Présidentielles 2012: L’État, c’est la grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde (From Washington to Paris: back to plunder as a way of life?)

Lorsque la Spoliation est devenue le moyen d’existence d’une agglomération d’hommes unis entre eux par le lien social, ils se font bientôt une loi qui la sanctionne, une morale qui la glorifie. Bastiat
Je n’aime pas les riches, j’en conviens. François Hollande
J’ai considéré, j’en fais ici l’annonce, qu’au-dessus d’un million d’euros par mois, le taux d’imposition devrait être de 75%. Ce n’est pas possible d’avoir ces niveaux de rémunération. (…) Un million d’euros par an, donc à peu près 100.000 euros par mois. François Hollande
Ma sensibilité a toujours été de gauche mais, être de gauche, aujourd’hui, c’est très compliqué. Ou juste triste. Ça ne veut plus dire grand chose… La gauche de ces dernières années m’a souvent déçu et peu intéressé. Mais savait-elle elle-même ce qui l’intéressait ? À part être anti-sarkozyste, quel a été son cheval de bataille ? Patrick Bruel
Je suis très content de participer à une solidarité, très content de reverser une grande partie de ce que je gagne. Là, ça atteint des proportions où ça devient limite confiscatoire et spoliateur. (…) Les gens qui ont de l’argent sont aussi des gens qui génèrent du travail, de l’emploi, qui génèrent des richesses et qui font tourner aussi une économie. (…) Ce n’est pas honteux de faire fortune, ce n’est pas honteux à partir du moment où on redistribue, et on redistribue beaucoup, parce que ne serait-ce que 50% de ce que vous gagnez c’est déjà énorme. Patrick Bruel
Et cette grande chimère, nous l’avons placée, pour l’édification du peuple, au frontispice de la Constitution. Voici les premiers mots du préambule: “La France s’est constituée en République pour… appeler tous les citoyens à un degré toujours plus élevé de moralité, de lumière et de bien-être.”  Ainsi, c’est la France ou l’abstraction, qui appelle les Français ou les réalités à la moralité, au bien-être, etc. N’est-ce pas abonder dans le sens de cette bizarre illusion qui nous porte à tout attendre d’une autre énergie que la nôtre? N’est-ce pas donner à entendre qu’il y a, à côté et en dehors des Français, un être vertueux, éclairé, riche, qui peut et doit verser sur eux ses bienfaits? N’est-ce pas supposer, et certes bien gratuitement, qu’il y a entre la France et les Français, entre la simple dénomination abrégée, abstraite, de toutes les individualités et ces individualités mêmes, des rapports de père à fils, de tuteur à pupille, de professeur à écolier?(…) Les Américains se faisaient une autre idée des relations des citoyens avec l’État, quand ils placèrent en tête de leur Constitution ces simples paroles: “Nous, le peuple des États-Unis, pour former une union plus parfaite, établir la justice, assurer la tranquillité intérieure, pourvoir à la défense commune, accroître le bien-être général et assurer les bienfaits de la liberté à nous-mêmes et à notre postérité, décrétons, etc.” Ici point de création chimérique, point d’abstraction à laquelle les citoyens demandent tout. Ils n’attendent rien que d’eux-mêmes et de leur propre énergie. Si je me suis permis de critiquer les premières paroles de notre Constitution, c’est qu’il ne s’agit pas, comme on pourrait le croire, d’une pure subtilité métaphysique. Je prétends que cette personnification de l’État a été dans le passé et sera dans l’avenir une source féconde de calamités et de révolutions. Bastiat
L’État, c’est la grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde. (…) Quant à nous, nous pensons que l’État, ce n’est ou ce ne devrait être autre chose que la force commune instituée, non pour être entre tous les citoyens un instrument d’oppression et de spoliation réciproque, mais, au contraire, pour garantir à chacun le sien, et faire régner la justice et la sécurité. Frédéric Bastiat
N’attendre de l’État que deux choses : liberté, sécurité. Et bien voir que l’on ne saurait, au risque de les perdre toutes deux, en demander une troisième. Bastiat
Je ne désire pas pour mon pays autant le free-trade que l’esprit du free-trade. Le free-trade, c’est un peu plus de richesse ; l’esprit du free-trade, c’est la réforme de l’intelligence même, c’est-à-dire la source de toutes les réformes. Frédéric Bastiat (Lettre à Cobden, le 20 mars 1847)
La cause que nous servons ne se renferme pas dans les limites d’une nation. Elle est universelle et ne trouvera sa solution que dans l’adhésion de tous les peuples. (…) Les difficultés s’accumulent autour de nous ; nous n’avons pas pour adversaires seulement des intérêts. L’ignorance publique se révèle maintenant dans toute sa triste étendue. En outre, les partis ont besoin de nous abattre. Par un enchaînement de circonstances, qu’il serait trop long de rapporter, ils sont tous contre nous. Tous aspirent au même but : la Tyrannie. Ils ne diffèrent que sur la question de savoir en quelles mains l’arbitraire sera déposé. Aussi, ce qu’ils redoutent le plus, c’est l’esprit de la vraie liberté. (…) Ce qui m’afflige surtout, moi qui porte au cœur le sentiment démocratique dans toute son universalité, c’est de voir la démocratie française en tête de l’opposition à la liberté du commerce. Bastiat (Lettre à Cobden, 9 novembre 1847)
De grands obstacles nous viennent aussi de votre côté de la Manche. Mon cher Cobden, il faut que je vous parle en toute franchise. En adoptant le Libre-Echange, l’Angleterre n’a pas adopté la politique qui dérive logiquement du Libre-Échange. Le fera-t-elle ? Je n’en doute pas ; mais quand ? Voilà la question.  Bastiat (Lettre à Cobden, 15 octobre 1847)
Mon ami, l’ignorance et l’indifférence dans ce pays, en matière d’économie politique, dépassent tout ce que j’aurais pu me figurer. Ce n’est pas une raison pour se décourager, au contraire, c’en est une pour nous donner le sentiment de l’utilité, de l’urgence même de nos efforts. Mais je comprends aujourd’hui une chose : c’est que la liberté commerciale est un résultat trop éloigné pour nous. Heureux si nous pouvons déblayer la route de quelques obstacles. — Le plus grand n’est pas le parti protectionniste, mais le socialisme avec ses nombreuses ramifications. — S’il n’y avait que les monopoleurs, ils ne résisteraient pas à la discussion. — Mais le socialisme leur vient en aide. Celui-ci admet la liberté en principe et renvoie l’exécution après l’époque où le monde sera constitué sur le plan de Fourier ou tout autre inventeur de société. — Et, chose singulière, pour prouver que jusque-là la liberté sera nuisible, ils reprennent tous les arguments des monopoleurs : balance du commerce, exportation du numéraire, supériorité de l’Angleterre, etc., etc. D’après cela, vous me direz que combattre les monopoleurs, c’est combattre les socialistes. — Non. — Les socialistes ont une théorie sur la nature oppressive du capital, par laquelle ils expliquent l’inégalité des conditions, et toutes les souffrances des classes pauvres. Ils parlent aux passions, aux sentiments, et même aux meilleurs instincts des hommes. Ils séduisent la jeunesse, montrant le mal et affirmant qu’ils possèdent le remède. Ce remède consiste en une organisation sociale artificielle de leur invention, qui rendra tous les hommes heureux et égaux, sans qu’ils aient besoin de lumières et de vertus. — Encore si tous les socialistes étaient d’accord sur ce plan d’organisation, on pourrait espérer de le ruiner dans les intelligences. Mais vous comprenez que, dans cet ordre d’idées, et du moment qu’il s’agit de pétrir une société, chacun fait la sienne, et tous les matins nous sommes assaillis par des inventions nouvelles. Nous avons donc à combattre une hydre à qui il repousse dix têtes quand nous lui en coupons une. Le malheur est que cette méthode a un puissant attrait pour la  (jeunesse. On lui montre des souffrances ; et par là on commence par toucher son cœur. Ensuite on lui dit que tout peut se guérir, au moyen de quelques combinaisons artificielles ; et par là on met son imagination en campagne. Bastiat (Lettre à Cobden, 5 juillet 1847)
On nous accuse, dans le parti démocratique et socialiste, d’être voués au culte des intérêts matériels et de tout ramener à des questions de richesses. J’avoue que lorsqu’il s’agit des masses, je n’ai pas ce dédain stoïque pour la richesse. Ce mot ne veut pas dire quelques écus de plus ; il signifie du pain pour ceux qui ont faim, des vêtements pour ceux qui ont froid, de l’éducation, de l’indépendance, de la dignité. — Mais, après tout, si le résultat du libre-échange devait être uniquement d’accroître la richesse publique, je ne m’en occuperais pas plus que de toute autre question agricole ou industrielle. Ce que je vois surtout dans notre agitation, c’est l’occasion de combattre quelques préjugés et de faire pénétrer dans le public quelques idées justes. C’est là un bien indirect cent fois supérieur aux avantages directs de la liberté commerciale. Bastiat (Lettre à Cobden, le 20 avril 1847)

Quand le pillage légal devient un mode de vie  …

"Espérances et promesses contradictoires qui ne se réalisent jamais", "État qui prodigue des promesses impossibles", "public qui conçoit des espérances irréalisables",  "grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde", annonces sous prétexte de solidarité des prélèvements proprement confiscatoires

A l’heure où après une courte pause notre pays est sur le point de rebasculer dans ses pires travers étatistes  sur le dos, avec les riches comme nouveaux et commodes boucs émissaires,  du plus "américain" de nos présidents …

Et où après quatre ans d’avanies, le pays censé être le leader du Monde libre est sur le point de réélire un Confiscateur en chef  et prétendu champion des pauvres (plus de 100 millions de dollars de trésor de guerre!)  qui, pour éponger les milliards de milliards de déficits qu’il a accumulés, nous ressort la plus démagogique des règles visant moins de 0,3% des contribuables  …

Livrant de ce fait les peuples du reste du monde, de l’Iran à la Syrie et de l’Afghanistan à la Corée du nord et avec la Chine et la Russie aux manettes, aux visées des régimes les plus cyniquement liberticides …

Comment ne pas repenser,  face aux boniments de nos nouveaux Montagnards, aux avertissements prophétiques  il y a plus d’un siècle et demi du plus "américain" de nos économistes?

Lisez le dernier Manifeste des Montagnards, celui qu’ils ont émis à propos de l’élection présidentielle. Il est un peu long, mais, après tout, il se résume en deux mots: L’État doit beaucoup donner aux citoyens et peu leur prendre. C’est toujours la même tactique, ou, si l’on veut, la même erreur.(…) Ce n’est pas tout. Les Montagnards aspirent à ce que « l’impôt perde son caractère oppressif et ne soit plus qu’un acte de fraternité." Bonté du ciel! je savais bien qu’il est de mode de fourrer la fraternité partout, mais je ne me doutais pas qu’on la pût mettre dans le bulletin du percepteur.

L’État

Frédéric Bastiat

Journal des Débats

25 septembre 1848

Je voudrais qu’on fondât, un prix, non de cinq cents francs, mais d’un million, avec couronnes, croix et rubans, en faveur de celui qui donnerait une bonne, simple et intelligible définition de ce mot: l’État.

Quel immense service ne rendrait-il pas à la société! L’État! Qu’est-ce? où est-il? que fait-il? que devrait-il faire?

Tout ce que nous en savons, c’est que c’est un personnage mystérieux, et assurément le plus sollicité, le plus tourmenté, le plus affairé, le plus conseillé, le plus accusé, le plus invoqué et le plus provoqué qu’il y ait au monde.

Car, Monsieur, je n’ai pas l’honneur de vous connaître, mais je gage dix contre un que depuis six mois vous faites des utopies; et si vous en faites, je gage dix contre un que vous chargez l’État de les réaliser.

Et vous, Madame, je suis sûr que vous désirez du fond du cœur guérir tous les maux de la triste humanité, et que vous n’y seriez nullement embarrassée si l’État voulait seulement s’y prêter.

Mais, hélas! le malheureux, comme Figaro, ne sait ni qui entendre, ni de quel côté se tourner. Les cent mille bouches de la presse et de la tribune lui crient à la fois:

« Organisez le travail et les travailleurs.

Extirpez l’égoïsme.

Réprimez l’insolence et la tyrannie du capital.

Faites des expériences sur le fumier et sur les œufs.

Sillonnez le pays de chemins de fer.

Irriguez les plaines.

Boisez les montagnes.

Fondez des fermes-modèles

Fondez des ateliers harmoniques.

Colonisez l’Algérie.

Allaitez les enfants.

Instruisez la jeunesse.

Secourez la vieillesse.

Envoyez dans les campagnes les habitants des villes.

Pondérez les profits de toutes les industries.

Prêtez de l’argent, et sans intérêt, à ceux qui en désirent.

Affranchissez l’Italie, la Pologne et la Hongrie.

Élevez et perfectionnez le cheval de selle.

Encouragez l’art, formez-nous des musiciens et des danseuses.

Prohibez le commerce et, du même coup, créez une marine marchande.

Découvrez la vérité et jetez dans nos têtes un grain de raison. L’État a pour mission d’éclairer, de développer, d’agrandir, de fortifier, de spiritualiser et de sanctifier l’âme des peuples. »

— « Eh! Messieurs, un peu de patience, répond l’État, d’un air piteux. »

« J’essaierai de vous satisfaire, mais pour cela il me faut quelques ressources. J’ai préparé des projets concernant cinq ou six impôts tout nouveaux et les plus bénins du monde. Vous verrez quel plaisir on a à les payer. »

Mais alors un grand cri s’élève: « Haro! haro! le beau mérite de faire quelque chose avec des ressources! Il ne vaudrait pas la peine de s’appeler l’État. Loin de nous frapper de nouvelles taxes, nous vous sommons de retirer les anciennes. Supprimez:

L’impôt du sel;

L’impôt des boissons;

L’impôt des lettres;

L’octroi;

Les patentes;

Les prestations. »

Au milieu de ce tumulte, et après que le pays a changé deux ou trois fois son État pour n’avoir pas satisfait à toutes ces demandes, j’ai voulu faire observer qu’elles étaient contradictoires. De quoi me suis-je avisé, bon Dieu! ne pouvais-je garder pour moi cette malencontreuse remarque?

Me voilà discrédité à tout jamais; et il est maintenant reçu que je suis un homme sans cœur et sans entrailles, un philosophe sec, un individualiste, un bourgeois, et, pour tout dire en un mot, un économiste de l’école anglaise ou américaine.

Oh! pardonnez-moi, écrivains sublimes, que rien n’arrête, pas même les contradictions. J’ai tort, sans doute, et je me rétracte de grand cœur. Je ne demande pas mieux, soyez-en sûrs, que vous ayez vraiment découvert, en dehors de nous, un être bienfaisant et inépuisable, s’appelant l’État, qui ait du pain pour toutes les bouches, du travail pour tous les bras, des capitaux pour toutes les entreprises, du crédit pour tous les projets, de l’huile pour toutes les plaies, du baume pour toutes les souffrances, des conseils pour toutes les perplexités, des solutions pour tous les doutes, des vérités pour toutes les intelligences, des distractions pour tous les ennuis, du lait pour l’enfance, du vin pour la vieillesse, qui pourvoie à tous nos besoins, prévienne tous nos désirs, satisfasse toutes nos curiosités, redresse toutes nos erreurs, toutes nos fautes, et nous dispense tous désormais de prévoyance, de prudence, de jugement, de sagacité, d’expérience, d’ordre, d’économie, de tempérance et d’activité.

Et pourquoi ne le désirerais-je pas? Dieu me pardonne, plus j’y réfléchis, plus je trouve que la chose est commode, et il me tarde d’avoir, moi aussi, à ma portée, cette source intarissable de richesses et de lumières, ce médecin universel, ce trésor sans fond, ce conseiller infaillible que vous nommez l’État.

Aussi je demande qu’on me le montre, qu’on me le définisse, et c’est pourquoi je propose la fondation d’un prix pour le premier qui découvrira ce phénix. Car enfin, on m’accordera bien que cette découverte précieuse n’a pas encore été faite, puisque, jusqu’ici, tout ce qui se présente sous le nom d’État, le peuple le renverse aussitôt, précisément parce qu’il ne remplit pas les conditions quelque peu contradictoires du programme.

Faut-il le dire? Je crains que nous ne soyons, à cet égard, dupes d’une des plus bizarres illusions qui se soient jamais emparées de l’esprit humain.

L’homme répugne à la Peine, à la Souffrance. Et cependant il est condamné par la nature à la Souffrance de la Privation, s’il ne prend pas la Peine du Travail. Il n’a donc que le choix entre ces deux maux.

Comment faire pour les éviter tous deux? Il n’a jusqu’ici trouvé et ne trouvera jamais qu’un moyen: c’est de jouir du travail d’autrui; c’est de faire en sorte que la Peine et la Satisfaction n’incombent pas à chacun selon la proportion naturelle, mais que toute la peine soit pour les uns et toutes les satisfactions pour les autres. De là l’esclavage, de là encore la spoliation, quelque forme qu’elle prenne: guerres, impostures, violences, restrictions, fraudes, etc., abus monstrueux, mais conséquents avec la pensée qui leur a donné naissance. On doit haïr et combattre les oppresseurs, on ne peut pas dire qu’ils soient absurdes.

L’esclavage s’en va, grâce au Ciel, et, d’un autre côté, cette disposition où nous sommes à défendre notre bien, fait que la Spoliation directe et naïve n’est pas facile. Une chose cependant est restée. C’est ce malheureux penchant primitif que portent en eux tous les hommes à faire deux parts du lot complexe de la vie, rejetant la Peine sur autrui et gardant la Satisfaction pour eux-mêmes. Reste à voir sous quelle forme nouvelle se manifeste cette triste tendance.

L’oppresseur n’agit plus directement par ses propres forces sur l’opprimé. Non, notre conscience est devenue trop méticuleuse pour cela. Il y a bien encore le tyran et la victime, mais entre eux se place un intermédiaire qui est l’État, c’est-à-dire la loi elle-même. Quoi de plus propre à faire taire nos scrupules et, ce qui est peut-être plus apprécié, à vaincre les résistances? Donc, tous, à un titre quelconque, sous un prétexte ou sous un autre, nous nous adressons à l’État. Nous lui disons: « Je ne trouve pas qu’il y ait, entre mes jouissances et mon travail, une proportion qui me satisfasse. Je voudrais bien, pour établir l’équilibre désiré, prendre quelque peu sur le bien d’autrui. Mais c’est dangereux. Ne pourriez-vous me faciliter la chose? Ne pourriez-vous me donner une bonne place? Ou bien gêner l’industrie de mes concurrents? Ou bien encore me prêter gratuitement des capitaux que vous aurez pris à leurs possesseurs? Ou élever mes enfants aux frais du public? Ou m’accorder des primes d’encouragement? Ou m’assurer le bien-être quand j’aurai cinquante ans? Par ce moyen, j’arriverai à mon but en toute quiétude de conscience, car la loi elle-même aura agi pour moi, et j’aurai tous les avantages de la spoliation sans en avoir ni les risques ni l’odieux! »

Comme il est certain, d’un côté, que nous adressons tous à l’État quelque requête semblable, et que, d’une autre part, il est avéré que l’État ne peut procurer satisfaction aux uns sans ajouter au travail des autres, en attendant une autre définition de l’État, je me crois autorisé à donner ici la mienne. Qui sait si elle ne remportera pas le prix? La voici:

L’État, c’est la grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde.

