The World's Greatest Books—Volume 14—Philosophy and Economics
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By the simple addition of a certain quantity of labour, new value is added, and by the quality of this added labour the original values of the means of production are preserved in the product. That part of capital which is represented by means of production, by the raw material, auxiliary material, and the instruments of labour, does not, in the process of production, undergo any quantitative alteration of value. I therefore call it the constant part of capital, or, more briefly, constant capital.

On the other hand, that part of capital represented by labour-power does, in the process of production, undergo an alteration of value. It both reproduces the equivalent of its own value, and also produces an excess, a surplus value, which may itself vary. This part of capital is continually being transformed from a constant into a variable magnitude. I therefore call it the variable part of capital, or, shortly, variable capital.

IV.—Accumulation of Capital

The first condition of the accumulation of capital is that the capitalist must have contrived to sell his commodities, and to re-convert the greater portion of the money thus received into capital. Whatever be the proportion of surplus-value which the industrial capitalist retains for himself or yields up to others, he is the one who, in the first instance, appropriates it.

The process of production incessantly converts material wealth into capital, into means of creating more wealth and means of enjoyment for the capitalist. On the other hand, the labourer, on quitting the process, is nothing more than he was when he began it. He is a source of wealth, but has not the slightest means of making wealth his own. The product of the labourer is incessantly converted not only into commodities, but into capital, into means of subsistence that buy the labourer, and into means of production that command the producers.

The capitalist as constantly produces labour-power; in short, he produces the labourer, but as a wage-labourer. This incessant reproduction, this perpetuation of the labourer, is the sine qua non of capitalist production.

From a social point of view, the working-class is just as much an appendage of capital as the ordinary instruments of labour. The appearance of independence is kept up by means of a constant change of employers, and by the legal fiction of a contract. In former times capital legislatively enforced its proprietary rights over the free labourer.

Capitalist production reproduces and perpetuates the condition for exploiting the labourer. The economical bondage of the labourer is both caused and hidden by the periodic sale of himself to changing masters. Capitalist production, under its aspect of a continuous connected process, produces not only commodities, not only surplus value, but it also produces and reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on the other the wage-labourer.

Capital pre-supposes wage-labour, and wage-labour pre-supposes capital. One is a necessary condition to the existence of the other. The two mutually call each other into existence. Does an operative in a cotton-factory produce nothing but cotton goods? No, he produces capital. He produces values that give fresh command over his labour, and that, by means of such command, create fresh values.

Every individual capital is a larger or smaller concentration of means of production, with a corresponding command over a larger or smaller labour-army. Every accumulation becomes the means of new accumulation. The growth of social capital is affected by the growth of many individual capitals.

With the accumulation of capital, therefore, the number of capitalists grows to a greater or less extent. Two points characterise this kind of concentration which grows directly out of, or rather is identical with, accumulation. First, the increasing concentration of the social means of production in the hands of individual capitalists is, other things remaining equal, limited by the degree of increase of social wealth. Secondly, the part of social capital domiciled in each particular sphere of production is divided among many capitalists who face one another as independent commodity-producers competing with each other.

Accumulation and the concentration accompanying it are, therefore, not only scattered, but the increase of each functioning capital is thwarted by the formation of new and the subdivision of old capitals. Accumulation, therefore, presents itself on the one hand as increasing concentration of the means of production and of the command over labour; on the other, as repulsion of many individual capitalists one from another.


Principles of Political Economy

John Stuart Mill, the eldest son of the philosopher, James Mill, was born in London on May 20, 1806. His early education was remarkable. At the age of fourteen he had an extensive knowledge of Greek, Latin, and mathematics, and had begun to study logic and political economy. In 1823 he received an appointment at the India Office, and in the same year he became a member of a small Utilitarian society which met at Jeremy Bentham's house, and soon became the leader of the Utilitarian school. Mill's great work on the "Principles of Political Economy," with some of their "Applications to Social Philosophy," embodies the results of many years of study, disputation and thought. It is built upon foundations laid by Ricardo and Malthus, and has itself formed the basis of all subsequent work in England. Throughout, it manifests a belief in the possibility of great social improvement to be achieved upon individualistic lines. It was begun late in 1845, and superseded a contemplated work to be called "Ethnology." Mill's extensive familiarity with the problems of political economy enabled him to compose the work with rapidity unusual in his production. Thus, before the end of 1847, the last sheet of the manuscript was in the hands of the printer, and early in the following year the treatise was published. Mill died at Avignon on May 8, 1873.

I.—The Production of Wealth

In every department of human affairs, practice long precedes science. The conception, accordingly, of political economy as a branch of science is extremely modern; but the subject with which its inquiries are conversant—wealth—has, in all ages, constituted one of the chief practical interests of mankind. Everyone has a notion, sufficiently correct for common purposes, of what is meant by "wealth." Money, being the instrument of an important public and private purpose, is rightly regarded as wealth; but everything else which serves any human purpose, and which nature does not supply gratuitously, is wealth also. Wealth may be defined as all useful or agreeable things which possess exchangeable value.

The production of wealth—the extraction of the instruments of human subsistence and enjoyment from the materials of the globe—is evidently not an arbitrary thing. It has its necessary conditions.

The requisites of production are two—labour and appropriate natural objects. Labour is either bodily or mental. Of the other requisite it is to be remarked that the objects supplied by nature are, except in a few unimportant cases, only instrumental to human wants after having undergone some transformations by human exertion.

Nature does more, however, than supply materials; she also supplies powers. Of natural powers, some are practically unlimited, others limited in quantity, and much of the economy of society depends on the limited quantity in which some of the most important natural agents exist, and more particularly land. As soon as there is not so much of a natural agent to be had as would be used if it could be obtained for the asking, the ownership or use of it acquires an exchangeable value. Where there is more land wanted for cultivation than a place possesses of a certain quality and advantages of situation, land of that quality and situation may be sold for a price, or let for an annual rent.

Labour employed on external nature in modes subservient to production is employed either directly, or indirectly, in previous or concomitant operations designed to facilitate, perhaps essential to the possibilities of, the actual production. One of the modes in which labour is employed indirectly requires particular notice, namely, when it is employed in producing subsistence to maintain the labourers while they are engaged in the production. This previous employment of labour is an indispensable condition to every productive operation. In order to raise any product there are needed labour, tools, and materials, and food to feed the labourers. But the tools and materials can be remunerated only from the product when obtained. The food, on the contrary, is intrinsically useful, and the labour expended in producing it, and recompensed by it, needs not to be remunerated over again from the produce of the subsequent labour which it has fed.

The claim to remuneration founded on the possession of food is remuneration for abstinence, not for labour. If a person has a store of food, he has it in his power to consume it himself in idleness. If, instead, he gives it to productive labourers to support them during their work, he can claim a remuneration from the produce. He will, in fact, expect his advance of food to come back to him with an increase, called, in the language of business, a profit.

Thus, there is necessary to productive operations, besides labour and natural agents, a stock, previously accumulated, of the products of labour. This accumulated stock is termed capital. Capital is frequently supposed to be synonymous with money, but money can afford no assistance to production. To do this it must be exchanged for other things capable of contributing to production. What capital does for production is to afford the shelter, tools, and materials which the work requires, and to feed and otherwise maintain the labourers during the process. Whatever things are destined for this use are capital. That industry is limited by capital is self-evident. There can be no more industry than is supplied with materials to work up and food to eat. Nevertheless, it is often forgotten that the people of a country are maintained and have their wants supplied, not by the produce of present labour, but of past, and it long continued to be believed that laws and governments, without creating capital, could create industry.

All capital is the result of saving. Somebody must have produced it, and forborne to consume it, or it is the result of an excess of production over consumption. Although saved, and the result of saving, it is nevertheless consumed—exchanged partly for tools which are worn out by use, partly for materials destroyed in the using, and by consumption of the ultimate product; and, finally, paid in wages to productive labourers who consume it for their daily wants. The greater part, in value, of the wealth now existing in England has been produced by human hands within the last twelve months. A very small proportion, indeed, was in existence ten years ago. The land subsists, and is almost the only thing that subsists. Capital is kept in existence, not by preservation, but by perpetual reproduction.

II.—The Distribution of Wealth

The laws and conditions of the production of wealth partake of the character of physical truths. There is nothing optional or arbitrary about them. It is not so with the distribution of wealth. That is a matter of human institution solely.

