedom, has made men seek refuge in the most wretched, lowest of things, namely slavery. Then we will deal also with the effects arbitrary measures have on the morality and happiness of citizens.

The reader will then be able to compare the means political authority uses when it exceeds its indispensable limits, with the purpose it ought to have in mind, to see if the government attains this purpose and to judge finally whether this purpose, supposing it to be attained, is a sufficient compensation for the effect on moral life of the means used to achieve it.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK IV: On the Proliferation of the Laws

  • Ch. 1. Natural causes of the proliferation of the laws. 63
  • Ch. 2. The idea which usually develops about the effects which the proliferation of the laws has and the falsity of that idea. 63
  • Ch. 3. That the principal benefit which supporters of democratic government are looking for in the proliferation of the laws does not exist. 65
  • Ch. 4. On the corruption which the proliferation of the laws causes among the agents of the government. 66
  • Ch. 5. Another drawback of the proliferation of the laws. 67
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chapter one: Natural Causes of the Proliferation of the Laws

The proliferation of the laws flatters the lawmaker in relation to two natural human inclinations: the need for him to act and the pleasure he gets from believing himself necessary. Anytime you give a man a special job to do, he does more rather than less. Those who are ordered to arrest vagabonds on the main roads are tempted to look for quarrels with all travelers. When spies have not found out anything, they invent. It has been remarked that all one needed to do in a country for talk of conspiracies to be heard constantly was to create a ministry to maintain surveillance on conspirators. Those in government always want to be governing; and when, because of the division of powers, a group of them are told to make laws, they cannot imagine they could possibly make too many.

Lawmakers parcel out human existence, by right of conquest, like Alexander’s generals sharing the world.

chapter two: The Idea Which Usually Develops about the Effects Which the Proliferation of the Laws Has and the Falsity of That Idea

People normally think that when the government allows itself to multiply prohibitive and coercive laws at will, provided that the intention of the legislator is clearly expressed, provided that the laws are not in any way retroactive, provided that citizens are told in time of the rule of behavior they must follow, the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [84] proliferation of laws has no drawback other than cramping individual freedoms a little. This is not the case. The proliferation of laws, even in the most ordinary of circumstances, has the bad effect of falsifying individual morality. The actions which fall within the competence of government, according to its primary purpose, are of two kinds: those intrinsically harmful which government must punish; and arrangements contracted between individuals which government must uphold. As long as government stays within these limits, it does not establish any contradiction, any difference, between legislative morality and natural morality. But when it prohibits actions which are not criminal or demands the completion of those which have not become obligatory owing to prior contract and which consequently are based only on its Edition: current; Page: [[64]] will, there are brought into society two kinds of crimes and two kinds of duties: those which are intrinsically such and those government says are such. Whether individuals make their judgment subservient to government or maintain it in its original independence, this produces equally disastrous effects. In the first hypothetical case, moral behavior becomes hesitant and fickle. Acts are no longer good or bad by reason of their good or bad outcomes, but according to whether law commands or forbids them, much as theology used to represent them as good because they pleased God, rather than as pleasing to God because they were good. The rule of the just and the unjust is no longer in the consciousness of man but in the will of the legislator. Morality and inner feeling undergo an unfathomable degradation through this dependence on an alien thing, a mere accessory—artificial, unstable, and liable to error and perversion. In the contrary case, in which a man—by supposition—opposes the law, the result is first of all many individual troubles for him and those whose fates depend on his. But in the second place, will he bother for very long disputing the law’s competence in matters he considers outside it? If he violates prohibitions and orders which seem to him arbitrary, he runs the same dangers as he would infringing the rules of eternal morality. Will not this unjust equality of consequences bring about a confusion in all his ideas? Will not his doubts, without distinction, touch on all the actions the law forbids or requires, and in the heat of his dangerous struggle with the institutions menacing him, do we not have to fear that he will soon not be able to tell good from bad any longer, nor law from the state of nature?1

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [85] Most men are kept from crime by the feeling of never having crossed the line of innocence. The more restrictedly that line is drawn, the more are men put at risk of transgressing it, however light the infraction. Just by overcoming their first scruples, they have lost their most reliable safeguard. To get around restrictions which seem to them pointless, they use means which they could use against the most sanctified of laws. They acquire thereby the habit of disobedience, and even when they want some end which is still innocent, they go astray because of the means they are forced to follow to achieve it. Forcing men to refrain from things which are not forbidden morally or imposing on them duties which morality does not require of them, is therefore not only to make them suffer, but to deprave them.

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chapter three: That the Principal Benefit Which Supporters of Democratic Government Are Looking for in the Proliferation of the Laws Does Not Exist

We said that proliferation of the laws was the sickness of states claiming to be free. The friends of democratic government have recourse to a specious argument to justify them. It is better, they say, to obey laws than men. The law must command in order that men shall not. This is no doubt true, when it is a question of obeying, and when commanding is called for. On countless matters, however, men and law alike should keep quiet, since one should not obey either.

Moreover, it is a mistake to hope the proliferation of laws will save us from the tyranny of men. In multiplying laws you necessarily create more government agents. Consequently you give a larger number of men power over their fellows and thus double the likelihood of its arbitrary misuse. This is because however precise these laws, there is always the possibility of arbitrariness, if only in the more or less severe exactness with which they are carried out.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [86] Furthermore, all written law is liable to evasion. The legislator tries in vain to provide for this with minatory precautions and detailed formalities. His expectations are always disappointed. Out of the challenge which each individual puts to the laws comes an infinite diversification of actions. A fatal struggle begins between legislator and citizen. Individual wills are irritated to find everywhere a general will which claims the right to repress them. The law subdivides, becomes more complex, multiplies: all in vain. People’s actions always manage to slip away from its proceedings. The legislator wants to defend his work just as the citizen defends his freedom. A law disobeyed calls for a tougher one. This in turn, if it is not carried out, calls for a harsher one still. The progression is endless. Finally, the legislator, tired of so many futile efforts, stops making precise laws, because experience has convinced him they are too easy to evade, however strict they may be. He makes vague laws and in this way the tyranny of men is in the final analysis the result of the proliferation of laws. It was in this way in our country that those claiming to be republicans began with hundreds of decrees—puerile, barbarous, Edition: current; Page: [[66]] and never carried out—against the clergy. They ended by giving five men the right to deport priests without trial.2

chapter four: On the Corruption Which the Proliferation of the Laws Causes among the Agents of the Government

Another drawback of the proliferation of the laws is that it inevitably corrupts the agents charged with making sure that Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [87] they are not broken or evaded. The law does not need to pay informers to make sure crimes are tracked down and punished. The individuals they hurt naturally take it upon themselves to demand reparation for them. But when laws proliferate, this is a sign that government is no longer keeping to its natural sphere; and then its activities run up against new obstacles. When, on the pretext that this is useful, the laws are aimed at things which are by their very nature not criminal, no one has any interest in denouncing transgressions which do him no harm. Government has to create an interest group; only corruption can create this. In this way, by acting outside its proper sphere, government corrupts, not only in a general way, as we saw above, those on whom it acts; it also corrupts in particular those through whom it acts. Hired ruffians, spies, and informers are men too. When the government buys them to push them to the extremities of perversity and infamy, it is dedicating a portion of the citizen-body to baseness and crime and aiming a blow at the morality of the rest, by offering everyone the example of crime rewarded.

Those in power wrongly imagine that they alone profit from the corruption of their agents. The men who sell themselves to the government by betraying others, sell themselves in the same way to others by betraying government. Such depravity is communicated to all classes of people.

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Prohibitive and coercive laws are always instruments of a dangerous sort, and the danger increases as their number and complexity grow. Laws even when directed against crime are not without drawbacks, but they are legitimated by their urgent necessity. In face of the certain prospect of the whole of society falling apart, the outcome which the impunity of crimes would produce, any drawbacks in the detail must count for nothing. When, however, it is a question of usefulness only, that is, of an imprecise and shifting calculus, what could be more absurd than sacrificing to this calculus known advantages: calm, happiness, and the good morals of the governed?

These observations hold equally strongly under all forms of government. They apply especially, however, to governments affecting to be free. Some so-called lovers of freedom have for too long cherished the idea of controlling all human actions and destroying in the human heart anything going against their deliberations or resisting their theories. The laws of liberty, says Rousseau, are a thousand times Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [88] more austere than the tyrant’s harsh yoke.3 It is no wonder these ardent and bungling apostles have made the doctrine they preached in this way so detested. One can repeat in vain: the most indispensable condition for getting men to adopt the principles of liberty will always be, whatever one does, the possession of liberty.

chapter five: Another Drawback of the Proliferation of the Laws

Laws proliferate against the intentions and even without the knowledge of the successive generations of legislators. They pile up in various branches, fall into disuse, and are forgotten by the governed. They hover above them, even so, hidden in a cloud. “One of the worst aspects of the tyranny of Tiberias,” says Montesquieu,4 “was his abuse of old laws.”

Tiberias had inherited all the laws produced by the civil strife in Rome. Now, civil strife produces violent and harsh laws and on top of these countless detailed regulations which are destructive of all individual freedom. These things survive the storms which created them. The government which inherits this pernicious armory finds every injustice authorized in advance by the laws. For purposes of large-scale persecution, there is an arsenal of unknown laws, legitimating every iniquity. For everyday purposes there is a repertoire of controls, less odious but more routinely vexatious.

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In this situation, everything favors the government and Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [89] imperils the citizens. The government takes it upon itself not to execute defective laws or barbarous ones. This can hardly be seen as a crime. In this way, however, it gets used to infringing its duties and soon comes to subject the whole corpus of law to its adjudication. All its actions end up being arbitrary. Nor is this all. The government does not repeal these oppressive laws, the nonenforcement of which wins public gratitude. They lie as if in ambush, ready to reappear at the first signal and fall on the citizens unawares.

I think it would be a useful safeguard in all countries if there were an obligatory periodic revision of all the laws at fixed intervals. Among those nations which have bestowed legislative powers on representative assemblies, these bodies would naturally be given this function. After all, it would be absurd if the body which votes the laws did not have the right to rescind them and if its work were to go on in uncorrected error, in spite of that body’s own judgment, and in spite of its regrets and remorse. This organization would then be like our former and detestable statutes concerning those accused of trying to emigrate. The government had the power to put people on the list but not to remove them,5 an admirable arrangement for making injustice irreparable.

In those countries with all power concentrated in the same hands, it would still be salutary to require government to let it be known periodically which laws it wants to keep. All the branches of the law contain some which governments make use of, because they find them ready-made. But they would often be ashamed to take upon themselves the public responsibility of a new approbation.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK V: On Arbitrary Measures

  • Ch. 1. On arbitrary measures and why people have always protested less about them than about attacks on property. 73
  • Ch. 2. On the grounds for arbitrary measures and the prerogative of preventing crimes. 74
  • Ch. 3. Specious argument in support of arbitrary government. 77
  • Ch. 4. On the effect of arbitrary measures in terms of moral life, industry, and the duration of governments. 78
  • Ch. 5. On the influence of arbitrary rule on the governors themselves. 80
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chapter one: On Arbitrary Measures and Why People Have Always Protested Less About Them Than about Attacks on Property

Governments which make no claim to be free escape some of the disadvantages of the proliferation of laws, by recourse to arbitrary measures. One by one these measures press only on isolated individuals, and though they threaten all citizens, the majority of those so threatened delude themselves about the danger that hangs over their heads unnoticed. Hence it happens that under governments which make only a moderate use of arbitrary measures, life seems at first more pleasant than in republics which harass their citizens with proliferating and irritating laws. Moreover it takes a degree of reflection, it takes accurate understanding and farsighted reason, such as develops only out of habituation to freedom itself, to perceive, right from the start, and in a single arbitrary act, all the consequences of this terrible expedient.

One of the characteristics of our nation is that it has never attached enough importance to individual security. To imprison a citizen arbitrarily, to hold him indefinitely in jail, to separate him from his wife and children, to shatter his social life, to upset his economic plans: all this has always seemed to us quite a simple set of measures, at the least excusable. When these measures hurt us or things dear to us, we complain, but about the mistake rather than the injustice. Indeed, rather few men in the long history of our various oppressions have earned for themselves the easily gained credit of protesting on behalf of those in different situations from themselves.

It has been pointed out that M. de Montesquieu, who vigorously defends the rights of individual property even against the State’s own interests, is much cooler in his treatment of individual freedoms,1 as if people were less sacred than Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [94] goods. There is a straightforward reason in the case of a preoccupied and egotistical people for the fact that the rights of individual Edition: current; Page: [[74]] freedom are less well protected than those of property. The man whose liberty is removed is disarmed by this very fact, while the man who is stripped of his property retains his freedom to demand it back. Thus freedom is never defended except by the friends of an oppressed person, while property is defended by the oppressed person himself. One can see that the intensity of the claims is likely to differ as between the two cases.

chapter two: On the Grounds for Arbitrary Measures and the Prerogative of Preventing Crimes

Arbitrary measures are often justified in terms of their alleged utility. They aim to preserve order and prevent crime. It has been said countless times that it is better to prevent crimes than to punish them, and since this vague proposition is consistent with a number of interpretations, no one has so far taken into his head to put the question in doubt.

If we mean by the prerogative of crime prevention the right to distribute a mounted constabulary around the highways or break up gatherings before they have caused disorder, government has this right, and it is more appropriately called one of its duties. The right to stop crimes, however, is all too often the freedom to treat innocent people harshly for fear they might become criminal. Are certain individuals thought likely to conspire? They are arrested and kept apart, not because they are criminal but to prevent them from becoming so. Is a particular group considered criminally disposed? It is marked off in a humiliating way from other citizens and subjected to legal formalities and precautionary measures from which other people are exempt.

We will long remember the various innovations signaling what we call the Reign of Terror, the law of suspects, the banishment of the nobles, and the proscription Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [95] of priests.2 The interests of these groups, it was asserted, being contrary to public order, it had to be feared they might upset it, and one would rather prevent their crimes than punish them—proof of what we observed above, that a republic dominated by a faction, adds to the disorders of anarchy all the harassment of despotism. On the other hand, some tyrant or other of a small Italian principality arrogated to Edition: current; Page: [[75]] himself the right to deport people at will, on the pretext that it was part of his clemency to prevent men inclined to crime from giving in to this fatal tendency.3 Proof again of what we have said: the improperly constituted or ratified government of a single man adds to constant and unspoken abuses, the noisy and scandalous practices of factions.

The pretext of crime prevention has the most immense and incalculable consequences. Potential criminality inheres in everybody’s freedom, in the lives of all classes, in the growth of all human faculties. Those in authority endlessly affecting to fear that a crime may be committed, may weave a vast web that envelops all the innocent. The imprisonment of suspects, the endless confinement of those whom due process would acquit, but who instead may find themselves subjected to the indignity of prolonged detention, the arbitrary exile of those believed dangerous, though there is nothing they can be reproached with, the enslavement of thought, and then that vast silence so pleasing to the ear of government: this pretext explains all these. Every event offers a justification. If the crime the government claimed it feared does not occur, the credit goes to its watchfulness. If one or two unjustified actions provoke opposition, this resistance to which injustice alone led is itself quoted in support of such injustice. Nothing is simpler than passing off the effect for the cause. The more a government measure offends against freedom and reason, the more it drags in its wake disorder and violence. Then government attributes the need for the measure to the disorder and violence themselves. Thus we have seen the agents Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [96] of the Terror among us forcing priests to resistance by refusing them any security when they submit and then justifying clerical persecution by their resistance.4 Similarly the Romans saw Tiberius, when his victims disappeared in silence, glorying in the peace he was maintaining in the empire, and then when complaints made themselves heard, finding justification for tyranny in what his flatterers called attempted sedition.

The pretext that crime is being prevented can be shifted from domestic politics to foreign affairs. This results in the same abuses just as the same sophisms justify it. Are those in power provoking our most peaceful neighbors and faithful allies? All they are doing, they say, is punishing hostile intentions and forestalling attacks now being considered. How can we show Edition: current; Page: [[76]] the nonexistence of these intentions, the impossibility of these attacks? If the unfortunate nation they calumniate is easily intimidated, our governing group has forestalled it, since it is submitting. If it has time to resist these hypocritical aggressors, it wanted war because it is defending itself. To show that this picture is in no way exaggerated, one need only recall the war in Switzerland.5

“What?” someone will say, “when the government knows a conspiracy is being hatched in the shadows, or that thieves are plotting to murder a citizen and plunder his home, it will have resources to punish the guilty persons only once the crime has happened!” Two very different things are confounded here: crimes actually begun, and the alleged will to commit crimes. The government has the duty and therefore the right to keep an eye on trends which look dangerous to it. When it has evidence of the conspiracy being hatched or the murder being pondered, it can make sure of the men this evidence points to. In this case, however, this is not an arbitrary measure but a legal action. This is precisely when these men must be brought before independent courts. This is the very time when the detention of the accused must not be prolonged if proof is not forthcoming. As long as government has only Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [97] suspicions about people’s intentions, it must keep guard passively, and the object of its worries must not feel their effect. It would be an intolerable condition for men to be constantly at the mercy of government suspicions.

To render the prerogative of prevention admissible, we must distinguish again between the jurisdiction of authority over actions and its jurisdiction over individuals. Our safeguard against arbitrary government lies in this distinction. The government sometimes has the right to direct its powers against harmless or innocent actions, when they seem to it to lead on to dangerous results. It never has the right, however, to make this same power weigh on individuals who are not clearly guilty, even when their intentions are suspect to it, and their resources seem such as to be feared. If, for example, a country were infested with armed gatherings, it would not be unjust for a brief period to put obstacles in the way of all meetings, Edition: current; Page: [[77]] obstacles which would hurt innocent and guilty alike. If, as happened in parts of Germany, arson was becoming widespread, one could attach a punishment to the mere transport or mere possession of certain combustible materials. If there were a high murder rate as in Italy, the bearing of arms could be forbidden to all individuals, without distinction. The exemplary nuances here are infinite. The most innocent of actions in intention may in certain contexts cause as much harm as the most criminal ones. Of course this principle must be applied with great caution, since the prohibition of any noncriminal act is always harmful to the moral life as well as the freedom of the governed. Nevertheless, government cannot be denied this latitude. Interdictions of the kind we have been considering have to be regarded as legitimate, as long as they are general. But these same interdictions, were they to be directed exclusively against certain individuals or classes, as happened so often during our Revolution, would become unjust. They would be nothing else than punishments which had got ahead of the crime. For it is a punishment that there should be an unseemly distinction between equally innocent men. The unwarranted deprivation of freedom which others enjoy is a punishment. Now, all punishment which does not stem from legally proven crime is itself a governmental crime. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [98]

chapter three: Specious Argument in Support of Arbitrary Government

The actions of government, we are told, bear down only on imprudent souls who provoke them. The man who resigns himself and keeps silent is always safe. Reassured by this worthless and specious argument, we do not protest against the oppressors. Instead we find fault with the victims. Nobody knows how to be brave even prudentially. Everyone stays silent, keeping his head low in the self-deceiving hope of disarming the powers that be by his silence. People give despotism free access, flattering themselves they will be treated with consideration. Eyes to the ground, each person walks in silence the narrow path leading him safely to the tomb. But when arbitrary government is tolerated, bit by bit it spreads out between so many participants that the least known of citizens may find his enemy in a position of power. Whatever cowardly hearts may hope for, fortunately for the morality of humankind, our safety calls for more than mere standing to one side and letting the blows fall on others. A thousand links bind us to our peers and even the most frantic egoism cannot break all of them. You think Edition: current; Page: [[78]] you are safe in your deliberate obscurity and your shameful apathy. But you have a son and youth gets the better of him, a brother less cautious than you permits himself a murmur, an old enemy you once wounded who has got himself a bit of power, and in his fantasies some corrupt military leader is coveting your house in Alba. What will you do then? Having bitterly condemned all struggles against the powers that be, will you struggle in your turn? You are condemned in advance both by your own conscience and by that degraded public opinion you yourself helped to create. Will you give in without resistance? But will they let you give in? Will they not exile or persecute this annoying case, this monument to injustice? Innocent people disappeared. You saw them as guilty. You prepared the road you now walk along in your turn. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [99]

chapter four: On the Effect of Arbitrary Measures in Terms of Moral Life, Industry, and the Duration of Governments

If we look at the effects of arbitrary measures in terms of moral life, industry, or even the duration of governments, we will find them equally disastrous.

When a government ruthlessly strikes out against men it suspects, it is not just an individual it persecutes; rather it is the whole nation it slights and degrades. People always try to shake off their sorrow. When what they love is threatened, they either detach themselves from it or defend it. When there is no security, there is no moral life. There are no gentle affections unless we know that the objects of such affection are safe, their innocence a safeguard in itself. Habits become corrupted suddenly in towns attacked by the plague. The dying steal from each other.6 Arbitrary government is to moral life what plague is to the body. It reduces citizens to the choice between forgetting all finer feelings and hatred of the government. When a people coldly contemplates a succession of tyrannical acts, when, without a word of protest, it watches the prisons fill up and banishments multiply, when every man keeps silent and isolated, and, fearful for himself, tries to disarm the government by dissimulation or by the even worse device of Edition: current; Page: [[79]] assent, can anyone believe, with this despicable example on all sides, that a few banal sentences will suffice to reinvigorate feelings of honesty and generosity? People speak of the need for paternal authority. But the first duty of a son is to defend his father from ill-treatment; and when a father is taken away from his children and the latter are forced to maintain a cowardly silence, what then is the effect of your maxims and codes, your declarations and your laws? People pay homage to the sanctity of marriage; but on the basis of a shadowy denunciation, on a mere suspicion, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [100] by measures called precaution, security, and law and order, a man is separated from his wife or a wife from her husband! Do they think conjugal love is by turns born again and vanishes at the government’s pleasure? Family ties are much praised. But what upholds these ties is individual freedom, the hope founded on living together, living free in the shelter which justice guarantees the citizen. If family ties persisted, would fathers, children, husbands, wives, and friends—all those close to the people despotism oppresses—submit themselves to such despotism? They talk of credit, commerce, and industry; but the man they arrest has creditors, whose fortunes depend on his, and business partners. The result of his detention is not only the short-term loss of his freedom, but the interruption of his business, perhaps his ruin. This ruin embraces all who share his business activities. It goes further; it strikes against all thought and all personal safety is shaken. When an individual suffers without having been proven in any way guilty, anyone not deprived of intelligence rightly feels menaced by this destruction of constitutionality. People shut up because they are frightened; but all human exchange is affected. The very earth shakes and people walk fearfully.7 Everything in our complex and extensive social life becomes static. The injustices thought of as individual are unfailingly sources of public ill too. It is not within our powers to restrict them to some fixed category.

Despotism aims at the very core of morality in order to degrade it. The brief respite it brings is precarious and gloomy, the precursor of terrible storms. We must make no mistake about this. However degraded a nation may seem from the outside, generous sentiments will always find shelter in a few solitary hearts, where, scandalized, they will seethe in silence. Parliamentary debating chambers may ring with furious ranting, and palaces echo with expressions of contempt for the human race. The flatterers of the people may stir us against pity itself; the flatterers of kings denounce Edition: current; Page: [[80]] courage to them. But no era will ever be so abandoned by providence that it will deliver up the whole human race in the shape despotism requires. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [101] Hatred of oppression, whether in the name of one man or the name of all, has been handed down from age to age, under all forms of despotism. The future will not betray this most just of causes. There will always be men for whom justice is a passion and the defense of the weak something they must do. Nature has willed it so. No one has ever been able to stop it, nor ever will be able to. These men will always give way to this magnanimous instinct. Many will suffer, many perhaps will perish, but the earth with which their ashes will mingle will be stirred thereby and sooner or later will reawaken.

chapter five: On the Influence of Arbitrary Rule on the Governors Themselves

Once they have employed arbitrary measures, those in government find them so swift, so simple, so convenient, that they no longer want to use any other kind. In this way, introduced at first as a last resort in extraordinarily rare circumstances, despotic rule becomes the solution to all problems and an everyday practice. This treacherous mode of governance, however, a torment to those over whom it is exercised, also bears very heavily on the hand which uses it. A gnawing anxiety seizes governments once they enter this pathway. Their uncertainty is a sort of sense of responsibility mingled with remorse which weighs heavily on them. Since they no longer have proper procedure, they move forward and then back, and they get into a most anxious state, never knowing whether they are doing enough or too much. The rule of law would bring them peace of mind.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK VI: On Coups d’Etat

  • Ch. 1. On the admiration for coups d’Etat. 85
  • Ch. 2. On coups d’Etat in countries with written constitutions. 89
  • Ch. 3. The condition necessary to stop constitutional violations. 93
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chapter one: On the Admiration for Coups d’Etat

Across the centuries people have been agreed in their admiration for certain examples of expeditious illegality and political outrage. To admire these at one’s leisure, one considers them in isolation, as if the facts which followed them did not form part of their consequences. The Gracchi,1 so it is said, were endangering the Roman Republic. All established legal forms were impotent. Twice the Senate had recourse to the terrible law of necessity and the Republic was saved. The Republic was saved, that is to say that its loss must be dated from this period. All rights were ignored; all constitutionality overturned. The people, in terror one minute, soon resumed their claims, now fortified by vengeance. They had demanded no more than equal privileges; they now vowed that the murderers of their champions should be punished. The ferocious Marius came to preside over this vengeance. Catilina’s accomplices were in irons. It was feared that other sympathizers might release them. Cicero2 had them put to death without trial; and people constantly praise him for his prudence. To be sure, the fruits of his prudence and swift and illegal measures were at least short-lived. Caesar gathered Catilina’s supporters around him and Rome’s freedom died even before Cicero.3 But if he had struck Caesar, Anthony was there; and behind Anthony Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [106] were yet others. The ambitions of the Guises much disturbed the reign of Henry III. It seemed impossible to bring them to trial. Henry had one of them murdered. Did his reign thereby become more peaceful? He was murdered himself. Twenty years of civil wars tore the French realm apart. For perhaps forty years afterward the admirable Henry IV bore the burden of the crime of the last Valois. In crises of this kind the guilty souls who are killed are never more than few in number. Others keep quiet, hide, and wait. They take advantage of the indignation which violence has repressed in people’s minds, and of the consternation which seeming injustice spreads among law-abiding souls. In casting off the law, the government has lost both its legal character and its greatest asset; and when it is attacked by factions with weapons similar to its own, the mass of citizens may be divided, for it seems to them they have Edition: current; Page: [[86]] only a choice between two factions. The interests of the State, the dangers of delay, public well-being: if you accept these lofty excuses, these specious words, every government or party will see the interests of the State in the destruction of its enemies, the dangers of delay in an hour spent pondering, and public safety in a condemnation without trial or proof.

When the presumed leaders of a conspiracy cannot be tried without fear that the people will release them, then the disposition of this people is such that punishing the leaders of this conspiracy is pointless. In this frame of mind the people will not be lacking in leaders. People speak casually of the effectiveness of coups d’Etat and of that expeditiousness which, by not giving factions time to get their bearings, reaffirms the authority of governments and the constitution of sovereign realms; yet history affords us not a single example of illegal stringencies producing a lasting salutary effect.

Doubtless political societies face moments of danger any degree of human prudence will find hard to avert. Such dangers, however, simply cannot be averted by violence and injustice, by bringing back the chaos of the state of savagery into the social state. On the contrary, this requires our adhering more scrupulously than ever to the established laws and to the tutelary observances and legal guarantees which protect us. Two advantages result from this courageous persistence in what is just and legal. Governments leave to their enemies all the odium Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [107] of impropriety and the violation of the most sacred laws. They also win, by the calm and security to which they bear witness, the trust of that timorous mass, who would remain at least undecided if extraordinary and arbitrary measures by the authorities showed that they felt there was a pressing danger. Finally, it must be said, it is sometimes decreed by destiny, that is to say by the inexorable chain of causes and effects, that a government must die, when its institutions form too great a contrast with the mores, habits, and outlooks of those it governs. There are, however, certain actions which the love of life cannot legitimize in individuals. It is the same with governments, and perhaps we will cease calling this simple moral rule simple-minded if we stop to reflect that it is fortified by an experience confirmed in the history of all nations. When a government has no other means than illegal measures to prolong its stay, these measures delay its fall only for a little while, and the overthrow it thought to prevent operates then with all the more misfortune and shame. My advice to those in power will always be: above all act justly, for if the existence of your power is not compatible with justice, then your power is not worth the trouble of conserving. Be just, for if you cannot live with justice, however hard you try with injustice, you will not last long.

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I agree that this applies only to governments, whether republican or monarchist, claiming to rest on reasonable principles and affecting a show of moderation. A despotism like that of Constantinople can benefit from violating constitutional proprieties. Its very existence violates them permanently. It has perpetually to rain down blows on innocent and guilty alike. It condemns itself to live in fear of the accomplices it enlists, flatters, and enriches. It subsists by coups d’Etat until a coup d’Etat brings its own death at the hands of its henchmen. Any Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [108] moderate government, however, any wishing to rest on a system of proper order and justice, loses its way by any suspension of justice or any deviation from proper order. As it is in its nature to grow milder sooner or later, its enemies wait for just such a time to take advantage of memories which will do it damage. Violence seemed to save it for a moment. In fact it made its end the more inevitable, because in delivering it from certain adversaries it extended to everyone the hatred these adversaries bore it.

Many men see the causes of the day’s events only in the acts of the day before. Thus, when violence, having produced a momentary stupor, is followed by a reaction which destroys the effect of this stupor, these men attribute this reaction to ending the violent measures, to insufficient proscriptions, and to the government’s relaxing its grip. It seems to them that even more injustice would have prolonged the government’s life.4 This is like the reasoning of those bandits who are sorry they did not kill the travelers who denounce them, not stopping to think that murderers too are sooner or later discovered. It is in the nature of iniquitous decrees, however, to fall into disuse. Justice alone is stable. It is the nature of government to soften naturally, even without knowing it. Precautionary measures which have become odious are weakened and neglected. Public opinion counts despite its silence; power bends. But because it bends out of weakness rather than moderating itself for just reasons, it does not reconcile hearts to itself. Conspiracies begin anew and hatreds accumulate. The innocent victims of despotism reemerge stronger. The guilty condemned without trial seem innocent. The evil which was held back a few hours returns worse still, aggravated by the evil which has been done.

No, there is no excuse for means which serve all intentions and purposes alike, means which, invoked by good men against brigands, are found again in the words of brigands bearing the authority of good men, with the same apologia: necessity; and the same pretext: public well-being.

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Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [109] The law of Valerius Publicola, which permitted the summary killing of anyone aspiring to tyrannical rule, on condition that the necessary evidence for the accusation would then be submitted, was a tool in turn of aristocratic and popular fury and brought down the Roman Republic.5

To permit society, that is, those in whom political power is invested, to violate legal proprieties is to sacrifice the very end one has in view to the means one uses. Why do we want the government to repress those who would attack our property, our freedom, or our lives? So that our lives, freedom, and wealth are secure. But if our wealth can be destroyed, our freedom threatened, our lives harassed by despotism, what assured good are we deriving from government protection? Why do we want government to punish would-be conspirators against the constitution of the State? Because we fear these conspirators will substitute an oppressive State for a lawful and moderate one. But if the government itself exercises this oppressive power, in what way is it better than the guilty people it punishes? Perhaps there is de facto superiority for a while, since the arbitrary measures of an established government will be less extensive than those of factions which have to establish their power; but this very advantage is lost progressively if governments act arbitrarily. Not only does the number of their enemies multiply in line with the number of their victims; but suspicion grows out of all proportion to the number of their enemies. One blow against individual freedom calls forth others. Once the government enters this fatal road, it finishes soon by being in no way preferable to a faction.

Almost all men have a mania for parading themselves as something more than they are. The mania writers have is for showing themselves to be statesmen. The result is that coups d’Etat, far from being reproved all around as they deserve, have generally been reported with respect and described obligingly. The author, seated peacefully at his desk, casts despotic advice in all directions. He tries to insert into his style the briskness he is recommending Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [110] in policy. He fancies himself for a moment cloaked in power because he is preaching its abuses, warming up his speculation with all the soaring force and potency which adorn his sentences. He thus gives himself something of the pleasure of government, Edition: current; Page: [[89]] repeating at the top of his voice all the grand words about the well-being of the people, the higher law, and the public interest. He admires his own profundity and marvels at his own energy. Poor fool! He is talking to men who ask nothing better than to listen to him and one day make him the first victim of his own theory!

This vanity, which has perverted the judgment of so many writers, has caused more difficulties than one might think during our civil upheavals. All the mediocre minds which the flood of events put fleetingly at the head of affairs, filled as they were with all these maxims, all the more agreeable to stupidity in that they served it in cutting through the knots that it could not untie, dreamed only of measures for the public well-being, grand measures and coups d’Etat. They reckoned themselves amazing geniuses, because with each step they diverged from ordinary means. They proclaimed the vastness of their intellects, because justice seemed to them a narrow thing. Is there any need to say where all that has led us?

chapter two: On Coups d’Etat in Countries with Written Constitutions

Coups d’Etat are at their most fatal in countries not governed by traditions, or public remembrance, or habit, whose institutions are determined by a positive charter, a written constitution.

During the whole course of our Revolution our governments claimed they had the right to violate the constitution in order to save it. The safe-keeping of the constitution having been entrusted to them, they said, their duty was to prevent all the attacks people might dare to make on it; and since the pretext of prevention permits anything one may do or try to do, our governments, with their safeguarding foresight, have always discerned secret plots and treacherous intentions among those who offended them, and generously taken it upon themselves to commit real sins in order to prevent doubtful ones.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [111] Nothing serves to falsify ideas better than comparisons. People have said that you could step outside the constitution in order to defend it, much as the garrison of a beleaguered place might make a sortie against a force blockading it. This reasoning recalls that of the shepherd in the lawyer Patelin.6 Since, however, it has at times covered France with gallows and Edition: current; Page: [[90]] ruins, and at others served as the pretext for the most oppressive despotism, I think it necessary to reply seriously to it.

A government which exists by a constitution ceases to exist as soon as the constitution which created it no longer exists, and a constitution ceases to exist the second it is violated.

Doubtless one can ask what the government ought to do when a party evidently wishes to overthrow the constitution. But this objection, pushed to a certain point, reaches deadlock. One can easily hypothesize a factual situation such as to defy all earlier precautions. One cannot organize moral counterweights to attempts using physical force. What is needed are institutions such as to deter parties from engaging in such attempts and from finding any advantage in them, and from having the means for doing so, institutions which ensure that if some maniac manages all this, the physical resources of the overwhelming majority are ready to resist the physical force he uses. This is what one calls public spirit. This is quite different, however, from the constitutional violations to which we have given the term “coups d’Etat” and which governments think about at their leisure and cause to break out when it suits them, with alleged necessity as their pretext.

It is probably inane to say in praise of a constitution that it would work well if everybody were willing to observe it. It is not inane to say, however, that if your basic objections include the hypothesis that nobody will want to respect the constitution and everyone will take pleasure in violating it without reason, then you will easily be able to show that no constitution can subsist. The physical possibility of an overthrow is always there. The whole point is to oppose moral barriers to this possibility.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [112] Any time people adopt or justify means which can be judged only after the event and are not accompanied by precise due process and legal safeguards, they are turning tyranny into a political system, because once the thing is done, the victims are no longer there to protest, and the only resources their friends have to avoid sharing their fate are acquiescence or silence. What is more, silence takes courage.

What is left after a constitution has been violated? No more security nor public trust. Among those who govern there is a feeling of usurpation, among the governed of being at the mercy of an arbitrary power. All protestation of respect for constitution by the former seems a mockery, and all appeals to that constitution by the latter seem like hostility. Even assuming the purest of intentions, all efforts will be fruitless. The governing group know they have prepared a sword which waits only for an arm strong enough to direct it against them.

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Maybe the people might forget that the government is illegitimate and based on violation of the laws. The government cannot. It thinks about it, both because it sees as precarious an authority whose source it knows to be tainted, and because it has always at the back of its mind the worry of a possible coup d’Etat like the first one. It moves with difficulty and by way of shocks from day to day. On the other hand, not only the group attacked, but all those holding offices in the state whose powers are solely constitutional, feel that truth, eloquence, and all moral means are futile against a government which has become purely despotic. So they renounce all intellectual vigor. Slavishly they cringe and hate.

Everywhere the constitution has been violated it is provenly a bad constitution, for one of three things must be true: either it was impossible for the constituted powers to govern on its basis, or all those powers did not possess sufficient vested interest to maintain it, or lastly, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [113] the powers opposed to the usurping tyranny did not have the means to defend it. But even supposing, per impossibile, that this constitution had been good, its power over men’s minds has been destroyed. It loses everything which makes it respectable, or forms its mystique, as soon as its legality is assailed. Nothing is more common than for a State to be seen to live tolerably without a constitution. But the specter of a constitution outraged hurts liberty far more than the total absence of any constitutional act.

There are, I know, meretricious means of clothing constitutional violations with an apparent legitimacy. The people can be encouraged to make their judgment by way of joint petitions; they can be made to sanction the proposed changes.

Recourse was made to this expedient from the first days of our Revolution, though the Constituent Assembly, by allowing into its presence the delegates of the common herd, had done from the start what was needed to render the expedient ridiculous. But we have been wrong in thinking ridicule all-powerful in France. With us, ridicule attacks everything but destroys nothing, since vanity is quite content to have laughed at what happens, and each person, flattered by the superiority he has shown, then tolerates what he laughed at. The people’s sanction can never be more than an idle formality. Alongside the acts submitted to this so-called sanction, there is always either the force of the existing government, provisional or fully established, which wants the acts accepted, or, on the unlikely supposition of its complete neutrality, the prospect, if there should be a refusal, of wars and civil dissensions. The people’s sanction, and mass petitions, were born in the minds of those men who, finding no support, either in morality Edition: current; Page: [[92]] or reason, look for it in a simulated approbation which they obtain from ignorance or extract by terror.7 The Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [114] legislators who make the worst laws are those who attach the most importance to law’s being obeyed, just because it is the law, and without examination. Just so, the men who adopt the measures most contradictory to the common good, being unable to find reasons for them in the public interest, make good the lack by giving them the appearance of the people’s will. This device cuts all objections short. Are there complaints that the people are being oppressed? They declared that they wanted to be.

Mass petitions should be banned by all nations having some idea of liberty. They can never be considered as the expression of true feelings. “The term ‘people’,” says Bentham, “is a forged signature to justify their leaders.” Fear comes constantly, borrowing the language of action, to bow down before power, to congratulate itself for its servitude, and to encourage conquerors avid for vengeance to sacrifice the vanquished. Great adulation always follows great injustice. Rome prostrated itself not before Marcus Aurelius but rather before Tiberius and Caracalla. If I saw a nation being consulted in a country where public opinion was choked, freedom of the press annihilated, popular election destroyed, I would think I was watching tyranny asking its enemies for a list so that it could recognize them and strike them at its leisure.

For whom is it claimed that mass petitions are necessary? For the authors of a measure already taken? But they have acted. What belated scruple has suddenly seized them? How comes it that where they were once bold, now they are suddenly timid? For the people? But if the latter found fault with their conduct, would they retrace their steps? Used they not to say that critical petitions are the work of a rebel faction? Would they not have contrary petitions produced?

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [115] Mass petitions are a purely illusory ceremony. Now, all illusory ceremony is worse than useless. There is something in this formality which wounds and degrades a people’s spirit. All the appearances of freedom are forced on them in order that they vote in a direction prescribed Edition: current; Page: [[93]] in advance. This persiflage debases them in their own eyes and makes freedom ridiculous.

Mass petitions corrupt the people. They get them used to bowing before government; this is always a bad thing, even when the government is right.

chapter three: The Condition Necessary to Stop Constitutional Violations

Although we have forbidden ourselves in this work any reflection on constitutions as such, what we have just established on the necessity of not violating them under any pretext, where they exist, forces us to speak about a condition which is indispensable for preventing these violations.

The happiness of societies and individual security rest on certain positive and fixed principles. These principles are true in all climates and latitudes. They cannot vary, whatever the extent of the country, its degree of civilization, its customs, religion, and usages. It is as incontestable in a hamlet of a hundred and twenty huts as in a nation of forty million men, that no one can be arrested arbitrarily, punished without having been tried, tried other than according to law and due process, prevented from manifesting his opinion or putting his industry to work or managing his options in an innocent and peaceful way.

A constitution is the guarantee of these principles. Consequently everything which stems from these principles is constitutional, and consequently also, nothing is constitutional which does not. There are great ground rules which all properly constituted powers Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [116] must be unable to touch. These powers together, however, must be able to do everything not contrary to these rules.

To stretch a constitution to cover everything is to make everything a danger to it. It is to create reefs to surround it. You cannot sufficiently predict the effect of incomplete arrangements to give up any leeway for changing them. A line, a word, in a constitution, can produce results of which you have not the least idea. If the constitution goes into a multitude of details, it will inevitably be violated: in little things, because the hindrances the government meets in its necessary business falling always on the governed, the latter themselves will call for this violation. But this constitution will also be violated in important things, because the government will move on from its violation of little ones in order to arrogate to itself the same freedom in important matters. A rather specious sophism will furnish it with an excuse. If considerations of slight utility permit us to deviate from Edition: current; Page: [[94]] the constitutional charter, it will say, there is much greater reason when it is a matter of saving the State.

The severe confinement of a constitution within its limits is a thousand times preferable to the superstitious veneration with which in some countries people have wanted to surround the successive constitutions they have been given, as if attachment and enthusiasm were transferable properties, always belonging by right of conquest to the constitution of the day.

This inevitably and manifestly hypocritical mass veneration has a number of drawbacks, like everything lacking in precision and truth.

The people either believe in it or they do not.

If they believe it, they regard the constitution as an indivisible whole, and when the frictions caused by the defects of this constitution hurt them, they break away from it totally. Instead of directing their discontent against certain bits whose improvement they could hope for, they direct it against the whole thing, which they see as incorrigible.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [117] On the other hand, if the people do not believe in the veneration professed, they become accustomed to suspecting the holders of power of hypocrisy and duplicity. They call into question everything the government says. They see lying honored; and it has to be feared that in their private lives they may resort to the same behavior their leaders exemplify publicly.

One can exist tolerably under a vicious government, when there is no constitution, because then the government is a variable thing which depends on men, which changes as they change, and which experience corrects or palliates. A vicious constitution, however, when it is unchangeable, is much more dire, because its defects are permanent, reproduce themselves endlessly, and cannot be imperceptibly or tacitly corrected by experience. To make the disadvantages of an imperfect government disappear for a while, one has only to displace or enlighten a few men. To battle against those of a bad constitution, one has to violate that constitution, that is to say, perform an ill much greater in its consequences to come than the present good one wants to attain.

People always imagine the modifications made to the constitution of a sovereign authority to be accompanied by terrible convulsions and great calamities. If they studied history they would see that these calamities most often take place only because nations form for themselves an exaggerated idea of their constitution and do not reserve for themselves any way of improving it imperceptibly. We noted earlier that man showed a singular facility for failing in his most real duties, once he freed himself from one duty, even an imaginary one. This truth applies to constitutions. When Edition: current; Page: [[95]] a nation has not kept in reserve in its political organization any way of correcting the latter’s defects, the slightest modification Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [118] becomes as dangerous an act for that nation, and as unsettling, as the most total upheaval. If, however, envisaging its constitution only as a way of arriving at the highest possible degree of good fortune and freedom, the nation had set up within its organization itself, with all due precautions and periods of reflection, a means of bringing to bear on its constitution appropriate improvements, then, since it would not at all, in using this means, feel it was failing in a duty or subjecting society to a universal shake-up, the required or desired modification would be effected peacefully.

Any time it is necessary, to attain an end, that law and due process be violated, one has to fear that this effort in itself oversteps the purpose. When, on the contrary, the course is actually set by the constitution, movement becomes orderly. Men, having decided where they want to get, do not rush forward haphazardly and do not, slaves to the very movement they have chosen themselves, overstep the mark.

For stability itself, the possibility of a gradual improvement is a thousand times preferable to the inflexibility of an unchangeable constitution. The more secure the prospect of improvement, the less will malcontents have any purchase. One can defend a constitution as a whole to far better advantage by demonstrating to the people the appropriateness of postponing a change than by turning their having to persist with something they think an abuse into a kind of mystical duty and by opposing their belief with superstitious scruples which forbid scrutiny or render it pointless. At a certain level of social civilization all superstition, running counter to all other ideas, morals, and habits, has only a fleeting influence. Nothing is durable for a nation as soon as it has started to reason, unless it is explained by reasoning and demonstrated by experience.

The axiom of the English barons: we do not wish to change the laws of England, was much more reasonable than if they had said: we cannot. The refusal to change the laws, because one does not wish to change them, is explained either by the excellence of these laws or by the disadvantages of an immediate change. When such a refusal Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [119] is motivated by impotence, however, it becomes unintelligible. What is the cause of this impotence? What is the reality of the barrier put in our way? Whenever reason is excluded from the question, the question is falsified and one is working against one’s purpose.

There are constitutional principles deriving from the rights of the human race, individual freedom, freedom of opinion, of the laws and the courts. Edition: current; Page: [[96]] None of the authorities can be deemed competent to change the things which constitute the purpose of any association. Everything else is a matter of legislation. The longest mainstay of British liberty is that the three powers combined have a very extensive authority even over constitutional law.

I know nothing so ridiculous as what we have seen constantly replayed during our Revolution. A constitution is drawn up, we discuss it, enact it, put it to work. A thousand lacunae are noticed, a thousand superfluities perceived, a thousand doubts arise. The constitution is commented on, interpreted like some ancient manuscript one might newly have unearthed. The constitution is not explicit, people say, the constitution says nothing, parts of the constitution are shadowy. Oh, unhappy people! Do you really think a nation can be governed by enigmas and that what was yesterday the object of severe public criticism can transform itself suddenly into an object of silent veneration and foolish adoration?

Organize your various powers well. Give all their being, all their morality, all their private economic decision making, all their honorable hopes an interest in the conservation of your public establishment, and if the various branches involved wish collectively to benefit from experience in order to make, to their reciprocal relations, changes which in no way weigh down the citizens, nor threaten personal security, nor free thought, nor the independence of the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [120] judiciary, nor the principles of equality, then leave them their full freedom in this regard.

“We have to learn to perfect the constitution,” said the former Bishop of Autun, in his report on public education, on 10 September 1791. “In swearing to defend it, we have not been able to give up the right to improve it nor the hope thereof.”8

If your combined authorities abuse the liberty you accord them, your constitution is corrupt, for a good constitution would have given them an interest in not abusing it.9

But, it will be said, constitutions are not the product of men’s wills. Time makes them. They are brought in gradually and imperceptibly. They are not composed, as has been thought, of new elements, for the combining of which no cement would be solid enough. They are composed of old elements, more or less modified. All deliberately constructed constitutions Edition: current; Page: [[97]] have collapsed. All constitutions which have existed, or exist still, were not constructed. Why then seek principles for the construction of constitutions?

Without examining the idea supporting this objection, one which we believe in general true enough, we will say that the principle we have established does not apply solely to constitutions to be made, but to all constitutions which have been made. It demonstrates the necessity of freeing them from superfluous details, which prevent their being easily carried out. It proves they must contain within themselves peaceful means of improvement. For the more inflexible they are, the less they are respected.

As to remaining matters, our positive determination not to treat in this work any questions connected with the forms of government forces us to leave several lacunae unfilled and many objections unanswered. There are certain institutions which we consider incompatible with Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [121] freedom in certain given situations. It is clear that the various constituted authorities in a country cannot legitimately establish these institutions. But to assign this limit to the jurisdiction of the authorities, it would have been necessary to discuss the institutions they must be forbidden to adopt, and this is what we have resolved not to do.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK VII: On Freedom of Thought

  • Ch. 1. The object of the following three books. 103
  • Ch. 2. On freedom of thought. 103
  • Ch. 3. On the expression of thought. 105
  • Ch. 4. Continuation of the same subject. 112
  • Ch. 5. Continuation of the same subject. 117
  • Ch. 6. Some necessary explication. 123
  • Ch. 7. Final observations. 124
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chapter one: The Object of the Following Three Books

In the following three books we are going to deal with freedom of thought and of the press and with legal safeguards.

Political freedom would be a thing of no value if the rights of individuals were not sheltered from all violation. Any country where these rights are not respected is a country subjected to despotism, whatever the nominal organization of government may otherwise be.

Till a few years ago these truths were universally recognized. Lasting errors and a long oppression, under wholly contrary pretexts and quite opposite banners, have thrown all ideas into confusion. Questions one would think worked to death if one judged the case in terms of eighteenth-century writers, will seem never to have been the object of human meditation judging by most of the writers of today.

chapter two: On Freedom of Thought

“The laws,” says Montesquieu, “have responsibility for the punishment of external actions only.”1 The demonstration of this truth might seem unnecessary. Government has nevertheless often failed to recognize it.

It has sometimes wanted to dominate thought itself. Louis XIV’s dragonnades,2 the insane laws of Charles II’s implacable Parliament, the fury of our revolutionaries: these had no other purpose.

At other times the government, renouncing this ridiculous ambition, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [128] dresses up its renunciation as a voluntary concession and a praiseworthy tolerance. An amusing merit, this granting what you cannot refuse and this tolerating what you do not know about.

As to the absurdity of any attempt by society to control the inner opinions of its members—a few words on the possibility of the idea and on the means available are enough.

There is no such possibility. Nature has given man’s thought an impregnable shelter. She has created for it a sanctuary no power can penetrate.

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The means employed are always the same, so much so that in recounting what happened two hundred years ago, we will seem to be saying what happened not long ago under our eyes. And these unchanging means always work against their purpose.

One can deploy against mute public opinion all the resources of an inquisitorial nosiness. One can scrutinize consciences, impose oath after solemn oath,3 in the hope that he whose conscience was not revolted by an initial act, will be so by a second or a third. One can strike at people’s consciences with boundless severity, surrounding obedience the while with relentless distrust. One can persecute proud and honest men, reluctantly letting off only those of flexible and obliging spirit. One can show oneself equally incapable of respecting resistance and believing in submission.4 One can set traps for the citizens, invent far-fetched formulae to declare a whole nation refractory,5 place it outside the protection of the laws when it has done nothing, punish it when it has committed no crimes, deprive it of the very right to silence,6 and finally pursue men into the sorrows of their final agony and the solemn hour of death.7

What happens? Honest men are indignant and feeble ones degraded. Everyone suffers and no one is won back. Enforced oaths are an invitation to hypocrisy. They affect only what it is criminal to affect: frankness and integrity. To demand assent is to make it wither. To prop up an opinion with threats invites the courageous to contest it. To offer seductive motives for obedience is to condemn impartiality to resist.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [129] Twenty-eight years after all the abuses of power devised by the Stuarts as a safeguard, they were driven out. A century after the outrages against the Protestants under Louis XVI, the Protestants took part in the overthrow of his family. Scarcely ten years separate us from revolutionary governments which called themselves republican, and by a fatal but natural confusion the very name they profaned cannot be spoken save with horror.

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chapter three: On the Expression of Thought

Men have two ways of showing what their thinking is: speech and writing.

There was a time when speech seemed worthy of the total surveillance efforts of government. Indeed, if we consider that speech is the indispensable instrument of all plots, the necessary precursor of almost all crimes, the means of communication for all criminal intentions, we can agree that it would be desirable if we could circumscribe its use, in such a fashion as to make its disadvantages disappear while it retained its usefulness.

Why, then, have all efforts to achieve this very desirable goal been renounced? It is because experience has shown that the measures necessary to achieve this produced ills worse than those one was wishful to remedy. Espionage, corruption, informing, calumnies, abuse of confidence, treason, suspicion between relatives, dissensions between friends, hostility between unconcerned parties, a commerce in domestic infidelities, venality, lying, perjury, despotism: such were the elements constituting government interference with speech. It was felt that this was to pay too dearly for the advantage afforded by surveillance. In addition, we learned that it was to attach importance to what should have none. Keeping a record of imprudence turned it into hostility. Stopping fugitive words in flight was to lead to their being followed by bold actions, and it was better, while coming down hard on the deeds which speech might perhaps have led to, to let that which had no results at all just evaporate. Consequently, except in some very rare circumstances—some obviously disastrous eras or very touchy governments which do not disguise Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [130] their tyranny at all—society has introduced a distinction which renders its jurisdiction over the word softer and more legitimate. The declaration of an opinion can in a special case produce an effect so infallible that such an opinion must be regarded as an action. Then, if the action is culpable, the utterance must be punished. But it is the same with writings. Writings, like speech, like the most simple movements, can be part of an action. They must be judged as part of that action if it is criminal. But if they do not constitute part of any action, they must, like speech, enjoy complete freedom.

This answers both those men who in our times singled out certain wise heads and prescribed the need to cut them off, justifying themselves by saying that, after all, they were only expressing their opinions; and those others who want to take advantage of this delirium in order to subject all expressions of opinion to the jurisdiction of government.

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If you once grant the need to repress the expression of opinion, either the State will have to act judicially or the government will have to arrogate to itself police powers which free it from recourse to judicial means. In the first case the laws will be eluded. Nothing is easier than presenting an opinion in such variegated guises that a precisely defined law cannot touch it. In the second case, by authorizing the government to deal ruthlessly with whatever opinions there may be, you are giving it the right to interpret thought, to make inductions, in a nutshell to reason and to put its reasoning in the place of the facts which ought to be the sole basis for government counteraction. This is to establish despotism with a free hand. Which opinion cannot draw down a punishment on its author? You give the government a free hand for evildoing, provided that it is careful to engage in evil thinking. You will never escape from this circle. The men to whom you entrust the right to judge opinions are quite as susceptible as others to being misled or corrupted, and the arbitrary power which you will have invested in them can be used against the most necessary truths as well as the most fatal errors.

When one considers only one side of moral and political questions, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [131] it is easy to draw a terrible picture of the abuse of our rights. But when one looks at these questions from an overall point of view, the picture of the ills which government power occasions by limiting these rights seems to me no less frightening.

What, indeed, is the outcome of all attacks made on freedom of the pen? They embitter against the government all those writers possessed of that spirit of independence inseparable from talent, who are forced to have recourse to indirect and perfidious allusions. They necessitate the circulation of clandestine and therefore all the more dangerous texts. They feed the public greed for anecdotes, personal remarks, and seditious principles. They give calumny the appearance, always an interesting one, of courage. In sum, they attach far too much importance to the works about to be proscribed.

In the absence of government intervention, published sedition, immorality, and calumny would scarcely make more impact at the end of a given period of complete freedom than spoken or handwritten calumny, immorality, or sedition.

One reflection has always occurred to me. Let us suppose a society before the invention of language, making up for this swift and easy means of communication with other less easy and slower ones. The discovery of Edition: current; Page: [[107]] language would have produced in this society a sudden explosion. Gigantic importance would surely have been attached to sounds which were still new and lots of cautious and wise minds might well have mourned the era of peaceful and total silence. This importance, however, would gradually have faded. Speech would have become a medium limited in its effects. A salutary suspiciousness, born of experience, would have preserved listeners from unthinking enthusiasm. Finally everything would be back in order, with this difference: now social communication and consequently the perfectioning of all the arts and the correcting of all ideas would have gained an extra medium.

It will be the same with the press wherever just and moderate government does not set about struggling with it. The English government was not at all unnerved by the famous letters of Junius.8 It Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [132] knew how to resist the double force of eloquence and talent. In Prussia, during the most brilliant reign, to add luster to that monarchy, press freedom was unlimited. Frederick II in forty-six years never once directed his authority against any writer or writing. This in no way upset the peace of his reign, though it was shaken by terrible wars and he was embattled with the whole of Europe. Freedom spreads calm in the souls and reason in the minds of the men who enjoy this inestimable good, free from anxiety. What proves this is that when Frederick II’s successor adopted the opposite course, a general unrest made itself felt. Writers got into conflict with the government, which also found itself abandoned by the courts. If the clouds which rose all around this horizon, formerly so peaceful, did not culminate in a storm, this is because the very restrictions that Frederick William tried to impose on the expression of thought were influenced by the wisdom of the great Frederick. The new king was held in check by the memory of his uncle, whose magnanimous shadow seemed still to watch over Prussia. His edicts were drafted more in a style of apology Edition: current; Page: [[108]] than menace. He gave homage to freedom of thought in the preamble to the very edicts aiming to repress it,9 and measures which were in principle abuses of power were softened in execution by a tacit moderation and by the tradition of freedom.

Anyway, government has the same means of defending itself as its enemies have for attacking it. It can enlighten public opinion or even seduce it, and there is no reason to fear that it will ever lack adroit and skillful men who will devote their zeal and talent to it. The government’s supporters ask nothing better than to make themselves out to be courageous and to represent Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [133] government apologias as difficult and dangerous. In support of their claims they choose the example of the French government, overthrown, they say, in 1789, because of freedom of the press.10 In fact it was not freedom of the press which overthrew the French monarchy. Press freedom did not create the financial disorder which was the real cause of the Revolution. On the contrary, if there had been freedom of the press under Louis XIV and Louis XV, the insane wars of the first and the costly corruption of the second would not have drained the State dry. The glare of Edition: current; Page: [[109]] publicity would have restrained the first of these kings in his ventures, the second in his vices. They would not have left the unfortunate Louis XVI with a realm which it was impossible to save. It was not press freedom which inflamed popular indignation against illegal detentions and lettres de cachet.11 It was on the contrary popular indignation which, to counter governmental oppression, grasped not press freedom but the dangerous resort to satire, something which all the precautionary measures of the police never manage to take away from the enslaved people. If there had been freedom of the press, on the one hand there would have been fewer illegal detentions, and on the other, people would not have been able to exaggerate them. The imagination would not have been struck by suppositions whose plausibility was heightened by the very mystery surrounding them. Finally, it was not press freedom which brought about all the infamies and lunacy of a revolution all of whose ills I acknowledge. It was the long deprivation of press freedom which had made the common people of France credulous, anxious, and ignorant and thereby often savage. It is because for centuries we had not dared to demand the rights of the people that the people did not know what meaning to attach to these words suddenly pronounced in the middle of the storm. In Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [134] everything people see as freedom’s excesses I recognize only the instruction servitude gives.