Car, aujourd’hui comme autrefois, chacun, un peu plus, un peu moins, voudrait bien profiter du travail d’autrui. Ce sentiment, on n’ose l’afficher, on se le dissimule à soi-même; et alors que fait-on? On imagine un intermédiaire, on s’adresse à l’État, et chaque classe tour à tour vient lui dire: « Vous qui pouvez prendre loyalement, honnêtement, prenez au public, et nous partagerons. » Hélas! l’État n’a que trop de pente à suivre le diabolique conseil; car il est composé de ministres, de fonctionnaires, d’hommes enfin, qui, comme tous les hommes, portent au cœur le désir et saisissent toujours avec empressement l’occasion de voir grandir leurs richesses et leur influence. L’État comprend donc bien vite le parti qu’il peut tirer du rôle que le public lui confie. Il sera l’arbitre, le maître de toutes les destinées: il prendra beaucoup, donc il lui restera beaucoup à lui-même; il multipliera le nombre de ses agents, il élargira le cercle de ses attributions; il finira par acquérir des proportions écrasantes.

Mais ce qu’il faut bien remarquer, c’est l’étonnant aveuglement du public en tout ceci. Quand des soldats heureux réduisaient les vaincus en esclavage, ils étaient barbares, mais ils n’étaient pas absurdes. Leur but, comme le nôtre, était de vivre aux dépens d’autrui; mais, comme nous, ils ne le manquaient pas. Que devons-nous penser d’un peuple où l’on ne paraît pas se douter que le pillage réciproque n’en est pas moins pillage parce qu’il est réciproque; qu’il n’en est pas moins criminel parce qu’il s’exécute légalement et avec ordre; qu’il n’ajoute rien au bien-être public; qu’il le diminue au contraire de tout ce que coûte cet intermédiaire dispendieux que nous nommons l’État?

Et cette grande chimère, nous l’avons placée, pour l’édification du peuple, au frontispice de la Constitution. Voici les premiers mots du préambule: « La France s’est constituée en République pour… appeler tous les citoyens à un degré toujours plus élevé de moralité, de lumière et de bien-être. »

Ainsi, c’est la France ou l’abstraction, qui appelle les Français ou les réalités à la moralité, au bien-être, etc. N’est-ce pas abonder dans le sens de cette bizarre illusion qui nous porte à tout attendre d’une autre énergie que la nôtre? N’est-ce pas donner à entendre qu’il y a, à côté et en dehors des Français, un être vertueux, éclairé, riche, qui peut et doit verser sur eux ses bienfaits? N’est-ce pas supposer, et certes bien gratuitement, qu’il y a entre la France et les Français, entre la simple dénomination abrégée, abstraite, de toutes les individualités et ces individualités mêmes, des rapports de père à fils, de tuteur à pupille, de professeur à écolier? Je sais bien qu’on dit quelquefois métaphoriquement: La patrie est une mère tendre. Mais pour prendre en flagrant délit d’inanité la proposition constitutionnelle, il suffit de montrer qu’elle peut être retournée, je ne dirai pas sans inconvénient, mais même avec avantage. L’exactitude souffrirait-elle si le préambule avait dit:

« Les Français se sont constitués en République pour appeler la France à un degré toujours plus élevé de moralité, de lumière et de bien-être? »

Or, quelle est la valeur d’un axiome où le sujet et l’attribut peuvent chasser-croiser sans inconvénient? Tout le monde comprend qu’on dise: la mère allaitera l’enfant. Mais il serait ridicule de dire: l’enfant allaitera la mère.

Les Américains se faisaient une autre idée des relations des citoyens avec l’État, quand ils placèrent en tête de leur Constitution ces simples paroles:

« Nous, le peuple des États-Unis, pour former une union plus parfaite, établir la justice, assurer la tranquillité intérieure, pourvoir à la défense commune, accroître le bien-être général et assurer les bienfaits de la liberté à nous-mêmes et à notre postérité, décrétons, etc. »

Ici point de création chimérique, point d’abstraction à laquelle les citoyens demandent tout. Ils n’attendent rien que d’eux-mêmes et de leur propre énergie.

Si je me suis permis de critiquer les premières paroles de notre Constitution, c’est qu’il ne s’agit pas, comme on pourrait le croire, d’une pure subtilité métaphysique. Je prétends que cette personnification de l’État a été dans le passé et sera dans l’avenir une source féconde de calamités et de révolutions.

Voilà le Public d’un côté, l’État de l’autre, considérés comme deux être distincts, celui-ci tenu d’épandre sur celui-là, celui-là ayant droit de réclamer de celui-ci le torrent des félicités humaines. Que doit-il arriver?

Au fait, l’État n’est pas manchot et ne peut l’être. Il a deux mains, l’une pour recevoir et l’autre pour donner, autrement dit, la main rude et la main douce. L’activité de la seconde est nécessairement subordonnée à l’activité de la première.

A la rigueur, l’État peut prendre et ne pas rendre. Cela s’est vu et s’explique par la nature poreuse et absorbante de ses mains, qui retiennent toujours une partie et quelquefois la totalité de ce qu’elles touchent. Mais ce qui ne s’est jamais vu, ce qui ne se verra jamais et ne se peut même concevoir, c’est que l’État rende au public plus qu’il ne lui a pris. C’est donc bien follement que nous prenons autour de lui l’humble attitude de mendiants. Il lui est radicalement impossible de conférer un avantage particulier à quelques-unes des individualités qui constituent la communauté, sans infliger un dommage supérieur à la communauté entière.

Il se trouve donc placé, par nos exigences, dans un cercle vicieux manifeste.

S’il refuse le bien qu’on exige de lui, il est accusé d’impuissance, de mauvais vouloir, d’incapacité. S’il essaie de le réaliser, il est réduit à frapper le peuple de taxes redoublées, à faire plus de mal que de bien, et à s’attirer, par un autre bout, la désaffection générale.

Ainsi, dans le public des espérances, dans le gouvernement deux promesses: beaucoup de bienfaits et pas d’impôts. Espérances et promesses qui, étant contradictoires, ne se réalisent jamais.

N’est-ce pas là la cause de toutes nos révolutions? Car entre l’État, qui prodigue les promesses impossibles, et le public, qui a conçu des espérances irréalisables, viennent s’interposer deux classes d’hommes: les ambitieux et les utopistes. Leur rôle est tout tracé par la situation. Il suffit à ces courtisans de popularité de crier aux oreilles du peuple: « Le pouvoir te trompe; si nous étions à sa place, nous te comblerions de bienfaits et t’affranchirions de taxes. »

Et le peuple croit, et le peuple espère, et le peuple fait une révolution.

Ses amis ne sont pas plus tôt aux affaires, qu’ils sont sommés de s’exécuter. « Donnez-moi donc du travail, du pain, des secours, du crédit, de l’instruction, des colonies, dit le peuple, et cependant, selon vos promesses, délivrez-moi des serres du fisc. »

L’État nouveau n’est pas moins embarrassé que l’État ancien, car, en fait d’impossible, on peut bien promettre, mais non tenir. Il cherche à gagner du temps, il lui en faut pour mûrir ses vastes projets. D’abord, il fait quelques timides essais; d’un côté, il étend quelque peu l’instruction primaire; de l’autre, il modifie quelque peu l’impôt des boissons (1830). Mais la contradiction se dresse toujours devant lui: s’il veut être philanthrope, il est forcé de rester fiscal; et s’il renonce à la fiscalité, il faut qu’il renonce aussi à la philanthropie.

Ces deux promesses s’empêchent toujours et nécessairement l’une l’autre. User du crédit, c’est-à-dire dévorer l’avenir, est bien un moyen actuel de les concilier; on essaie de faire un peu de bien dans le présent aux dépens de beaucoup de mal dans l’avenir. Mais ce procédé évoque le spectre de la banqueroute qui chasse le crédit. Que faire donc? Alors l’État nouveau prend son parti en brave; il réunit des forces pour se maintenir, il étouffe l’opinion, il a recours à l’arbitraire, il ridiculise ses anciennes maximes, il déclare qu’on ne peut administrer qu’à la condition d’être impopulaire; bref, il se proclame gouvernemental.

Et c’est là que d’autres courtisans de popularité l’attendent. Ils exploitent la même illusion, passent par la même voie, obtiennent le même succès, et vont bientôt s’engloutir dans le même gouffre. C’est ainsi que nous sommes arrivés en Février. À cette époque, l’illusion qui fait le sujet de cet article avait pénétré plus avant que jamais dans les idées du peuple, avec les doctrines socialistes. Plus que jamais, il s’attendait à ce que l’État sous la forme républicaine, ouvrirait toute grande la source des bienfaits et fermerait celle de l’impôt. « On m’a souvent trompé, disait le peuple, mais je veillerai moi-même à ce qu’on ne me trompe pas encore une fois. »

Que pouvait faire le gouvernement provisoire? Hélas! ce qu’on fait toujours en pareille conjoncture: promettre, et gagner du temps. Il n’y manque pas, et pour donner à ses promesses plus de solennité, il les fixa dans des décrets. « Augmentation de bien-être, diminution de travail, secours, crédit, instruction gratuite, colonies agricoles, défrichements, et en même temps réduction sur la taxe du sel, des boissons, des lettres, de la viande, tout sera accordé… vienne l’Assemblée nationale ».

L’Assemblée nationale est venue, et comme on ne peut réaliser deux contradictions, sa tâche, sa triste tâche, s’est bornée à retirer, le plus doucement possible, l’un après l’autre, tous les décrets du gouvernement provisoire.

Cependant, pour ne pas rendre la déception trop cruelle, il a bien fallu transiger quelque peu. Certains engagements ont été maintenus, d’autres ont reçu un tout petit commencement d’exécution. Aussi l’administration actuelle s’efforce-t-elle d’imaginer de nouvelles taxes.

Maintenant je me transporte par la pensée à quelques mois dans l’avenir, et je me demande, la tristesse dans l’âme, ce qu’il adviendra quand des agents de nouvelle création iront dans nos campagnes prélever les nouveaux impôts sur les successions, sur les revenus, sur les profits de l’exploitation agricole. Que le Ciel démente mes pressentiments, mais je vois encore là un rôle à jouer pour les courtisans de popularité.

Lisez le dernier Manifeste des Montagnards, celui qu’ils ont émis à propos de l’élection présidentielle. Il est un peu long, mais, après tout, il se résume en deux mots: L’État doit beaucoup donner aux citoyens et peu leur prendre. C’est toujours la même tactique, ou, si l’on veut, la même erreur.

« L’État doit gratuitement l’instruction et l’éducation à tous les citoyens. ».

Il doit:

« Un enseignement général et professionnel approprié autant que possible, aux besoins, aux vocations et aux capacités de chaque citoyen. »

Il doit:

« Lui apprendre ses devoirs envers Dieu, envers les hommes et envers lui-même; développer ses sentiments, ses aptitudes et ses facultés, lui donner enfin la science de son travail, l’intelligence de ses intérêts et la connaissance de ses droits. »

Il doit:

« Mettre à la portée de tous les lettres et les arts, le patrimoine de la pensée, les trésors de l’esprit, toutes les jouissances intellectuelles qui élèvent et fortifient l’âme. »

Il doit:

« Réparer tout sinistre, incendie, inondation, etc. (cet et caetera en dit plus qu’il n’est gros) éprouvé par un citoyen. »

Il doit:

« Intervenir dans les rapports du capital avec le travail et se faire le régulateur du crédit. »

Il doit:

« A l’agriculture des encouragements sérieux et une protection efficace. »

Il doit

« Racheter les chemins de fer, les canaux, les mines, » et sans doute aussi les administrer avec cette capacité industrielle qui le caractérise.

Il doit:

« provoquer les tentatives généreuses, les encourager et les aider par toutes les ressources capables de les faire triompher. Régulateur du crédit, il commanditera largement les associations industrielles et agricoles, afin d’en assurer le succès. »

L’État doit tout cela, sans préjudice des services auxquels il fait face aujourd’hui; et, par exemple, il faudra qu’il soit toujours à l’égard des étrangers dans une attitude menaçante; car, disent les signataires du programme, « liés par cette solidarité sainte et par les précédents de la France républicaine, nous portons nos vœux et nos espérances au-delà des barrières que le despotisme élève entre les nations: le droit que nous voulons pour nous, nous le voulons pour tous ceux qu’opprime le joug des tyrannies; nous voulons que notre glorieuse armée soit encore, s’il le faut, l’armée de la liberté. »

Vous voyez que la main douce de l’État, cette bonne main qui donne et qui répand, sera fort occupée sous le gouvernement des Montagnards. Vous croyez peut-être qu’il en sera de même de la main rude, de cette main qui pénètre et puise dans nos poches?

Détrompez-vous. Les courtisans de popularité ne sauraient pas leur métier, s’ils n’avaient l’art, en montrant la main douce, de cacher la main rude.

Leur règne sera assurément le jubilé du contribuable.

« C’est le superflu, disent-ils, non le nécessaire que l’impôt doit atteindre. »

Ne sera-ce pas un bon temps que celui où, pour nous accabler de bienfaits, le fisc se contentera d’écorner notre superflu?

Ce n’est pas tout. Les Montagnards aspirent à ce que « l’impôt perde son caractère oppressif et ne soit plus qu’un acte de fraternité. »

Bonté du ciel! je savais bien qu’il est de mode de fourrer la fraternité partout, mais je ne me doutais pas qu’on la pût mettre dans le bulletin du percepteur.

Arrivant aux détails, les signataires du programme disent:

« Nous voulons l’abolition immédiate des impôts qui frappent les objets de première nécessité, comme le sel, les boissons, et caetera. »

« La réforme de l’impôt foncier, des octrois, des patentes. »

« La justice gratuite, c’est-à-dire la simplification des formes et la réduction des frais. » (Ceci a sans doute trait au timbre.)

Ainsi, impôt foncier, octrois, patentes, timbre, sel, boissons, postes, tout y passe. Ces messieurs ont trouvé le secret de donner une activité brûlante à la main douce de l’État tout en paralysant sa main rude.

Eh bien, je le demande au lecteur impartial, n’est-ce pas là de l’enfantillage, et, de plus, de l’enfantillage dangereux? Comment le peuple ne ferait-il pas révolution sur révolution, s’il est une fois décidé à ne s’arrêter que lorsqu’il aura réalisé cette contradiction: « Ne rien donner à l’État et en recevoir beaucoup! »

Croit-on que si les Montagnards arrivaient au pouvoir, ils ne seraient pas les victimes des moyens qu’ils emploient pour le saisir?

Citoyens, dans tous les temps deux systèmes politiques ont été en présence, et tous les deux peuvent se soutenir par de bonnes raisons. Selon l’un, l’État doit beaucoup faire, mais aussi il doit beaucoup prendre. D’après l’autre, sa double action doit se faire peu sentir. Entre ces deux systèmes il faut opter. Mais quant au troisième système, participant des deux autres, et qui consiste à tout exiger de l’État sans lui rien donner, il est chimérique, absurde, puéril, contradictoire, dangereux. Ceux qui le mettent en avant, pour se donner le plaisir d’accuser tous les gouvernements d’impuissance et les exposer ainsi à vos coups, ceux-là vous flattent et vous trompent, ou du moins ils se trompent eux-mêmes.

Quant à nous, nous pensons que l’État, ce n’est ou ce ne devrait être autre chose que la force commune instituée, non pour être entre tous les citoyens un instrument d’oppression et de spoliation réciproque, mais, au contraire, pour garantir à chacun le sien, et faire régner la justice et la sécurité.

Extrait de l’édition originale en 7 volumes (1863) des œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat, tome IV, pp. 327-341.

Numérisé, mis en hypertexte par François-René Rideau pour Bastiat.org.

Bastiat.org Le Libéralisme, le vrai Un site par François-René Rideau

Voir aussi:

Physiologie de la Spoliation

 Frédéric Bastiat

Chapitre I de la seconde série des Sophismes Économiques [1] [2] [3]

Pourquoi irais-je m’aheurter à cette science aride, l’Économie politique?

Pourquoi? — La question est judicieuse. Tout travail est assez répugnant de sa nature, pour qu’on ait le droit de demander où il mène.

Voyons, cherchons.

Je ne m’adresse pas à ces philosophes qui font profession d’adorer la misère, sinon en leur nom, du moins au nom de l’humanité.

Je parle à quiconque tient la Richesse pour quelque chose. — Entendons par ce mot, non l’opulence de quelques-uns, mais l’aisance, le bien-être, la sécurité, l’indépendance, l’instruction, la dignité de tous.

Il n’y a que deux moyens de se procurer les choses nécessaires à la conservation, à l’embellissement et au perfectionnement de la vie: la Production et la Spoliation.

Quelques personnes disent: La Spoliation est un accident, un abus local et passager, flétri par la morale, réprouvé par la loi, indigne d’occuper l’Economie politique.

Cependant, quelque bienveillance, quelque optimisme que l’on porte au cœur, on est forcé de reconnaître que la Spoliation s’exerce dans ce monde sur une trop vaste échelle, qu’elle se mêle trop universellement à tous les grands faits humains pour qu’aucune science sociale, et l’Économie politique surtout, puisse se dispenser d’en tenir compte.

Je vais plus loin. Ce qui sépare l’ordre social de la perfection (du moins de toute celle dont il est susceptible), c’est le constant effort de ses membres pour vivre et se développer aux dépens les uns des autres.

En sorte que si la Spoliation n’existait pas, la société étant parfaite, les sciences sociales seraient sans objet.

Je vais plus loin encore. Lorsque la Spoliation est devenue le moyen d’existence d’une agglomération d’hommes unis entre eux par le lien social, ils se font bientôt une loi qui la sanctionne, une morale qui la glorifie.

Il suffit de nommer quelques-unes des formes les plus tranchées de la Spoliation pour montrer quelle place elle occupe dans les transactions humaines.

C’est d’abord la Guerre. — Chez les sauvages, le vainqueur tue le vaincu pour acquérir au gibier un droit, sinon incontestable, du moins incontesté.

C’est ensuite l’Esclavage. — Quand l’homme comprend qu’il est possible de féconder la terre par le travail, il fait avec son frère ce partage: « À toi la fatigue, à moi le produit. »

Vient la Théocratie. — « Selon ce que tu me donneras ou me refuseras de ce qui t’appartient, je t’ouvrirai la porte du ciel ou de l’enfer. »

Enfin arrive le Monopole. — Son caractère distinctif est de laisser subsister la grande loi sociale: Service pour service, mais de faire intervenir la force dans le débat, et par suite, d’altérer la juste proportion entre le service reçu et le service rendu.

La Spoliation porte toujours dans son sein le germe de mort qui la tue. Rarement c’est le grand nombre qui spolie le petit nombre. En ce cas, celui-ci se réduirait promptement au point de ne pouvoir plus satisfaire la cupidité de celui-là, et la Spoliation périrait faute d’aliment.

Presque toujours c’est le grand nombre qui est opprimé, et la Spoliation n’en est pas moins frappée d’un arrêt fatal.

Car si elle a pour agent la Force, comme dans la Guerre et l’Esclavage, il est naturel que la Force à la longue passe du côté du grand nombre.

Et si c’est la Ruse, comme dans la Théocratie et le Monopole, il est naturel que le grand nombre s’éclaire, sans quoi l’intelligence ne serait pas l’intelligence.

Une autre loi providentielle dépose un second germe de mort au cœur de la Spoliation, c’est celle-ci:

La Spoliation ne déplace pas seulement la richesse, elle en détruit toujours une partie.