Among the different modes of distributing the produce of land and labour which have been adopted, attention is first claimed by the primary institution on which the economical arrangements of society have always rested—private property.

The institution of property consists in the recognition, in each person, of a right to the exclusive disposal of the fruits of their own labour and abstinence, and implies the right of the possessor of the fruits of previous labour to what has been produced by others by the co-operation between present labour and those fruits of past labour—that is, the freedom of acquiring by contract.

We now proceed to the hypothesis of a threefold division of the produce, among labourers, landlords, and capitalists, beginning with the subject of wages.

Wages depend mainly upon the demand and supply of labour, or, roughly, on the proportion between population and capital. It is a common saying that wages are high when trade is good. Capital which was lying idle is brought into complete efficiency, and wages, in the particular occupation concerned, rise. But this is but a temporary fluctuation, and nothing can permanently alter general wages except an increase or diminution of capital itself compared with the quantity of labour offering itself to be hired.

Again, high prices can only raise wages if the producers and dealers, receiving more, are induced to add to their capital or, at least, to their purchases of labour. But high prices of this sort, if they benefit one class of labourers, can only do so at the expense of others, since all other people, by paying those high prices, have their purchasing power reduced by an equal degree.

Another common opinion, which is only partially true, is that wages vary with the price of food, rising when it rises and falling when it falls. In times of scarcity, people generally compete more violently for employment, and lower the labour market against themselves. But dearness or cheapness of food, when of a permanent character, may affect wages. If food grows permanently dearer without a rise of wages, a greater number of children will prematurely die, and thus wages will ultimately be higher; but only because the number of people will be smaller than if food had remained cheap. Certain rare circumstances excepted, high wages imply restraints on population.

As the wages of the labourer are the remuneration of labour, so the profits of the capitalist are properly the remuneration of abstinence. They are what he gains by forbearing to consume his capital for his own uses and allowing it to be consumed by productive labourers for their uses. Of these gains, however, a part only is properly an equivalent for the use of the capital itself; namely, so much as a solvent person would be willing to pay for the loan of it. This, as everybody knows, is called interest. What a person expects to gain who superintends the employment of his own capital is always more than this. The rate of profit greatly exceeds the rate of interest. The surplus is partly compensation for risk and partly remuneration for the devotion of his time and labour. Thus, the three parts into which profit may be regarded as resolving itself, may be described, respectively, as interest, insurance, and wages of superintendence.

The requisites of production being labour, capital, and natural agents, the only person besides the labourer and the capitalist whose consent is necessary to production is he who possesses exclusive power over some natural agent. The land is the principal natural agent capable of being so appropriated, and the consideration paid for its use is called rent.

It is at once evident that rent is the effect of a monopoly. If all the land of the country belonged to one person he could fix the rent at his pleasure. The whole people would be dependent on his will for the necessaries of life. But even when monopolised—in the sense of being limited in quantity—land will command a price only if it exists in less quantity than the demand, and no land ever pays rent unless, in point of fertility and situation, it belongs to those superior kinds which exist in less quantity than the demand.

Any land yields just so much more than the ordinary profits of stock as it yields more than what is returned by the worst land in cultivation. The surplus is what is paid as rent to the landlord. The standard of rent, therefore, is the excess of the produce of any land beyond what would be returned to the same capital if employed on the worst land in cultivation, or, generally, in the least advantageous circumstances.

III.—Of Exchange and Value

Of the two great departments of political economy, the production of wealth and its distribution, value has to do with the latter alone. The conditions and laws of production would be unaltered if the arrangements of society did not depend on, or admit of, exchange.

Value always means in political economy value in exchange, the command which its possession gives over purchasable commodities in general; whereas, by the price of a thing is understood its value in money.

That a thing may have value in exchange two conditions are necessary. It must be of some use—that is, it must conduce to some purpose, and secondly, there must be some difficulty in its attainment. This difficulty is of three kinds. It may consist in an absolute limitation of supply, as in the case of wines which can be grown only in peculiar circumstances of soil, climate, and exposure; in the labour and expense requisite to produce the commodity; or, thirdly, the limitation of the quantity which can be produced at a given cost, to which class agricultural produce belongs, increased production beyond a certain limit entailing increased cost.

When the production of a commodity is the effect of labour and expenditure, there is a minimum value, which is the essential condition of its permanent production, and must be sufficient to repay the cost of production, and, besides, the ordinary expectation of profit. This may be called the necessary value. When the commodity can be made in indefinite quantity, this necessary value is also the maximum which the producers can expect. If it is such that it brings a rate of profit higher than is customary, capital rushes in to share in this extra gain, and, by increasing the supply, reduces the value. Accordingly, by the operation of supply and demand the values of things are made to conform in the long run to the cost of production.

The introduction of money does not interfere with the operation of any of the laws of value. Things which by barter would exchange for one another will, if sold for money, sell for an equal amount of it, and so will exchange for one another, still through the process of exchanging them will consist of two operations instead of one. Money is a commodity, and its value is determined like that of other commodities, temporarily by demand and supply and permanently by cost of production.

Credit, as a substitute for money, is but a transfer of capital from hand to hand, generally from persons unable to employ it to hands more competent to employ it efficiently in production. Credit is not a productive power in itself, though without it the productive powers already existing could not be brought into complete employment.

In international trade we find that the law that permanent value is proportioned to cost of production does not hold good between commodities produced in distant places as it does in those produced in adjacent places.

Between distant places, and especially between different countries, profits may continue different, because persons do not usually remove themselves or their capital to a distant place without a very strong motive. If capital removed to remote parts of the world as readily, and for as small an inducement, as it moves to another quarter of the same town, profits would be equivalent all over the world, and all things would be produced in the places where the same labour and capital would produce them in greatest quantity and of best quality. A tendency may even now be observed towards such a state of things; capital is becoming more and more cosmopolitan.

It is not a difference in the absolute cost of production which determines the interchange between distant places, but a difference in the comparative cost. We may often by trading with foreigners obtain their commodities at a smaller expense of labour and capital than they cost to the foreigners themselves. The bargain is advantageous to the foreigner because the commodity which he receives in exchange, though it has cost us less, would probably have cost him more.

The value of a commodity brought from a distant place does not depend on the cost of production in the place from whence it comes, but on the cost of its acquisition in that place; which in the case of an imported article means the cost of production of the thing which is exported to pay for it. In other words, the values of foreign commodities depend on the terms of international exchange, which, in turn, depend on supply and demand.

It may be established that when two countries trade together in two commodities the exchange value of these commodities relatively to each other will adjust itself to the inclinations and circumstances of the consumers on both sides in such manner that the quantities required by each country of the article which it imports from its neighbour shall be exactly sufficient to pay for one another, a law which holds of any greater number of commodities. International values depend also on the means of production available in each country for the supply of foreign markets, but the practical result is little affected thereby.

IV.—On the Influence of Government

One of the most disputed questions in political science and in practical statesmanship relates to the proper limits of the functions and agency of governments. It may be agreed that they fall into two classes: functions which are either inseparable from the idea of government or are exercised habitually by all governments; and those respecting which it has been considered questionable whether governments should exercise them or not. The former may be termed the necessary, the latter the optional, functions of government.

It may readily be shown that the admitted functions of government embrace a much wider field than can easily be included within the ring-fence of any restrictive definition, and that it is hardly possible to find any ground of justification common to them all, except the comprehensive one of general expediency; nor to limit the interference of government by any universal rule, save the simple and vague one that it should never be admitted but when the case of expediency is strong.

A most important consideration in viewing the economical effects arising from performance of necessary government functions is the means adopted by government to raise the revenue which is the condition of their existence.

The qualities desirable in a system of taxation have been embodied by Adam Smith in four maxims or principles, which may be said to have become classical:

(1) The subjects of every state ought to contribute to the support of the government as nearly as possible in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

(2) The tax which each individual has to pay ought to be certain, and not arbitrary. A great degree of inequality is not nearly so great an evil as a small degree of uncertainty.

(3) Every tax ought to be levied at the time or in the manner in which it is most likely to be convenient for the contributor to pay it. Taxes upon such consumable goods as are articles of luxury are all finally paid by the consumer, and generally in a manner that is very convenient to him.

(4) Every tax ought to be so contrived as to take out and keep out of the pockets of the people as little as possible over and above what it brings into the public treasury.