Governments do not know the harm they do themselves in reserving to themselves the exclusive privilege of speaking and writing on their own acts. People believe nothing affirmed by a government which does not permit one to reply to it and everything said against a government which does not tolerate scrutiny.

It is these detailed and tyrannical measures against writings, as though they were hostile phalanxes, these measures which, attributing to them an imaginary influence, enlarge their real influence. When men see whole codes of prohibitive law along with hosts of interrogators, they must think attacks repulsed in this way very formidable. Since so much trouble is being taken to keep certain writings away from us, they must say to themselves, the impression they would have on us must probably be a very profound one. They probably contain compelling facts.

The dangers of freedom of the press are certainly not prevented by government means. The government does not succeed in its ostensible aim. The end it does achieve is to curb the thinking of all timid or scrupulous Edition: current; Page: [[110]] citizens, to deny all access to the complaints of the oppressed, to let abuses become deep-rooted, without any representation being made, to surround itself with ignorance and darkness, to sanctify despotism in its lowest agents, against whom people dare publish nothing, to drive back into men’s inner thoughts bitterness, vengeance, resentment, to impose silence on reason, justice, and truth, without its being able to require the same silence from the audacity and exaggeration which defy its laws.

These truths would be incontestable even in the event that we agreed about all the disadvantages attributed to press freedom. How will matters stand if a deeper analysis leads us to deny these drawbacks and if it is shown that the calamities with which freedom of the press is reproached have for the most part been the result only of its enslavement?

Ordinarily, at the very moment when a dominant faction exercises the most scandalous despotism over the press, it directs this instrument against its opponents and, when by its own excesses this faction has brought about its fall, the inheritors of its power Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [135] argue against press freedom, citing the ills occasioned by mercenary writers and authorized spies. This leads me to a consideration which seems to me to weigh very heavily in the question.

In a country still vigorously contested by various groups, when one of these manages to restrain press freedom, it has much more unlimited and formidable power than ordinary despotisms. Despotic governments do not allow freedom of the press; everybody, however, governors and governed, keeps equally quiet. Public opinion is silent; but it remains what it is. Nothing leads it astray or causes it to deviate. But in a country where the reigning faction has seized the press, its writers argue, invent, and calumniate in one direction the way one could do it in all if there were freedom to write. They discuss as though it were a question of convincing. They lose their temper as if there were an opposition. They insult people as if there were a right of reply. Their absurd calumnies precede barbarous persecutions. Their ferocious jests are a prelude to illegal condemnations. The public, far removed, takes this parody of freedom for freedom itself. It draws its opinions from their mendacious, scurrilous satires. It is persuaded by their show of attack that the victims are resisting, just as from afar the war dances of savages might make one believe they are fighting against the unfortunates they are about to devour.

In the large-scale polities of modern times, freedom of the press, being the sole means of publicity, is by that very fact, whatever the type of government, the unique safeguard of our rights. Collatinus could expose Edition: current; Page: [[111]] Lucretia’s body in the public square in Rome and everybody was apprised of the outrage done to him.12 The plebeian debtor could show his indignant fellow citizens the wounds inflicted on him by the greedy patrician, his usurious creditor. In our era, however, the vastness of states is an obstacle to this kind of protest. Limited injustices always remain unknown to almost all the inhabitants in our huge countries. If the ephemeral governments which have tyrannized France have drawn on themselves public detestation, this is less because of what they have done than because of what they have owned up to. They bragged about their injustices. They publicized them in their Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [136] newspapers. More prudent governments would act silently, and the public outlook, which would be disturbed only by dull rumors, intermittent and unconfirmed, would remain uncertain, undecided, and fluctuating. No doubt, as we have already remarked, the repercussive explosion would be only the more terrible, but this would be one ill replacing another.

All defenses—civil, political, or judicial—become illusory without freedom of the press. The independence of the courts can be violated in scornful mockery of the best-drafted constitution. If open publication is not guaranteed, this violation will not be checked, since it will remain covered by a veil. The courts themselves can prevaricate in their judgments and overthrow due process. The only safeguard of due process is, once again, open publication. Innocence can be put in irons. If open publication does not warn the citizens of the danger hovering over all their heads, the dungeons, abetted by the universal silence, will retain their victims indefinitely. Persecution can be for opinions, beliefs, or doubts, and when no one has the right to call public attention to himself, the protection promised by the laws is only a chimera, another danger. In countries where there are representative assemblies, national representation can be enslaved, mutilated, and calumniated. If printing is only an instrument in the hands of the government, the whole country will resound with its calumnies, without truth finding a single voice raised in its favor. In sum, press freedom, even if it were accompanied by no legal consequence, would still have an advantage in a number of cases, such as when senior members of government are ignorant of the outrages being committed, or in others when they may find it convenient to feign such ignorance. Press freedom meets these two difficulties. It enlightens government and prevents it deliberately closing its eyes. Forced to learn of the facts which happen unbeknown to it and to Edition: current; Page: [[112]] admit it knows of them, it will less often dare to legitimate the abuses it finds convenient to permit, seemingly in ignorance of them.

All the thoughts just presented to the reader apply only to the relations of government to the publicizing of opinion. Individuals whom this publicity offends, either in their interests or their honor, always retain the right to demand reparation. Every man has the right Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [137] to invoke the law in order to repulse the ill done to him, whatever weapons it employs. Individual campaigns against calumny have none of the disadvantages of government intervention. No one has an interest in claiming he has been attacked nor in having recourse to strained interpretations in order to aggravate the charges directed against him. Trial by jury would moreover be a guarantee against these abuses in interpretation.

chapter four: Continuation of the Same Subject

In the previous chapter we dealt with press freedom only in a rather administrative way. More important considerations, however, in connection with politics and morality, demand our attention.

Today, to restrain the freedom of the press is to restrain the human race’s intellectual freedom. The press is an instrument such freedom can no longer do without. Printing has been made the sole means of publicizing things, the only mode of communication between nations as much as between individuals, by the nature and extent of our modern societies and by the abolition of all the popular and disorderly ways of doing this. The question of press freedom is therefore the general one about the development of the human mind. It is from this point of view that it must be envisaged.

In countries where the populace does not participate in government in an active way, that is, everywhere there is no national representation, freely elected and invested with significant prerogatives, freedom of the press in some degree replaces political rights. The educated part of the nation interests itself in the administration of affairs, when it can express its opinion, if not directly on each particular issue, at least on the general principles of government. When, however, a country has neither press freedom nor political rights, the people turn away from public affairs. All communication between governors and governed is broken. For a while, the government and its supporters can regard that as an advantage. The government does not encounter obstacles. Nothing impedes it. It acts freely, but this is simply because it is the only living thing and the nation is dead. Edition: current; Page: [[113]] Public opinion is the very life of States. When public opinion is not renewed, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [138] States waste away and fall into dissolution. There were institutions in the past in all the countries of Europe, which, though involved in many abuses, nevertheless, by giving certain classes privileges to defend and rights to exercise, fostered in them a level of activity which saved them from discouragement or apathy. It is to this cause that we must attribute the energy certain individuals possessed until the sixteenth century, an energy of which we no longer find any trace. These institutions have been destroyed everywhere or been modified to such an extent that they have lost their influence almost entirely. But around the very same time they collapsed, the discovery of printing furnished men with a new means of discussion, a new motor of intellectual movement. This discovery and the freedom of thought which resulted from it have over the last three centuries been favored by certain governments, tolerated by others, while yet others have smothered them. Now, we are not afraid to say that the nations in which this intellectual activity has been encouraged or allowed are the only ones which have conserved force and life, and those whose leaderships have imposed silence on all free opinion have gradually lost all character and energy. The French under the monarchy were not completely deprived of political rights until after Richelieu. I have already said that defective institutions which nevertheless endow the powerful classes with certain privileges they are ceaselessly busy in defending have, in their favor, amid their many disadvantages, the fact that they do not leave the whole nation to degradation and debasement. The beginning of the reign of Louis XIV was still disrupted by the war of the Fronde, a puerile war in truth, but one which was the residuum of a spirit of resistance, habituated to action and continuing to act almost without purpose. Despotism grew greatly toward the end of this reign. The opposition still maintained itself, however, taking refuge in religious quarrels, sometimes Calvinists against Catholicism, sometimes between Catholics themselves. The death of Louis XIV was the period when government was relaxed. Freedom of opinion gained ground each day. I do not at all want to say that this freedom was exercised in the most decent and useful way. I mean only that it was exercised and that in this sense one could not put the French, in any period up until the overthrow of the monarchy, among those peoples condemned to complete servitude and moral lethargy.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [139] This march of the human spirit finished, I agree, with a terrible revolution. I am more willing than anyone to deplore the evils of this revolution. I think I have shown elsewhere that it had many other causes than Edition: current; Page: [[114]] the independence and the airing of thought. Without coming back to this matter here, however, I will say that those who in their bitterness blame freedom of the press have probably not thought of the effects the complete destruction of that freedom would have produced. People can see very well in every instance the evils which took place, and they believe they can see the immediate causes of these evils. They do not notice as clearly, however, what would have resulted from a different chain of circumstances. If Louis XIV’s successor had been a tetchy prince, despotic and skillful enough to oppress the people without making them rebel, France would have fallen into the same apathy as neighboring monarchies, formerly no less formidable and populous. But the French have always maintained an interest in public affairs, because they have always had, if not the legal, at least the practical right to be interested in them. In recent years the temporary humbling of France during the Seven Years War and during the years just prior to the Revolution has been much exaggerated.13 But it would be easy to show that this decline, for which the philosophers are stupidly blamed, resulted from bad government, from bad appointments made, to my mind, not by philosophers but by mistresses and courtiers. This decline did not stem from a lack of energy in the nation. France proved this when she had Europe to battle with.

Spain, four hundred years ago, was more powerful and populous than France. This realm, before the abolition of the Cortes, had thirty million inhabitants. Today it has nine. Its ships plied all the oceans and commanded all the colonies. Its fleet is now weaker than those of the English, the French, and the Dutch. Yet the Spanish character is energetic, brave, and enterprising. Whence comes then the striking difference between the fortunes of Spain and France? From the fact that when political liberty had vanished in Spain, nothing came to offer the intellectual and moral activity of its inhabitants a new lease of life. Probably people will say Spain’s decadence is due to the faults of its government, to the Inquisition which controls it, and to a thousand other immediate causes. All these causes, however, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [140] relate to the same root. If thought had been free in Spain, the government would have been better, because it would have been enlightened by the intelligence of various individuals. As for the Inquisition, everywhere you have freedom of the press, the Inquisition cannot happen, and everywhere there is no press freedom, there will always be creeping around, in one shape or another, something very like the Inquisition.

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Germany furnishes us with a very similar and even more striking comparison, in view of the disproportion between the two objects compared. One of the two great monarchies which share that country was formerly a colossus of power. She grows weaker each day. Her finances are deteriorating and her military strength leaking away. Her internal activities are powerless against the decay which undermines her. Her foreign activities are ill-coordinated and her setbacks inexplicable. For all that, her cabinet has often been presented by the political writers as a model of ongoing prudence and secrecy. There is in that realm, however, neither political freedom nor intellectual independence. Not only is the press there subjected to severe restrictions, but the introduction of any foreign book is strictly prohibited. The nation, separated from the government as by a thick night, takes only a feeble part in its proceedings. It is not within the government’s power to have the people slumber or bestir itself according to government convenience or passing fantasy. Life is not something you can by turns take away and give back.

It is so true that we must attribute the misfortunes of the monarchy I am talking about to this defect in its domestic life, that the region which has always furnished the best troops and most zealous defenders is a country which, formerly free, has retained its sense of loss, its memories, and a certain show of freedom. The heredity of the throne was not recognized in Hungary until the Assembly of 1687, amid the most bloody executions. The energy of the Hungarians has been sustained under the Austrian government only because that government has not borne down on them for more than a century and a bit. Note that this country is at the same time the most malcontent part of the monarchy. Malcontent subjects are still worth more to their masters than subjects lacking zeal because they lack interests.14

Prussia, on the contrary, where public opinion has never been completely smothered and where this opinion has enjoyed the greatest freedom since Frederick II, has successfully struggled against many disadvantages, all the less easy to surmount because they were inherent Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [141] in her situation and local circumstances. Until about the beginning of the last century, the era of her elevation to the status of monarchy, Prussia showed the effects of the upheaval that the Reformation wrought in all German thinking. The Electors of Brandenburg had always stood out among the chiefs of the league formed to support freedom of religion, and their subjects had joined them in word and deed in that great and noble enterprise. The warlike reign of Frederick Edition: current; Page: [[116]] William had not weakened that outlook when Frederick II replaced him. He left thought the widest possible latitude, permitting the examination of all political and religious questions. His very dislike of German literature, of which he knew little, was itself very favorable to the complete freedom of German writers. The greatest service government can do to knowledge is not to bother with it. Laisser faire is all you need to bring commerce to the highest point of prosperity; letting people write is all you need for the human mind to achieve the highest degree of activity, cogency, and accuracy. Frederick’s conduct here was such that his subjects identified themselves with him in all his undertakings. Although there was in Prussia no political liberty, no cast-iron safeguards, a public spirit took shape, and it was with this spirit, as much as with his troops, that Frederick repulsed the European coalition against him. During the Seven Years War he experienced frequent reverses. His capital was taken and his armies dispersed; but there was some kind of moral elasticity which communicated itself from him to his people and from his people to him. The Prussians had something to lose by the death of their king, for they would have forfeited their freedom of thought and of the press and that indefinable but real share that the exercise of these two faculties gave them in his undertakings and administration. They lent him their best wishes; they had a good reaction on his army; they gave him the support of a kind of climate of opinion, a public-spiritedness, which sustained him and doubled his strength. I do not in writing these lines seek to conceal the fact that there is a class of men who will see in them only a cause for derision and mockery. Whatever the cost, these men want there to be nothing moral or intellectual in the government of the human race. They set such faculties as they have to proving the futility and impotence of these faculties. I will ask them, however, to reply to the examples I have Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [142] cited and tell us why, of the four remaining monarchies, the two strongest formerly, having smothered all intellectual activity and development in their subjects, have gradually fallen into an ever growing weakness and lethargy, and why the other two, of which the first has tolerated, mostly despite itself, the existence and force of public opinion and the second favored it, have raised themselves to a high degree of prosperity and power. I repeat that arguments based on the faults and inconsistencies of the governments in these two first monarchies would not be admissible. This is because they would have committed fewer faults if freedom had surrounded them with more enlightenment, or if, even when they had committed these faults, their nations had conserved some energy just by exercising disapproval, however impotent. Then their nations, like the French nation, would have been ready to revive at the first signal.

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I did not want to base my case on the English example, though it would have been much more favorable to it. However one judges England, it will, I think, be agreed that she has a stronger and more active national spirit than any other people in Europe. But one could rightly have attributed England’s energy to her political constitution, and I wanted to show the advantages of press freedom independently of any constitution.

Had I wished to multiply the evidence, I could have spoken again about China. The government of that country has contrived to dominate thought and transform it wholly into a tool. Sciences there are cultivated only by its orders, under its management and authority. No one dares to cut out a new path for himself nor to deviate in any way from prescribed opinion. The result is that China has been persistently conquered by strangers less numerous than the Chinese. To arrest the development of people’s minds it has been necessary to break in them the energy which would have served them in standing up for themselves and their government.

“The leaders of ignorant peoples have always finished,” says Bentham, “by being victims of their narrow and cowardly policies. Those nations grown old in infancy under tutors who prolong their imbecility in order to govern them the more easily, have always offered the first aggressor an easy prey.”15 Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [143]

chapter five: Continuation of the Same Subject

If you apply this experience of the last three centuries of history to the present state of human intellection, you will readily be convinced that the annihilation of press freedom, that is to say, of intellectual progress, would have results today even more fatal than those we have recounted. The monarchies whose progressive withering and retrograde movement we have described, deprived of the free use of printing from its inception, felt this deprivation only in a dull, slow, imperceptible way. A people deprived of freedom of the press after having enjoyed it, would experience the initial Edition: current; Page: [[118]] pain of this loss more sharply, followed by a more rapid degradation. The thing which debases men is not lacking a right but having to give it up. Condillac says there are two sorts of barbarism, the one which goes before enlightened centuries and the one which succeeds them.16 In the same way one can say there are two kinds of servitude, the one preceding liberty and the one replacing it. The first is a desirable state of affairs compared to the second. But the choice of these is not left to governments, because they cannot annihilate the past.

Imagine an enlightened nation, enriched by the works of a number of studious generations, possessing masterpieces of all types, having made immense scientific and artistic progress, and having got to this point by the only way that can lead there, the enjoyment, assured or precarious, of freedom of publication. If the government of that nation put such constraints on that freedom that it became every day harder to elude them, if it did not allow the exercise of thought except in a predetermined direction, the nation could survive for a while on Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [144] its former capital, so to speak, on its acquired intelligence, on habits of thinking and doing picked up earlier; but nothing in the world of thought would renew itself. The reproductive principle would have dried up. For some years vanity might stand in for the love of learning. Sophists, remembering what glamour and esteem literary works used once to bestow, would give themselves over to works of ostensibly the same genre. Their writings would combat any good effects which other writings might have had, and as long as there remained any trace of liberal principles, there would be in such a people’s literature some kind of movement, a sort of struggle against these ideas and principles. This very movement, however, this struggle, would be an inheritance of a now-destroyed liberty. To the extent that the last vestiges, the last traditions, could be dispelled, there would be less acclaim and less advantage in continuing these more and more superfluous attacks. When all had been dispelled, the battle would finish, because the combatants would no longer perceive even the shadow of their foes. Conquerors and conquered would alike keep silence. Who knows if the government might not reckon it worth imposing this? It would not want anyone to reawaken extinguished memories, or stir up abandoned ideas. It would come down hard on overzealous acolytes as it used to on its enemies. It would forbid even Edition: current; Page: [[119]] writings taking its own line, on the interests of humanity, as some pious government once forbade talk of God, for good or ill. Thus a career in real thinking would be definitively closed to the human spirit. The educated generation would gradually disappear. The next generation, seeing no advantage in intellectual occupations, or indeed dangers therein, would break off from them for good. You will say, in vain, that the human spirit could still occupy itself with lighter literature, that it could enter the service of the exact or natural sciences, or devote itself to the arts. When nature created man, she did not consult government. Her design was that all our faculties should be in intimate liaison and that none should be subject to limitation without the others feeling the effect. Independent thinking is as vital, even to lighter literature, science, and the arts, as air is to physical life. One could as well make men work under a pneumatic pump, saying that they do not have to breathe, but must move their arms and legs, as hold intellectual activity to a given object, preventing it from preoccupying itself with important subjects which give it its energy because they remind it of its dignity. Writers strangled in this way start off with panegyrics; but they become bit by bit incapable even of praise and literature finishes Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [145] up losing itself in anagrams and acrostics. Scholars are no more than the trustees of ancient discoveries which deteriorate and degrade in manacled hands. The source of talent dries up among artists along with the hope of glory which is sustained only by freedom. By a mysterious but incontestable relationship between things from which one thought oneself capable of isolating oneself,17 they no longer have the ability to represent the human figure nobly when the human spirit is degraded.18

Nor would this be the end of the story. Soon commerce, the professions, and the most vital crafts would feel the effects of the death of thought. It should not be thought that commerce on its own is a sufficient motive for activity. People often exaggerate the influence of personal interest. Personal interest itself needs the existence of public opinion in order to act. The man whose opinion languishes, stifled, is not for long excited even by his interests. A sort of stupor seizes him; and just as paralysis extends itself from one part of the body to another, so it extends itself from one faculty to another.

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Interest cut off from reflection is limited in its needs and easy to content in its pleasures, working just as much as is needed for the moment, preparing nothing for the future. Look at Spain, whose example we cited above. Thus it is that governments which wish to kill men’s opinions and believe they are encouraging interests find to their great regret that this clumsy twin policy has killed them both. No doubt there is an interest which is not snuffed out under despotism; but it is not one which leads man to work. It is the one leading him to beg and plunder, to enrich himself by the favors of power and the spoils drawn from weakness. This interest has nothing in common with the motive necessary for the working classes. It makes the whereabouts of despots a very busy place; but it cannot serve as a spur either to the efforts of industry nor the speculations of commerce. We have shown by the example of Frederick II how intellectual independence influenced even military success. One does not notice at first glance the link between a nation’s public spirit and the discipline or valor of an army which fights away from home and often comprises foreign elements. This link, however, is constant and necessary. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [146] People like to think of soldiers today as docile instruments, whom it suffices to know how to handle skillfully. This is all too true in certain respects. It is also necessary, however, that soldiers are aware of a certain public opinion behind them. It moves them almost without their knowing. It is like that music to whose sound these same soldiers advance on the enemy. None pays it a consistent attention, and yet all are moved, encouraged, and carried along by it. If it stopped making itself heard, they would all slacken off imperceptibly. Only barbarian hordes can march ardently into battle unsustained by the public opinion of a nation of their compatriots, whose cause they defend and who share in their success. But this is because the barbarian hordes are driven by the hope of plunder and the desire to make new settlements in the country they are seizing. This hope and desire take the place for them of public opinion, or rather they constitute a real opinion.

“The conquest of the Gauls,” remarks Filangieri, “cost Caesar ten years of exhaustion, victories, and negotiations, and Clovis, so to speak, only a day.”19 Yet the Gauls who resisted Caesar were surely less disciplined than Edition: current; Page: [[121]] those who fought against Clovis and had been trained in Roman military tactics. Clovis, at fifteen or sixteen, was certainly not a greater general than Caesar. But Caesar had to subdue a people who took a great part in the administration of their domestic affairs, Clovis one which had been enslaved for five centuries. We have already said, at the start of this chapter, that among modern nations, freedom of the press takes the place in some respects of direct participation in the administration of affairs.

There are two circumstances, I agree, which can briefly stand in for public opinion among civilized nations in the matter of military success. The Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [147] first is when a great general inspires his soldiers with a personal enthusiasm. The second is when public opinion having been strong for a long time, the army has retained the momentum that opinion once gave it. In this case it is public opinion which has fled the nation and found refuge in the army. It is very easy to grasp that this spirit, which lives only in action and the attachment of interests, should grow dim first in the peaceful and inactive part of the nation, when the government takes away all its nourishment, and that it should flourish longer in the active and warlike part. Of these two circumstances, however, one is accidental and the other ephemeral, and both are artificial substitutes for the only real and durable cause. All man’s faculties go together. Industry and the military arts are perfected by scientific discovery. The sciences gain in their turn from the perfectioning of the military arts and industry. Learning has applications to everything. It spurs on progress in industry, all the arts and sciences, and then, in analyzing all this progress, it extends its own horizon. Finally, morality is purified and corrected by such learning. If the government undermines free expression of thought, morality will be the less sound for it,20 factual knowledge less accurate, the sciences less active in their development, the art of war less advanced, and industry less enriched by discoveries.

Human existence, attacked in its noblest parts, soon feels the poison extending to its most distant ones. You think you have limited it only in respect of some superfluous liberty or denied it only some worthless ceremony. In fact your poisoned weapon has struck it to the heart.

The process we are recounting here is not theory: it is history. It is the history of the Greek empire, that empire which was the heir to that of Rome, invested with much of its strength and all its intellectual achievement, that empire where despotism took root, with all the advantages most Edition: current; Page: [[122]] favorable to its power and perpetuation, and which perished and fell solely for the reason that all despotic empires must perish and fall.

People often tell us, I know, of an alleged circle which the human spirit describes and which, they say, brings back—by an inevitable Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [148] determinism—ignorance after enlightenment, barbarism after civilization.21 Unfortunately for this thesis, however, despotism has always slipped in between these stages in a way making it difficult not to define it as itself counting for something in the cycle. The real cause of these alternations in the history of nations is that man’s intelligence cannot stand still. If you do not stop it, it advances. If you stop it, it retreats, because it cannot stay at the same point. Thought is the basis of everything. If you discourage it from self-examination, it will not exercise itself on any other object, except apathetically. One could say that, indignant at seeing itself driven from its proper sphere, it wants to take vengeance, in the form of a noble suicide, for the humiliation which has been inflicted on it. All the efforts of government will not restore it to life. The false, intermittent movement it receives resembles only the convulsions which an art—more frightening than effective—stimulates in corpses, without reanimating them. And if the government wished to make up for the natural activity of muzzled public opinion with its own actions, just as in besieged places they make the horses they keep locked up there paw the ground between the columns, it would be taking on a difficult task. To begin with, a wholly artificial bustle is costly to maintain, indeed can be maintained only by extraordinary things. When each person is free, he interests or amuses himself with what he is doing, saying, or writing. But when most of the nation is reduced to the role of forcibly silenced spectators, to make these dumb spectators applaud, or even just watch, the managers of the show have constantly to reawaken their curiosity with theatrical spectacles or changes of scene. Now, it is probably an advantage for a government to be adept at laying on grand events when the general good demands it. But it is an incalculable nuisance to the governed that the government simply has to put on so-called grand events when the general good does not demand this. Moreover, this artificial activity does not fulfill its Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [149] purpose for very long. The governed soon stop listening to a long monologue they are never allowed to interrupt. The nation gets tired of a pointless display whose costs and risks are all it supports, but whose purposes and management are alien to it. The interest Edition: current; Page: [[123]] in public affairs is concentrated on the government and its creatures. A moral barrier stands between the bustling of government and the lasting inaction of the people. The former tries in vain to communicate to the latter its concern, and the most dazzling undertakings and the most solemn celebrations of these are only so many funeral ceremonies, with dances on the tombs. All positions are occupied by ciphers, and consent is deprived of all spontaneity. Things keep going, but by command and threat. Everything is more expensive because men insist on payment for being reduced to the level of mere machines. Money has to take over the functions of opinion, imitation, and honor. Everything is harder, because nothing is voluntary. The government is obeyed rather than supported. At the least interruption all the cogs stop operating. It is like a game of chess. The hand of power controls it. No pieces resist. But if the hand were to stop for an instant, all the pieces would remain immobile. Finally, movement weakens in government itself. A nation’s lethargy, where there is no public opinion, communicates itself to its government, whatever the latter does. Having been unable to keep the nation awake, the government finishes by falling asleep with it. Thus everything falls silent, subsides, degenerates, and is degraded in a nation which no longer has the right to make public its thoughts, and sooner or later, such a realm presents the spectacle of those plains of Egypt, where we see an immense pyramid pressing down on the arid dust, reigning over the silent wastes. It was a beautiful conceit of nature to place man’s recompense outside himself, to have lighted in his heart this indefinable flame of glory, which, nourishing itself on noble hopes, the source of all great actions, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [150] our protection against all the vices, the link between all the generations and between man and the universe, repulses gross pleasures and disdains sordid desires. Bad luck to him who extinguishes that sacred flame. He plays the part in this world of the principle of evil, his iron hand bends our brow to the earth, when heaven made us to walk head held high and to contemplate the stars.

chapter six: Some Necessary Explication

In saying that freedom of the press in some degree replaces political rights, I did not mean it replaces them perfectly. As it is never other than precarious, where these rights do not exist, it does not do all the good it could do, and the good it does do is mingled with many ills. This is what happened in France at the end of the eighteenth century. But in this as in all such cases, Edition: current; Page: [[124]] it is not liberty we should blame but the absence of judicial guarantee. It is not necessary to remove the former but to ensure the latter. Freedom of the press can be appropriately restricted only where political freedom exists. Elsewhere, men of enlightenment have to pit themselves against all limits, because despotism cannot put limits on anything appropriately.

chapter seven: Final Observations

To stop people declaring their thoughts is to close to talent its finest career. But nature will not be stopped from giving birth to men of talent and their active side will, indeed, have to be exercised. What will happen? They will split into two classes. Some, true to the purpose they were born for, will attack your government. Others will run headlong into egotism and devote their superior talents to accumulating all the means of pleasure, the sole compensation left to them. Thus Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [151] the government, in its marvelous goings-on, will have divided men of talent into two parts, one seditious and the other rascally. It will probably punish them, but for its own crime. If their legitimate ambition had found the field free for their hopes and honorable efforts, the former would still be peaceful and the latter still virtuous. They did not seek out a reprehensible route until they had been driven back from the natural ones, which they had a right to follow. I say they had a right to do this because celebrity, renown, and glory are the human race’s patrimony. It does not belong to a few men to rob their equals of them. It is not permitted to them to make life wither by depriving it of what gives it its brilliance.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK VIII: On Religious Freedom

  • Ch. 1. Why religion was so often attacked by the men of the Enlightenment. 131
  • Ch. 2. On civil intolerance. 135
  • Ch. 3. On the proliferation of sects. 137
  • Ch. 4. On the maintenance of religion by government against the spirit of inquiry. 139
  • Ch. 5. On the reestablishment of religion by government. 140
  • Ch. 6. On the axiom that the people must have a religion. 141
  • Ch. 7. On the utilitarian case for religion. 142
  • Ch. 8. Another effect of the axiom that the people must have a religion. 143
  • Ch. 9. On tolerance when government gets involved. 144
  • Ch. 10. On the persecution of a religious belief. 144
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chapter one: Why Religion Was So Often Attacked by the Men of the Enlightenment

In examining the proper role of the government with regard to religion, we are not at all questioning the benefits deriving from religious ideas. The more one loves freedom, the more one cherishes moral ideas, the more high-mindedness, courage, and independence are needed, the more it is necessary to have some respite from men, to take refuge in belief in a God.

If religion had always been perfectly free, it would never, in my view, have been other than an object of respect and love. One could hardly conceive the bizarre fanaticism rendering religion in itself an object of hatred or animosity. This recourse of an unhappy being to a just one, of a weak to a good one, should excite, it seems to me, even among those who consider it chimerical, only interest and sympathy. He who regards all religious hopes as erroneous ought to be more profoundly moved than anyone else by this universal chorus of suffering humanity, these requests of the grieving, cast from all corners of the earth at a stony heaven, to wait unanswered, or by the soothing illusion which takes for an answer the confused sound of so many repeated prayers far away on the wind.

The causes of our pains are numerous. Government can Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [158] banish us and lies calumniate us. We can be wounded by the bonds of a totally false society. A merciless nature punishes us in what we most cherish. The somber and solemn period of old age moves toward us, when things grow dark and seem to retreat, and a kind of coldness and lifelessness spreads on everything around us.

Faced with so much sorrow, we search everywhere for consolations and all our lasting ones are religious. When the world abandons us, we form some kind of alliance beyond it. When men persecute us, we create for ourselves some refuge beyond them. When we see our most cherished chimeras—justice, freedom, and native land—vanish, we flatter ourselves that there exists somewhere a being who will be grateful that we were true, despite our times, to justice, freedom, and fatherland. When we grieve something we love, we throw a bridge across the abyss, and in our thoughts we cross it. Finally, when life escapes us, we wing our way toward another one. Thus, it is the very essence of religion to be a faithful companion, the ingenious and tireless friend of unhappy souls.

Nor is this all. The consoler of those in misfortune, religion is at the same time the most natural of all our emotions. All our physical sensations, all our Edition: current; Page: [[132]] moral feelings, make it live again in our hearts, without our knowing. Everything which seems boundless to us, which produces in us the idea of immensity, the sight of the sky, the silence of the night, the vast stretches of ocean, everything which leads us to pity or enthusiasm, awareness of a virtuous action, a generous sacrifice, a danger bravely faced, the grief of another given succor and relief, everything which raises in the depths of our souls the primal elements of our nature, the contempt for vice, the hatred of tyranny, nourishes our religious sentiment.

This feeling relates closely to all noble, delicate, and profound passions. Like all of them it has something mysterious about it. For common reasoning cannot explain any of these passions in a satisfactory manner. Love, that exclusive preference for an object we had been able to manage without for a long time and which so many others resemble, the need for glory, that thirst for a fame which must outlast us, the enjoyment Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [159] we find in devotion, an enjoyment contrary to the habitual instinct of our egotism, melancholy, that sadness without cause, in the depths of which there is a pleasure we could not begin to analyze, a thousand other sensations we cannot describe, which fill us with vague impressions and confused emotions: these are inexplicable in terms of rigorous reasoning. They all have some affinity with religious feeling. All these things aid the development of morality. They make man break out of the narrow circle of his interests, they give the soul that flexibility, that delicacy, that exaltation smothered by habituation to life in the community and the calculations it necessitates.

Love is the most mixed of these intense emotions, because its purpose is a specific pleasure, this purpose being close to us, and ending up in egoism. Religious feeling, for the opposite reason, is the purest of all emotions. It does not flee with youth. It strengthens sometimes in old age, as if heaven had given it to us to console us in the most deprived period of our lives.

A man of genius said that the sight of the Apollo Belvedere or a picture by Raphael uplifted him.1 Indeed, there is in the contemplation of beauty of all kinds something which detaches us from ourselves by making us feel that perfection is of greater worth than we, and which by means of this belief, inspiring in us a brief selflessness, awakens within us the power of Edition: current; Page: [[133]] sacrifice, which power is the mother of all virtue. Whatever the cause of the emotion, it bears within it something which quickens the blood, arouses a kind of well-being, and heightens in us the sense of our existence and strengths. We become open to a generosity, a courage, and a sympathy above our everyday disposition. Even the corrupted man is better, when he is moved and as long as he stays moved.

I do not at all wish to say that absence of religious feeling proves that any individual lacks morals. There are men Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [160] in whom the mind is the dominant thing and can give way only to something absolutely clear. These men are routinely given to deep meditation and preserved from most corrupting temptations by the enjoyment of study and the habit of thought. As a result they are capable of scrupulous moral behavior. In the mass of common folk, however, the absence of religious feeling, not deriving from such causes, most commonly indicates, I believe, aridity and frivolity of outlook, a mind absorbed in petty and ignoble interests, a marked sterility in imagination. I make an exception of the case in which these men have been plagued by persecution, which has the effect of causing revolt against its commands. Then it can happen that sensitive but proud men, indignant against a religion imposed on them, blindly reject everything connected to religion. This circumstantial objection, however, in no way affects the general thesis.

I would not have a poor opinion of an educated man, if he were presented to me as a stranger to religious feeling, but a whole people incapable of this feeling would seem to me deprived of a precious faculty and disinherited by nature.

If I were accused here of not defining religious sentiment in a sufficiently precise way, I would ask how one defines with precision that vague and profound part of our moral sensations which by its very nature defies all the efforts of language. How will you define the impression of a deep night, of an ancient forest, of the wind which moans across ruins or above tombs, of the sea which stretches away out of sight? How will you define the emotion caused in you by the songs of Ossian, the church of Saint Peter, the meditation of death, the harmony of sounds or forms? How will you define dreaming, that inner quivering of the soul, where all the powers of the senses and of thought come to gather as though to lose themselves in a mysterious confusion? There is religion at the bottom of all these things. Everything fine, intimate, and profound is religious.

Idea of God, the common center where, above the action of time and the reach of wickedness, there come together all the ideas of justice, love, freedom, and pity which in this brief world Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [161] constitute the dignity of the Edition: current; Page: [[134]] human race, permanent seat of everything beautiful, great, and good across the degradation and iniquity of the ages, eternal voice which replies to virtue in its own tongue, when the language of everything around it is low and criminal, call from the present to the future, from earth to heaven, solemn recourse of all the oppressed in all situations, last hope of weakness trampled underfoot, of innocence slain, thought both consoling and noble, no, whatever is done, the human race can never manage without you.

But how does it happen, therefore, that religion, this constant ally, this necessary support, this unique glimmer amid the shadows which surround us, has in all ages been exposed to frequent and bitter attacks? How comes it that the class which has declared itself its enemy has almost always been the most enlightened, the most independent, and the most educated? It is because religion has been distorted. Man has been pursued into this last refuge, this intimate sanctuary of his existence. In the hands of government, religion has been transformed into a menacing institution. Having created most—and the most harrowing—of our sorrows, government has laid claim to the control of man even in his means of consolation. Dogmatic religion, an aggressive and persecuting force, has wished to submit to its yoke both the imagination in its conjecturing and the heart in its needs. It has become a scourge more terrible than those it was intended to enable us to forget.

Hence, in all those eras when men have demanded their moral independence, there is this resistance to religion, seemingly directed against the sweetest of the feelings, and really against only the most oppressive of tyrannies. Intolerance, in putting force on the side of faith, put courage alongside doubt. The fury of the believers has heightened the vanity of the skeptics, and man has in this way managed to turn for himself into a merit what, left to himself, he would have regarded as a misfortune. Persecution provokes resistance. The government, menacing a point of view, whatever it may be, excites all minds of any worth to declare for it. There is in man that which revolts on principle against all intellectual constraint. This spirit Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [162] is even capable at times of being infuriated. It can cause many crimes. But it springs from everything noble deep in our being.

I have often felt myself struck with sadness and astonishment when reading the famous System of Nature.2 This long-lasting, desperate eagerness by an old man to close off any future lying before him, this inexplicable thirst for destruction, this blind, almost ferocious hatred of an idea so gentle and Edition: current; Page: [[135]] consoling, seemed to me a strange delirium. I understood it nevertheless when I remembered the perils with which the government surrounded that writer. In all ages atheists have been harassed in their thinking. They have never had the time or freedom to consider their own opinions at their leisure. For them freedom has always been a property that people wanted to rob them of. They have dreamed less about deepening it than justifying or protecting it. But just leave them in peace. They will soon cast a sad glance on the world they have stripped of its gods. They will themselves be astonished at their victory. The heat of the struggle, the thirst to regain the right to free enquiry, all these reasons for exaltation will no longer sustain them. Their imagination, so recently preoccupied with success, now having nothing to do, as it were deserted, will come back on itself. They will see man alone on an earth which must engulf him. The world is lifeless. Ephemeral generations appear there, to suffer and die, isolated creatures of chance. Certain ambitious men quarrel and fight over them, hurt and destroy them. They do not even have the consolation of hoping that one day these monsters will be judged, that they will finally see the day of reparation and vengeance shine. No tie exists between these generations whose portion here is servitude, with nothingness beyond. All communication is broken between the past, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [163] the present, and the future. No voice from the races which are gone lives on among the living ones, and their voice too must one day fall away into the depths of the same eternal silence. All this simply makes one feel that if atheism had not been met with intolerance, the aspects of the belief which put people off would have constrained the outlook of its disciples in such a way as to keep them in apathy and silence, in a state of indifference to everything.

I repeat. As long as government leaves religion perfectly independent, no one will have an interest in attacking it. The very idea will not arise. But if government affects to defend it, if it wishes above all to make it an ally, free thinking will not hesitate to attack it.

chapter two: On Civil Intolerance

Today, when intellectual progress is opposed to religious intolerance properly so called, that is to say, to that kind whose purpose is to enforce opinions, a number of governments take refuge behind the need for a certain civil intolerance. Rousseau, who cherished all the ideas of liberty and furnished pretexts for all the claims of tyranny, is still cited in favor of this way of thinking.

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“There is,” he says, “a purely civil profession of faith, whose articles it belongs to the sovereign power to fix, not precisely, like religious dogma, but in terms of the feeling of sociability. Without being able to enforce any belief in these dogmas, it can banish from the state anyone who does not believe them, not for being impious but for being unsociable.”3 What is this business of the state deciding which feelings one should adopt? What does it matter to me that the sovereign power does not force me to believe such and such, if it punishes me for what I do not believe? What does it matter that it does not attack me for impiety, if it attacks me as unsociable? What do I care that government eschews theological niceties if it loses its way Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [164] in a hypothetical morality, no less nice and no less foreign to natural justice?

I know of no system of servitude which has sanctified more fatal errors than the eternal metaphysics of the Social Contract.

Civil intolerance is just as dangerous, more absurd, and above all more unjust than religious intolerance. It is just as dangerous, since it has the same results under a different pretext. It is more absurd, since it is not motivated by conviction. It is more unjust, since the evil it causes is not from duty but a mere calculation.

Civil intolerance borrows a thousand forms and takes refuge behind one administrative pretext after another as it hides away from reason. Defeated on the principle, it disputes the application. We have seen men persecuted for close to thirty centuries, telling the government which released them from their long proscription that if it were necessary for there to be several religions accepted in a State, it was no less necessary for the tolerated sects to be prevented from producing new ones, by way of subdivision.4 But is not each tolerated sect itself a subdivision of some former one? On what grounds can it refuse future generations the same rights claimed by itself from past generations?

It has been proposed, in a country which prides itself on freedom of religion, that none of the recognized churches be able to change its dogmas without government permission. If by chance, however, these dogmas came to be rejected by most of the religious community, could government enforce that majority to profess them? Now, in matters of opinion, the rights of the majority and minority are the same.

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One understands intolerance when it imposes on everybody one and the same profession of faith. It is at least consistent. Maybe it thinks it holds men in the sanctuary of truth. But when just two opinions are allowed, since one of the two must necessarily be false, to authorize government to force individuals in one or the other to stay attached to the opinions of their sect, or the sects never to change their opinions, is to authorize government, formally, to lend assistance to error. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [165]

chapter three: On the Proliferation of Sects5

This proliferation of sects, which causes such panic, is the most salutary thing for religion. It ensures that religion does not lose its sensibility, to become a mere form, an almost mechanical habit, which combines with all the vices and sometimes with all the crimes.

When religion degenerates thus, it loses all its influence on morality. It makes its abode, so to speak, in a recess of the human mind, where it remains isolated from the rest of existence. In Italy we see mass happen before murder, confession follow it, penance absolve it, and the man, thus freed from guilt, meditating on new murders.

Nothing is simpler. To stop sects subdividing, man must be prevented from reflecting on religion. It is necessary then to prevent his taking any interest in it. It must be reduced to repeated symbols and practices observed. Everything becomes outer show, done unreflectingly, and soon, as a result, without interest or care. In all moral things reflection is the source of life; and freedom is the first and indispensable condition of all reflection.

Some Mongol peoples, whose religion enjoins frequent prayers, persuaded themselves that what pleased the gods in these prayers was that the air struck by the movement of the lips proved to them continuously that man was concerned with them. Consequently these people have invented little prayer wheels which, moving the air in a certain way, endlessly maintain the desired movement, and, while these wheels turn, each person, convinced the gods are satisfied, attends to his business or his pleasures Edition: current; Page: [[138]] without concern.6 Religion, in more than one European country, has often reminded me of the little wheels of the Mongol peoples.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [166] The proliferation of sects is advantageous to morality in a way which seems not to have been noted yet. All new sects tend to mark themselves off from those they are breaking with by a more scrupulous morality. Often, too, the sect which sees a new breakaway developing within itself, moved to praiseworthy imitation, does not wish to be stuck in this way behind the innovators. The advent of Protestantism undeniably reformed the morals of the Catholic clergy. If the government did not meddle with religion, the sects would proliferate forever. Each new congregation would seek to prove the goodness of its doctrines by the purity of its morals. Each abandoned one would want to defend itself with the same weapons. A blessed struggle would result in which success would be judged by a more austere morality. Morals would improve effortlessly out of a natural impulsion and honorable rivalry. This can be seen in America or even in Scotland, where tolerance is far from complete but where, nevertheless, Presbyterianism has split into numerous branches. Up until now, no doubt, the springing up of sects, far from being accompanied by these salutary effects, has mostly been marked by strife and misfortune. This is because government has got involved. Nature, like Ormuzd, had infused all things with the principle of good. Government, like Ahriman, came to place the principle of evil alongside.7

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [167] In opposing the proliferation of sects, governments fail to recognize their own interests. When sects are very numerous in a country, they put Edition: current; Page: [[139]] mutual checks upon one another and free the government from having to bargain with any one of them in order to contain them. When there is a single dominant sect, the government needs to take countless steps in order to have nothing to fear from it. When there are only two or three, each large enough to threaten the others, there has to be surveillance, nonstop repression. A singular policy indeed! You say you want to keep the peace! So to that effect you prevent opinions from dividing in such a way as to split these fellows up into weak little groups, hardly noticeable, and you set up three or four large, hostile bodies face to face which, thanks to the care you take to keep them large and powerful, are ready to go on the attack at the first signal.

chapter four: On the Maintenance of Religion by Government against the Spirit of Inquiry

However government intervenes in matters pertaining to religion, it does harm.

It does harm when it wants to shore up religion against the spirit of inquiry. For government cannot act on conviction; it does so only on the basis of interest. In granting its favors only to men with the approved opinions, what does it gain? It alienates those who own up to what they think, and are therefore at least frank. The others know how to use facile lies to elude its restrictions, which strike at the scrupulous and are powerless against those who are or become corrupt.

In any case, let me ask the people in government, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [168] since this is always the problem requiring resolution when all is said and done: what are your ways of favoring an opinion? Do you entrust the important functions of the State solely to those holding it? If you do, those rebuffed will be angry about the favoritism. Will you have people write and speak for the opinion you are protecting? Others will write or speak in an opposite vein. Will you restrain freedom of writing, speech, eloquence, reason, even irony, or ranting? That will see you involved in new activities, no longer a matter of favoring or convincing, but of stifling and punishing. Do you think your laws can grasp all the nuances and adjust themselves proportionately? Will your repressive measures be light? People will defy them. They will merely embitter without intimidating people. Will they be severe? You will be seen as persecutors. Once you are on that fast and slippery slope, you will seek to stop in vain.

But what successes do you hope for from your persecutions themselves? No king, I think, was surrounded with more prestige than Louis XIV. Edition: current; Page: [[140]] Honor, vanity, fashion, that all-powerful thing, had assumed positions of obedience under his reign. He lent religion the support of his throne as well as of his example. He had dignity of manner and propriety of speech. His will, constant rather than brusque, steady rather than violent, and never appearing capricious, seemed to honor whatever was in his protection. He believed his soul’s salvation required the maintenance of religion in its most rigid practices, and he had persuaded his courtiers that the salvation of the king’s soul was of especial importance. Despite ever growing solicitude, however, plus the austerity of a long-established court and the recollection of fifty years of glory, even before his death, doubt slipped into people’s minds. We see among the records of the period intercepted letters, written by assiduous flatterers of Louis XIV, which according to Mme. de Maintenon were offensive both to God and the King. The King died. The philosophic current then swept away all the dikes. Intellectual activity made up for the constraint it had impatiently borne, and the result of long suppression was lack of belief pushed to excess. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [169]

chapter five: On the Reestablishment of Religion by Government

Government does no less harm and is no less impotent when, in the context of a skeptical age, it wants to reestablish religion. Religion must be restored on its own according to man’s need for it. When you disturb him with alien considerations, you prevent him from feeling the full force of this need. You may say, and rightly, that religion is part of nature: so do not cover up its voice with your own.

Government intervention in defense of religion, when public opinion is unfavorable, has this particular drawback: that religion is then defended by those who do not believe in it. Those who govern, like the governed themselves, are subject to the march of human ideas. When skepticism has penetrated the educated part of a nation, it will come out in the government too. Now, in all eras opinion or vanity is stronger than interests. Those in government can tell themselves in vain that it is to their advantage to favor religion. They can deploy their power on behalf of religion; but they can never bring themselves to show a regard for it. It pleases them to take the public into their confidence as to their mental reservations. They would be scared to seem convinced, lest they be taken for fools. If their first words sanctify the order for belief, their next ones are aimed at winning back for themselves the honors of skepticism. Bad Edition: current; Page: [[141]] missionaries these, who want to put themselves above their own profession of faith.

chapter six: On the Axiom That the People Must Have a Religion

Thus is established this axiom that the people must have a religion, an axiom which flatters the vanity of those who repeat it, because in repeating it, they separate themselves from this people for whom a religion is necessary.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [170] This axiom is false in itself, insofar as it implies that religion is more necessary for the working-class part of society than for the leisured and opulent classes. If religion is necessary, it is equally so for all men and for all levels of education. The crimes of the poor and uneducated are of a more violent and terrible character, but at the same time they are easier to detect and curb. The law encompasses them, recognizes them, and represses them, easily, because these crimes offend it in a direct way. The corruption of the upper classes is more nuanced and diversified. It slips away from positive laws, mocking their spirit as it eludes their letter, opposing them moreover with wealth, influence, and power. What bizarre reasoning! The poor man can do nothing. He is surrounded by obstacles, tied down by all manner of bonds. He has neither protectors nor supports. He can commit an isolated crime, but everything takes up arms against him as soon as he is in the wrong. He does not find in his judges, drawn always from a hostile class, any consideration for him, nor any chance of impunity in his connections, which are as powerless as he. His conduct never influences the general lot of the society he belongs to. And you want the mysterious protection of religion against him alone. The rich man, on the contrary, is judged by his peers and allies. The punishments they inflict on him always more or less rebound on them. Society lavishes support on him. All material and moral opportunities are his solely as a result of wealth. He can influence things far off. He can overthrow or corrupt. And this is the powerful and fortunate being you want to set free from the yoke which it seems to you indispensable to bring to bear heavily on a weak and helpless one.

I say all this within the standard hypothesis that religion is valuable above all in its reinforcing the penal laws. This is not my opinion, however. I place religion higher. I do not see it at all as a supplement to the gallows or the wheel. There is a common morality, based on calculation, interest, and security, which can, I think, at a pinch do without religion. It can do Edition: current; Page: [[142]] without it in the case of the rich man because he thinks, and in the case of the poor man because the law terrifies him, and besides, all his activities being laid out in advance, the habit of constant work produces the same result as reflection in his life. But woe betide the people who have only this common morality! It is for the creation of a more elevated Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [171] morality that religion seems desirable to me. I do not invoke it to repress gross crimes but to ennoble all the virtues.

chapter seven: On the Utilitarian Case for Religion

The defenders of religion often believe they can work wonders representing it as above all useful. What would they say if it were demonstrated to them that they are rendering religion the worst service?

Just as in seeking in all nature’s beauties a positive purpose, an immediate use and application to everyday life, one causes all the charm of this magnificent whole to fade, so in constantly endowing religion with a vulgar utility, one makes it dependent on that utility. It now has only a secondary status, now seeming only a means, and it is consequently degraded.

The word “utilize” [utiliser] has rightly been banned from the French language.8 I do not know if I am wrong, but it seems to me that in everything relating to the soul’s affections and to noble ideas, one should reject the thing, just as in language the word has been rejected.

Moreover, this need for utility both close to hand and, so to speak, material is perhaps the inherent vice of the French character. We could apply to the moral character of our nation what is recounted about the physical laziness of the Turks. It is said that the secretary of a French ambassador to Constantinople took a stroll for a while every evening in a garden. The Turkish neighbors of the ambassador begged him to pardon his secretary and no longer impose on him such a severe punishment. They Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [172] could not conceive that one could walk for nothing. We apparently cannot conceive that one might believe for nothing. So we are of all the nations the one whose writers have almost always envisaged religion in the most imperfect and narrowest way.9

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chapter eight: Another Effect of the Axiom That the People Must Have a Religion

The axiom that the people must have a religion is furthermore of all things the one most calculated to destroy all religion. The people are alerted by a rather sure instinct as to what is going on over their heads. The cause of this instinct is the same one which gives children, servants, and all the dependent classes their insight. Their interest enlightens them as to the secret thoughts of those in charge of their destiny. It is counting too much on the people’s good will to hope they will believe for long what their leaders refuse to believe. I know that atheistic governors with superstitious subjects seem to some statesmen the ideal model today. This sweet chimera cannot be realized, however. The sole result of their endeavor is that the people, seeing them to be unbelievers, break off from their religion without knowing why. What these men gain by prohibiting discussion is to stop people from being enlightened, but not from being impious. This they become by imitation. They treat religion as a foolish thing, as trickery, and each person hands it down to his social inferiors, who in their turn hasten to push it down even further. Thus it declines, more degraded, every day. It was less threatened, and above all less debased, when it was attacked from all sides. It could take refuge in the depths of sensitive souls. Vanity did not fear to seem foolish nor to be demeaning itself by respecting religion.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [173] This is still not all. When a government lends its lofty assistance to a fallen religion in this way, the recognition it demands completes the abasement. Religion is no longer that divine power, coming down from heaven to amaze and reform the world. It is a timid slave and humble dependent which prostrates itself before government, watches its gestures, asks for its orders, flatters the thing which despises it, and teaches the peoples eternal truths only at the government’s pleasure. Its priests, trembling at the foot of their servile altars, stammer in censored words. They do not dare to make the old truths ring out in the accents of courage and conscience. And far from speaking, like Bossuet, to the great of this world, in the name of a God who judges kings, in their terror, under the eye of a disdainful master, they try to work out how they should speak of their God.

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chapter nine: On Tolerance When Government Gets Involved

Who would believe it? Government acts adversely, even when it wants to submit the principle of tolerance to its jurisdiction. It imposes on tolerance positive and fixed forms, which are contrary to its nature. Tolerance is nothing else than the freedom of all present and future religions. The Emperor Joseph II wished to establish tolerance. Liberal in his views, he began by ordering a vast inventory of all the religious opinions held by his subjects. Some number or other were registered for admission to the benefit of his protection. What happened? A religion which had been forgotten suddenly came to declare itself, and Joseph II, that tolerant prince, told it that it had come too late. The deists of Bohemia were persecuted in view of their lateness, and the philosopher monarch put himself at the same time at loggerheads with Brabant, which demanded the exclusive domination of Catholicism, and with the unfortunate Bohemians who were asking for freedom of opinion. This limited tolerance Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [174] embodies a singular error. Only the imagination can satisfy the needs of the imagination. When, in a given polity, you had aimed at tolerating twenty religions, you would still have done nothing for the believers of the twenty-first. Governments which think they are leaving a proper latitude to the governed by allowing them to choose between a fixed number of religious beliefs, are like that Frenchman who, arriving in a village in Germany whose inhabitants wanted to learn Italian, taught them Basque and low Breton.

chapter ten: On the Persecution of a Religious Belief

Finally, the government acts harmfully when it proscribes a religion because it thinks it dangerous, and the harm will not be any the less when the government’s judgment is right. When it punishes the culpable acts a religion causes to be committed, not as religious acts but as culpable ones, it will easily succeed in repressing them. If it attacked them as religious, it would turn them into duties for the fanatical, and if it wanted to reach right back to the thinking which is their source, it would become involved in a labyrinth of endless persecutions, harassments, and iniquities. The only way to weaken an opinion is to establish free discussion. Now, anyone who speaks of free enquiry speaks of distance from government of any type, the absence of any collective intervention. Such enquiry is essentially individual.

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In order for persecution, which naturally revolts sensibilities and binds them to the persecuted belief, on the contrary to succeed in destroying this belief, minds must be debased, and not only must the religion one wishes to destroy be subjected to attack, but so must all moral and virtuous sentiments. To persuade a man to despise or abandon one of his fellow creatures whose misfortune is due to an opinion, that is to say, unjustly, to set him today to abandon the doctrine he professed yesterday, because it is suddenly threatened, you have to stifle all the justice and Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [175] pride in him. To restrict the harsh measures taken against a religion to its ministers, as has been done among us, is to trace an illusory limit. These measures soon attack all those who share the same doctrine, and next they attack all those who pity the misfortune of the oppressed. “Let no one tell me,” said M. de Clermont-Tonnerre in 1791, and events have doubly justified his prediction, “let no one tell me that in pursuing to the bitter end priests said to be refractory, we will extinguish all opposition. I hope the opposite precisely because of my regard for the French nation. For any nation which gives way to force in questions of conscience is a nation so vile, so corrupted, that nothing can be hoped from it, either by way of reason or freedom.”10

Superstition is deadly only when it is protected or threatened. Do not provoke it with injustices; simply take away from it any means of doing harm by its actions. First it will become an innocent obsession, and soon it will extinguish itself, for lack of the ability to appeal by way of its sufferings or command by virtue of its alliance with government. To refuse its mercy and support to persecuted men because they are persecuted thus for what seems to us an error, is to give oneself over to sentiments of inexcusable presumption and fanaticism. These men are defending their rights. Error or truth, the thought of man is his most sacred property. Error or truth, the tyrants are equally guilty when they attack it. He who proscribes superstitious speculation in the name of philosophy and he who proscribes independent thought in the name of God, are equally deserving of the execration of men of good will. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [176] Allow me to finish with another quotation from M. de Clermont-Tonnerre. He will not be accused of exaggerated principles. Although he was a friend of freedom, or perhaps because he was a friend of freedom, he was almost always rebuffed by both parties in the Constituent Assembly. He died a victim of his moderation. His opinion, I think, will carry some weight. “Religion and the state,” he said, Edition: current; Page: [[146]] “are two quite distinct and separate things, whose bringing together can only distort both one and the other.11 Man has a relationship with his creator. He constructs for himself or is given various ideas about this relationship. This system of ideas is called religion. Each person’s religion is therefore his opinion of his relationship to God. Each man’s opinion being free, he may take up or not take up such religion.12 The opinion of the minority cannot be subordinated to that of the majority. No opinion can therefore be commanded by social consensus. What is true of religion is also true of cults. The cult is what each person professes in conjunction with those of like religious opinion. The forms of the cult are the agreed rite among those who profess the same religion. The acts of the cult are the stern duty of the man holding the religious opinions which prescribe them. Thus the cult and its acts share in the nature and the freedom of opinion of which they are the necessary consequence. Thus what is true of opinion is also true of the cult and its acts.13 Religion touches all times, all places, all governments. Its sanctuary is the consciousness of man, and consciousness is the sole faculty which man can never sacrifice to a social convention.14 Religion will not lend itself to any association, any relation of supremacy or submission with political Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [177] government. . . .15 The political body must not have dominion over any religion. It must not reject any of them unless the cult in question is a threat to social order.”16

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK IX: On Legal Safeguards

  • Ch. 1. On the independence of the courts. 151
  • Ch. 2. On the abridgment of due process. 153
  • Ch. 3. On punishments. 157
  • Ch. 4. On the prerogative of exercising mercy. 160
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chapter one: On the Independence of the Courts

We have placed among individual rights the certainty that one will not be treated arbitrarily, as though one had exceeded the limits of these rights, that is to say, the guarantee that one will not be arrested, nor detained, nor tried, except according to law and following due process. We are obliged consequently to speak here of judicial power. So far from such discussion going beyond the limits of this work, we believe, on the contrary, that the indispensable conditions for making judicial power the safeguard of citizens are the same under all forms of government.