La Guerre anéantit bien des valeurs.

L’Esclavage paralyse bien des facultés.

La Théocratie détourne bien des efforts vers des objets puérils ou funestes.

Le Monopole aussi fait passer la richesse d’une poche à l’autre; mais il s’en perd beaucoup dans le trajet.

Cette loi est admirable. — Sans elle, pourvu qu’il y eût équilibre de force entre les oppresseurs et les opprimés, la Spoliation n’aurait pas de terme. — Grâce à elle, cet équilibre tend toujours à se rompre, soit parce que les Spoliateurs se font conscience d’une telle déperdition de richesses, soit, en l’absence de ce sentiment, parce que le mal empire sans cesse, et qu’il est dans la nature de ce qui empire toujours de finir.

Il arrive en effet un moment où, dans son accélération progressive, la déperdition des richesses est telle que le Spoliateur est moins riche qu’il n’eût été en restant honnête.

Tel est un peuple à qui les frais de guerre coûtent plus que ne vaut le butin.

Un maître qui paie plus cher le travail esclave que le travail libre.

Une Théocratie qui a tellement hébété le peuple et détruit son énergie qu’elle n’en peut plus rien tirer.

Un Monopole qui agrandit ses efforts d’absorption à mesure qu’il y a moins à absorber, comme l’effort de traire s’accroît à mesure que le pis est plus desséché.

Le Monopole, on le voit, est une Espèce du Genre Spoliation. Il a plusieurs Variétés, entre autres la Sinécure, le Privilége, la Restriction.

Parmi les formes qu’il revêt, il y en a de simples et naïves. Tels étaient les droits féodaux. Sous ce régime la masse est spoliée et le sait. Il implique l’abus de la force et tombe avec elle.

D’autres sont très compliquées. Souvent alors la masse est spoliée et ne le sait pas. Il peut même arriver qu’elle croie tout devoir à la Spoliation, et ce qu’on lui laisse, et ce qu’on lui prend, et ce qui se perd dans l’opération. Il y a plus, j’affirme que, dans la suite des temps, et grâce au mécanisme si ingénieux de la coutume, beaucoup de Spoliateurs le sont sans le savoir et sans le vouloir. Les Monopoles de cette variété sont engendrés par la Ruse et nourris par l’Erreur. Ils ne s’évanouissent que devant la Lumière.

J’en ai dit assez pour montrer que l’Économie politique a une utilité pratique évidente. C’est le flambeau qui, dévoilant la Ruse et dissipant l’Erreur, détruit ce désordre social, la Spoliation. Quelqu’un, je crois que c’est une femme, et elle avait bien raison, l’a ainsi définie: C’est la serrure de sûreté du pécule populaire.

Commentaire.

Si ce petit livre était destiné à traverser trois ou quatre mille ans, à être lu, relu, médité, étudié phrase à phrase, mot à mot, lettre à lettre, de génération en génération, comme un Koran nouveau; s’il devait attirer dans toutes les bibliothèques du monde des avalanches d’annotations, éclaircissements et paraphrases, je pourrais abandonner à leur sort, dans leur concision un peu obscure, les pensées qui précèdent. Mais puisqu’elles ont besoin de commentaire, il me paraît prudent de les commenter moi-même.

La véritable et équitable loi des hommes, c’est: Échange librement débattu de service contre service. La Spoliation consiste à bannir par force ou par ruse la liberté du débat afin de recevoir un service sans le rendre.

La Spoliation par la force s’exerce ainsi: On attend qu’un homme ait produit quelque chose, qu’on lui arrache, l’arme au poing.

Elle est formellement condamnée par le Décalogue: Tu ne prendras point.

Quand elle se passe d’individu à individu, elle se nomme vol et mène au bagne; quand c’est de nation à nation, elle prend nom conquête et conduit à la gloire.

Pourquoi cette différence? Il est bon d’en rechercher la cause. Elle nous révélera une puissance irrésistible, l’Opinion, qui, comme l’atmosphère, nous enveloppe d’une manière si absolue, que nous ne la remarquons plus. Car Rousseau n’a jamais dit une vérité plus vraie que celle-ci: « Il faut beaucoup de philosophie pour observer les faits qui sont trop près de nous. »

Le voleur, par cela même qu’il agit isolément, a contre lui l’opinion publique. Il alarme tous ceux qui l’entourent. Cependant, s’il a quelques associés, il s’enorgueillit devant eux de ses prouesses, et l’on peut commencer à remarquer ici la force de l’Opinion; car il suffit de l’approbation de ses complices pour lui ôter le sentiment de sa turpitude et même le rendre vain de son ignominie.

Le guerrier vit dans un autre milieu. L’Opinion qui le flétrit est ailleurs, chez les nations vaincues; il n’en sent pas la pression. Mais l’Opinion qui est autour de lui l’approuve et le soutient. Ses compagnons et lui sentent vivement la solidarité qui les lie. La patrie, qui s’est créé des ennemis et des dangers, a besoin d’exalter le courage de ses enfants. Elle décerne aux plus hardis, à ceux qui, élargissant ses frontières, y ont apporté le plus de butin, les honneurs, la renommée, la gloire. Les poètes chantent leurs exploits et les femmes leur tressent des couronnes. Et telle est la puissance de l’Opinion, qu’elle sépare de la Spoliation l’idée d’injustice et ôte au spoliateur jusqu’à la conscience de ses torts.

L’Opinion, qui réagit contre la spoliation militaire, placée non chez le peuple spoliateur, mais chez le peuple spolié, n’exerce que bien peu d’influence. Cependant, elle n’est pas tout à fait inefficace, et d’autant moins que les nations se fréquentent et se comprennent davantage. Sous ce rapport, on voit que l’étude des langues et la libre communication des peuples tendent à faire prédominer l’opinion contraire à ce genre de spoliation.

Malheureusement, il arrive souvent que les nations qui entourent le peuple spoliateur sont elles-mêmes spoliatrices, quand elles le peuvent, et dès lors imbues des mêmes préjugés.

Alors, il n’y a qu’un remède: le temps. Il faut que les peuples aient appris, par une rude expérience, l’énorme désavantage de se spolier les uns les autres.

On parlera d’un autre frein: la moralisation. Mais la moralisation a pour but de multiplier les actions vertueuses. Comment donc restreindrait-elle les actes spoliateurs quand ces actes sont mis par l’Opinion au rang des plus hautes vertus? Y a-t-il un moyen plus puissant de moraliser un peuple que la Religion? Y eut-il jamais Religion plus favorable à la paix et plus universellement admise que le Christianisme? Et cependant qu’a-t-on vu pendant dix-huit siècles? On a vu les hommes se battre non seulement malgré la Religion, mais au nom de la Religion même.

Un peuple conquérant ne fait pas toujours la guerre offensive. Il a aussi de mauvais jours. Alors ses soldats défendent le foyer domestique, la propriété, la famille, l’indépendance, la liberté. La guerre prend un caractère de sainteté et de grandeur. Le drapeau, bénit par les ministres du Dieu de paix, représente tout ce qu’il y a de sacré sur la terre; on s’y attache comme à la vivante image de la patrie et de l’honneur; et les vertus guerrières sont exaltées au-dessus de toutes les autres vertus. — Mais le danger passé, l’Opinion subsiste, et, par une naturelle réaction de l’esprit de vengeance qui se confond avec le patriotisme, on aime à promener le drapeau chéri de capitale en capitale. Il semble que la nature ait préparé ainsi le châtiment de l’agresseur.

C’est la crainte de ce châtiment, et non les progrès de la philosophie, qui retient les armes dans les arsenaux, car, on ne peut pas le nier, les peuples les plus avancés en civilisation font la guerre, et se préoccupent bien peu de justice quand ils n’ont pas de représailles à redouter. Témoin l’Hymalaya, l’Atlas et le Caucase.

Si la Religion a été impuissante, si la philosophie est impuissante, comment donc finira la guerre?

L’Économie politique démontre que, même à ne considérer que le peuple victorieux, la guerre se fait toujours dans l’intérêt du petit nombre et aux dépens des masses. Il suffit donc que les masses aperçoivent clairement cette vérité. Le poids de l’Opinion, qui se partage encore, pèsera tout entier du côté de la paix [4].

La Spoliation exercée par la force prend encore une autre forme. On n’attend pas qu’un homme ait produit une chose pour la lui arracher. On s’empare de l’homme lui-même; on le dépouille de sa propre personnalité; on le contraint au travail; on ne lui dit pas: Si tu prends cette peine pour moi, je prendrai cette peine pour toi, on lui dit: A toi toutes les fatigues, à moi toutes les jouissances. C’est l’Esclavage, qui implique toujours l’abus de la force.

Or, c’est une grande question de savoir s’il n’est pas dans la nature d’une force incontestablement dominante d’abuser toujours d’elle-même. Quant à moi, je ne m’y fie pas, et j’aimerais autant attendre d’une pierre qui tombe la puissance qui doit l’arrêter dans sa chute, que de confier à la force sa propre limite.

Je voudrais, au moins, qu’on me montrât un pays, une époque où l’Esclavage a été aboli par la libre et gracieuse volonté des maîtres.

L’Esclavage fournit un second et frappant exemple de l’insuffisance des sentiments religieux et philanthropiques aux prises avec l’énergique sentiment de l’intérêt. Cela peut paraître triste à quelques Écoles modernes qui cherchent dans l’abnégation le principe réformateur de la société. Qu’elles commencent donc par réformer la nature de l’homme.

Aux Antilles, les maîtres professent de père en fils, depuis l’institution de l’esclavage, la Religion chrétienne. Plusieurs fois par jour ils répètent ces paroles: « Tous les hommes sont frères; aimer son prochain, c’est accomplir toute la loi. » — Et pourtant ils ont des esclaves. Rien ne leur semble plus naturel et plus légitime. Les réformateurs modernes espèrent-ils que leur morale sera jamais aussi universellement acceptée, aussi populaire, aussi forte d’autorité, aussi souvent sur toutes les lèvres que l’Évangile? Et si l’Evangile n’a pu passer des lèvres au cœur par-dessus ou à travers la grande barrière de l’intérêt, comment espèrent-ils que leur morale fasse ce miracle?

Mais quoi! l’Esclavage est-il donc invulnérable? Non; ce qui l’a fondé le détruira, je veux dire l’Intérêt, pourvu que, pour favoriser les intérêts spéciaux qui ont créé la plaie, on ne contrarie pas les intérêts généraux qui doivent la guérir.

C’est encore une vérité démontrée par l’Économie politique, que le travail libre est essentiellement progressif et le travail esclave nécessairement stationnaire. En sorte que le triomphe du premier sur le second est inévitable. Qu’est devenue la culture de l’indigo par les noirs?

Le travail libre appliqué à la production du sucre en fera baisser de plus en plus le prix. A mesure, l’esclave sera de moins en moins lucratif pour son maître. L’esclavage serait depuis longtemps tombé de lui-même en Amérique, si, en Europe, les lois n’eussent élevé artificiellement le prix du sucre. Aussi nous voyons les maîtres, leurs créanciers et leurs délégués travailler activement à maintenir ces lois, qui sont aujourd’hui les colonnes de l’édifice.

Malheureusement, elles ont encore la sympathie des populations du sein desquelles l’esclavage a disparu; par où l’on voit qu’encore ici l’Opinion est souveraine.

Si elle est souveraine, même dans la région de la Force, elle l’est à bien plus forte raison dans le monde de la Ruse. A vrai dire, c’est là son domaine. La Ruse, c’est l’abus de l’intelligence; le progrès de l’opinion, c’est le progrès des intelligences. Les deux puissances sont au moins de même nature. Imposture chez le spoliateur implique crédulité chez le spolié, et l’antidote naturel de la crédulité c’est la vérité. Il s’ensuit qu’éclairer les esprits, c’est ôter à ce genre de spoliation son aliment.

Je passerai brièvement en revue quelques-unes des spoliations qui s’exercent par la Ruse sur une très-grande échelle.

La première qui se présente c’est la Spoliation par ruse théocratique.

De quoi s’agit-il? De se faire rendre en aliments, vêtements, luxe, considération, influence, pouvoir, des services réels contre des services fictifs.

Si je disais à un homme: — « Je vais te rendre des services immédiats, » — il faudrait bien tenir parole; faute de quoi cet homme saurait bientôt à quoi s’en tenir, et ma ruse serait promptement démasquée.

Mais si je lui dis: — « En échange de tes services, je te rendrai d’immenses services, non dans ce monde, mais dans l’autre. Après cette vie, tu peux être éternellement heureux ou malheureux, et cela dépend de moi; je suis un être intermédiaire entre Dieu et sa créature, et puis, à mon gré, t’ouvrir les portes du ciel ou de l’enfer. » — Pour peu que cet homme me croie, il est à ma discrétion.

Ce genre d’imposture a été pratiqué très en grand depuis l’origine du monde, et l’on sait à quel degré de toute-puissance étaient arrivés les prêtres égyptiens.

Il est aisé de savoir comment procèdent les imposteurs. Il suffit de se demander ce qu’on ferait à leur place.

Si j’arrivais, avec des vues de cette nature, au milieu d’une peuplade ignorante, et que je parvinsse, par quelque acte extraordinaire et d’une apparence merveilleuse, à me faire passer pour un être surnaturel, je me donnerais pour un envoyé de Dieu, ayant sur les futures destinées des hommes un empire absolu.

Ensuite, j’interdirais l’examen de mes titres; je ferais plus: comme la raison serait mon ennemi le plus dangereux, j’interdirais l’usage de la raison même, au moins appliquée à ce sujet redoutable. Je ferais de cette question, et de toutes celles qui s’y rapportent, des questions tabou, comme disent les sauvages. Les résoudre, les agiter, y penser même, serait un crime irrémissible.

Certes, ce serait le comble de l’art de mettre une barrière tabou à toutes les avenues intellectuelles qui pourraient conduire à la découverte de ma supercherie. Quelle meilleure garantie de sa durée que de rendre le doute même sacrilège?

Cependant, à cette garantie fondamentale, j’en ajouterais d’accessoires. Par exemple, pour que la lumière ne pût jamais descendre dans les masses, je m’attribuerais, ainsi qu’à mes complices, le monopole de toutes les connaissances, je les cacherais sous les voiles d’une langue morte et d’une écriture hiéroglyphique, et, pour n’être jamais surpris par aucun danger, j’aurais soin d’inventer une institution qui me ferait pénétrer, jour par jour, dans le secret de toutes les consciences.

Il ne serait pas mal non plus que je satisfisse à quelques besoins réels de mon peuple, surtout si, en le faisant, je pouvais accroître mon influence et mon autorité. Ainsi les hommes ont un grand besoin d’instruction et de morale: je m’en ferais le dispensateur. Par là je dirigerais à mon gré l’esprit et le cœur de mon peuple. J’entrelacerais dans une chaîne indissoluble la morale et mon autorité; je les représenterais comme ne pouvant exister l’une sans l’autre, en sorte que si quelque audacieux tentait enfin de remuer une question tabou, la société tout entière, qui ne peut se passer de morale, sentirait le terrain trembler sous ses pas, et se tournerait avec rage contre ce novateur téméraire.

Quand les choses en seraient là, il est clair que ce peuple m’appartiendrait plus que s’il était mon esclave. L’esclave maudit sa chaîne, mon peuple bénirait la sienne, et je serais parvenu à imprimer, non sur les fronts, mais au fond des consciences, le sceau de la servitude.

L’Opinion seule peut renverser un tel édifice d’iniquité; mais par où l’entamera-t-elle, si chaque pierre est tabou? — C’est l’affaire du temps et de l’imprimerie.

À Dieu ne plaise que je veuille ébranler ici ces croyances consolantes qui relient cette vie d’épreuves à une vie de félicités! Mais qu’on ait abusé de l’irrésistible pente qui nous entraîne vers elles, c’est ce que personne, pas même le chef de la chrétienté, ne pourrait contester. Il y a, ce me semble, un signe pour reconnaître si un peuple est dupe ou ne l’est pas. Examinez la Religion et le prêtre; examinez si le prêtre est l’instrument de la Religion, ou si la Religion est l’instrument du prêtre.

Si le prêtre est l’instrument de la Religion, s’il ne songe qu’à étendre sur la terre sa morale et ses bienfaits, il sera doux, tolérant, humble, charitable, plein de zèle; sa vie reflétera celle de son divin modèle; il prêchera la liberté et l’égalité parmi les hommes, la paix et la fraternité entre les nations; il repoussera les séductions de la puissance temporelle, ne voulant pas faire alliance avec ce qui a le plus besoin de frein en ce monde; il sera l’homme du peuple, l’homme des bons conseils et des douces consolations, l’homme de l’Opinion, l’homme de l’Evangile.

Si, au contraire, la Religion est l’instrument du prêtre, il la traitera comme on traite un instrument qu’on altère, qu’on plie, qu’on retourne en toutes façons, de manière à en tirer le plus grand avantage pour soi. Il multipliera les questions tabou; sa morale sera flexible comme les temps, les hommes et les circonstances. Il cherchera à en imposer par des gestes et des attitudes étudiés; il marmottera cent fois par jour des mots dont le sens sera évaporé, et qui ne seront plus qu’un vain conventionalisme. Il trafiquera des choses saintes, mais tout juste assez pour ne pas ébranler la foi en leur sainteté, et il aura soin que le trafic soit d’autant moins ostensiblement actif que le peuple est plus clairvoyant. Il se mêlera des intrigues de la terre; il se mettra toujours du côté des puissants à la seule condition que les puissants se mettront de son côté. En un mot, dans tous ses actes, on reconnaîtra qu’il ne veut pas faire avancer la Religion par le clergé, mais le clergé par la Religion; et comme tant d’efforts supposent un but, comme ce but, dans cette hypothèse, ne peut être autre que la puissance et la richesse, le signe définitif que le peuple est dupe, c’est quand le prêtre est riche et puissant.

Il est bien évident qu’on peut abuser d’une Religion vraie comme d’une Religion fausse. Plus même son autorité est respectable, plus il est à craindre qu’on ne pousse loin l’épreuve. Mais il y a bien de la différence dans les résultats. L’abus insurge toujours une partie saine, éclairée, indépendante d’un peuple. Il ne se peut pas que la foi n’en soit ébranlée, et l’affaiblissement d’une religion vraie est bien autrement funeste que l’ébranlement d’une Religion fausse.

La Spoliation par ce procédé et la clairvoyance d’un peuple sont toujours en proportion inverse l’une de l’autre, car il est de la nature des abus d’aller tant qu’ils trouvent du chemin. Non qu’au milieu de la population la plus ignorante, il ne se rencontre des prêtres purs et dévoués, mais comment empêcher la fourbe de revêtir la soutane et l’ambition de ceindre la mitre? Les spoliateurs obéissent à la loi malthusienne: ils multiplient comme les moyens d’existence; et les moyens d’existence des fourbes, c’est la crédulité de leurs dupes. On a beau chercher, on trouve toujours qu’il faut que l’Opinion s’éclaire. Il n’y a pas d’autre Panacée.

Une autre variété de Spoliation par la ruse s’appelle fraude commerciale, nom qui me semble beaucoup trop restreint, car ne s’en rend pas coupable seulement le marchand qui altère la denrée ou raccourcit son mètre, mais aussi le médecin qui se fait payer des conseils funestes, l’avocat qui embrouille les procès, etc. Dans l’échange entre deux services, l’un est de mauvais aloi; mais ici, le service reçu étant toujours préalablement et volontairement agréé, il est clair que la Spoliation de cette espèce doit reculer à mesure que la clairvoyance publique avance.