Taxes on commodities may be considered in the following way. Suppose that a commodity is capable of being made by two different processes. It is the interest of the community that of the two methods producers should adopt that which produces the best article at the lowest price. Suppose, however, that a tax is laid on one of the processes, and no tax at all, or one of lesser amount, on the other. If the tax falls, as it is, of course, intended to do, upon the process which the producers would have adopted, it creates an artificial motive for preferring the untaxed process though the inferior of the two. If, therefore, it has any effect at all it causes the commodity to be produced of worse quality, or at a greater expense of labour; it causes so much of the labour of the community to be wasted, and the capital employed in supporting and remunerating the labour to be expended as uselessly as if it were spent in hiring men to dig holes and fill them up again. The loss falls on the consumers, though the capital of the country is also eventually diminished by the diminution of their means of saving, and in some degree of their inducements to save.

Taxes on foreign trade are of two kinds: taxes on imports and on exports. On the first aspect of the matter it would seem that both these taxes are paid by the consumers of the commodity. The true state of the case, however, is much more complicated.

By taxing exports we may draw into our coffers, at the expense of foreigners, not only the whole tax, but more than the tax; in other cases we shall gain exactly the tax; in others less than the tax. In this last case, a part of the tax is borne by ourselves, possibly the whole, even more than the whole.

If the imposition of the tax does not diminish the demand it will leave the trade exactly as it was before. We shall import as much and export as much; the whole of the tax will be paid out of our own pockets.

But the imposition of a tax almost always diminishes the demand more or less. It may therefore be laid down as a principle that a tax on imported commodities, when it really operates as a tax, and not as a prohibition, either total or partial, almost always falls in part upon the foreigners who consume our goods. It is not, however, on the person from whom we buy, but on those who buy from us that a portion of our custom duties spontaneously falls. It is the foreign consumer of our exported commodities who is obliged to pay a higher price for them because we maintain revenue duties on foreign goods.

* * * * *

We now reach the consideration of the grounds and limits of the principle of laisser-faire, or non-interference by government.

Whatever theory we adopt respecting the foundation of the social union there is a circle round every human being which no government ought to be permitted to overstep; there is a part of the life of every person of years of discretion within which the individuality of that person ought to reign uncontrolled either by any other individual or by the public collectively. Scarcely any degree of utility short of absolute necessity will justify prohibitory regulation, unless it can also be made to recommend itself to the general conscience.

A general objection to government agency is that every increase of the functions devolving on the government is an increase of its power both in the form of authority and, still more, in the indirect form of influence. Though a better organisation of governments would greatly diminish the force of the objection to the mere multiplication of their duties, it would still remain true that in all the advanced communities the great majority of things are worse done by the intervention of government than the individuals most interested in the matter would do them if left to themselves.

Letting alone, in short, should be the practice; every departure from it, unless required by some great good, is a certain evil.


The Spirit of Laws

Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brede et de Montesquieu, was born near Bordeaux, in France, Jan. 18, 1689. For ten years he was president of the Bordeaux court of justice, but it was the philosophy of laws that interested him rather than the administration of them. He travelled over Europe and studied the political systems of the various countries, and found at last in England the form of free government which, it seemed to him, ought to be introduced into France. For twenty years he worked at his masterpiece, "The Spirit of Laws" ("De l'Esprit des Lois"), which was published anonymously in 1748, and in which he surveys every political system, ancient and modern, and after examining their principles and defects, proposes the English constitution as a model for the universe. It may be doubted if any book has produced such far-reaching effects. Not only did it help on the movement that ended in the French Revolution, but it induced those nations who sought for some mean between despotism and mob-rule to adopt the English system of parliamentary government. "The Spirit of Laws" is rather hard reading, but it still remains the finest and the soundest introduction to the philosophical study of history. Montesquieu died on February 10, 1755.

I.—On a Republic

There are three kinds of governments: the republican, the monarchical, and the despotic. Under a republic, the people, or a part of the people, has the sovereign power; under a monarchy, one man alone rules, but by fixed and established laws; under a despotism, a single man, without law or regulation, impels everything according to his will or his caprice.

When, in a republic, the whole people possesses sovereign power, it is a democracy. When this power is in the hands of only a part of the people it is an aristocracy. In a democracy the people is in certain respects the monarch, in others it is the subject. It cannot reign except by its votes, and the laws which establish the right of voting are thus fundamental in this form of government. A people possessing sovereign power ought to do itself everything that it can do well; what it cannot do well it must leave to its ministers. Its ministers, however, are not its own unless it nominates them; it is, therefore, a fundamental maxim of this government that the people should nominate its ministers. The people is admirably fitted to choose those whom it must entrust with some part of its authority. It knows very well that a man has often been to war, and that he has gained such and such victories, and it is therefore very capable of electing a general. It knows if a judge is hardworking and if the generality of suitors are content with his decisions, and it knows if he has not been condemned for corruption; this is sufficient to enable a people to elect its praetors.

All these things are facts about which a people can learn more in a market-place than a monarch can in a palace. But does a people know how to conduct an affair of state, to study situations, opportunities, and profit by them? No. The generality of citizens have sufficient ability to be electors, but not enough to be elected, and the people, though it is capable of forming a judgment on the administration of others, is not competent to undertake the administration itself. The people have always too much action or too little. Sometimes with a hundred thousand arms it overtakes everything; sometimes with a hundred thousand feet it moves as slowly as a centipede.

In a popular state the people are divided into certain classes, and on the way in which this division is carried out depend the duration of a democracy and its prosperity. Election by lot is the democratic method; election by choice the aristocratic method. Determination by lot allows every citizen a reasonable hope of serving his country; but it is a defective measure, and it is by regulating and correcting it that great legislators have distinguished themselves. Solon, for instance, established at Athens the method of nominating by choice all the military posts, and of electing by lot the senators and the judges; moreover, he ordained that the candidates for election by lot should first be examined, and that those who were adjudged unworthy should be excluded; in that manner he combined the method of chance and the method of choice.

It does not require much probity for a monarchy or a despotism to maintain itself. The force of the laws in one, and the uplifted sword of the tyrant in the other, regulates and curbs everything. In a democracy, however, everything depends upon the political virtues of the people. When a democracy loses its patriotism, its frugality, and its passion for equality, it is soon destroyed by avarice and ambition.

The principle of democracy grows corrupt, not only when a people loses its spirit of equality, but when this spirit of equality becomes excessive, and each man wishes to be the equal of those whom he has chosen to rule over him. Great successes, and especially those to which the people have largely contributed, give it so much pride that it is no longer possible to direct it. Thus it was that the victory over the Persians corrupted the republic of Athens; thus it was that the victory over the Athenians ruined the republic of Syracuse. There are two excesses which a democracy must avoid: the spirit of inequality, which leads to an aristocracy or to the government by one man; and the spirit of excessive equality, which ends in despotism.

II.—On an Aristocracy

In an aristocracy the sovereign power is in the hands of a group of persons. It is they who make the laws and see that they are carried out, and the rest of the people are the subjects of the nobility. When there is a great number of nobles, a senate is necessary to regulate the affairs which the nobles themselves are too numerous to deal with, and to prepare those which they are able to decide on. In this case the aristocracy exists in the senate, the democracy in the noble class, and the people count for nothing.

The best aristocracy is that in which the popular party, which has no share of the power, is so small and so poor that the governing class has no reason for oppressing it. Thus when Antipater made a law at Athens that those who had not two thousand drachmas should be excluded from voting, he formed the best aristocracy possible—for this qualification was so slight that it excluded very few people, and no one who had any consideration in the city. Aristocratic families should belong to the people as much as possible. The more an aristocracy resembles a democracy, the more perfect it is. The most imperfect of all is that in which the lower classes are ground down by the upper classes.

An aristocracy has by itself more force than a democracy. The nobles form a corporation which, by its prerogative and for its particular interest, restrains the people; but it is very difficult for this corporation to restrain its own members as easily as it restrains the populace. Public crimes can, no doubt, be punished, as it is in the general interests of an aristocracy that this should be done; but, as a rule, private misdeeds in the nobility will be overlooked. A corporation of this sort can only curb itself in two ways—either by a great political virtue, which leads the nobles to regard the people as their equals and makes for the formation of large republic, or by the lesser virtue of moderation, which enables them to conserve their power.

An aristocracy grows corrupt when the power of the nobles becomes arbitrary. When the governing families observe the laws they form a monarchy which has several monarchies; this is a very good thing in its nature, because all these monarchies are bound together by the laws. But when they no longer observe them, they form a despotic state which has many despots.