The first condition is that the judiciary must be independent. This assertion does not need proof. A people whose government can affect the judgments and direct or force the opinion of judges; employ against those it wishes to destroy the appearances of justice; hide behind the veil of the laws to strike its victims with their own sword: such a country is in a situation more unhappy, more contrary to the purpose and principles of the social State, than the savage horde on the banks of the Ohio or the Arab of the desert. There is only one way to make the judiciary independent: its members must be irremovable. Periodic election by the people, appointment for a time by the executive power, the possibility of removal without process, equally undermine the independence of the judiciary.

People protested strongly against the sale of offices. This was an abuse; but this abuse had an advantage which the legal dispensation which existed during the Revolution has often made us regret: the independence and irremovability of the judges.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [182] For sixteen years nothing was free, not the courts, nor the judges, nor the judgments. The various groups seized in their turn the instruments and the processes of law. The courage of the most intrepid warriors would scarcely have sufficed for our magistrates to pronounce their judgments according to their consciences, and such is the frightful weight of civil harassment that the courage which faces death in battle is easier than the public profession of a free opinion, in the midst of menacing factionists. A removable or revocable judge is much more dangerous than one who has bought his job. To have bought one’s place is a much less corrupting thing than having always to be scared of losing it.

It is a mistake to be scared of esprit de corps in the judiciary. It is to be dreaded only when the jury system does not exist and when laws which Edition: current; Page: [[152]] have proliferated, and some by that very fact have necessarily fallen into disuse, supply the judges with means for circumscribing and proscribing all the citizens.

In all other cases, esprit de corps is one of the best safeguards against judges allowing themselves to be dominated by the other powers of the State.

The old Parlements of France have bequeathed us, I agree, some unfortunate memories. The fault lay much less in their organization, however, than in a host of causes which no longer exist. The Parlements deserved far less public hatred for prevaricating in their functions than as the organs of execrable laws.

The eternally infamous sentences on the Calas, Sirven, and La Barre families were a product of the spirit of intolerance with which our laws and our whole political organization were impregnated. If there had been no dominant religion at all, cruel judges would not have sacrificed Calas, nor banished Sirven; and the unfortunate La Barre would not have perished Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [183] on the wheel, aged seventeen, for insulting the symbols of the privileged religion.1

The Parlements [high judicial courts] persecuted courageous writers because oppressive laws hugely increased the number of death sentences on the exercise of our most legitimate rights. Until the end of the eighteenth century, there were edicts (passed in 1767) which condemned to death authors of writings calculated to stir up people’s minds2 [Constant’s emphasis]. If there had been no vague law violating press freedom, our Parlements would not have been able to pursue men who could not have been open to accusation.

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With all their vices, by the single fact of their irremovability, the Parlements were constantly led to struggle against the government, to protest against the increase in taxation and against illegal arrests and lettres de cachet.

I presuppose, moreover, the existence of severe procedures against judges who exceed their powers or deviate from the laws. I presuppose that no judgment is without appeal, because man must always have assured recourse against injustice and error.

Once these precautions have wisely been taken, though, then let judicial independence be complete. The executive power should exert no influence on it, even indirectly. It should never in its acts nor its public proclamations allow itself a Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [184] murmur against the very basis of political society, the citizens’ safeguard, the freedom of the courts. Nothing is more calculated to deprave public opinion than these perpetual declamations, repeated among us on all sides and in all periods, against men who deserved respect if they judged according to their consciences, and punishment if they prevaricated in their judgments.

I have assumed, moreover, the ongoing presence of the institution of the jury system. I know no judicial safeguard without this. Woe to the nation which lets itself be deceived by cunning objections. Juries, people say, enjoy absolving the guilty. But they have an interest as citizens and owners in punishing criminals. They are scared of becoming victims of their severity. The fault then lies with the government, with the lack of order, with the agents charged with pursuing the enemies of public security. If you once agree that despotism is a convenient tool for arresting the rise in heinous crimes, you give the government an interest in heinous crimes increasing. It will be careless in its surveillance in order to force you to give it unlimited powers.

chapter two: On the Abridgment of Due Process

This leads me to examine a line of argument used as a pretext for most of the undermining of due process, argument all the more dangerous in that in the eyes of superficial men it clothes this undermining with a semblance of proper order and the appearances of legitimacy.

When crimes multiply or perils menace the State, people tell us we should abridge due process, the slowness of whose details compromises public security. Procedures are abolished and judgments accelerated, Edition: current; Page: [[154]] special courts are established, and judicial safeguards are totally or partly cut back.3

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [185] This way of proceeding has always struck me as resting on a singular petitio principii. It is to declare men convicted in advance when so far they are only accused. Due process is a safeguard. Its abridgment is the diminution or loss of that safeguard. It is therefore a penalty. To submit an accused person to that penalty is to punish him before his trial. And if you punish him, it follows that his crime is proved in advance. If his crime is proved, what good is a court, of whatever kind, to decide his fate? If his crime is not proved, by what right do you place this accused in a special proscribed class and deprive him, on mere suspicion, of the benefit common to all members of civil society? This absurdity is not the only one. Due process is either necessary or useless in regard to conviction, conviction being, as I see it, the sole purpose of legal proceedings. If due process is useless, why do we retain it for ordinary trials? If it is necessary, why do we cut it out in the most important ones? What, when it comes to a slight offense, when neither the accused’s life nor his honor is in danger, the case is investigated with the greatest solemnity! All due process shall be observed. Safeguards are built up to make sure of the facts and to prevent innocence being punished! But when the question concerns some frightful crime and consequently total disgrace and death, in a single move, all the tutelary safeguards are to be suppressed, the legal code is closed, and formalities are cut short! It is as if one thought that the more serious the charge, the more superfluous its examination.

You will say that it is only from brigands, murderers, and conspirators that you are taking away the benefit of due process. But before we identify them as such, the facts must be determined. Now, what Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [186] is due process but the best means of determining the facts? If better, swifter means exist, let them be used, but for all cases. For why should there be one class of them in regard to which the unnecessary delays are observed and, on the other hand, Edition: current; Page: [[155]] another dealt with in dangerous haste? The dilemma is clear: if haste is not dangerous, delays are superfluous; if delays are not superfluous, haste is dangerous. Some would say, would they not, that we can distinguish by means of external and infallible signs, before the judgment or the inquiry, the innocent from the guilty, those who must enjoy the prerogative of due process and those who must be deprived of it? But in this case judicial authority, whatever type it might be, would be pointless. It is because there are no such signs that due process is necessary;4 it is because due process has seemed the sole means of distinguishing the innocent from the guilty that all the free and humane peoples have demanded its institutionalization. However imperfect due process, it has a protective faculty which cannot be removed without destroying it. It is the natural enemy and the unyielding foe of tyranny, whether popular or otherwise. As long as due process subsists, courts will put in despotism’s path a resistance, more or less generous, but which always serves to contain it. Under Charles I, the English courts acquitted several friends of liberty, despite threats from the Court. Under Cromwell, although dominated by the Protector, they often set free citizens accused of royalism. Under James II, Jefferies was obliged to trample on due process and to violate the independence even of judges he had himself appointed, to be sure of obtaining the numerous executions of victims of his fury.5 In Prussia we saw the courts defending the tradition of intellectual and religious freedom against the suspicions of Frederick II’s successor.6 There is in due process something lofty and unambiguous which forces judges to act respectably Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [187] and follow a just and orderly course. The dreadful law which under Robespierre declared proofs redundant and abolished defense counsels is an homage made to due process.7 It shows that a modified due process, mutilated and perverted in every way by the spirit of faction, still put a brake on men carefully chosen from the whole of France as those most devoid of scruples of conscience or any respect for public opinion.

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These last observations apply with double force to those jurisdictions whose very names have become odious and terrible, to those Councils or Military Commissions which—a strange thing—during the whole course of a revolution undertaken for freedom, made all the citizens tremble.8 But the storms of this revolution had thrown all ideas upside down. A long and bitter war had driven the military outlook deep into our political institutions and our legal sanctuaries alike. Our leaders were rather inclined to believe that for freedom just as for victory, nothing was more appropriate than passive obedience and swiftly taken decisions. They looked on opinions as so many army corps to be enrolled or battled against, on representative assemblies as agencies of government and their opposition as acts of indiscipline, on courts as camps and judges as warriors, on accused persons as enemies and on trials as battles.

Hence this substitution of military force for the peaceful and tutelary safeguards of justice. Our descendants, if they have any sense of freedom, will not believe there was a time in which men reared under canvas and ignorant of civil life interrogated accused persons they were incapable of understanding and condemned Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [188] without appeal citizens they had no right to judge. Our descendants will not believe, if they are not the most degraded of peoples, that legislators, writers, and those accused of political crimes could be made to appear before military courts. Thus—in ferocious derision—opinion and thought were given as their judge unenlightened courage and uncritical obedience. They will not believe that warriors, returning from victory, covered with laurels that nothing had been able to wilt, should have had imposed on them the horrible duty of turning themselves into myrmidons9 to pursue, seize, and shoot fellow citizens, people who were perhaps guilty, but whose names, like their crimes, were as yet unknown to them. No, it was never thus, they will exclaim, the reward for valor, the triumphal ceremony. No, this is not how the liberators of France made their reappearance in their fatherland and saluted their native soil.

The pretext for this subversion of justice is that the nature of the court is determined by the nature of the crime. Thus crimping, spying, provocation to indiscipline, shelter or help given to desertion, and by a natural extension Edition: current; Page: [[157]] the conspiracies one presumes to have some collusion with or support in the army, are often regarded as coming under military jurisdiction. This pretext is absurd, however, as we have said, because, once again, it misrepresents accusation as crime, treats the accused as condemned, assumes conviction before the hearing, and imposes a punishment before the sentence.

chapter three: On Punishments

The guilty do not lose all their rights. Society is not invested with unlimited authority even over them. Its obligation to them involves inflicting punishments on them only proportionately to their misdeeds. It must not make them undergo sufferings other than those Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [189] which have been laid down by prior laws. It has yet a further duty, namely to institute against the guilty only such chastisement as cannot stir up or corrupt the innocents who witness it.

This last duty rules out all experimentation with torture. Toward the end of the last century people seemed to have sensed this truth. Human skill no longer sought how to extend as far as possible, in the presence of several thousands of witnesses, the convulsive agony of one of their fellow creatures. We no longer savored premeditated cruelty. It had been discovered that this barbarity, ineffectual as regards the victim, perverted the witnesses of his torment and that to punish a single criminal a whole nation was being depraved.

A few years ago it was suddenly proposed by men of no authority that we revert to these frightful usages. All the sound section of the public shuddered with horror. The government balked at this ferocious blandishment; and if no one deigned to reply to these men, they owed it just to the contempt they inspired that they were repulsed only by silence.

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The death penalty, even reduced to the simple deprivation of life, has been the target of objections by several estimable philosophers.10 Their reasonings have not at all convinced me that this punishment is never just, and I did not need their reasonings to be convinced that it should be extended only to a very small number of crimes.

The death penalty has the great advantage that few men devote themselves to odious and degrading functions. It is better that these deplorable agents of harsh necessity, rejected with horror by society, should devote themselves to the horrible work of executing Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [190] some criminals, than that a mob should condemn itself to looking after the culprits and to turning itself into the perpetual instrument of their prolonged misfortune. Cold-bloodedly to cause the suffering of one’s fellows is always a corrupting action, however rightly that punishment may be imposed by the laws.

This consideration leads me to reject life sentences. These corrupt jailers as much as prisoners. They get the former used to a capricious savagery. They are inseparable from a great deal of arbitrariness. They can veil a host of cruelties.

Condemnation to public works, so promoted by most of our modern politicians, has always seemed to me to entail drawbacks of all kinds.

In the first place, it is by no means proven to me that society has any other right over those who trouble public order than that of removing them from any possibility of doing harm. Death is part of this right, but work not at all. A man may merit losing the use or possession of his faculties, but he can alienate them only voluntarily. If you allow that he can be forced to alienate them, you fall again wholly into the system of slavery.

Moreover, to impose work as a punishment is a form of dangerous example. In modern societies the great majority of the human race is obliged to do excessive work. What could be more imprudent, impolitic, and insulting than to present work to it as the punishment for crime?

If convicts’ work is indeed a punishment, if it is different from that to which the innocent laboring classes of society are subjected, if, in a word, it is above ordinary human exertions, it becomes a death penalty more extended and painful than any other. Between the Austrian prisoner who, half-naked and his body half in the water, drags ships on the Danube, and the wretch who perishes on the scaffold, I see only a difference of time which favors the latter. Joseph II and Catherine II11 spoke always of the abolition of the death penalty in the name of humanity, while they inflicted punishments no less fatal and rather longer and harsher.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [191] If, on the contrary, condemnation to public works is not a refined form of death, it is the cause of revolting and contagious depravity. In some countries of Germany, people condemned to this punishment, treated gently, get used to their fate, take pleasure in their opprobrium and, not Edition: current; Page: [[159]] working in their servitude any more than they would in freedom, they offer the onlooker a picture of gaiety in degradation, happiness in debasement, security in shame. This must produce in the mind of the poor man, whose innocence serves only to impose on him an existence no less laborious and more precarious, notions which by way of comparison make him despondent or lead him astray.

In sum, the sound of chains, these galley slave clothes, all these insignia of crime and chastisement constantly and publicly exposed to our sight, are, for men bearing within them any feeling for human dignity, a punishment longer lasting and more painful than for the guilty. Society does not have the right to surround us with an eternal commemoration of perversity and ignominy.

The setting up of colonies, where criminals are transported, is perhaps of all harsh measures the closest to justice as well as to the interests of society and those of individuals society finds itself obliged to place at a distance.

Most of our faults are occasioned by a kind of clash between us and social institutions. We reach youth often before knowing and almost always before understanding these complicated institutions. They surround us with barriers we sometimes cross without our noticing them. Then there is established between us and our surroundings an opposition which grows larger because of the very impression it produces. This opposition makes itself felt among almost all social classes. In the upper classes from the self-isolating misanthropist to the man of ambition and the conqueror, in the lower classes from the man who addles himself with drink to the one who commits outrages: all these are men in opposition to social institutions. This opposition develops with most violence where the least enlightenment is found. It weakens proportionately with old age, as the force of the passions collapses, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [192] as one reckons life only for what it is worth, and as the need for independence becomes less commanding than the need for peace of mind. But when, before reaching this period of resignation, one has committed some irreparable fault, the memory of this fault, the regret and remorse, the sense that one has been judged too harshly, and that this judgment is nevertheless final—all these impressions keep whomever they are pursuing in anxious irritation, a source of new and even more irreparable mistakes.

If the men in this fatal situation, under pressure from transgressed institutions, and slighted by social relationships they have forever vitiated, were now suddenly snatched out of it, if nothing remained with them from their earlier life other than the memory of what they suffered and the experience they acquired, how many would not follow an opposite road? How readily, Edition: current; Page: [[160]] being returned suddenly, as by a miracle, to safety, harmony, and to the possession of order and morality, they would prefer these joys to the fleeting temptations which had led them astray! Experience has proved what I say. Men deported to Botany Bay for criminal actions have started their social life again, and, believing themselves no longer at war with society, have become peaceful and estimable members of it.12

If it is just and useful, however, to separate culprits thus from environments which can only hurt and corrupt them, we render the establishment of colonies of this nature absurd and barbarous when we pursue men who ought no longer to exist for us, with implacable hate, in another hemisphere, prolonging their punishments and shame, keeping them still in a regime of ill will and ignominy, seeming to demand a metropolitan right to surround them in their far-off refuge with things which will cause them suffering, degradation, and corruption.

Is it necessary to add that nothing that the reader has just read applies to deportation to the colonies except as a punishment? Any arbitrary deportation is the overturning of all principles and a violation of all rights.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [193] The question of extradition is much of a piece with the question of punishment. This question would be easy to resolve if there were no unjust governments. Only culpable actions would be forbidden. Punishments would be pronounced only against real offenses. Nothing then would be more natural than a coalition between all men against that which threatened them all. But as long as there exist artificial offenses, above all as long as opinions are regarded as crimes, extradition will be the weapon of tyrants along with proscription of anyone who dares to resist them. Such are the shortcomings of vicious institutions, then, that they force us to give refuge to crime in order to take away from it the power to pursue virtue. It is a misfortune that we offer the guilty the chance of impunity, but it is not nearly as bad as delivering the good man to the vengeance of the oppressor.

chapter four: On the Prerogative of Exercising Mercy

All legislation which does not admit the right to show mercy or to commute sentences deprives the accused and even the guilty of a right which legitimately belongs to them.

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An inseparable drawback of general laws is that these laws cannot apply with equal justice to several actions of diverse type.

The more general a law, the further it is from the particular actions on which it is nevertheless intended to pronounce. A law can be perfectly just only for one circumstance. As soon as it is applied to two circumstances only minutely different, it is more or less unjust in one of the two.

Facts are infinitely nuanced. The laws cannot follow them in their modifications. The right to exercise mercy or to soften Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [194] a punishment is necessary to make up for the inflexibility of the law. This right is in reality nothing other than the right to take into consideration an action’s circumstances in order to decide if the law is applicable to it.

The prerogative of mercy has been opposed by one of these decisive dilemmas which seem to simplify questions by misrepresenting them. If the law is just, it is said, nothing should have the power to prevent its execution. If it is unjust, it should be changed.13 Only one condition would be necessary for this reasoning not to be absurd. This would be that there was one law for each fact.

The question of intention replaces in part the prerogative of mercy. But it makes up for it only imperfectly. Moreover, when you call on a jury to pronounce on anything save the facts, you are distorting its function. When you ask judges to do anything other than read the written text of the law, you are distorting their function.

The Court of Cassation14 in our country indirectly exercises the prerogative of mercy. When a law chances to be literally but too harshly applied to a guilty party, this court searches the procedures for some formal error which allows it to overthrow the judgment. But a good born of a wrong is always bad in other respects. Moreover, if the procedures are perfectly Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [195] regular, the court finds itself forced to deliver the condemned man Edition: current; Page: [[162]] over to a punishment he does not deserve morally, one it would have been just to mitigate. In truth this case is rare, given the complications of the prescribed formalities; but this too is one more shortcoming.

A single difficulty stands out in relation to the prerogative of mercy. If you entrust this right to the holders of executive power, they will consider this attribution accidental and secondary. They will discharge it negligently. They will not have time to devote themselves to an examination of all the circumstances which ought to motivate their decision. Punishments then not being inflicted according to any precise rule, the principal advantage of positive laws disappears. All the guilty will live in the hope of being favored by luck or caprice. The system will become a lottery of death, in which a thousand unforeseeable incidents will arbitrarily confound all chances of salvation or destruction.

We can prevent this difficulty by attaching this law to a specific authority. The men in whom it is invested would then exercise it with the thoughtfulness and gravity it demands.

But another difficulty would arise. A specific authority or any section whatever of judicial power, invested with the prerogative of mercy, would naturally make rules for itself in order to exercise it. The exercise of the prerogative would therefore become by this very consideration a judgment. We would no longer find in it the kind of vagueness and moral latitude which essentially constitute its justice and usefulness.

It is not part of our researches to decide to which one of these drawbacks to resign ourselves. It is a question which must perhaps be resolved differently according to the circumstances of each country. What is certain is that neither one nor the other of these difficulties is great enough to prevail over the necessity of entrusting to some authority or other the prerogative of mercy.

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BOOK X: On the Action of Government with Regard to Property

  • Ch. 1. The purpose of this book. 165
  • Ch. 2. The natural division of the inhabitants of the same territory into two classes. 165
  • Ch. 3. On property. 167
  • Ch. 4. On the status property should occupy in political institutions. 168
  • Ch. 5. On examples drawn from antiquity. 171
  • Ch. 6. On the proprietorial spirit. 173
  • Ch. 7. That territorial property alone brings together all the advantages of property. 174
  • Ch. 8. On property in public funds. 179
  • Ch. 9. On the amount of landed property which society has the right to insist upon for the exercise of political rights. 182
  • Ch. 10. That owners have no interest in abusing power vis-à-vis nonowners. 183
  • Ch. 11. On hereditary privileges compared to property. 185
  • Ch. 12. Necessary comment. 186
  • Ch. 13. On the best way of giving proprietors a large political influence. 190
  • Ch. 14. On the action of government on property. 192
  • Ch. 15. On laws which favor the accumulation of property in the same hands. 193
  • Ch. 16. On laws which enforce the wider spreading of property. 196
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chapter one: The Purpose of This Book

We have ruled out in this work any research into the constitution of States and the organization of their political powers. Nevertheless, we cannot absolve ourselves from dealing with the place that property should have in government concerns since we have to determine what the relations between government and property ought to be. We are therefore obliged to put forward some ideas which derive from the first principles of human association. Since these ideas relate equally, however, to all forms of institution, they will not draw us at all into the discussions we want to avoid.

People may be astonished that we should refute in some detail opinions which today seem generally abandoned. Our purpose, however, is not to write simply on opinions which may enjoy favor today, but rather to attack false opinions to the extent that we find them on our way.

Moreover, we know how quickly men go from one view to another, especially in France. Such error as one Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [200] does not deign to reply to at such a time, because one thinks it without supporters, can at the first emergency show up, resting on arguments one had regarded as forever rebuffed.

In addition, there are among us a rather large number of writers always at the service of the dominant system. We have already seen them go from unbridled demagogy to the opposite exaggeration. Nothing would be less astonishing on their part than a new apostasy. These are real lansquenets,1 but without the courage. Disavowals cost them nothing. Absurdities do not check them, because for them opinions are only calculation. They search everywhere for a power whose wishes they can reduce to principles. Their zeal is all the more active and tireless in that it dispenses with their conviction.

chapter two: The Natural Division of the Inhabitants of the Same Territory into Two Classes

No nation has regarded all the individuals living in its territory, in whatever way this might be, as members of the political association. This is not a question of arbitrary distinctions, such as among the ancients separated free Edition: current; Page: [[166]] men from slaves, or in modern times nobles from the lowborn. The most full democracy still establishes two categories: to the one are relegated foreigners and those below the age decreed by the law for the exercise of citizenship rights. The other consists of men having reached that age and born in the country. Only the latter are members of the political association. There is therefore a principle following which, of those individuals brought together in a given territory, some are citizens and some not.

Obviously, this principle is that to be a member of the political association requires a certain degree of informed outlook and common interests with the other members. Men below the legal age lack this degree of informed outlook. Foreigners are not capable of being guided by that common interest. The proof of this is that the former, on reaching the age Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [201] the law requires, become members of the political association, while the latter do this by way of residence, ownership, or their social relationships. We take it that these things give enlightenment to the former and the required interest to the latter.

This principle, however, needs further extension. In our present societies, birth in the country and the age of majority are not enough to confer on men the qualities proper to the exercise of citizenship rights. Those whom poverty holds in endless dependence and condemns from childhood to laboring work, are neither more informed than children as to public affairs, nor have a greater stake than foreigners in a national prosperity, with whose elements they are not familiar and whose benefits they share only indirectly.

I do not wish to wrong the working class. It is no less patriotic than other classes. It is often ready for the most heroic sacrifices, and its devotion is all the more admirable in that it is neither rewarded financially nor with honor. As I see it, however, the patriotism which gives one the courage to die for one’s country is one thing, while that which makes one capable of understanding one’s interests is another. Therefore a condition beyond having been born in the country and the prescribed age is required, namely the leisure needed for developing an informed outlook and soundness of judgment. Only property secures this leisure. Only property can render men capable of exercising political rights. Only owners can be citizens. To counter this with natural equality is to be reasoning within a hypothesis inapplicable to the present state of societies. If from this idea of men’s having equal rights we go on to claim that owners must not have more extensive ones than nonowners, we will have to conclude either that all must be owners or none. For most assuredly the right to property establishes between those who have it and those bereft of it a far greater inequality than all political rights. Now, if we come to terms with so decisive an inequality, Edition: current; Page: [[167]] we must also accept all the further agreements indispensable to the consolidation of this first one. Only the principle is subject to doubt. Once it is admitted, its consequences are entailed. Is property necessary to the well-being and improvement of the social condition? If we adopt the affirmative, people cannot be astonished at seeing us admitting its obvious results. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [202]

chapter three: On Property

A number of those who have defended property by way of abstract reason seem to me to have fallen into grave error. They have represented property as something mysterious, anterior to society and independent of it.2 Property is served by the rejection of these hypotheses. Mystery is harmful in everything which does not spring from superstition. Property is not anterior to society. Without political association, which gives it its guarantee, it would be only the right of the first possessor, the right of force, that is to say, a right which is no such thing. It is absolutely not independent of society, since some kind of social condition, admittedly a very wretched one, could be conceived without it, while property without society is unimaginable. Property exists by virtue of society. Society found that the best way to get its members to enjoy goods common to all or disputed by all before its institution, was to concede some of them to each person or to maintain each person in that part of them he happened to possess, guaranteeing to him enjoyment of this, plus such changes as this enjoyment might undergo either by the countless changes of chance or by inequality in the degrees of effort. Property is only a social convention. Our recognizing it as such, however, does not mean we envisage it as less sacred, less inviolable, less necessary than do writers using a different philosophical approach. Some philosophers have considered its establishment an evil and its abolition possible.3 They have had recourse, however, to found their Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [203] Edition: current; Page: [[168]] theories, to a host of suppositions of which some are quite unrealizable and of which the least chimerical are relegated to a future it is not even permissible for us to predict. Not only is their fundamental assumption a growth in enlightenment at which man may perhaps one day arrive but on which it would be absurd to found our present institutions, but they have assumed as proven a diminution in the work required today for the subsistence of the human race of an order which surpasses all invention even suspected. Certainly each one of our discoveries in mechanical science which replaces human force by instruments and machines is a victory for thought; and by the laws of nature, these victories becoming easier as they multiply, they must follow one another at an increasing rate. But what we have done under this heading, and even what we can imagine, fall far short of our total exemption from manual labor. Nevertheless, this exemption would be indispensable for the abolition of property, short of our wishing, as some writers propose, to divide this work equally among all members of the society. Such a division, however, even if it were not an absurd dream, would work against its own purpose, would take away from thought the leisure necessary to make it strong and profound, from ingenuity the perseverance which brings it to perfection, from all classes the advantages of habit, continuity, unity of purpose, and centralization of productive forces. Without property the human race would be in stasis, in the most brutish and savage state of its existence. Each person, responsible for providing on his own for all his needs, would split his energies to meet them and, bent beneath the weight of these multiplied cares, would never advance an inch. The abolition of property would destroy the division of labor, the basis of the perfecting of all the arts and sciences. The progressive faculty, the favorite hope of the writers I am opposing, would die for lack of time and independence. The crass and forced equality they recommend to us would be an invincible obstacle to the gradual setting up of true equality, that of happiness and enlightenment. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [204]

chapter four: On the Status Property Should Occupy in Political Institutions

The question being thus resolved, property being necessary, then, to the perfecting and prosperity of the social condition, it follows that it must be surrounded by all the safeguards; and power is the only sufficient safeguard. Property must not be made into an eternal cause of struggles and crimes. Better destroy it, as certain extravagant thinkers want, than tolerate it as an abuse by treating it with disfavor. These thinkers at least present a theoretical system which they believe compatible with the social State, such as Edition: current; Page: [[169]] they conceive it. What shall we say, however, of these hidden enemies of property who, allowing it without giving it influence, seem to set it up only to deliver it over, helpless, to the vehement hostility it provokes? What shall we think of Mably, who depicts it as a scourge and then urges us to respect it?4 This is to bequeath to society indestructible seeds of discord. Property must be in charge or annihilated. If you put power on one side and property on the other, the latter will soon be at odds with legislation. Careful reflection and government become separate. Opinion wages war with the latter.

One might say that the present state of society, mixing and mingling owners and nonowners in a thousand ways, gives to some of the latter the same interests and means as the former, that the man who works, no less than the man who owns, needs peace and security; that owners are in law and fact only distributors of the common wealth between all individuals and that it is to the advantage of all that order and peace should favor the development of all abilities and all individual resources.

The fault in these arguments is their proving too much. If they were conclusive, there would be no reason for denying foreigners political rights. Europe’s commercial relations are such that it is in the interests of the great majority of Europeans that peace Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [205] and contentment prevail in all countries. The overthrow of a country of any sort is as fatal for foreigners whose financial speculations have linked their fortune to that country as this overthrow could be to its own inhabitants, with the exception of its propertied class. The facts prove it. During the most savage wars, a country’s businessmen make endless appeals and sometimes efforts for the hostile country not to be destroyed. Nevertheless, a consideration so vague will not seem sufficient, in my view, to justify political rights for foreigners.

Doubtless, if you suppose that nonproprietors will always calmly examine all sides of the question, their considered interest will be to respect property and become proprietors; but if you admit the more likely hypothesis that they will often be led by their most obvious and immediate interest, this latter interest will lead them, if not to destroy property, at least to diminish its influence.

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Furthermore, admitting the most favorable hypothesis, that the first concern of nonproprietors is to become proprietors, if the organization of property puts some obstacle in the way of their succeeding, or they merely imagine this to be so, their natural inclination will be to change that organization. Now, the organization of property is something you cannot disturb without harming its nature and upsetting society as a whole. We will see later how many vexatious effects the idea of a forced dissemination of property can give rise to. In short, these arguments bear only on a very small group of nonproprietors. The vast majority will always be deprived of leisure, the indispensable condition of enlightenment. Civil safeguards, individual freedom, free opinion, in a word, social protection, are owed to nonproprietors, because any political association owes them even to the foreigner it receives into its bosom; but political rights are not a protection; they bestow power. The political association must give this only to its members. To grant it to nonproprietors is not to give them a shield, but an offensive weapon.

The necessary purpose of the propertyless is to manage to become propertied. All the resources you give them they will use for this purpose. If you add to the freedom for their talents and efforts, which you Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [206] do owe them, political rights, which you do not, these rights, in the hands of the vast majority of them, will infallibly be used to encroach on property. They will march on it by that irregular and meretricious route, rather than following the natural route, work. This will be a source of corruption for them, and for the State, of disorder. It has been very properly observed that when the propertyless have political rights one of three things happens. Either their only motivation springs from themselves and then they destroy the society; or they are motivated by the man or men in power and they become the instruments of tyranny, which is what happens in unexceptional times; or they are motivated by those aspiring to power and become the instruments of factions. This is what happens during great political crises.

There are always two classes in a country, those who want to conserve and those who want to make gains.5 The first need only security; the second, before they need security, need force. Freedom and justice are the sole means of well-being for the former. By means of justice they conserve what they possess; and by way of freedom they enjoy it. For the latter, however, injustice and tyranny may often be the means to success. Their encroachments are by way of injustice Edition: current; Page: [[171]] and defended by tyranny. Machiavelli establishes that it is better to entrust the defense of freedom to those who want to make gains than to those who wish to conserve.6 But he is not talking about property. He is talking about power, and oppressive power to boot, like that of the Roman patricians or the Venetian nobles. This is no more than saying that the defense of freedom should be entrusted to those who suffer from tyranny rather than those who enjoy it.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [207] In the countries with representative or republican arrangements, it is important above all that their assemblies should comprise proprietors, whatever their further organization may be in other respects. An individual may capture the crowd through outstanding merit. The ruling body, however, to win public confidence, need material interests manifestly appropriate to their duties. A nation will always presume that people who are united are led by common interest. It will take it for granted that love of order, justice, and conservation will be the prevailing concern among proprietors. The latter are thus useful not only in terms of their inherent qualities but also of those attributed to them, as well as of the interests they are assumed to have, and of the salutary prejudices they inspire. Put the unpropertied class in charge of the State, however well intentioned they may be, and the anxiety of the propertied will hem in all their measures. The wisest laws will be suspected and hence disobeyed. The opposite sort of organization, by contrast, will reconcile popular assent, even to a government which is defective in some regards.

During the French Revolution, owners competed with nonowners in the making of absurd and spoliatory laws. This is because they feared the latter now that they had power. The owners wanted to be forgiven for being owners. The fear of losing what one has renders one every bit as cowardly or enraged as the hope of acquiring that which one has not. These faults and crimes on the part of property holders, however, were a consequence of the influence of the propertyless class.

chapter five: On Examples Drawn from Antiquity

We should separate from this subject all the examples drawn from antiquity. We will devote another book in this work to developing the numberless differences which mark us off from the ancients.7 Let us merely Edition: current; Page: [[172]] say here that in the small States of antiquity property was far from being the same thing it is with us. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [208] The sharing out of conquered territories made or could make proprietors of all individuals. In our times conquests aggrandize States but do not give new lands at all to the citizens. All the laboring work, which takes away all leisure from those committed to it, was done by slaves. Slavery is abolished. The rich appeased the poor in feeding them out of largesse. Our financial system no longer permits handouts of money and corn. The public square contained the whole nation, which was governed by eloquence, a power which in our huge societies no longer exists. The discussions gave the whole nation general ideas on politics, even when they directed it badly on such and such particular occasions. Thus, freed from manual work by the slaves, often fed for nothing by the rich, or by the State, which came to the same thing, given understanding of government by orators, nonowners were able to give almost all their time to public affairs. They acquired the habit of so preoccupying themselves, and this habit made them less unfit for it.

Today private matters, the cares imposed on each person for his subsistance, take at least most of the poor man’s time, if not all of it. Public matters are only an accessory. Printing has replaced popular discussion. The lower classes, however, have little time to read. What they read without choice, they take up without examining. No opinion gets debated in their presence. Theirs therefore forms by chance.

Nonowners could consequently exercise political rights in the republics of antiquity with less inconvenience than they could in our modern States; and yet, if we examine the thing closely, we will become convinced that their influence was fatal to these same republics. Athens suffered greatly from not having based its government on property. Its lawmakers had always to battle with the ascendancy of the propertyless. Most of its writers, its philosophers, even its poets have a marked preference Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [209] for oligarchy.8 This is because they were seeking in the power of the few the security that they should have reposed in property alone. The Lacedaemonian [Spartan] institutions were not based on property; but these bizarre institutions had distorted property as they had annihilated personal freedom and imposed silence on all the affections. They rested moreover on the most horrible servitude. The helots and the Messenians were the true propertyless class of Laconia, and for them the loss of Edition: current; Page: [[173]] political rights was subsumed in that of natural rights.9 The opponents of property stress the poverty of some of the illustrious citizens of ancient Rome. These illustrious citizens were, however, despite their poverty, propertied. Cincinnatus owned the land he ploughed. If the propertyless in Rome had what looked like political rights, they paid for that sterile honor, dying of poverty, thrown into prisons, their creditors the patricians legally entitled to defame them.

Such will always be the fate of this class while it has rights it cannot exercise without putting the public good at risk. In their alarm owners will have recourse to the most violent means in order to break the threatening weapon now in the hands of their enemies, entrusted to them by an imprudent constitution. Of all the political passions, fear is the most aggressive. Proprietors will always be oppressive to avoid being oppressed. Property will never be powerless. If it is refused legal influence, it will soon seize upon the arbitrary and corrupting kind.

chapter six: On the Proprietorial Spirit

One observation is crucial to prevent a confusion of ideas. To put power into property is not the same as to put property in power. Wealth has influence and commands consideration only insofar as it is not suddenly acquired. More than once, during the Revolution, our governors, constantly hearing government of the propertied nostalgically praised, were tempted to become proprietors to make themselves more worthy of being governors. But even when they had bestowed on themselves, from one day to another, considerable properties Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [210] by calling their wishes the law, the people were liable to think that what the law had conferred, the law could retract; and so property, instead of protecting the institution, needed continually to be protected by it. New owners, squatting on their spoils, remain conquerors at heart. You do not learn the proprietary spirit as readily as you grab property. During the war of the peasants of Swabia against their lords,10 the former sometimes donned the armor of their defeated masters. What did this lead to? That one could see under this knightly armor no less insolence and more vulgarity.

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If the wealthy class inspires more confidence, it is because its members’ point of departure is more advantageous, their outlook freer, their intelligence more schooled to enlightenment, their education more cultivated. But enriching men suddenly in midcareer, you do not give them any of these advantages. Their sudden wealth does not work retrospectively.

It is the same with the sizeable salaries attached to particular jobs. These just do not replace property. When they are disproportionate to the previous wealth of those who receive them, they do not serve to form a new rich class. They give individuals new needs and habits which corrupt them. Far from making them independent and assured, they make them dependent and agitated. In wealth as in other things, nothing can stand in for experience.

chapter seven: That Territorial Property Alone Brings Together All the Advantages of Property

Several writers who recognize the need to entrust political rights exclusively to proprietors do not consider Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [211] landed property the only true property. The economists, as is known, M. Turgot included, had a quite opposite theoretical view. According to them the main element constituting a society is the territory under its jurisdiction. The only positive and legal distinction between men emanates from ownership or nonownership of the national territory. The nonowners of territory, not being able to reside in a country without the consent of the owners, who grant them, in exchange for their work or capital, a refuge which they could deny them, are not members of a political association in which their residence is not by right. This reasoning, however rigorous it may appear, seems to me too slight a foundation for a practical institution. I dislike reasoning from a hypothesis which rejects reality, and nothing seems to me less capable of reconciling those without land to the necessary sacrifice of citizen rights, than their being represented as homeless vagabonds, who can be expelled on the whim of a man who has no preeminence over them save having seized the land first. Besides, I think it worthless to have recourse to such forced suppositions. Arguments of another kind, more applicable and less abstract, will lead us to the same end.

Two types of property different from territorial property have been distinguished. The first is business property. The other has been called intellectual and moral property.

Let us speak first of all of business property.

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This lacks several of the advantages of landed property, and these advantages are precisely those in which the safeguarding spirit necessary for political association consists.

Landed property has an influence on the character and lot of man by the very nature of the cares it demands. The cultivator gives himself over to constant and ongoing occupations. Thus he contracts regularity of habit. Chance, which is a great source of immorality because it overturns all calculations and therefore those of morality, has absolutely no part in the life of the cultivator. All interruption harms him. Any imprudence means certain loss to him. His successes come slowly. He can achieve them only by work. He cannot speed them up nor make them grow by lighthearted daring. He depends upon nature and is independent of men. All these things give him a calm disposition, a sense of security, and a feeling for order which Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [212] attach him to the vocation to which he owes his peace of mind as much as his living.

Business property influences man only by the positive gain it procures him or promises him. It puts in his life less order, more artificiality, and less fixity than landed property. The operations of the businessman are often made up of fortuitous transactions. His successes are more rapid, but chance plays a greater part therein. Business property does not have that necessary element of slow and sure progression which gives man the habit and soon the need for uniformity. Business property does not make him independent of other men. On the contrary, it makes him dependent on them. Vanity, that fertile seed of political agitation, is constantly wounded in him. It almost never is in agriculture.11 The latter case calculates in peace the order of the seasons, the nature of the soil, the character of the climate. The elements of the calculations of the businessman are whims, passions, pride, the luxury of his fellows. A farm is a native land in miniature. One is born there, raised there, grows up with the trees which surround it. Business property excludes these sources of sweet sensation. The objects of speculation pile up on one another; but everything within them is static. Nothing carries the impress of natural development. Nothing speaks to the imagination nor to memory, nothing to the moral part of man. People say my ancestors’ fields, my parents’ cabin. People never say my parents’ workshop or shop counter. The improvements of landed property cannot be separated from the soil which receives them and of which they become part. Business property is not susceptible to improvement but to growth, and that growth can be moved around freely. The landowner rarely gains, except in Edition: current; Page: [[176]] an indirect way, from what his competitors lose. It is never in his power to contribute to their loss. The tillage farmer cannot by his speculations threaten his neighbor’s harvest. The businessman gains directly from what others lose. Often it lies with him to add to their losses, and in many circumstances this is his most adroit speculation, his most assured advantage. In terms of intellectual faculties, the cultivator is greatly superior to the artisan. Agriculture demands a sequence of observations, of experiences which form and develop judgment.12 From this peasants Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [213] derive that just and accurate sense which astonishes us. Industrial jobs are, for the most part, limited by the division of labor to mechanical operations. Landed property binds man to the country he lives in, puts obstacles in the way of displacement of people, creates patriotism through interests. Business makes all countries much the same, facilitates displacements, separates interests from patriotism.13 This advantage of landed property, this drawback of business property, in political terms increases as the value of the property diminishes. An artisan loses almost nothing in being displaced. A small landowner is ruined when he has to move. Now it is above all by the class of smaller proprietors that one must judge the effects of different types of property, since these classes are the most numerous.

Independently of this moral preeminence of landed property, it is favorable to public order by the very situation in which it puts those who possess it. Workmen concentrated in the towns are at the mercy of factions. Cultivators, spread around the country districts, are almost impossible to unite and therefore to be led to rebel. Business proprietors, it has been said, must be much more attached to order, stability, and public peace than landed proprietors, because they lose much more during upheavals. Burn the harvest of a cultivator and he still has the field. He loses only a year’s income. Pillage a merchant’s shop and his assets are destroyed. But the loss is not made up solely of the instantaneous damage the proprietor experiences. We have to consider the degradation which happens to the property. Now, a pillaged shop can be full again of the kind of wealth that was stolen within twenty-four hours. But a farm burnt down, a soil impoverished for lack of cultivation, can be reestablished only by a long sequence of work and care. This becomes more striking still, when it is a question of poor proprietors. Seditionaries could in a single day compensate all the workers in a town, even if this was only in leaving them to plunder the rich. Edition: current; Page: [[177]] But nature alone can compensate, with her accustomed slowness, the cultivators of a district. These truths were felt by Aristotle. He contrived to bring out, very forcefully, the distinctive characters of the agricultural and mercantile classes, and he decided without hesitation in favor of the former.14 Doubtless, business property has its advantages. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [214] Industry and commerce have created a new means of defense for liberty, namely credit. Landed property guarantees the stability of institutions; business property assures the independence of individuals. Therefore the refusal of political rights to these capitalists and business people, whose activity and opulence double the prosperity of the countries they live in, this refusal, if it were absolute, in my view would be an injustice and moreover an imprudence. It would be to do that of which we have already shown the danger above. It would put wealth in opposition to power.

If one reflects, however, one will easily perceive that the exclusion will not hit in any way those businessmen it would be a pity to exclude. What could be easier for them than to acquire a property in the country which would make them citizens? If they refused, I would not reckon much for their attachment to their country, or rather to their government. For it always is the fault of governments when men do not love their native soil. Such business proprietors as will not be able to buy landed property will be men whom a necessity which your institutions will never circumvent commits to mechanical work. These are therefore men lacking all means of educating themselves, likely with the purest intentions to make the State carry the cost of their inevitable errors. These men must be protected, respected, guaranteed against any harassment by the rich. We must brush aside any obstacles impeding their work and make their laborious lives as smooth as possible. They must not be transferred, however, to a new situation for which their calling does not equip them, where their participation would be pointless, or where their strong feelings would be threatening, or where their very presence would become fearfully disturbing for the other social groups, a cause for suspicion and for this very reason of hostile defensive measures and of flagrant injustices.

The property which has been entitled intellectual has been defended Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [215] in a rather ingenious way. A distinguished professional man, it has been said, a legal expert, for example, is no less strongly attached to the country he lives in than the landed proprietor. It is easier for this latter to Edition: current; Page: [[178]] alienate his patrimony than it would for the former to move his reputation. His fortune is the confidence he inspires. This derives from a number of years of work, from intelligence, skill, the services he has rendered, the habit people have acquired of consulting him in difficult circumstances, and the local understanding his long experience has formed. Expatriation would deprive him of these advantages. He would be ruined by the single fact of having to present himself as an unknown in a foreign land.

This property called intellectual, however, resides only in public opinion. If all are allowed to attribute it to themselves, doubtless all will demand it. For political rights will become not only a social advantage but a proof of talent, and to refuse them to oneself would be a rare act at once of disinterestedness and of modesty. If it is the opinion of others which has to confer this intellectual property, that opinion is made plain only by the success and wealth which are the necessary result. Thus there will be distinguished men in the professions, like opulent capitalists. Nothing will be easier for them than acquiring the landed property required.

There are, however, considerations of higher significance to be weighed. The professions require more than any other job perhaps, if their influence in political discussion is not to be fatal, to be joined with landed property. The professions, so praiseworthy in so many ways, do not always number among their good qualities the putting into ideas of that practical accuracy necessary for pronouncing on men’s positive interests. We saw during our Revolution writers, mathematicians, and chemists lending themselves to the most exaggerated opinions, not because in other respects they were not enlightened and estimable, but because they had lived apart from men. Some had been accustomed to indulging their imagination, others to taking into account only rigorous evidence, a third lot Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [216] to seeing nature in its reproduction of human beings, paving the way to destruction. They had arrived by different routes at the same result, namely disdaining considerations drawn from facts, scorning the real sensible world, and reasoning like visionaries on the social condition, like geometers on our passions and like doctors on our human sorrows.

If these mistakes have been the portion of superior men, what will the errors of inferior candidates and defective applicants be? How very necessary it is to put a brake on wounded amour propre, on sour vanity, on all the causes of bitterness, agitation, and dissatisfaction, against a society in which people find themselves displaced, of hatred against men who seem unjust in their evaluations! All intellectual works are no doubt honorable. All must be respected. Our first attribute, our distinctive faculty, is thought. Whoever Edition: current; Page: [[179]] makes use of it has the right to our esteem, even independently of success. Whoever outrages or rebuffs it abdicates the name human and puts himself outside the human race. Every science, however, gives to the mind of him who cultivates it an exclusive slant, which becomes dangerous in matters political, unless it is counterbalanced. Now, the counterweight can be found only in landed property. This alone establishes uniform ties between men. It puts them on guard against the imprudent sacrifice of the happiness and peace of others by enveloping within this sacrifice their own well-being, by obliging them to reckon on their own account. It makes them come down from lofty, chimerical theories and inapplicable exaggerations by establishing between them and other members of the society numerous complicated relations and common interests.

Let it not be thought, though, that this safeguard is useful only for maintaining order. It is no less so for maintaining freedom. By a bizarre coming together, the sciences which, during political upheavals, sometimes incline men to impossible ideas of freedom, render them at other times indifferent and servile under despotism. Scholars proper are rarely bothered by power, even unjust power. It is only reflective thought such power hates. It likes the sciences well enough as tools for the governors and the fine arts as distractions for the governed. Thus the road followed by men whose studies have no connection with the active interests of human life protects them from the harassments of a government which never sees them as rivals. They often display too little anger at abuses of power which weigh only on other groups. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [217]

chapter eight: On Property in Public Funds

The present situation of the great states of Europe has created in our times a new kind of property, that of public funds. This property does not at all tie its possessor to the soil, as does landed property. It demands neither assiduous work nor difficult speculations, like business property. It does not suppose distinguished talents, like the property we have termed intellectual.

The state’s creditor is interested in the wealth of his country only as any creditor is in the wealth of his debtor. Provided the latter pays him, he is satisfied, and the dealings whose purpose is to assure his payment always seem fair enough, however costly they may be. The right he has all the time to sell his holding makes him indifferent to the probable but distant chance of national ruin. There is not a corner of land, not a manufacture, not a Edition: current; Page: [[180]] source of production whose impoverishment he does not contemplate with insouciance, as long as there are other resources which defray the payment of his income and which sustain the market value of his capital in the public mind.15

Some writers have considered the establishment of the public debt as a cause of prosperity. Among the sophisms with which they have propped up this bizarre opinion, they have got across a consideration well tuned to seduce governments, namely that a State’s creditors are the natural supports of government. Associated with its fortunes, they have to defend it with all their might, as the sole guarantee of the capital due to them. What seems true to me is that in all circumstances, a lasting force, equally favorable to the worst and best of institutions, has at the very least as many drawbacks as advantages. It has to be added, however, that a body of men which depends Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [218] on government only out of a desire to see its assets secured is always ready to break off the instant anxiety affects its hopes. Now, is it a good thing for a realm that there should be a group of individuals who consider government only in purely pecuniary terms, sustaining it despite its abuses when it pays them and declaring themselves its bitter enemies the second it stops paying them?

Doubtless the bad faith of the administration and its slackness in the fulfillment of its promises imply a neglect of justice which must extend to many other things. Free governments have always been distinguished by their scrupulous reliability.16 England has never put the creditors of its immense debt through the least worry or delay. America, since the consolidation of its independence, has scrupulously observed the same principles of trustworthiness. Holland has deserved the same praise for as long as it has existed. It is not thus with states subject to despotic governments. The fact is, only free governments can in no circumstances separate their interests from their duties. In this respect, the creditors of national debts must desire like all other citizens that freedom be established and maintained.

I confess to preferring that they be animated by nobler motives. It might happen that a despotic government, aware of the danger of annoying its creditors, came to put all its efforts into pleasing them, and succeeded for a more or less long period in weighing the nation down with excessive taxes. In this case the holders of the national debt, cut off from the rest of the nation, would remain faithful to a government treating only them justly. Edition: current; Page: [[181]] Property in public funds is of an essentially egotistical and solitary nature, one easily becoming aggressive, because it exists only at others’ expense. By a remarkable effect of the complex organization of modern societies, while the natural interest of any nation is that taxation be lowered to the least possible, the creation of a national debt gives one part of each nation an interest in increasing it.17

We could muster many other arguments, furthermore, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [219] against a theory which, in reality, like many other theories, is only an excuse, disguised as a precept. In thinking of the existence of a public debt as morally and politically unfortunate, however, I do envisage it at the same time, in the present situation of society, as an inevitable evil for the large States. Those which habitually make subventions to national expenditure out of taxation are almost always forced to anticipate, and their anticipations constitute debt. Moreover, at the first out-of-the-way happening they are all obliged to borrow. As for those which have adopted the loan system, in preference to the tax system, establishing taxes only to service their loans (today this is virtually the English system), a public debt is inseparable from their existence. Thus to recommend modern States to relinquish the resources that credit offers them would be a pointless exercise. But precisely because public debt creates a new kind of property, whose effects are very different from those of other kinds of property and above all from those of landed property, landed property must be given all the more importance to counterbalance the bad effects of this new kind.

This is what the English constitution has done effortlessly. The owners of a debt of fifteen billion have less political influence than the proprietors of land whose total income would not pay the interest on that debt.18 This explains why it has not corrupted British public-spiritedness. National representation, founded in large part on landed property, has maintained the integrity of that public spirit—an admirable result of well-managed freedom! The outlooks brought about by state rentiers in France conspired to overthrow the French monarchy, because under that monarchy there was no other center of legal and lasting public opinion. The State’s creditors in England identify with national feeling, because political organization, there taking as its base landed property, as its means of action the people’s rights,19 and for its limits the most important individual rights,20 has been able Edition: current; Page: [[182]] thereby to render salutary Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [220] the very features of the case whose natural tendencies seem most dangerous.

chapter nine: On the Amount of Landed Property Which Society Has the Right to Insist upon for the Exercise of Political Rights

Despite my wish to steer clear of details, I must add a few words on the amount of property which should be required.

A property can be so confined that he who owns it is a proprietor only in appearance. According to the writer I have cited above,21 anyone whose income from land is not sufficient to see him through the year, without having to work for other people, is not fully a proprietor. In terms of the proportion of property he is lacking, he is back among the wage-earning class. Proprietors are masters of his life, for they can refuse him work. Therefore only he who has the necessary income to exist independently of any other party’s will, can exercise political rights. A lesser property condition is illusory, a higher one unjust. Given the necessary minimum, independence is entirely relative, a matter of character and impartiality. The advantages of landed property come more from its nature than its magnitude.

The economists have had the idea of linking land to political rights in such a way that landowners would have more or fewer votes according to the extent of their holdings. This idea would distort property. It would soon turn it into an oligarchy, which would become narrower every day, because the tendency of large properties is to swallow small ones. Once the minimum land holding carrying citizenship rights is fixed, the big proprietors must not have any legal superiority over the others. The division of powers applies in a way to the government of property owners, as to all forms of government; and just as in all free constitutions an attempt is made to endow the subordinate powers Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [221] with the ability to resist the encroachments of the superior, and an interest in so doing, so small owners must be given an interest in opposing the aristocracy of the large and the ability so to do. This happens naturally if all proprietors enjoying true independence have equal rights.

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chapter ten: That Owners Have No Interest in Abusing Power vis-à-vis Nonowners

Is there a fear that proprietors, as sole holders of political powers, may make these weigh heavily on the deprived class? The nature of property is enough to dispel this fear. Since the birth of commerce,22 proprietors have no longer formed a distinct class, separated from the rest of men by lasting prerogatives. The membership of this class renews itself constantly. Some people leave, others enter it. If property were immobile and always stayed in the same hands, it would be a most improper institution. It would split the human race in two. One part would be everything, the other nothing. Such is not the essence of property, however. In defiance of those who possess it, it tends to a continual changing of hands. The eventuality to be studiously avoided, as I will say presently, is anything which could stop this salutary changing of hands.

If the law favors the accumulation of property, rendering it inalienable in certain families or classes, the government of proprietors becomes tyrannical. It is the circulation of property which guarantees the justice of the institution. This circulation is in the nature of things. It suffices not to hinder it.

Moreover, in the present state of civilization, the interest of proprietors is not separate from that of the industrial or wage-earning classes. A very great number of proprietors belong to one or the other of these classes. What hurts them falls on the proprietors themselves.

For these two reasons proprietors always eschew vexatious laws. If these laws were directed solely at nonproprietors, they would doubly menace Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [222] their own authors.

Among certain ancient peoples, in Rome for example, proprietorial government involved abuse of power. This was due to circumstances which have not been remarked upon. Among the ancients the poor were always indebted to the rich, because the latter used only their slaves for work. In modern times it is normally the rich who are indebted to the poor. In the former case the rich demanded from the poor what the latter lacked completely, that is to say, money. That demand, needing violence to be satisfied, and, despite the violence, being mostly unsatisfied, there was a source of hatred and continual opposition between these two classes. In modern societies the rich demand from the poor what the latter can always supply in plenty, their labor, and from this there results much better agreement.

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Even were someone to prove to me that today there are still abuses in proprietorial government, I should not abandon my view. I would undertake to show that these abuses, vestiges of less enlightened centuries, do more harm every day to the proprietors themselves. I include an example in a note.23 I would hope for the rectification of these abuses simply through progress by way of education and experience, and I would see far fewer drawbacks in putting up with them temporarily than in giving nonproprietors political rights, that is to say, power. Once one is convinced that property is indispensable to the prosperity of the social State, one must, as has already been said,24 guarantee it come what may, and its only sufficient means of guarantee is the power of the owners. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [223] One has to will the institutions one establishes, and any institution which supports property is on a suicide course when it gives power to nonproprietors.

It would be a mistake for merchants and manufacturers to fear the government of landowners. It is not the latter who have passed laws disastrous for commerce and industry. Such laws have been caused either by universal ignorance of the first principles of political economy, an ignorance common once to all classes, or by the ferocious violence of the propertyless, or by the private calculations and passing interests of traders. These last above all have been deadly. Monopolies, prohibitions, and privileges, by supplying some particular industry with disproportionate means and destroying the competition, are fatal to production in general. These contrivances are mercantile. Commerce is the child of freedom, yet the trader can enrich himself by the constraints with which he surrounds his competitors. Used as he is to speculating on everything, he is often given to speculating on the laws themselves. Unchecked, he will make laws to favor his business, instead of being content to make sure that his business enjoys the safeguard of the law.

Adam Smith’s wise commentator has said: “as much as the influence of manufacturers, merchants, and capitalists on legislation expresses itself in narrow outlooks, complicated rules, and oppressive constraints, so the proprietorial dispensation is to be recognized in fair intentions, simple arrangements, and the free and easy flow of all types of circulation.”25

Precisely in the interest of commerce, it is therefore useful that legislative power be entrusted to landowners, whose activity is less restless and whose calculations are less volatile.