Vient ensuite l’abus des services publics, champ immense de Spoliation tellement immense que nous ne pouvons y jeter qu’un coup d’œil.

Si Dieu avait fait de l’homme un animal solitaire, chacun travaillerait pour soi. La richesse individuelle serait en proportion des services que chacun se rendrait à soi-même.

Mais l’homme étant sociable, les services s’échangent les uns contre les autres, proposition que vous pouvez, si cela vous convient, construire à rebours.

Il y a dans la société des besoins tellement généraux, tellement universels, que ses membres y pourvoient en organisant des services publics. Tel est le besoin de la sécurité. On se concerte, on se cotise pour rémunérer en services divers ceux qui rendent le service de veiller à la sécurité commune.

Il n’y a rien là qui soit en dehors de l’Economie politique: Fais ceci pour moi, je ferai cela pour toi. L’essence de la transaction est la même, le procédé rémunératoire seul est différent; mais cette circonstance a une grande portée.

Dans les transactions ordinaires chacun reste juge soit du service qu’il reçoit, soit du service qu’il rend. Il peut toujours ou refuser l’échange ou le faire ailleurs, d’où la nécessité de n’apporter sur le marché que des services qui se feront volontairement agréer.

Il n’en est pas ainsi avec l’État, surtout avant l’avènement des gouvernements représentatifs. Que nous ayons ou non besoin de ses services, qu’ils soient de bon ou de mauvais aloi, il nous faut toujours les accepter tels qu’il les fournit et les payer au prix qu’il y met.

Or, c’est la tendance de tous les hommes de voir par le petit bout de la lunette les services qu’ils rendent, et par le gros bout les services qu’ils reçoivent; et les choses iraient bon train si nous n’avions pas, dans les transactions privées, la garantie du prix débattu.

Cette garantie, nous ne l’avons pas ou nous ne l’avons guère dans les transactions publiques. — Et cependant, l’État, composé d’hommes (quoique de nos jours on insinue le contraire), obéit à l’universelle tendance. Il veut nous servir beaucoup, nous servir plus que nous ne voulons, et nous faire agréer comme service vrai ce qui est quelquefois loin de l’être, et cela, pour nous imposer en retour des services ou contributions.

L’État aussi est soumis à la loi malthusienne. Il tend à dépasser le niveau de ses moyens d’existence, il grossit en proportion de ces moyens, et ce qui le fait exister c’est la substance des peuples. Malheur donc aux peuples qui ne savent pas limiter la sphère d’action de l’État. Liberté, activité privée, richesse, bien-être, indépendance, dignité, tout y passera.

Car il y a une circonstance qu’il faut remarquer, c’est celle-ci: Parmi les services que nous demandons à l’État, le principal est la sécurité. Pour nous la garantir, il faut qu’il dispose d’une force capable de vaincre toutes les forces, particulières ou collectives, intérieures ou extérieures, qui pourraient la compromettre. Combinée avec cette fâcheuse disposition que nous remarquons dans les hommes à vivre aux dépens des autres, il y a là un danger qui saute aux yeux.

Aussi, voyez sur quelle immense échelle, depuis les temps historiques, s’est exercée la Spoliation par abus et excès du gouvernement? Qu’on se demande quels services ont rendus aux populations et quels services en ont retirés les pouvoirs publics chez les Assyriens, les Babyloniens, les Egyptiens, les Romains, les Persans, les Turcs, les Chinois, les Russes, les Anglais, les Espagnols, les Français? L’imagination s’effraie devant cette énorme disproportion.

Enfin, on a inventé le gouvernement représentatif et, à priori, on aurait pu croire que le désordre allait cesser comme par enchantement.

En effet, le principe de ces gouvernements est celui-ci: « La population elle-même, par ses représentants, décidera la nature et l’étendue des fonctions qu’elle juge à propos de constituer en services publics, et la quotité de la rémunération qu’elle entend attacher à ces services. »

La tendance à s’emparer du bien d’autrui et la tendance à défendre son bien étaient ainsi mises en présence. On devait penser que la seconde surmonterait la première.

Certes, je suis convaincu que la chose réussira à la longue. Mais il faut bien avouer que jusqu’ici elle n’a pas réussi.

Pourquoi? par deux motifs bien simples: les gouvernements ont eu trop, et les populations pas assez de sagacité.

Les gouvernements sont fort habiles. Ils agissent avec méthode, avec suite, sur un plan bien combiné et constamment perfectionné par la tradition et l’expérience. Ils étudient les hommes et leurs passions. S’ils reconnaissent, par exemple, qu’ils ont l’instinct de la guerre, ils attisent, ils excitent ce funeste penchant. Ils environnent la nation de dangers par l’action de la diplomatie, et tout naturellement ensuite, ils lui demandent des soldats, des marins, des arsenaux, des fortifications: souvent même ils n’ont que la peine de les laisser offrir; alors ils ont des grades, des pensions et des places à distribuer. Pour cela, il faut beaucoup d’argent; les impôts et les emprunts sont là.

Si la nation est généreuse, ils s’offrent à guérir tous les maux de l’humanité. Ils relèveront, disent-ils, le commerce, feront prospérer l’agriculture, développeront les fabriques, encourageront les lettres et les arts, extirperont la misère, etc., etc. Il ne s’agit que de créer des fonctions et payer des fonctionnaires.

En un mot, la tactique consiste à présenter comme services effectifs ce qui n’est qu’entraves; alors la nation paie non pour être servie, mais desservie. Les gouvernements, prenant des proportions gigantesques, finissent par absorber la moitié de tous les revenus. Et le peuple s’étonne de travailler autant, d’entendre annoncer des inventions merveilleuses qui doivent multiplier à l’infini les produits et… d’être toujours Gros-Jean comme devant.

C’est que, pendant que le gouvernement déploie tant d’habileté, le peuple n’en montre guère. Ainsi, appelé à choisir ses chargés de pouvoirs, ceux qui doivent déterminer la sphère et la rémunération de l’action gouvernementale, qui choisit-il? Les agents du gouvernement. Il charge le pouvoir exécutif de fixer lui-même la limite de son activité et de ses exigences. Il fait comme le Bourgeois gentilhomme, qui, pour le choix et le nombre de ses habits, s’en remet… à son tailleur [5].

Cependant les choses vont de mal en pis, et le peuple ouvre enfin les yeux, non sur le remède (il n’en est pas là encore), mais sur le mal.

Gouverner est un métier si doux que tout le monde y aspire. Aussi les conseillers du peuple ne cessent de lui dire: Nous voyons tes souffrances et nous les déplorons. Il en serait autrement si nous te gouvernions.

Cette période, qui est ordinairement fort longue, est celle des rébellions et des émeutes. Quand le peuple est vaincu, les frais de la guerre s’ajoutent à ses charges. Quand il est vainqueur, le personnel gouvernemental change et les abus restent.

Et cela dure jusqu’à ce qu’enfin le peuple apprenne à connaître et à défendre ses vrais intérêts. Nous arrivons donc toujours à ceci: Il n’y a de ressource que dans le progrès de la Raison publique.

Certaines nations paraissent merveilleusement disposées à devenir la proie de la Spoliation gouvernementale. Ce sont celles où les hommes, ne tenant aucun compte de leur propre dignité et de leur propre énergie, se croiraient perdus s’ils n’étaient administrés et gouvernés en toutes choses. Sans avoir beaucoup voyagé, j’ai vu des pays où l’on pense que l’agriculture ne peut faire aucun progrès si l’État n’entretient des fermes expérimentales; qu’il n’y aura bientôt plus de chevaux, si l’État n’a pas de haras; que les pères ne feront pas élever leurs enfants ou ne leur feront enseigner que des choses immorales, si l’État ne décide pas ce qu’il est bon d’apprendre, etc., etc. Dans un tel pays, les révolutions peuvent se succéder rapidement, les gouvernants tomber les uns sur les autres. Mais les gouvernés n’en seront pas moins gouvernés à merci et miséricorde (car la disposition que je signale ici est l’étoffe même dont les gouvernements sont faits), jusqu’à ce qu’enfin le peuple s’aperçoive qu’il vaut mieux laisser le plus grand nombre possible de services dans la catégorie de ceux que les parties intéressées échangent à prix débattu [6].

Nous avons vu que la société est échange des services. Elle ne devrait être qu’échange de bons et loyaux services. Mais nous avons constaté aussi que les hommes avaient un grand intérêt et, par suite, une pente irrésistible à exagérer la valeur relative des services qu’ils rendent. Et véritablement, je ne puis apercevoir d’autre limite à cette prétention que la libre acceptation ou le libre refus de ceux à qui ces services sont offerts.

De là il arrive que certains hommes ont recours à la loi pour qu’elle diminue chez les autres les naturelles prérogatives de cette liberté. Ce genre de spoliation s’appelle Privilége ou Monopole. Marquons-en bien l’origine et le caractère.

Chacun sait que les services qu’il apporte dans le marché général y seront d’autant plus appréciés et rémunérés qu’ils y seront plus rares. Chacun implorera donc l’intervention de la loi pour éloigner du marché tous ceux qui viennent y offrir des services analogues, — ou, ce qui revient au même, si le concours d’un instrument est indispensable pour que le service soit rendu, il en demandera à la loi la possession exclusive [7].

Cette variété de Spoliation étant l’objet principal de ce volume, j’en dirai peu de chose ici, et me bornerai à une remarque.

Quand le monopole est un fait isolé, il ne manque pas d’enrichir celui que la loi en a investi. Il peut arriver alors que chaque classe de travailleurs, au lieu de poursuivre la chute de ce monopole, réclame pour elle-même un monopole semblable. Cette nature de Spoliation, ainsi réduite en système, devient alors la plus ridicule des mystifications pour tout le monde, et le résultat définitif est que chacun croit retirer plus d’un marché général appauvri de tout.

Il n’est pas nécessaire d’ajouter que ce singulier régime introduit en outre un antagonisme universel entre toutes les classes, toutes les professions, tous les peuples; qu’il exige une interférence constante, mais toujours incertaine de l’action gouvernementale; qu’il abonde ainsi dans le sens des abus qui font l’objet du précédent paragraphe; qu’il place toutes les industries dans une insécurité irrémédiable, et qu’il accoutume les hommes à mettre sur la loi, et non sur eux-mêmes, la responsabilité de leur propre existence. Il serait difficile d’imaginer une cause plus active de perturbation sociale [8].

Justification.

On dira: « Pourquoi ce vilain mot: Spoliation? Outre qu’il est grossier, il blesse, il irrite, il tourne contre vous les hommes calmes et modérés, il envenime la lutte. »

Je le déclare hautement, je respecte les personnes; je crois à la sincérité de presque tous les partisans de la Protection; et je ne me reconnais le droit de suspecter la probité personnelle, la délicatesse, la philanthropie de qui que ce soit. Je répète encore que la Protection est l’œuvre, l’œuvre funeste, d’une commune erreur dont tout le monde, ou du moins la grande majorité, est à la fois victime et complice. — Après cela je ne puis pas empêcher que les choses ne soient ce qu’elles sont.

Qu’on se figure une espèce de Diogène mettant la tête hors de son tonneau, et disant: « Athéniens, vous vous faites servir par des esclaves. N’avez-vous jamais pensé que vous exerciez sur vos frères la plus inique des spoliations? »

Ou encore, un tribun parlant ainsi dans le Forum: « Romains, vous avez fondé tous vos moyens d’existence sur le pillage successif de tous les peuples. »

Certes, ils ne feraient qu’exprimer une vérité incontestable. Faudrait-il en conclure qu’Athènes et Rome n’étaient habitées que par de malhonnêtes gens? que Socrate et Platon, Caton et Cincinnatus étaient des personnages méprisables?

Qui pourrait avoir une telle pensée? Mais ces grands hommes vivaient dans un milieu qui leur ôtait la conscience de leur injustice. On sait qu’Aristote ne pouvait pas même se faire l’idée qu’une société pût exister sans esclavage.

Dans les temps modernes, l’esclavage a vécu jusqu’à nos jours sans exciter beaucoup de scrupules dans l’âme des planteurs. Des armées ont servi d’instrument à de grandes conquêtes, c’est-à-dire à de grandes spoliations. Est-ce à dire qu’elles ne fourmillent pas de soldats et d’officiers, personnellement aussi délicats, plus délicats peut-être qu’on ne l’est généralement dans les carrières industrielles; d’hommes à qui la pensée seule d’un vol ferait monter le rouge au front, et qui affronteraient mille morts plutôt que de descendre à une bassesse?

Ce qui est blâmable ce ne sont pas les individus, mais le mouvement général qui les entraîne et les aveugle, mouvement dont la société entière est coupable.

II en est ainsi du Monopole. J’accuse le système, et non point les individus; la société en masse, et non tel ou tel de ses membres. Si les plus grands philosophes ont pu se faire illusion sur l’iniquité de l’esclavage, à combien plus forte raison des agriculteurs et des fabricants peuvent-ils se tromper sur la nature et les effets du régime restrictif?

Notes

[1]: La seconde série des Sophismes économiques, dont plusieurs chapitres avaient figuré dans le Journal des Économistes et le journal le Libre Echange, parut à la fin de janvier 1848. (Note de l’éditeur de l’édition originale.)

[2]: La seconde série des Sophismes économiques portait en exergue avant le premier chapitre la citation suivante:

La requête de l’industrie au gouvernement est aussi modeste que celle de Diogène à Alexandre: Ote-toi de mon soleil. (Bentham.)

(Note de l’éditeur de Bastiat.org.)

[3]: Voir au tome VI, les chapitres XVIII, XIX, XXII, et XXIV pour les développements projetés et commencés par l’auteur sur les Causes perturbatrices de l’harmonie des lois naturelles. (Note de l’éditeur de l’édition originale.)

[4]: Voy., tome I, la lettre adressée au président du Congrès de la paix à Francfort. (Note de l’éditeur de l’édition originale.)

[5]: Voy., au tome 1, la lettre adressée à M. Larnac, et au tome V, les Incompatibilités parlementaires. (Note de l’éditeur de l’édition originale.)

[6]: Voir au présent tome, l’État, la Loi, et au tome VI, le chapitre XVII Services privés et services publics. (Note de l’éditeur de l’édition originale.)

[7]: Pour la distinction entre les monopoles véritables et ce qu’on a nommé les monopoles naturels, voir, au chapitre 5 du tome VI, la note qui accompagne l’exposé de la doctrine d’Adam Smith sur la valeur. (Note de l’éditeur de l’édition originale.)

[8]: Cette cause de perturbation, l’auteur devait bientôt assister à son développement et la combattre avec énergie. Voir ci-après l’État, puis, au tome II, Funestes illusions et, au tome VI, les dernières pages du chapitre 4. (Note de l’éditeur de l’édition originale.)

Extrait de l’édition originale en 7 volumes (1863) des œuvres complètes de Frédéric Bastiat, tome IV, Sophismes Économiques, seconde série, chapitre I, Physiologie de la Spoliation, pp. 127-148

Numérisé par Krylenko, relu et édité par François-René Rideau pour Bastiat.org.

Bastiat.org Le Libéralisme, le vrai Un site par François-René Rideau

Voir également:

La geste sarkozienne

P.Lefebvre & L.Messika

Primo

21-04-2012

Avec ce Président, rien n’aura été épargné au peuple français.

Le démantèlement de l’image présidentielle, du président-monarque à laquelle nous avaient habitués de Gaulle puis Mitterrand, a été sinon volontaire, du moins assumée par Sarkozy.

Il pensait le peuple mûr pour un rapport moins protocolaire au pouvoir. Il s’est trompé.

C’était sans compter sur la nostalgie française pour la monarchie : ce peuple n’aime rien tant qu’à adorer les rois pour ensuite, éventuellement, leur trancher le cou.

À l’inverse, rien n’aura été épargné non plus à l’actuel locataire de l’Élysée.

Depuis 2007, le Tout Sauf Sarkozy (TSS) aura superbement fonctionné, réunissant les extrêmes de tous bords dans une ivresse de haine à coups de bassesses que n’aurait pas renié “Je-suis-partout”.

Sa proximité idéologique avec les USA, son amitié assumée avec Israël, sa compréhension de la société civile traduite en connivence avec les grands patrons, n’auront pas été pour rien dans le rejet qu’il suscite actuellement.

Les milieux de la gauche bien pensante et simplement pensante, de l’Education Populaire et des syndicats au petit monde des journalistes militants lui auront bien fait payer ces trois défauts pour eux majeurs.

C’est à qui dénoncera le plus fort la concentration des pouvoirs aux mains d’un même homme. Mais c’est ignorer le poids réel que pèse un Président sur les réalités mondiales.

Concentration des pouvoirs ?

Le président avait la majorité absolue à l’Assemblée et au Sénat en 2007. Quand ce n’est pas la gauche qui bénéficie de cette unanimité, c’est considéré, au pays de Liberté-Egalité-Absurdité comme un crime inexpiable.

Parlons simplement du pouvoir médiatique.

Jamais président n’aura eu à affronter autant la haine, le mépris et les moqueries que Nicolas Sarkozy.

Même ceux qui, la bouche en cul-de-poule, affirmaient qu’il ne faut pas se moquer du physique, digressaient à l’envi sur sa petite taille.

Gageons que son successeur putatif n’aura pas à subir les affres de cette pratique, lui qui le dépasse de trois bons centimètres.

Des interdits ont été franchis avec allégresse. Tant mieux pour une démocratie plus éclairée, plus consciente.

Le malheur est que, dans le même temps, nous sommes parvenus au sommet d’une déliquescence citoyenne. Notre société est minée en une lente érosion par plus de 40 années de corporatismes, d’égoïsmes voulus, ardemment désirés par les Français de toutes origines sociales.

Les effets de cette déliquescence se combinent avec l’arrivée logique de la fin d’un cycle (Cf.supra).

Ce que la presse affirme n’est plus accueilli avec recul. Les opinions de nos verbeux sont considérées comme des faits avérés, les rumeurs prennent le pas sur l’information. Les tentatives d’explications passent alors pour de laborieuses tentatives de justifications a posteriori.

La nomination des présidents de chaînes de télévision a été interprétée comme une reprise en main de la presse par le pouvoir.

C’est vouloir oublier un peu vite la seule fois où un président de la télévision française avait été nommé contre la volonté du président de la République, à l’époque François Mitterrand. Ce président avait été poussé à la démission par des pratiques que la justice sanctionne aujourd’hui au titre du harcèlement moral (Philippe Guilhaume).

La presse godillot, tant moquée par les médias étrangers, aurait, dit-on, connu sous Sarkozy son heure de gloire.

La presse française, avec l’unanimité d’un corporatisme primant sur toute autre considération, s’indigne de la toute puissance de Sarkozy sur les médias. Ah bon ?

Mais s’il avait la haute main sur la presse, comment expliquer le déchaînement de critiques qu’il a subi durant cinq ans, médias publics ou hautement capitalistiques confondus ?

À moins de faire preuve d’une immense mauvaise foi, l’ère Sarkozy aura été celle d’un déchaînement de la parole. Il en aura été la victime principale.

La hargne idéologique de la presse à son encontre n’aura eu d’égale que sa complaisance vis-à-vis des secrets plus ou moins honteux d’un Mitterrand faisant vivre sa famille adultère aux frais du contribuable ou d’un Strauss-Kahn dont “tout le monde” (comprendre la jet-set journalistique) savait qu’il souffrait d’une grave addiction débouchant parfois sur des actes à la limite du répréhensible.