The extreme corruption comes about when the nobility becomes hereditary; it can no longer be moderate in the exercise of its powers. If the nobles are small in number their power increases, but their surety diminishes; if they are great in number, their power is less, but their surety more certain, for power goes on increasing, and surety goes on diminishing up to the despot whose power is as excessive as his peril. A multitude of nobles in an hereditary aristocracy thus makes the government less violent; but as they will have but little political virtue, they will grow nonchalant, idle, and irresponsible, so that the state at last will have no longer any force or resilience.

An aristocracy is able to maintain its force if its laws are such that they make the nobility feel more the dangers and fatigues of government than the pleasures of it, and if the state is in such a situation that it has something to dread, and that its surety comes from within, and its danger threatens from without. A certain confidence forms the glory and the safety of a monarchy, but a republic lives on its perils. The fear of the Persians kept the Greek states in strict obedience to republican laws. Carthage and Rome intimidated and strengthened each other. It is a strange thing, but democracies and aristocracies are like water, which grows corrupt only when it is too long unmoved and untroubled.

III.—On the Monarchy

Intermediary, subordinate, and dependent powers constitute the nature of a monarchical government, in which a single man governs by means of fundamental laws. The most natural of intermediary, subordinate powers is that of a nobility. This is indeed an essential part of a monarchy, of which the maxim is: "No king, no nobility; no nobility, no king."

There are some persons in certain countries of Europe who wish to abolish all the rights of the nobility. They do not see that they want to do what the English parliament did in the seventeenth century. Abolish in a monarchy the prerogatives of the lords, of the clergy, of the gentry, and of the towns, and you will soon have either a purely popular government or a despotism.

I am not greatly prepossessed in favour of the privileges of the clergy, but I should like to see their jurisdiction clearly fixed once for all. It is not a question of discussing if it be right to establish it, but of seeing if it is established, and if it forms part of the laws of the country, and of deciding if a loyal subject is not within his rights in upholding both the powers of his king and the limits which have from time immemorial been set to that power. The power of the clergy is dangerous in a republic, but convenient in a monarchy, and especially in a monarchy tending to despotism. Where would Spain and Portugal be, since they have lost their laws, without this power which alone arrests the arbitrary force of their kings?

In order to advance liberty, the English have destroyed all the intermediary powers that form their monarchy. They have good reason to guard and cherish this liberty. If ever they lose it, they will be one of the most enslaved races on earth.

It is not sufficient that there should be intermediary ranks in the monarchy; there must also be a depository of laws. This depository cannot be found anywhere save in political corporations, which announce laws when they are made, and recall them when they are forgotten. The ignorance natural to nobility, its inattention, its contempt for civil government, require that there should be a corporation which unceasingly recovers laws from the dust in which they are buried.

As democracies are ruined by the populace stripping the senate, the magistrates, and the judges of their functions, so monarchies decay when the prerogatives of the higher classes and the privileges of towns are little by little destroyed. In the first case, things end in a despotism of the multitude; in the other, in the despotism of a single man.

The people of the ancient world had no knowledge of a monarchy founded on a nobility, and still less knowledge of a monarchy founded on a legislative corporation formed, as in England, by the representatives of the people. On reading the admirable work of Tacitus on the ancient Germans, one sees that it is from them that the English have derived the idea of their political system. This fine form of government was discovered in the forests. It is based on a separation of the three powers found in every state—the legislative power, the executive power, and the judicial power. The first is in the hands of the parliament, the second is in the hands of the monarch, and the third in the hands of the magistracy. The English people would lose their liberty if the same man, or the same corporation, or the lords, or the people themselves, were possessed of these three powers.

By their representative system the English have avoided the great defect of the ancient republics, in which the populace were allowed to take an active part in the government.

There is in every state a number of persons distinguished by birth, wealth, or honour. If they were confounded among the people, and had there only one vote like the rest, the common liberty would be to them a slavery, and they would have no interest in defending it, because most of the laws would be directed against them. The part they play in legislation should, therefore, be proportionate to the other advantages which they have in the state. In England they rightly form a legislative body, which has the power of arresting the enterprises of the people, in the same way as the people have the power of arresting theirs. A house of lords must be hereditary. It is so naturally, and, besides, this gives it a very great interest in the preservation of its prerogatives, which, in a free country, must always be in danger. But as an hereditary power might be tempted to follow its private interests to the neglect of the public welfare, it is necessary that in matters in which corruption can easily arise, such as matters relating to money bills, the House of Lords should have neither any initiating nor any correcting faculty; it should have only a power of veto and a power of approving, like the tribunes of ancient Rome.

The cabinet should not wield the executive power as well as the legislative power. Unless the monarch himself retains the executive power, there is no liberty, for liberty depends upon each of the three powers being kept entirely separate. It is in this way that the balance of the constitution is preserved. As all human things have an end, England will one day lose its liberty, and perish. Rome, Sparta, and Carthage have not been able to last. England will perish when the legislative power grows more corrupt than the executive power.

IV.—On Despotism

From the nature of despotism it follows that a despot gives the government into the hands of another man. A creature whose five senses are always telling him that he is everything and that other men are nothing is naturally idle, ignorant, and pleasure-seeking. He therefore abandons the control of affairs. But if he entrusted them to several persons there would be disputes among them, and the despot would be put to the trouble of interfering in their intrigues. The easier way, therefore, is for him to surrender all administration to a vizier, and give him full power. The establishment of a vizier is a fundamental law of despotism. The more people a despot has to govern, the less he thinks of governing them; the greater the business of the state becomes, the less trouble he takes to deliberate upon it.

A despotic state continually grows corrupt because it is corrupt in its nature. Other forms of government perish through particular accidents; a despotism perishes inwardly, even when several accidental causes seem to support it.

It is only maintained when certain circumstances derived from the climate, the religion, the situation, or the genius of a people compel it to observe some order and submit to some regulation. These things compel it, but do not change its nature; its ferocity remains, though for a time it is tamed.


Utopia: Nowhere Land

Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1478; his father, Sir John, was a magistrate. The boy was placed in the household of the Chancellor, Cardinal Morton, and went to Oxford. The young man had thoughts of entering the religious life, but finally chose the law. His most intimate friend was the great Dean Colet, and his relations with Erasmus, the chief of the Humanists, were of the most affectionate kind. He stood with these two in the forefront of the great effort for the intellectual and moral reform of the Church, which was soon to be overwhelmed in the political and theological Reformation. Drawn into public life by Henry VIII., he became Chancellor after the fall of Wolsey, later resigned on a point of conscience, and was finally beheaded on a charge of treason on July 7, 1535, with Bishop Fisher, virtually for refusing to acknowledge the secular supremacy over the Church. In 1886 he was beatified. The "Utopia: Nowhere Land," was written in 1516, in Latin. The English version is the rendering of Ralphe Robynson, published in 1551. The three factors in its production were, the discoveries in the New World, Plato's "Republic," and More's observation of European affairs.

I.—How Master More Met Master Raphael Hythloday

The most victorious and triumphant king of England, Henry VIII., of that time, for the debatement of certain weighty matters sent me ambassador into Flanders, joined in commission with Cuthbert Tunstall, whose virtue and learning be of more excellency than that I am able to praise them. And whiles I was abiding at Antwerp, oftentimes among other did visit me one Peter Gyles, a citizen thereof, whom one day I chanced to espy talking with a stranger, with whom he brought me to speech. Which Raphael Hythloday had voyaged with Master Amerigo Vespucci, but parting from him had seen many lands, and so returned home by way of Taprobane and Calicut.

Now, as he told us, he had found great and wide deserts and wildernesses inhabited with wild beasts and serpents, but also towns and cities and weal-publiques full of people governed by good and wholesome laws, beside many other that were fond and foolish. Then I urging him that, both by learning and experience, he might be any king's counsellor for the weal-publique——

"You be deceived," quoth he. "For the most part all princes have more delights in warlike matters and feats of chivalry than in the good feats of peace." Then he speaking of England, "Have you been in our country, sir?" quoth I. "Yea, forsooth," quoth he, "and there was I much bound and beholden to John Norton, at that time cardinal, archbishop, and Lord Chancellor, in whose counsel the king put much trust.