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In all this our hypothesis assumes a society without privileged castes. Castes of this type, being means for conserving and moreover for acquiring property, corrupt it. If owners possess improper powers, they will be enemies of freedom and justice, not as owners, but as privileged persons. If they are not privileged, they will be their most faithful supports. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [224]

chapter eleven: On Hereditary Privileges Compared to Property

Hereditary privileges have been compared to property. Property’s enemies have adopted this comparison with alacrity. Privileges having become an odious thing, they have wanted this disfavor to fall on property. The friends of privilege have taken up this comparison for a contrary motive. Property being indispensable, they wanted to justify privileges as provenly necessary. This comparison would be right only if property did not change hands. Only then would it resemble privilege. Then it would also be, however, the most oppressive usurpation, as we said earlier. If property is the constant interest of the majority across the generations, this is because anyone can aspire to it and be assured of getting it through work. Hereditary privileges, however, are only, and can never be other than, the interest of the few. They exclude all who do not belong to the favored caste. They bear not only on the present but on the future and deprive generations unborn. Property stirs emulation; privilege rebuffs and discourages it. Property puts a value on all social relations, all social conditions. Privileges hold themselves aloof. Property communicates and thus improves itself. Privileges surround themselves with defenses and in communication lose their advantages. The more proprietors there are in a country, the more property is respected and the more people are affluent. The more privileged people there are, the more privileges are depreciated and the more people are for all that oppressed. For it is on them that the immunities of the privileged bear down. It is hard, even when we extend our conjectural sphere as far as possible, to imagine a tolerable social condition without property. America shows us a wise and peaceful government without privileged institutions.26 Privileges and society are always at war. The latter wants a rule; the former want exceptions. If property has its drawbacks sometimes, they come from privileges, which, as a result of their diverse combinations, make the acquisition of property often impossible and always difficult for the nonprivileged class. Entails, primogeniture, and all Edition: current; Page: [[186]] the regulations which make property immobile and troublesome are in the nature of privileges, in fact their emanations.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [225] In our era a number of men, having abolished hereditary privileges, went on to undermine property. We should not conclude that these things are intimately linked. In all questions there is a point where the mad and the sane split. The latter stop after the overthrow of prejudices which it was important to destroy. The former want to extend the destruction to things worth keeping.27

When it is suggested that property is a convention of the same kind as hereditary privileges, we need to separate these two ideas again, in the countries where these privileges have been discredited. Nothing harms useful things more than their resting on improper things. The two collapse together. The relationship between privileges and property is like that between superstition and morality. Superstition can give morality a meretricious succor. If superstition loses its force, however, morality itself is undermined.

Privileges and proscriptions are social errors of the same kind. They likewise take citizens away from the law, either by abitrary punishments or arbitrary favor.

Montesquieu is often quoted in favor of privileges. But he examines rather than judges the laws. He explains the reasons for them, assigning causes without justifying institutions. He wrote, moreover, under a government mild in practice, though arbitrary by nature. Now, under such a government, privileges can be useful.28 Where rights have disappeared, privileges can be a defense. For all their drawbacks, they are better than the absence of any intermediary power. To do without privileges, a constitution has to be excellent. Under despotism equality becomes a scourge. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [226]

chapter twelve: Necessary Comment

What has happened to the privileged castes in our times in France obliges me to enter here some explanation of my opinion on the matter. I would not wish to be confused with men who sought in the abolition Edition: current; Page: [[187]] of improprieties only a means of satisfying their hatred and long-wounded vanity.

The destruction of hereditary privileges in France was an inevitable consequence of the progress of civilization. From the time the nobility had ceased being feudal, it had become a brilliant ornament but without a definite purpose, agreeable to its possessors, humiliating to those who did not possess it, but without real means and above all without power. Its advantages consisted more in exclusions for the lower orders than in prerogatives for the preferred class. The nobles obtained improper favors but were not invested with any legal power. They did not constitute an intermediary body which kept the people in order and the government in check. They formed an almost imaginary corporation, which for everything which was not just recollection or prejudice, depended on the government. Heredity in England does not confer on its members a contested power, arbitrary and vexatious, but a specified authority and constitutional functions. Its prerogatives, being legal in nature and created for a definite purpose, are less wounding for those who do not enjoy them and give more power to those who do. Therefore, this heredity is less exposed to attack at the same time as it is more readily defended. The nobility in France, however, invited attack from every vain and worthless thing and armed almost no interest to defend itself. It had no base, no fixed position in the community. There was nothing to guarantee its survival. Quite the contrary: everything conspired to its ruin, even the education and individual superiority of its own members. This is why it was destroyed almost without commotion. It vanished like a shadow, being only an indefinable memento of a half-destroyed system. Therefore its abolition cannot be the object of justified censure. Everything the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [227] leaders of our Revolution have added to this measure, however, has been unjust and insane.

One cause which has not been sufficiently noted contributed, if I am not mistaken, to the mingling of wise principles with odious and unreasonable means. We can count the origins of hereditary privileges among the differences between us and the ancients.

Among the peoples of antiquity, civilized by colonies without being conquered by them, inequalities in rank had their origin solely in superiority, either physical or moral. You will be conscious that I am not speaking of slaves, who have to be counted for nothing in the social system of the ancients. Among them, the privileged were a class of compatriots, come to wealth or esteem because their ancestors had acquired merit in the Edition: current; Page: [[188]] youthful society, teaching it either the first principles of government, or the ceremonies of religion, or discoveries necessary to life’s needs and the elements of civilization. Among the moderns, by contrast, inequalities of rank have their basis in conquest. The civilized peoples of the Roman empire were shared out like cheap cattle among ferocious aggressors. European institutions have for centuries borne the imprint of military force. Overcome by the sword, the conquered have also been kept in servitude by it. Their masters did not deign to disguise the origin of their power by ingenious fables or make it respectable by well or badly founded claims to superior wisdom. The two races reproduced themselves, for a long time with no other relationship than bondage on the one hand and oppression on the other. Everything from the fourth to the fifteenth century served to remind a Europe civilized but overrun, of the scourge it had received from the north. The superiority of the ancient peoples derives from this cause. They walked free from all domination, on land that no proud foot of a conqueror had ever trampled on. The moderns, a race debased and dispossessed, went wrong following a single conquest.

From this difference between the ancients and us has resulted a striking difference in the intellectual systems of the friends of liberty in the two eras. Despite the drawbacks of hereditary privilege, even among the ancients, almost all the publicists of antiquity Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [228] want power concentrated in the hands of the upper classes. Aristotle makes this an essential part of a well-constituted democracy.29 By contrast, since the Renaissance of learning, the supporters of political freedom have never believed its establishment possible without the destruction of the predominant castes. Those whom Aristotle sees as our guides, Machiavelli sees as victims who must be sacrificed.30 From the fifteenth century until our times, those who have taken a position in the matter have written in favor of equality, and acted or spoken on behalf of the descendants of the oppressed and against the descendants of the oppressors. In proscribing not only hereditary privileges but also their possessors, they have themselves without knowing been dominated by hereditary prejudices. At the foundation of the Republic in France, the aim was more, as in the Italian republics, the rebuffing of conquerors than the giving of equal rights to citizens. Scanning the laws against the nobles in Italy, especially Florence, Edition: current; Page: [[189]] you would think yourself reading the laws of the Convention.31 These eighteenth-century nobles have been depicted like fifteenth-century barons. Hateful men have skillfully blended all the centuries to rekindle and maintain hatred. Just as we once went back to the Franks and Goths when we wanted to be oppressors, they now revisited the Franks and Goths in the search of pretexts for the opposite oppression. Puerile vanity once searched for noble titles in archives and chronicles. A harsher and more vindictive vanity now drew on them for the wherewithal of accusations. A little reflection, however, must convince us that privileges of a naturally improper kind can be a means of leisure, of improvement and enlightenment, for their possessors. Great independent wealth is usually a guarantee against several kinds of baseness and vice. Knowing one is respected saves one from that thin-skinned and restless vanity which sees insult and imagines scorn everywhere, those violent, implacable feelings which take revenge in the ill they do, on the sorrows they undergo. Being given to gentle ways Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [229] and accustomed to very refined nuances gives the outlook a delicate susceptibility, and the mind a ready flexibility.

These precious qualities had to be put to good advantage. The spirit of chivalry had to be circled with barriers it could not transgress, without its being excluded from the careers open to everyone. Thus would be formed that class of men which the ancient lawmakers regarded as destined by nature for government. It would be formed by the enlightened section of the commoners and the enlightened section of the nobility.

Woe betide the men who have prevented this amalgam, as easy as it is necessary. They did not want to take account of the centuries, nor to distinguish between nuances, nor to reassure apprehensions, nor to pardon fugitive vanities, nor to let pointless complaints subside and foolish menaces evaporate. They have recorded the doings of wounded pride. In treating all nobles as enemies of freedom, they made countless enemies for freedom. Nobility was restored by a new distinction, persecution, and strong in this privilege, fought the better against the so-called free institutions, in whose names it was being oppressed. It found in its proscription legitimate reasons for resistance and infallible means of attracting interest to its cause. To accompany the abolition of improprieties with injustices, is not to put obstacles to their returning, but to offer them the hope of coming back along with justice.

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chapter thirteen: On the Best Way of Giving Proprietors a Large Political Influence

The surest and easiest way of giving proprietors great political influence has already been indicated by Aristotle: “To combine your laws and institutions in such a way,” he says, “that the high positions cannot be the object of a calculated interest. Without that, the masses, which, it must be said, are affected little by exclusion from honors, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [230] because they like to get on with their own business, will envy honors and profit. All the safeguards are fine, if the magistracy is not a temptation to greed. The poor will prefer lucrative occupations to difficult and unpaid ones. The rich will fill the magistracy, because they will not need payment.”32

These principles are probably not applicable to all the jobs in the modern State apparatus, because there are some which require wealth beyond any individual holding. Nothing stops their being applied, however, to legislative positions, which increase only slightly the routine expenditures of those in whom they are invested.

Thus it was in Carthage. All the magistratures appointed by the people discharged their functions without payment. Other jobs were salaried. It is the same in England. I think myself on strong ground when I take as my proof that home of liberty. In this country people often denounce the corruption of the House of Commons. Just compare what this corruption, even in difficult circumstances, has done for the crown with what elsewhere other assemblies, largely paid, have done for a thousand successive tyrants.

In a free constitution, where nonproprietors have no political rights, it is outrageously contradictory to keep the people out of representation, as if only the rich ought to represent them, and then to make them pay their representatives, as if the latter were poor.

I do not like strong property requirements. I have given my reason elsewhere.33 Independence is entirely relative. As soon as a man has the necessary minimum, he need only elevate his soul to do without superfluities. It is desirable, however, that legislative positions be in general filled by wealthy men. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [231] Now, on declaring them unpaid, we place power in the hands of the leisured class, without refusing a fair chance to all the legitimate exceptions.

When sizeable payments are attached to legislative positions, these payments become the main objective. Mediocrity, ineptitude, and baseness Edition: current; Page: [[191]] perceive in these august duties only a miserable speculation of chance, whose success is guaranteed them by silence and servility. The corruption which is the product of ambitious designs is far less deadly than that which results from ignoble calculations. Ambition is compatible with a thousand generous qualities: probity, courage, impartiality, and independence. Avarice is compatible with none of these. If we cannot keep ambitious men out of public positions, at least let us keep the greedy out. This way we will diminish the number of competitors considerably, and those we drive away will be precisely the least worthy.

Paying the people’s representatives is not to give them an interest in fulfilling their functions well, but in exercising them a long time.

Two conditions are necessary for representative duties to be unpaid. The first is that they be important. No one would want to take on, unpaid, jobs rendered puerile by their insignificance, or which would be shameful if they ceased being puerile. But, it must be added, under such a constitution, it would be better were there no legislative positions at all.

The second condition is that reelection be possible indefinitely.34 The impossibility of reelection under a representative government is in all respects a great mistake. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [232] Only the chance of uninterrupted reelection offers merit a fitting reward and lodges in the public mind a body of imposing and respected names. Far from any free people should be both those shameful prejudices which demand distinctions of birth giving access to positions and their exclusive exercise, and also those prohibitive laws which prevent the people reelecting those who have not lost its trust. The influence of individuals is not destroyed by jealous institutions. In every era such influence of this sort as exists freely is always indispensable. The influence of individuals diminishes of its own accord with the spread of enlightenment. Let us not meddle therein with envious laws. Individuals naturally lose their supremacy when a larger number are educated to the same level. Let us not dispossess talent by arbitrary exclusions. There are in the assemblies weak men, who cannot be reelected, men who want either the goodwill of government, in order to obtain some compensation, or to make as few enemies as possible, in order to live in peaceful retirement. If you put obstacles in the way of indefinite reelection, you deprive talent and courage of their due and prepare a comfortable and secure shelter for cowardice and ineptitude. You put on the same level the man who has faced every danger and him who has bent his degraded head under Edition: current; Page: [[192]] tyranny. Reelection favors righteous calculation. Such calculations alone have lasting success, but to obtain it, they need time. Upright and brave men versed in public affairs are not so numerous that one can reject those who have already merited public esteem. New talents will appear too. The people tend to welcome them. Do not impose any constraint on them in this matter. Do not force them at each reelection to choose newcomers, ones still with their fortunes to make in matters of self-esteem and hell-bent on fame. Nothing costs a nation more dearly than the creation of reputations. Look at America. The people’s votes have never stopped supporting the founders of liberty. Look at England. There famous names have become a sort of popular property, in an unbroken series of reelections. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [233] Happy those nations which offer like examples and know how to trust durably!

chapter fourteen: On the Action of Government on Property

The reader will have been able to spot that among the considerations we have advanced for upholding the high place property must have in our political life, none has been drawn from the metaphysical nature of property itself. We have treated it only as a social convention.

We have seen, however, that this viewpoint does not stop us seeing property as a thing society must surround with every protection. Our axiom is always that it would be better not to set up property than to make it a subject of struggle and bitterness, and that this danger can be avoided only by giving it inviolability on the one hand and power on the other.

Like considerations will guide us in our efforts to determine the limits of political jurisdiction over property.

Property, to the extent it is a social convention, falls within the scope of political jurisdiction. Society has rights over property it definitely does not have over the freedom, lives, and opinions of its members.

Property, however, has intimate links with other aspects of human existence, some of which are not subject at all to collective jurisdiction while the remaining ones are so only in a limited way. Society must therefore restrain its jurisdiction over property, because it could not be exercised to its full extent without menacing things which are not subject to it. Political authority must never, as part of its action over property, offend inviolable rights. Society must also restrict its jurisdiction over property so as not to give individuals an interest in eluding the law. Such an interest is morally adverse, firstly in that Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [234] it entails the habit of hypocrisy and fraud, and Edition: current; Page: [[193]] secondly in that it requires the encouragement of informing. We dealt with this earlier.35 Since this observation applies, however, to almost all the things government wants to take action on, necessarily it recurs often in our theorizing.

chapter fifteen: On Laws Which Favor the Accumulation of Property in the Same Hands

The property laws can be of two kinds. They can be intended to favor its accumulation and perpetuate it in the same hands, the same families or individual classes. Such is the origin of lands declared inalienable, of the exempting of certain classes from taxation, of entailments, of primogeniture—in sum, of all the feudal or noble customs.

This legal system, taken in all its extent and the severity it had in the past throughout Europe, takes away from property its true character and greatest advantage. It makes it a privilege. It disinherits the class finding itself without property. It transforms passing chance, which the next moment would have put right, into a permanent injustice. If the country is commercial and industrious, this system of property undermines it, because it forces individuals in commerce or industry to seek refuge or property in a more hospitable country. If the country is purely agricultural, this system brings in the most oppressive despotism. A terrible oligarchy forms. The peasants are reduced to the condition of serfs. The landowners themselves are corrupted by the improprieties which benefit them. They develop a ferocious, almost savage mentality. They need for their perpetuation to banish all enlightenment, to repel all improvement in the poor man’s lot, to oppose the formation of that intermediary class which, bringing together the advantages of education and the absence of prejudices which the privileged condition entails, is among all peoples Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [235] the depository of just ideas, of useful knowledge, of impartial opinion and the hopes of humanity.

Today there are few countries where this system continues in its entirety; but almost everywhere we find vestiges of it, not without drawbacks. Such laws, when they are only partial, have, indeed, a new disadvantage. The group forbidden to acquire certain properties is angry at this exclusion, which is anyway always accompanied by other humiliating distinctions, since one abuse never stands alone. The excluded group takes advantage of what it possesses to demand the rights it is denied. It encourages discontent Edition: current; Page: [[194]] and exaggerated opinions in all nonproprietors. It prepares troubles, struggles, and revolutions to which everybody afterwards falls victim.

In the countries where these oppressive laws continue in undiminished rigor, it has been claimed, as always in such cases, that the classes they oppress recognize the advantages therein. It has been said that serfdom, a natural consequence of this system of property, was felicitous for the peasants and examples were given. Nobles one could suspect of hypocrisy and who should at least be accused of lack of foresight, have offered their vassals freedom. This is to say that they proposed to men brutalized by ignorance, without energy or capability or ideas, that they leave their fields and cabins, to go freely with their infirm parents and children of tender years, in search of a subsistence they had no means of procuring. These vassals preferred their chains, from which it was concluded that serfdom was agreeable. What, however, does such experience show? What we knew, that for men to be given freedom, they must not have been degraded to a subhuman condition by slavery. Then, freedom is doubtless only an illusory and deadly gift, just as the daylight becomes sorrowful for him whose view is enfeebled by the shadows of a dungeon. This truth holds for all types of servitude. Men who have never known freedom’s advantages may well enthusiastically submit to the yoke: Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [236] reject their sheepish and deceptive witness. They have no right to make depositions in so holy a cause. As to freedom, listen to those ennobled by its blessings. Only they should be heard, only they consulted.36

I would add that all governments today are working, commendably, to eliminate the last traces of this barbarous legislation. Alexander I is one prince in particular who seems to have brought to the throne the love of humanity and justice and who puts his renown not to driving his people back into barbarism but to preparing them by instruction for freedom, encouraging on his vast lands the freeing of the serfs and the dissemination of landownership.37

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The thing about the inalienability of goods is something common to everything human. Its intention was reasonable in the era which gave it birth; but the institution has outlived its usefulness. When there was no public justice and force was the sole guarantee against robbery, this force being found only in sizeable properties, which provided numerous vassals ready to defend their master, the inalienability of property was a means of security. Today, when social conditions are quite different, this inalienability is an evil for agriculture and pointless to boot. The owner of very large properties inevitably neglects a large proportion of his property. As Smith says in The Wealth of Nations, Book III, Ch. 2, to convince oneself of this, one need only compare big estates which have stayed in the same family continuously since the days of feudal anarchy, with the small holdings surrounding them. What is true of States is true of properties. Excessive smallness deprives them of the most efficient means of improvement. Excessive size Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [237] makes them liable to careless management, haste, and negligence.38

He who wants to sell proves he lacks the means or motivation for improvement. He who wants to buy proves he has will and means. Entailments and all types of inalienability force the former to keep that which is a burden on him and prevent the latter acquiring what would be advantageous to him. To society this is a double loss, since amelioration of property constitutes national wealth.

We must observe, in finishing this section, that the order of ideas has forced us to invert the facts. It was not at all by way of laws forbidding the wider distribution of property that the feudal oligarchy was established, but by conquest. It was then that this oligarchy, to perpetuate itself, had recourse to these prohibitive laws. Thus it would be wrong to fear a like result from proprietorial government. This government, when it rests on the principles established above,39 will stay true to them because proprietors have no interest in replacing the legitimate enjoyment they are assured of by property they know they can guard, if they so choose, by impediments which would add nothing to their enjoyment and offend their wishes. Proprietorial government has nowhere produced a feudal one; rather, feudal government has corrupted proprietorial government.

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chapter sixteen: On Laws Which Enforce the Wider Spreading of Property

The laws can have an opposite tendency. They can purpose the widest possible spread of ownership. Such is the avowed motive of the agrarian laws, of the dividing up of lands, of the ban on Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [238] wills, and of that host of regulations aimed at preventing people managing to make light of these laws.

This activity of government, above all that which bears on the right to make wills—for the agrarian laws are sufficiently discredited—seems at first more legitimate and in keeping with egalitarian principles than the contrary action. In fact, it is superfluous. It wants to force what would happen naturally. Property tends to split up. If the government leaves it to itself, it will no sooner be acquired than you will see it dispersed. The proof of this is the proliferating laws necessary under all aristocratic governments to keep it in the same families. The accumulation of property is always a consequence of institutions.

It follows that the simplest and surest means of encouraging the widening ownership of property would be to abolish all the laws which oppose it.

Since governments, however, never content themselves with negative actions, they have usually gone further. They have not only abrogated vicious institutions, but combated the effects of the habits, recollections, and prejudices which might have survived these institutions with positive regulations.

What has happened is what naturally must happen when government arbitrarily restrains men’s freedom. The laws on this matter have been evaded. Further laws were needed to curb these infractions. From this followed innumerable obstacles to the transfer, disposal, and transmission of property.

These restrictions having entailed further inconveniences, people accused each other of having violated them. Greed armed itself with what was intended to check it.

During our Revolution a host of circumstantial safeguards were built up into eternal principles. Legislators who imagined they had the deepest outlooks and widest perspectives have always fixed their gaze on the possibility of a small refractory minority. To get at this they have borne down on all the French. Blind legislators, to make laws not for their fellow citizens but against their enemies! Insane legislators, under whose rule the law was no longer the shelter of all but an offensive arm against the few!

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Freedom is constantly attacked by reasoning applicable only to constraint. Thus in our time the free transmission of property has been attacked with arguments which were valid only against the restrictions put on such transmission Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [239] by the laws of old. The right to make wills and primogeniture have been confused, when the latter is on the contrary an encroachment on and the destruction of the right to make wills.

On this question, I will not stop to refute other sophisms drawn from an obscure and abstract metaphysics. People have argued that death entails annihilation, holding it absurd to let a man dispose of goods which were no longer his and to lend a fictitious existence to his will when he no longer existed. These arguments are fundamentally unsound. They could be applied to all men’s transactions; for if their intentions must cease to have effect once their lives are ended, long-term debts, leases, and all operations which have to be completed only by some fixed, far-off date would end by law with their deaths.

The question of wills, it seems to me, furnishes a striking example of the good which the absence of government intervention in a matter could sometimes do, without pain or effort, whenever this good is obtained only in an imperfect and artificial way, one hampered by two contradictory laws.

Legislators in several free societies, on the one hand seeing the dispersal of property as favorable to freedom and on the other paternal power as necessary to morality, have consequently made laws to impede the accumulation of property and have tried out a thousand institutions in support of paternal power. Now, these laws and institutions have been at loggerheads and their twin purposes have failed. Properties have not undergone the dispersal the law intended because fathers, jealous of their disputed rights, have used every deception which might promote either their own individual interests or that tendency, natural to man, to elude the regulations which hurt him. This has not in the least stopped paternal power weakening. The sons, jealously guarding the equal rights the law gave them, regarded the fathers’ attempts to strip them of part of the enjoyment of these as wicked contrivances.

If the legislator had abstained from all such commands in this matter, paternal power would have found a solid basis in the right to make wills. Fatherly fair play, which, whatever is said about it, is overwhelmingly the norm, would have given the dispersal of property a far more secure guarantee than is to be found in all the precautionary measures of positive law. Governments, however, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [240] when they think both that it is their duty and that it serves their renown to have a useful purpose in view for all Edition: current; Page: [[198]] things, make partial laws at cross-purposes, which cancel each other out and create only harassment.

Restrictions on the free disposition of properties after their owners’ deaths have the drawback we have called attention to in so many other laws, that of inviting fraud, of existing only to be eluded, of entailing inquisition, suspicion, and informing. They have the further drawback, however, that the vices they lead to reach right into families. It is not solely the citizens but the parents who are at war with one another. Not just social relations but nature itself is poisoned. Parents are made no less unjust but are also in bad faith. Children whose ingratitude is authorized think themselves likewise authorized to a sort of inspection of their parents’ actions. The domestic sanctuary, which ought to be a refuge of calm and of peaceful affections, becomes the shameful site of domestic struggle between a legally supported filial independence and the resentment of fathers, who punish this surveillance as they strive to elude the laws.

The legitimate jurisdiction of government over the transmission of property is extremely limited. It should guarantee the latter and leave it alone, establishing some procedures for determining owners’ real wishes, without placing restrictions or impediments on those wishes.

Tolerate partial injustices, which are inevitable among men, but much less frequent than you like to believe in order to give yourself pretexts for perpetual interference. If you want to remedy them, you will be throwing yourself into an endless course of action, upsetting yourself pointlessly over it; and without managing to block individual injustices, you will succeed only in becoming an unjust creature yourself.

Every time that an abuse exists, the rest of the social institutions encourage it. Unable to destroy it, they make room for it and set themselves up, so to speak, around it. Formerly, the right to make wills felt the effects of hereditary privileges, but only because it was sacrificed to these.

When institutions have done harm, and this goes on after the institutions are destroyed, it is better to put up with the inconvenience caused by the traces of these defective institutions, than to hasten to remedy this with further institutions which might also have unforeseen drawbacks.

The same considerations which inspired the restrictions on Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [241] the free transmission of property have led governments to progressive taxation, compulsory borrowings, and taxes directed solely against the wealthy. These measures have been so fully rebuked by experience, however, that it is almost superfluous to demonstrate their futility and danger. They are in direct opposition to the present trends in society. They condemn wealth to Edition: current; Page: [[199]] lying. They put it at loggerheads with our institutions. Now, what could be more pernicious and absurd than stirring up war between governmental power and wealth, the most instantly disposable power, the one most serving of every interest, and therefore much more real and genuinely obeyed! Government is a threat, wealth a reward. You get away from government by deceiving it. To gain wealth’s blessings, you have to serve it. The latter must prevail.

Furthermore, it is a mistake to imagine that the poor gain what is taken thus from the rich. He who has not will always depend, whatever we do, on him who has. If you upset the rich man, he will concentrate more on his pleasures, his speculation, his fantasies. As far as possible he will withdraw his capital from circulation, and the poor man will feel the effects of this.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK XI: On Taxation

  • Ch. 1. The object of this book. 205
  • Ch. 2. The first right of the governed with regard to taxation. 205
  • Ch. 3. The second right of the governed with regard to taxation. 207
  • Ch. 4. On various types of taxes. 207
  • Ch. 5. How taxation becomes contrary to individual rights. 212
  • Ch. 6. That taxes bearing on capital are contrary to individual rights. 214
  • Ch. 7. That the interest of the state in matters of taxation is consistent with individual rights. 215
  • Ch. 8. An incontestable axiom. 219
  • Ch. 9. The drawback of excessive taxation. 220
  • Ch. 10. A further drawback of excessive taxation. 221
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chapter one: The Object of This Book

The nature of this work does not allow profound research into the theory of taxation, nor into the best type of taxes one might set up. Such research would involve us in details which belong only in treatises devoted solely to this question. Our only aim must be to determine the respective rights of governors and governed in this matter.

chapter two: The First Right of the Governed with Regard to Taxation

The government, having to provide for the internal defense and external security of the State, has the right to ask individuals to sacrifice a portion of their substance to defray the expenses which the accomplishment of these duties necessitates.

The governed have the right for their part to demand of the government that the sum of all taxes does not exceed what is necessary for the purpose it must attain. This condition can be fulfilled only by political arrangements which put limits on the demands and thereby on the prodigality and greed of the governors. Traces of such arrangements can be found in the institutions of the most untrammeled monarchies, such as most of the German principalities or the hereditary States of the House of Austria; and the principle is solemnly recognized by the French constitution.1

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [250] The details of these arrangements are not within our purview, yet I think one observation must not be omitted.

The right to say yea or nay to taxes can be considered from two viewpoints, as a limit on government or as a tool of financial economy. It has been said a thousand times that a government being unable to wage war, or even survive domestically, without its necessary expenses being defrayed, the ability to refuse taxes puts into the people’s hands or into Edition: current; Page: [[206]] those of their representatives, a most efficacious weapon, which, used bravely, empowers them to make the government not just keep the peace with its neighbors but also respect the freedom of the governed. Those reasoning thus forget that what seems at first glance compelling at the theoretical level is often impossible practically. When a government has begun a war, even an unjust one, to deny it the resources to sustain it is not to punish only the government but also the nation, innocent of its faults. It is the same with refusing taxation on the grounds of domestic malpractices or harassment. The government indulges in despotic acts. The legislative body thinks it can be disarmed if no monies are voted. Even supposing, however, which is difficult, that in this extreme crisis everything happens constitutionally, on whom will this struggle rebound? The influence of the executive will secure it temporary wherewithal, in funds already put at its disposal, in loans from those who, profiting from its favors or even its injustices, will not wish it reversed, and from yet further people who, believing it will win, will be speculating in its present requirements. The first victims will be lower-grade workers, entrepreneurs of all types, the State’s creditors, and as a side effect the creditors of all these groups. Before the government succumbs or gives way, all private wealth will have been badly hit. The result will be universal hatred of Parliament, which the government will accuse of all the personal privations of citizens. The latter will not examine the reason for Parliament’s resistance and without giving their attention, amid their hardship, to questions of law or political theory, they will blame it for their indigence and misfortune.

The right to reject taxation is not, then, on its own, a sufficient Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [251] guarantee for the curbing of excessive executive power. We can consider this right as an administrative means of ameliorating the nature of the taxes or as an economizing device for diminishing their volume. For Parliaments to be able to protect liberty, however, there have to be many other prerogatives. A nation can have so-called representatives endowed with this illusory right and yet be groaning the while in the most complete slavery. If the body charged with this function does not enjoy great prestige and independence, it will become the agent of the executive power, and its assent will be only a vain and illusory formula. For the freedom to vote on taxation to be other than a frivolous ceremony, political freedom must exist in its entirety, just as in the case of the human body, all the parts must be healthy and well constituted if the functions of a given one are to take place regularly and fully.

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chapter three: The Second Right of the Governed with Regard to Taxation

A second right of the governed with regard to taxes is that their nature and mode of collection should cause as little hardship as possible for the taxpayers, tending neither to harass nor to corrupt them and not giving rise, by way of pointless expenditures, to further taxation.

From this right it follows that the governed may also demand that taxes fall equally on all, proportionately to their wealth, that they leave nothing uncertain nor arbitrary as to their incidence or mode of collection, that they do not render any property or industry unproductive, that they are wholly cost-efficient, and finally that their basis is reasonably stable.

Setting up a new tax always causes a perturbation which spreads from taxed activities to untaxed ones too. Much labor and capital flow into the latter to escape the impositions hitting the former. Profits fall in the former because of the tax and in the latter because of the competition. Equilibrium is restored only slowly. Whatever change takes place is therefore irksome for a given period.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [252] It is by applying these rules to diverse forms of taxation that one can judge which are and which are not admissible.

It is not within our brief to examine all of them. We will choose only certain examples to convey a sense of the mode of reasoning which seems to us the best.

chapter four: On Various Types of Taxes

Some enlightened men in the last century recommended taxes on land as the most natural, simplest, and fairest. They even wanted to make them the sole form of taxation. Taxing the land is indeed a very seductive idea, one which speaks for itself and seems to rest on an incontestable truth. Land is the most obvious and durable source of wealth. Why pursue indirect, contrived, and complicated measures instead of going straight to this source?

If this doctrine has not been practiced, this has a lot less to do with people thinking they saw evils in land tax than with their feeling that even in raising it to the highest level, they could not draw from it the sums they wished to extract from the people. Other taxes have been combined with it; but in most of the countries of Europe, it has continued to be the most important one of all and in some sense the basis of the financial system.

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This approach has meant that rejecting the principle has certainly not entailed, as it ought to have done, rejecting all its consequences. To reconcile the contradictions in this procedure, some people have had recourse to a theory whose outcomes are almost the same as those of the partisans of taxes on land. The latter claimed that in the last analysis all taxes bore on the land, while some of their opponents claimed that in the final analysis they were all paid by the consumer. While the former, arguing that taxes, so to speak, passed by way of the consumer before getting to the land, concluded from this that from the start taxes should be spared this detour and be imposed straight on the land, the latter, imagining that an opposite movement took taxes settled on the land back up to the consumer, thought it pointless to free the land of a burden which in reality it was not carrying.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [253] If we apply the rules we have established to the land tax, we will be led to very different conclusions.

On the one hand it is not true that all taxes on consumption fall on the land. Taxes on postal services do not fall on landowners qua owners. A landowner who takes neither tea nor tobacco pays no part of the taxes on these commodities at the points of their dispatch, their transportation, or sale. The taxes on consumption in no way fall on those groups which neither produce nor consume the items taxed.2

It is likewise false that the land tax has an effect on the price of the commodity, one borne by the purchaser. What determines the price of a commodity is not always what it costs to produce, but the demand for it. When demand exceeds supply, the price of the commodity rises. It falls when supply exceeds demand. Now land taxes, when they diminish production, ruin the producer, and when they do not diminish it, in no way increase demand. Here is the proof.

When a tax bears on the land, one of two things happens. Either it removes the whole of net product; that is, the production costs of the commodity exceed its sales revenue, and cultivation is necessarily abandoned, with the producer who abandons cultivation getting no advantage from the imbalance this may create between overall demand and the amount of the commodity he is no longer producing. Or the tax does not remove the whole net product; that is to say that the sales revenue of the commodity still exceeds costs, and the proprietor continues to cultivate. In this case, however, supply being the same after the tax as it was before, the balance between supply and demand remains the same and price cannot rise.

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A tax on land therefore bears and—whatever may have been said—continues to bear, on the landed proprietor. The consumer pays no part of it, unless because of the gradual impoverishment of the farmer, the products of the land diminish so far as to occasion famine. This calamity, however, cannot be an element in the calculations of a tax system.

The land tax, such as it exists in many countries, is therefore Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [254] not consistent with the first rule we have enunciated. It does not bear equally on all, but falls especially on one group.

Secondly, this tax, whatever its amount, always blights part of the farmland in any country.

There are lands which by reason of the soil or the situation yield nothing and are therefore left fallow. There are those which produce only the tiniest bit more than nothing. This progression mounts until you have lands which yield the most remarkable output possible. Imagine it as a series of numbers running from 1 to 100. Imagine 1 represents a level of output so small it is indivisible. The tax on land removes part of the output of each of these holdings. Even if it is the smallest conceivable, it will not be less than 1. Therefore, all the holdings which yielded only 1, and would have been cultivated in the absence of the tax, are put among the nonproductive holdings by the tax, and join the class of uncultivated ones. If the tax goes up to 2, all the holdings yielding only 2 suffer the same fate and so on. Thus, if the tax rose to 50, all holdings up to 50 would remain idle. It is therefore clear that when the tax goes up, it removes from cultivation a portion of the holdings proportionate to the increase, and when it falls, it restores a portion proportionate to the fall. If the counterargument is that the land tax is not fixed but proportional, this will not resolve my objection. The proportional tax bears on gross production. Now, costs constituting a more or less great part of gross production, it always follows that if you fix the tax at an eighth of gross output, lands which cost 9 to cultivate in order to yield 10 will be rendered idle by the tax. If the tax is fixed at a quarter, those which cost 8 to yield 10 will suffer the same fate and so on.

That the tax has this effect is proved precisely by the actual precautionary measures taken by governments. The more enlightened, like the English and Dutch, have exempted all rented land below a certain rent value from all taxation.3 The most brutal have declared all lands their proprietors have left uncultivated, confiscated. What owner would leave his holding unworked, however, if he stood to gain from working it? None, since the rich man himself would either lease Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [255] it or give it to the poor Edition: current; Page: [[210]] man. Lands are left idle only for the reasons developed above or because they are incapable of yielding output or because taxation takes away the output they could produce. Thus governments punish individuals for ills they themselves have done to them. This law of confiscation is as odious as it is unjust, as absurd as it is pointless. The fact is, in whatever hands the government places confiscated lands, if the costs of working them exceed the revenue therefrom, someone may well try and cultivate them; but assuredly he will not continue thus. In this second case, the land tax strays again from one of the conditions necessary if a contribution is to be justifiable, in that it makes individuals’ property unproductive.

Thirdly, the tax on landed property rests on the foresight of the cultivator, who, in order to be in a condition to pay it, has to put aside in advance some largish sums. The working class just do not have this foresight; and they cannot struggle constantly against the temptations of the moment. Many a one who will pay off his taxes daily, in detail, almost without knowing, if they are intertwined with his habitual purchases, will never accumulate in a given period the sum needed to pay things off en masse. The gathering of the land tax, though elementary, is therefore by no means easy. The coercive measures required make it very expensive. From this last point of view, the land tax is vicious, in that it incurs collection costs which another mode of taxation might avoid.

I do not conclude from this that the land tax should be done away with. As there are taxes on consumption which landowners can avoid, they should properly carry some share of public taxation, in their capacity as property holders. Since, however, the other groups in society do not pay any land taxes, the amount landowners pay should not exceed their proper due proportion. There is no justice therefore in making the land tax the sole or even the main tax.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [256] We have just said that the land tax taken beyond a certain point blights the property of its owners. A tax on patents makes industry unproductive. By removing freedom to work it establishes a rather ridiculous vicious circle. The man who is not working cannot pay anything, yet if people have previously not paid, the government forbids them the work they are suited for. The tax on patents is therefore an attack on the rights of individuals. It does not take away from them only a portion of their profits. It also dries up the source of their livelihood, unless they possess prior means of maintaining this, a quite unjustified supposition.

This tax may nevertheless be bearable if it is restricted to jobs which by their nature imply a certain prior affluence. This is then an advance the individual makes to the government, one he compensates himself for out of the returns to his own efforts. This is like the merchant who pays duties on Edition: current; Page: [[211]] the commodity he trades in, includes them then in the price of the commodity and gets the consumer to pay them. Aimed at trades marked by poverty, however, the tax on patents is revoltingly iniquitous.

Indirect taxes, bearing on consumer goods, get mixed up with that consumption. The consumer who pays them when he buys what he needs or likes does not experience, amid the feeling of satisfaction he is procuring himself, the repugnance the paying of direct taxation inspires. He pays them at his convenience. These taxes adapt themselves to times and circumstances, to various options, to individual tastes. They divide into imperceptible fractions.4 The same weight we bear easily when it is shared across the whole body would become intolerable bearing on a single part. Just so the weight of the air spread across the whole body of a man exceeds thirty thousand liters. He can take it without noticing, while a much lighter weight trained on a single part of the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [257] body would be unendurable.5 The incidence of indirect taxation organizes itself, so to speak, by way of consumption, which is voluntary. Considered in this light, indirect taxes in no way offend the rules we have established. They do have three grave drawbacks, however. First, they are liable to be multiplied indefinitely, in an almost imperceptible way. Second, their collection is difficult, vexatious, and often corrupting in several respects. Thirdly, they create an artificial crime, smuggling.

The first drawback can be remedied by the authority which votes the taxes. If you suppose the authority independent, it will be able to block the growth of pointless taxes. If it is not independent, whatever the nature of the tax, do not hope to limit the sacrifices which will be demanded of the people. It will be defenseless in this respect, and in all others.

The second drawback is more difficult to prevent. Even so, I find in the first one itself some proof that the second can be prevented. For if one of the vices of indirect taxes is their ability to grow almost imperceptibly, then their collection must be organized in such a way that they are not insupportable. As to the third, I am more disposed than anyone to lessen it. I have said more than once that artificial duties tended to drive men to abandon real ones. Those who break the laws against smuggling soon break those against theft and murder. They run no more danger and their conscience gets used to the revolt against the social order.

If we think about it carefully, however, we will see that the real cause of smuggling is less in indirect taxes than in prohibitions. Governments sometimes disguise their prohibitions as taxes. They hit goods whose entry they Edition: current; Page: [[212]] wish to prevent with duties disproportionate to their value. If all prohibitive systems were abolished, this disproportion would never occur. Then smuggling, that apprenticeship in crime, that school of lies and intrepidity, all the more dire in that it gains a certain nobility from its likeness to soldiering and from the credit which skill and courage give rise to, would not find encouragement and irresistible temptation in the huge profits this Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [258] disproportion leads it to expect.

chapter five: How Taxation Becomes Contrary to Individual Rights

Taxes become contrary to individual rights when by definition they authorize the harassment of citizens. One example is Spain’s Alcavala, which enforces its duties on the sale of all things, transferable or fixed, each time they change hands.

Taxes also become contrary to individual rights when they bear on objects which are easy to hide from the knowledge of the authority charged with their collection. In aiming the tax against objects which are easily purloined, you make visits and inquisitions necessary. You are led to demand from the citizens spying and reciprocal denunciations. You reward these shameful actions and your tax falls into the category of those which are inadmissible because their collection is morally harmful.

It is the same with taxes so high they invite fraud. The ease, more or less great, with which an object can be kept from the knowledge of the authorities, is constituted by material facility, which can derive from the nature of the object, and by the interest people have in such concealment. When profits are considerable they can be divided among more hands and the cooperation in the fraud of a greater number of agents makes up for any physical difficulty the collecting agent would have been able to count on. When the object the tax bears on does not permit this kind of evasion, the tax sooner or later annihilates the branch of business or the type of transaction on which it presses. It must, then, be rejected as contrary to the rights of property or industry.

It is obvious that individuals have the right to limit their consumption according to their means and wills and to forgo objects they do not want to consume or cannot do so. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [259] Consequently, indirect taxes become unjust when instead of resting on voluntary consumption, they are based on enforced consumption. What was odious about the gabelle, which was so absurdly intended to blend in with the salt tax, was its ordering citizens to consume a given quantity of this commodity. This harassment excited in Edition: current; Page: [[213]] them a just and natural indignation against a government which prescribed their lives even to the extent of needs they ought to have.

To establish a tax on a commodity, one should never forbid industry or an individual establishment6 to produce that commodity, as formerly happened in some parts of France, in relation to salt, and as happens in several European countries today in relation to tobacco. This is a manifest violation of property and an unjust harassment of industry. To secure compliance with these interdictions severe penalties are required, and these penalties prove repulsive both for their severity and their iniquity.

Indirect taxes must bear as little as possible on commodities which are basic necessities, otherwise all their advantages disappear. The consumption of these commodities is not voluntary. It does not fit itself to the situation or proportion itself to the wealth of the consumer.

It is not true, as has too often been said, that taxes on basic necessities, by making them dearer, increase the price of labor. On the contrary, the more expensive commodities needed for subsistence are, the more the need to work grows. The competition of those whose labor is on offer exceeds the demand from employers and the price of labor falls, at the very moment it should be better paid so that workers can live. Taxes on basic necessities produce the same effect as years of sterility and dearth.7

There are taxes which are easy to collect and yet have to be rejected because they tend directly to the corruption and perversion of men. No tax, for example, is so pleasurably paid as the lottery. Government needs no coercive force to guarantee the collection of this revenue. But lotteries, offering a way to wealth which does not derive from industry, work, and prudence, throw into people’s calculations the most dangerous sort of disorder. The many opportunities delude people over the improbability Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [260] of winning. The cheapness of the betting encourages repeated attempts. Trouble, financial embarrassment, ruin, and crime are the results. The lower orders of society, victims of the seductive dreams with which they are intoxicated, commit crimes against the property within their reach, deluding themselves that a favorable outcome will permit them to hide their baseness by correcting it. No fiscal logic can justify institutions which entail such consequences.

From the fact that individuals have the right to demand that the way taxes are collected be the least onerous possible for those who pay them, it Edition: current; Page: [[214]] follows that governments must not adopt an essentially oppressive and tyrannical mode of administration in this matter. I want to speak about the practice of contracting out collection. This puts the governed at the mercy of certain individuals who do not have even as much interest as the government in treating them considerately. It is to create a class of men who, sanctioned by the force of law and supported by government, whose cause they seem to uphold, daily invent new harassments and call for the most sanguinary measures. Tax farmers in all countries are, so to speak, the natural representatives of injustice and oppression.8

chapter six: That Taxes Bearing on Capital Are Contrary to Individual Rights

Whatever the kinds of taxes a country adopts, they must bear on income and never encroach upon capital. This is to say that they must never confiscate more than part of annual production and never touch previously accumulated assets. These assets are the sole means of reinvestment, of feeding the workers, of generating abundance.9

Though governments and many writers fail to recognize it, this proposition can be proved evidentially.

If taxes are trained on capital rather than on income alone, the result will be capital diminished each year by a sum equal to what the tax extracts. By this very fact annual reinvestment is diminished proportionately to the diminution of assets. This diminution Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [261] in reinvestment, diminishing incomes and the tax remaining the same, every year a larger sum of assets will be confiscated and therefore every year a smaller sum of incomes will be reinvested. This double progression is exponential.

Imagine a landowner who makes his property worthwhile. He needs three things: his land, his personal industry, and his capital. If he had no land, his capital and his industry would be pointless.10 Without his industry, his land and capital would be unproductive. If he had no capital, his industry would be pointless and his land sterile, since he would not be able to supply the funding indispensable to his production; he would not have the wherewithal for farming, fertilizing, sowing, or livestock. These are all the things which constitute his capital. Therefore whichever of these three Edition: current; Page: [[215]] things you attack, you impoverish the taxpayer equally. If, instead of taking away from him each year some of his capital, you take away some of his land, equivalent to some given sum, what will happen? In the next year, in taking away from him the same amount of land, you will deprive him of a relatively larger part of his property and so on and on, until he finds himself utterly dispossessed. The same happens when you tax his capital. The effect is less obvious but no less inevitable.

For any individual, whatever work he does, his capital is to him what a plough is to the farmer. Now, if you take from the farmer a sack of wheat he has just gathered, he goes back to work and produces another the following year. If you take his plough, however, he cannot produce more wheat.

Let it not be thought that the economizing of individuals can remedy this setback, creating capital stocks afresh. If you tax capital, you diminish individual incomes by taking away the means of replenishing these incomes. On just what are they then supposed to economize?

Let it not be said either that capital reproduces itself. Capital is only accumulated assets, gradually taken out of income. The more you encroach on capital, the more income declines, the less asset accumulation can happen, and the less capital can reproduce itself.

The State which taxes capital therefore prepares the ruin of individuals. It gradually takes away their property. Now, the security of that property being one of the State’s obligations, it is apparent Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [262] that individuals have the right to reassert that obligation against a system of taxation with results contrary to that end.

chapter seven: That the Interest of the State in Matters of Taxation Is Consistent with Individual Rights

Let us now show that the interest of the State in matters of taxation is consistent with individual rights. For unfortunately it is not enough to show what is just. One has also to convince government that what is just is no less functional.

We have shown the iniquity of the land tax when it exceeds the level necessary to make landowners contribute their due part in the payment of taxes. The same tax is hurtful to government both by being expensive to collect and by its effects on agriculture. It keeps the majority of the working class in poverty. It keeps a crowd of workers employed only to collect it in barren activity. It soaks up assets which, not being reinvested, are removed Edition: current; Page: [[216]] from individual wealth and lost to public wealth. Our costs of enforcement, our innumerable deputy bailiffs, the armed force spread over the countryside to effect the gathering of overdue taxes should have convinced us of these truths. It has been shown that the raising of 250 million via this mode of taxation entailed 50 million just in enforcement costs. As a result the nation most famous for its adroit financial management, so far from making the land tax the basis of its revenue, does not take it any further than to a twelfth of total taxation.11

We have condemned taxes on patents as assaults on the sacred rights of work, assaults aimed at the occupations the poor man can engage in. By reason of its organization, this tax is one of the least easy to collect and involves the most unproductive efforts, that is to say the most losses to the exchequer.

We have said12 that taxes became contrary to individual rights when they authorized persecutory investigations. We Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [263] cited the Alcavala in Spain, a tax which subjected every sale of any article, whether transferable assets or real estate, to a charge. Don Ustariz considers it the cause of the decay of Spanish finances.13

We have rejected taxes which encourage fraud. Is there any need to show how deadly this struggle between government and citizens is? And can one not see at a glance that it is ruinous even in financial terms? We added that when excessive taxes wiped out a branch of commerce, this was an attack on industry. Spain was punished for just such an attack. Several of her mines in Peru remain undeveloped because the tax due to the King absorbs the whole output of their proprietors. This hurts both the treasury and individual people.14

We condemned lotteries, though their revenue is easily collected, because they have the effect of corrupting men. Governments themselves, however, pay the penalty for that corruption. First of all, the harm lotteries do to production diminishes reinvestment and therefore national wealth. Secondly, the crime they cause among the working class is, when we put all moral questions to one side and think of it only in fiscal terms, a public expense. Thirdly, minor officials let themselves be seduced by the spell of lotteries, and the costs fall on governments. There were under the Directory in a single year twelve million francs’ worth of bankruptcies among tax collectors, and it was shown Edition: current; Page: [[217]] that about two-thirds of these collectors had been ruined by the lottery. Finally, the gathering of a tax of this sort, though easy, is nonetheless expensive. To make lotteries pay, you must multiply the temptations, and to multiply the temptations you must also multiply the offices. Hence the high collection costs. In M. Necker’s day, income from the lotteries stood at 11,500,000. Collection cost 2,400,000 or close to 21 percent, such that the most immoral tax was at the same time the most costly to the state.15

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [264] We showed lastly that taxes should never bear on anything save incomes. When they cut into capital, first of all they ruin individuals and then the government. The reason is simple.

All men with some idea of political economy know that expenditures fall into two types: the productive and unproductive. The first are those which create wealth, and the second those which create nothing. A forest which is cut down to build ships or a town is used up as much as one consumed by a fire. In the first case, however, the fleet or city which has been built more than replaces the forest which has disappeared; in the second only ashes remain.

Unproductive expenditures can be necessary. Each person commits part of his income to food. This expenditure is unproductive but indispensable. A state of war with neighboring countries consumes a part of public resources for the subsistence of the armed forces and so that they may be supplied with the war munitions needed for attacking and defending. This is not wasted expenditure though it is an unproductive one. Even so, if unproductive expenditures are often necessary to secure the lives or security of individuals and nations, it is only productive expenditures which can augment the wealth of either. That which is consumed unproductively is always an excusable and legitimate loss when the need requires it, but crazy and inexcusable when it does not.

The money called into play between all productions as a medium of exchange has served to spread a certain obscurity on this question. Since money is used without destroying itself, it has been believed that however it was used, it came to the same thing. It ought to have been thought that money could be used for reinvestment or it could be used without producing anything. If a government spends ten million making an army march in different directions or on giving magnificent parties, spectacles, illuminations, dances, firework displays, the ten million thus consumed is not destroyed. The nation is not made poorer by ten million. Yet this ten million Edition: current; Page: [[218]] has produced nothing. The society retains only the ten million it originally possessed. If, on the contrary, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [265] this ten million has been used to build factories or buildings suitable for any kind of manufacturing or industry, to improve land, in brief, to reinvest in some commodity, the nation would have had on the one hand the ten million consumed in this way and on the other the assets this ten million would have produced.

I would like to expand somewhat on this important subject, since there is a disastrous viewpoint which holds that all the uses of capital are the same. This opinion is popularized by all those who benefit from government squandering and by those who repeat on trust maxims they do not understand. Doubtless money, the sign of wealth, does no more in all cases than pass from one hand to another. But when it is used in reinvestment expenditures, then its value is twofold; when the expenditure is nonproductive, there is only one value. Since in order to be dissipated in unproductive expenditures, money is snatched away from the class which would have used it productively, the nation, if not made poorer in money terms, is deprived of all the production which has not taken place. The nation keeps the sign but loses the reality. The Spanish example is sufficient instruction to us that the sign of money is anything but real wealth.

It is therefore certain that the only means of prosperity for a nation is the use of capital in productive expenditures.

Now, even the wisest governments cannot use funds taken from individuals except in unproductive expenditures. The costs of the salaries of public functionaries of all sorts, the maintenance of order, of the law courts, of war finance, of all branches of the civil service, are expenditures of this type. When the State uses only a part of income for these expenditures, the assets remaining in the hands of individuals secure the necessary reinvestment. If the State deflects assets from their intended purpose, however, reinvestment shrinks, and since it becomes necessary then every year, as we have shown above, to confiscate proportionately more assets, reinvestment will finish by ceasing completely and State and individuals alike will be ruined.

“Just as the wastrel who consumes beyond his income,” says Ganilh in his history of public revenue,16 “diminishes his property by the whole amount by which he has exceeded his income and soon sees income and property disappear, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [266] the State which taxes property17 and consumes its product like income, is marching to certain and fast-approaching decadence.”

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So then, in matters of taxation as in all things, the laws of equity are the best ones to follow, even were one to think of them only in terms of their utility. The government which violates justice in the hope of some wretched gain pays dearly for this violation; and the rights of individuals should be respected by governments even when these have only their own interests in mind.

chapter eight: An Incontestable Axiom

In indicating, as we have done in this section, necessarily in a very abbreviated way, some of the rules regarding taxation, our intention was to suggest to the reader ideas he could enlarge on, rather than develop any of them. This task would have taken us well beyond the confines we have set ourselves. One incontestable axiom no sophism can obfuscate is that any tax, of any sort, always has a more or less unfortunate influence.18 If the use of the tax sometimes produces a benefit, its levying always produces an ill.19 The ill may be necessary. Like all such ills, however, it must be rendered as small as possible. The more resources are left at the disposal of individual activity, the more a State prospers. A tax, just because it takes some portion or other of these resources away from those efforts, is inevitably harmful. The more money is taken away from the various nations, says M. de Vauban in The Royal Tithe,20 the more it is taken away from commerce. The best-employed money in the realm is that which stays in the hands of individuals, where it is never pointless nor idle.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [267] Rousseau, who was uninformed in things financial, followed many others in saying that in monarchies the excessive surplus of the subjects must be consumed in the opulence of the prince, because it was better that this surplus be absorbed by government than dissipated by individuals.21 This doctrine reveals an absurd mix of monarchical prejudices and Edition: current; Page: [[220]] republican opinions. The prince’s opulence, far from discouraging that of individuals, gives it encouragement and example. It must not be thought that in despoiling them he is reforming them. He can plunge them into poverty; but he cannot bring them back to innocence. All that happens is that the poverty of some occurs in combination with the opulence of others, the most deplorable of all combinations.

Equally inconsequent arguments have concluded that because the most heavily taxed countries, such as England and Holland, are also the richest, they are richest because most heavily taxed. They take the effect for the cause. “People are not rich because they contribute. They contribute because they are rich.”22

“Everything which goes beyond real needs,” says a writer of incontestable authority on this subject,23 “loses its legitimacy. The only difference between personal violations and those of the sovereign, is that the injustice of the former results from straightforward ideas which everybody can easily distinguish, while the latter are linked to mixed causes as vast as they are complicated, such that no one can judge them other than conjecturally.”

chapter nine: The Drawback of Excessive Taxation

Everywhere that the constitution of the State does not block Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [268] the arbitrary proliferation of taxes, everywhere the government is not held up by insurmountable barriers to its ever growing demands, as when no one ever contests them, neither justice, nor morality, nor individual freedom can be respected. Neither the government which takes away from the laboring classes their hard-won subsistence, nor these oppressed classes who see that subsistence snatched away to enrich greedy masters, can stay faithful to the laws of equity in this scandalous struggle of weakness against violence, of poverty against greed, of want against theft. Any pointless tax is a theft which the force accompanying it renders no more legitimate than any other outrage of this nature. It is a theft all the more odious in being carried out with all the solemnity of the law. It is a theft all the more culpable in that it is the rich who carry it out against the poor. It is a theft all the more cowardly in that it is committed by an armed government against the unarmed individual. Government itself will not have to wait long to be punished for it.

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The people in the Roman provinces, says Hume,24 were so oppressed by the tax gatherers, that they threw themselves joyfully into the arms of the barbarians, happy that these coarse, plain masters offered them a domination less greedy and rapacious than the Romans.

chapter ten: A Further Drawback of Excessive Taxation

It would be yet a further mistake to suppose that the disadvantages of excessive taxation are limited to the poverty and privation of the people. A greater evil results, one which it seems to me has till now not been sufficiently remarked on.

The possession of great wealth inspires in individuals immoderate desires, whims, and fantasies which they would not have felt in more modest and restrained circumstances. It is Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [269] the same with governments. Excessive opulence intoxicates them, as does excessive power, because opulence is a kind of power, indeed the most real kind. From this flow your unreal public squares, your immoderate ambitions, your gigantic projects, which a government with only basic resources would never think of. Thus the people are not poor only in that they are taxed beyond their means, but poorer still from the use their government makes of their taxes. Their sacrifices turn against them. They no longer pay taxes to have peace assured by a good system of defense. They pay them to have war, because the government, proud of its huge wealth, invents a thousand pretexts for spending this in ways it calls glorious. The people pay, not so that good domestic order will be maintained, but on the contrary so that an insolent government,25 enriched with its spoils, can with impunity disturb public order with its harassments. In this way a nation which has no safeguard against the proliferation of taxes, purchases by its privations misfortune, trouble, and danger. The father pays for his son to be snatched out of his arms and sent to die far from his country. The farmer pays so that his fields will be devastated by a mob fed on the money he has contributed. In this situation the government is corrupted by its wealth and the people by its poverty.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK XII: On Government Jurisdiction over Economic Activity and Population

  • Ch. 1. Preliminary observation. 227
  • Ch. 2. On legitimate political jurisdiction vis-à-vis economic activity. 228
  • Ch. 3. That there are two branches of government intervention with regard to economic activity. 228
  • Ch. 4. On privileges and prohibitions. 229
  • Ch. 5. On the general effect of prohibitions. 247
  • Ch. 6. On things which push governments in this mistaken direction. 248
  • Ch. 7. On the supports offered by government. 251
  • Ch. 8. On the equilibrium of production. 255
  • Ch. 9. A final example of the adverse effects of government intervention. 258
  • Ch. 10. Conclusions from the above reflections. 259
  • Ch. 11. On government measures in relation to population. 260
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chapter one: Preliminary Observation

In the enumeration of inalienable individual rights at the beginning of this work,1 I did not include the freedom of economic activity. The most enlightened philosophers of the last century, however, have shown the whole evidential case against the injustice of the restrictions experienced by this freedom in almost all countries. They likewise showed, just as clearly in my view, that these restrictions were as pointless and misconceived as they were unfair.