Cela ne peut pas avoir de rapport avec le fait que 95% des journalistes français se déclarent de gauche ou d’extrême gauche: ils sont journalistes, donc objectifs ! Ce doit donc être le fait d’une coïncidence…

Si le peu d’empressement des journalistes français à poser les questions gênantes a souvent été dénoncé, les explications à cette timidité n’ont, semble-t-il, pas mérité que l’on s’interroge plus avant.

Les correspondants américains, scandinaves et britanniques, par exemple, moquent souvent cette soumission médiatique au pouvoir en place. Ils ont tort car il s’agit d’une lâcheté générale et non d’un parti pris en faveur des puissants.

Ne pas poser de questions qui fâchent à un homme politique pour éviter de se voir interdire l’entrée aux sauteries du clan n’empêche pas de dire les pires horreurs sur son compte s’il a le malheur de ne pas être du même bord politique que le journaliste.

Les journalistes français sont d’abord des militants.

Ils ont la maîtrise absolue des canaux de diffusion de l’information et ils l’utilisent exclusivement pour diffuser les informations qui vont dans le sens de leur idéologie.

Les confrères étrangers de nos médiabobo ont l’habitude d’obtenir des réponses quand ils posent des questions. Mais ils ont aussi l’habitude de ne pas confondre faits et commentaires.

En France, il n’y a plus rien à confondre: les faits sont carrément exclus lorsqu’ils ne correspondent pas aux commentaires que souhaitent faire les journalistes !

Les petites affaires et les grandes

Reste que ce quinquennat aura été marqué par des affaires dont la société se serait bien passée. Certains scandales sont avérés, d’autres révèlent une hystérie anti-sarkozienne quasi maladive.

Le Fouquet ? Un cadre du parti Europe Ecologie-Les Verts, désormais sénateur, a ses habitudes dans un restaurant autrement plus onéreux.

Qui le relève, mis à part l’indispensable Canard Enchainé ?

L’enrichissement ? Sarkozy a déclaré son patrimoine à son entrée en fonction et il y a fort à parier qu’il n’aura pas beaucoup évolué à la hausse pendant ses cinq ans de mandat.

Pour Mélenchon, on ne sait pas: il refuse de divulguer cette information top secrète, celui qui n’aime pas les riches et envisage de leur faire rendre gorge.

Les autres challengers de Sarkozy ne sont pas vraiment à plaindre non plus. Ils sont, au contraire de la majorité des Français, à l’abri du besoin, eux et leur descendance.

Ils ont beau déclarer ne pas aimer les riches, ils en font partie, eux, leurs SCI et leurs biens immobiliers.

Et eux aussi ont voté, par une nuit sans lune, un projet de loi leur permettant de devenir avocats sans en passer le diplôme. Il ne faut jamais insulter l’avenir, surtout quand on a les moyens législatifs de l’influencer.

L’une des principales adversaires de Sarkozy, Marine Le Pen, prétend défendre le peuple. Elle s’est engagé dans ce combat moins par amour de la France que pour continuer à faire fructifier l’héritage financier de Papa.

La politique est une rente. Et une rente qui rapporte. À ce niveau-là, il n’y a plus d’honnêteté, encore moins de convictions. Il n’y a que des intérêts.

L’exemple de Karachi

Les mêmes médias qui hurlaient à la reprise en main de leurs lignes éditoriales ont fortement suggéré l’hypothèse de la responsabilité de l’actuel Président dans l’explosion du bus de Karachi.

Sans porter atteinte à la douleur des familles des ingénieurs français, est-il incorrect de dire que les coupables principaux demeurent ceux qui ont posé la bombe et non ceux qui ont stoppé ou détourné le versement de rétro commissions ?

Certes, ces pratiques de captation financière sont inacceptables dans une démocratie. Mais ce dont il est question ici est le déplacement du statut de coupable.

En cette affaire, le summum de l’indigence journalistique a été atteint.

Il est plus valorisant, et surtout moins dangereux pour la santé, d’accuser plutôt que de remettre en cause les accointances des milieux islamo-affairistes avec les services secrets pakistanais.

De piteuses interventions

Le Président a ordonné le rapatriement en France de son fils atteint d’une simple gastro-entérite.

Mais il faut avoir la mémoire courte pour oublier que le contribuable français a financé durant des années l’entretien et le logement de la fille cachée de François Mitterrand ainsi que les déplacements en hélicoptère de son père pour aller la voir ou l’emmener à Latché.

Les détestables habitudes ne sont l’apanage d’aucun camp.

Il a perdu son sang-froid et insulté quelques adversaires et syndicalistes. La belle affaire ! En sont-ils morts ?

Pour autant, un Président de la République ne dit pas à un marin pêcheur « descend me le dire en face si t’es un homme » lorsqu’il est entouré de dizaines de gardes du corps. Cela ne fait pas honneur à la fonction.

Ces petites saillies, bien peu importantes en vérité, ont jeté un voile sur un ensemble d’actions qui doivent être portées à son crédit.

Aux sociologues Bourdieuïsants qui se demandent « de quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom ? », d’autres répondent « dictature » et « fait du Prince ». L’explication est un peu trop aisée pour être crédible.

Alors, la crise ?

Toutes les nations sont soumises à des cycles prospérité-crise qui s’étendent sur plusieurs dizaines d’années et ce, quel que soit le système politique en place.

Lorsque François Hollande clame que « le changement, c’est maintenant », il a tout à fait raison.

Il oublie de dire que ce changement aurait eu lieu de toute manière. Et il ne se produira pas comme il le promet aux Français.

Notre faillite est certes le produit de gigantesques manœuvres spéculatives du capitalisme financiarisé mais cette causalité reste marginale, n’en déplaise aux idéologues, tribuns et autres prophètes professionnels.

Elle demeure surtout le résultat d’une lente évolution démographique et sociétale qui nous a amené des Trente glorieuses aux Trente Piteuses dans lesquelles nous vivons actuellement.

Cette évolution nous mènera peut-être vers un nouveau modèle de société. Mais ce ne sera pas sans soubresauts dont certains seront meurtriers.

Le scrutin de ces 15 prochains jours ne sera pas significatif. S’il est battu, Sarkozy le sera plus par rejet de sa personne que par conviction et adhésion à une autre manière de concevoir la politique.

L’immaturité politique des Français sera alors patente. Car ce qui se produit en France est le résultat de conjonctions qui dépassent amplement les simples querelles politiciennes nationales.

Sarkozy a failli à ses promesses. Il était surtout incapable de les tenir, non par manque de compétence ou de volonté, mais parce que la réalité du monde l’a rattrapé.

Aller « chercher la croissance avec les dents s’il le faut » procède certes d’une louable intention. Mais la marge de manœuvre pour la conduite d’un pays reste, droite ou gauche, d’au mieux 0.5 %.

Quel que soit le président élu le 7 mai, il n’y aura aucune période de grâce. Il faut oublier les 100 jours auxquels nous nous étions confortablement habitués.

Le temps s’accélère et la gestion politique d’un pays s’accommode mal de la précipitation.

Mais cette même recherche d’immédiateté est, paradoxalement, la principale revendication des électeurs et des spéculateurs, faisant pour une fois cause commune.

 Il faut au moins une dizaine d’années pour mesurer les effets bénéfiques d’une quelconque politique publique mais il faut moins d’une semaine pour déclarer un Etat en faillite.

Le SMIC à 1700 euros et la retraite à 60 ans, les 15 000 emplois par an dans l’Education nationale pendant 5 ans et les 150 000 « emplois d’avenir » sont autant de promesses parfaitement intenables mais dont la mise en œuvre est attendue dès juin.

L’automne sera sanglant pour cause de promesses non tenues.

Il conviendrait plutôt de considérer l’avenir en termes de génération, ce qui est impossible pour une société qui a oublié l’Histoire et le nécessaire recul en privilégiant le « Tout, tout de suite ».

Cet axiome érigé en méthode de gouvernement depuis les années soixante a définitivement vécu et conduira à une faillite encore plus douloureuse, dangereuse.

Les renonciations de Sarkozy sont à situer dans l’ivresse du pouvoir immédiat et la volonté de séduire au détriment du lien social, du « vivre ensemble » et de la solidarité. Un président de gauche ne fera pas mieux.

Si le scrutin vient confirmer les sondages, la concentration des pouvoirs sera unique dans l’Histoire de la Cinquième République. La gauche aura l’exécutif, le Parlement, et gérera la quasi totalité des collectivités territoriales. Mais il ne se trouvera aucun journaliste pour s’en indigner.

Les effets de traîne des années fastes, l’argent facile, les avantages acquis, les conventions collectives, la protection sociale éclateront comme autant de bulles sans que personne ne puisse rien y faire sinon à compter les corps.

La gestion de la dette s’imposera à tous

Les plus faibles paieront cher, comme jamais ils n’ont payé depuis la fin du 19° siècle. Ruinés, aux abois, affamés, ils confieront le pouvoir aux démagogues, d’extrême droite ou gauche.

Le populisme deviendra l’unique méthode de gouvernance, comme il a été le principal moteur de la campagne.

Avec ses effets induits, à savoir une violence intergénérationnelle de plus en plus sauvage, le repli sur soi et la recherche effrénée et hystérique de boucs émissaires.

La bulle principale, celle qui nous enserre depuis cette trop longue campagne du fait des Primaires PS, est sur le point d’éclater.

La France insouciante va devoir absorber de plein fouet un choc autrement plus violent que ceux de ces cinq dernières années.

Mais Sarkozy ne sera plus là pour servir de repoussoir.

Voir par ailleurs:

France’s Fairy-Tale Election

The candidates are debating everything but the real problems.

 The WSJ

April 19, 2012

The French head to the polls Sunday for the first round of Presidential voting, but you wouldn’t know the candidates were competing in Europe’s most important election since the start of its economic crisis. Five years ago, Nicolas Sarkozy won by telling his fellow Frenchmen rude truths about the need for growth, job creation and competition in a global economy. This time around, the contenders for the Elysée Palace—including Mr. Sarkozy—are in one way or another running on fairy tales. No wonder markets are nervous.

***

The French economy is in a severe, if not yet acute, crisis. France’s public debt, at 90% of GDP, is larger than Spain’s and approaches Ireland’s. French growth has been stagnant for five years. Unit labor costs have risen steadily for more than a decade, and high unemployment has become chronic. A quarter of French youth are jobless.

Many European governments are confronting variations on these grim themes, and the most recent elections in Spain, Portugal and Ireland have turned on candidates’ (stated) commitment to reform and recovery. Not so in France, where the Presidential contenders, when they haven’t been ignoring economic issues, sound like they’re vying to lead a version of their country that exists only in the minds of the romantic left.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the center-right incumbent, is proposing to shrink the budget deficit by raising taxes in the name of "solidarity." On top of his already-passed hikes in corporate and personal income taxes, and his 4% surcharge on high incomes, Mr. Sarkozy also promises an "exit tax" on French citizens who move abroad, presumably to make up for the revenue that goes missing when all those new levies impel high earners to leave the country.

As for the reforms on the lips of every other policy maker in Europe, Mr. Sarkozy makes some of the right noises but won’t even go as far as the (mostly broken) promises he made in 2007. In a 32-point plan issued this month, he offers some labor reform but more proposals that are vague (creating a "youth bank" for enterprising young people) or off-point (promoting French language and the values of the Republic).

Mr. Sarkozy proposes reducing payroll charges paid by employers but would make up for it by increasing VAT and taxes on investment income. This assumes there will be investment income left in France once Mr. Sarkozy’s financial-transactions tax goes into effect in August.

Mr. Sarkozy’s campaign is particularly disappointing compared to the one five years ago. Promising a "rupture" with France’s old ways, he told voters in 2007 that they could no longer afford a sprawling state that coddled its workers and drove away entrepreneurs. Yet this year he seems content to reinforce a French model that’s even more broken than before. If Mr. Sarkozy retakes the Elysée next month, he will have done so by turning his back on the center-right resurgence that he once led to victory.

The President’s Socialist rival is a throwback of a different sort. François Hollande’s campaign has adopted a fiery old-left style that most had taken for dead after the Socialists’ 2007 defeat. All of Mr. Hollande’s major economic policy plans have roots in a punitive populism that would make U.S. Congressional class warriors blush. According to the latest polls, he leads Mr. Sarkozy 29%-24% in the first-round vote and by an even wider margin in the likely runoff.

Mr. Hollande says he’s "not dangerous" to the wealthy—he merely wants to confiscate 75% of their income over €1 million, and 45% over €150,000. He is, however, a self-avowed "enemy" of the financial industry, and he plans to impose extra penalties on oil companies and financial firms. He’d also raise the dividends tax and impose a new, higher rate of VAT on luxury goods. All of this is necessary, Mr. Hollande says, to chop the massive debt that President Sarkozy has heaped upon France.

But swiping at Mr. Sarkozy’s debt record hardly makes sense when Mr. Hollande’s own spending plans would pile on still more borrowing. The Socialist candidate is playing Santa Claus, promising lavish new goodies to French voters while other euro-zone governments are pulling back.

Inside Mr. Hollande’s gift bag: 60,000 new teaching jobs, new housing subsidies and rent controls, and increased public funding for small and medium enterprises. He would raise the minimum wage to €1,700 a month and enact a new law to prevent and fight layoffs. He also promises to reverse Mr. Sarkozy’s most important domestic-policy victory: raising the retirement age to 62 from 60.

Mr. Hollande wasn’t originally the Socialists’ top choice for this year’s race. Thrust into the role after Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s sex scandals, the mild-mannered Mr. Hollande has fought to prevent his support from migrating to the Left Party’s hot-blooded candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who wants to withdraw France from NATO and proposes a 100% tax on income above €360,000. The surrealist Mr. Mélenchon began to surge in February and currently polls at around 15%.

Both Sarkozy and Hollande claim their platforms can restore the economy. Maybe—in fantasy land.

Mr. Sarkozy has had to fight off challenges from the opposite flank. The National Front’s Marine Le Pen, daughter of five-time Presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, has shed her party’s neofascist image but upholds its hard populist stance on job outsourcing, security and immigration.

Last month’s Toulouse shootings gave Mr. Sarkozy a boost on these issues, but Ms. Le Pen has proved enduringly magnetic to the young and disgruntled. She has polled at 10%-15% for months, prompting Mr. Sarkozy to stoke anti-immigrant sentiment even as France’s low birth rate and aging population are planting a demographic bomb that could set off the next fiscal crisis. One of Mr. Sarkozy’s 32 points is to cut immigration by half.

***

Both Messrs. Sarkozy and Hollande claim their economic platforms will bring back France’s triple-A credit rating, which the country lost in January. But in the fantasy land that is the present campaign, the reasons for the downgrade—and for the country’s financial woes generally—are not to be found in France’s own growth-killing policies. Rather, the candidates blame immigrants, ratings agencies, market speculators, the European Central Bank. In other words, everything but the decades of failed leadership that have put France in its current economic crisis.

Few polls give Mr. Sarkozy much of a chance if he and Mr. Hollande go head to head in a runoff on May 6. But we’ll have an early taste of where the French electorate stands from the first-round turnout, which is expected to be low compared to 2007. Five years ago, voters came out in force to choose—they were told—between modernity and decline. They picked modernity but got decline anyway.

A high abstention rate on Sunday would confirm that French voters already know that their choices this year are dismal. Not all fairy tales have a happy ending.

Voir de même:

The State

Frederic Bastiat

I wish that someone would offer a prize, not of five hundred francs, but of a million, with crosses, crowns, and ribbons, to whoever would give a good, simple, and intelligible definition of this term: the state.

What an immense service he would render to society!

The state! What is it? Where is it? What does it do? What should it do?

5.4

All that we know about it is that it is a mysterious personage, and certainly the most solicited, the most tormented, the busiest, the most advised, the most blamed, the most invoked, and the most provoked in the world.

5.5

For, sir, I do not have the honor of knowing you, but I wager ten to one that for six months you have been making utopias; and if you have been making them, I wager ten to one that you place upon the state the responsibility of realizing them.

5.6

And you, madame, I am sure that you desire from the bottom of your heart to cure all the ills of mankind, and that you would be in no wise embarrassed if the state would only lend a hand.

5.7

But alas! The unfortunate state, like Figaro, knows neither to whom to listen nor where to turn. The hundred thousand tongues of press and rostrum all cry out to it at once:

"Organize labor and the workers."

"Root out selfishness."

"Repress the insolence and tyranny of capital."

"Make experiments with manure and with eggs."

"Furrow the countryside with railroads."

"Irrigate the plains."

"Plant forests on the mountains."

"Establish model farms."

"Establish harmonious workshops."

"Colonize Algeria."

"Feed the babies."

"Instruct the young."

"Relieve the aged."

"Send the city folk into the country."

"Equalize the profits of all industries."

"Lend money, without interest, to those who desire it."

"Liberate Italy, Poland, and Hungary."

"Improve the breed of saddle horses."

"Encourage art; train musicians and dancers."

"Restrict trade, and at the same time create a merchant marine."

"Discover truth and knock a bit of sense into our heads."

"The function of the state is to enlighten, to develop, to increase, to fortify, to spiritualize, and to sanctify the soul of a nation."**31

5.8

"Oh, sirs, a little patience," replies the state with a piteous air. "I shall try to satisfy you, but for that I shall need some resources. I have prepared proposals for five or six taxes, brand new and the mildest in the world. You will see how glad people will be to pay them."

5.9

But then a great cry is raised: "Shame! Shame! Anybody can do a thing if he has the resources! Then you would not be worthy of being called the state. Far from hitting us with new taxes, we demand that you eliminate the old ones. Abolish:

"The tax on salt;

"The tax on beverages;

"The tax on letters;

"The octroi;*62

"Licenses;

"Prestations."

5.10

In the midst of this tumult, and after the country had changed its state two or three times for not having satisfied all these demands, I tried to point out that they were contradictory. Good Lord! What was I thinking of? Could I not keep this unfortunate remark to myself?

5.11

So here I am, discredited forever; and it is now an accepted fact that I am a heartless, pitiless man, a dry philosopher, an individualist, a bourgeois—in a word, an economist of the English or American school.

5.12

Oh, pardon me, sublime writers, whom nothing stops, not even contradictions. I am wrong, no doubt, and I retract my error with all my heart. I demand nothing better, you may be sure, than that you should really have discovered outside of us a benevolent and inexhaustible being, calling itself the state, which has bread for all mouths, work for all hands, capital for all enterprises, credit for all projects, ointment for all wounds, balm for all suffering, advice for all perplexities, solutions for all problems, truths for all minds, distractions for all varieties of boredom, milk for children and wine for old age, which provides for all our needs, foresees all our desires, satisfies all our curiosity, corrects all our errors, amends all our faults, and exempts us all henceforth from the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, sagacity, experience, order, economy, temperance, and industry.

5.13

And why should I not desire it? Heaven forgive me! The more I reflect on it, the more I find how easy the whole thing is; and I, too, long to have at hand that inexhaustible source of riches and enlightenment, that universal physician, that limitless treasure, that infallible counselor, that you call the state.

5.14

Hence, I insist that it be shown to me, that it be defined, and that is why I propose that a prize be offered to the first to discover this rare bird. For, after all, it will have to be admitted that this precious discovery has not yet been made, since the people have up to now overthrown immediately everything that has presented itself under the name of the state, precisely because it has failed to fulfill the somewhat contradictory conditions of the program.

Need it be said that we may have been, in this respect, duped by one of the most bizarre illusions that has ever taken possession of the human mind?