"Now," quoth he, "one day as I sat at his table, there was a layman cunning in the law who began to praise the rigorous justice that was done upon felons, and to marvel how thieves were nevertheless so rife."

"'Nay, sir,' said I; 'but the punishment passeth the limits of justice. For simple theft is not so great an offence that it ought to be punished with death, nor doth that refrain them, since they cannot live but by thieving. There be many servitors of idle gentlemen, who, when their master is dead, and they be thrust forth, have no craft whereby to earn their bread, nor can find other service, who must either starve for hunger or manfully play the thieves.

"'Moreover, look how your sheep do consume and devour whole fields, houses, and cities. For noblemen and gentlemen, yea, and certain abbots, holy men, God wot, where groweth the finest wool, do enclose all in pastures, pluck down towns, and leave nought standing but only the church, to make it a sheep-house. Whereby the husbandmen are thrust out of their own! and then what can they do else but steal, and then justly, God wot, be hanged? Furthermore, victuals and other matters are dearer, seeing rich men buy up all, and with their monopoly keep the market as it please them. Unless you find a remedy for these enormities, you shall in vain vaunt yourselves of executing justice upon felons.

"'Beside, it is a pernicious thing that a thief and a murderer should suffer the like punishment, seeing that thereby the thief is rather provoked to kill. But among the polylerytes in Persia there is a custom that they which be convict of felony are condemned to be common labourers, yet not harshly entreated, but condemned to death if they seek to run away. For they are also apparelled all alike, and to aid them is servitude for a free man.'

"Now the cardinal pronounced that this were a good order to take with vagabonds. But a certain parasite sayeth in jest that this were then an excellent order to take with the friars, seeing that they were the veriest vagabonds that be; a friar thereupon took the jest in very ill part, and could not refrain himself from calling the fellow ribald, villain, and the son of perdition; whereat the jester became a scoffer indeed, for he could play a part in that play, no man better, making the friar more foolishly wrath than before.

"Now, none of them would have harkened to my counsel until the cardinal did approve it. So that if I were sitting in counsel with the French king, whose counsellors were all urging him to war; and should I counsel him not to meddle with Italy, but rather to tarry still at home; and should propose to him the decrees of the Achoricus which dwell over against the Island of Utopia, who having by war conquered a new kingdom for their prince, constrained him to be content with his old kingdom, and give over the new one to one of his friends; this, mine advice, Master More, how think you it would be heard and taken?"

"So God help me, not very thankfully," quoth I.

"Howbeit, Master More," quoth he, "doubtless wheresoever possessions be private, where money beareth all the stroke, it is almost impossible that the weal-publique may be justly governed and prosperously flourish. And when I consider the wise and goodly ordinances of the Utopians, among whom all things being in common, every man hath abundance of everything, yet are there very few laws; I do fully persuade myself that until this property be exiled and banished, perfect wealth shall never be among men. Which if you had lived with me in Utopia, you would doubtless grant."

"Therefore, Master Raphael," quoth I, "pray you describe unto us this land."

II.—Of the Island of Utopia, and the Customs of Its People

The Island of Utopia is shaped like a new moon, in breadth at the middle 200 miles, narrowing to the tips, which fetch about a compass of 500 miles, and are sundered by eleven miles, having in the space between them a high rock; so that that whole coast is a great haven, but the way into it is securely guarded by hidden rocks, of which only the Utopians have the secret. It hath fifty-four large and fair cities, all built in one fashion, and having like manners, institutions and laws. The chief and head is Amaurote, being the midmost. Every city hath an equal shire, with farms thereon; and of the husbandmen, half return each year to the city, their place being taken by a like number.

The city Amaurote standeth four square, upon the River Anyder, and another lesser river floweth through it. The houses be fair and gorgeous, and the streets twenty foot broad; and at the back of each house a garden, whereby they set great store.

Each thirty families choose an officer, called a Siphogrant, and over every tenth Siphogrant is a Tranibore. The prince is chosen for life by the Siphogrants. All other offices are yearly, but the Tranibores are not lightly changed. The prince and the Tranibores hold council every third day, each day with two different Siphogrants. They discuss no matter on the day that it is first brought forward. All the people are expert in husbandry, but each hath thereto his own proper craft of masonry or cloth-working, or some other; and, for the most part, that of his father. They work only six hours, which is enough—yea, and more for the store and abundance of things requisite, because all do work. There be none that are idle or busied about unprofitable occupations. In all that city and shire there be scarce 500 persons that be licensed from labour, that be neither too old nor too weak to work. Such be they that have license to learning in place of work. Out of which learned order be chosen ambassadors, priests, tranibores, and the prince.

For their clothing, they wear garments of skins for work, and woollen cloaks of one fashion and of the natural colour; and for the linen, they care only for the whiteness, and not the fineness; wherefore their apparel is of small cost.

The city consisteth of families; and for each family the law is there be not fewer than ten children, nor more than sixteen of about thirteen years. Which numbers they maintain by taking from one family and adding to another, or one city and another, or by their foreign cities which they have in the waste places of neighbour lands. The eldest citizen ruleth the family. In each quarter of the city is a market-place, whither is brought the work of each family, and each taketh away that he needeth, without money or exchange.

To every thirty families there is a hall, whither cometh the whole Siphogranty at the set hour of dinner or supper; and a nursery thereto. But in the country they dine and sup in their own houses. If any desire to visit another city, the prince giveth letters of licence. But wherever he goeth he must work the allotted task. All be partners, so that none may be poor or needy; and all the cities do send to the common council at Amaurote, so that what one lacketh another maketh good out of its abundance.

Their superfluities they exchange with other lands for what they themselves lack, which is little but iron; or for money, which they use but seldom, and that for the hiring of soldiers. Of gold and silver they make not rich vessels, but mean utensils, fetters, and gyves; and jewels and precious stones they make toys for children.

Although there be not many that are appointed only to learning, yet all in childhood be instructed therein; and the more part do bestow in learning their spare hours. In the course of the stars and movings of the heavenly sphere they be expert, but for the deceitful divination thereof they never dreamed of it.

They dispute of the qualities of the soul and reason of virtue, and of pleasure wherein they think the felicity of man to rest; but that the soul is immortal, and by the bountiful goodness of God ordained to felicity, and to our virtues and good deeds rewards be appointed hereafter, and to evil deeds punishments. Which principles, if they were disannulled, there is no man but would diligently pursue pleasure by right or wrong. But now felicity resteth only in that pleasure that is good and honest. Virtue they define to be life according to nature, which prescribeth us a joyful life.

But of what they call counterfeit pleasures they make naught; as of pride in apparel and gems, or in vain honours; or of dicing; or hunting, which they deem the most abject kind of butchery. But of true pleasures they give to the soul intelligence and that pleasure that cometh of contemplation of the truth, and the pleasant remembrance of the good life past. Of pleasures of the body they count first those that be sensibly felt and perceived, and thereto the body's health, which lacking, there is no place for any pleasure. But chiefest they hold the pleasures of the mind, the consciousness of virtue and the good life. Making little of the pleasures of appetite, they yet count it madness to reject the same for a vain shadow of virtue.

For bondmen, they have malefactors of their own people, criminals condemned to death in other lands, or poor labourers of other lands who, of their own free will, choose rather to be in bondage with them. The sick they tend with great affection; but, if the disease be not only incurable but full of anguish, the priests exhort them that they should willingly die, but cause him not to die against his will. The women marry not before eighteen years, and the men four years later. But if one have offended before marriage, he or she whether it be, is sharply punished. And before marriage the man and the woman are showed each to the other by discreet persons. To mock a man for his deformity is counted great dishonesty and reproach.

They do not only fear their people from doing evil by punishments, but also allure them to virtue with rewards of honour. They have but few laws, reproving other nations that innumerable books of laws and expositions upon the same be not sufficient. Furthermore, they banish all such as do craftily handle the laws, but think it meet that every man should plead his own matter.

III.—Of the Wars and the Religion of the Utopians

As touching leagues they never make one with any nation, putting no trust therein; seeing the more and holier ceremonies the league is knit up with, the sooner it is broken. Who perchance would change their minds if they lived here? But they be of opinion that no man should be counted an enemy who hath done no injury, and that the fellowship of nature is a strong league.