This last point nevertheless still seems doubtful to many people. One would need volumes to clarify the case in a way that would seem satisfactory to them. The principles of economic freedom rest on a multitude of facts, and each fact which seems contrary to it demands, in order to give way to its correct perspective, a long and detailed discussion.2 Freedom of commerce is useful only when it is scrupulously observed. A single violation, spreading uncertainty through the whole system, destroys all its benefits, and governments then turn their very faults to advantage in order to justify their intervention. They argue from the imperfect, sometimes dire results of precarious and restricted freedom, against the invariably salutary results of full and well-established freedom. Consequently, I did not wish, although all questions of this kind are interlinked, to put commercial freedom and civil freedom at the same level, for fear that the men who would disagree about Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [276] the former might be just as likely to dispute the important principles on which the felicity of civil society and the security of citizens are based. Nevertheless, certain moral considerations struck me which return to the subject of this work and which in moral terms decide the issue in favor of freedom, as well as yet further observations and facts which also decide in the same way in the case of economic activity. I thought I ought not to hold these back. But I beg the reader not to forget, though, that this section is not a treatise in commercial economy and contains just some general reflections which I expressly separate from the rest of my research, so that my mistakes, if I have made any, or the disagreement my opinions in this matter might encounter, will not bear on the other questions I have Edition: current; Page: [[228]] discussed. I could be wrong in my claims about freedom of production and trade without my principles of religious, intellectual, and personal freedom being weakened by this.

chapter two: On Legitimate Political Jurisdiction vis-à-vis Economic Activity

Society having no political prerogatives over individuals except when these prevent them harming each other, likewise economic activity, unless taken to be injurious, is subject to no such jurisdiction. But one man’s economic activity cannot hurt his peers, as long as he does not invoke in favor of his own activity and against theirs, help of another sort. It is in the nature of business to struggle against rivals, by way of perfectly free competition and efforts to attain an intrinsic superiority. All other types of means it might try to use constitute not economic activity but oppression or fraud. Society would be in the right, indeed, even obliged, to stop this. From this right which society possesses, however, it follows not at all that it has the right to use against the economic activity of one person, in favor of another’s, means which it must forbid equally to all.

All the objections brought together in Book X against the obstacles put in the way of property’s being possessed or Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [277] transferred acquire a double force when they are applied to production. These objections are based for the most part on the ease with which prohibitive laws are eluded and on the corruption entailed by the opportunities men get to disobey the laws. Now, the nature of economic activity offers far more openings to secret and unpunished transgressions than the nature of landed property.

chapter three: That There Are Two Branches of Government Intervention with Regard to Economic Activity

Government intervention with regard to economic activity can be divided into two branches: prohibitions and supports. Privileges must not be separated from prohibitions, because necessarily they imply them.

Since we want to give examples here rather than examine all parts of the economic system, we will take at random some of the prohibitions most used by most governments, ones which consequently at least have in their favor the support of the governing class. We will not say anything about those whose absurdity, long denied, is now generally recognized.

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chapter four: On Privileges and Prohibitions

What is a business privilege? It is the use of the power of political authority to pass to some men advantages which it is the aim of society to guarantee to everyone. England did this when before the union of Ireland with that kingdom, she banned the Irish from almost all forms of foreign trade. This is what she does today when she forbids all English people to set up in the Indies any trade Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [278] independent of the company which has seized that vast monopoly. This is what the Zurich bourgeoisie did, before the Swiss revolution, by forcing those in the surrounding countryside to sell, only to them, almost all their commodities and all their manufactures.

This is manifestly injustice in principle. Is there any value in the practice? If the privilege is extended only to a few, doubtless some value accrues to these few. It is value of the kind, however, which goes with all spoliation. This is not what we intend or not at least admit to intending. Does it have any value for the nation? Undoubtedly not, since in the first place the vast majority of the nation is excluded from the benefit. There is therefore uncompensated loss for this majority. In the second place, the branch of industry or trade which receives the privilege is being taken care of more negligently and less economically by those whose gains are secured by the simple effect of the monopoly than would be the case if competition obliged all the rivals to outdo each other in their application and skill. Thus the national wealth does not derive from this economic activity the whole benefit it could. Therefore there is relative loss for the whole nation. Finally, the means which government must use to keep the privilege going and forcibly keep people not privy to it from competing are inevitably oppressive and vexatious. Once again, therefore, the entire nation suffers a loss of freedom. Thus we have three real losses which this type of prohibition entails, and compensation for these losses is reserved for a mere handful of privileged people.

The trite excuse made for privileges is the inadequacy of individual resources and the value of encouraging combinations to make up for this. People make too much of this inadequacy, however, just as they do of this need.3 If individual resources are insufficient, perhaps some individuals will be ruined, but a small number of examples will enlighten all the citizens, and a few private misfortunes are much better than the incalculable mass Edition: current; Page: [[230]] of misfortune and public corruption which privileges bring in. If the State wished to oversee individuals in all the operations through which they might potentially harm each other, this would amount to restricting almost all freedom of action. Once Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [279] having set itself up as the citizens’ guardian, it would soon become their tyrant. If combinations are necessary for a vital branch of production or long-distance commerce, combinations will form and individuals will not struggle against them, but try to join them in order to share their advantages. If existing combinations refuse this, we will soon see new combinations forming, and the ensuing rival competition will be more active. Let government intervene only to maintain both combinations and individuals in their respective rights and within the limits of justice; freedom will see to the rest, and successfully at that.

It is a mistake, moreover, to look on commercial companies as beneficial by their very nature. Any powerful company, says an author well versed in this matter,4 even when it trades only in competition with individual enterprises, ruins them first of all by lowering the prices of merchandise; then, when they are ruined, this company, now the only one in business or almost such, ruins the country by raising prices. Afterward, its excessive profits leading its employees into negligence, it ruins itself. We see in Smith, Book V, ch. 1,5 through numerous incontestable examples, that the more English companies were exclusive and granted large privileges and the more they were rich and powerful, the more drawbacks marked their histories and the more they ended badly. By contrast, the only ones which succeeded or sustained themselves were companies limited to a modest capital, made up of a small group of individuals, employing only a few workers, that is to say, in their administration and resources coming as close as can be to small firms. The Abbé Morellet in 1780 counted fifty-five companies set up since 1600, invested with exclusive privileges in different European countries, which had all finished up bankrupt.6 Companies which are Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [280] too powerful are like all forces which are too strong, as with States which are too strong. They begin by devouring their neighbors and then their subjects, and then destroy themselves.

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The only circumstance which justifies the establishment of a company is when individuals come together to set up, at their own peril and risk, a new branch of trade with distant and barbarous peoples. The State may then grant them, as compensation for the dangers they face, a few years of monopoly. Once the term expires, however, the monopoly must be abolished and free trade be reestablished.7

One can cite isolated facts in favor of privileges, and these facts seem all the more conclusive in that we never see what would have happened if these privileges had never existed. I affirm in the first place, however, that if we bring time into the reckoning—something which we seek vainly to dispense with—and do not give way to puerile impatience, freedom always ends up producing, uncontaminated by any evil, the same good we might strain to force into place by way of privileges bought at very harmful cost. Secondly, I declare that if there existed a branch of industry which could not be developed except by our bringing in privileges, then its drawbacks are such for the morals and freedom of the nation that no advantage would compensate for them.8

Too many writers before me have denounced wardenships, guild masters, and apprenticeships for me to enter into long detail on the subject. These institutions are privileges of the most iniquitous and absurd type, most iniquitous because the individual is permitted the work which keeps him from crime only at the good Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [281] pleasure of another; most absurd because under the pretext of the perfecting of crafts, obstacles are put in the way of competition, the surest spur to such perfecting. The interest of buyers is a much safer guarantee of the quality of production than arbitrary regulations, which, coming from a government which inevitably confuses everything, does not distinguish clearly between the various trades and prescribes apprenticeships as long for the easiest as for the most difficult. It is bizarre to imagine the public a bad judge of the workers it employs and to think that government, with so much else to do, will be better informed as to what dispositions must be made in order to appraise their merits. It has no choice save to rely on men who, forming an organized group within the State, have a different interest from the mass of the people and who, working on the one hand to reduce the number of producers and on the other to raise the price of the goods, render them at once more faulty and more expensive. Experience has everywhere pronounced against the Edition: current; Page: [[232]] alleged value of this mania for regulation. The English towns where trade is most active, which have experienced in a very short time the greatest growth and where production has been carried to the highest degree of perfection, are those which have no charters9 and where there exist no corporations.10

Even more outrageous and vexatious, because it is more Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [282] direct and undisguised, is the rigging11 of daily wages. Smith says this rigging is the sacrifice of the greater to the smaller party. I will add that it is the sacrifice of the poor to the rich party, of the hardworking party to the idle, at least comparatively, of the party which already suffers from society’s harsh laws, to the party which chance and social institutions have favored. One could not without pity take stock of this struggle of poverty against greed, where the poor man, already burdened with his needs and those of his family, having no hope save in his work, and unable to wait for an instant without his very life and the lives of his loved ones being threatened, meets the rich man, not only strong in his wealth and in his power to constrain his adversary by refusing him that work which is his only resource, but reinforced still further by oppressive laws, which fix earnings without regard to the circumstances, the skill or the zeal of the workman. And let no one think this rigging necessary to put down exorbitant claims and the rise in labor costs. Poverty has humble demands. Does not the workman have hunger pressing at his back, leaving him scarcely an instant to discuss his rights and disposing him all too readily to sell his time and effort below their worth? Does not competition settle the price of labor at the lowest level compatible with physical subsistence? In Athens, just as in France today, the journeyman’s wage was equivalent to four people’s food. Why impose regulations when the nature of things settles the case, without oppression or violence?

The rigging of the price of labor, so fatal to the individual, absolutely does not work to the public advantage. Between the public and the workman there stands a pitiless class, the masters. They pay as little and demand as much as possible and thereby profit uniquely at once from the needs of the workers and of the leisured class. What a strange complication in social Edition: current; Page: [[233]] institutions! There exists an abiding source of equilibrium between the price and the value of labor, one which acts without force, in such a way that all calculations are reasonable, and all interests happy. This source is competition. But it is thrust aside. Obstacles are put in competition’s way by unjust regulations. Then people want to restore equilibrium by equally unjust regulations, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [283] ones which have to be maintained by punishments and harsh controls.

Governments resemble Molière’s doctors in almost everything they do. When they are told of what has been established and organized by nature, they endlessly reply: we have changed all that.12

The laws against products of foreign manufacture are designed to get or constrain the inhabitants of a country to make themselves what they would otherwise buy abroad. These laws are necessary therefore, in the actual understanding of the government which imposes them, only when such products could be acquired more cheaply abroad than they can be produced. For in the case of the opposite supposition, personal interest on its own suffices to ensure that individuals will manufacture themselves what would cost them more if they bought it ready-made. Even when prices are equal, a country’s own products have a great advantage. “Sale,” says an author of repute,13 “is a kind of prize for winning the race, and foreign goods start from further off.”

Is it an advantage, however, for a nation to set up manufactures on its own territory which, in order to furnish it with a certain money income and quantity of production, absorb more funds than the purchase of these products would have required? We can reply in the affirmative only in supposing that if these funds were not thus employed, they would not be employed at all. Now, this supposition is clearly absurd. If these funds were not employed in this way, they would be employed in some other way and more advantageously. This is to say that with a portion of these resources one would buy products which the whole lot of them is now used in producing, while the remainder would be redirected to some other branch of production Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [284] which it would vitalize. Governments, in forcing their subjects to manufacture themselves things they would not voluntarily have manufactured, force them to employ their resources inefficiently. They diminish the output of their capital and their labor. They therefore diminish their wealth and thereby the national wealth.

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Adam Smith’s ingenious comparison in this regard has often been cited.14 I cite it again, because the evidence with which he has enveloped this truth seems scarcely to have convinced those in charge of States. In Scotland, one could, he says, by using hothouses, forcing beds, and glass frames, make very good grapes grow, from which one could also make extremely good wine, thirty times dearer than one can buy from abroad. If that seems absurd, it is equally so to require the manufacture in a country of something that manufactured thus would cost twice as much again, as much again, or even half as much again, as the same thing coming from abroad. The absurdity seems stronger because the sum strikes us more; but the principle is equally insane.15

Is it feared that free importation of foreign merchandise may encourage a nation into laziness by relieving it from the necessity to work to procure what it needs? But what it does not procure for itself by direct work, it must obtain by an outlay of funds, and to acquire funds it must work. Only full freedom will permit it to choose the most profitable types of production and perfect itself therein, in dedicating itself to them more exclusively. For the division of labor has the same result for the products of nations as for those of individuals. The prohibition of foreign goods tends to deprive a people of the advantages of the division of labor. This people then resembles an individual who, far from devoting himself solely to a job which would make him rich, wishes on his own, and through his own work, to make his tools, fashion his clothes, prepare his food, build his house. Splitting himself thus between various jobs, in order to take away from the workers in each one of them the benefit they deserved, he would stay wretched and poor in the midst of his fruitless, interrupted efforts.

Among a people still in the infancy of civilization, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [285] frequent recourse to manufactures from outside can retard the establishment of home manufactures. But since it is very probable that the government of such a people will itself be extremely ignorant, there is little to hope for from its efforts in support of business. One should resign oneself and wait. There is no case of a nation which was not industrious having been made forcibly so by government. There is a very good reason for this. The government which forces men toward any end whatsoever is an arbitrary and vicious government and can do nothing well.

As for industrious nations, it suffices to leave each individual perfectly free in the deployment of his capital and his labor. He will discern better Edition: current; Page: [[235]] than any government the best use he can make of them. If such economic activity is advantageous, he will not let foreigners reap its profits. If he does abandon some other comparable economic activity to them, this is because he has found a third which is more profitable.

Barriers against the importation of foreign goods are ill-advised for yet another reason. If you stop foreigners from selling to your subjects, with what do you expect them to buy from them? The richer a people are, the more the nation maintaining commercial relations with them gains by these relations. But to stop a people selling their products is to do all one can to impoverish them. It is therefore to do all one can to diminish the profits one could extract from trading with this people.

But when foreigners refuse to take our country’s products, must we, someone will say, allow the free importation of theirs? When a people close their territory to your goods, this is either to make them themselves, or to favor some other nation. In the first case, one of two things happens. Either they manufacture these goods more cheaply than they would buy them from you, and then the prohibition is without effect since your products would always be at a disadvantage, or they will manufacture them more expensively and pay more for goods of lower quality. Yours, better and cheaper, will be smuggled in. The nation which wanted to keep them out impoverishes itself because it diverts funds from profitable uses into manufacturing objects it would be better to buy elsewhere. It imposes on itself constraints which hurt it in a thousand ways. The State struggles vainly against a smuggling which frustrates all its efforts. Individuals suffer from the obstacles they encounter at almost every step. The vices of such a system soon make themselves felt; and if you have kept to one based on complete freedom, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [286] beyond all doubt the nation which had deviated from this will find it in its interest to come back.

If this nation rejects your goods in favor of merchandise from another country, the question is once again almost the same. Either the products of the favored nation are better than yours, with the same outcome as would obtain without the prohibitions, or these productions are inferior and yours will prevail sooner or later.

The drawback to reciprocal action is that it engages people’s pride and in this way prolongs the stresses and the uneasiness. It no longer suffices that he who was first in error sees this and corrects himself. It calls for a coming together of two wills not able to agree in the swift succession of events. Injustice leads on to injustice; reciprocal prohibitions perpetuate prohibitions.

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There are few questions on which governments talk as much nonsense as they do on reciprocity. The argument here constantly serves them in the maintaining of laws whose fatal consequences they cannot dispute. The law of aubaine16 is proof of this. Because neighboring countries have made a law preventing our fellow citizens from settling among them, we quickly make a law stopping our neighbors from settling among us.17 A marvelous vengeance this! If on the contrary we had not stupidly followed their example, we would gain from their bad law, since our fellow citizens, driven from their place, would stay with us, wealth and all. And we would profit even more from not having made a similar law, because our neighbors, welcomed by us, would freely bring us their business and their assets.

Be just with the just. You owe it them. But be just even to those who are unjust. It is the best way to get them to bear the pain of their injustice, while leaving them free to repair it.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [287] The same motives which have led governments to put barriers to the importation of foreign products have led them to ban the export of gold or silver specie. Just as a number of philosophers have taken words, the signs of ideas, for ideas themselves, administrators have mostly taken money, the sign of wealth, for wealth itself.

It would nevertheless be easy to show that specie is exported from a country only when this is advantageous to it. In fact, it is exported only when it provides a means of acquiring externally, by exchange, a greater value than the same volume of specie would purchase internally. Now, it is clear that by this operation one enriches the country into which this greater value is made to enter.18

When there is too little specie in a country, it is useless to prohibit its exportation. For the specie being worth more in this country than in any other, individuals have an interest in not having it exported. When, on the contrary, there is in a country more specie than the needs of commerce and Edition: current; Page: [[237]] circulation demand, it is fatal to forbid its exportation. What results from this is that all goods and activities cost proportionately more in this country than everywhere else. Then this State can only buy and never sell.19 It can buy because in buying it can tolerate the loss occasioned by the low value of its money. But it cannot sell, because it cannot find purchasers willing to resign themselves to tolerating that loss. In that way the enforced superabundance of the specie is fundamentally harmful to economic progress.

If we consider specie in the most usual way, that is, as a medium of exchange, its exportation must remain free. It will not be exported unprofitably, and if it is exported to advantage, the total of public wealth increasing by Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [288] the amount the individual gains, the whole nation will benefit. We can also, however, think of specie as a manufacture, and as such, as something whose exportation is worth encouraging.

Among almost all peoples, the manufacture of money not being costless, its exportation is as advantageous to the State which mints it as that of any other manufactured good. How singularly illogical are our statesmen-financiers! The trade in jewelry is regarded as lucrative, although it dispatches gold and silver abroad, and the exportation of money, whose production brings a return of the same kind, and which, therefore, is nothing other than a national manufacture, is envisaged as a calamity. It has to be said that governments, until now, have not had the first idea about the questions on which they have piled up law after law.

It must readily be acknowledged, however, that some governments find it convenient rigorously to prohibit the exportation of specie. These are governments so unjust, so arbitrary, that each man works secretly to escape their yoke. Then, no doubt, specie is exported without any advantage coming back to the country thus governed. It is exported at any price, even at loss, because everyone acts as if in a fire, randomly hurling the furniture he wants to save, far from the blaze, without troubling himself over the damage it will suffer from its fall, certain that he will conserve only what he has been able to get away from the devastating element. In this case, no doubt, frontiers must be watched, so individuals can be stripped of their sad and last possession. The exit of specie must be stopped, as must the exit of persons. Just so must the privacy of letters be violated, and in a word all the faculties, all the rights, all the freedoms of man be interfered with. All these faculties, freedoms, and rights are, unwittingly, in permanent conflict with oppression. And as everything in Edition: current; Page: [[238]] nature tends to free itself from despotism, despotism cannot permit anything, cannot leave anything free in nature.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [289] Governments have made two kinds of laws prohibiting commerce in grain. The first kind express their wish that the trade in this commodity be made directly between producer and consumer, without a group able to intervene between them, buying from the former and reselling to the latter. Hence the regulations against speculators. The second kind express the wish that no exportation of food products shall happen. Hence the severe penalties in some countries attaching to the export of grain.

The pretext for the first kind of laws was probably that a middleman class between consumer and producer, having to find a profit in the trade it was undertaking, tended to raise the price of the commodity, and being able easily to take advantage of circumstantial difficulties, had the dangerous ability to push prices disastrously high.

The reason for the second kind of laws was fear that undue exportation might entail famine.

In both cases the intentions of governments were praiseworthy; but in both cases they took wrong means and failed in their purposes.

All the advantages of the division of labor are found in the establishment of a middleman class, placed between the grain producer and the consumer. These middlemen have more funds than the producer and more resources for setting up warehouses. Dealing solely with this trade, they can study better the needs they undertake to meet. They free the farmer from having to get involved in speculations which absorb his time, divert his resources, and drive him into the middle of towns, where he loses his morals and dissipates his savings, a quadruple loss for agriculture. No doubt the middlemen have to be paid for their trouble. But the farmer himself has to be paid for this same trouble, which he takes less effectively and skillfully, since it is not his main activity, and at greater cost consequently. This extra expense comes back to the consumer, whom people thought they were helping. The middlemen who are proscribed as the cause of famine and high prices are precisely those who put obstacles in the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [290] way of high prices becoming excessive. They buy corn in the years of overabundance and thereby prevent its falling too low in price, or its being squandered or frittered away.20 They withdraw it from the market when its oversupply, occasioning a disastrous price fall for the farmer, would discourage the latter and lead him to neglect or imprudently limit production the following year. When the need makes itself felt, they put back what they have amassed into Edition: current; Page: [[239]] the market. In this way they come to the help, at one time of the producer, in sustaining his commodity at a reasonable price, at another of the consumer, by reestablishing plentiful supply of this commodity at the point where its market price exceeds certain limits.21

They produce, in a word, the effect one hopes for from state-instituted warehouses, with the difference that warehouses managed and watched over by individuals, whose sole business they are, are sources neither of abuses nor waste, unlike everything which is publicly managed. They perform all this good out of personal interest, no doubt, but the fact is that under freedom’s dispensation, personal interest is the most enlightened, constant, and useful ally of the general interest.

The talk is of hoarding, of machinations, of coalitions between hoarders. Who cannot see, however, that freedom alone supplies the remedy to these ills? The remedy is competition. There would be no more hoarding if everyone had the right to hoard. Those who held back their commodities to get an excessive price for them would be victims of their calculation, as absurd as it is wicked, since others would reestablish a state of plenty, contenting themselves with a modest return. The laws remedy nothing, because they are eluded. Competition remedies everything, because personal interest cannot stop competition when the government allows it. But as laws lead to their authors being talked about, people always want them, and as competition is a thing which speaks for itself and no one sings its praises to governments, governments despise and misunderstand its advantages.

If there have been hoarding and monopolies, this is because the commerce in grain has always been hit with regulations and surrounded by fears. Therefore it has never been other than a suspect commerce, mostly a clandestine one. Now, in things commercial, everything which is suspect, everything clandestine, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [291] becomes vicious; everything authorized, everything public, becomes honest again.

To be sure, one has scarcely grounds for astonishment that an economic activity proscribed by government, stigmatized by an erroneous and violent public opinion, menaced by severe, unjust legal punishments, and yet further menaced by the rifling and pillaging of a mistaken populace has to this day been an activity undertaken only by stealth, by greedy and vile men, who, seeing society in arms against them, have made it pay, whenever they could, in times of crisis, for the ignominies and dangers with which it surrounded them. Access to a natural and vital activity has been closed to all Edition: current; Page: [[240]] merchants who care about their safety and honor. How could so mistaken a policy not have issued in a premium for adventurers and rogues? At the first sign of dearth, on the first suspicions of government, the warehouses were broken into, the grain was carried off and sold below market price, with confiscation and fines and with the death penalty pronounced against proprietors.22 Did not proprietors have to indemnify themselves against these obstacles, by pushing to excess all the profits they could extract by fraud, in the midst of the perpetual hostility exercised against them? With nothing assured in their legitimate profit, they had to turn to illegitimate kinds, by way of indemnity. Society had to pay the penalty for its folly and rage.23

The question of grain exports is even more delicate to deal with than that of the warehouses. Nothing is easier than painting a touching picture of the misfortune of the poor and the hardness of the rich, with a whole nation dying of hunger, while greedy speculators export grain, the fruit of their labor and sweat. There is a slight drawback to this way of considering things, namely that everything sayable about the danger of free exportation, which is only one of the functions of property, can be said with no less force and just as much foundation, against property itself. True, nonowners are in all respects at the mercy of owners. If one wants to assume that the latter have a strong interest in crushing, oppressing, and starving the former, an abundance of the most pathetic pictures will result from that supposition.

That is so true, that the opponents of freedom of exports have always been forced to offer some insults in passing to the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [292] proprietors. Linguet called them monsters24 whose prey must be snatched from them, without our being upset by their howling; and the most enlightened, the most virtuous, and the most respectable of defenders of the prohibitive system ended by comparing proprietors and those who spoke in their favor to crocodiles.25

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I would wish to envisage this matter from a point of view such as to push to one side all the ranting and thereby move forward on a principle all interests might adopt. Now, the principle is this, if I am not mistaken.

For wheat to be plentiful, there must be as much of it as possible. For there to be as much as possible, we must encourage production. Everything which encourages production of wheat favors abundance. Everything which discourages this production calls directly or indirectly to famine.

Now, if you wished to encourage production of a manufacture, what would you do? Would you reduce the number of buyers? Certainly not. You would increase them. The maker, sure of his sales, would increase his production, insofar as this increase were in his power. If, on the contrary, you diminish the number of buyers, the maker would cut his production. He would not wish it to exceed the amount he could get rid of. He would calculate, therefore, with scrupulous exactness, and as it would be much more annoying to him to have too few buyers than too many, he would cut his production in such a way that it fell short of rather than beyond the strict minimum.

Which is the country where most watches are made? I think it is the one where the watchmakers export the most. If you forbade the exportation of watches, do you think more would stay in the country? No; but there would be fewer made.

The case with grain, as to production, is the same as with other things. The mistake made by apologists for prohibitions Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [293] is to have considered grain as an object only of consumption, not production. They have said: the less is consumed, the more is left. False reasoning, in that grain is not a preexisting commodity. They ought to have seen that the more limited consumption is, the more production will be restrained, and that in consequence the latter will soon become insufficient for the former.

For grain production differs from that of ordinary manufactures in that it depends not solely on the manufacturer but also on the seasons. The producer, however, forced to limit his production, can calculate only on an average year basis. The result of his limiting his output to the strict minimum is that if the harvest falsifies his calculations, his output, thus limited, is inadequate. The majority of farmers, no doubt, do not limit their production deliberately. But these very people are put off by the idea that their work, should it be favored by nature, may not be profitable, that their commodity may not find buyers and therefore be a liability to them. Though they do not form any plan according to such considerations, they are more negligent in their cultivation. Earning less accordingly, they have fewer funds to put into their cultivation, and so production falls.

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In preventing the export of wheat, therefore, you do not ensure that the surplus wheat necessary to the provisioning of a country stays in it, you ensure that it does not get produced. Now, since it can happen through the inclemency of nature that this surplus becomes necessary, you are ensuring that the minimum is missing.

To forbid exporting is to forbid selling, at least above a certain measure, since, once the home market is provided for, there are no buyers for the surplus. Now, to forbid selling is to forbid producing, since it takes away from the producer his reason for acting. Forbidding exports is therefore in other words forbidding production. Who could believe that this is the chosen way to keep production ever abundant?

I cannot leave this subject. Obstacles to exporting are an attack on property. Everybody agrees. Now, is it not clear that if property is less well respected, when it is associated with grain, than with any other commodity, then for purposes of sale people will prefer to hold a surplus of any other commodity rather than of grain?

If by turns you allow and forbid exportation as you please, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [294] then your permission, never bearing except on existing production and always subject to your revocation, will never constitute a sufficient encouragement to future production.

I wish to reply to an objection. I said elsewhere26 that the high price of indispensable primary commodities seemed to me fatal to the people, because daily earnings did not rise proportionately. Will not the export of wheat, someone will say, bring about an increase in the price of the commodity? It will probably prevent the price falling very low. If, on the other hand, however, the prohibition of exports stops the grain from being produced, may not the price increase perhaps be more inevitable and excessive?

Do you think you can enforce the production of grain? I should like to see you try. You will prevent owners from taking their land out of wheat production. Straightaway this is another surveillance. But will you oversee how they cultivate too? Will you oblige them to arrange the funding, dress the soil, get hold of the requisite manures, and all to produce a commodity, which if it is abundant will be impossible for them to sell and costly even to keep? When a government wants its own way to be done in a single thing, it soon finds itself reduced to doing everything.

I have not put forward other reasons for free exportation because they have been developed a thousand times. If wheat is dear, people will not Edition: current; Page: [[243]] export it, since at the same price, it is better to sell it on the spot than to export it. People will export it, therefore, only when it is good to do so. You can suppose universal dearth, with famine in your own country or in neighboring ones. Then you will need singular laws for a singular disaster. An earthquake which threw all farm holdings into confusion would demand special legal arrangements for a new sharing out of real estate. One takes special measures for distributing subsistence food in a beseiged town. But to make habitual legislation for a calamity which has not taken place naturally once in two centuries is to turn legislation into a habitual calamity.

Nature is not reckless with her hardships. If we compared the number of dearths which have been caused by truly bad years with those caused by regulations, we would be pleased at how little ill comes to us from nature, and we would tremble at the ill which comes to us from men.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [295] I would have liked to take a middle course on this question. There is a certain credit for a moderation which it is pleasant to attribute to oneself and which it is not hard to acquire, provided one is not very sincere. One testifies in this way in one’s own favor for having properly looked at both sides of questions, turning one’s hesitation into a discovery. Instead of being right against a single view, one appears to be in the right against two. So I would have preferred to find as a result of my investigations that the government can be left the right to allow or forbid exportation. In trying to determine the rules according to which it should act, however, I felt I was plunging again into the chaos of prohibitions. How will the government judge, for each province, at a huge distance, and remote from others, circumstances which can change before knowledge of them gets to it? How will it stop fraud by its agents? How will it guard itself against the danger of taking a momentary blockage for a real dearth, or a local difficulty for a universal disaster? Lasting general arrangements based on brief and partial difficulties produce the ill we want to prevent.27 The men most lively in recommending this versatile legislation do not know how to go about it when it comes to the means of carrying it out.28

If there are drawbacks in everything, leave things be. At least the people’s suspicions and the injustices of government will not be joined with nature’s calamities. Out of three scourges you will have two less, and you will have moreover this advantage—that you will get men used to not regarding Edition: current; Page: [[244]] violation of property as a resource.29 Then they will seek and find other ones. If on the contrary they notice the former, they will always come back to it because it is the swiftest and the most convenient.

If you justify, as being in the public interest, the obligation imposed on owners to sell in a particular place, that is to say, to sell at a loss, given that they could sell better elsewhere, you will end up fixing the prices of their commodities. The one will be no more unjust than the other and will easily be represented as equally necessary.

Therefore I admit only very few exceptions to the complete freedom of Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [296] commerce in grain, as in any other commodity; and these exceptions are purely circumstantial.

The first is the situation of a small country, without territory, obliged to maintain its independence against powerful neighbors. This little country could establish warehouses so that others did not seek to subjugate it by starving it, and since the administration of such a country is like that of a family, the abuses of these warehouses would be largely avoided.

The second exception is a sudden and general famine, the effect of some unforeseen cause, natural or political. I have already spoken of this above.

The third is at once the most important and the most difficult to resign oneself to. Its necessity results from popular prejudices nourished and sacralized by the rooted habit of error. It is certain that in a country where the commerce in grain has never been free, sudden freedom produces a fatal disturbance. Opinion revolts, and its blind and violent action creates the ills which it fears. Therefore we need, I admit, to exercise great care to bring the people around on this subject to the principles closest to justice and truth. The shocks are painful, on the right road as well as the wrong; but the government which does this decent thing often only with regret does not devote much zeal to the prevention of these shocks, and educated men, when they succeed in dominating it by force of enlightenment, too often believe they are engaging it more by dragging it into precipitate measures. They are not aware that this is to furnish it with specious pretexts for retrogressing. This is what happened in France around the middle of the last century.

The question of the rate of interest is perhaps the one which for some time had been best argued. In our times, some men, probably tired of seeing people agreeing on this question, have begun considering it again from a Edition: current; Page: [[245]] theological viewpoint.30 I hardly feel inclined to see it in Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [297] this light. I will say, though, that even religiously the prohibition of all interest is an absurd precept, because it is an unjust and moreover inoperable one. Religion does not at all fault the owner of land for living on the income it yields. How can it forbid the owner of capital to live off its income? This would be ordering him to die of hunger.

If you then turn the precept into advice, this change will have only one advantage, that people will no longer think themselves so guilty for disobeying it. Lending without interest might be an act of charity, like almsgiving; but this can never be other than an individual act, and you cannot make it a habitual rule of human conduct. It is useful for society that funds be employed. It is therefore useful that those who do not use them themselves lend them to others to use them. But if funds do not yield any income when they are lent, people would rather bury them than lend them, since they avoid the dangers of the loan.

Government has only three things it can do in this regard. It must stop fraud, that is, prevent abuse of youth, inexperience, or ignorance, stop people lending to children, minors, and any whom the law regards as incapable of watching over their own interests. For this purpose it suffices that government does not recognize any contracts such persons may enter into.

Secondly, it must guarantee legitimate compacts and ensure their carrying out. The easier and more assured this is, the more the rate of interest will come down. For lenders always get themselves paid for the risks they incur.

Finally, government must determine a legal rate of interest just for the case where the debtor, depositary, holder of a sum does not make it good by the time and on the conditions agreed. This legal interest rate must be as high as possible, for if it were less than the ordinary rate of interest, the fraudulent debtor would find himself enjoying resources retained against all justice, more advantageously than the honest debtor who had borrowed it with its owner’s consent.31

All further intervention in this matter by government is iniquitous and off target. Restricting the charging of interest promotes usury. Capitalists need, on top of the natural rate of profit for the funds they lend, a “risk premium” against the laws they infringe. This rule of nature Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [298] has made itself respected in all eras, in spite of all regulations. Popular power Edition: current; Page: [[246]] in Rome, religious power among Christians and Moslems have equally failed against it.32

I find two errors on this subject in the work of two equally famous and estimable writers, Adam Smith and M. Necker.

The former says that the legal rate of interest33 must not be raised too high, or the bulk of the money lent will go to spendthrifts, only they being willing to pay so dear. In this way the country’s resources will be taken out of hardworking hands and passed over to men unable to do other than dissipate and destroy them.

This author forgets, however, that spendthrifts who dissipate the funds they borrow are rarely in shape to pay them back after they have dissipated them. Consequently the vast majority of lenders will always prefer to high but precarious returns, lower, safer ones. They will entrust their funds, therefore, to the hardworking, thrifty class who, borrowing only to engage in profitable speculation, can meet obligations by the due date.

M. Necker too34 approves of government fixing the legal rate of interest. “Lenders are in general,” he says, “only inactive proprietors. Borrowers, on the contrary, have a purpose, an activity from which society benefits in some way. So when there are conflicts over the rate of interest, the government ought to want the advantage to belong to them.” But if the advantage belongs to borrowers, when the rate of interest is disputed, lenders will have themselves compensated for the disadvantage to their side. The borrowers we believed we were helping will carry the burden. This is inevitable and will work against the purpose M. Necker wishes the government to have in mind. He feels this himself, since he adds: “since the relationships which determine the interest rate are more powerful than government, sovereigns can never hope to control it by way of imperious laws.”35 But how else other than by laws will government intervene in the contestations between lenders and borrowers? “The profits of agriculture,” he continues, “and those of all enterprises which Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [299] are not unique and privileged, cannot bear the expense of an interest rate above ordinary usages, and it is absolutely no help to production to favor the position of the lenders.”36 Is it not clear, however, that those who borrow for farming or industrial enterprises will not be Edition: current; Page: [[247]] tempted to pay an interest rate greater than their profits? And will those who borrow for dissipation be checked by laws which are easy to elude? Regulations are superfluous for the former, illusory for the latter.

When interest is banned, it takes all sorts of forms. It disguises itself as capital. What else is selling dearer on credit than having oneself paid the interest on one’s money?

Except in the circumstance we spoke of above, that of capital illegally retained by a debtor, the rate of interest must not be fixed. The rate, like the price of all goods, should be regulated by demand. To fix the rate of interest is to fix the maximum price of capital, and a maximum price of capital has the same effect as one for commodities. It causes the flight of what can be placed elsewhere and makes what is sold in contravention of the law more expensive.

Without doubt there is a moral element in this question. But opinion alone can pronounce on this moral element, and it always does so wisely. Solon37 did not want to fix the interest rate in Athens. Those who demanded unreasonable rates of interest there, however, were regarded as infamous.

You fear the excesses of clandestine usury. Yet it is your prohibitions which bring it to this level. Let all transactions be out in the open. Public scrutiny will moderate them.

chapter five: On the General Effect of Prohibitions

Prohibitions in the matter of industry and commerce, like all other prohibitions and more than all the others, put individuals at odds with the government. They form one nursery Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [300] for men preparing for every kind of crime by accustoming themselves to violate the laws, and another for men familiarizing themselves with wickedness, by living off the misfortune of their fellows.38 Not only do commercial prohibitions create artificial crimes, but they encourage the committing of these crimes by the profit which they attach to the fraud which is successful in deceiving them. This is a drawback on top of those which other prohibitive laws have.39 They tend to be traps for the poor, that class already surrounded by irresistible temptations, of which it has rightly been said that all its actions are hasty,40 Edition: current; Page: [[248]] because want presses on it, its poverty robs it of any enlightenment, and obscurity frees it from the force of opinion.

I said at the start of Book XII that I did not place the same importance on freedom of production as on other types of freedom. Nevertheless, the restrictions obtaining here involve laws so cruel that all others feel their effects. Look at the riots in Portugal occasioned first by the privileged position of the Company of Wines, riots requiring barbarous punishments, whose spectacle discouraged commerce, riots leading finally to a succession of constraints and cruelties which brought a host of proprietors to tear up their vines themselves, destroying in their despair the source of their riches, so that these would no longer furnish a pretext for all kinds of harassment.41 Look at the severity in England, the violence and the despotic acts which the exclusive privileges of the East India Company42 entail to keep themselves going. Open up the statutes of this otherwise humane and liberal nation. There you will see the death penalty multiply for actions impossible to consider criminal.43 When we examine the history of English settlements in North America, we see, so to speak, every special privilege followed by the emigration of the nonprivileged. The colonists fled in the face of Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [301] commercial restrictions, leaving lands they had scarcely finished clearing, to regain their freedom in the forest, asking from a savage nature a refuge from the persecutions of society.44

If the system of prohibitions has not destroyed all the enterprise of the nations it harasses and torments, this is, as Smith remarks,45 because each individual’s natural effort to improve his lot is a repairing principle, which in many respects remedies the bad effects of administrative regulation, just as the life force struggles, often successfully, in the physical organization of man, against the illnesses which flow from his passions, intemperance, or laziness.

chapter six: On Things Which Push Governments in This Mistaken Direction

It is all the more important that these truths make some breakthrough in the outlooks of government, in that each category of proprietors, makers, and manufacturers endlessly begs the intervention of government against Edition: current; Page: [[249]] everything which diminishes its immediate profit, whether by useful discoveries or some kind of new production; and it has to be feared that the governors may take the interests of these groups to be those of society. These two sets of interest are, for all that, almost always mutually opposed.46

The demands addressed to government by those in trade, to prevent competition, the installation of equipment, improvement in communications, and proliferation of commodities, could be translated thus: allow us alone to buy or sell such and such an object, so that we can sell it to you dearer. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [302] Is it not odd that such demands have been welcomed so often?

When profits fall, business people are inclined to complain of the decline of trade. The diminution in profits is, however, the natural effect of progressive prosperity. Business profits fall: 1. Because of competition. 2. Because earnings rise, as a result of competition which increases labor prices. 3. By the increased flow of capital into commerce, which lowers the rate of interest. Now, these three causes of the diminution in profits are three signs of prosperity. This, however, is when business people complain and appeal about it to government, for special intervention,47 such that in the event, business people call for the intervention of government against commercial prosperity.

When the commercial mind mingles with the administrative one and dominates it, a thousand errors and ills ensue. Nothing is more dangerous than the habit and means used by individual interest to attain its purposes Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [303] transported into the administration of public affairs. Doubtless, the general interest is only the joining of all private ones. It is the joining of all these interests, however, by the cutting off of that part of each one which hurts the others. Now, it is precisely this part to which each private interest attaches the most value, because this is what in each circumstance is the most profitable to it. It follows from this that the private interest, which is very enlightened when it reasons on what matters to it and on what it must do, is a very bad guide when people want to generalize its reasonings and make them the basis of an administrative system. We see an individual enriching himself through a monopoly, and without reflecting on the fact that this is at the nation’s expense, we establish monopolies precisely as a means of wealth for the nation in question, when the reality is that they impoverish and despoil it. This is because governments are ordinarily Edition: current; Page: [[250]] steered toward these stances by men imbued with mercantile prejudices; and by a singular contradiction, but one they do not notice, by basing their prohibitive measures on the blindness or harmful tendency of special interests, they constantly institutionalize the calculations of special interest, as rules of their public conduct.

What we say about the business outlook does not apply solely to the group which is called “business” to distinguish it from other groups. This outlook becomes common to all people in society who harvest, produce, or accumulate in order to sell. Thus farmers contract the business outlook when it comes to selling grain, and we see them drawn into the same errors as men involved in purely mercantile speculation. Did not the owners of vineyards in France ask the King’s Council in about 1731 to forbid the plantation of new vineyards?48 Did not landowners in counties near London petition the House of Commons, for no large roads to be opened to the more distant Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [304] areas, for fear that the wheat from these areas, arriving more easily in the capital, might lower the price of theirs?49 If rentiers dared, they would speak about falling interest rates the way business people do of falling profits. A rentier, having for long lent his money at ten percent and now finding he can place it only at five percent, would ask nothing better than to say that the country he lived in was going to ruin because he was finding himself less well off there. He would most readily solicit the government for measures to stop interest rates falling. It is nevertheless incontestable that a fall in interest rates proves the prosperity of a country and a rise proves its bad financial situation.

In industry, prohibitions are the type of arbitrary measure which some men can use against others; and just as in civil disagreements they seek to seize arbitrary power instead of destroying it, in the cause of trade they seek to seize control of arbitrary regulations. They almost never protest against prohibitions in general, but strive to have them put to their advantage. Following the introduction of silk manufacture, under Henry IV, the cloth manufacturers demanded these manufactures be banned.50 Following the introduction of cotton stuffs, the silk manufacturers called for a prohibitive law against them. Following the invention of prints, cotton manufacturers represented them as a frightful calamity.51 If all this pleading had been Edition: current; Page: [[251]] listened to, France would have neither silks, nor cottons, nor prints. Each manufacture, like each newborn religion, claims freedom. Each manufacture, like each established religion, preaches persecution.

What is most fatal in regulations is that motivated by necessity which does not exist, they sometimes create it. Men arrange their calculations and their habits according to regulations, which then become as dangerous to revoke as they are troublesome to maintain.52

M. de Montesquieu, as a judicious writer observes,53 had only very superficial ideas about political Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [305] economy. We must avoid taking him for a guide in this matter. Everything he explained as regards institutions he believed he justified; the discovery of the motive made him indulgent of the institution, because it made him pleased with himself. Speaking of the system of prohibitions in England, he said, “they obstruct the trader, but this is in favor of the trade”;54 he would have been more correct to say: they obstruct the trade in favor of some traders.55

chapter seven: On the Supports Offered by Government

A regime of subsidies and various supports has fewer disadvantages than one based on monopolies. It seems to me dangerous, though, in several respects.

First, one must fear that government, once it has arrogated to itself the right to intervene in the affairs of business, if only through supports, may soon be pushed, if the incentives are not enough, to have recourse to measures of constraint and harshness. Government rarely resigns itself to not taking revenge for failed policies. It runs after its money like some gambler. While the latter appeals to luck here, however, government often appeals to force.

Secondly, there is also the worry that government, by its unwonted incentives, may deflect funds from their natural usage, which is always the most profitable one. Funds move of their own accord to their most profitable employment. To attract them there, there is no need for supports. For those which would stand to lose, supports would be fatal. Any industry Edition: current; Page: [[252]] which cannot stand independently of government help finishes up second-rate.56 The government then pays individuals to work at a loss, and thus seems to be indemnifying them. Since the indemnity cannot be drawn other than from taxation, however, it is, in a word, private individuals who Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [306] bear the burden. Finally, government supports seriously attack the morality of the working classes. Morality is constructed from the natural sequence of causes and effects. To upset that sequence is to damage morality. Anything which brings chance among men corrupts them. Anything which is not the direct, necessary, and habitual effect of a cause, pertains more or less to hazard. What makes work the most efficacious cause of morality is the independence of other men in which the working man finds himself, and the way he depends on his own conduct, on the order, continuity, and regularity he puts in his life. Such is the real cause of the morality of those groups busy with routine work, and of the immorality so common among beggars and gamblers. These last are of all men the most immoral, since of all men they count the most on chance.

Supports and help for business by government are a kind of game. It is impossible to suppose that government never grants its help and its supports to men who do not deserve them nor never grants more of these than the objects of this favor deserve. A single mistake of this kind turns supports into a lottery. A single eventuality is enough to bring hazard into all calculations and therefore to destabilize them. The probability of the chance does not matter, since imagination trumps the calculation. Even the distant, uncertain hope of government help casts into the life and reckoning of the hardworking man an element quite different from the rest of his existence. His situation changes, his interests become complicated. His condition becomes open to a sort of speculation. This is not your peaceful merchant or manufacturer, who made his prosperity depend on the wisdom of his speculations, on the quality of his products and the approval of his fellow citizens, accorded for the regularity of his conduct and in recognition of his sobriety. This is a man whose immediate interest and pressing desire is to attract government attention to himself. The nature of things, for the good of the human race, once put an almost insurmountable barrier between the great mass of peoples and those who held power. Only a small number of men were condemned to run hither and thither in the political sphere, to speculate in favor, to grow rich on corruption. The rest followed their road peacefully, asking government only to guarantee their peace, and the Edition: current; Page: [[253]] exercise of their faculties. If government, however, discontented with this salutary function and committed through generosity or promises made in the presence of all, provokes hopes and creates passions which did not exist before, then everything is Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [307] turned upside down. Without doubt this will spread a new activism among the business class. This is a vicious activism, though, one more concerned with the external effect it produces than with the solid basis of its own work, which pursues publicity rather than success, because success is seen as possible even from a meretricious publicity, an activism which in short turns the whole nation reckless, restless, greedy, rather than thrifty and hardworking as it would have been.

And do not imagine that in substituting for financial incentives, motives drawn from vanity, you will be acting less harmfully. Only too often governments number charlatanism among their means. It is easy for them to believe that their mere presence, like that of the sun, vivifies the whole of nature. So they display themselves, they talk and smile, and in their view their performance should be honored for centuries. This is once again, however, to take those who must work for their livelihood away from their natural employment. It is to give them the need for credit. It is to inspire in them the desire to exchange their commercial relationships for supple ones, those of a clientele. They will learn courtly vices without at the same time the elegance which at least veils them.

The two hypothetical situations most favorable to a regime of government incentives or supports are, without question, on the one hand when one is establishing a branch of production as yet unknown in a country, one demanding large prior investments, on the other the help which has to be given to certain business or farming classes, when unforeseen calamities have considerably diminished their resources.

I am not sure, however, whether even in these two cases, except perhaps for some very rare circumstances, for which it is impossible to establish fixed rules, government intervention is not more harmful than advantageous.

In the first case, the new branch of production, protected thus, will undoubtedly establish itself sooner and more widely; but resting more on the help of government than on calculated management by individuals, its foundations will be weaker. The individuals involved, indemnified in advance for potential losses, will not bring the same zeal and care as if they had been left to their own devices and could not expect any success save what they deserved. They will rightly flatter themselves that the government, in a way committed by the first sacrifices it has agreed to, will come to their help once more, if they fail, so as not to lose the fruits of its Edition: current; Page: [[254]] sacrifices; and this Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [308] lurking thought, different in nature from that which must act as a spur to business, will always more or less damage their activity and efforts in a perceptible way.

Moreover, in countries used to the meretricious help of government, it is assumed much too readily that such and such an enterprise exceeds individual means. This is a second cause of the slackening off of the particular industry. It waits for the government to supply the stimulus, because it is used to the government’s making the first move.

In England scarcely does a discovery become known before numerous subscriptions provide the inventors with all the means of development and application. The whole point is that these subscribers examine the promised advantages much more carefully than a government could, since the interest of all those in business on their own account is not to let themselves be deceived, while that of most of those who bank speculatively on government help is to deceive the government. Work and success are the only means open to the former. Exaggeration or patronage are for the latter a much more certain and above all swifter way. Systematic reliance on supports is immoral in principle in this respect too.

True, individual effort, deprived of all outside help, sometimes comes to a halt in the face of obstacles. But first it will turn to other projects and secondly it will assuredly regroup its resources to return to the attack, sooner or later, and overcome the difficulty. Now, my assertion is that this partial and short-lived difficulty will be nothing like as disadvantageous as the general disorder and discontinuity which any artificial aid brings into ideas and calculations.

Almost identical reasoning applies in the case of the second hypothesis, which at first glance seems even more legitimate and favorable. In coming to the help of the business or farming classes, their resources depleted by unforeseen and inevitable calamities, the government first of all weakens in them the feeling which gives most energy and morality to man: that of total obligation to oneself and of putting hope only in one’s own resources. Secondly, the hope of such help encourages classes in distress to exaggerate their losses and conceal their resources, in this way giving them an interest in lying. I agree that this help may be distributed prudently and parsimoniously. But what may not hold for its effect on people’s affluence may hold for the effect on their morals. The government Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [309] will nonetheless have taught them to rely on others instead of on themselves alone. It will go on to disappoint their hopes; but their work will still have slackened as a result of all this, and their veracity will still have suffered a change. If they do not Edition: current; Page: [[255]] get government help, this will be because they have not learned a sufficiently skillful deception. Finally, government runs the risk of finding itself deceived by unreliable agents. It cannot follow in detail the carrying out of its orders, and cunning is always more skillful than surveillance. Frederick the Great and Catherine II used a system of supports for agriculture and industry. They frequently visited in person the provinces they thought they had helped. Well-dressed, well-fed men were put along their route, in apparent proof of the affluence resulting from their generosity, but assembled to this effect by the distributors of their grace, while the true inhabitants of these regions were groaning in the depths of their huts, in their age-old poverty, ignorant even of the intentions of the monarchs who thought themselves their benefactors.

In countries with free constitutions, the question of a regime of incentives and supports can moreover be considered from another point of view. Is it salutary that the government should attach to itself certain groups of those it governs by handouts which even were they wisely distributed are intrinsically arbitrary? Is it not to be feared that these groups, seduced by immediate and positive advantage, might become indifferent to violations of individual freedom or justice? One would then be right to think of them as suborned by government.

chapter eight: On the Equilibrium of Production

To read a number of writers, you would be tempted to think that nothing could be more stupid, less enlightened, or more careless than individual interest. They gravely inform us sometimes that if the government does not promote agriculture then all labor will turn Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [310] toward manufacturing and the fields will lie fallow, sometimes that if the government does not promote manufactures, then all labor will stay in the countryside, that the product of the land will be far more than is needed, and that the country will languish without trade or industry.57 As if it were not clear on the one hand that agriculture will always take account of a people’s needs, since artisans and manufacturers must always have the means of feeding themselves, while on the other that manufactures will always increase as soon as agricultural products are sufficiently plentiful, since individual interest will push people into applying themselves to something more lucrative than Edition: current; Page: [[256]] increasing commodity production, where quantity will reduce price. Governments can change nothing with respect to men’s physical needs. The output and prices of products, of whatever sort, always comply with the demands arising from these needs. It is absurd to believe that when those who take up a line of work find it useful, this will not itself suffice to increase the scale of production. If there is more labor than is needed to release the fertility of the soil, the people will naturally turn their labor to other branches of production. They will feel, without the government warning them about it, that beyond a certain point competition destroys the advantages of the job. Individual interest will by its very nature be sufficiently stirred, without government support, to seek out some more profitable job. If the nature of the terrain requires a large number of cultivators, artisans and manufacturers will not become more numerous, because a people’s first need is to subsist. A people never neglects its subsistence. Moreover, the farming sector being more crucial, it will for that very reason be more lucrative than any other. When there is no improper privilege such as may invert the natural order, the value of a line of work always comprises its absolute usefulness and its relative scarcity. The real stimulus for all types of work is how much they are needed. Freedom in itself suffices to keep them all in a salutary and accurate balance.

Outputs always tend to move to the level of needs, without government getting involved.58 When one kind of product is scarce, its price rises. With price rising, production, being better paid, attracts to itself activity and funds. The Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [311] result is that supply becomes more plentiful. With supply increasing, price falls. With price falling, some activity and some funds go elsewhere. Then with production shrinking, price rises again and activity returns, until output and price have attained a perfect equilibrium.

What misleads many writers is their being struck by the listlessness or malaise which the nation’s working classes experience under despotic governments. They do not go back to the cause of the evil, but delude themselves that it could be remedied by a direct action by the government in favor of the afflicted classes. Thus in the case of farming, for example, when unjust and oppressive institutions expose farmers to harassment by the privileged classes, country areas are soon fallow because they are depopulated. The farming classes flock as fast as they can to the towns to escape from their servitude and humiliation. Then idiotic theorizers recommend positive and preferential supports for farmers. They do not see that everything Edition: current; Page: [[257]] is interconnected in human societies. Rural depopulation results from bad political organization. Neither help to a few individuals, nor any other artificial and fleeting palliative, will cure it. Our only resource is in freedom and justice. Why do we always delay seizing it as long as possible?

Sometimes it is said that we should ennoble agriculture, lift it up again, render it honorable as the source of the prosperity of nations. Rather enlightened men have developed this idea. One of the most penetrating but most bizarre minds of the last century, the marquis de Mirabeau, repeated it endlessly. Others have said as much for manufacturing. But ennobling is done only by way of distinctions, if indeed ennobling happens at all, by way of distinctions thus deliberately contrived. Now, if work is useful, since it will be profitable, many will pursue it. What distinction do you want to accord to something commonplace? Moreover, the necessary work is always simple. Now, it does not lie within government discretion to influence opinion such that it will attach special merit to what everyone can do equally well.

The only truly imposing distinctions are those which indicate power, because they are real, and the power they embellish can act for good or ill. Distinctions based Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [312] on merit are always contested by opinion, because opinion always reserves to itself alone the right to decide what merit is. Power it must recognize, like it or not. Merit, however, it can deny. This is why the cordon bleu commanded respect.59 It established that whoever bore it was a great lord, government being very well able to judge that this or that man is a great lord. The cordon noir on the contrary was ridiculous. It declared the man decorated with it a man of letters, a distinguished artist.60 Now, governments cannot pronounce on writers and artists.

Honorary distinctions for farmers, artisans, and manufacturers are even more illusory. These groups want to reach affluence or wealth through work and peace of mind by the rule of law. They want none of your artificial distinctions, or if they do aspire to them, it is because you have perverted their intelligence by filling their heads with meretricious ideas. Leave them to enjoy in peace the fruits of their labors, the equality of rights, and the freedom of action which belong to them. You will serve them much better by not showering them either with favors or injustices, than in harassing them on the one hand or seeking on the other to honor them.

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chapter nine: A Final Example of the Adverse Effects of Government Intervention

I want to finish by showing that government intervention in questions of production is equally harmful whether it orders something or forbids the same thing. The example I use is the division of labor.

The division of labor has immense advantages. It facilitates increased output of all products, it economizes greatly on time and labor, it leads man to a perfection he cannot attain without it. It gives the businessman’s speculations a clarity, a precision and accuracy which simplify his operations and make his calculations more confident. It is therefore Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [313] certain that government does harm when it opposes the division of labor with prohibitive laws. This is what it did, as we explained earlier,61 with the commerce in grains, in forbidding the farmer to sell his wheat in bulk to those who wanted to hold it in warehouses. This resulted in countless difficulties for this trade, difficulties which often led to real famines or false alarms as troublesome as real famines.

If you conclude from this, however, that government, far from putting obstacles or limits to the division of labor, must actually prescribe it, what will happen? Along with its advantages, the division of labor has great drawbacks. It circumscribes and thereby narrows the intellectual faculties. It reduces man to the level of a simple machine. He can resign himself to this when his interest dictates this voluntarily. He would be hurt, however, by government action which, seeming to him against his interest, would appear gratuitously offensive and degrading. Nothing could be more unjust than preventing a skillful workman who can successfully combine two jobs from doing both or passing freely between them. It is clear, therefore, that the government does wrong to drive the division of labor by its regulations. This is what it did with the system of guild leaders and master craftsmen,62 which condemns the individuals in this or that job to follow no other. Edition: current; Page: [[259]] Everywhere we have seen these institutions harm the economy, encourage fraud, and even retard the progress of jobs whose perfecting they proposed to promote.

What must government do then? Stay out of it. The division of labor must limit and maintain itself spontaneously. When any division of labor is advantageous, it establishes itself naturally. When men in specialized jobs revert to combining two types of work, it is because this combination suits them better.

This example shows that government can do harm not only by acting in a certain way but also by acting in the opposite way. There are numerous circumstances when it can do good only by not acting at all. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [314]

chapter ten: Conclusions from the Above Reflections

As I said at the start of the foregoing reflections, I am absolutely not presenting a complete case for the very least interference by government in economic activity. A thousand arguments and facts crowd around me, all tending to supply ever stronger evidence for this principle. I am putting them aside, because I feel it is impossible to expound them on a satisfactory scale. Each fact in isolation may furnish an exception and it would require verification, that is, giving oneself over to local investigations, historical, geographical, and even political, to show either that the exception is not upheld or that it does not weaken the principle. In this treatise I cannot take on this workload. I think I have said enough, nevertheless, to show that the effect of government intervention in matters of production, though sometimes necessary perhaps, is never positively advantageous. We can resign ourselves to it as an inevitable ill; but we should always strive to limit this ill as closely as possible.

My views will probably encounter many opponents. This will not make me think them any less correct. In a country where the government hands out assistance and compensation, many hopes are awakened. Until such time as they have been disappointed, men are bound to be unhappy with a system which replaces favoritism only by freedom. Freedom creates, so to speak, a negative good, although a gradual and general one. Favoritism brings positive, immediate, personal advantages. Selfishness and short-term views will always be against freedom and for favoritism.

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chapter eleven: On Government Measures in Relation to Population

If governments have wanted to influence economic activity, they have similarly wanted to influence population and—who would believe it?—they have passed Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [315] coercive laws to force man to satisfy the sweetest penchant of his nature.

They thought they had an obvious interest in interfering with population. It constitutes their most concrete force. They did not know that their very bringing their power to bear on it could only harm it.

They were not short of a pretext. Domestic affections are the best guarantee of morality.