Man is averse to pain and suffering. And yet he is condemned by nature to the suffering of privation if he does not take the pains to work for a living. He has, then, only the choice between these two evils. How arrange matters so that both may be avoided? He has found up to now and will ever find only one means: that is, to enjoy the fruits of other men’s labor; that is, to arrange matters in such a way that the pains and the satisfactions, instead of falling to each according to their natural proportion, are divided between the exploited and their exploiters, with all the pain going to the former, and all the satisfactions to the latter. This is the principle on which slavery is based, as well as plunder of any and every form: wars, acts of violence, restraints of trade, frauds, misrepresentations, etc.—monstrous abuses, but consistent with the idea that gave rise to them. One should hate and combat oppressors, but one cannot say that they are absurd.

Slavery is on its way out, thank Heaven, and our natural inclination to defend our property makes direct and outright plunder difficult. One thing, however, has remained. It is the unfortunate primitive tendency which all men have to divide their complex lot in life into two parts, shifting the pains to others and keeping the satisfactions for themselves. It remains to be seen under what new form this deplorable tendency is manifested.

The oppressor no longer acts directly by his own force on the oppressed. No, our conscience has become too fastidious for that. There are still, to be sure, the oppressor and his victim, but between them is placed an intermediary, the state, that is, the law itself. What is better fitted to silence our scruples and—what is perhaps considered even more important—to overcome all resistance? Hence, all of us, with whatever claim, under one pretext or another, address the state. We say to it: "I do not find that there is a satisfactory proportion between my enjoyments and my labor. I should like very much to take a little from the property of others to establish the desired equilibrium. But that is dangerous. Could you not make it a little easier? Could you not find me a good job in the civil service or hinder the industry of my competitors or, still better, give me an interest-free loan of the capital you have taken from its rightful owners or educate my children at the public expense or grant me incentive subsidies or assure my well-being when I shall be fifty years old? By this means I shall reach my goal in all good conscience, for the law itself will have acted for me, and I shall have all the advantages of plunder without enduring either the risks or the odium."

As, on the one hand, it is certain that we all address some such request to the state, and, on the other hand, it is a well-established fact that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the labor of others, while awaiting another definition of the state, I believe myself entitled to give my own here. Who knows if it will not carry off the prize? Here it is:

The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.

For, today as in the past, each of us, more or less, would like to profit from the labor of others. One does not dare to proclaim this feeling publicly, one conceals it from oneself, and then what does one do? One imagines an intermediary; one addresses the state, and each class proceeds in turn to say to it: "You, who can take fairly and honorably, take from the public and share with us." Alas! The state is only too ready to follow such diabolical advice; for it is composed of cabinet ministers, of bureaucrats, of men, in short, who, like all men, carry in their hearts the desire, and always enthusiastically seize the opportunity, to see their wealth and influence grow. The state understands, then, very quickly the use it can make of the role the public entrusts to it. It will be the arbiter, the master, of all destinies. It will take a great deal; hence, a great deal will remain for itself. It will multiply the number of its agents; it will enlarge the scope of its prerogatives; it will end by acquiring overwhelming proportions.

But what is most noteworthy is the astonishing blindness of the public to all this. When victorious soldiers reduced the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous, but they were not absurd. Their object was, as ours is, to live at the expense of others; but, unlike us, they attained it. What are we to think of a people who apparently do not suspect that reciprocal pillage is no less pillage because it is reciprocal; that it is no less criminal because it is carried out legally and in an orderly manner; that it adds nothing to the public welfare; that, on the contrary, it diminishes it by all that this spendthrift intermediary that we call the state costs?

And we have placed this great myth, for the edification of the people, in the Preamble of the Constitution. Here are the first words of the Preamble:

France has been constituted as a republic in order to …. raise all its citizens to an ever higher standard of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.

Thus, it is France, or the abstraction, which is to raise Frenchmen, or the realities, to a higher standard of morality, well-being, etc. Is this not to be possessed by the bizarre illusion that leads us to expect everything from another power than our own? Is this not to imply that there is, above and beyond the French people, a virtuous, enlightened, rich being who can and ought to bestow his benefits on them? Is this not to assume, and certainly most gratuitously, that there exists between France and the people of France, that is, between the synoptic, abstract term used to designate all these individuals and the individuals themselves, a father-son, guardian-ward, teacher-pupil relationship? I am well aware of the fact that we sometimes speak metaphorically of "the fatherland" or of France as a "tender mother." But in order to expose in its full flagrance the inanity of the proposition inserted into our Constitution, it suffices to show that it can be reversed, I will not say without disadvantage, but even to advantage. Would exactness suffer if the Preamble had said:

"The French have been constituted as a republic in order to raise France to an ever higher standard of morality, enlightenment, and well-being"?

Now, what is the value of an axiom of which the subject and the object can be interchanged without disadvantage? Everyone understands the statement: "The mother will nurse the baby." But it would be ridiculous to say: "The baby will nurse the mother."

The Americans formed another idea of the relations of citizens to the state when they placed at the head of their Constitution these simple words:

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain, etc.

There is no mythical creation here, no abstraction from which the citizens demand everything. They expect nothing save from themselves and their own efforts.

If I have permitted myself to criticize the first words of our Constitution, it is not, as one might think, in order to deal with a mere metaphysical subtlety. I contend that this personification of the state has been in the past, and will be in the future, a fertile source of calamities and of revolutions.

Here the public, on the one side, the state on the other, are considered as two distinct entities, the latter intent on pouring down upon the former, the former having the right to claim from the latter, a veritable shower of human felicities. What must be the inevitable result?

The fact is, the state does not and cannot have one hand only. It has two hands, one to take and the other to give—in other words, the rough hand and the gentle hand. The activity of the second is necessarily subordinated to the activity of the first. Strictly speaking, the state can take and not give. We have seen this happen, and it is to be explained by the porous and absorbent nature of its hands, which always retain a part, and sometimes the whole, of what they touch. But what has never been seen, what will never be seen and cannot even be conceived, is the state giving the public more than it has taken from it. It is therefore foolish for us to take the humble attitude of beggars when we ask anything of the state. It is fundamentally impossible for it to confer a particular advantage on some of the individuals who constitute the community without inflicting a greater damage on the entire community.

It finds itself, then, placed by our demands in an obviously vicious circle.

If it withholds the boon that is demanded of it, it is accused of impotence, of ill will, of incapacity. If it tries to meet the demand, it is reduced to levying increased taxes on the people, to doing more harm than good, and to incurring, on another account, general disaffection.

Thus, we find two expectations on the part of the public, two promises on the part of the government: many benefits and no taxes. Such expectations and promises, being contradictory, are never fulfilled.

Is this not the cause of all our revolutions? For between the state, which is lavish with impossible promises, and the public, which has conceived unrealizable expectations, two classes of men intervene: the ambitious and the utopian. Their role is completely prescribed for them by the situation. It suffices for these demagogues to cry into the ears of the people: "Those in power are deceiving you; if we were in their place, we would overwhelm you with benefits and free you from taxes."

And the people believe, and the people hope, and the people make a revolution.

Its friends are no sooner in charge of things than they are called on to make good their promises: "Give me a job, then, bread, relief, credit, education, and colonies," say the people, "and at the same time, in keeping with your promises, deliver me from the burden of taxation."

The new state is no less embarrassed than the old, for, when it comes to the impossible, one can, indeed, make promises, but one cannot keep them. It tries to gain time, which it needs to bring its vast projects to fruition. At first it makes a few timid attempts; on the one hand, it extends primary education a little; on the other, it reduces somewhat the tax on beverages (1830). But it is always confronted with the same contradiction: if it wishes to be philanthropic, it must continue to levy taxes; and if it renounces taxation, it must also renounce philanthropy.

These two promises always and necessarily conflict with each other. To have recourse to borrowing, that is, to eat into the future, is indeed a means of reconciling them in the present; one tries to do a little good in the present at the expense of a great deal of harm in the future. But this procedure raises the specter of bankruptcy, which destroys credit. What is to be done, then? The new state then takes a firm stand against its critics: it regroups its forces to maintain itself, it stifles opinion, it has recourse to arbitrary decrees, it ridicules its former maxims, it declares that one can govern only on condition of being unpopular; in short, it proclaims itself the government.

And this is precisely what other demagogues are waiting for. They exploit the same illusion, take the same road, obtain the same success, and soon come to be engulfed in the same abyss.

This is the way we came to the February Revolution. At that time the illusion that is the subject of this article had made its way further than ever into popular thought, along with socialist doctrines. More than ever before, people expected that the state, in a republican form, would open wide the floodgates of its bounty and close off the stream of taxes. "I have often been deceived," said the people, "but this time I myself will stand guard to see that I am not again deceived."

What could the provisional government do? Alas! What is always done in such a circumstance: promise and gain time. It did not fail to do this, and, to add solemnity to its promises, it gave them definitive form in its decrees. "Increased welfare, shorter working hours, relief, credit, gratuitous education, agricultural settlements, land clearance, and, at the same time, reductions in the taxes on salt, beverages, letters, meat, all will be granted …. when the National Assembly meets."

The National Assembly met, and, as two contradictory ideas cannot both be realized, its task, its sad task, was confined to retracting, as gently as possible, one after another, all the decrees of the provisional government.

Still, in order not to make the disappointment too cruel, it had to compromise a little. Certain commitments were kept; others were fulfilled in token form. Hence, the present administration is trying to devise new taxes.

Now, looking ahead a few months, I ask myself sadly what will happen when the newly created civil servants go out into the country to collect the new taxes on inheritances, incomes, and the profits of agriculture. May Heaven give the lie to my presentiments, but here again I see a role for the demagogues to play.

Read the last Manifesto of the Montagnards*63 which they issued in connection with the presidential election. It is rather long, but can be summed up in a few words: The state should give a great deal to the citizens and take little from them. It is always the same tactic, or, if you will, the same error.

The state owes instruction and education free of charge to all citizens.

It owes:

A general and professional education, appropriate as nearly as possible to the needs, vocations, and capacities of each citizen.

It should:

Teach each citizen his duties toward God, toward men, and toward himself; develop his feelings, his aptitudes, and his faculties; give him, in short, proficiency in his work, understanding of his best interests, and knowledge of his rights

It should:

Put within everyone’s reach literature and the arts, the heritage of human thought, the treasures of the mind, all the intellectual enjoyments which elevate and strengthen the soul.

It should:

Insure against every disaster, fire, flood, etc. [how great are the implications of this little et cetera!], suffered by a citizen.

It should:

Intervene in the relations between capital and labor and make itself the regulator of credit

It owes:

Practical encouragement and efficacious protection to agriculture.

5.53

It should:

Buy up the railroads, the canals, the mines,

5.54

and undoubtedly also administer them with that industrial expertise which is so characteristic of it.

5.55

It should:

Stimulate laudable enterprises, and encourage and aid them with all the resources capable of making them succeed. As regulator of credit, it will largely control the industrial and agricultural associations, in order to assure their success.

5.56

The state is to do all this without prejudice to the services that it performs today; and, for example, it must always adopt a threatening attitude toward foreign nations; for, say the signers of the program,

linked by that holy solidarity and by the precedents of republican France, we extend our commitments and our hopes, beyond the barriers that despotism has raised between nations, on behalf of all those whom the yoke of tyranny oppresses; we desire that our glorious army be again, if it must, the army of liberty.

5.57

You see that the gentle hand of the state, that good hand which gives and which bestows, will be very busy under the government of the Montagnards. Perhaps you believe that the same will be true of the rough hand, of the hand that reaches into our pockets and empties them?

5.58

Undeceive yourselves. The demagogues would not know their business if they had not acquired the art of hiding the rough hand while showing the gentle hand.

5.59

Their reign will surely mean a jubilee for the taxpayer.

5.60

"It is on luxuries," they say, "not necessities, that taxes should be imposed."

5.61

Will it not be a happy day when, in order to load us with benefits, the public treasury is content to take from us just our superfluous funds?

5.62

Nor is this all. The Montagnards intend that "taxation should lose its oppressive character and should henceforth be no more than an act of fraternity."

5.63

Heavenly days! I am well aware of the fact that it is the vogue to get fraternity in everywhere, but I did not suspect that it could be put into the receipt of the tax collector.

5.64

Getting down to details, the signers of the manifesto say:

We demand the immediate abolition of taxes that fall on objects of primary necessity, such as salt, drinks, et cetera.

Reform of the real estate tax, the octroi, and license fees.

Justice free of charge, that is, the simplification of forms and the reduction of expenses. [This no doubt has to do with official stamps.]

5.65

Thus, real estate taxes, the octroi, license fees, taxes on stamps, salt, beverages, mail—all are to be done away with. These gentlemen have found the secret of keeping the gentle hand of the state energetic and active, while paralyzing its rough hand.

5.66

Indeed! I ask the impartial reader, is this not childish and, what is more, dangerously childish? Why would people not make one revolution after another, once they had made up their minds not to stop until this contradiction had been made a reality: "Give nothing to the state, and receive a great deal from it"?

5.67

Does anyone believe that if the Montagnards came to power, they would not themselves become the victims of the very means that they employed to seize it?

5.68

Citizens, throughout history two political systems have confronted each other, and both of them can be supported by good arguments. According to one, the state should do a great deal, but also it should take a great deal. According to the other, its double action should be barely perceptible. Between these two systems, one must choose. But as for the third system, which is a mixture of the two others, and which consists in requiring everything from the state without giving anything to it, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who advance it in order to give themselves the pleasure of accusing all governments of impotence and exposing them thus to your violent attacks, flatter and deceive you, or at least they deceive themselves.

5.69

As for us, we think that the state is not and should not be anything else than the common police force instituted, not to be an instrument of oppression and reciprocal plunder, but, on the contrary, to guarantee to each his own and to make justice and security prevail.**32

Notes for this chapter

30.

[To understand the form of this composition, note that it was printed in the Journal des débats, issue of September 25, 1848.—Editor.]

31.

[This last phrase is from M. de Lamartine. The author cites it also in the pamphlet (chap. 2 of this volume) entitled "The Law."—Editor.]

62.

[A local tax on certain commodities (foodstuffs, fodder, liquids, fuels, building materials, etc.) imposed as a condition of their being brought into a town or district.—Translator]

63.

[In 1848, members of the Socialist Democrat Party. The name, of course, goes back to the militant "Mountain" Party of Danton and Robespierre during the French Revolution.—Translator.]

32.

[See chap. 17 of Economic Harmonies and, in the first volume (of the French edition), the pamphlet of 1830 entitled "To the Electors of the Department of Landes."—Editor.]

See also:

Second Series, Chapter 1

The Physiology of Plunder1*

II.1.1

Why do I keep dwelling on that dry science, political economy?

II.1.2

Why? The question is a reasonable one. All labor by its very nature is so repugnant that one has the right to ask what purpose it serves.

II.1.3

Let us investigate and see.

II.1.4

I do not address myself to those philosophers who profess to adore poverty, if not in their own name, at least in the name of mankind.

II.1.5

I speak to whoever holds wealth in some regard; and I understand by this word, not the opulence of the few, but the comfort, the well-being, the security, the independence, the education, the dignity, of all.

II.1.6

There are only two ways of obtaining the means essential to the preservation, the adornment, and the improvement of life: production and plunder.

II.1.7

Some people say: "Plunder is a fortuitous event, a purely local and transient evil, condemned by moral philosophy, punished by law, and unworthy of the attention of political economy."

II.1.8

Yet however well disposed or optimistic one may be, one is compelled to recognize that plunder is practiced in this world on too vast a scale, that it is too much a part of all great human events, for any social science—political economy least of all—to be able to ignore it.

II.1.9

I go further. What keeps the social order from improving (at least to the extent to which it is capable of improving) is the constant endeavor of its members to live and to prosper at one another’s expense.

II.1.10

Hence, if plunder did not exist, society would be perfect, and the social sciences would be without an object.

II.1.11

I go still further. When plunder has become a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.

II.1.12

It suffices to name some of the more obvious forms of plunder to indicate the position it holds in human affairs.

II.1.13

The first is war. Among savages, the conqueror kills the conquered in order to acquire hunting rights that, if not incontestable, are at least uncontested.

II.1.14

Next is slavery. When man learns that labor can make the earth fruitful, he arranges to share with his brother on the following terms: "Yours the toil; mine the harvest."

II.1.15

Then comes theocracy. "According as you give me, or refuse me, what is yours, I will open to you the gates of heaven or of hell."

II.1.16

Finally, monopoly makes its appearance. Its distinguishing characteristic is to permit the continued existence of the great law of society: service for service, but to introduce force into the negotiations, and, consequently, to upset the just balance between service received and service rendered.

II.1.17

Plunder always carries within itself the germ that ultimately kills it. It is rarely that the many plunder the few; for, in such a case, the latter would promptly be so reduced in number as no longer to be capable of satisfying the greed of the former, so that plunder would come to an end from want of sustenance.

II.1.18

Almost always it is the many that are oppressed by the few; yet plunder is none the less doomed to come to an end.

II.1.19

For if it makes use of force, as in war and slavery, in the long run force will naturally pass to the side of the many.

II.1.20

And if fraud is the means, as in theocracy and monopoly, it is natural, unless intelligence is to count for nothing, that the majority should eventually become aware of it.

II.1.21

There is, besides, another providential law whose operation is no less fatal, in the end, to the success of every system of plunder: Plunder not only redistributes wealth; it always, at the same time, destroys a part of it. War annihilates many values. Slavery paralyzes many capabilities. Theocracy diverts many energies toward childish or injurious ends. Monopoly too transfers wealth from one pocket to another, but much of it is lost in the process.

II.1.22

This is an admirable law. Without it, provided that there were a balance of power between oppressors and oppressed, plunder would have no end. Thanks to this law, the balance is always tending to be upset; either because the plunderers come to realize that too much wealth is being destroyed, or, in the absence of this realization, because the evil is constantly worsening, and it is in the nature of whatever keeps on worsening to come to an end.

II.1.23

In fact, there comes a time when the progressively accelerating destruction of wealth goes so far that the plunderer is poorer than he would have been if he had remained honest. Such is the case when a war costs a nation more than the booty is worth; when a master pays more for slave labor than for free labor; when a theocracy has so stupefied the people and so sapped their energies that it can no longer exact anything from them; when a monopoly increases its efforts to absorb in proportion as there is less to absorb, just as it takes more effort to milk a cow as the udder becomes empty.

II.1.24

Monopoly is evidently a species of the genus plunder. There are several varieties—among others, sinecures, privileges, and trade restrictions.

II.1.25

Some of the forms it may assume are simple and naive, like feudal rights. Under this system the masses were plundered and knew it. The system involved the abuse of force and fell with it.

II.1.26

Other forms are more complicated. Often the masses are plundered and do not know it. It may even happen that they believe they owe everything to plunder, not only what they are allowed to keep, but also what is taken away from them and what is lost in the operation. Moreover, I assert that, in the course of time, thanks to so ingenious a mechanism as custom, many people become plunderers without knowing it and without intending it. Monopolies of this kind are engendered by fraud and nourished on error. They flourish in the darkness of ignorance and vanish only in the light of knowledge.

II.1.27

I have said enough to show that political economy has an evident practical utility. It is the torch that, by exposing fraud and dispelling error, destroys that form of social disorder called plunder. Someone—I believe a woman—has rightly defined it as "the safety lock on the savings of the people."