They count nothing so much against glory as glory gotten in war. And though they do daily practise themselves in the discipline of war, they go not to battle but in defence of their own country or their friends, or to right some assured wrong. They are ashamed to win the victory with much bloodshed, but rejoice if they vanquish their enemies by craft. They set a great price upon the life or person of the enemy's prince and of other chief adversaries, counting that they thereby save the lives of many of both parts that had otherwise been slain; and stir up neighbour peoples against them. They lure soldiers out of all countries to do battle with them, and especially savage and fierce people called the Zapoletes, giving them greater wages than any other nation will. But of their own people they thrust not forth to battle any against his will; yet if women be willing, they do in set field stand every one by her husband's side, and each man is compassed about by his own kinsfolk; and they be themselves stout and hardy and disdainful to be conquered. It is hard to say whether they be craftier in laying ambush, or wittier in avoiding the same. Their weapons be arrows, and at handstrokes not swords but pole-axes; and engines for war they devise and invent wondrous wittily.

There be divers kinds of religion. Some worship for God the sun, some the moon; there be that give worship to a man that was once of the most excellent virtue; some believe that there is a certain godly power unknown, everlasting, incomprehensible; but all believe that there is one God, Maker and Ruler of the whole world. But after they heard us speak of Christ, with glad minds they agreed unto the same. And this is one of their ancientest laws, that no man shall be blamed for reasoning in the maintenance of his own religion, giving to every man free liberty to believe what he would. Saving that none should conceive so base and vile an opinion as to think that souls do perish with the body, or that the world runneth at all adventures, governed by no divine providence.

They have priests of exceeding holiness, and therefore very few. Both childhood and youth are instructed of them, not more in learning than in good manners.

"This is that order of the commonwealth which, in my judgment, is not only the best, but also that which alone of good right may claim and take upon it the name of a commonwealth or weal-publique," quoth he. But, in the meantime, I, Thomas More, as I cannot agree and consent to all things that he said, so must I needs confess and grant that many things be in the Utopian weal-publique which in our cities I may rather wish for than hope after.


The Rights of Man

"The Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine (see RELIGION, Vol. XIII) was an answer to Burke's attack on the French Revolution. It was published in two parts in 1790 and 1792, and is an earnest and courageous exposition of Paine's revolutionary opinions, and from that day to this has played no small part in moulding public thought. The extreme candour of his observations on monarchy led to a prosecution, and he had to fly to France. There he pleaded for the life of Louis XVI., and was imprisoned for ten months during the Terror. He left France bitterly disappointed with the failure of the republic, and passed the rest of his days in America. "Paine's ignorance," says Sir Leslie Stephen, "was vast, and his language brutal; but he had the gift of a true demagogue—the power of wielding a fine, vigorous English."

I.—Natural and Civil Rights

Among the incivilities by which nations or individuals provoke or irritate each other, Mr. Burke's pamphlet in the French revolution is an extraordinary instance. There is scarcely an epithet of abuse in the English language with which he has not loaded the French nation and the National Assembly. Considered as an attempt at political argument, his work is a pathless wilderness of rhapsodies, in which he asserts whatever he pleases without offering either evidence or reasons for so doing.

With his usual outrage, he abuses the Declaration of the Rights of Man published by the National Assembly as the basis of the French constitution. But does he mean to deny that man has any rights? If he does, then he must mean that there are no such things as rights anywhere; for who is there in the world but man? But if Mr. Burke means to admit that man has rights, the question then will be: What are those rights and how came man by them originally?

The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity respecting the rights of man is that they do not go far enough into antiquity; they stop in some of the intermediate stages, and produce what was then done as a rule for the present day. Mr. Burke, for example, would have the English nation submit themselves to their monarchs for ever, because an English Parliament did make such a submission to William and Mary, not only on behalf of the people then living, but on behalf of their heirs and posterities—as if any parliament had the right of binding and controlling posterity, or of commanding for ever how the world should be governed. If antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced, successively contradicting each other; but if we proceed on, we shall at last come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man! Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him.

All histories of creation agree in establishing one point, the unity of man, by which I mean that men are all of one degree, and that all men are born equal, and with equal natural rights. These natural rights are the foundation of all their civil rights.

A few words will explain this: Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are the rights of the mind, and also those rights of acting as an individual for his own happiness, which are not injurious to the natural rights of others. Civil rights are those which appertain to man in right of his being a member of society. Every civil right has for its foundation some natural right pre-existing in the individual, but to the enjoyment of which his individual power is not, in all cases, sufficiently competent. Of this kind are all those which relate to security and protection.

It follows, then, that the power produced from the aggregate of natural rights, imperfect in power in the individual, cannot be applied to invade the natural rights which are retained in the individual, and in which the power to execute is as perfect as the right itself.

Let us now apply these principles to governments. These may all be comprehended under three heads: First, superstition; secondly, power; thirdly, the common interest of society and the common rights of man.

When a set of artful men pretended to hold intercourse with the Deity, as familiarly as they now march up the back stairs in European courts, the world was completely under the government of superstition. This sort of government lasted as long as this sort of superstition lasted.

After these, a race of conquerors arose, whose government, like that of William the Conqueror, was founded in power. Governments thus established last as long as the power to support them lasts; but, that they might avail themselves of every engine in their favour, they united fraud to force, and set up an idol which they called Divine Right, and which twisted itself afterwards into an idol of another shape, called Church and State. The key of St. Peter and the key of the treasury became quartered on one another, and the wondering cheated multitude worshipped the invention.

We have now to review the governments which arise out of society. If we trace government to its origin, we discover that governments must have arisen either out of the people or over the people. In those which have arisen out of the people, the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, have entered into a compact with each other to produce a government; and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise.

This compact is the constitution, and a constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. Wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to government, and a government is only its creature. The constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting its government.

Can, then, Mr. Burke produce the English constitution? He cannot, for no such thing exists, nor ever did exist. The English government is one of those which arose out of a conquest, and not out of society, and consequently it arose over the people; and though it has been much modified since the time of William the Conqueror, the country has never yet regenerated itself, and is therefore without a constitution.

II.—France and England Compared

I now proceed to draw some comparisons between the French constitution and the governmental usages in England.

The French constitution says that every man who pays a tax of sixty sous per annum (2s. 6d., English) is an elector. What will Mr. Burke place against this? Can anything be more limited, and at the same time more capricious, than the qualifications of electors are in England?

The French constitution says that the National Assembly shall be elected every two years. What will Mr. Burke place against this? Why, that the nation has no right at all in the case, and that the government is perfectly arbitrary with respect to this point.

The French constitution says there shall be no game laws, and no monopolies of any kind. What will Mr. Burke say to this? In England, game is made the property of those at whose expense it is not fed; and with respect to monopolies, every chartered town is an aristocratical monopoly in itself, and the qualification of electors proceeds out of these monopolies. Is this freedom? Is this what Mr. Burke means by a constitution?

The French constitution says that to preserve the national representation from being corrupt no member of the National Assembly shall be an officer of the government, a placeman, or a pensioner. What will Mr. Burke place against this? I will whisper his answer: "Loaves and Fishes." Ah! this government of loaves and fishes has more mischief in it than people have yet reflected on. The English Parliament is supposed to hold the national purse in trust for the nation. But if those who vote the supplies are the same persons who receive the supplies when voted, and are to account for the expenditure of those supplies to those who voted them, it is themselves accountable to themselves, and the comedy of errors concludes with the pantomime of hush. Neither the ministerial party nor the opposition will touch upon this case. The national purse is the common hack which each mounts upon. They order these things better in France.

The French constitution says that the right of war and peace is in the nation. Where else should it reside but in those who are to pay the expense? In England this right is said to reside in a metaphor shown at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling a head.

It may with reason be said that in the manner the English nation is represented it signifies not where the right resides, whether in the crown or in the parliament. War is the common harvest of all those who participate in the division and expenditure of public money in all countries. In reviewing the history of the English Government, an impartial bystander would declare that taxes were not raised to carry on wars, but that wars were raised to carry on taxes.

The French constitution says, "There shall be no titles"; and, of consequence, "nobility" is done away, and the peer is exalted into man.

Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character which degrades it. If no mischief had annexed itself to the folly of titles, they would not have been worth a serious and formal destruction. Let us, then, examine the grounds upon which the French constitution has resolved against having a house of peers in France.

Because, in the first place, aristocracy is kept up by family tyranny and injustice, due to the unnatural and iniquitous law of primogeniture.

Secondly, because the idea of hereditary legislators is as inconsistent as that of hereditary judges or hereditary juries; and as absurd as an hereditary mathematician, or an hereditary wise man; and as ridiculous as an hereditary poet-laureate.