Celibacy favors disorder and selfishness. Marriage inspires in man more need for stability. What good reasons for coming down hard on celibacy and encouraging marriage!

It is a pity that a number of governments, in proscribing celibacy by law, reduce marriage to sterility by way of harassment and poverty.

Two kinds of causes can impede the population’s growth and make it smaller. Some influence population directly. These include epidemics, floods, earthquakes, emigrations, and lastly war, considered, not in its political aspect, but in terms of its immediate effect of devastating part of a country’s population. Others exert a mediate influence, institutional vices and government harassment being examples. The former destroy living people. The latter prevent the birth of those who would be born.

The marquis de Mirabeau, one of the most original minds of the last century, who in a singular mixture brought together very philanthropic ideas with a very despotic character, and a very sincere love of freedom with all the prejudices of the nobility and even of feudalism, showed very clearly in The Friend of Men that direct causes have a brief effect only, on population. “They say,” he says, with astonishment, “that after a time of trouble or calamity, a state is just as populous as it was before, while the buildings and roads, in a word, everything which indicates apparent prosperity, shrinks visibly because of the interruption to order and justice.”63 Indirect causes, seemingly less harmful, have much more extensive and lasting effects. This is because Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [316] they attack the population at its very root, that Edition: current; Page: [[261]] is to say, its means of subsistence. The peasant labors, builds, and gets married on fields turned topsy-turvy by earthquakes, after an epidemic or in the wake of an army which has ransacked his property, because he hopes the earthquake will not return, he sees that the epidemic has ceased, and because peace having been made, he thinks he is sure the ravaging army has moved away forever. But he works, builds, or marries only with anxiety under an oppressive government, which snatches from him the means of subsistence necessary to feed and raise his family.

Man very quickly gets over calamities which seem temporary to him. The dead leave the living better off and put more means of subsistence at their disposal. The latter multiply on account of the vacant places and the resources they find for living. Nature has placed the remedy alongside all the ills which come from her. She has endowed man with a faculty which seems like carelessness or improvidence but in reality is rational. He senses that natural misfortunes recur only at periods very distant from each other, while those born of the whims of fellow men weigh on him at every moment.

The vices of government prolong some causes of depopulation which, absent these vices, would be only short-lived. These causes should therefore be considered under two aspects, as harming the population directly and then harming them again insofar as they are multiplied by government errors. For example, the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors contributed to the depopulation of Spain only because that expulsion resulted from an oppressive and persecutory administrative system. For the same reason, the settlers who left that country for the New World have never been replaced, while a free nation can send numerous settlers abroad without its depopulating. In a free nation, everything which brings about a social vacuum, at the same time encourages all those who remain to fill it. The direct ill which causes war is soon corrected. When a government, however, can restart or prolong the war at will, this supposes a despotic will in this government, one which is a quite separate scourge from the war itself, one which, bearing down on the means of subsistence, prevents the population from growing and from filling the gaps which the war has occasioned.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [317] It is the same with celibacy. If some individuals do not marry and reproduce, there are others who will. But when celibacy results either from poverty or the absurdity of institutions, the evil is irreparable in a totally different sense. I will cite the marquis de Mirabeau again. He shows clearly that clerical celibacy in itself is in no way harmful to Edition: current; Page: [[262]] population.64 On the contrary, whenever a certain number of individuals manage by coming together to live from the product of a smaller section of land than would be needed for the subsistence of the same number of individuals in isolation, this coming together is favorable to the numerical growth of the species. The individuals who come together draw closer voluntarily and leave more space to others. It is never the population which is lacking, but space, that is, land, and above all the means of subsistence. Priestly celibacy, however, implies a more superstitious state of things, and therefore worse government. Such influences spread to everything. It is not because priests do not marry that the country becomes depopulated but because a government which consecrates priestly celibacy is an ignorant government. Now, ignorant government is always oppressive. It harasses men who marry, takes away their means of subsistence, pushes them into despondency, thereby prevents them from multiplying or, if they do multiply, causes their children to die from destitution or want.

The more populous and flourishing condition of the Protestant countries is attributed to the suppression of the celibate orders. It should have been attributed to the diminution of prejudices and the growth of civil freedom which the Reformation introduced into these countries.

It is not because a certain number of individuals have married that a population has increased, but rather that there have been a few more possibilities for scrutiny and a bit more enlightenment, first on one question and then, since all ideas are linked, on all the others. There follows a more just regime, less oppression, less poverty, and better subsistence. This leads me to regard as truly wretched the calculation by some governments which, not content with declaring the celibacy of priests purely voluntary, have sought to force into marriage men who thought themselves bound by conscience and the holiest of oaths to abstain from it. As if the marriage of a few religious would have been a truly efficacious means of population growth, and as if the birth Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [318] of a few more children were preferable to the refinements of honor and the virtues of scruple, which, whether rightly or wrongly founded, is still a virtue, in a word, as if man were an ignoble and pliant creature, cast on this earth only to obey and propagate.

When men have the wherewithal for subsistence, for them and their children, population increases. When they do not, either they do not marry Edition: current; Page: [[263]] or they have fewer children, or if they have children, most of these die young. The population always reaches the level of subsistence. In America the population doubles in twenty or twenty-five years. This is because work is so well paid that a large family, instead of being a burden, is a source of opulence and prosperity. “A young widow with four or five children” would hardly find a second husband in Europe “in the middle or lower classes.” In America, “this is a person sought after like a kind of treasure.” Smith, Book I, ch. 8.65 Writers have long talked the most bizarre nonsense about population. They have noticed isolated truths which they have not known how to reconcile nor to define clearly, and on the basis of a single inaccurate observation, they have aimed at constructing a set of laws. Governments which cannot have other than superficial ideas on anything, because they do not have time to check it out for themselves, have adopted now this set of laws, now that one, always on trust, which is a sure way of deriving no advantage, even from the truth.

It has been recognized that in a certain way poverty favored population growth. Beggars have many children. But the distinction between two kinds of poverty, that of the beggars and that of the laboring classes, has not been made. Vagabonds with absolutely nothing have many children, says Montesquieu. “It costs the father nothing to teach his art to his children, who are even, in being born, instruments of that art.”66 The people who are poor, however, only because they live under a harsh government, have few children. They do not have enough food for themselves. How could they dream of sharing it? If they live on little, this is not because they need little, but because they do not have what they need. Just as the little bit they need favors population growth among the beggars, so the little which the working classes possess goes against Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [319] growth in their numbers. Writers and governments have seen on the backs of beggar women, or round their huts, a crowd of wretched children. They have not lifted their gaze a year beyond, a time before which three-quarters of that unhappy generation were cut off by hunger. They have thus envisaged only half the question, and yet on the question considered in this way, the most inhuman system has been based.

The poorer people are, it has been said, the larger families are. A sophism, exclaims Montesquieu, “which has always ruined kingdoms and always Edition: current; Page: [[264]] will.”67 Population growth born of poverty has an evident limit, namely the death of that population because of this selfsame poverty which seemed at first to favor it. From another viewpoint it was clear that affluence favored population growth. It was thought that the luxury of the rich classes was a cause of affluence for the poor classes. There were two errors in this way of reasoning, however. First, the affluence which luxury produces is very uncertain and artificial. Luxury doubles consumption expenditures, soon rendering them disproportionate with the population. Neither the rich nor the poor multiply: the rich because they fear the privations a large family entails; the poor because of the suffering they undergo. Secondly, even true affluence favors population growth only to a certain degree. On the one hand, it makes numbers grow more, on the other it makes consumption expenditures grow. Now, the more consumption expenditures a country has, the less it can feed its inhabitants. To get the sums right, one would have to be able simultaneously to add to the means of subsistence and prevent the people from consuming more of them: an impossible task. An author who in recent years has been ridiculously mistaken about the principles of population is Sir Francis d’Ivernois in his Historical and Political Survey of the Losses Sustained by the French Nation. He has put the loss of life caused by the revolution at two million souls.68 And since according to Buffon’s calculations,69 Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [320] a marriage must produce six children to get two of them to the normal age of a man in replacement of father and mother, you therefore have, according to him, twelve million people less for the next generation. It is a pity, as Garnier observes,70 that he stopped after such a good start and did not push this Edition: current; Page: [[265]] learned reckoning one or two generations further. If he had, he would have found, from the second generation, a loss for France of seventy-two million inhabitants. Governments have no direct measure to take in relation to population. They must respect the natural course of things. Let people be happy, that is, let everyone be free to seek his own happiness, without hurting other people’s, and the population will be adequate.

All detailed legislation, the prohibition on celibacy, the stigmatizing, the penalties, the rewards for getting married—none of these artificial means ever achieves the purpose envisaged, and insofar as such means interfere with freedom, they are far removed from it. The laws enforcing marriage cannot enforce population growth. Since the law of Papia Poppaea71 forbade those who were not married to receive anything from strangers, either by the institution of inheritance or bequest, and those who being married had no children to receive more than half a legacy or bequest, the Romans contrived to repudiate their wives or make them abort after having a single child. Let us add that most of the governments which make laws against celibacy are like the Chinese scholars and mandarins who make long sermons Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [321] exhorting people to engage in farming, but who let their nails grow to preserve them from the very suspicion of being farmers.

What misleads superficial observers is that we sometimes see a flourishing of population in certain countries and simultaneously positive laws which encouraged the unmarried to wed. It was certainly not because of these positive laws, however, that the population flourished, but on account of other circumstances, all of which can be expressed in one word: freedom. What proves this is that in the same countries, these circumstances having changed, the population fell, although the laws remained the same or became even more severe. Consider the time of Augustus and the vain efforts of that emperor. When the vices of government do not put obstacles in the way of population, laws are superfluous. When they do, laws are bootless. The basis of population growth is growth in the means of subsistence. The basis of growth in the means of subsistence is security and calm. The basis of security and calm is justice and freedom.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK XIII: On War

  • Ch. 1. From what point of view war can be considered as having advantages. 277
  • Ch. 2. On the pretexts for war. 279
  • Ch. 3. The effect of the politics of war on the domestic condition of nations. 282
  • Ch. 4. On safeguards against the war mania of governments. 286
  • Ch. 5. On the mode of forming and maintaining armies. 289
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chapter one: From What Point of View War Can Be Considered As Having Advantages

We will not repeat here the endless denunciations of war. A number of philosophers, inspired by a love of humanity, in praiseworthy exaggeration, have seen it only from its adverse perspectives. I am happy to acknowledge its advantages.

War itself is not an evil. It is in man’s nature. It favors the development of his finest and greatest faculties. It opens up to him a store of exquisite pleasures. He is indebted to it as the protector of cherished objects of his affections. He cheerfully places himself between these and danger. He acquires largeness of spirit, skill, coolness, courage, scorn for death—without which he cannot be sure he will not commit all the dastardliness demanded of him. War teaches him heroic devotion. It makes him form sublime friendships. It joins him in the tightest of bonds with his companions in arms. It renders his fatherland real so that he will defend it. It brings in turn elevated endeavor and elevated leisure. Overlong periods of peace degrade nations and make them ready for servitude.

All these advantages of war, however, are subject to an indispensable condition, namely that it results naturally from the situation and character of nations. When war results only from the ambition of governments, from their greed, their policies and calculations, then war can bring only ill.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [334] Nations of warlike character are usually free nations, because the same qualities which inspire love of war fill them with a love of freedom. Governments which are warlike against the national grain, however, are never anything but oppressive ones.

War is like all things human. They are all, in their day, good and useful. Outside it, they are all fatal. Likewise, when it is desired to uphold religion against the spirit of the age, it becomes a kind of mixture of mockery and hypocrisy. When, ignoring the peaceful character of peoples, one wishes to perpetuate war, it will consist only in oppression and massacre.

The Roman Republic, lacking commerce, letters, or art, its only domestic occupation farming, its only territory too confined for its population, surrounded by barbarian peoples, always menaced or menacing, followed its destiny in committing itself to nonstop military undertakings. A modern government which let itself be carried away by a rage for conquest, by an unquenchable thirst for domination, by endless projects of aggrandizement, Edition: current; Page: [[278]] and which believed it could imitate the Roman Republic, would face precisely this difference, that going against the tide of its nation and its era, it would be forced to resort to such extreme means, to such oppressive measures, to such scandalous lies, to such a multiplication of injustices, that the conquerors of its empire would be as wretched as the conquered. A people thus governed would be the Roman people, but without the freedom and the national commitment which make all sacrifices easy, without the hope every individual had of a share in the land, in short, without all the circumstances which in Roman eyes embellished this hazardous and stormy way of life.

The situation today prevents nations from being warlike in character. “The risks and fortunes of war,” says an estimable writer,1 “will never be able to offer a prospect comparable to that which today presents itself to the working man, in all countries, where work is paid the wages due to it.” The new mode of combat, the changes in weaponry, artillery: these have deprived military life of what used to be most attractive about it. There is no longer a struggle against danger; there is fatality. Courage today is no longer a passion; it is indifference. One Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [335] no longer tastes therein that joy in will and vitality, in the development of physical strength and the moral faculties, which made hand-to-hand combat so beloved of the heroes of antiquity and the knights of the Middle Ages. War has lost its greatest charms. Thus the time it could be loved has passed. We must not let ourselves be deceived by our memories, but envisage it in a new light, the only true one in our day, as a necessity to be endured.

Considered in this way, modern war is now only a scourge. In the case of commercial, industrious, and civilized nations, with lands sufficiently extensive for their needs, with links whose interruption becomes a disaster, with no prosperity or increase in affluence to be expected from conquest, war unsettles, without compensation, every kind of social guarantee. The domestic controls it seems to authorize put individual freedom at risk. It brings a destructive acceleration to legal processes both in terms of their sanctity and their purpose. It tends to represent all the adversaries of government, all those it regards with ill will, as accomplices of the foreign enemy. Finally, troubling the security of all, war also presses on the general wealth, through the pecuniary sacrifices to which all citizens are condemned. War’s very successes throw conquering nations into exhaustion. They lead only to the creation of States without bounds, whose governance Edition: current; Page: [[279]] demands limitless power and which, after having been during their span of life a cause of tyranny, are brought to collapse in the midst of crime, by countless disasters.

chapter two: On the Pretexts for War

Governments themselves have been forced to recognize these truths for some time, at least in theory. They no longer claim that the nations are there to establish, at the price of their blood and their poverty, the disastrous fame of some of their leaders. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [336] However despotic a modern leader, I think he would scarcely dare to present his subjects with his personal glory as compensation for their peace and their lives. Only Charles XII misconstrued his century thus.2 But since that revolution in ideas, governments have invented so many pretexts for war that the peace of nations and the rights of individuals are still far from guaranteed.

We will examine only very much in passing these various pretexts. National independence, national honor, the need to make our influence respected abroad, the rounding off of our frontiers, commercial interests. What else can I say? The fact is that this vocabulary of hypocrisy and injustice is inexhaustible.

What would one say of an individual who held his honor and independence compromised as long as other individuals possessed some honor and independence, and thought himself safe only when surrounded by slaves and trembling victims? Aside from the insolence and immorality of such a reckoning, this individual would be headed for destruction, precisely and solely because hatred would unite against him those whom his skill and daring had momentarily surprised and subdued. It is the same with a State. The independence of peoples rests on equity as much as force. The kind of force necessary to hold all the other peoples in subjugation is a situation against nature. A nation which places the guarantee of its independence, or to put it more accurately, its despotism, in such force, is in greater danger than the feeblest of nations, for all public opinion, all wishes, all hatred menace it. Sooner or later this hatred, this public opinion, these wishes, will break out and envelop it. Doubtless there is something unjust about these sentiments. A people is never guilty of the excesses its government Edition: current; Page: [[280]] makes it commit. It is the government which leads it astray, or more often dominates it without leading it astray. But the nations which are victims of its deplorable obedience cannot take into account the hidden sentiments to which its behavior gives the lie. They blame the instruments for the excesses of the hand which directs them. The whole of France suffered from Louis XIV’s ambition and detested it; Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [337] but Europe accused France of that ambition, and Sweden paid the penalty for the madness of Charles XII.

As for influence abroad, without our examining whether the excessive extent of that influence is not frequently a misfortune for a nation rather than an advantage, we have to consider the instability of all headstrong and disordered influence. Even when acceding to its momentary ascendancy, the world does not believe in its lasting character. Everyone in such a period, at such a given moment, will perhaps obey the dominant government. But nobody identifies its reckonings with his own. It is seen as a transient calamity. People wait until the torrent ceases to roll its waves along, sure it will perish one day in the arid sand and that they will sooner or later trample dry-footed on the earth its course has furrowed.

If the talk is of rounding off our frontiers, we will reply that guided by this pretext, the human species could never enjoy an instant of peace. No monarch to my knowledge has ever sacrificed a portion of his territory to give his lands a greater geometric regularity. So it is always outside that peoples wish to do their rounding off. This, then, is a dispensation whose basis moves to destruction of its own accord. It is one whose elements are at war and whose operation can rest only on the spoliation of the weakest, one which inexorably renders illegitimate the possessions of the strongest. International law could thereby be nothing more than a code of expropriation and barbarism. All the ideas of justice which the enlightened scholars of several centuries have brought into international relations, as into those between individuals, would be repelled and banished anew by this dispensation. The human race would step back toward those times of devastation and invasion which used to seem to us the opprobrium of history. The only difference now would be the hypocrisy, a hypocrisy all the more scandalous and corrupting in that no one would believe it. All words would lose their sense. That of moderation would presage violence, that of justice would announce iniquity. There is a theory of rounding off of frontiers which resembles, save for the good faith of those who profess it, ideal theories of the perfection of constitutions. This perfection is never attained, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [338] but every day it serves to motivate some new upheaval.

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Were someone to put forward the interests of commerce, I would ask whether people believed in good faith that we serve commerce by depopulating a country of its most thriving young men, uprooting the labor most necessary to agriculture, manufacturing, and other production, by raising between other peoples and oneself barriers sprinkled with blood? “War costs more than its expenses,” a wise writer has said; “it costs everything it stops from being earned.”3 Commerce rests on a good understanding of nations between themselves. It is sustained only by justice. It rests on equality. It prospers in peace. Yet it is for the sake of commerce that a nation is to be kept in nonstop wars, that universal hatred is to be heaped on its head, that the march is to be from one injustice to another, that every day credit is to be disrupted by violence, and that equals are absolutely not to be tolerated.

During the French Revolution a pretext for war hitherto unknown was invented, that of delivering nations from the yoke of their governments, which we took to be illegitimate and tyrannical. Under this pretext death and devastation were brought into places where men either lived peacefully under faulty institutions, ones nevertheless softened by time and habit, or had enjoyed for several centuries all the benefits of freedom. A period forever shameful, in which we saw a perfidious government inscribe sacred words on its guilty standards, to trouble the peace, violate the independence, destroy the prosperity of its innocent neighbors, adding to the scandal of Europe by lying protestations of respect for the rights of man and of zeal for humanity. The worst conquest is the hypocritical type, says Machiavelli, as if he had predicted our history. Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy.4

To give a people freedom in spite of itself is only to give it slavery. Conquered nations can contract neither free spirits nor habits. Every society must repossess for itself rights which have been invaded, if it is worthy of owning them. Masters cannot impose freedom. For nations Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [339] which enjoy political freedom, conquests have furthermore, beyond anything else we might hypothesize, this most clearly insane feature, that if these nations stay faithful to their principles, their triumphs cannot help but lead to their depriving themselves of a portion of their rights in order to communicate them to the conquered.

When a nation of ten million people governed by its representatives adds to its territory a province in which a million more live, what it gains is the Edition: current; Page: [[282]] loss of a tenth of its representation, since it transfers this tenth to its new fellow citizens.

One is forced to believe that the absurdity of the politics of conquest in conjunction with a representative constitution, somehow eluded the republican government of France. Ancient habits have so great an empire over men, however, that they act in virtue of these habits, even when they have solemnly abjured them. Under the Directory, by dint of victories and territorial mergers, France came close to being represented in the main by foreigners. Every new success was for the French one less French representative.

chapter three: The Effect of the Politics of War on the Domestic Condition of Nations

After our examination of the most specious pretexts of war on the part of modern governments, let us dwell on one of their effects, one in my view insufficiently remarked on hitherto. This politics of war casts into society a mass of men whose outlook is different from that of the nation and whose habits form a dangerous contrast with the patterns of civil life, with the institutions of justice, with respect for the rights of all, with those principles of peaceful and ordered freedom which must be equally inviolable under all forms of government.

Over the last sixteen years there has been much talk about armies composed of citizens. To be sure, we do not wish to visit insults on those who so gloriously defended our national independence, on those who by so many immortal exploits founded the French Republic. When enemies dare to attack a people on its territory, the citizens become soldiers to repulse them. They were citizens, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [340] they were the leading citizens, those who freed our soil from the profaning foreigner. In dealing with a general question, however, we must set aside remembrance of glory, which surrounds and dazzles us, seductive and captivating feelings of gratitude. In the present state of European societies the words “citizen” and “soldier” imply a contradiction. A citizen army is possible only when a people is virtually confined to a single city-state. Then the soldiers of that nation can rationally justify obedience. When they are in the bosom of their native land, between governors and governed whom they know, their understanding can count for something in their submission. A very large country, however, whether monarchy or republic, renders that supposition absolutely chimerical. Edition: current; Page: [[283]] A very large country requires from soldiers a mechanistic subordination and makes them passive, unreflective, and docile agents. As soon as they are displaced, they lose all the prior information capable of illuminating their judgment. The size of the country permitting those in charge of the armed forces to dispatch the natives of one province to another distant one, these men, subject to a discipline which isolates them from the local natives, are only strangers to the latter, although they are nominally their compatriots. They see only their commanders, know only them, obey their orders alone. Citizens in their birthplace, everywhere else they are soldiers. Once an army is among strangers, however it is organized, it is only a physical force, a pure instrument. The experience of the Revolution demonstrated only too well the truth of what I am affirming. We were told it was important for soldiers to be citizens, so they would never turn their arms against the people, and yet we have seen the unfortunate conscripts taken away from their ploughs, not only to contribute to the seige of Lyon, which could not be other than an act of civil war, but also to make themselves instruments of torture of the Lyonnais, disarmed prisoners, which was an act of implicit obedience and discipline, of Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [341] precisely that discipline and that obedience from which we had believed that the citizen soldiers would always be able to protect themselves.

A large army, whatever its basic elements, contracts, involuntarily, an esprit de corps. Such a spirit always seizes hold of organizations assembled for a single purpose, sooner or later. The only lasting thing men have in common is their interest. In all countries, in all centuries, a confederation of priests has formed, within the State, a State apart. In all centuries and countries, men associated together in the army for long periods have separated themselves from the nation. The very soldiers of freedom, in fighting for such, conceive a kind of respect for the use of force, regardless of its purpose. Without knowing it they contract thereby morals, ideas, and habits which are subversive of the cause they defend. The measures which ensure the triumph of war prepare the collapse of the law. The military spirit is haughty, swift, swaggering. Law must be calm, often slow, and always protective. The military spirit detests the thinking faculties as incipient indiscipline. All legitimate government rests on enlightenment and conviction. So in the annals of nations we often see armed force driving enemies from the territory; but we also see it no less often handing the fatherland over to its chiefs. It carries the glory of nations to the highest level; but it also adds their rights to the tally of their conquests, to be ceremoniously deposited at the feet of the Triumpher. We see the Roman legions, composed at least in part of citizens Edition: current; Page: [[284]] of a Republic illustrious from six centuries of victories, men born under freedom, surrounded by monuments raised by twenty generations of heroes to that tutelary deity, trample underfoot the ashes of Cincinnatus and the Camilli and march to the orders of a usurper, to profane the tombs of their ancestors and enslave the eternal city.5 We see the English legions who, with their own hands, had broken the throne of kings and shed their blood for twenty years to establish a republic spring into action with Cromwell against that nascent republic and impose on the people a tyranny more shameful than the chains from which their valor had delivered it.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [342] The idea of citizen soldiers is singularly dangerous. When armed men are directed against unarmed governments or peaceful individuals, it is said that citizens are being opposed to citizens. The Directory had the soldiers deliberate beneath their banners, and when it ordered a political opinion from them as if it were a drill, it said that citizen soldiers, far from having less right than the others, had more, since they had fought for the fatherland. Thus did the military spirit emerge in the Republic. It was claimed that for freedom as for victory, nothing was more appropriate than swift movements. Opinions were seen as like troops, to enroll or to fight, representative assemblies as agencies of command, opposition to them as acts of indiscipline, law courts as camps, judges as warriors, the accused as enemies, trials as battles. So it is not immaterial that there be created in a country, systematically, by way of war prolonged or constantly renewed under various pretexts, a mass of men imbued exclusively with the military spirit. The severest despotism becomes inevitable, if only to contain these men. And this is itself a great evil, that there should be a large minority of people containable only by the severest discipline. But these men, against whom despotism is called for, are at the same time despotism’s instruments against the rest of the nation. It is hard for soldiers, whose first duty is obedience to the slightest signal, not to persuade themselves effortlessly that all citizens are subject to this duty.

Detailed safeguards against this danger, the most terrible which can menace a nation, are not enough. Rome had taken strong ones. No army could come near the capital. No soldier under arms could exercise citizen rights. It is always easy, however, for a government to evade these precautions. In vain we may give the legislative power the right to move the troops away, to fix their numbers, to block those of their movements whose hostile intentions seem apparent—and finally power to disband them. These Edition: current; Page: [[285]] means are at once extreme and impotent. Executive power must have de jure, and Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [343] always has de facto, control of the armed forces. Charged with watching over public security, it can make trouble break out to justify the arrival of a group of regiments. It can make them come in secret, and when they are gathered it can extract from the legislative power the appearance of agreement. All the safeguards which require the legislature to deliberate subsequently on the danger which threatens it turn in a vicious circle. The legislature has power to act only at the moment when the peril is displayed, that is to say, when the harm is done, and when the harm is done the legislative power can no longer act.

The military spirit, however, wherever it exists, is stronger than the written laws. It is this spirit which must be restrained. Only a national spirit focused on another purpose can do this. The national spirit communicates itself from the nation to the army, whatever the composition of the latter. When this national spirit does not exist, the soldiers, though formerly citizens, adopt the military spirit nonetheless. When this national spirit exists, the military spirit, even among soldiers who are not citizens, is checked by this, and tyranny itself is softened. “Those who corrupted the Greek republics,” says Montesquieu,6 “did not always become tyrants. That is because they were more attached to eloquence than the art of war.”

Under whatever point of view we consider this terrible question of war, we have to be convinced that any enterprise of this kind which does not have a defensive purpose is the worst outrage a government can commit, because it brings together the disastrous effects of all the outrages of government. It endangers all kinds of freedom, harms every interest, tramples underfoot all rights, combines and authorizes all the forms of domestic and foreign tyranny, depraves the rising generations, divides the nation into two parts, of which one scorns the other and passes readily from scorn to injustice, prepares future destructions by way of past ones, and purchases with the misfortunes of the present those of the future.

These truths are not new, and I do not offer them as such, but truths which seem recognized often need repetition.7 For Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [344] government, while Edition: current; Page: [[286]] calling them commonplaces, in its haughty disdain constantly treats them like paradoxes. It is, furthermore, a rather remarkable thing, that while our government, in all its public speeches, in all its communication with the people, professes the love of peace and a desire to give the world tranquillity, men who claim to be devoted to that government write daily that the French nation being essentially warlike, military glory is the only kind worthy of her and that France must win renown by her military brilliance. These men ought to tell us how military glory can be acquired other than through war and how the purpose they are proposing to the French people alone fits in with the peace of the whole world. I might well add that these authors themselves may never have thought about it. Happy to speak in flowery language, sometimes on one subject, sometimes on another, following the fashion of the moment, they rely, rightly, on forgetfulness to cover up their inconsistency.8 I have sometimes thought that this doctrine, wherever it dared to present itself, deserved rebuffing, and that it was worthwhile discomfitting writers who, when they deal with future government, recommend despotism, because they hope never to be other than its agents and, when dealing with international relations, see nothing so glorious as war, as if from the depths of their obscure study, they were the distributors of all the scourges which can weigh on the human race.

chapter four: On Safeguards against the War Mania of Governments

We ought now to indicate some safeguards against the unjust or pointless wars which governments may undertake, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [345] since, in the present state of society, those undertakings which are great evils in themselves also lead to all the other ills. But general maxims would be inadequate and reflections on constitutional limits which can be assigned to government would take us beyond the boundaries of this work.

Nothing is easier to judge in the light of reason than the measures of government in relation to war. Public opinion is always accurate enough in this matter because the interest of one and all speaks out loud and clear on this question. Everyone thinks war is a fatal thing. Everyone also feels that cowardly patience when foreigners hurt or insult us, inviting them to Edition: current; Page: [[287]] become doubly vainglorious and unfair, sooner or later brings the war we wanted to avoid, and that once hostilities have begun, arms cannot be put down until we have acquired solid safeguards for the future, since a shameful peace is only a cause of new wars with less favorable prospects. But just as public opinion is infallible on this question, so it is impossible to prescribe or determine anything in advance.

To say we must confine ourselves to defensive wars is to say nothing. It is easy for governments to insult or menace their neighbors to such an extent that they feel bound to attack, and in this case the guilty party is not the aggressor, but the one who, joining treachery to violence, forced the other to aggression. Thus defense can sometimes be only adroit hypocrisy while attack may become a legitimate defensive precaution. One can affirm that any war which national feeling disapproves of is unjust; but no means exist for ascertaining this national feeling. Governments alone have the floor. They can seize the press exclusively, and their creatures and writers, speaking in the name of a silent, repressed people, form a concert of artificial agreement which prevents real public opinion from making itself heard.

As for the nations which enjoy political freedom, we would probably find in the public discussions of political assemblies, in the consent to taxes or their refusal, in ministerial responsibility, means of checking abuses relating to war, in a way which, if not satisfactory, is at least generally useful and such as to prevent the worst excesses. Furthermore, we would find, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [346] on close inspection, that these guarantees are too often illusory, that it is always easy for the executive power to start a war, that the legislative power is then forced to support it against foreigners the executive has provoked, that if, in propping up that executive, the legislature engages in censure, the enemy will be encouraged by this disagreement between the branches of government, that the armed forces will be less ardent in a war disapproved of by the nation’s representatives, that the people will cooperate less by way of pecuniary sacrifices, that the government, feeling itself accused, will bring to its operations less decisiveness, less certainty, less speed, that the hostile claims will get larger, that peace will become more difficult to conclude, simply because the war will have fallen under public disapprobation. I do not mean that there is no remedy for these drawbacks. On the contrary, I think it would be possible to indicate one, the seed of which is present in several nations, though it does not yet exist completely in any single one. We could not examine this issue here, however, without distorting this book totally. We have kept separate from it Edition: current; Page: [[288]] everything concerning political freedom, and we would find ourselves drawn by it into all the discussions about constitutions. For all questions of this sort hold tightly together. For a constitution to work in one respect, it has to do so for all the others.

You may believe that a representative assembly can stop the executive power in its military undertakings. For a representative assembly to impose its will on the executive power, however, it must derive its commission from a legitimate source, it must be armed with prerogatives and encircled with guarantees which put its independence beyond all danger. If it is armed with extensive prerogatives, it must also at the same time be contained in its acts and checked in its excesses, since an unrestrained assembly is more dangerous than the most absolute despot. Thus from whatever part of the circle you start, you will be forced to go around it entirely before arriving at a satisfactory result.

I will make one reflection only on political constitutions, because I am not aware that any such reflection has ever been made. Some modern writers claim that the institutions which limit and separate the powers are only misleading formalities which governments skillfully elude. Even if this were true, these formalities would still be useful. Governments obliged to elude them have less time to devote to foreign undertakings. They are Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [347] too busy at home to be looking outside for some meretricious occupation. Despots keep their subjects in far-off wars to distract them from domestic matters. People who want to enjoy some peace must give government something to do at home, so as not to be precipitated by its idleness and ambition into the calamities of war.

I will add that I am far from agreeing that the institutions protecting freedom are only worthless formalities. They give citizens a great feeling of their importance, a great enjoyment of this feeling, and a lively interest in the prosperity of the State. In this way, independently of their direct advantages, they are advantageous in creating and maintaining public spirit. This public spirit is the only effective guarantee. It is based in public opinion; it penetrates the offices of ministers; it modifies or stops their projects without their knowing. But take good note that this public spirit comes much more from the organization of government than from its actions. An absolute government under a virtuous despot can be very gentle without creating any public spirit. A limited government may, under a bad prince, be very vexatious despite its limits, yet for all that the public spirit will not be destroyed. But, I repeat: all these things are foreign to our topic.

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chapter five: On the Mode of Forming and Maintaining Armies

The aversion of modern nations to the hazards of war, which have ceased to be pleasures, makes the question of recruitment very difficult. When the spirit of the human race was warlike, men ran to combat. Today they have to be dragged to it.

The rights of government in regard to recruitment very much need to be fixed. If it is invested in this respect with boundless power, it is as if it had unlimited sway over everything. What does it matter if it cannot arrest citizens at home and keep them indefinitely in dungeons, if it can send them, them or their children, to die on faraway shores, if it can have this threat hover above the heads of loved ones and bring Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [348] despair into every home at will, by the exercise of bogus right?

There are two modes of recruitment, which subdivide again, but to one or the other of which one can relate all the different ways adopted in all countries.

The first consists in imposing on all citizens of a given age the duty of bearing arms for a certain number of years; the other is free and voluntary recruitment.

The drawbacks of the first mode are incontestable.

In certain periods of human life, interruptions to the exercise of intellectual or working faculties are never made good. The dangerous, careless, and coarse ways of soldiering, the sudden rupture of all family dealings, mechanical thralldom to minute duties when the enemy is not around, complete independence of moral ties at the age when the passions are most actively in ferment, these are not immaterial things in terms of morality and education. Condemning to a life in camps and barracks the younger sons of the affluent classes, in which reside, in short, education, refinement, and right thinking, as well as that tradition of gentleness, nobility, and elegance which alone distinguishes us from barbarians, this is to do the whole nation an ill uncompensated either by worthless success or the profitless terror she inspires. To commit to the soldier’s life the merchant’s son, or the artist’s, the magistrate’s, the young man devoted to letters, to science, to the exercise of some difficult and complicated activity, is to rob him of the fruit of all his previous education. This education itself will be affected in advance by the prospect of an inevitable interruption. Parental zeal will be discouraged. The young Edition: current; Page: [[290]] man’s imagination will be struck for good or ill by what lies in store. However his imagination may react to all this, his application can only be the worse. If he is intoxicated by brilliant dreams of military glory, he will scorn peaceful study, sedentary occupations, work of application contrary to his fancies, and the changeableness of his nascent faculties. If he thinks of himself sorrowfully as being dragged away from home, if he works out how much the sacrifice of several years will retard his progress, he will despair of himself. He will not want to exhaust himself in efforts whose fruits an iron hand will steal from him. He will tell himself that since his country contends with him for the time necessary to acquire Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [349] his learning, perfect the art he cultivates or the work he has embraced, it is pointless to struggle against power; he will resign himself, lazily, to what lies in store.

If, transforming in some way the obligation to bear arms into a tax on the rich, you restrict it in reality to the working-class poor, although this inequality seems to have something more revolting about it, then probably it will be less dire in its results than so-called equality, which weighs on all classes. An unskilled laborer or a day laborer suffers less from the interruption of his routine job than men committed to jobs demanding experience, assiduity, watchfulness, and thought. Plucking a farmer’s son away from his plough, you do not render him incapable of resuming his first job on his return. Other drawbacks are apparent, however, ones of no less importance. You will see parents punished for the faults of their children, with children’s interests separated from those of their fathers as a result, with families reduced either to uniting to resist the law, or to division so that one part can constrain the other to obedience, fatherly love treated like a crime, the filial tenderness which does not wish to abandon a father to old age and isolation turned into revolt and struck down harshly, spying and informing, those eternal resources of government once it has created bogus crimes, encouraged and rewarded, odious duties imposed on lesser magistrates, with men unleashed like ferocious mastiffs, in town and country, to pursue and lock up fugitives, innocent in the light of morality and nature. And perhaps all these vexations take place, not for legitimate defense but in order to facilitate the invasion and devastation of faraway regions whose possession adds nothing to the national prosperity, unless one calls the worthless renown of a few men and their fatal celebrity, national prosperity.9

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The arguments pleaded in favor of institutions which force all citizens to bear arms resemble in some respects those of the enemies of property, which, under the pretext of a primitive equality, wish to divide manual labor without distinction between all men, not reflecting that the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [350] work split thus will not only be less useful, since it will be badly done, but that moreover it would block all continuity, all specialized work, all the good effects of habit and concentration of effort, and thereby all progress, all perfectioning. Similarly, military life, seizing all the generations in turn during their youth, would infallibly cast a nation into brutishness and ignorance.

The only drawback of the second mode, I mean free and voluntary recruitment, is possible insufficiency.

I think this insufficiency is much exaggerated. The obstacles to recruitment the government finds always pertain to the futility of the war. Once a just war is involved, these obstacles diminish. Public opinion speaks, everyone’s interest makes itself heard. Everybody is drawn by this interest and this opinion. Each soul comes to life. Each offers himself to march to battle, aware of the cause. National movement exists, which the government has no need to create by orders and threats. It has only to direct it.

One can affirm this fearlessly. If governments undertook only just wars, if at home too they took justice as their standard, they would find very few obstacles to the composition of armies. In the present condition of Europe we do not at all dispute their right to maintain a standing military force even in time of peace, and to impose on citizens certain duties for the formation and maintenance of this force. But on the assumption that the government would undertake only legitimate wars, that is, motivated by the need for defense, although circumstances might render them offensive, how much less numerous on this assumption, we repeat, would the indispensable military force be, and how much simpler would it be for the citizens to fulfill these duties! Do not be distrustful then of their zeal. They are not slow to run to take up arms for their fatherland, when they have one. They spring to the maintenance of their independence abroad when they possess security at home. When they remain motionless and have to be constrained, it is because they have nothing to lose, and whose fault is that?

It might be objected perhaps that this unanimous movement cannot take place in a very large polity, that men run to the defense of their frontiers only when those frontiers are Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [351] near their homes and that a war occasioned by entry of an enemy in a faraway province will not produce in the center or at the opposite end of the country either indignation or zeal to repel it. First of all, this assertion is much more contestable than one might Edition: current; Page: [[292]] think. Suppose a great free people, happy in its freedom, attached by the feeling of good fortune to its government. It will contract wider and more generous ideas than those people who base their power on the degradation of the human race like to believe. Just as men used to freedom see in the oppression of a single citizen, however unknown he may be to them, a punishable assault against the whole of civil society, so also a nation which has a fatherland sees in the invasion of a part of its territory an insult made to the whole of that fatherland. The enjoyment of freedom creates a feeling of national pride so refined and easily offended that government has more often to restrain than arouse it. Doubtless this truth has limits. What follows from it, though, is simply that large countries must have it too. When a country is so extensive that no national link can exist between its different provinces, I can scarcely conceive the argument for this excessive extent.

A nation refuses to defend itself against an enemy which menaces it or to contribute in sufficient proportion to the establishment necessary for the security of the country it inhabits, only when its government by its injustices has detached it from its interests, or when this government’s frenzied ambition, wishing to set up everywhere at the expense of its subjects a tyrannical domination, demands efforts and sacrifices which neither the security nor the prosperity of this nation requires. This government is then reduced to dragging its slaves to war in irons.

Nevertheless, that voluntary recruitment be supposed insufficient suffices to oblige us to indicate the remedy for this insufficiency. It has been said that if a government were not good enough to inspire in its subjects the desire to defend it, then it must bear the penalty for its vices. This is true. But no government will resign itself to that. It is pointless proposing principles whose nature is such that they will not be observed.

When voluntary recruitment is insufficient, the government must indeed be given the right to resort to conscription. When it is not accorded this right, it will take it. To combine this prerogative, however, with a degree of freedom and individual security, we have to revert to political freedom, for as we said at the start, if the right to conscription is not strictly limited, there are no longer any limits to despotism. Everything Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [352] leads us back therefore, in spite of ourselves and by every route, to political freedom.

The representatives of the nation must determine how, in what numbers, in what conditions, and for what end the citizens must be obliged to march to the defense of their country. This determination by the nation’s representatives must not be permanent, but it must happen each time circumstances demand it, and it must cease, by law, when the circumstances have Edition: current; Page: [[293]] changed. And this forces us to repeat what we said above, about all the prerogatives to be granted to the representative assemblies in order for them to attain their goal.10 For if they are weak and dependent, they will vote for everything the executive power wishes.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK XIV: On Government Action on Enlightenment

  • Ch. 1. Questions to be dealt with in this book. 297
  • Ch. 2. On the value attributed to errors. 298
  • Ch. 3. On government in support of truth. 301
  • Ch. 4. On government protection of enlightenment 304
  • Ch. 5. On the upholding of morality. 307
  • Ch. 6. On the contribution of government to education. 308
  • Ch. 7. On government duties vis-à-vis enlightenment. 315
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chapter one: Questions to Be Dealt with in This Book

The relations between government and enlightenment are of a kind even more difficult and delicate to determine than those concerning only external and material things: actions, property, or production. Man’s orientation is to independence in the exercise of all his faculties, but he feels the need for it above all in the exercise of thought. The more he reflects, the more aware he becomes that all his thoughts form a whole, an indissoluble chain from which it is impossible to break off or remove arbitrarily a single link. Religion can dominate thought because it can become thought itself. Government cannot. These two things have between them no real point of contact.

The materialists often repeated against the doctrine of pure spirit an objection which lost its force only when a less daring philosophy made us recognize the impotence we suffer with respect to understanding anything regarding what we call matter or what we entitle spirit. Pure spirit cannot act on matter, they said. One could say, with greater reason and without losing oneself in subtle metaphysics, that where government is concerned, matter cannot act on spirit. Now government, qua government, never has anything but matter at its disposal. Government changes in nature when it wishes to employ reasoning, and rather than dominating the reflective mode, subjects its own reasoning to the latter. Seeking to win the argument, government recognizes the criteria of reflection. Consequently, we always find that after a few tries of this kind government realizes it is now out of its element, deprived of its habitual weapons; and when it wishes to reassume them, its struggle with thought begins anew.

To confer the management of enlightenment on government, one must Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [358] suppose either that men cannot from their own resources arrive at truths the knowledge of which is salutary to them, or that there are certain truths whose discovery would be dangerous and that consequently there are certain errors which it is useful to maintain. On the first supposition we charge government with the destruction of error, on the second with its protection.

This leads us back to a subject we have dealt with earlier.1 The means government has for the maintenance of error consist in large measure of restrictions imposed on the manifestation of thought. We will not come Edition: current; Page: [[298]] back to this issue, which I think has been sufficiently clarified. But the principle itself of the usefulness of errors seems worthy of some exploration. This often troubled issue has not yet in my view been considered as it ought to be. A few words will suffice to resolve it if it is considered properly, and we will show in these few words that the supporters of this policy have not gone deeply into their own opinion.

chapter two: On the Value Attributed to Errors

There is no doubt that the apparent consequence of an error can be very useful; that is, the effect which seems bound to result from it naturally can appear very advantageous. The real difficulty, however, is that nothing guarantees that the moral effect of an error will be such as one supposes or wishes. The supporters of useful errors fall into a misapprehension which we have pointed out elsewhere.2 They bring into their calculations only the purpose and do not consider the effect of the means used to secure it. They consider such error only as something established in isolation, forgetting the danger of giving man the habit of error. Reason is a faculty which improves or deteriorates. Imposing error on man causes the faculty to deteriorate. You break the connectedness of his thought. Who can guarantee it will not break again when it comes to the application of the error you Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [359] have inculcated in him? If it were given to man to invert, just once, the order of the seasons, whatever advantage he might derive from this privilege in a particular circumstance, he would nonetheless experience as a result an incalculable disadvantage, in that subsequently he would no longer be able to rely on the uniform sequence and unvarying regularity which serve as a base for his working activities. Moral nature is like physical nature. Any error distorts the mind, since to penetrate it, error must stop it moving according to its purpose, from principle to consequence. Whose assurance have you that this operation will not constantly repeat itself? Who can trace the path a mind which has abandoned reason’s path must follow? An error is an impetus, its direction incalculable. In creating that impetus and by the very operation you had to perform to create it, you have placed yourself outside the ability to control it. Therefore you must fear the thing seeming least likely to result from it. It is by a petitio principii that you say: such and such an error is favorable to morality. Not so, since in order for that error Edition: current; Page: [[299]] truly to be favorable to morality it would be necessary for the man who had falsely reasoned in adopting that error, to reason rightly in departing from that given point, and nothing is less certain. A mind you have got used to reasoning falsely on such and such an occasion, when the imperfection of his logic seemed convenient to you and fitted in with your views, will reason falsely on another such occasion and then the viciousness of his reasoning will run counter to your intentions. A particular man may adopt absurd ideas on the nature of a supreme being. He imagines Him incomprehensible, vindictive, jealous, capricious, and so on. If he nevertheless went on to reason well henceforth on the basis of these givens, despite their absurdity they could still regulate his behavior usefully. He would say to himself: “this all-powerful being, often bizarre, sometimes cruel, nevertheless wills the maintenance of human societies, and in our uncertainty as to his particular wishes, the surest way of pleasing him is justice, which satisfies his general will.” But instead of this kind of reasoning, this mind, sufficiently misled to have adopted an absurd initial premise, will probably go from supposition to supposition, from mystery to mystery, from absurdity to absurdity, until he has forged himself a morality utterly contrary to the kind we believed we had entrusted to the safekeeping of religion. Therefore it is not advantageous to deceive men, even when a momentary advantage can be gained from this expedient. The general who tells his troops that the thunderbolt’s roar presages victory, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [360] risks seeing his soldiers take to flight if some more cunning deceiver persuades them that this terrible noise signifies the anger of the gods. Similarly, those enormous animals which barbarous peoples put in the vanguard of their armies to drive them onto their enemies would suddenly recoil, terror-struck or overcome with fury, and failing to recognize their masters’ voice, crush or scatter the very battalions which were expecting their salvation and triumph to come from them. But here is quite another difficulty. The errors you call useful necessitate a series of ideas different from the sequence for which nature intended us. Should chance uncover some truth for us, that false series is broken. What will you do then? Reestablish it by force? There you will be, carried back to prohibitive laws, whose impotence and danger we have demonstrated elsewhere.3

Moreover, this would be a great inconsistency on your part. Having asserted on principle that man is not up to being governed by truth and that error, by subjugating the mind, absolves us from forcible means, Edition: current; Page: [[300]] straightaway you are going to use them to uphold the very same error whose advantage ought to be that it makes them superfluous. To maintain public order you have recourse to what you call illusions, and you are lost in admiration of this expedient, so much gentler according to you, and no less efficacious, than penal laws. Doubt is cast, however, on your tutelary illusions. You cannot defend them by ideas of like nature: the sanction itself is attacked. Will you call the law to your aid? That severity which in the name of public peace you recently boasted of not employing, will you now invoke it in support of the errors you believe necessary to that peace? You might as well have saved yourself this long detour, it seems to me, and merely been harsh on the crime, which would have spared you the odium of persecuting thought. Your task would have been easier, for thought will escape you a thousand times more readily than actions would have. Finally, one objection to the usefulness of errors presents itself, one we have already given an account of in this book4 and will for that reason make do with a sketch of. The discredit which attaches to proven error also comes back, by way of blind fanaticism and clumsy reasoning, on the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [361] truth associated with that error. “Men of good will,” says Bentham,5 “think one should never remove from morality any one of its props, even when it is out of true. . . . But when a man of depraved mind has triumphed by means of a false argument, he always thinks he has triumphed over morality itself.” Errors are always fatal, both because of the effect they produce on the mind itself and because of the means indispensable, to put it succinctly, to secure their durability. The errors which seem most salutary to you are only scourges in disguise. You want a government maintained. You thrust aside the truths opposed to the principles on which this government rests. You encourage the errors contrary to these truths. But a government can be overthrown by a thousand unpredictable causes. Then, the more the errors you have encouraged have put down deep roots, the more the truths you have rebuffed will be unknown. The less men are prepared for what will have to be put in place of that which no longer exists, the more violence, misfortune, and disorder there will be in the overthrow and its consequences.

It can be affirmed with confidence that whenever people believe they have observed an abuse attributable to enlightenment, in fact enlightenment Edition: current; Page: [[301]] has been in short supply. Always when truth is accused of wrongdoing, this evil has been the effect not of truth but of error. Providence has numbered among men’s needs the search for truth. To say truth can be dangerous is to proffer a terrible accusation against providence. This hypothesis sees providence as having marked out for the human race a route it is condemned to follow by irresistible impulsion, a route which finishes in an abyss.

Moreover, truth is unitary and errors countless.6 What are your means for choosing among the host of errors? Error is to truth as Machiavellianism is to morality. If you abandon truth in order to plunge into the cunning schemes of Machiavellianism, you are never sure of having chosen the best among these schemes. If you renounce the search for truth, you are never certain of having chosen the most useful error.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [362] Truth is not just good to know; it is good to search for. Even when we go wrong in that search, we are happier than in renouncing it. The idea of truth is peace for the spirit, as the idea of morality is for the heart.

chapter three: On Government in Support of Truth

Very well, someone will say, since error is always fatal, government must keep men from it and lead them to truth. But what means has government for finding it? We demonstrated at the start of this work that those who govern are as prone to error as the governed.7 Moreover, the objections we have leveled against so-called useful errors, apply almost equally to the truths the government might wish to inculcate and have brought in on its authority. Government support, even for truth, turns into a source of error. Truth’s natural support is obvious rightness. The natural road to truth is via reasoning, comparison, analysis. To persuade man that the obviousness, or what seems such to him, is not the only reason which must determine his opinions, that reasoning is not the only road he must follow, is to pervert his intellectual faculties. It is to establish a false relationship between the opinion he is presented with and the instrument with which he must judge it. It is no longer according to the intrinsic worth of the opinion he must decide, but according to alien considerations, which pervert his intelligence as soon Edition: current; Page: [[302]] as it follows in that direction. Let us suppose the government infallible in arrogating to itself the right to say what truth is. In this matter it will still use diverse means, it will still disfigure both the truth it proclaims and the intelligence whose own abnegation it ordains. M. de Montesquieu rightly says8 that a man condemned to death by laws he has consented to is politically freer than he who lives peacefully under Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [363] laws instituted without the agreement of his will. It would be equally right to say that the adoption of an error on our own accord, because it seems true to us, is an operation more favorable to the perfectioning of the mind than the adoption of a truth on the say-so of any government whatever. In the former case, analysis is formative. If this analysis in the particular circumstance does not lead us to happy results, we are on the right track even so. Persevering in our scrupulous, independent investigation, we will get there sooner or later. Under the latter supposition we are reduced to a plaything of the government before which we have humbled our own judgment. Not only will this result in our adopting errors if the dominating government gets things wrong or finds it useful to deceive us, but we will not even know how to derive from such truths as this government has given us the consequences which must flow from them. The abnegation of our intelligence will have rendered us wretchedly passive creatures. Our mental resilience will be broken. Such vigor as we have left will serve only to mislead us. A writer gifted with remarkable insight9 observes on this subject that a miracle enacted to demonstrate a truth would entirely fail to convince the spectators. It would instead spoil their judgment, since between a truth and a miracle there is no natural link. A miracle is not proof of an assertion. A miracle is proof of power. To ask someone to accept an opinion on account of a miracle is to demand that people accord to power what should be accorded only to facts; it is to reverse the order of ideas and want an effect to be produced by something which could not be its cause.

We have pointed out elsewhere10 that morality is only a linked sequence of causes and effects. In the same way, knowledge of the truth is composed only of a linked sequence of principles and consequences. Anytime you interrupt this sequence, you destroy either morality or truth.

Everything imposed on opinion by government turns out to be not only useless but harmful, truth as much as error. In this case truth is not Edition: current; Page: [[303]] Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [364] harmful qua truth, but harmful for not having penetrated human intelligence by the natural route.

There is a class, however, whose opinions can be only prejudices, a class which, lacking time for reflection, can learn only what it is taught, a class which has to believe what it is told, a class which, lastly, not being able to devote itself to analysis, has no interest in intellectual independence. Perhaps people will want the government, leaving the educated part of the society completely free, to oversee the views of the ignorant part. But a government which arrogates itself this exclusive prerogative will necessarily demand it be upheld. It will not want any individuals, whoever they may be, acting in a sense different from its own. I agree that initially it will hide this will with sweet and tolerant formalities. From then on, however, some restrictions will appear. They will always keep on growing. A religion professed by government entails the persecution, more or less disguised, of all others. It is the same with opinions of any kind. From preferential treatment of an opinion to disfavor for the contrary opinion, there is a gap which it is impossible not to cross.

This first disadvantage is the cause of a second. Educated men do not delay in separating themselves from a government which hurts them. This is in the nature of the human spirit, above all when it is strengthened by meditation and cultivated by study. Government action, even the best intended, is in some ways rude and gross and ruffles a thousand delicate sensibilities which suffer and rebel.

It is to be feared therefore that if government is endowed with the prerogative of managing the opinion of the uneducated, even if this were toward truth, separating that management from any action taken with regard to the educated class, this latter class, which regards opinion as belonging to its domain, will put itself at odds with the government. A thousand ills then result. Hatred for a government which intervenes in what is not its province can grow so much that when it acts in favor of enlightenment, the friends of enlightenment line up on the side of prejudice. We saw this bizarre spectacle at several periods of our Revolution. A government founded on the clearest principles and professing the sanest opinions, but which, by the nature of the means it uses, alienates the educated class, becomes, infallibly, either the most degraded or the most oppressive of governments. Often it actually combines these two seemingly exlusive things.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [365] The French Revolution was directed against errors of any kind, that is to say that its purpose was to remove the support of government from Edition: current; Page: [[304]] these errors. The revolutionary leaders wanted to go further. They wanted to employ government itself in the destruction of these errors. Straightaway national movement came to a halt. Opinion was astonished at the weird impulsion some people desired to impress on it, and it recoiled before its new allies. A subtle and swift instinct warned it that the cause had changed although the banner was the same, and it abandoned the banner. What had they actually wanted, this mass of educated men, of honest mind, who during the last half of the eighteenth century had supported the philosophers against the court and the clergy? Independence of opinion, freedom of thought. As soon as the government put itself on the philosophers’ side, however, and exerted itself in supporting it, opinion was no longer independent, thought no longer free.

We must distinguish the influence of the enlightened class, insofar as it is enlightened, from that of a section of the enlightened class, insofar as it is vested in government. No one wants the influence of enlightenment more than I. But precisely because I want it, because I prefer it to any means of another kind, and because I do not want it distorted. It is to conserve in all its force the domain of the enlightened class that I feel repugnance at its subordination to a tiny fraction of itself, necessarily less impartial and probably less enlightened than the rest. The free, gradual, and peaceful action of all would be retarded and often even arrested by this privilege accorded to a few.

chapter four: On Government Protection of Enlightenment

Do you restrict yourself to demanding that government favor with all its might the indefinite growth of enlightenment? In charging government with this function, however, are you quite sure you are not imposing on it a duty directly opposed to its interest? We need to distinguish between the sciences proper and enlightenment in the widest sense of that word. We have said, and Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [366] we think we have shown,11 that the sciences always gained from the progress of enlightenment and lost from its decay. But the material of science is nevertheless liable to become isolated in many respects from the interests most dear to the happiness and dignity of the human race. Mathematics or physics in the hands of d’Alembert, Condorcet, Biot, or Cabanis are means for the perfectioning of intelligence Edition: current; Page: [[305]] and rationality and thereby of morality. These sciences can also become separated, however, from the wider purpose of thought; they become then a form of work of a kind more difficult and of more extensive utility than the work of the majority of men, but no less foreign to what we understand specifically by philosophy. All governments have an interest in encouraging sciences thus circumscribed and consequently almost all encourage them. They make a bargain with them whereby the sciences agree not to step outside the agreed sphere. A famous author ingeniously observed that government sought to divide man’s faculties, as it divides citizens among themselves, in order to keep them the more easily in slavery.12 It is not thus, however, with enlightened activities. Such a bargain is contrary to their nature. The personal interest of those in power is therefore by no means to protect them frankly and to the utmost.

The interest of the governors as such is for the governed to be sufficiently enlightened to be skillful economically, with no loss of their docility and without their in any way harming or worrying the government. Government, of any kind, however legitimate or moderate you suppose it, is keen on surveillance. Now, the more enlightened nations are, the more redoubtable surveillance is. The growth of the intellectual powers of the governed is the creation of a rival power to that of the governors. The consciousness of each individual of the cultivated class constitutes an inflexible tribunal, which judges the acts of government. The governors, therefore, as governors, have an interest not in an indefinite progress of enlightenment, but in a relative and limited one.

As individuals, it is more obvious still that their immediate interest in relation to enlightenment is not the same as that of the governed. It would be too simpleminded of us to stop here and show that it is Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [367] more agreeable for the holders of power, however well-intentioned they may be, for ministers, however pure they want to be, to be surrounded by men less educated than they and from whom they can easily command admiration and obedience, the implication being that even when the ostensible purpose of the government is to encourage enlightenment, its secret desire is still to keep it dependent and therefore to limit it. This desire would not exist in the holders of power, however, if the objects of their protection were not inclined to take it for granted. From this derives some kind of constraint, some eternal obstacle to all free movement, all strict logic, all precise research, all impartial reasoning. Government protection hurts enlightenment even when the Edition: current; Page: [[306]] government, sincere and disinterested in all its views, repudiates all ulterior motive and all idea of domination. Compare the respective progress of French literature and German literature in Berlin under Frederick II. No sovereign was in better faith than Frederick in his zeal for the development of the human spirit. He invited his academy to prove that error could never be useful.13 His country’s literature seeming to him still in its infancy, he showered his favors on all the French men of letters who gathered around him. He overwhelmed them with distinctions and wealth. He allowed them that familiarity with the great which is said to throw almost all men into such a sweet intoxication. The French writings published at his court, however, were never more than inferior and superficial productions. Frederick’s genius could not efface the autonomous character of government. It is true that his protégés repeated philosophical ideas, because these ideas were the watchword; but truths themselves are sterile when they are produced to order. They wrote audacious things, only with a trembling hand, uncertain about the conclusions it was prudent to come to therein and endlessly and anxiously returning to consult officialdom. Voltaire made a short appearance in this literary circle, warmed by royal protection; but since Voltaire was not one of protection’s creatures and was himself a power, the two potentates could not live together, and Voltaire soon left the monarch to protect his humble littérateurs at his leisure.