Commentary

II.1.28

If this little book were fated to last three or four thousand years, to be read and reread, pondered and studied, sentence by sentence, word by word, and letter by letter, from generation to generation, like a new Koran; if it were to fill all the libraries in the world with avalanches of annotations, explanations, and paraphrases; I might abandon the foregoing remarks to their fate, without misgivings concerning their rather obscure succinctness. But since they need a commentary, I believe the wiser course is to provide it myself.

II.1.29

The true and just rule for mankind is the voluntary exchange of service for service. Plunder consists in prohibiting, by force or fraud, freedom of exchange, in order to receive a service without rendering one in return.

II.1.30

Forcible plunder is effected by waiting until a man has produced something, and then taking it from him by violence.

II.1.31

It is specifically forbidden by the Commandment: Thou shalt not steal.

II.1.32

When practiced by one individual on another, it is called theft and is punishable by imprisonment; when practiced by one nation on another, it is called conquest and leads to glory.

II.1.33

Why this difference? It is worth while to seek for the cause. It will reveal to us an irresistible power, public opinion, which, like the atmosphere, envelops us so completely that we no longer notice it. Rousseau never spoke more truly than when he said: "It takes a great deal of scientific insight to discern the facts that are closest to us."2*

II.1.34

The thief, precisely because he acts alone, has public opinion against him. He frightens everyone about him. However, if he has a few comrades, he boasts to them about his exploits, and here one may begin to notice the power of public opinion; for it takes merely the approval of his accomplices to relieve him of the feeling that he is doing anything wrong and even to make him proud of his dishonor.

II.1.35

The warrior lives in a different world. The public opinion that vilifies him is elsewhere, in the conquered nations; he does not feel its pressure. But the opinion of those around him approves of him and sustains him. He and his comrades have a strong sense of the common interest that unites them. The fatherland, which has created enemies and dangers for itself, finds it necessary to extol the courage of its children. It bestows honors, fame, and glory on the most intrepid among them, on those who have expanded its frontiers and brought it the most loot. Poets sing their exploits, and women braid garlands for them. And such is the power of public opinion that it separates the idea of injustice from plunder and frees the plunderer of even the consciousness of having done any wrong.

II.1.36

The public opinion that reacts against military plunder, since it arises, not in the plundering nation, but among the plundered, has very little influence. Yet it is not entirely ineffectual, and it gains in importance as nations come into contact with one another and come to understand one another better. In this connection, it is evident that the study of languages and freedom of communication among different nations tend to give the prevailing influence to the opinion that opposes this sort of plunder.

II.1.37

Unfortunately, it often happens that those who live in the vicinity of a plundering nation themselves become plunderers when they can, and thenceforth become imbued with the same prejudices.

II.1.38

When this happens, there is only one remedy: time. People have to learn, through hard experience, the enormous disadvantage there is in plundering one another.

II.1.39

Some may propose another form of restraint: moral influence. But the purpose of moral influence is to encourage virtuous actions. How, then, can it restrain acts of plunder when public opinion ranks these acts among the noblest virtues? Is there a more powerful moral influence than religion? Has there ever been a religion more favorable to peace and more widely accepted than Christianity? And yet what have we witnessed for eighteen centuries? The spectacle of men warring with one another not only in spite of religion, but in the very name of religion.

II.1.40

A conquering nation is not always waging offensive warfare. It, too, falls on evil days when its soldiers find themselves obliged to defend their homes and property, their families, their national independence, and their liberty. At such times war takes on the character of a great crusade. The flag, consecrated by the ministers of the Prince of Peace, symbolizes everything that is holy on earth; people revere it as the living image of the fatherland and of the homage due to it; and martial virtues are extolled above all others. But after the danger has passed, public opinion remains the same; and by a natural reaction of that spirit of revenge which is confused with patriotism, people love to parade their cherished flag from one capital city to another. It seems that Nature has thus prepared its punishment for the aggressor.

II.1.41

It is the fear of this punishment, and not our increased knowledge, that keeps weapons in our arsenals, for it cannot be denied that the most highly civilized nations wage war and concern themselves very little about justice when they do not have to fear any reprisals. The Himalayan, the Atlas, and the Caucasus Mountains attest to this.

II.1.42

If religion has been powerless, if knowledge is powerless, how, then, is war to cease?

II.1.43

Political economy demonstrates that, even in the case of the victors, war is always waged in the interest of the few and at the expense of the many. All that is needed, then, is that the masses should clearly perceive this truth. The weight of public opinion, which is still divided, will then fall entirely on the side of peace.3*

II.1.44

Forcible plunder also takes another form. Instead of waiting until a man has produced something in order to take it away from him, the plunderer takes possession of the man himself, deprives him of his freedom, and compels him to work. The plunderer does not say to him: "If you do this for me, I shall do that for you"; but: "Yours all the toil, mine all the enjoyment." This is slavery, which always implies the misuse of power.

II.1.45

Now, it is an important question whether it is not in the very nature of an incontestably dominant power to be misused. For my part, I put no faith in it at all, and I might just as well expect a falling stone to contain the power that will halt its fall as to rely upon force to impose restraints upon itself.

II.1.46

I should like, at least, to be shown a country or an era in which slavery was abolished by the free and voluntary action of the masters.

II.1.47

Slavery furnishes a second and striking example of the impotence of religious and humanitarian sentiments in a conflict with the powerful force of self-interest. This may seem regrettable to certain modern schools of thought that expect self-denial to be the principle that will reform society. Let them begin, then, by reforming the nature of man.

II.1.48

In the Antilles,4* the masters, from father to son, have been professing the Christian religion ever since slavery was established there. Several times a day they repeat these words: "All men are brothers; to love thy neighbor is to fulfill the whole of the law." And yet they have slaves, and nothing seems to them more natural or legitimate. Do the modern reformers expect that their ethical principles will ever be as universally accepted, as well-known, as authoritative, or as often on the lips of everyone, as the Gospel? And if the Gospel has been unable to pass from the lips to the heart, over or through the great barrier of self-interest, how do they expect their ethical principles to perform this miracle?

II.1.49

Is slavery, then, indestructible? No. Self-interest, which created it, will destroy it, provided that the special interests that have inflicted the wound are not protected in such a way as to nullify the general interests that tend to heal it.

II.1.50

Another truth demonstrated by political economy is that free labor is essentially progressive, whereas slave labor is necessarily static. Hence, the triumph of the first over the second is inevitable. What has become of the cultivation of indigo by the Negroes?5*

II.1.51

Free labor employed in the cultivation of sugar will lead to a continual reduction in its price. The slave will become proportionately less profitable to his master. Slavery would have collapsed of its own weight long ago in America if European laws had not kept the price of sugar artificially high. Therefore we see the masters, their creditors, and their legislative representatives making vigorous efforts to keep these laws in force, for they are today the pillars of the whole edifice of slavery.

II.1.52

Unfortunately, these laws still have the support of people among whom slavery has disappeared; from this it is clear that here, too, public opinion is sovereign.

II.1.53

If it is sovereign even in the domain of force, it is still more so in the domain of fraud. This, in fact, is the domain in which public opinion is most efficacious. Fraud consists in the misuse of the intellect; public opinion becomes progressively more enlightened as men’s intellectual attainments are enlarged. These two forces are at least of the same nature. Imposture on the part of the plunderer implies credulity on the part of the plundered, and the natural antidote for credulity is truth. It follows that by enlightening men’s minds we deprive this kind of plunder of the food that nurtures it.

II.1.54

I shall briefly review some of the kinds of plunder that are carried out by fraud on a grand scale.

II.1.55

The first is plunder by theocratic fraud.

II.1.56

In what does it consist? In inducing men to give one actual services, in the form of food, clothing, luxuries, prestige, influence, and power, in exchange for fictitious services.

II.1.57

If I tell a man, "I am going to render you an immediate service," I am obliged to keep my word; otherwise this man would soon know what to expect, and my fraud would be quickly unmasked.

II.1.58

But suppose I say to him, "In exchange for services from you, I shall confer immense services upon you, not in this world but in the next. Whether, after this life, you are to be eternally happy or wretched depends entirely upon me; I am an intermediary between God and man, and can, as I see fit, open to you the gates of heaven or of hell." If this man believes me, he is at my mercy.

II.1.59

This sort of imposture has been widely practiced since the beginning of the world, and the extent of the power which the Egyptian priests attained by such means is well known.

II.1.60

It is easy to understand how impostors operate. It is enough to ask yourself what you would do in their place.

II.1.61

If, with designs of this sort, I were to find myself among an ignorant people, and if, by some extraordinary and apparently miraculous deed, I were to succeed in passing myself off as a supernatural being, I should profess to be a messenger from God, with absolute power to control the future destinies of men.

II.1.62

Next, I should forbid any examination of my claims. I should go further: since reason would be my most dangerous enemy, I should forbid the use of reason itself, at least as applied to this awesome subject. I should render this question, and all questions related to it, taboo, as the savages say. To answer them, to ask them, even to think of them, would be an unpardonable crime.

II.1.63

It would certainly be the acme of ingenuity thus to set up a taboo as a barrier to all intellectual avenues that might lead to the discovery of my imposture. What could better guarantee its permanence than to make even doubt an act of sacrilege?

II.1.64

However, to this fundamental guarantee I should add some auxiliary ones. For instance, so that knowledge might never be diffused among the masses, I should confer upon myself, as well as upon my accomplices, a monopoly over all the sciences; I should hide them under the veil of a dead language and a hieroglyphic alphabet; and, in order never to be caught unawares by any danger, I should take care to devise some institution that would allow me to penetrate, by day, into the hidden recesses of every man’s conscience.

II.1.65

It would not be amiss for me to satisfy some of the real needs of my people, especially if, by doing so, I were able to increase my influence and authority. For instance, men have a great need for education and morality, and I should make myself the source of both. In that way I should guide as I wished the minds and hearts of my people. I should establish an indissoluble connection between morality and my authority by representing them as unable to exist without one another, so that if anyone dared to raise a tabooed question, the whole of society, which cannot survive without morality, would feel the earth tremble beneath its feet and would turn its wrath upon this rash innovator.

II.1.66

When things reached such a point, these people would evidently belong to me more than if they were my slaves. The slave curses his chains; my people would bless theirs, and I should have succeeded in stamping the seal of servitude, not on their brows, but on their very hearts and consciences.

II.1.67

Public opinion alone can knock down such an edifice of iniquity; but where is it to begin, if every stone is tabooed? This must be the work of time and the printing press.

II.1.68

God forbid that I should seek here to disturb those comforting beliefs that view this life of sorrows as but a prelude to a future life of happiness! But that the irresistible yearning that impels us to accept such beliefs has been shamefully exploited, no one, not even the Pope, could deny. There is, it seems to me, one sign by which it is possible to determine whether or not people have been victimized in this way. Examine the religion and the priest, and see whether the priest is the instrument of the religion, or the religion is the instrument of the priest.

II.1.69

If the priest is the instrument of the religion, if his only thought is to disseminate everywhere its ethical principles and its beneficial influence, he will be gentle, tolerant, humble, charitable, and zealous; his life will resemble that of his divine model; he will preach freedom and equality among men, and peace and brotherhood among nations; he will resist the temptations of temporal power, since he will want no ties with that which, of all things in this world, has the greatest need of restraint; he will be a man of the people, a man of good counsel and tender consolation, a man whose opinion is esteemed, and a man obedient to the Gospel.

II.1.70

If, on the contrary, the religion is the instrument of the priest, he will treat it as one does an instrument that one modifies, bends, or twists to his own purposes, so as to derive from it the greatest possible advantage for oneself. He will multiply the number of tabooed questions; he will adjust his moral principles to suit changing times, men, and circumstances. He will try to awe the populace with his studied gestures and poses; a hundred times a day he will mumble words that have long since lost all their meaning and have become mere empty conventionalities. He will traffic in relics, but only just enough not to shake people’s faith in their sanctity; and he will take care that the more perceptive the people become, the less obvious his trafficking will be. He will involve himself in worldly intrigues; and he will always side with those in power on the sole condition that those in power side with him. In brief, from every one of his acts it will be clear that what he is aiming at is, not to advance religion by means of the clergy, but to advance the clergy by means of religion; and since so much effort implies an end, and as this end, according to our hypothesis, can be nothing other than power and wealth, the conclusive proof that the people have been duped is that the priest is rich and powerful.

II.1.71

Quite clearly, one can misuse a true religion as well as a false one. Indeed, the more worthy of respect its authority is, the greater is the danger that it may be improperly employed. But there is a great deal of difference in the consequences. The abuse of such authority always outrages the sound, enlightened, self-reliant members of the population. Their faith cannot but be shaken, and the weakening of a true religion is far more lamentable than the crumbling of a false one.

II.1.72

The extent to which this method of plunder is practiced is always in inverse proportion to the perspicacity of the people, since it is in the nature of abuses to go as far as they can. Not that high-minded and dedicated priests cannot be found in the midst of the most ignorant people; but what is to stop a knave from donning the cassock and seeking to wear the miter? Plunderers conform to the Malthusian law: they multiply with the means of existence; and the means of existence of knaves is the credulity of their dupes. Seek as one will, there is no substitute for an informed and enlightened public opinion. It is the only remedy.

II.1.73

Another sort of plunder is known as commercial fraud, a term that seems to me much too restricted, for the guilty ones include not only the merchant who adulterates his goods or gives short weight, but also the quack doctor and the pettifogging lawyer. In such cases, one of the two services exchanged consists of debased coin; but since the service received was first voluntarily agreed upon, it is evident that plunder of this kind should diminish as the public becomes better informed.

II.1.74

Next comes the misuse of government services—an immense field for plunder, so immense that we can only glance at it.

II.1.75

If God had made man a solitary animal, everyone would labor for himself. Individual wealth would be in proportion to the services that each man performed for himself.

II.1.76

But, since man is a social creature, services are exchanged for services—a proposition whose terms you can transpose, if you are so minded.

II.1.77

The members of society have certain needs that are so general, so universal, that provision is made for them by organizing government services. Among these requirements is the need for security. People agree to tax themselves in order to pay, in the form of services of various kinds, those who perform the service of seeing to the common security.

II.1.78

This arrangement in no way conflicts with the principle of exchange as formulated in political economy: Do this for me, and I will do that for you. The essence of the transaction is the same; only the method of payment is different; but this fact is very important.

II.1.79

In ordinary, private transactions each party remains the sole judge both of the service he receives and of the service he performs. He can always either decline the exchange or make it elsewhere; hence the need of offering in the market only such services as will find voluntary acceptance.

II.1.80

This has not been true of the state, especially prior to the establishment of representative government. Whether or not we need its services, whether they are real or spurious, we are always obliged to accept what it provides and to pay the price that it sets.

II.1.81

Now, it is the tendency of all men to exaggerate the services that they render and to minimize the services they receive; and chaos would reign if we did not have, in private transactions, the assurance of a negotiated price.

II.1.82

This assurance is completely, or almost completely, lacking in our transactions with the government. And yet the state, which, after all, is composed of men (although nowadays this is denied, at least by implication), obeys the universal tendency. It wants to serve us a great deal—more, indeed, than we desire—and to make us accept as real services what are often far from being such, and all this for the purpose of exacting some services from us in return in the form of taxes.

II.1.83

The state too is subject to the Malthusian law. It tends to expand in proportion to its means of existence and to live beyond its means, and these are, in the last analysis, nothing but the substance of the people. Woe to the people that cannot limit the sphere of action of the state! Freedom, private enterprise, wealth, happiness, independence, personal dignity, all vanish.

II.1.84

For there is one circumstance that must be noted: Among the services that we demand of the state, the chief is security. To assure us this, it must have at its command a force capable of overcoming all individual or collective, domestic or foreign forces that might imperil it. In combination with that fatal disposition that we have observed among men to live at the expense of others, this fact makes for a situation that is obviously fraught with danger.

II.1.85

To appreciate this, one has only to consider on what a vast scale, throughout history, plunder has been practiced by way of the abuses and excesses of government. One has only to ask oneself what services were performed for the people, and what services were exacted from them, by the governments of Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Persia, Turkey, China, Russia, England, Spain, and France. The enormous disparity between the one and the other in each case staggers the imagination.

II.1.86

At last, representative government was established, and one might have supposed, a priori, that all this would come to an end as if by magic.

II.1.87

In fact, such governments are based on the following principle:

II.1.88

"The people themselves, through their representatives, will determine the nature and extent of the functions that they regard as proper to be established as government services, and the amount they propose to pay in remuneration for these services."

II.1.89

The tendency to appropriate the property of others was thereby placed in direct confrontation with the tendency to defend one’s own property. There was every reason to expect that the latter would overcome the former.

II.1.90

To be sure, I am convinced that in the long run the system of representative government will succeed. Yet it must be admitted that up to now it has not done so.

II.1.91

Why? For two quite simple reasons: Governments have had too much discernment, and people have had too little.

II.1.92

Governments are very adroit. They act methodically, step by step, according to a well-contrived plan that is constantly being improved by tradition and experience. They study men and their passions. If they perceive, for instance, that the people are inclined to war, they incite and inflame this calamitous propensity. By their diplomacy they surround the nation with dangers, and, as a natural consequence, they demand that it provide soldiers, sailors, arsenals, and fortifications. Often, in fact, they do not need to go to the trouble of making such demands, for everything they want is offered to them. Then they have jobs, pensions, and promotions to distribute. All this requires a great deal of money; hence, they impose taxes and float loans.

II.1.93

If the nation is open-handed, the government offers to cure all the ills of mankind. It promises to restore commerce, make agriculture prosperous, expand industry, encourage arts and letters, wipe out poverty, etc., etc. All that is needed is to create some new government agencies and to pay a few more bureaucrats.

II.1.94

In a word, the tactic consists in initiating, in the guise of actual services, what are nothing but restrictions; thereafter the nation pays, not for being served, but for being disserved. Governments, assuming gigantic proportions, end by absorbing half of the national income. The people are astonished to find that, while they hear of wonderful inventions that are to multiply goods without end, they are working as hard as ever and are still no better off than before.

II.1.95

The trouble is that, while the government has been acting with so much ability, the people have shown practically none. Thus, when called upon to choose those who are to be entrusted with the powers of government, those who are to determine the sphere of and the payment for governmental action, whom do they choose? Government officials. They entrust the executive authority itself with the power to fix the limits of its own activities and requirements. They act like Molière’s would-be gentleman, who, for the selection and the number of his suits, relied upon—his tailor.6*

II.1.96

In the meanwhile, things go from bad to worse, and at last people open their eyes, not to the remedy (for they have not yet progressed to that point), but to the evil.

II.1.97

Governing is so pleasurable a profession that everyone aspires to engage in it. Hence, the demagogues never cease telling the people: "We are aware of your sufferings, and we deplore them. Things would be different if we were governing you."

II.1.98

This period, which is ordinarily quite long, is one of rebellions and insurrections. If the people are conquered, the costs of the war are added to their tax burden. If they are the conquerors, the government changes hands, and the abuses continue.

II.1.99

And this goes on until the people learn to recognize and defend their true interests. Thus, we always reach the same conclusion: The only remedy is in the progressive enlightenment of public opinion.