Thirdly, because a body of men, holding themselves accountable to nobody, ought not to be trusted by anybody.

Fourthly, because it is continuing the uncivilised principle of government founded in conquest, and the base idea of man having property in man, and governing him by personal right.

The French constitution hath abolished or renounced toleration and intolerance also, and hath established universal right of conscience.

Toleration is not the opposite of intolerance, but is the counterfeit of it. Both are despotisms. The one assumes to itself the right of withholding liberty of conscience, and the other of granting it. Who art thou, vain dust and ashes! by whatever name thou art called, whether a king, a bishop, a church, or a state, a parliament, or anything else, that obtrudest thine insignificance between the soul of man and its Maker? Mind thine own concerns. If he believes not as thou believest, it is a proof that thou believest not as he believes, and there is no earthly power can determine between you.

The opinions of men with respect to government are changing fast in all countries. The revolutions of America and France have thrown a beam of light over the world, which reaches into men. Ignorance is of a peculiar nature; once dispelled, it is impossible to re-establish it. It is not originally a thing of itself, but is only the absence of knowledge; and though man may be kept ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant.

When we survey the wretched condition of man, under the monarchical and hereditary systems of government, dragged from his home by one power, or driven by another, and impoverished by taxes more than by enemies, it becomes evident that these systems are bad, and that a general revolution in the principle and construction of governments is necessary.

And it is not difficult to perceive, from the enlightened state of mankind, that hereditary governments are verging to their decline, and that revolutions on the broad basis of national sovereignty and government by representation are making their way in Europe; it would be an act of wisdom to anticipate their approach and produce revolutions by reason and accommodation, rather than commit them to the issue of convulsions.

III.—The Old and New Systems

The danger to which the success of revolutions is most exposed is in attempting them before the principles on which they proceed, and the advantages to result from them are sufficiently understood. Almost everything appertaining to the circumstances of a nation has been absorbed and confounded under the general and mysterious word government. It may, therefore, be of use in this day of revolutions to discriminate between those things which are the effect of government, and those which are not.

Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government, which is no farther necessary than to supply the few cases to which society and civilisation are not conveniently competent.

The more perfect civilisation is, the less occasion has it for government, because the more does it regulate its own affairs, and govern itself. All the great laws of society are laws of nature. They are followed and obeyed because it is the interest of the parties to do so, and not on account of any formal laws their governments may impose. But how often is the natural propensity to society disturbed or destroyed by the operations of government! When the latter, instead of being ingrafted on the principles of the former, assumes to exist for itself, and acts by partialities of favour and oppression, it becomes the cause of the mischiefs it ought to prevent.

It is impossible that such governments as have hitherto existed in the world would have commenced by any other means than a total violation of every principle, sacred and moral. The obscurity in which the origin of all the present old governments is buried implies the iniquity and disgrace with which they began. What scenes of horror present themselves in contemplating the character and reviewing the history of such governments! If we would delineate human nature with a baseness of heart and hypocrisy of countenance that reflection would shudder at and humanity disown, they are kings, courts, and cabinets that must sit for the portrait. Man, naturally as he is, with all his faults about him, is not up to the character.

Government on the old system is an assumption of power, for the aggrandisement of itself; on the new a delegation of power for the common benefit of society. The one now called the old is hereditary, either in whole or in part, and the new is entirely representative. It rejects all hereditary government:

First, as being an imposition on mankind.

Secondly, as inadequate to the purposes for which government is necessary.

All hereditary government is in its nature tyranny. To inherit a government is to inherit the people, as if they were flocks and herds. Kings succeed each other, not as rationals, but as animals. It signifies not what their mental or moral characters are. Monarchical government appears under all the various characters of childhood, decrepitude, dotage; a thing at nurse, in leading-strings, or in crutches. In short, we cannot conceive a more ridiculous figure of government than hereditary succession. By continuing this absurdity, man is perpetually in contradiction with himself; he may accept for a king, or a chief magistrate, or a legislator a person whom he would not elect for a constable.

The representative system takes society and civilisation for its basis; nature, reason, and experience for its guide. The original simple democracy was society governing itself without the aid of secondary means. By ingrafting representation upon democracy we arrive at a system of government capable of embracing and confederating all the various interests and every extent of territory and population; and that also with advantages as much inferior to hereditary government, as the republic of letters is to hereditary literature.

Considering government in the only light in which it should be considered, that of a national association, it ought to be constructed as not to be disordered by any accident happening among the parts, and, therefore, no extraordinary power should be lodged in the hands of any individual. Monarchy would not have continued so many ages in the world had it not been for the abuses it protects. It is the master-fraud which shelters all others. By admitting a participation of the spoil, it makes itself friends; and when it ceases to do this it will cease to be the idol of courtiers.

One of the greatest improvements that have been made for the perpetual security and progress of constitutional liberty, is the provision which the new constitutions make for occasionally revising, altering, and amending them. The best constitutions that could now be devised consistently with the condition of the present moment, may be far short of that excellence which a few years may afford. There is a morning of reason rising upon man on the subject of governments that has not appeared before. Just emerging from such a barbarous condition, it is too soon to determine to what extent of improvement government may yet be carried. For what we can foresee, all Europe may form but one great republic, and man be free of the whole.

IV.—The Reform of England

As it is necessary to include England in the prospect of general reformation, it is proper to inquire into the defects of its government. It is only by each nation reforming its own, that the whole can be improved and the full benefit of reformation enjoyed.

When in countries that are called civilised we see age going to the workhouse and youth to the gallows something must be wrong in the system of government. Why is it that scarcely any are executed but the poor? The fact is a proof, among other things, of a wretchedness in their condition. Bred up without morals, and cast upon the world without a prospect, they are the exposed sacrifice of vice and legal barbarity.

The first defect of English government I shall mention is the evil of those Gothic institutions, the corporation towns. As one of the houses of the English Parliament is, in a great measure, made up of elections from these corporations, and as it is unnatural that a pure stream should flow from a foul fountain, its vices are but a continuation of the vices of its origin. A man of moral honour and good political principles cannot submit to the mean drudgery and disgraceful arts by which such elections are carried.

I proceed in the next place to the aristocracy. The house of peers is simply a combination of persons in one common interest. No better reason can be given why a house of legislation should be composed entirely of men whose occupation consists in letting landed property, than why it should be composed of brewers, of bakers, or any other separate class of men. What right has the landed interest to a distinct representation from the general interest of the nation? The only use to be made of its power is to ward off the taxes from itself, and to throw the burden upon such articles of consumption by which itself would be least affected.

I proceed to what is called the crown. It signifies a nominal office of a million sterling a year, the business of which consists in receiving the money. Whether the person be wise or foolish, sane or insane, a native or a foreigner, matters not. The hazard to which this office is exposed in all countries is not from anything that can happen to the man, but from what may happen to the nation—the danger of its coming to its senses.

I shall now turn to the matter of lessening the burden of taxes. The amount of taxation now levied may be taken in round numbers at L17,000,000, nine millions of which are appropriated to the payment of interest on the national debt, and eight millions to the current expenses of each year.

All circumstances taken together, arising from the French revolution, from the approaching harmony of the two nations, the abolition of court intrigue on both sides, and the progress of knowledge in the science of governing, the annual expenditure might be put back to one million and a half—half a million each for Navy, Army, and expenses of government.

Three hundred representatives fairly elected are sufficient for all the purposes to which legislation can apply. They may be divided into two or three houses, or meet in one, as in France. If an allowance of L500 per annum were made to each representative, the yearly cost would be L15,000. The expense of the official departments could not reasonably exceed L425,000. All revenue officers are paid out of the monies they collect, and therefore are not in this estimation.

Taking one million and a half as a sufficient peace establishment for all the honest purposes of government, there will remain a surplus of upwards of six millions out of the present current expenses. How is this surplus to be disposed of?

The first step would be to abolish the poor rates entirely, and in lieu thereof to make a remission of taxes to the poor of double the amount of the present poor rates—viz., four millions annually out of the surplus taxes. This money could be distributed so as to provide L4 annually per head for the support of children of poor families, and to provide also for the cost of education of over a million children; to give annuities of L10 each for the aged poor over sixty, and of L6 each for the poor over fifty; to give donations of L1 each on occasions of births in poor families, and marriages of the poor; to make allowances for funeral expenses of persons travelling for work, and dying at a distance from their friends; and to furnish employment for the casual poor of the metropolis, where modes of relief are necessary that are not required in the country.