The German writers scorned by Frederick had no Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [368] portion of his encouragement or favor. They worked only for the public and themselves. It is to their writings, however, that Germany owes the high degree of enlightenment she has reached; and their writings owe their merit to the government’s neglect. If one had to choose between persecution and protection, persecution is the more valuable to intellectual life.14

There is among the resources nature has given man a resilience which reacts in the hand which oppresses it, but relaxes or bends when that hand, become more adroit, has managed to seize hold. It was in terror of being accused of sorcery by the government that Roger Bacon outstripped his century. Galileo was to discover the movement of the earth under the Edition: current; Page: [[307]] Inquisition’s yoke. It was far from his country, whence tyranny had banished him, that Locke analyzed man’s faculties. It is too often concluded, since a cause has produced an effect, that differently employed it would produce an opposite effect. Governments can sometimes succeed in stopping the march of human intelligence for a while. One would be wrong to infer, however, that they succeed in encouraging it. Ignorance can at their behest prolong itself on earth. Enlightenment shines only at the behest of freedom.

chapter five: On the Upholding of Morality

There are the same drawbacks in the upholding of morality by government as in the protection it affords enlightenment. There is even a further danger. These supports have the effect of adding a motive of material interest to the natural motives which bring man to virtue. Some philosophers, following this basic idea, have feared even the intervention of divine omnipotence by way of punishment or reward, as threatening impartiality. Each man bringing together in Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [369] the idea of God all the perfections, however, he is at least sure that the decisions of eternally infallible providence will never be in opposition to the justice which must direct men’s actions. It is not the same with governments, though, since they are exposed to error, liable to bias, and capable of injustice. You are not subordinating the morality of man only to a more powerful being, itself already a drawback, but to beings like himself, and perhaps ones less worthwhile than he. You thereby familiarize him with the idea of making what seems to him his duty, bend the knee before their power, from no calculation save interest. Even were the protection of the government never granted save to virtue, I would still hold that virtue would be better off independent. The protection of government being grantable, however, to the vice which deceives or serves it, it seems to me we should reject an intervention which in principle harms the purity of our sensibilities and in application often lacks the special advantage attributed to it.

It is, moreover, far less necessary than people think that government, in a legal way, should encourage men to be moral, kindly, and generous. Provided society prevents its members from hurting each other, they will find enough reasons for mutual service. A positive personal interest engages men in rendering one another reciprocal services, in order to receive them in their turn, while only negative interest gets them to abstain from harmful Edition: current; Page: [[308]] actions. Their activity, which is one of their natural penchants, brings them to do good to one another; but this same activity can also bring them to do ill. Each man has only two ways of getting his fellows to collaborate with what he wishes: force and persuasion. He must either constrain them or lead them to his purpose by gaining their goodwill. If the law cuts off the first way, individuals will invariably take the second. If they lose all hope of success through violence, they will wish to achieve such success by deserving recognition and affection. Government has nothing to do save to see that men do not hurt each other. If they do not hurt, they will serve each other. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [370]

chapter six: On the Contribution of Government to Education

Education can be considered under two headings. We can see it in the first place as a means of transmitting to the nascent generation the knowledge of all kinds gained by previous generations. In this respect it is entirely within the jurisdiction of government. The conservation and growth of all knowledge is a positive good. The government must guarantee us the enjoyment of these.

We can also see education, however, as the means of seizing men’s opinions, in order to shape them to the adoption of a certain number of ideas, whether religious, moral, philosophical, or political; and it is above all as leading to this end that writers in all centuries heap their eulogies on it.

We might first of all, without calling into question the facts which serve as the basis of this theory, deny that these facts could apply to modern societies. The domain of education, in the all-powerful sense attributed to it, and if one admitted that all-powerful sense as demonstrated in antiquity, might with us even be thought a reminiscence rather than an existing fact. People fail to recognize times, nations, and epochs and apply to modern societies what was practicable only in a different era of the human spirit.

Among peoples who, as Condorcet15 says, had no notion of personal freedom and where men were only machines, whose springs the law regulated and whose movements it directed, government action could have a more efficacious effect on education because nothing resisted that constant Edition: current; Page: [[309]] and uniform action. But today the whole society would revolt against government pressure; and individual independence, which men have regained, would react forcefully in the case of children’s education. That second education, worldly and circumstantial, would very soon undo the work of the first.16

It might be the case, moreover, that we mistake for historical facts the romancing of some philosophers imbued with the same prejudices as those who in our time have adopted their principles. Then instead of formerly at least having been a practical truth, this conceit would be only a perennial error.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [371] Where in effect do we see this marvelous power of education? Is it in Athens? But there the public education sanctioned by government was confined to subaltern schools restricted to simple instruction. Furthermore, there was complete freedom of teaching. Is it in Sparta? The uniform and monkish spirit of the Spartans depended on a whole group of institutions of which education was only one part, and in my view the ensemble would be neither easy nor desirable for us to set up anew. Is it in Crete? But the Cretans were the most ferocious, troubled, and corrupted people in Greece. The institutions are separated from their effects and they are admired on the basis of what they were intended to produce, without consideration of what in reality they did produce.

People cite the Persians and Egyptians. We know them very imperfectly, however. Greek writers made Persia and Egypt the theater of their speculations the way Tacitus did with the Germans. They put into action among these far-off people what they would have liked to see established in their fatherland. Their dissertations on Egyptian and Persian institutions are sometimes proven false by the simple, manifest impossibility of the facts they contain and almost always rendered doubtful by irreconcilable contradictions. What we know beyond question is that the Persians and Egyptians were despotically governed and that cowardice, corruption, and degradation, those eternal consequences of despotism, were the portion of these wretched peoples. Our philosophers acknowledge this in the very pages where they propose them as exemplary, for example in matters educational. A bizarre weakness of the human mind, which, noticing only objects in detail, lets itself be so dominated by a cherished idea that the most decisive effects do not enlighten it as to the impotence of causes, whose power it is disposed to proclaim. Most historical proofs resemble those Edition: current; Page: [[310]] which M. de Montesquieu advances in support of gymnastics. The practice of wrestling enabled the Thebans to win the battle of Leuctra. But against whom did they win this battle? Against the Spartans, who had practiced gymnastics for four hundred years.17

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [372] The argument which entrusts education to government rests on two or three cases of petitio principii.

The first supposition is that the government will be a desirable one. People think of it as always an ally, without reflecting that it can often become an enemy. They are unaware that sacrifices imposed on individuals may not result in advantage to such institutions as they believe to be perfect but to that of any institution whatsoever.

This consideration applies with equal force to the holders of all viewpoints. You regard absolute government as the supreme good, for the order it maintains, the peace you see it as demonstrating. If government claims the right to control education, however, it will not claim it only in the calm of despotism, but in the midst of factional violence and rage. Then the result will be quite different from what you expect. Surrendered to government, education will no longer inspire in nascent generations those peaceful habits, those principles of obedience, that respect for religion, that submission to visible and invisible powers you regard as the basis of happiness and social tranquillity. Once education is their instrument, factions will make it serve to spread in the minds of the young exaggerated views, wild maxims, pitiless axioms, contempt for religious ideas which will seem to them like hostile doctrines, bloodlust, hatred of pity. Is this not what the Revolutionary government would have done if it had lasted longer, and was not the Revolutionary government a government too?

This reasoning would be just as forceful if we put it to the friends of wise and moderate freedom. You wish, we will say to them, for government to control education in a republic, in order to school the children at the youngest possible age in the knowledge and maintenance of their rights, to teach them to defy despotism, to resist unjust government, to defend innocence against oppression. But despotism will use education to put its docile slaves under the yoke, to break every noble and courageous sentiment Edition: current; Page: [[311]] in our hearts, to overturn every notion of Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [373] justice, to mantle with obscurity the most obvious truths, to push into the darkness or sully with ridicule everything which connects with the most sacred and inviolable rights of the human race. Is this not what they would do today, if they had power, these ardent enemies of all light, these calumniators of any noble idea, who, finding the career of crime cleaned out, compensate for this, at least amply, with careers in baseness?

One could think the Directory was intended to give us some memorable lessons on all objects of this nature. We saw it for four years, seeking to direct education, harassing the teachers, reprimanding them, displacing them, degrading them in their pupils’ eyes, submitting them to the inquisition of its most inferior agents and men of the least enlightenment, hindering individual teaching, and worrying state education with endless and puerile actions. Was not the Directory a government? I would like to know the mysterious guarantee people have received, that the future will never be like the past.

In all these hypothetical cases, what people want the government to do for the better, it may do for the worse. Thus hopes can be disappointed and the government which has been indefinitely extended on the basis of unfounded suppositions can march in the opposite direction from the purpose for which it was created.

Education supplied by the government ought to be limited to simple instruction. Government can multiply the channels and resources of instruction, but it must not manage it. Let it ensure that the citizens have equal means, let it make sure that the various occupations get taught real knowledge which facilitates their practices, let it clear the way for individuals freely to get access to all proven factual truths18 and to reach the point where their intelligence can spontaneously dash forward to new discoveries, let it bring together for the use of all inquiring minds, the major works of all opinions, all the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [374] inventions of all the centuries, the discoveries of all methods, let it, finally, organize instruction in such a way that each person can devote to it the time appropriate to his interest or desire and perfect himself in the occupation, the art or science to which his tastes or his lot call him. Let it not appoint teachers; let it only pay them a salary which, assuring them the necessaries of life, nevertheless makes it desirable for them to have lots of pupils, let it provide for their needs when age or illness has put an end to their active careers, let it never Edition: current; Page: [[312]] sack them without grave cause and without the agreement of men independent of it.19

Teachers subject to the government will be at once negligent and servile. Their servility will serve to excuse their negligence. Subject only to public opinion, they would be both active and independent.20

In managing education, government is claiming the right and assuming the duty to maintain a body of doctrine. The word itself tells you the means of which it is obliged to make use. If we allow that it might choose the gentlest ones at first, it is still at least certain that it will not permit the teaching in its schools of any save its preferred opinions.21 There will therefore be rivalry between state education and private education. State education will be salaried; there will therefore be opinions invested with privilege. But if this privilege is not enough to secure dominance for the favored opinions, do you believe that government, jealous by nature, will not resort to other means? Do you not see as the final outcome persecution, more or less disguised, but the constant companion of all unnecessary activity by government?

We see governments, which seem not to trouble individual education in anything, nevertheless favoring always the establishments they have founded, by demanding of all candidates for appointments in the state schools, a kind of apprenticeship in these establishments. Thus the talent which has followed the independent route, and which by solitary work has perhaps assembled as much knowledge and probably more originality than it would have done under classroom routine, finds its natural career, the one in which it can communicate and reproduce itself, suddenly closed before it.22

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [375] It is not that, all things being equal, I do not prefer public education to private education. The former makes the rising generation undergo a novitiate of human life, more useful than all the lessons of pure theory, which never replace reality and experience save imperfectly. Public education is salutary above all in free societies. Men brought together at any age and above all in their youth, naturally contract from their reciprocal dealings a sense of justice and habits of equality, which prepare them to become courageous citizens and enemies of despotism. We saw, even under Edition: current; Page: [[313]] the despotism, schools dependent on the government, reproducing in spite of it seeds of freedom which it strove vainly to stifle.

I think, however, that this advantage can be obtained without constraint. The good never needs privileges, and privileges always disfigure the good. It is important, furthermore, that if the educational system the government favors is vicious, or seems so to some people, they can seek refuge in private study or in schools with no government connections. Society must respect individual rights, including parents’ rights over their children.23 If its actions harm them, a resistance will grow which will render government tyrannical and corrupt individuals by obliging them to elude it. There may be objections perhaps to this respect we demand from government for parents’ rights, that the lower classes, reduced by their poverty into making use of their children, once the latter are capable of helping them in their labors, will not have them instructed in the most basic knowledge, even if the instruction were free, if the government is not authorized to constrain them to this. This objection rests, however, on the hypothesis of such poverty among the people that no good can exist alongside it. What is needed is for this poverty not to exist. Once the people enjoy the affluence due to them, far from retaining their children in ignorance, they will hasten to get them schooled. Their vanity will play a part. They will sense the interest in it. The most natural inclination of parents is to raise their children to a higher status. We see this in England, and it is what we saw in France during the Revolution. During that period, though it was disturbed and the people had to suffer a lot from their government, nevertheless simply because there was more affluence, education made astonishing progress Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [376] among that class. Everywhere the education of the people is proportionate to its affluence.

We said at the beginning of this chapter that the Athenians subjected only workaday schools to official inspection. Schools of philosophy remained always absolutely independent, and this enlightened nation has left us a memorable example on this subject. Sophocles the demagogue having proposed the subordination of philosophy teaching to the authority of the Senate, all these men, who, despite their numerous mistakes, ought to serve forever as models, both for love of truth and for respect for tolerance, resigned their positions. The whole nation solemnly declared them exempt from inspections and condemned their absurd opponent to a fine of five talents.24

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You will answer, however, that if there were set up an educational establishment resting on immoral principles, you would fight for the right of the government to check that abuse. This is to forget that for such an establishment to form and survive, it needs students, and parents who place them there, and putting aside, which is not at all reasonable, actually, the parents’ morality, it will never be in their interests to leave those with whom they have the most important and intimate relationships of their whole lives, to be misled in judgment and perverted in their hearts. The practice of injustice and perversity may be useful fleetingly, in a particular situation, but the principle can never have any prerogative. The principle will never be professed save by fools whom a hostile general opinion will repudiate, without government getting involved. There will never be a need to suppress educational establishments where lessons in vice and crime are given, because there will never be such establishments, and if there were, they would hardly be dangerous, because the teachers would remain on their own. For lack of plausible objections, however, people lean on absurd suppositions, and the calculation is not without guile, since there is a danger of leaving suppositions unanswered, and it appears in a sense foolish to refute them.

I hope for much more, for the perfecting of the human race, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [377] from private educational establishments, than from the best-organized public instruction by government.

Who can limit the development of the passion for enlightenment in a free country? You attribute governments with a love of learning. Without examining here the extent to which this tendency is in their interest, I would simply ask you why you assume a lesser love in cultivated individuals, in clear minds and generous spirits. Everywhere government does not weigh on men, everywhere it does not corrupt wealth, conspiring with it against justice, then letters, study, science, the growth and exercise of the intellect will be the favorite pastimes of the opulent classes in society. Look how they carry on in England, forming coalitions, rushing eagerly from all sides. Think of those museums and libraries, those independent learned societies devoted solely to the pursuit of truth, those travelers braving every danger to take human knowledge a step further.

In education as elsewhere, government should be watchful and protective, but always neutral. Let it remove obstacles and make smooth the roads. We can leave it to individuals to walk them successfully.

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chapter seven: On Government Duties vis-à-vis Enlightenment

The duties of government vis-à-vis enlightenment are simple and easy. They are of quite another nature, however, from the direction they too often claim. Each generation adds to the resources, physical or moral, of the human race. Sometimes new methods are discovered, at other times machines invented, sometimes communication is perfected, at others facts are clarified. All these things are in some degree the acquisition of new faculties. They are worth preserving independently of the incidental purpose for which they can be used. Doubtless all man’s faculties, from those nature Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [378] has given him to those which time reveals to him or his efforts invent, have drawbacks as well as advantages. But the drawbacks of any faculty are not in the faculty itself but in the use made of it. Consequently, as long as government applies itself only to conserving the resources, the discoveries, the new abilities man has won, without giving them an aim or directing their use, it fulfills a salutary function, its action neither equivocal nor complicated. It does only unequivocal and harmless good.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK XV: The Outcome of Preceding Discussion Relative to the Action of Government

  • Ch. 1. The outcome of the preceding discussion. 321
  • Ch. 2. On three pernicious ideas. 322
  • Ch. 3. On ideas of uniformity. 322
  • Ch. 4. Application of this principle to the composition of representative assemblies. 326
  • Ch. 5. Further thoughts on the preceding chapter. 328
  • Ch. 6. On ideas of stability. 338
  • Ch. 7. On premature ameliorations. 340
  • Ch. 8. On a false way of reasoning. 345
Edition: current; Page: [[320]] Edition: current; Page: [[321]]

chapter one: The Outcome of the Preceding Discussion

We have surveyed almost all the matters on which government, exceeding the limits of strict necessity, can take action on grounds of alleged utility. We found that in all these, had people been left to themselves, less bad and more good would have resulted. “When the controls of empires are rooted in good principles,” says Mirabeau,1 “there will be only two concerns, that of maintaining external peace by a good system of defenses, and that of conserving domestic order by the exact, impartial, and inflexible administration of justice. Everything else will be left to individual effort, whose irresistible influence effecting a larger total of satisfactions for each citizen, will infallibly produce a larger amount of public happiness. A sovereign or minister cannot know the affairs even of a thousand men, while each individual in general knows his own very well.”

The governing class create duties for themselves to extend their prerogatives. Overobliging agents of the nation, they constantly assault its freedom, that is to say, the means of happiness nature has given it, and they do this in the name of rendering it happy. They want to control enlightenment, when only experience can guide it. They want to stop crimes, when only the spectacle of punishment stops them surely and without despotism. They want to encourage production, when only individual interest gives it life. They want to establish institutions; habit alone forms them. Governments must watch out that nothing trammels our diverse faculties, but must not permit themselves to take a hand therein. What would the inhabitants of a house say if the guards they had placed at the gates to stop any strangers from intruding and to calm down any domestic disturbance, gave themselves the right to control the actions of those inhabitants Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [384] and to prescribe them a way of life, under the pretext of preventing these intrusions and disturbances, or under the even more absurd one that their way of life would be sweeter following these changes? The governors are these guards, put in place by individuals who come together precisely so that nothing shall trouble their peace of mind or upset their doings. If the governors go further, they become themselves a source of trouble and upset.

The use of penal laws then becomes the most culpable abuse of the right to punish. Rather than extend this terrible right, we should strive to restrain it. Edition: current; Page: [[322]] Instead of multiplying the number of crimes, we should reduce it. It is not a crime in man to mistake his own interest, always supposing he does so; it is not a crime in man to want to manage himself by his own lights, even when government finds them imperfect. It is a crime in government, however, to punish individuals because they do not adopt as their interest what seems so to other men or because they do not rank their own judgments of enlightenment beneath those of others, when, after all, each person is the judge in the last resort. To subordinate individual wishes to the general will, without absolute necessity, is gratuitously to set up obstacles to all our progress. Individual interest is always more enlightened on what concerns it than collective power, whose fault is the sacrificing to its purposes, without care or scruple, of everything which opposes it. It needs to be checked and not to be encouraged.

To increase the force of collective authority is never other than giving more power to some individuals. If the wickedness of men is an argument against freedom, it is an even stronger one against power. For despotism is only the freedom of one or a few against the rest. Burke says that freedom is power.2 One can likewise say that power is freedom. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [385]

chapter two: On Three Pernicious Ideas

Three ideas are particularly dangerous when they take hold of the minds of the governing group; these are the ideas of uniformity, ideas of stability, and the ill-considered desire for premature improvement.

chapter three: On Ideas of Uniformity

M. de Montesquieu, who in his admirable work grasped almost everything, in a short chapter condemns the ideas of uniformity, but in few words, without enlargement and more by way of drawing the reader’s attention to the subject rather than himself analyzing and exploring it more deeply.

“There are,” he says,3 “certain ideas of uniformity which sometimes lay hold of great minds, witness their appeal to Charlemagne, but infallibly Edition: current; Page: [[323]] enthuse small ones. These find in them a type of perfection they recognize, because it is impossible not to detect it in them: the same concentration on public order, the same measures in commerce, the same laws in the State, the same religion throughout. Is this always to the good, however, without exception? Is the evil of change always less than the evil of having to endure? Might not the greatness of genius consist in knowing in which cases uniformity is needed and in which cases differences?”

If the author of The Spirit of the Laws had appealed to history, he would easily have shown that absolute uniformity is in several circumstances contrary to the nature both of men and things.

It is clear that different portions of the same people, placed in circumstances, brought up in customs, living in places, which are all dissimilar, cannot be led to absolutely the same manners, usages, practices, and laws, without a coercion which would cost them more than it is worth. The small advantage of offering a smooth surface over which the lofty eye of government can freely stray, without encountering any inequality which offends it or obstructs its view, is only a puny compensation Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [386] for the sacrifice of a host of sentiments, memories, local tastes, out of which individual happiness, that is to say, the only real happiness, is composed. The chance which submits to the same government diverse local peoples does not in any way alter the inner mentality of each member of these. The series of ideas, from which their moral being has gradually been formed since their infancy, cannot be modified by a purely nominal, external arrangement, most of the time independent of their will, which has nothing in common with their ways, the private and real source of their griefs and pleasures.

It is by sacrificing everything to exaggerated ideas of uniformity that large States have become a scourge for humanity. To renounce that idealist perfection would be to retain for the large States many of the advantages of small ones and combine these with the advantages deriving from greater size.

For morality, justice, peace, a certain kind of happiness, and all natural affections, small States are preferable to large ones. For external security, which is the guarantee of private happiness, for national independence, without which a State is the plaything or victim of its neighbors, for the enlightenment which is the strongest barrier against oppression, large States have huge advantages over small ones. The mix of economic and political organization being much more varied in these adds greatly to everyday experience. Prejudice dies sooner. The kind of abuse which is reformed swiftly and almost spontaneously in a large State can be kept Edition: current; Page: [[324]] going forever in a country enclosed within narrow limits. It is because the Roman empire had conquered three-quarters of the world that slavery was destroyed. If that empire had been divided into a multitude of independent States, none would have given the lead with the abolition of slavery, since the immediate advantage to its own detriment this would have given its neighbors would have struck each one of them.4 There are acts of justice capable of enactment only simultaneously and which therefore never happen, because if they happen partially, the most generous become temporarily victims of their generosity.

In recognizing the advantages of large States, however, one must not underestimate their multiple and terrible drawbacks. Their Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [387] size requires an activism and force at the heart of government which is difficult to contain and degenerates into despotism. The laws come from a point so far from those to whom they are supposed to apply that the inevitable effect of such distance is serious and frequent error. Local injustices never reach the heart of government. Placed in the capital, it takes the views of its surrounding area or at the very most of its place of residence for those of the whole State. A local or passing circumstance thus becomes the reason for a general law, and the inhabitants of the most distant provinces are suddenly surprised by unexpected innovations, unmerited severity, vexatious regulations, undermining the basis of all their calculations, and all the safeguards of their interests, because two hundred leagues away men who are total strangers to them had some inkling of agitation, divined certain needs, or perceived certain dangers.

I am not even sure whether in terms of prestige, that noble motive of human action, large countries are not fatal. Today small States are scorned as too restrictive a field of action. But a very populous society puts an almost insurmountable barrier in the way of personal distinction. To win the admiration of one’s fellow citizens one must uplift the mass of the people. The larger the country, the heavier that mass. Therefore we see in overlarge countries a small State forming at the center. That small State is the capital. All ambitions go there to vent themselves. Everywhere else is immobile, inert, becalmed.

One could guard against most of these drawbacks by abjuring ideas of conformity or at least by restricting them to a very few objects. The government of a large country must always partake somewhat of the nature of federalism. The rules in this respect are very simple and all start from the Edition: current; Page: [[325]] principle which is the basis of this book. The management of the affairs of everybody belongs to everybody, that is, to the government instituted by everybody. What touches only a minority should be decided by that minority. What relates only to the individual must be referred only to the individual. It cannot be said too often that the general will is no more worthy than the individual one, when it steps Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [388] outside its jurisdiction. Suppose a nation of twenty million souls, split between a number of communes. In each commune, each individual will have interests which concern only him and which should consequently not fall under the jurisdiction of the commune. Others will concern, as well as him, all the people in the commune, and his other interests will be within the communal jurisdiction. These communes, in their turn, will have interests which are their internal business only and other interests which concern the whole society. I appreciate that I am jumping the intermediary stages. The first will be within the competence of the communal legislation, the latter of the general. Uniformity is admissible only for the latter.

Notice that under the idea of interests I include habits. Nothing is more absurd than to claim one can violate men’s habits on the pretext of better directing them in terms of their interests. Their prime interest is happiness, and habits form an essential part of their happiness.

If governments observed these rules, large States would be a better solution in several respects and would cease to be an evil in several others. The capital would cease to be a unique center, destructive of any other centers. It would become a link between diverse centers. Patriotism would be reborn, the patriotism which cannot exist save by attachment to local interests, mores, and customs. Just as man’s nature struggles obstinately, though almost always unsuccessfully, against the no less obstinate errors of government, so one sees this kind of patriotism, the only real kind, reborn from its ashes, once the government stays its hand for an instant. The magistrates of the smallest communes will be delighted to embellish them; their inhabitants will find pleasure in everything which gives them even the deceptive sense of corporate identity and of being brought together by individual links. One feels that if they were not stopped in the development of this innocent inclination, there would soon form in them a kind of communal pride, so to speak, pride in the town and province; and this sentiment would be singularly Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [389] favorable to morality. It would also be singularly favorable to the love of the metropolis itself, which would seem the protector and tutelary deity of all the little fatherlands living in the shelter of its power, instead of what it is today, their implacable adversary Edition: current; Page: [[326]] and ever threatening enemy. How bizarre that those who called themselves ardent friends of freedom have worked relentlessly to destroy the natural basis of patriotism, to replace it with a false passion for an abstract being, for a general idea deprived of everything which strikes the imagination and speaks to memory! How bizarre that to build an edifice, they have begun by crushing and reducing to powder all the materials they needed to use. They almost designated by numbers the different parts of the empire they claimed to be regenerating, as they did so designate the legions intended to defend it, so greatly did they seem to fear that some moral idea might manage to link itself to what they were instituting and upset the uniformity which seemed to them so beautiful and desirable. This strangeness is explained, however, when we reflect that these men were drunk with power. Local interests and memories contain a principle of resistance which government allows only with regret and which it is keen to uproot. It makes even shorter work of individuals. It rolls its immense mass effortlessly over them, as over sand. These individuals furthermore, detached from their native soil, with no contact with the past, living only in a swift-moving present and thrown like atoms on a monotonous plain, take no interest in a fatherland they nowhere perceive and whose totality becomes indifferent to them, because their affection cannot rest on any of its parts. In these large countries where local interests, customs, and habits, treated with contempt, are constantly sacrificed to what are called general considerations, “patriotism,” as M. de Pauw says, “would be a figment of the imagination even if these states were not governed in so despotic a way that no interest could be known there save that of the despot himself.”5 Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [390]

chapter four: Application of This Principle to the Composition of Representative Assemblies

The mania for leveling a country by uniform institutions, the hatred of local interests, the desire to make them disappear, have today led to a singular approach to the composition of representative assemblies. Montesquieu seems to have had a presentiment of this approach and to have wanted to refute it in advance. “One knows much better the needs of one’s own town,” he says, “than those of other towns. And one judges better as to the capacity of one’s neighbors than that of one’s other compatriots. Therefore the members of Edition: current; Page: [[327]] the legislative body should not be drawn in general from the body of the nation. It is more fitting that in each principal place the inhabitants choose themselves a representative.”6 In recent years precisely the opposite has been said. When a large population, spread over a vast area, it was asserted, appoints its representatives, without any intermediary, this operation forces it to divide itself into sections. These are set at distances which do not allow communication or mutual agreement. The result is sectional choices. Unity in elections must be sought in the unity of the electoral body.7 “The choices must not flow from below, where they will always necessarily be done badly, but from above, where they will always necessarily be done well.” The electoral body should be placed “not at the base but at the summit of the political establishment.”8 Only a body thus placed can really know the object or the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [391] general purpose of all legislation. This reasoning rests on a very exaggerated idea of the general interest, of the general purpose, of all the things to which this phrase applies; but what is this general interest save the dealings which operate between all individual interests? What is general representation but the representation of all the partial interests which must negotiate on matters common to them? The general interest is doubtless distinct from particular ones. But it is not contrary to them. The talk is always as if it gains from their losing. It is only the outcome of these combined interests. It differs from them only as a body differs from its parts. Individual interests are what most interest individuals. Sectional interests, to use the word devised to wither them, are what interest sections the most. Now, it is these individuals and sections which make up the body politic. It is therefore the interests of these individuals and these sections which must be protected. If one protects all of them, one will thereby remove from each whatever it contains which might harm the others. Only thus can the true public interest be reached. Public interest is only individual interests prevented from harming each other. The principle on which rests the need for the unity of the electoral body is therefore completely erroneous. A hundred Edition: current; Page: [[328]] deputies elected by a hundred different parts of the country bring individual interests and the local preferences of their constituents inside the assembly. This base is useful to them. Forced to debate together, they soon notice respective sacrifices which are indispensable. They strive to keep these at a minimum, and this is one of the great advantages of this type of appointment. Necessity always ends by uniting them in common negotiation, and the more sectional the choices have been, the more the representation achieves its general purpose. If you reverse the natural progression, if you put the electoral body at the top of the structure, those it appoints find themselves called to pronounce on a public interest with whose elements they are unfamiliar. You charge them with negotiating for sections or regions they do not know or whose interests and reciprocal needs they scorn. I want Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [392] the representative of a section of the country to be its instrument, abandoning none of its real or imaginary rights, such that having defended them, he will be biased in favor of the section whose mandatory he is, because if each one supports his constituency, the bias of each will in union have all the advantages of the impartiality of all. Assemblies, however sectional their composition, tend all too often to contract an esprit de corps which isolates them from the nation. Placed in the capital, far from the section of the nation which elected them, representatives lose sight of the usages, needs, and way of life of their constituents. They lend themselves to general ideas of leveling, symmetry, uniformity, mass changes, and universal recasting, bringing upset, disorder, and confusion to distant regions. It is this disposition we must combat, because it is on particular memories, habits, and regional laws that the happiness and peace of a province rest. National assemblies are scornful and careless with these things. How would things fare if these instruments of the public will had no connection save with a body placed at the top of the social edifice? The larger a State is, the less admissible is a single electoral body. The stronger the central government, the more necessary is it that choices start from below rather than above. Otherwise you will have corporate bodies vacantly deliberating and inferring from their indifference to individual interests that they are devoted to the general interest.

chapter five: Further Thoughts on the Preceding Chapter

I have let myself get drawn into looking at a question which I confess interests me greatly, and although it breaks out of the precise limits of this work in some respects, I cannot refrain from adding a few further Edition: current; Page: [[329]] thoughts here on the drawbacks of the appointment of representative assemblies by a single body and on the advantages of the opposite system.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [393] Whatever discredit one heaps on intrigue, on efforts to captivate a fickle and emotional multitude, these things are a hundred times less corrupting than the circuitous endeavors one needs to win over a small number of men in power. Intrigue is dangerous in a senate, dangerous in an aristocratic parliament, but not in the context of the nation, whose nature it is to act from emotion. The misfortune of a republic is when there is no intrigue.9 Nothing vile is pleasing to the people as a whole. But powerful individuals are only too prone to enjoying the humility of prayers and the baseness of adulation. What has to be done to carry a large meeting has to be done in broad daylight, and modesty moderates public actions. But when people cringe before a few men whom they are imploring individually, they grovel in the shadows, and servility knows no limits. If election by the people sometimes entails culpable seduction, most often it demands honorable and useful means, kindness, benevolence, justice, and protection. When the election depends upon an electoral college, another route is mapped out. It is certainly not toward the countryman’s dwelling but toward the palace of the electoral college that the candidates direct their steps. They are dependent not on the people but on the government, and if dependence on inferiors makes citizens, dependence on superiors makes slaves. It is a sad education for the people’s mandatories which imposes on them an apprenticeship in dissimulation and hypocrisy, condemning them to humiliating supplication, to obsequious salutation, to adroitness, genuflection, and flattery, doubtless to prepare them for the unbending courage which has to check despotism and plead the cause of the weak against the strong. There are eras when anything at all resembling energy is feared, when gentleness, flexibility, and hidden gifts and private virtues are vaunted. Then are dreamed up modes of election best suited to reward these precious gifts. These, however, are eras of degradation. Let sweetness and flexibility find favor with courts, and let hidden talents declare themselves; let private virtues Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [394] find their reward in domestic happiness. The choice of the people belongs to men who command attention, who attract respect, who have acquired the right to esteem, confidence, and popular recognition. And these more energetic men will also be more moderate. People always take mediocrity as peaceful. It is peaceful only when it is Edition: current; Page: [[330]] locked up. When chance invests it with power, it is a thousand times more incalculable in its motion, more envious, more obstinate, more immoderate, and more convulsive than talent, even when emotions lead the latter astray. Education calms the emotions, softens egotism, and soothes vanity.

One of the greatest advantages of representative government is to establish frequent relations between the diverse classes of society. Sectional election requires on the part of the powerful classes sustained consideration for the lower classes. It forces wealth to conceal its arrogance, power to moderate its action by placing in the people’s votes a reward for justice and kindness and punishment for oppression. This advantage disappears when you entrust elections to the choice of a great electoral college.

Perhaps it will be objected that in granting political rights only to property owners, I am lessening this advantage of the representative system. But under modern social conditions there is no line of demarcation between small owners and nonowners such that the rich can win over the former by oppressing the latter. Nonproprietors, artisans in the small towns and villages, day laborers in the hamlets are all relations of small owners. They would make common cause against the oppressor. So to get the votes of those who have the vote, you will have to treat them all considerately. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [395] This everyday device for happiness and harmony must not be lightly renounced, nor should we disdain this motive for benevolence, which may start as a mere calculation but soon becomes a habitual virtue.

The complaint is that wealth is concentrated in the capital and the countryside drained by the continual taxation it bears, which never returns to it. Popular election pushes owners back to the properties from which they distance themselves. When they could not care less about popular suffrage, their reckoning is confined to getting out of their property the greatest possible revenue. Popular election suggests they adopt a nobler reckoning, much more useful to those who live under their domination. Without popular election they need only credit, and this need groups them together around the central government. Under election by the people they have to be popular. Bringing them back toward the source of their popularity, it roots their political existence in their possessions. The benefits of feudalism have sometimes been praised for keeping the lord in the midst of his vassels and sharing out the opulence equally between all the parts of the territory. Popular election has the same desirable effect without entailing the same abuses. People constantly talk of encouraging agriculture and honoring work. They try awarding prizes, capriciously doled out, and medals which public opinion wrangles over. It would be simpler to give the farming Edition: current; Page: [[331]] classes a degree of importance. But this importance cannot be created by decree or edict. Its basis must be grounded in the interests all hopes have in its being recognized and all ambitions in treating it carefully. In replacing artificial devices, which they try out and change, with respect for the principles of freedom, governments would attain more swiftly and surely the purpose they must have in mind. In letting men enjoy the rights which belong to them, you free them from having to have recourse to uncertain resources and complex improvisations with no durable effect, because their stability depends not on the nature of things but on the arrangements of a few individuals. In sum, only sectional election by the people can invest national representation with real force, and give it deep roots in public opinion. You will never surmount or render silent the feeling which cries out to us that the man we Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [396] have not elected is not our representative. And should calumny pursue him, or government menace him personally, against these attacks will he know to whom to run? To whom will he say: I have faithfully fulfilled the mission with which you entrusted me; I am persecuted for having protected you? Where will he find a voice which recognizes his own and which replies to him? What fraction of the people will believe itself bound up with him in his courage and danger? The whole nation? But the whole nation is nothing. Can a nation spread across an immense territory manifest a view or experience a spontaneous impulse? Only in always speaking of the entire nation, in destroying all fractions, in intercepting all communication between them and those who defend them, in recognizing their mandatories as mere representatives of an abstract being, who never has positive existence, only thus does despotism become impregnable in its lair. When assemblies which call themselves representative are not selected by the people, they are helpless before the executive power. If they put up some resistance to it, it demands to know by what right. What is your authority? How can you be the representatives of the people? Did they appoint you? If public opinion disapproves a law or protests against some arbitrary act, then the government cries: what are these seditious claims? Has not the national representative chamber discussed, deliberated, consented? Or perhaps, has its silence not sanctioned things? Only the legitimate institutions of the nation can express its sovereign will. The executive power is protected from all blame, since the people’s delegates approve it. Thus by turns the unfortunate nation and its so-called mandatories are treated like a game. Thus the semblance of representation never constitutes any barriers, but serves as an apologia for all excesses. It would be an error, as M. Necker observes, to believe that the Edition: current; Page: [[332]] part given to the people in the election of lawmakers has no purpose save ensuring further the suitability of those chosen.10 Six hundred fifty men drawn by lot from the rich and cultivated class which supplies the membership of the English House of Commons would form in my view a body as enlightened as the one which results today from the British elections. All the advantages we have just described, however, would vanish. There would be no more consideration for inferiors, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [397] no more inviolable credentials for opposing the government, and no more of this salutary movement spreading life, strength, and health through all the parts of the body politic. Citizens are interested in their institutions only when they are called to participate in them with their votes. Now, this interest is indispensable in the formation of a public spirit, that power without which no freedom lasts, that guarantee against all the perils, always invoked in certain countries without its ever being created. Public spirit, based on popular election, has sustained Great Britain, in the midst of the most expensive and desperate war. It is through popular election that press freedom, under very easily offended ministers, has survived every crisis. Without popular election, a country’s citizens never have this sense of their importance which makes them see the glory and freedom of their country as the most important part of their individual patrimony. I know that lately some among us have conceived many prejudices against popular elections. Nevertheless, until our times all experience testifies in their favor. The people of Athens, free in their choice, says Xenophon, whom one would never suspect of overfondness for democracy and its storms, have never asked for positions touching on their city’s safety or honor to be given to men unworthy to fill them.11 Livy shows us the outcomes of the Roman Edition: current; Page: [[333]] Comitia, proving always that the spirit of the people was different depending on whether they were demanding the right to control the high positions in the Republic or whether, the combat over, the victory won, they were pronouncing calmly, according to conscience and reason. Despite the efforts of their tribunes and the interests of their class, their choices were constantly directed toward the most virtuous and the most Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [398] illustrious.12 Since 1688 the elections in England have brought no one into the House of Commons save enlightened property owners. One could scarcely cite a man of distinguished political talent whom that election has not honored, when he has sought it. The profound peace of America, the firm moderation she has deployed in difficult circumstances, the speeches and acts of Jefferson, the choice of such a man by representatives elected by the people, constitute a justification of its franchise which nothing can weaken, because it cannot be attributed to inaccurate or exaggerated accounts. If, in the history of the ten years which have just passed by, certain facts seem unfavorable to popular election, special causes explain this. First of all, we have never really had popular election. From the introduction of representation in our political institutions, the intervention of the people has been feared. Electoral colleges have been created, and these have distorted the effects of the election. Popular governments would be the triumph of mediocrity, were it not for a sort of moral electricity with which nature has endowed men, as though to ensure the dominance of genius. The larger the assemblies are, the more powerful is this electricity, and since, when it is a question of election, it is useful that this electricity directs the choices, the assemblies charged with the appointment of the people’s representatives must be as numerous as is compatible with good order. In England, the candidates harangue the electors who surround them from the height of a rostrum, in the middle of a public place or an open space full of people. In our electoral colleges, numbers were restricted and proceedings severe. A rigorous silence was prescribed, and no question was put such as might agitate minds or subjugate, for an instant, individual ambition or local egoism. Now, uneducated men are fair only when they are carried along. They are carried along only when, brought together in a crowd, they act and react on each other almost boisterously. You cannot attract the attention of several thousand citizens without great wealth or far-reaching reputation. In a gathering of two or three hundred, a few domestic Edition: current; Page: [[334]] connections can seize a majority. To be selected by the people, you need supporters beyond their purview and the positive advantages this brings. To be chosen Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [399] by a few electors, it is enough to have no enemies. The advantage lies entirely with negative qualities, and luck even favors the untalented. As regards many issues, the national representatives in France have been less advanced than public opinion. I am not speaking of party questions. During civil turmoil, education has no effect on these. I am speaking of matters of political economy. It is just that our electoral assemblies, with the obstacles they put in the way of all personal influence and their encouragement of calumny, made election a lottery with the dice often falling on mediocre or unknown men. In this first respect, we cannot judge popular election in France because it has simply not existed. Secondly, for election to be popular, it must be essentially free, which it never was at any point during the Revolution. Who is not aware that the first moves of an institution may be accompanied by troubles alien to it? The overthrow of what has been, the passions stirred in opposite directions, all these things are ordinarily contemporary with great political changes among peoples of advanced civilization, but derive in no way from the principles or nature of what one wishes to establish. To decide against popular election on the basis of the happenings of the French Revolution, is to judge national assemblies by comparison with Cromwell’s Parliament or royalty by comparison with Charles VI’s demented reign. Finally, during the ascendancy of our assemblies, no constitution placed real limits on legislative power. Now, when legislative power is quite limitless, when the nation’s representatives think themselves invested with boundless sovereignty, when no counterweight exists to their decrees either in executive or judiciary power, the tyranny of those elected by the people is as disastrous as any other, whatever name it bears. The absolute, unlimited sovereignty of the people was transferred by the nation, or as is usual, at least in its name, by those who dominated it, to representative assemblies. These exercised an unparalleled despotism. This had to be, as we have sufficiently demonstrated earlier. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [400] The constitution13 which first put an end to this period of despotism and madness still did not sufficiently limit the legislative power. It established no counterweight to its excesses. It did not enshrine either the indispensable veto of the executive power or the equally indispensable possibility of the dissolution of the representative assemblies. It did Edition: current; Page: [[335]] not even guarantee, as do some American constitutions, the most sacred rights of individuals against the encroachments of legislators.14

It is hardly surprising that the legislative power has continued to do harm. People have laid the blame on popular election. This was a profound mistake. It was absolutely not the mode of appointment of the legislators which needed blaming but the nature of their power. The fault was not in the choices made by those represented but in the unchecked powers of their representatives. The ill would not have been less had the mandatories of the nation appointed themselves or had they been appointed by a corporate body however constituted. There was no counterweight, no suppression, no check to their will, decorated though it was with the name of the law. That was the source of the ill. When legislative authority covers everything, it can do only ill, no matter how it is appointed. If you restrict it to things in its jurisdiction, if it is asked to pronounce only on punishments for crimes in the future, on what proportion of individual property must be assigned to public use, on the means of defense to be directed against foreign enemies; if, far from being able to conspire against freedom, its only power is to guarantee and defend it, do not fear to leave to the people the choice of holders of that tutelary power. It will do only good things. For it to do so, however, it must emanate from its true source. The representatives of the nation, proud of their national mission, must place their hope and find their reward only in the votes of those they represent. I will close this digression with two considerations all the more important in their touching on power as much as freedom. The appointment of representative assemblies by an electoral college creates an authority which is neither that of the government nor of the people. And if that authority develops a feeling of hatred for the government, it is in vain that the latter may be surrounded with public affection, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [401] in vain that it deserves it. The people who do not have right of election can change nothing in the makeup of the assemblies which speak in their name. It would be in vain too if the government had the right to dissolve them. Dissolution is nothing without popular election, for there is no longer any recourse to the wishes of the people. If the electoral college agrees with the government, the nation will be faced, without being able to make itself heard, with the removal of its most faithful mandatories, the true representatives of its will. If the electoral college is hostile to the government, it will be in vain that the people surround the latter with their love and confidence. Government and nation will see Edition: current; Page: [[336]] seditious representatives reelected, without any constitutionally legitimate opposition possible, whom the unanimous disavowal of their constituents will not be able to deprive of their position as their deputies. A remarkable era in the annals of the British Parliament brings out the importance of this consideration. In 1783 the English king dismissed his ministers. Almost the entire Parliament belonged to their party. The English people thought differently. The king having appealed to the people in this, via a dissolution of the House of Commons, an immense majority gave its support to the new government. Now, suppose popular election replaced by the authority of an electoral college, if the majority of that college had leaned toward a party which had neither the assent of the governors nor the governed, this party would have had control of affairs, despite the unanimous manifestation of the national will. So true is it that you do not increase the real and legitimate force of government by attacking the people’s rights and that it is impossible to create a stable organization if you budge from the principles on which freedom rests. If it were claimed that with a bit of skill or lots of force the government will always dominate the electoral body, I would reply first of all that this hypothesis of a representative assembly which is only the instrument of one or a few men is a terrible one. It would be a thousand times better to have no assemblies at all. Oppression is never so terrible in the name of one man as when it borrows the appearances of freedom. One man would never dare to wish on his own what he orders his agents to will, when they call themselves Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [402] organs of an independent authority. Think of the Senate of Tiberius or Henry VIII’s Parliament. But I would next say that a disorderly agency can react against the hand which employs it. A government which makes use of an assembly which it dominates always courts the risk of seeing it suddenly turn against it. The most enslaved corporate bodies are also the most violent when some unforeseen event occurs which breaks their fetters. They wish to break the opprobrium of their long servitude. The same senators who had voted public holidays to celebrate the death of Agrippina and to congratulate Nero for the murder of his mother condemned him to be beaten with rods and thrown in the Tiber.

I know that people want to frighten souls with exaggerated pictures of the tumults of popular elections. More than once a witness of the apparent disorders which accompany contested elections in England, I have seen how unreliable the descriptions made of them are. Unquestionably, I have seen elections accompanied by uproar, brawls, violent disputes, insults often of the grossest sort, everything which characterizes the class Edition: current; Page: [[337]] which physical labor deprives of any culture or elegance, any refined occupation. But election did not bear any less on men of notable talent or wealth. And once this operation was over, everything returned to the customary order. Artisans and workmen, recently obstinate and turbulent, became hardworking, docile, even respectful again. Satisfied with having exercised their rights, they complied all the more readily with social superiorities and conventions, in that they were aware, behaving thus, that they were obeying only the independent calculation of rational interest. The morning after an election there was never the least trace of last night’s disturbances. The people resumed their work, but they had become convinced of their political importance, and public awareness had received the necessary shaking to bring it alive again. Elections are like almost everything else relating to public order. It is by dint of troublesome precautionary measures that people effect them and nurture them. In France our spectacles and fairs are ringed with guards and bayonets. You might well think three French citizens incapable of meeting without two soldiers to separate them. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [403] In England twenty thousand men assemble. Not a single soldier appears among them. The security of each one is entrusted to the reason and interest of each. The crowd, feeling itself the depositary of public order and individual security, guards this duty scrupulously. I will go further. Everything which people invent about the English elections could be proved without my changing my opinion. I would tell myself that for the sense of freedom to penetrate the heart of the nation, it is perhaps necessary sometimes that freedom clothe itself in forms, popular, stormy, boisterous ones, within its understanding. I would rather see a few unforeseen accidents as a result of this, than see the nation becoming indifferent and discouraged because of the absence of these forms. When the nation takes no interest in its rights, power will break out of its confines. Then it undertakes insane wars and allows itself to engage in illegal vexation. And if your counterargument concerns a few individual misfortunes, a few men dead through suffocation by the crowd or in unexpected brawls, I will ask you whether those who are deported to far, distant shores do not perish, or those whom a worthless whim send beyond the seas on murderous expeditions, or those who are locked up in prisons. If these things are prevented only by freely elected representation, anyone who reflects will willingly run the very improbable risk of some fatal mischance to obtain that unique safeguard against the suspicions of tyranny and the madness of ambition.

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chapter six: On Ideas of Stability

It is the same with ideas on stability as it is with those on uniformity. They are the source of the greatest and most troublesome mistakes.

There is no doubt that a certain degree of institutional stability may be desirable. There are advantages which develop only with time. Like freedom, habit is a natural need of man. Now, where all stability is lacking, habits cannot take birth. A man who lived fifty years in an inn, forever thinking he was due to leave next day, would learn Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [404] only the habit of having none. The idea of the future is an element in habit, no less necessary than the past. A nation which perpetually devoted all its strength to seeking political improvements would neglect all the improvements, individual, moral, and philosophical, which are obtained only through peace, and would sacrifice the end to the means. But for the very reason that institutions are means, they must naturally adapt to the times.

By a common enough misunderstanding, when an institution or a law no longer produces the good it once did, it is thought that to restore its former utility it must be established in what is called its old purity. But when an institution is useful, it is so because it chimes with contemporary ideas and enlightenment. When it degenerates or falls into disuse, it is because it chimes no longer. Its usefulness then ceases. The more you reestablish it in its original purity, the more you render it disproportionate with the rest of things.

The vagueness of words always misleads us. It has often been said that governments must conserve, but what they should conserve has not been said. People have not grasped that it should conserve only guarantees of freedom, of the independence of individual faculties and, to that end, of individual physical safety. The result is that governments have believed, or pretended to, that they must use the authority entrusted to them to conserve a certain body of opinions and practices, sometimes as they found them established, sometimes as people said they had once been. The trend of government has habitually in this sense been in the opposite direction to the nature and ends of the human race. The human race being progressive, everything opposing that progress is dangerous, whether or not the opposition is successful.

When opposition is effective, there is stagnation in human faculties, degradation, prejudice, ignorance, error, and consequently crime and suffering.

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If on the contrary the static principle is not decidedly the stronger, there is struggle, violence, convulsions, and disasters.

Upheavals are rightly feared; but people go to the opposite extreme with exaggerated ideas of stability, and these ideas, opposing the progress of things, occasion a Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [405] reaction which produces upheavals. The best way of avoiding them is to fall in with the imperceptible changes inevitable in moral as in physical nature.

The exaggerated idea of stability comes from the desire to govern men by prejudices, to inspire in them just on one’s say-so an admiration for ancient things. I much esteem ancient things. I have said so more than once in this book. I esteem them because all interests share in them. Whenever an institution has lasted a long time, unless it has always been maintained by violence, there has been transaction between this institution and the interests having to coexist with it. This transaction itself has, however, modified the institution. This modification is precisely what makes it useful and applicable. To oppose this modification on the grounds of keeping the institution more intact is to take from what is old its most useful character and most precious advantage. The thinking of some writers in this respect is incomprehensible. “When it is impossible for an ancient law to achieve its purpose,” says one of them,15 “this is a clear indication . . . that the moral order contradicts this law too blatantly and, in this case, it is not the law, but mores which must be changed.” Who would not have believed that this author was going to say that the law should be changed? How, moreover, does one change mores?

The French Revolution filled many wise men and all peaceful ones with a great respect for and love of stability. The leaders of that Revolution had begun by declaring that everything must be destroyed, changed, re-created. Their successors had thought themselves no less mandated to proceed with arbitrary destructions and reconstructions. This constantly renewed operation must have led an unhappy, weary nation to want above all any kind of lasting State at all. Hence the admiration for certain peoples seemingly with no purpose save the imposition on the future of eternal institutions and the blocking of all change. This admiration has not always been thoughtful. Historians have sometimes been appreciative of these peoples for their intentions without examining whether they succeeded.

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Nothing is more laughable in this respect than an article on China, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [406] by a writer I have already cited.16 Having recognized that there has scarcely been a century without that empire undergoing civil wars, invasions, dismemberments, and conquests, and having admitted that these terrible crises exterminated entire generations each time, “honor,” he exclaims, “to the wise legislators and profound moralists” . . . who have kept all dangerous novelty away from China. And what would novelty have produced more unfortunate? It is true that he adds that these legislators had principles in mind more than people. This is just as Robespierre said: “let the colonies perish, rather than a principle.”

Men are inclined to enthusiasm, or to get drunk on certain words. Provided they repeat these words, the reality matters little to them. Two years of horrible and bloody servitude did not stop the French from dating their acts from the fourth year of liberty. A revolution, a change of dynasty, and two hundred thousand men massacred every hundred years do not discourage the panegyrists of China from vaunting the stability of that empire. This stability does not exist for the governed, since they are periodically slaughtered in huge numbers each time a usurper founds a dynasty. It does not exist for the governing class, since the throne is rarely in the same family for several generations. It does exist for institutions, however, and that is what our political writers admire. It is as if institutional stability were the sole end in view, regardless of human happiness, and the human race here on earth only as a means to this.

chapter seven: On Premature Ameliorations

If government acts badly when it stops the natural progress Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [407] of the human race, and guided by false ideas of stability, opposes the imperceptible changes brought into institutions by the progress of ideas, it does no less harm when it encroaches on the proper dictates of the time and devotes itself to thoughtless projects of improvement or reform.

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We will have to deal in detail with this subject when we talk about revolutions, which are usually, in their intentions or at least in the language of their authors, only vast reforms or general improvements. Here we have to consider only the endeavors of proper and stable governments, less hazardous endeavors than popular revolutions, but which have nevertheless more than once been pernicious enough.

When government says to public opinion as Séide does to Mahomet, “I acted in advance of your order,” public opinion replies, as did Mahomet to Séide, “It should have been waited for,”17 and when government refuses to wait, public opinion invariably takes its revenge.

The eighteenth century was fertile in examples of this kind.

Chance brings a man of genius to the government of Portugal. He finds that country plunged into ignorance and bent under the yoke of priesthood. He fails to work out that to break this Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [408] yoke and dispel this deep night he needs a base of support in the national outlook. By a mistake common to those in power, he seeks this base in authority. He thinks by striking a rock he will make a spring flow from it.18 But his imprudent haste turns against him the few independent minds fit to support him. They oppose a vexatious government whose unjust means render its purposes at least doubtful. The influence of the priests grows with the very persecution of which they are victims. The marquis de Pombal wishes in vain to turn against them the powerful weapons they hold. Censorship, aimed at condemning works favorable to the Jesuits, itself falls victim to condemnation. The nobles rise. The prisons fill. Frightful punishments bring consternation everywhere. The minister becomes an object of horror to all classes. After twenty years of tyrannical administration, he is robbed of his protector by the king’s death. He barely escapes the scaffold, and the nation blesses the moment when an apathetic and superstitious government replaces the government claiming to be reformist.19

In Austria, Joseph II succeeds Maria Theresa. He observes sadly that the education of his subjects is inferior to that of all neighboring peoples.

Impatient to eliminate an inequality which offends him, he calls to his aid all the means with which his power provides him. He does not neglect Edition: current; Page: [[342]] even those promised by freedom. He establishes it for the press. He encourages writers to uncover all abuses and thinks he is helping them marvelously by lending them the support of power. What results from this unnatural alliance? That obscure monks and ignorant nobles struggle successfully against the projects of the philosopher, because the philosopher was emperor. His authority is drained in the redoubling of effort. Resistance makes him cruel. His administration becomes odious through excessive severity and iniquitous spoliation. The regrets which go with sterile good intentions, the sadness of being misunderstood, perhaps also the grief of wounded vanity, drive Joseph to his grave. His last words are a confession of his impotence and misfortune;20 and since the end of his reign, every day Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [409] we see some of the abuses he thought he had destroyed breaking out and rising anew.

Of all monarchs who have arrogated to themselves the difficult function of speeding up their peoples’ progress toward civilization, those of Russia are certainly the most excusable. One cannot deny that from the time of Peter I,21 the monarchs of that vast empire have been much more enlightened than their subjects. With the exception of a few bizarre things inseparable from any plan spontaneously constructed in the minds of powerful men, the reforms planned and executed by the autocrats of Russia were incontestably real improvements. But the great adopted them only by calculation or imitation, without being able to convince themselves, on their own account, of their intrinsic merit, and regarding philosophy and education, just as luxury and the arts, as adornments necessary to a nation wishing to become European; the people submitted to these changes only by constraint, after numberless persecutions. None of these sound ideas, perceived by government, took root. None of the institutions it commanded became habitual. Morality suffered from the abolition of ancient usages which had always served as its base. Enlightenment made little progress, because such progress depends on a series of ideas powerless until the series is complete and which cannot be introduced by an absolutist government. Peter I’s efforts to advance reason remained fruitless because they were in principle vicious. Reason is no longer itself when it lacks freedom. In Russia there is a show of things French at the court and among the nobles, of things Prussian in the army and English in the navy, but the mass of the people in its opinions, customs, and outlook, even down to its clothes, is still an Asiatic nation.

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It is only since the beginning of the reign of Alexander that Russia has some chance of enlightenment. This young prince seeks not at all to reform the people but to moderate the government. He does not direct thought; rather he restrains government.22 Now, thought is strengthened when redundant activity is removed from government. For a people to progress, it suffices that government does not shackle them. Progress is in human nature. The government which leaves it alone favors it enough. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [410] May Alexander persevere in this at once prudent and generous way and protect himself against the mistrust which seeks to interrupt and the impatience which wants to push ahead.

If we attributed the poor results of so many reforms and innovations attempted in vain by government to the nature of the administrations which presided over these attempts, and if we claimed that, resting on improper bases and always fearful of disturbing them, they were incapable of doing lasting good, because they could want such good only half-heartedly, if we thought that less mistaken governments, ones which had not forced themselves to tread carefully when remedying abuses, would have progressed more crisply, destroyed without difficulty everything in need of destruction, established painlessly everything desirable, experience would soon come and overturn that chimerical supposition.