Of the sum remaining after these deductions, half a million should be spent in pensioning disbanded soldiers and in increasing the pay of the soldiers who shall remain. The burdensome house and window tax, amounting to over half a million annually, should be taken off. There yet remains over a million surplus, which might be used for special purposes, or applied to relief of taxation as circumstances require.

For the commutation tax there should be substituted an estate tax rising from 3d. in the pound on the first L500 to 20s. in the pound on the twenty-third L1,000. Every thousand beyond the twenty-third would thus produce no profit but by dividing the estate, and thereby would be extirpated the overgrown influence arising from the unnatural law of primogeniture.

Of all nations in Europe there is none so much interested in the French revolution as England. Enemies for ages, the opportunity now presents itself of amicably closing the scene and joining their efforts to reform the rest of Europe. Such an alliance, together with that of Holland, could propose with effect a general dismantling of all the navies in Europe, to a certain proportion to be agreed upon. This will save to France and England at least two million sterling annually to each, and their relative force would be in the same proportion as it is now. Peace, which costs nothing, is attended with infinitely more advantage than any victory with all its expense.

Never did so great an opportunity offer itself to England, and to all Europe, as is produced by the two revolutions of America and France. By the former, freedom has a national champion in the western world, and by the latter in Europe. When another nation shall join France, despotism and bad government will scarcely dare to appear. The present age will hereafter merit to be called the Age of Reason, and the present generation will appear to the future as the Adam of a new world.


The Social Contract

Rousseau's "Social Contract" (Contrat Social) is the most influential treatise on politics written in modern times. As its title implies, the work is an endeavour to place all government on the consent, direct or implied, of the governed; how, through the rearrangement of society, man may, in a sense, return to the law of nature. "Man is born free, and yet is everywhere in chains." Logically, the "Social Contract" is full of gaping flaws. Like its author's other books (see vol. vii, p. 176), it is an outpouring of the heart very imperfectly regulated by a brilliant but eccentric brain. As a political essay it is a tissue of fantastic arguments, based on unreal hypotheses. But it set men's minds on fire; it was the literary inspiration of one of the most tremendous events in history, and those who would comprehend the French Revolution can unravel many of its perplexities by studying the "Social Contract." After its publication Rousseau had to fly to England, where he showed marked symptoms of insanity.

The Terms of the Contract

My object is to discover whether, in civil polity, there is any legitimate and definite canon of government, taking men as they are, and laws as they might be. In this enquiry I shall uniformly try to reconcile that which is permitted by right with that which is prescribed by interest so as to avoid the clash of justice with utility.

Man is born free, and yet is everywhere in fetters. He is governed, obliged to obey laws. What is it that legitimises the subjection of men to government? I think I can solve the problem.

It is not merely a matter of force; force is only the power of the strongest, and must yield when a greater strength arises; there is here no question of right, but simply of might. But social order is a sacred right that serves as a base for all others. This right, however, does not arise from nature; it is founded, therefore, upon conventions. It is necessary, then, to know what these conventions are.

The explanation of social order is not to be found in the family tie, since, when a child grows up it escapes from tutelage; the parents' right to exercise authority is only temporary. Nor can government be based on servitude. An individual man may sell his liberty to another for sustenance; but a nation cannot sell its liberty—it does not receive sustenance from its ruler, but on the contrary sustains him. A bargain in which one party gains everything and the other loses everything is plainly no bargain at all, and no claim of right can be founded on it. But even supposing that a people could thus give up its liberty to a ruler, it must be a people before it does so. The gift is a civil act, which pre-supposes a public deliberation. Before, then, we examine the act by which a people chooses a king, it would be well to examine the act by which a people becomes a people; for this act, which necessarily precedes the other, must be the true foundation of society.

Let it be assumed that the obstacles which prejudice the conservation of man in a state of nature have prevailed by their resistance over the forces which each individual is able to employ to keep himself in that state. The primitive condition can then no longer exist; mankind must change it or perish.

The problem with which men are confronted under these circumstances may be stated as follows—"To find a form of association that defends and protects with all the common force the person and property of each partner, and by which each partner, uniting himself with all the rest, nevertheless obeys only himself, and remains as free as heretofore." This is the fundamental problem to which the Social Contract affords a solution.

The clauses of this contract are determined by the nature of the act in such a manner that the least modification renders them of no effect; so that, even when they have not been formally stated, they are everywhere the same, everywhere tacitly acknowledged; and if the compact is violated, everyone returns forthwith to his natural liberty.

The essence of the pact is the total and unreserved alienation by each partner of all his rights to the community as a whole. No individual can retain any rights that are not possessed equally by all other individuals without the contract being thereby violated. Again, each partner, by yielding his rights to the community, yields them to no individual, and thus in his relations with individuals he regains all the rights he has sacrificed.

The compact, therefore, may be reduced to the following terms—"each of us places in common his person and all his power under the supreme direction of the general will; and we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole."

By this act is created a moral and collective body, composed of as many members as the society has voices, receiving from this same act its unity, its common "I," its life, and its will. This body is the Republic, called by its members the state, the state when passive, the sovereign when active, a power in its relations with similar bodies. The partners are collectively called the people; they are citizens, as participants in the sovereign authority, and subjects as under obligation to the laws of the state.

The sovereign, then, is the general will; and each individual finds himself engaged in a double relationship—as a member of the sovereign. To the general will each partner must, by the terms of the contract, submit himself, without respect to his private inclinations. If he refuses to submit, the sovereign will compel him to do so; which is as much as to say, that it will force him to be free; for in the supremacy of the general will lies the only guarantee to each citizen of freedom from personal dependence.

By passing, through the compact, from the state of nature to the civil state, man substitutes justice for instinct in his conduct, and gives to his actions a morality of which they were formerly devoid. What man loses by the contract is his natural liberty, and an illimitable right to all that tempts him and that he can obtain; what he gains is civil liberty, and a right of secure property in all that he possesses.

I shall conclude this chapter with a remark which should serve as a basis for the whole social system; it is that in place of destroying natural liberty, the fundamental pact substitutes a moral and legitimate equality for the natural physical inequality between men, and that, while men may be unequal in strength and talent, they are all made equal by convention and right.

The Sovereign and the Laws

The first and most important consequence of the principles above established is that only the general will can direct the forces of the state towards the aim of its institutions, which is the common good; for if the antagonism of particular interests has rendered necessary the establishment of political societies, it is the accord of these interests that has rendered such societies possible.

I maintain, then, that sovereignty, being the exercise of the general will, cannot be alienated, and that the sovereign, which is simply a collective being, cannot be represented save by itself; it may transfer its power, but not its will.

For the same reason that sovereignty is inalienable, it is indivisible. For the will is either general or it is not. If it is general, it is, when declared, an act of the people, and becomes law; if it is not general, it is, when declared, merely an act of a particular person or persons, not of the sovereign.

The general will is infallible; but the deliberations of the people are not necessarily so. The people may be, and often are, deceived. Particular interests may gain an advantage over general interests, and in that case the rival particular interests should be allowed to destroy each other, so that the true general interest may prevail. In order to secure the clear expression of the general will, there should be no parties or groups within the state; if such groups exist, they should be multiplied in number, so that no one party should get the upper hand.

While, under the contract, each person alienates his power, his goods, and his liberty, he only alienates so much of these as are of concern to the community; but it belongs to the sovereign to determine what is of concern to the community and what is not.

Whatsoever services a citizen owes to the state, he owes them directly the sovereign demands them; but the sovereign, on its part, must not charge its citizens with any obligations useless to the community; for, under the law of reason, nothing is done without cause, any more than under the law of nature. The general will, let it be repeated, tends always to public utility, and is intrinsically incapable of demanding services not useful to the public.

A law is an expression of a general will, and must be general in its terms and import. The sovereign cannot legislate for part of the individuals composing the state, for if it did so the general will would enter into a particular relation with particular people, and that is contrary to its nature. The law may thus confer privileges, but must not name the persons to whom the privileges are to belong. It may establish a royal government, but must not nominate a king. Any function relating to an individual object does not appertain to the legislative power. As a popular assembly is not always enlightened, though the general will when properly ascertained, must be right—the service of a wise legislator is necessary to draw up laws with the sovereign's approval.

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