Doubtless the governments we have cited as examples were in a particularly difficult situation. Pulled by the spirit of the age, they aimed at honoring philosophy, but they did not dare frankly to renounce the support of prejudice. They accepted a few of the most evident rights of the human race, but from their high rank they believed they could represent this acceptance as a gracious one. They thought they owed it to themselves to keep in reserve the right to do all the harm they did not do, not that, to do them justice, they made use of it, but in disclaiming for ordinary purposes the practice of despotism, they retained the theory as part of their beloved decorative pomp. They felt strongly, nevertheless, that security alone could merit gratitude, and they strove, by way of conditional sentences and preambles full of restrictions, to produce security without giving constitutional guarantee. This inherently self-destructive double task contributed greatly, I like to believe, to their faults and reverses. But have we not seen in our country, during the first years of the Revolution, a government free of all oppositional intent finding itself first of Edition: current; Page: [[344]] all forsaken, then attacked by public opinion, solely for having pushed forward and precipitately carried out improvements which that very opinion had long seemed to be demanding? The government had taken a few stray and as yet uncertain inclinations and still partial reflections for a general will.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [411] But, someone will ask, how can you know precisely what the state of public opinion is? You cannot count votes. It is only after some particular measure has been taken that opposition appears. Then it is often too late to withdraw. To say that we should not run ahead of public opinion is therefore to say nothing.

I reply first of all that if you allow opinion the right of expression, you will know it readily. Do not provoke it, nor excite hopes by indicating the direction in which you want it to pronounce, for then, to please government, flattery will assume the shape of opinion. Put an irreligious monarch at the head of a devout people and the most flexible of his courtiers will be precisely the most unbelieving. As soon as a government declares for some philosophy, a phalanx forms around it, all the more clamorous in the favored opinion in having none at all itself; and government readily takes the supine surrounding agreement for universal feeling. If government stays neutral, however, letting people debate, opinions join combat and enlightenment is born of their clash. A national outlook forms, and the truth brings together such agreement that it is no longer possible to fail to recognize it.

Secondly, thinking tends to modify gradually laws and institutions which clash with it. Let it do this work. It has the double advantage of softening the execution of defective laws which persist and preparing their abrogation.

When you want to destroy an institution which seems improper to you, let people break free of it, but do not require them to. Allowing this, you call to your aid all educated forces. Requiring it, you arm many interests against you. I will use an example to make myself clear. There are two ways to do away with monasteries. One is to open their doors, the other Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [412] to drive away their inhabitants. The former does good, without doing bad. It breaks chains but does not violate sanctuary. The latter overturns all the expectations based on public faith. It insults old age, which it drags, listless and defenseless, into an unknown world. It undermines an incontestable right of individuals, namely to choose their way of life, to hold their property in common, and to come together to profess the same doctrine, to attend the same rituals, to enjoy the same prosperity, and to savor the same relaxation. And this injustice turns against reform the very outlook which only recently seemed to uphold it.

In short, any improvement, any amelioration contrary to the habits of a large section of the nation, must as far as possible be adjourned till the time Edition: current; Page: [[345]] is right. This spares the present generation and prepares the one which must follow. Youth, innovation’s collaborator, progresses. Old age has no interest in declaring hostilities, and the change anticipated in this way becomes almost a habit before it is affected.

Time, says Bacon, is the great reformer.23 Do not refuse its help. Let it go before you, so it can smooth the way. If it has not prepared what you set up, your orders will be in vain. Your institution, however good in theory, is only a mechanism and not part of your administration. It will not be more difficult to rescind your laws than you found it to rescind other ones; and all that will be left of your rescinded ones will be the harm they have done.

chapter eight: On a False Way of Reasoning

An error slides constantly into the arguments used to support the indefinite latitude allowed to govenment action. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [413] From negative facts positive theories are derived. When, for example, people rave about the power of the law, about the influence of the guidance government gives to the intellectual faculties of man, they cite the corruption of Italy, fruit of superstition, the apathy and degradation of the Turks, a product of political and religious despotism, French frivolity, the result of a despotic government resting on vanity. From government’s ability to do great harm it is concluded that it can do much good. These two questions are very different.

If the English example is pleaded to us, far be it from us to lessen our praise for more than a century of public spirit and freedom. But again two things are being confused, the organization of government in the English constitution and the intervention of that government in individual relations. The latter is being seen as causing the effects of the former. England has political institutions which guarantee freedom. It has institutions of production which hinder it. It is because of the former and despite the latter that England flourishes.24 We are far from denying freedom’s benefits. We recognize them joyfully and desire them ardently; but freedom is precisely the opposite of what is being proposed to us.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK XVI: On Political Authority in the Ancient World

  • Ch. 1. Why among the ancients political authority could be more extensive than in modern times. 351
  • Ch. 2. The first difference between the social State of the ancients and that of modern times. 352
  • Ch. 3. The second difference. 353
  • Ch. 4. The third difference. 355
  • Ch. 5. The fourth difference. 358
  • Ch. 6. The fifth difference. 359
  • Ch. 7. The result of these differences between the ancients and the moderns. 361
  • Ch. 8. Modern imitators of the republics of antiquity. 365
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chapter one: Why among the Ancients Political Authority Could Be More Extensive Than in Modern Times

Before finishing this work I believe I must resolve a difficulty which perhaps has already struck more than one of my readers. The principles I represent as the basis of all possible freedom today are directly opposed to the principles formerly adopted for political organization by most of the free nations of antiquity. If we except Athens, all the Greek republics submitted individuals to an almost boundless political jurisdiction. It was the same in the great centuries of the Roman Republic. The individual was entirely sacrificed to the collectivity. The ancients, as Condorcet remarks,1 had no notion of individual rights. Men were so to speak just machines, their springs regulated and all their movements directed by the law. Yet it is the ancients who offer us the noblest examples of political freedom history brings down to us. We find among them the model of all the virtues which the enjoyment of that freedom produces and which it needs for its persistence.

One cannot reread, even today, the beautiful annals of antiquity, one cannot retrace the actions of its great men, without feeling some emotion or other of a profound and special type, which nothing modern makes one experience. The old elements of a nature so to speak earlier than ours seem to reawaken in us at these memories. It is hard not to regret these times, when human faculties were developing in a premapped direction, but on a vast scale, so strong in their own powers, and with such a sense of energy and dignity. When we give in to these regrets, it is impossible Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [420] not to tend to imitate what we regret. As a result, those who since the Renaissance have striven to draw the human race out of the degradation into which those two linked scourges of superstition and conquest had plunged it, have for the most part believed they had to draw from the ancients the maxims, the institutions, and the practices favorable to freedom. But they failed to recognize many of the differences which, in distinguishing us in essence from the ancients, make almost all their institutions inapplicable to our times. Since this misjudgment contributed more than people think to the misfortunes of the Revolution which signaled the end of the last century, I think I must devote several chapters to bringing out these differences.

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chapter two: The First Difference between the Social State of the Ancients and That of Modern Times

It has often been observed that the ancient republics were confined within narrow limits. From this truth has been drawn a consequence which it is not within our brief to examine here, namely that a republic is impossible in a large State.2 But another consequence which has not been drawn seems to me to flow much more naturally from it. This is that States much larger than the ancient republics had to modify in quite different ways the duties of citizens, and that the degree of individual freedom could not be the same in both cases.

Each citizen in the ancient republics, circumscribed by the smallness of their territory, had great personal importance politically. The exercise of political rights there was everybody’s constant enjoyment and occupation. For example, in Athens the whole people took part in trials. Their share of sovereignty was not as in our time an abstract supposition. Their will was a real influence and Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [421] not susceptible to mendacious falsification and corrupted representation. If political power was oppressive, each citizen consoled himself with the hope of exercising it. Today the mass of citizens is called to exercise sovereignty only in illusory fashion. The people can only be slaves or free; but they are never in charge.

The happiness of the majority no longer rests in the enjoyment of power but in individual freedom. Among the ancients the extension of political power constituted the prerogative of each citizen. In modern times it consists in the sacrifices individuals make.

In the ancient republics, while the exercise of political authority was a right for all, at the same time submission to that fearsome power was also a necessity for all. The people engaged in sovereign debate in the public place. Every citizen was visible and de facto subject to that sovereignty. Today the great States have created a new guarantee, obscurity. This guarantee reduces the dependence of individuals on the nation. Now it is clear, absolutely clear, that a dependence which on the one hand gives less enjoyment and on the other can be avoided more easily is one which cannot last.

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chapter three: The Second Difference

A second difference between the ancients and the moderns stems from the very different condition of the human race in these two periods. Formerly small peoples, almost without reciprocal relations, joined battle over a limited territory. These peoples pushed by necessity one against another, fought or threatened each other endlessly. Those who did not want to be conquerors could not put down the sword for fear of being conquered. They bought their security, independence, their lives at the price of war. Though history presents us alongside these small nations with some large trading or peaceful nations, such nations are much less well known than the warlike ones. We see Egypt only through the mendacious accounts of its priests, distorted further by the exaggerations of Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [422] Greek credulity. On the Phoenicians we possess only a few geographical data. We follow their sea journeys on the map. We speculate which shores they touched upon. We know almost nothing, however, about their institutions, mores, or internal life. The Athenians are the only people of antiquity who are not exclusively warlike and about whom history nevertheless bequeaths us some precise details. Moreover, Athens differed much less from today’s societies than did other small peoples of the same period. By a remarkable singularity, however, those who offer us antiquity as a model choose by preference exclusively bellicose peoples like the Spartans and the Romans. This is because only these nations lend support to their theoretical view-point, only they brought together great political freedom and an almost total absence of individual freedom.3

Our world is precisely the opposite of the ancient one. Everything in antiquity related to war. Today everything is reckoned in terms of peace. In former times each people was an isolated family, born hostile to other families. Now a mass of people lives under different names and divers modes of social organization, but homogenous by nature. It is civilized enough to find war burdensome; it is strong enough not to need to fear invasion by still barbarian hordes, relegated to the very ends of its territory. Its tendency is uniformly toward peace. The warlike tradition, a legacy of remote times, plus crimes and mistakes by governments, born of violence, retarded the effects of this tendency. It makes more progress every day, however. People Edition: current; Page: [[354]] still fight today. Powerful men usually learn social enlightenment more slowly than those they govern. They twist their governance to favor their prejudices. Governments sometimes have a passion for war; the governed no longer do. Even governments seek justification for it. They no longer profess love of conquest, nor hope of personal glory by feats of arms. We made this point before.4 No Alexander would dare to propose to his subjects, straightforwardly, the invasion of the world, and Pyrrhus’s speech to Cyneas5 Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [423] would seem to us the height of insolence and folly. Today a government which spoke of military glory as an end would be failing to recognize and scorning the spirit both of nations and our era. It would be wrong by a thousand years, and even if it were successful at first, it would be curious to see which would win this strange wager between our century and this government. War no longer exists as a purpose but only as a means. Peace and with peace affluence and to gain affluence production: such are the sole purposes to which the human race now aspires. Civilized peoples battle only because wrong views and false reckoning make them see rivals where they should see only emulators and also persuade them that to weaken their competitors is to strengthen themselves while to ruin them is to enrich themselves. This mistake changes nothing, however, deep down in their character. To the degree the character of the ancients was warlike, ours is pacific. For them a successful war was an infallible source of wealth for individuals. For us a successful war always costs more than it is worth. The outcomes of wars are no longer the same. There is no longer any question of invading entire countries in order to reduce their inhabitants to slavery and to divide up their lands.

In ordinary wars, the frontiers of large States or their distant colonies can fall to the power of the enemy. The center stays intact and apart from some pecuniary sacrifices it continues to enjoy the advantages of peace. Even when extraordinary circumstances and motives which stir up all the abysses of the human heart make hatred more inveterate and hostility more violent, as for example during the French Revolution, the fate of conquered countries is still in no way comparable Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [424] to what it was in antiquity. Edition: current; Page: [[355]] Now the restrictions on political power are necessarily different in a habitual state of war.

War demands more extensive public force than peace does and force of a different order. The public force necessary for peace is entirely negative, namely public safeguards. War needs active force. The discipline it brings in informs all other institutions. To succeed war needs common action. In peace each man needs only his work, efforts, and individual resources. It is as a collective being that a people profits from the fruits of war. Each man enjoys separately those of peace and enjoys them in a way all the more complete in its being more independent. The purpose of war is fixed: victory, conquest. This purpose is always manifest to interested parties. It joins them, enchains them, makes of their efforts, plans, and wills an indivisible whole. Peace presents no precise purpose. It is a condition in which each person freely forms projects, meditates on his means, gives play to his personal plans. Warrior peoples must consequently bear the pressure of political power more readily than pacific peoples. The purpose of the free institutions of the former is to prevent usurpers from seizing political power, the property of the whole mass. The latter wish in addition to limit power in itself, so that it does not bother either their economic reckonings or their rights. The former say to governments, lead us to victory, and to assure it to us, subject us to severe disciplinary laws. The latter tell them, guarantee us against violence and do not interfere with us.

chapter four: The Third Difference

In the third place, none of the republics people have wanted us to imitate was commercial. The limits of this work prevent us from citing all the causes which constituted obstacles to the progress of commerce among the ancients. Ignorance of the compass forced them not to lose sight of the coast during their navigations more than was Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [425] absolutely necessary. To go beyond the columns of Hercules, that is, pass through the Strait of Gibraltar, was considered the most audacious venture. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians, the most skillful navigators among the ancients, did not dare to till very late and for long had no imitators. In Athens, which as we will say below was the most commercial republic of antiquity, the maritime rate of interest was about 60 percent, while the ordinary rate was only 12 percent, so much did the idea of long-distance navigation imply danger.

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Religious prejudices were opposed to maritime trade among several peoples of antiquity. For example, there was the horror of the sea among the Egyptians, as still today among the Indians, whereby sacred rites forbade the lighting of fire on the ocean, thus preventing all long-range navigation, because food cannot be cooked. Independently of these factual proofs, simple reasoning suffices to show that war must have come before trade. The one and the other are only different means of reaching the same end, which must forever be man’s end, that is, to assure oneself the possession of what seems desirable. Trade is only homage made to the power of him who has what we would like to seize. It is the desire to get by mutual agreement what we no longer hope to take away forcibly. A man who was always the strongest would never have the idea of trade. It is experience, which, proving to man that war, that is, the use of force against the force of other people, is exposed to divers opposing checks and failures, brings him to resort to trade, that is, to a gentler and surer way of engaging the interest of others so that they consent to what suits one’s interest. War is therefore older than trade. The one is an impulsion, the other a calculation. The spirit of modern peoples is essentially commercial. Trade makes a large extension of political power at once more harassing and easier to evade: more harassing, since trade casts greater variety into men’s economic dealings, and government has to multiply its activities to get at these dealings in all their manifestations; easier to elude because trade, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [426] changing the nature of property, makes this part of human existence, a part which soon becomes its most important one, almost untouchable by government. Trade gives to property the new quality of mobility. Without mobility property is only a usufruct. Government can always exert an influence on a usufruct, since it can take away one’s right of possession. Mobility, however, puts an invisible and invincible block on this boundless power of government. The effects of trade extend further still. Not only does it free individuals from the tyranny of communal government, but by creating credit it subjects communal government in some respects to individuals. It has very often been remarked that money is despotism’s main weapon but also its most powerful brake. Credit subjected to public opinion makes those who govern dependent on the governed. Force is pointless. Money hides or flees. All the State’s operations are suspended. In antiquity credit did not have the same influence.6 A deficit of sixty Edition: current; Page: [[357]] million made the French Revolution. A deficit of six hundred million under Vespasian did not shake the empire in the least.7

Thus governments in antiquity were necessarily stronger than individuals. Individuals are today stronger than their governments.8

Trade has another effect. In antiquity each citizen saw not only his affections but his interests and his fate bound up in his country’s lot. His patrimony was ravaged if the enemy won a battle. A public reversal removed him from the rank of free man, condemning him to slavery. No one had the means of moving his wealth. In Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [427] modern nations, thanks to trade, individuals shape their own futures, despite events. They move their assets far away; governments cannot penetrate their transactions; they take along with them all the comforts of private life. Moreover, in antiquity war isolated nations. Their mores were different, their dispositions savage, and expatriation almost impossible.9 Trade has brought nations together, giving them almost the same mores and habits. Their leaders may be enemies, but the peoples are compatriots. Trade has modified even the nature of war. Trading nations were in the past always subjugated by warrior peoples. Now they resist the latter successfully.10 Carthage struggling against Rome in antiquity was bound to fail; the weight of things was against her. If the struggle between Rome and Carthage happened today, however, Carthage would enjoy the best wishes of all the peoples. She would have for allies the outlook and the mores of the century. Just as war, as we have already shown, favors a vast extension of political power, so trade is favorable to individual freedom.11

This observation is borne out, even when applied to contemporary nations. People in Athens enjoyed an individual freedom much greater than in Sparta, because Athens was at once warlike and commercial12 and Sparta was exclusively warlike. This difference makes itself felt under all forms of political organization. Under despotism, as under freedom, war gathers men around government, trade isolates them from it.

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Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [428] If we could enter here into historical details, we would show how among the Athenians trade had made the most essential differences between the ancient and modern peoples disappear. The outlook of the Athenian traders was like the outlook of ours. During the Peloponnesian War they withdrew their holdings from the Athenian mainland and sent them to the islands of the archipelago.13 Trade had created circulation between them. They understood the use of bills of exchange.14 From this, because it is all connected, flowed a vast softening in manners, more indulgence toward women,15 more hospitality to strangers,16 and an exceeding love of individual freedom. In Sparta, says Xenophon,17 citizens run when the magistrate calls them. In Athens a rich man would be in despair if anyone thought he was subservient to the magistrate. If the completely modern character of the Athenians has not been remarked on enough, this is because the general spirit of the age influenced philosophers, and they always wrote in an inverse direction from the national mores.

chapter five: The Fourth Difference

Fourthly, the universal practice of slavery among the ancients lent their mores something severe and cruel which made it easy for them to sacrifice the gentle affections to political interests. The existence of the slaves, that is, of a class of men who enjoy none of the rights of humanity, changes absolutely the character of the peoples among whom that class exists. The inevitable consequence of slavery is the weakening of pity, of sympathy for pain. The slave’s pain is a resource for the owner. At equal levels of civilization, a nation which has slaves must be much less compassionate than one which does not. Antiquity, even among the most orderly peoples, and the individuals most distinguished by their Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [429] rank, elevation, and enlightenment, supplies us with numerous and almost incredible examples of inhumanity inspired in the master by his untrammeled power over the enslaved.18 Reading the address by Edition: current; Page: [[359]] Lysias,19 we can scarcely conceive a social condition so ferocious that such an address could actually be articulated. Two men have bought a slave girl destined for their common pleasure, an initial outrage against decency and nature. She becomes fond of one to the other’s disadvantage. The latter comes before the judges, demanding publicly from the court his share of the slave whom he has legitimately bought. To establish the facts he alleges, he demands that she be subjected to torture, waxing indignant that his opponent objects to this, and seeing nothing in his objections save the illegal refusal of a litigant of bad faith perfidiously repudiating the best way of bringing out the truth. The torments of the slave, the profanation of everything holy in humanity and love, the horrible mix of torture and pleasures, which would revolt any modern mind, count for nothing, either with him who makes this shameful demand, or the judges to whom he appeals, or the spectators who listen to him, or Lysias, who cold-bloodedly composes a harangue in support of this claim.

The absence of slavery joined to the progress of civilization has given us more human mores. Cruelty, even to further our interest, has become generally alien. Abstract reasoning and the public good have made it impossible for us.

chapter six: The Fifth Difference

Lastly, mankind has not aged by more than twenty centuries without changes in character. The ancients were right in the youth Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [430] of moral life. The moderns are in its maturity or perhaps its old age. This observation can be proved, if need be, by simple examination of ancient writings. Their poetry is all of a kind and direct. Their poets’ enthusiasm is true, natural, complete. Modern poets are always trailing some ulterior motive or other drawing on experience and destroying enthusiasm. We might say they fear to seem dupes and rather than lending themselves to an irresistible impulse, these are men who pore over the poetry with their readers. The first condition of enthusiasm is not to observe oneself too knowingly, but the moderns never stop observing themselves, even in the midst of their most sensitive or violent impulses.

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The word “illusion” has no equivalent in any ancient language because the word comes into being only when the thing no longer exists. The philosophy of the ancients is exalted even when it claims to be abstract. Modern philosophy is always dry, even when it strives to be exalted. There is poetry in the philosophy of the ancients and philosophy in the poetry of the moderns. Ancient historians believe and affirm; modern historians analyze and doubt. The ancients had complete conviction about everything. We have almost none save about the hypocrisy of conviction. Now, nothing is isolated in nature. Literature always bears the impress of the general character. Less worn out by civilization, the ancients had more vivacious impressions of things. Their warlike habits inspired in them great activity, profound confidence in their strength, scorn for death, a standard indifference to pain, and therefore greater devotion, energy, and nobility. The moderns, wearied by experience, have a sadder and thereby more delicate sensibility, a more habitual openness to emotion. Egoism itself, which mingles in with this faculty of emotion, can corrupt but not destroy it. To resist the power which suffering has over us, we are forced to avoid the sight of it. The ancients faced it without fear and tolerated it without pity. A woman of very superior intelligence has very wisely remarked how much less refinement there was in the sensibility of the ancients than in ours, by comparing Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [431] Racine’s Andromache with Virgil’s, though the latter is incontestably the most sensitive of the ancient poets.20 Writers who have come after her and copied her without acknowledgment,21 have attributed the difference to religious causes. This is an inversion of the ideas. This difference makes itself felt in religion as elsewhere. Religion is not its cause, however. Its cause lies in the progress of civilization, which gentles the character by weakening it, and which, making domestic relations safer, less menaced, less interrupted, thereby makes of them a more constant and intimate part of human life. The ancients, like children, believed docilely, and listened with respect. They could accept without repugnance a whole ensemble of institutions made up of traditions, precepts, usages, and mysterious practices as much as from positive laws. The moderns have lost Edition: current; Page: [[361]] the ability to believe for a long time and without analysis. Doubt is endlessly at their shoulder. It weakens the force even of what they do take on. The lawmaker cannot speak to them as a prophet. He makes positive laws for them to give their existence security. They cannot be dominated, however, except by habit. Every advance in life gives preeminence to a different faculty, among nations as among individuals. Imagination was dominant among the ancients as reason is with us. Now imagination runs to meet what one wishes to persuade it of. Reason waits and rejects, and even when it yields does so only reluctantly. From this results a truth whose consequences are as important as they are extensive. Nothing was easier than recasting ancient peoples by their institutions. Nothing would be more impossible than treating modern peoples this way. Among the ancients an institution was effective the moment it was set up. An institution among the moderns is effective only when it has become a habit. In the remote times of antiquity peoples had so few habits that they changed names almost as often as rulers. Dionysius of Halicarnassus22 informs us that Italy was designated in succession Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [432] by six different appellations according to the names of those who seized that country one after another. Leaders of nations and earth’s conquerors, try to designate a street by your name today. All your might will not make people forget their habit and substitute this new name for it.

chapter seven: The Result of These Differences between the Ancients and the Moderns

Because of all these differences, freedom cannot be the same among the moderns as it was among the ancients. The freedom of ancient times was everything which assured the citizens the biggest share in the exercise of political power. The freedom of modern times is everything which guarantees the citizens independence from the government. The character of the ancients gave them above all the need for action, and this need sits very well with a great extension of political power. Moderns need calm and various satisfactions.23 Calm is found only in a small number of laws preventing its being disturbed, satisfactions in an expansive individual freedom. Any legislation demanding the sacrifice of these satisfactions is incompatible with Edition: current; Page: [[362]] the present state of the human race. In this respect nothing is more curious to observe than the speeches of French demagogues. The wittiest of them, Saint-Just, delivered all his speeches in short sentences, proper to arouse tired souls. And while he seemed to suppose the nation capable of the most painful sacrifices, in his very style he recognized it as incapable even of attention. One must not demand of modern peoples the love and devotion the ancients had for political freedom; it is civil freedom which men in our era cherish above all. This is because not only has civil freedom gained in advantages, owing to the multiplication of private decision making, but political freedom has lost them, owing to the size of societies. The only group among the ancients to demand a sort of individual independence were the philosophers. Their independence, however, was in no sense like personal freedom, which Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [433] seems desirable to us. Their independence consisted in renouncing all the joys and affections of life. Ours on the contrary is precious to us only in guaranteeing us these joys and permitting us these affections. The progress of mankind resembles the individual’s. The young man believes he loves his country more than his family and sometimes the world more than his country. But as he gets older, the scope of his feelings narrows, and as if warned by instinct of the weakening of his powers, he no longer tires himself loving faraway things. He keeps close to him what remains of his power to feel. Similarly, as the human race ages, home-based affections replace grand political interests. What needs to be done, therefore, is to purchase political freedom as cheaply as possible, that is, to leave as much personal freedom as possible,24 in all its forms, and in every respect. The tolerance of the ancients would not suffice for us, being purely national. Each nation’s religion was respected, but each member of a given State was forced to abide by his country’s religion.25 The religious freedom civilization demands today is of a different kind. It is an individual freedom each man wants to be able to practice privately. Laws on morals, celibacy, or idleness are intolerable. These laws assume a subjugation of the individual to the body politic of a kind we could no longer tolerate.26 Even the laws against begging, however necessary they might be, are difficult and odious to operate, involving something against the grain of our practices.

For the same reason life must not be subject to many shocks. The social ramifications are much greater than before. Even groups which seem to be Edition: current; Page: [[363]] enemies are joined by imperceptible but indissoluble links. Banishments, confiscations, spoliation by the state, unjust in all eras, have today become absurd and pointless as well. Property, having assumed a much more stable nature and having identified itself more intimately with human existence, demands Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [434] much more respect and much more freedom. Man having lost in imagination what he has gained in positive knowledge and for this very reason being less given to enthusiasm, legislators no longer have the same power over him. They must renounce any disruption of settled habits, any attempts to affect opinion powerfully. No more Lycurgus, no more Numa, no more Mahomet.27 M. de Pauw’s observations on music apply to legislation. “The most inferior of music,” he says, “produces among barbarian peoples sensations incomparably stronger than the sweetest melody can excite among civilized peoples.” He continues, “The more the Greeks wished to perfect music, the more they saw its marvels weakening.”28 This was precisely because they wished to perfect music, that is to say, were judging it. All their savage ancestors had done was listen to it.29 I would not want to affirm that modern man is not given to enthusiasm for certain viewpoints, but he certainly no longer is for men. The French Revolution is very remarkable in this regard. Whatever one may have been able to say about the inconstancy of the peoples of the ancient republics, nothing compares with the volatility we have witnessed. Study carefully, even in the violence of the best-prepared unrest, the obscure ranks of the blind, submissive populace, and you will see them, just as they are following their leaders, fix their gaze in advance on the moment when the latter must fall. You will spot in their meretricious exaltation a bizarre mix of analysis and mockery. Though they strive to numb themselves by their acclamations, and recoup themselves by their raillery, at the same time they will seem to you to distrust their own conviction, to have a personal presentiment, so to speak, of the time when the prestige will be dissipated. People are astonished that the most marvelous enterprises, the most unexpected successes, prodigious actions of courage and skill, today cause almost no sensation. This is because the good sense of the human race warns it that all this is not done on its behalf. This is governmental display. Since governments alone find Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [435] pleasure in it, they alone can bear the costs. The activity of those in power has become much less necessary since contentment, for most men, is Edition: current; Page: [[364]] now based on private relationships. When conditions were essentially warlike, people admired courage particularly, because courage was the most indispensable quality in the leaders of the peoples. Today, conditions being essentially pacific, what those in government are asked for is moderation and justice. When they lavish countless great spectacles of heroism and creation and destruction on us, we are tempted to reply to them: the least grain of benevolence would be far more to our liking. All the moral institutions of the ancients have become inapplicable to us. The institutions I call moral, as opposed to purely political ones, are those which like censorship or ostracism attributed to society, or some number of men or other, a discretionary jurisdiction operating not according to legal and judicial principles but on the vaguely conceived idea of the moral character of certain individuals, of their intentions and of the danger they could pose to the State. I call the practice which made all the citizens of the ancient republics prosecutors a moral institution. This was an honorable function. People sought to distinguish themselves in the pursuit and denunciation of the guilty. In our times the function of the prosecutor is odious. A man would be dishonored if he exercised it without legal remit. All this results from the same cause. Formerly public interest went before safety and individual freedom. Today safety and individual freedom come before the public interest.

Peace, calm, and domestic contentment being the natural and invincible tendency of modern peoples, more sacrifices have to be made for that calm than the ancients made. Disorder is not always incompatible with political freedom, but it always is with civil and individual freedom.

Political freedom offering less satisfaction than formerly and the disorders it can entail being more unbearable, we must conserve only what is absolutely necessary in it. To claim today to console men with political freedom for the loss of their civil freedom is to go in the opposite direction from the present-day spirit of the human race. Far from opposing one of these freedoms to another, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [436] we should present the former only as the guarantee of the latter. I would be misunderstood, nevertheless, if it were claimed that arguments against political freedom could be drawn from this conclusion. Many men today would like to draw this inference from it. Because the ancients were free, their inference is that we are destined to be slaves. They would like to constitute the new social State with a small number of elements they claim to be uniquely adapted to the situation of the modern world. These elements are: prejudices to frighten men, greed to corrupt them, frivolity to stupefy them, coarse pleasures to degrade them, Edition: current; Page: [[365]] despotism to rule them, and, of course, positive knowledge and exact science to serve the despotism more adroitly. It would be bizarre were such to be the end point of forty centuries during which the human race has mastered more moral and physical means. I cannot believe it. The inference I draw from the differences which mark us off from antiquity is absolutely not that we should abolish public safeguards but that we should extend satisfactions. It is not political freedom that I want to renounce, but civil freedom that I am demanding along with other forms of political freedom.

Governments have no more right than before to arrogate to themselves illegitimate power; but legitimate governments have less right than in former times to fetter individual freedom.30 We still possess today the rights we owned at all times, the eternal rights to justice, equality, and safeguards, because these rights are the purpose of human societies. But governments, which are only the means of attaining this purpose, have new duties. The progress of civilization, the changes effected by the centuries in the predisposition of the human race, require of them more respect for the habits and affections, in a word for the independence of individuals. They must handle these sacred things more prudently and more gently every day. Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [437]

chapter eight: Modern Imitators of the Republics of Antiquity

The truths we have just developed are unrecognized today, as much by the speculative philosophers who during the eighteenth century, it must be added, with a courage worthy of praise, laid claim to the forgotten rights of the human race, as by more hotheaded and less enlightened men, who have wanted to put into practice the principles of these philosophers. From this have followed mistakes and absurdities which seem almost inexplicable to us, in the theorizing of some of our most famous writers. We will cite only one example of these, taken at random.

Ancient legislators had a deep hatred of wealth. Plato refused to give laws to Arcadia solely because of its opulence.31 All the men of government of antiquity saw in poverty the source of all virtue and glory. Modern moralists have copied these maxims. They have not considered that if wealth was Edition: current; Page: [[366]] corrupting among the warlike people of antiquity, this is because it was the fruit of conquest and pillage which, swiftly penetrating the lands of poor people unused to its possession, soon intoxicated them.

Wealth would become corrupting again, if owing to some violent upsets we fell back again in this respect into the condition of the ancient peoples, that is, if the poor and ignorant class, suddenly seizing the spoils of the educated class, had at their disposal riches they could use only deplorably and coarsely. When wealth is the gradual product of assiduous work and a busy life or when it is transmitted from generation to generation by peaceful possession, far from corrupting those who acquire it or enjoy its use, it offers them new means of leisure and enlightenment and consequently new motives for morality. Because they did not consider differences of period, our moralists have wanted to swim against the current. They have recommended privations to peoples schooled to the imperatives of power and riches and, by a singular contrast, while all the laws were calculated to encourage the acquisition Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [438] of wealth and discover new sources of it, all the moralizing aimed to present it as a scourge.32

The errors of our philosophers, innocent as long as they were merely theoretical, became terrible in application. During the French Revolution, when the flow of events put in charge of things men who had adopted philosophy in a preconceived way, these men thought they could make public power work as they saw it done in the free States of antiquity. They believed everything must still today yield to collective authority, that private morality must be silent before the public interest, that all the violations of civil liberty would be redressed by the enjoyment of political liberty in its widest sense. But collective authority did nothing but harm individual independence in every sense, without destroying the need for it. Private morality was silent; but since the public interest does not exert the same sway over us as over the ancients, it was to a hypocritical and ferocious egoism that private morality saw itself sacrificed. The great sacrifices, the acts of devotion, the victories won in Greece and Rome by patriotism over the natural affections, served among us as a pretext for letting loose the most unchecked individual passions, in a wretched parody of the most noble examples. Because inexorable but just fathers had once condemned their criminal children, their modern imitators had innocent enemies put to death.33 Lastly, the institutions which Edition: current; Page: [[367]] in the ancient republics surrounded political freedom, the foundation of civil freedom, with a strong guarantee, resulted only in the violation of civil freedom, without establishing political freedom.

Among the writers of the eighteenth century, there is one above all who has pulled opinion along this mistaken and dangerous course, namely the Abbé de Mably.34 Mably, whom people nicknamed the Spartan, was a pure-hearted man who cherished morality and thought he loved freedom, but was possessed assuredly of the falsest mind and the most despotic outlook ever to exist.35 As soon as he happened Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [439] upon a vexatious measure, in any country, he thought he had made a discovery and proposed it as a model. He detested most of all individual freedom, and when he came upon a nation which was completely deprived of this, he could not stop himself admiring it, even when it had absolutely no political freedom. He raved over the Egyptians, because he said with them everything was fixed by law. Every moment in the day was filled by some duty. Everything bowed before the legislator’s empire, even relaxation, even necessities. Love itself was subject to this honored intervention, law by turns opening and closing the nuptial bed.36 For some time people have repeated the same absurdities about the Egyptians. We are recommended to imitate a people suffering from a double servitude, pushed back by their priests from the sanctuary of all knowledge, divided into castes of which the lowest was deprived of all the rights of society and of humanity itself, retained by a yoke of iron in an eternal infancy, an immobile mass, equally incapable of educating or defending itself and constantly the prey of the first conqueror who came to invade, I will not say their fatherland, but their territory. These new apologists of Egypt must be recognized as more consistent in their theorizing than the philosophers who have heaped the same eulogies on it. They set no value on freedom, on the dignity of our nature, on the activity of the mind, on the development of the intellectual faculties. They want only to serve despotism, for lack of the ability to possess it.37 If enslaved Egypt seemed to Mably to merit an almost boundless admiration, solely because all individual independence was suppressed there, one can see that Sparta, which brought together the forms of republicanism with the Edition: current; Page: [[368]] same bondage for individuals, must have excited his even more enthusiastic admiration. This vast monastery seemed to him the ideal of the free republic.38 He had a profound contempt for Athens, and would readily have said of that first nation of Greece, what some grand seigneur or other of an academician said of the academy: What a frightful despotism; everybody does what he likes there! The regret Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [440] he expresses constantly in his works is that the law can get at actions only. He would have liked it to get at thoughts and the most fleeting impressions, and to pursue man without respite, leaving him no shelter where he could escape its power. He constantly took government for freedom, and all means for extending the action of government over the recalcitrant part of human existence, whose independence he deplored, seemed to him good. Mably is, after Rousseau, the writer who has had the most influence on our Revolution. His austerity, his intolerance, his hatred for all the human passions, his eagerness to enslave them, his excessive principles concerning the jurisdiction of the law, his relentlessness against individual freedom, which he treated as a personal enemy, the difference between what he recommended and what had existed, his ranting against wealth and even against property, all these were bound to please a group of men overheated by their recent victory, men who, conquerors of a power they called law, were very pleased to extend that power over everything. It was weighty authority for them, that a writer with no stake in the question, who always pronounced anathemas against royalty, had, buried away in his study, long before the Revolution, drafted in axiomatic form all the maxims necessary for organizing the most absolute despotism, under the name “republic.” Mably had noticed in antiquity, independently of law proper, what he termed institutions. It would be difficult to define precisely what he understood by this word. It was an ensemble of laws, habits, traditions, and ceremonies, calculated to appeal to the imagination and to lend to established constitutions the support of this vague but irresistible power. Mably did not reflect that the very philosophers of antiquity, who so sang the praises of institutions to us, were mostly speaking of an earlier time, and it was the same with these things as with ghosts. No one has seen any; but everyone has in his family some tale which attests their existence.39 Mably exalted therefore beyond measure the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [441] institutions of antiquity and the need to establish ones like them, and our legislators began to establish institutions. But since institutions rest on habits, this was to want to create habits, that is to say, Edition: current; Page: [[369]] to create a portion of the past. They instituted national holidays, ceremonies, periodic assemblies. Soon it was necessary to require the observance of these fairs, attendance at these assemblies, respect for these ceremonies, under threat of severe penalties. A duty was made of what should be voluntary. Celebration of freedom was surrounded with constraint.40 Those in government were astonished that the decrees of a day did not immediately erase the memories of several centuries. They called habits ill will. The slow, gradual effects of childhood impressions, the direction imprinted on imagination by a long sequence of years, seemed to them acts of rebellion. The law being the expression of the general will, it seemed to them that it should make all other forces give way, even those of memory and time. All these efforts, all this harassment, gave way beneath the weight of their own extravagance. There is no saint so humble in the most obscure hamlet who has not battled successfully against the whole national government, ranged in arms against him. Supporters of all theoretical systems of this kind always mistake effect for cause. Because habits transform themselves into institutions, they think nothing easier than transforming institutions into habits. They want to support all the natural sentiments, honor, patriotism, paternal power, conjugal love, respect for old age, by means of institutions. This is to pursue a course opposite to nature. Institutions have to be created by the spontaneous motion of sentiments. For them to be powerful but not tyrannical, their origin must be lost in the night of time. For their head to reach toward heaven and cover us with its shade, their roots must be hidden in the earth’s bosom. They are useful as a heritage; they are merely oppressive when drafted as laws. Government is in rightful place only when it is a curb. Then none of its actions is worthless. But when it wants to encourage, direct, arouse, and enthuse and comes forward with pretentious talk, always followed with coercive measures, it is ridiculous in failure and despotic in constraint.

Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [442] One can include under the heading of ill-conceived institutions what some political writers41 have termed penalties for infamy and rewards of honor, isolated, spasmodic attempts, vicious in inspiration, liable to bias and contradiction and irrelevance, by means of which government wishes to put itself in the place of the most easily offended and delicate feelings, believing it can distribute honor and shame at will.

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If the penalty for shameful behavior is accompanied by deprivation of certain rights, by exclusion from certain offices, then it becomes a positive punishment, not solely a case of disapprobation. If the honorific rewards the government bestows carry with them an entitlement to certain prerogatives, the rewards are no longer purely honorific. They come into the category of compensation which society can grant for services it has received. Then the vocabulary is inaccurate. But if both of these measures are separated from any drawback or any advantage of a different sort, then that is a nonsense. This is to require the government to play the part of public opinion. Shame diminishes and honor withers, when government arrogates to itself the right to apply them. Human intelligence must be perverted and the most delicate strands of inner feeling ruffled, to make men submit to government in questions pertaining to morality. Consider how under the monarchy itself, at a time when vanity was raised to its highest possible degree of susceptibility by all the artificial means it is in the nature of this government to employ, consider, I repeat, how many useless attempts and proclamations there were by government to stigmatize dueling.

People have often praised the moral effect of Roman censorship. But the censors had legal power and inflicted real punishments. They inflicted them arbitrarily in truth. This arbitrariness was counterbalanced, however, by the simplicity of ancient mores, and by the chance every citizen, as an almost immediate spectator of all the actions of his fellows, had to evaluate the justice of the censors. When these magistrates debarred the dictator Mamercus, who had reduced their terms of office to eighteen months, from entering the Senate, this vengeance excited the indignation of the Senate and the people, and Mamercus was amply compensated by public opinion.42 Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [443] The fact is, however, that all the fellow citizens of this dictator were gathered together in the same town, and witnesses and judges of the injustice he was experiencing. In a State like France, the power of the censors would be an intolerable tyranny. If the government of a large nation dared to declare, by way of a public act, without trial, that an individual was dishonored, it would not be the individual but this entire nation that this government would be declaring incapable of all sense of honor, and the nation would protest against this decree by not endorsing the government’s decisions.

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Censorship degenerated even in Rome, when the size of the Republic, the complexity of social relationships, and the refinements of civilization had taken away from the institution the thing which served it as both a base and a limit. It was not censorship which had created good mores, but the simplicity of the mores which constituted the power and efficacy of censorship.43

In the present state of society, individual relations are made up of fine nuances, changeable and elusive, which would be distorted in a thousand ways if one tried to give them clearer definition. Public opinion alone can affect them. It alone can judge them because its nature is the same. Times of civil upheaval, I must confess, are particularly unfavorable to the power of opinion, which is a kind of moral sense which develops only in tranquillity. It is the fruit of leisure, security, and intellectual independence.

Revolutionary shocks and reactionary excesses make it disappear. Scaffolds, deportations, and massacres leave purely moral nuances powerless. Public opinion can exist only where there remains neither anything despotic nor any political divide. Public opinion and arbitrary power are incompatible. The former must overcome the latter or be suffocated. Divisions on party lines, which make this or that belief the blackest of crimes or the highest of virtues, are destructive of public opinion because its basis is falsified and it follows a totally mistaken direction. In such cases one has to wait and leave things to happen. I would add that the law should be silent, if I did not think that in these circumstances those who make the laws are aiming precisely Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [444] to falsify public opinion. They prevent man from retiring into himself, from consulting his own heart, from thinking according to his own lights. And as if his self-interest was not enough for them to corrupt him, they also want to stupefy him by giving themselves the false appearance of appealing to his own judgment and reason.

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CONSTANT’S NOTES

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BOOK XVII: On the True Principles of Freedom

  • Ch. 1. On the inviolability of the true principles of freedom. 383
  • Ch. 2. That the circumscription of political authority, within its precise limits, does not tend to weaken the necessary action of the government. 385
  • Ch. 3. Final thoughts on civil freedom and political freedom. 386
  • Ch. 4. Apologia for despotism by Louis XIV. 392
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chapter one: On the Inviolability of the True Principles of Freedom

This work has sought to determine the extent and jurisdiction of political authority on the various things which include all the interests of men. Let us now see what principles of freedom result from our analysis and whether these can be overdone or misused.

Individuals must enjoy complete freedom of action for all innocent or unimportant actions. When, in a given situation, an action unimportant in itself can threaten public safety, such as a certain way of dressing which can serve as a password, a society has a right to forbid it. When an action of the same kind is part of a guilty action, such as brigands agreeing to a rendezvous before effecting an assassination, society has the right to deal harshly with this unimportant action, in order to interrupt a crime already begun. In the two cases society’s intervention is legitimate because its need is proven. But equally in the two cases it is legitimate only on this condition.1

Individuals must enjoy complete freedom of opinion either private or public, as long as that freedom does not produce harmful actions. When it does produce such, it becomes identified with them, and under this heading it must be repressed and punished. Opinion separated from action, however, must remain free. The only function Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [460] of the government is to confine it to its proper domain, speculation and theory.

Individuals must enjoy a boundless freedom in the use of their property and the exercise of their labor, as long as in disposing of their property or exercising their labor they do not harm others who have the same rights. If they do so harm them, society intervenes, not to invade anyone’s rights but to guarantee the rights of all.

Now, what abuses can result from these principles which are the only true principles of freedom, and to what exaggeration are they susceptible?

A singular error which I indicated at the start of this book and of which one must accuse Rousseau and Mably above all, but from which almost no political writer has been exempt, has confused all ideas on this question.

The principles of political authority have not been distinguished from those of freedom.

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Since in the theorizing of philosophers friendly to humanity, the principles of government tended to take away from oppressors of human societies the powers they had usurped and to return those powers to the whole society, it was not grasped that this last was only a preliminary operation which had merely destroyed that which should not exist, but by means of which one was deciding nothing as to what should be put in its place.

Thus the dogma of national sovereignty having been first proclaimed and then abused, it was thought that a principle of freedom was being abused, when it was only an abuse of a principle of government.

Because where citizens are nothing, usurpers are everything, it was believed that for the people to be everything it was necessary that individuals be nothing. This maxim is palpably false. It implies that freedom is nothing other than a new formula for despotism. Where the individual is nothing, the people are nothing. Can it be thought that the people get rich from the losses of each of their members, as a tyrant enriches himself from what he steals from each one of his subjects? Nothing is more absurd. The people are rich by way of what their members possess, free because they are free. The people gain nothing from members’ sacrifices. Individual sacrifices are sometimes necessary, but they are never a positive gain, either for individuals or the nation.

Those who hold or usurp power may, to legitimate their encroachments, borrow the name of freedom, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [461] because, unfortunately, the word is boundlessly obliging; but they can never borrow its principles or even any of its maxims.

When, for example, a mistaken majority oppresses the minority or, which happens far more often, when a ferocious and noisy minority seizes the name of the majority to tyrannize society, to what does it lay claim in justification of its outrages? The sovereignty of the people, the power of society over its members, the abnegation of individual rights in favor of the society, that is to say, always principles of government, never principles of freedom.

How indeed could the latter be invoked in favor of the opposition? What do they establish? That society has no right to be unjust toward a single one of its members, that the whole society minus one is not authorized to obstruct the latter in his opinions, nor in those actions which are not harmful, in the use of his property or the exercise of his labor, save in those cases where that use or that exercise would obstruct another individual possessing the same rights.

Now, what do oppressive majorities or minorities do? Precisely the opposite of what these principles establish. It is not therefore these principles they exaggerate or abuse. They act from directly opposite assertions.

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When can opinions put out by the press become a means of tyranny? It is when a single man or group of men seize exclusive control of the press and make it the organ of their opinion, represent this opinion as national, and wish on this authority to make their view prevail over all others. But in that case, what principles can this man or men proclaim in support of their behavior? Not the principles of freedom, which forbid making any opinion dominate, even that of everyone against that of a single other soul, but the principles of political government, which, exaggerated and submitting individuals with all their rights and without reserve to the sovereign community, permit the restraining, obstructing, and proscribing of the opinions of individuals.

These examples could be multiplied infinitely. The result would always be the same. It was by derivation from this error that Burke said freedom is a power.2 Freedom is a power only in the sense that a shield is a weapon. So when one speaks of possible abuses of the principles of freedom, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [462] such an expression is inaccurate. The principles of freedom would have prevented anything under the heading of abuses of freedom. These abuses, whoever their author, taking place always at the expense of another’s freedom, have never been the consequence of these principles, but rather their reversal.

chapter two: That the Circumscription of Political Authority, within Its Precise Limits, Does Not Tend to Weaken the Necessary Action of the Government

The circumscription of political authority, within its precise limits, does not tend to weaken that necessary authority. On the contrary, it gives it the only real strength it can have. The jurisdiction of authority must be scrupulously limited; but once that jurisdiction is fixed, it must be so organized as always to be capable of attaining swiftly and completely all the purposes within its remit. Freedom gains everything from the government’s being severely confined within the bounds of its legitimacy; but it gains nothing from government’s being feeble within those bounds.

The weakness of any part of government whatsoever is always an evil. That weakness in no way diminishes the drawbacks to be feared, and it destroys the advantages to be hoped for. In loosening public safeguards it places absolutely no obstacles to usurpation, since usurpation results from powers the government encroaches upon and public safeguards from powers which belong to it legitimately. Now, in weakening government, you Edition: current; Page: [[386]] force it to encroach. Unable to attain its necessary purposes with the means which belong to it, in order to attain them it has recourse to means it usurps, and from that usurpation, so to speak forced, to spontaneous usurpation, boundless usurpation, there is but a single step. If you extend government to everything, however, lovers of freedom and all independent men, that is to say everything on earth which has some value, will not be able to submit to such an idea. They would readily have accepted that the government be all-powerful within Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [463] its jurisdiction; but constantly finding it transgressing that jurisdiction, they will want to diminish a power which they will not be able to limit. In that way, they will organize, as we have seen in a number of examples, governments which are too weak, and accordingly become usurpatory. It is quite unnecessary to sacrifice the least part of the principles of freedom for the organization of legitimate and sufficient government authority. The principles coexist with this authority, both protecting it and protected by it; for they stand against the possibility that factions may overthrow it, by laying claim to these rights of society, opposed to those of individuals, these axioms of unlimited sovereignty, this despotism of the so-called general will, in a word, this popular power without limits, dogmas which are the pretext for all our upheavals and which have been represented as principles of freedom, while they are precisely the opposite.

The principles of freedom, such as we have defined them, are useful and necessary to everybody, for they preserve the rights of all people as individuals, those of society and those of government. These principles are the sole lasting means of real happiness, of assured peace, of ordered activity, of improvement, of tranquillity and durability.

chapter three: Final Thoughts on Civil Freedom and Political Freedom3

That this book has dealt exclusively with issues connected to civil freedom does not mean to insinuate that political freedom is something superfluous. Those who would sacrifice political freedom in order to enjoy civil freedom the more peacefully are no less absurd than those who would sacrifice civil freedom in the hope of further extending political freedom. The latter sacrifice the end to the means. The former renounce the means under the pretext of achieving the end. One could apply to taxation all the arguments used Edition: current; Page: [[387]] against political liberty. One might say that in order to conserve what one has it is ridiculous Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [464] to begin by sacrificing a part of it. Provided that the people are happy, it is sometimes said, it matters little if they are free politically. But what is political freedom? It is the ability to be happy without any human power being able arbitrarily to trouble that happiness. If political freedom is not one of the individual possessions nature has given man, it is what guarantees them.4 To declare it worthless is to declare the foundations of the building one lives in superfluous. Those in government, the argument continues, have nothing to gain from the unhappiness of the governed. Consequently, political freedom, that is, the safeguards of the governed against the government, is scarcely necessary. This assertion is not correct, however.

First, it is not at all true that the interests of the governors and the governed are the same. The governors, whatever the political organization, being always limited in number, are threatened with loss of power if others attain it. They therefore have an interest in the governed not getting into government, that is to say, they clearly have an interest distinct from that of the governed. I have said elsewhere5 that property tended to circulate and spread, because owners remain owners when others become such. For the opposite reason power tends to concentrate. As a result, as soon as a man passes, by whatever means, from the class of the governed to the class of the governors, he adopts the interests of the latter. This is the spectacle offered in Rome for the most part by the defenders of the popular cause when success crowned that ambition; and we see the same thing among the ministers in England.

Representative government does not lift this difficulty. You choose a man to represent you because he has the same interests as you. By the very fact of your choosing him, however, your Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [465] choice placing him in a different situation from yours gives him a different interest from the one he is charged with representing.

This drawback can be prevented by the creation of various sorts of positions in government invested with different kinds of powers. Then the holders of these powers, mutually contained in such a way as to be unable to make their own interests prevail, draw close to those of the governed whose interests are the average ones of everybody. Such is the advantage of the division of powers. One should not delude oneself, however, as to the efficacy of these devices Edition: current; Page: [[388]] or flatter oneself that these two sets of interests ever get to be amalgamated completely.

An incontestable maxim is that it is always in the interests of the greater number that things go well, rather than badly. It is sometimes in the interests of the smaller number that things go badly rather than well.

In the second place, if we examine the different ways in which the governors can abuse their power, we will find that their interest is not at all not to abuse it, but to do so only to a certain point. For example, they have an interest in not dissipating the state’s revenues, in such a way as to impoverish it and remove all its resources. But they like to appropriate the largest possible portion of these revenues, to give them to their creatures and to use them in pointless pomp and display. Between what is right and necessary and what would be obviously dangerous, the gap is vast, and assuming prudence and an ordinary degree of patriotism in the governors, we may properly suppose that if they are not contained they will get as close as possible to this latter line without passing it. It is the same with military ventures. They will not expose themselves to being overwhelmed by the numbers of their enemies. They will not draw neighboring nations on to the home ground by attacking them gratuitously. They can indulge at will, however, in warlike enterprises. They will take advantage of this ability by provoking or continuing wars which, without entailing the loss of the State, will add to their power, which always increases in times of danger. To this end they will sacrifice public peace and the well-being of many citizens. It is the same furthermore with despotic actions. The governors will avoid causing popular revolt by multiplying vexations beyond all measure. They will allow themselves smaller oppressions, though: these are in the nature of things. They are in the personal interest Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [466] of the individual governors. When they are not in their lasting or well-understood interest they are likely to be in their passing interest, their passions and their whims, which suffices for us to anticipate and fear them. The very supposition that they will bring to these abuses a certain restraint rests on the prudence and enlightenment we attribute to them. But they can be misled by false initiatives, carried away by hateful passions. Then all moderation will disappear and excesses will reach a peak.6 To say that the interests of governments are always consistent with those of the governed is to understand the interests of governments abstractly. This commits with respect to government the same error Edition: current; Page: [[389]] Rousseau commits with regard to society. There is a note to add. Let us for a moment accept this principle. Let us agree that a monarch, separated by an immense distance from his subjects, has nothing to gain in happiness or even by way of caprice, from offending individuals. The government is not made up solely of the man who is at the head of the State. Power subdivides; it is shared among thousands of subalterns. So it is not true that the numerous members of the government have nothing to gain from the unhappiness of the governed. Every one of them has, on the contrary, very close to him, someone of equal or lower rank, whose losses would enrich him, whose fields would improve his fortune, whose humiliation would flatter his vanity, whose banishment would rid him of an enemy, a rival, an inconvenient monitor. If it is true in some respects that the interests of the government, considered at the top of the social edifice, always coincide with those of the people, it is no less incontestable that the interests of the lower ranks of government can often be opposed to them. A coming together impossible to hope for would be necessary were we to suppose despotism to be compatible with the happiness of the governed. At the summit of the political hierarchy a man without personal passions, closed to love, hatred, favoritism, anger, jealousy, a man active, vigilant, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [467] tolerant of all opinions, attaching no amour propre to persistence in errors committed, consumed with the desire for good, and knowing, nevertheless, how to resist impatience and to respect the rights of the time. Further down the scale of powers, ministers endowed with the same virtues, in a position of dependence without being servile, in the midst of despotism without being tempted to fall in with it out of fear or to abuse it from self-interest, lastly, everywhere in the lowest positions, the same combination of rare qualities, the same security, the same love of justice, the same selflessness. If a single link of this chain of preternatural virtues happens to be broken, everything is in peril. The two halves thus separated would both remain beyond reproach, but the good would not be assured. The truth would no longer make its way accurately to the summit of power; justice would no longer descend, pure and whole, into the obscure ranks of the governed. A single wrong transmission is enough to mislead the government, to set it in arms against innocence. When it is claimed that political freedom is not necessary, it is always believed that relations are only with the head of the government, but in reality one has them with all the agents of lower rank, and the question is no longer one of attributing to a single man distinguished qualities and never-failing impartiality. One has to suppose the existence of a hundred or two hundred thousand angelic creatures above all Edition: current; Page: [[390]] the weaknesses and vices of humanity.7 If we put the happiness of the governed in purely physical pleasures, it is possible to say with some reason that the interest of the governors, above all in the large modern societies, is almost never to trouble the governed in these pleasures. If we place the happiness of the governed higher, however, in the development of their intellectual faculties, the interest of most governments will be to stop this development. Now, since it is in the nature of the human race to resist when there is a wish to arrest the Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [468] development of its faculties, the government will have recourse to constraint to achieve this. The result is that by a detour it will press on the physical pleasures of the governed in order to dominate them in areas of their existence which seem to have only a very distant connection with these pleasures.

Lastly, it is said every day that the clear interest of each man is not to infringe the rules of justice, and yet laws are made and punishments set up for criminals. So often is it noted that men endlessly deviate from their clear interest! One could surely expect much the same of governments!

Political freedom is accused of throwing people into continual agitation. One could easily show that while the conquest of that freedom can inebriate slaves, the enjoyment of it forms men worthy of its possession. But were this assertion against freedom proven, nothing would result from it in favor of despotism. To hear the supporters of this shameful politics you would believe it a sure guarantee of peace. If we look at history, though, we will see that absolute power almost always crumbles at the moment when long efforts having delivered it from every obstacle seem to promise it the longest duration.

The kingdom of France, says M. Ferrand, III, 448, “brought together under the unique authority of Louis XIV all the means of force and prosperity. . . . Her greatness had long been retarded by all the vices with which Edition: current; Page: [[391]] a moment of barbarism had overburdened her and whose rusty deposit it had needed almost seven centuries to remove entirely. But that rust had gone. All the springs had just received a last tempering. Their action had been made freer, their play swifter and more certain. They were no longer checked by a multitude of alien movements. Now only one movement gave motion to all the others.8 Well, what is the result of all this, of this unique and powerful energy, of this precious unity? A brilliant reign, then a shameful one, then a weak one, and then a revolution. In the recently published Memoirs of Louis XIV, Edition: Hofmann1980; Page: [469] one finds this prince complacently recounting the details of all the operations for the destruction of the power of the body of judges (Parlement), of the clergy, of all intermediary powers. He keeps congratulating himself on the reestablishment or growth of royal authority. He holds it as merit on his part in his successors’ eyes. He was writing about 1666. A hundred twenty-three years later the French monarchy was overthrown.

In England absolute power was established under Henry VIII. Elizabeth consolidated it. People rave about the boundless power of this queen. But her successor was endlessly engaged in struggle against the nation people thought subjugated, and the son of this successor lost his head on the scaffold. The fourteen centuries of the French monarchy are constantly advanced as proof of the stability of absolute monarchy; but of these fourteen centuries, twelve were consumed by the struggle against feudalism, an oppressive system but as opposite as one could conceive to the despotism of a single man. There is no government, none, less monarchical than the government of the third race, especially in the last three centuries, says a writer who is moreover the most extreme supporter of absolute monarchy.9 Apologists of despotism, the system you favor has three chances. Either it rouses the people to overthrow it; or it weak