II.1.100

Certain nations seem particularly liable to fall prey to governmental plunder. They are those in which men, lacking faith in their own dignity and capability, would feel themselves lost if they were not governed and administered every step of the way. Without having traveled a great deal, I have seen countries in which the people think that agriculture can make no progress unless the government supports experimental farms; that soon there will no longer be any horses, if the government does not provide studs; that fathers will not have their children educated, or will have them taught only immorality, if the government does not decide what it is proper to learn; etc., etc. In such countries, revolutions may come in rapid succession, with governments falling one after another; but the governed are none the less governed at the discretion and the mercy of the rulers (for the propensity that I am discussing here is the very stuff of which governments are made), until the people finally come to realize that it is better to leave the greatest possible number of services to be exchanged by the interested parties at a freely negotiated price.7*

II.1.101

We have seen that society consists in the exchange of services. It should be an exchange of only good and honest services. But we have also shown that men have a great interest in, and consequently an irresistible inclination toward, exaggerating the relative value of the services they perform. I cannot, indeed, see any other limit to these pretensions than the voluntary acceptance or rejection of the exchange on the part of those to whom the services are offered.

II.1.102

Hence, certain men have recourse to the law in order to abridge the natural prerogatives of this freedom on the part of other men. This kind of plunder is called privilege or monopoly. Let us be very clear about its origin and character.

II.1.103

Everyone knows that the services that he offers in the general market will be evaluated and remunerated in proportion to their scarcity. Everyone, therefore, will seek the enactment of a law that will keep from the market all those prepared to offer services similar to his own; or, what amounts to the same thing, if the employment of some means of production is indispensable for the performance of the service, he will ask the law for exclusive possession of it.8*

II.1.104

I shall say little about this variety of plunder here, limiting myself to one comment only.

II.1.105

An isolated case of monopoly never fails to enrich those to whom the law has granted it. It may then happen that each class of producers, instead of seeking to destroy this monopoly, will demand for itself a similar monopoly. This kind of plunder, thus reduced to a system, then becomes the most ridiculous practical joke on everybody, and the ultimate result is that each person thinks he is getting more out of a general market in which the supply of everything is being lessened.

II.1.106

It is needless to add that this extraordinary system also sows the seeds of universal discord among all classes, all professions, and all nations; that it requires the constant, but always unpredictable, interference of the government; that it therefore abounds in the type of abuses described in the preceding paragraph; that it renders every industrial enterprise desperately insecure, and accustoms men to making the law, and not themselves, responsible for their livelihood. It would be difficult to imagine a more prolific source of social disturbance.9*

Justification

II.1.107

It may be asked: "Why this ugly word plunder? Besides being crude, it is offensive and irritating; it only turns calm and temperate men against you and embitters the whole controversy."

II.1.108

I submit that I do respect individuals; I do believe in the sincerity of practically all the advocates of protectionism; and I do not arrogate to myself the right to question the personal honesty, scrupulosity, or humanitarianism of anyone. I repeat that protectionism is the consequence—the fateful consequence—of a common error of which all men, or at least the great majority of them, are at once victims and accomplices. But, after all, I cannot prevent things from being as they are.

II.1.109

Imagine a sort of Diogenes thrusting his head out of his tub and saying, "Athenians, you force slaves to serve you. Has it never occurred to you that you are practicing upon your brothers the most iniquitous kind of plunder?"

II.1.110

Or imagine a tribune speaking as follows in the Forum: "Romans, you have based your whole way of life on the successive pillaging of all other nations."

II.1.111

To be sure, they would only have been expressing incontestable truths. Must we therefore conclude that Athens and Rome were inhabited exclusively by dishonest people, and that Socrates and Plato, Cato and Cincinnatus were despicable individuals?

II.1.112

Who could harbor such a thought? After all, these great men lived in an environment that made them unconscious of their injustice. It is well known that Aristotle could not even conceive of the idea of a society that would be capable of existing without slavery.

II.1.113

In modern times, slavery has continued to our own day without causing the plantation owners many qualms of conscience. Armies have served as instruments for large-scale conquests—in other words, for acts of plunder on a large scale. Does this mean that they are not well provided with officers and men as individually scrupulous as, and perhaps more scrupulous than, the ordinary run of men engaged in industrial pursuits—men who would blush at the very thought of theft, and who would face a thousand deaths rather than stoop to a single disgraceful action?

II.1.114

It is not individuals who are to blame, but the general tendency of public opinion that blinds and misleads them—a tendency of which the whole of society is guilty.

II.1.115

The same is true of monopoly. I accuse the system, and not individuals; society as a whole, and not any of its members in particular. If the greatest philosophers were incapable of seeing the iniquity of slavery, how much easier it is for farmers and manufacturers to deceive themselves concerning the nature and effects of protectionism!

Notes for this chapter

*

[The second series of Economic Sophisms, several chapters of which had been published in the Journal des économistes and the newspaper, Le Libre échange, appeared at the end of January 1848.—EDITOR.]

Second Series, Chapter 1

1.

[Cf., in Vol. VI (of the French edition), chaps. 18, 19, 22, and 24, for the further remarks planned and begun by the author on "Disturbing Factors" (Economic Harmonies, chap. 18) affecting the harmony of natural laws.—EDITOR.]

2.

[This quotation is from Part One of the Discourse on Inequality by J. J. Rousseau (1712-1778), a French philosopher. Bastiat was so impressed it that he referred to it five times in his Economic Harmonies.—TRANSLATOR.]

3.

[Cf., in Vol. I (of the French edition), the letter addressed to the President of the Peace Congress at Frankfort.—EDITOR.]

4.

[The reference is to such French West Indian islands as Martinique and Guadeloupe, where slavery existed until 1848 or later.—TRANSLATOR.]

5.

[More efficient (and humane) methods of production in India had resulted in a sharp drop in indigo productions by slave labor in the West Indies.—TRANSLATOR.]

6.

[Cf., in Vol. I (of the French edition), the letter addressed to M. Larnac; and in Vol. V (of the French edition), "Parliamentary Inconsistencies."—EDITOR.]

7.

[Cf. Selected Essays on Political Economy, chap. 5, "The State," and chap. 2, "The Law," and Economic Harmonies, chap. 17, "Private and Public Services."—EDITOR.]

8.

[For the distinction between true monopolies and what have been called natural monopolies, cf., in Economic Harmonies, chap. 5, note 2, accompanying the analysis of Adam Smith's theory of value.—EDITOR.]

9.

[The author was soon to witness an increase in this source of disruption and to wage energetic war against it. Cf. Selected Essays on Political Economy, chap. 5, "The State"; Vol. II (of the French edition), "Disastrous Illusions," and Vol. VI (of the French edition), the final pages of chap. 4.—EDITOR.]

Second Series, Chapter 2

End of Notes

Start PREVIOUS

31 of 46

NEXT End

Second Series, Chapter 2

Two Systems of Ethics

II.2.1

Having arrived—if he does arrive—at the end of the preceding chapter, the reader may well exclaim:

II.2.2

"Well, was I wrong to accuse economists of being dry and cold? What a portrait of mankind! Plunder is represented as an omnipresent force, almost a normal phenomenon, assuming every guise, practiced under any pretext, legal or extralegal, perverting to its own purposes all that is most sacred, exploiting weakness and credulity by turns, and constantly growing by what it feeds on! Could any more depressing picture of the world be imagined?"

II.2.3

But the question is, not whether it is depressing, but whether it is true. History says that it is.

II.2.4

It is rather odd that those who denounce political economy (or economism, as they are pleased to call this science) for studying man and the world just as they are, take a far gloomier view, at least of the past and the present, than the economists do. The books and newspapers of the socialists are full of such bitterness and hatred toward society that the very word civilization has come to be for them synonymous with injustice, civil disorder, and anarchy. So little confidence do they have in the natural capacity of the human race to improve and progress of its own accord that they have even gone so far as to condemn freedom, which, as they see it, is every day driving mankind closer to the edge of doom.

II.2.5

It is true that they are optimists in regard to the future. For, although mankind, in itself incompetent, has been on the wrong track for six millennia, a prophet has come who has shown men the way to salvation; and if the flock will only be docile enough to follow the shepherd, he will lead it into the promised land where prosperity may be attained without effort, and where order, security, and harmony are the easy reward of improvidence.

II.2.6

All that men have to do is to permit the reformers to change, as Rousseau said, their physical and moral constitution.

II.2.7

Political economy has not been given the mission of finding out what society would be like if it had pleased God to make man different from what he is. It may be regrettable that Providence, at the beginning, neglected to seek the advice of some of our modern social reformers. And just as the celestial mechanism would have been quite different if the Creator had consulted Alfonso the Learned;10* so too, if He had not disregarded the advice of Fourier, the social order would have borne no resemblance to the one in which we are obliged to live, breathe, and move about. But, since we are in it, since we do live, move, and have our being in it, our only recourse is to study it and to understand its laws, especially if the improvement of our condition essentially depends upon such knowledge.

II.2.8

We cannot prevent an endless succession of unsatisfied desires from springing up in men’s hearts.

II.2.9

We cannot render it possible for these desires to be satisfied without labor.

II.2.10

We cannot close our eyes to the fact that labor is as repugnant to mankind as its fruits are attractive.

II.2.11

We cannot prevent men, since they are so constituted, from engaging in a constant effort to increase their share of the fruits of labor, while throwing upon one another, by force or fraud, the burden of its pains.

II.2.12

It is not within our competence to erase the whole record of human history, or to silence the voice of the past, which attests that this is the way things have been since the beginning of time. We cannot deny that war, slavery, serfdom, theocracy, the excesses of government, privileges, frauds of every kind, and monopolies have been the indisputable and terrifying manifestations of these two sentiments united in the heart of man: fondness for the fruits of toil and repugnance to its pains.

II.2.13

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread." But everyone wants as much bread and as little sweat as possible. History provides conclusive proof of this.

II.2.14

Thank heaven, history also shows that the distribution of the fruits and the pains among the members of the human race is approaching ever more nearly to equality.

II.2.15

Unless one is prepared to deny the obvious, it must be admitted that at least in this respect society has made some progress.

II.2.16

In that case, there must exist in society some natural and providential force, some law that causes iniquity progressively to decline and justice no less inexorably to prevail.

II.2.17

We say that this force exists within society, and that God has put it there. If it were not already there, we should be reduced, like the utopians, to resorting to artificial means for producing it, by arrangements that would require the preliminary alteration of the physical and moral constitution of man; or rather, we should consider the effort to produce such a force useless and vain, because we cannot understand how a lever can operate without a fulcrum.

II.2.18

Let us try, therefore, to identify the beneficent force that tends progressively to overcome the maleficent force which we call plunder, and whose existence is all too well demonstrated by reason and proved by experience.

II.2.19

Every maleficent action necessarily has two termini: its point of origin and its point of impact; the man who performs the action, and the man upon whom the action is performed; or, in the language of the schools, the agent and the patient.

II.2.20

There are, thus, two possible ways of preventing the maleficent action from taking effect: the agent may voluntarily abstain, or the patient may resist.

II.2.21

This fact gives rise to two systems of ethics that, far from contradicting each other, concur in their conclusions: religious or philosophical ethics and utilitarian ethics, which I shall permit myself to call economic.

II.2.22

Religious ethics, in order to prevent a maleficent action, addresses its author—man in his active role. It says to him: "Reform and purify thyself; cease to do evil; do good; subdue thy passions; sacrifice thine own interests; do not oppress thy neighbor, for it is thy duty to love and to comfort him; be first just and then charitable." This code of ethics will always be the more beautiful and the more moving of the two, the one that displays the human race in all its majesty, that better lends itself to impassioned eloquence, and is better fitted to arouse the admiration and sympathy of mankind.

II.2.23

The economic, or utilitarian, system of ethics has the same end in view, but above all addresses itself to man in his passive role. Merely by showing him the necessary consequences of his acts, it stimulates him to oppose those that injure him, and to honor those that are useful to him. It strives to disseminate enough good sense, knowledge, and justifiable mistrust among the oppressed masses to make oppression more and more difficult and dangerous.

II.2.24

It should be noted that utilitarian ethics is not without its influence upon the oppressor as well. A maleficent action produces both good and evil effects: evil for him who is subjected to it; and good for him who performs it, or else it would not have been performed. But the good effects by no means compensate for the evil. The evil is always, and necessarily, greater than the good, because the very act of oppressing involves a waste of energy, creates dangers, provokes reprisals, and demands costly precautions. The mere demonstration of these effects not only stimulates a reaction on the part of the oppressed, but attracts to the side of justice all those whose hearts have not been corrupted and disturbs the security of the oppressors themselves.

II.2.25

But it is easy to understand that this system of ethics, which is more implicit than explicit; which, after all, is only a scientific demonstration; which would even lose some of its efficacy if it changed its character; which addresses itself, not to the heart, but to the mind; which seeks, not to persuade, but to convince; which gives, not counsel, but proofs; whose mission is, not to arouse, but to enlighten; and which wins over evil no other victory than that of denying it sustenance—it is easy to understand, I say, that this system of ethics has been accused of being dry and prosaic.

II.2.26

The reproach is true, but unfair. It amounts to saying that political economy does not tell us everything, does not include everything, is not the universal science. But who in the world has ever made so sweeping a claim for it?

II.2.27

The accusation would be justified only if political economy pretended that its procedures gave it exclusive dominion over the entire moral realm, and if it had the presumption to forbid philosophy and religion the use of their own direct methods of working for the improvement of mankind.

II.2.28

Let us welcome, then, the concurrent action of moral philosophy properly so called and political economy—the one stigmatizing the evil deed in our conscience by exposing it in all its hideousness, and the other discrediting it in our judgment by the description of its effects.

II.2.29

Let us even concede that the triumph of the religious moralist, when it occurs, is more noble, more encouraging, and more fundamental. But at the same time it is difficult not to acknowledge that the triumph of economics is more easy to secure and more certain.

II.2.30

In a few lines that are worth more than many ponderous volumes, J. B. Say some time ago observed that there are two possible ways of bringing to an end the dissensions introduced by hypocrisy into a respectable family: to reform Tartuffe or to make Orgon less of a fool.11* Molière, that great depictor of the human heart, seems to have had constantly in mind the second procedure as the more efficacious.

II.2.31

The same is true on the world’s stage.

II.2.32

Tell me what Caesar did, and I shall describe to you the Romans of his day.

II.2.33

Tell me what modern diplomacy accomplishes, and I shall describe for you the moral condition of the nations of the world.

II.2.34

We should not be paying close to two billions in taxes if we did not delegate the power of voting them to those that consume them.

II.2.35

We should not have all the difficulties and all the expenses of the African problem if we were as well convinced that two and two is four in political economy as in arithmetic.12*

II.2.36

M. Guizot would not have had occasion to say: "France is rich enough to pay for its glory," if France had not been infatuated with false glory.13*

II.2.37

The same statesman would never have said, "Liberty is too precious for France to haggle over its price," if France really understood that heavy government expenditures and liberty are incompatible.

II.2.38

It is not, as people think, the monopolists, but the monopolized, that sustain the monopolies.

II.2.39

And, in regard to elections, it is not because there are corrupters that people are corruptible, but the reverse; and the proof consists in the fact that the latter pay all the costs of corruption. Is it not, then, their responsibility to bring it to an end?

II.2.40

Let religious ethics soften, if it can, the hearts of the Tartuffes, the Caesars, the colonialists, the sinecurists, the monopolists, etc. The task of political economy is to enlighten their dupes.

II.2.41

Of these two methods, which is the more efficacious in promoting social progress? If this question requires any answer at all, I should say it is the second. Mankind, I fear, cannot escape the necessity of first learning a defensive system of ethics.

II.2.42

In vain have I investigated, read, observed, and inquired: nowhere do I find any abuse, practiced to any considerable extent, that has perished by voluntary renunciation on the part of those who were profiting from it.

II.2.43

I see many, on the contrary, that are yielding to the manly opposition of those who suffer from them.

II.2.44

To describe the consequences of abuses is therefore the most efficacious means of destroying them. And this is true particularly in regard to abuses that, like the system of protectionism, while inflicting real hardships on the masses, prove only an illusion and a disappointment to those who expect to profit from them.

II.2.45

Does this mean that utilitarian ethics will, of itself, bring about all the social improvement that the sympathetic nature of the human soul and of its noblest faculties leads one to hope for and expect? I am far from making such a claim. Let us assume the universal diffusion of this defensive system of ethics, which is, after all, nothing but the acknowledgment that the rightly understood interests of all men are consonant with justice and the general welfare. A society based on such principles, although certainly well regulated, might not be very attractive; for it would be one in which there would no longer be any swindlers only because there would no longer be any dupes; where vice, always latent and, so to speak, enervated by famine, would need only a little sustenance to revive; where prudence on the part of everyone would be enjoined by the vigilance of everyone else; where, in short, reform, although regulating external acts, would not have penetrated beneath the surface to the consciences of men. We sometimes see such a society typified in one of those sticklers for exact justice who are prepared to resist the slightest infringement of their rights and are skillful at warding off encroachments from any quarter. You respect and may, perhaps, even admire him; you would choose him as your deputy, but you would not choose him as your friend.

II.2.46

These two systems of ethics, instead of engaging in mutual recriminations, should be working together to attack evil at each of its poles. While the economists are doing their work—opening the eyes of the credulous, uprooting prejudices, arousing justifiable and necessary mistrust of every type of fraud, studying and describing the true nature of things and actions—let the religious moralist, on his part, perform his more agreeable, but more difficult, task. Let him engage in hand-to-hand combat with iniquity; let him pursue it into the most secret recesses of the human heart; let him depict the delights of beneficence, self-denial, and self-sacrifice; let him tap the springs of virtue where we can but dry up the springs of vice—that is his task. It is a noble and glorious one. But why should he dispute the utility of the one that has devolved upon us?

II.2.47

Would not a society that, without being intrinsically virtuous, was nevertheless well regulated by the action of the economic system of ethics (by which I mean nothing more than knowledge of political economy), offer opportunities for the progress of religious morality?

II.2.48

Habit, it has been said, is a second nature.

II.2.49

A country in which everyone has been long unaccustomed to injustice solely as a result of the resistance of enlightened public opinion might still be a sorry place to live in. But it seems to me that it would at least be ready to receive precepts of a purer and higher order. To have become unaccustomed to doing evil is already to have taken a long stride toward becoming good. Men cannot remain stationary. Turned aside from the path of vice, which would lead only to ignominy, they would feel the attraction of virtue all the more.

II.2.50

Perhaps society must pass through this prosaic stage, in which men practice virtue out of self-interest, so that they may thence rise to the more poetic sphere in which they will no longer have need of such a motive.

Notes for this chapter

10.

[Alfonso X (the Learned), ruler of Castile from 1252 until 1284, a weak king but a man of encyclopedic interests. He is supposed once to have observed, as Bartlett's Familiar Quotations has it: "Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe."—TRANSLATOR.]

11.

[In Molière's comedy, Tartuffe, or the Impostor, Tartuffe is the scheming hypocrite, and Orgon his well-meaning dupe.—TRANSLATOR.]

12.

[The African problem constituted a series of costly military expeditions by the French to conquer Algeria.—TRANSLATOR.]

13.

[François Pierre Guillaume Guizot (1787-1874), French statesman and historian, chief rival of Thiers for political power in the 1840's. He urged the French people to devote themselves to making money, opposed domestic reforms, and was friendly toward Britain.—TRANSLATOR.]

Second Series, Chapter 3

End of Notes

Start PREVIOUS

32 of 46

NEXT End

Second Series, Chapter 3

The Two Hatchets

Petition of Jacques Bonhomme,14* Carpenter,

to M. Cunin-Gridaine,15* Minister of Commerce

II.3.1

Mr. Manufacturer and Cabinet Minister:

II.3.2

I am a carpenter, as Jesus was; I wield the hatchet and the adze to serve you.

II.3.3

Now, while I was chopping and hewing from dawn to dusk on the states of our lord the king, it occurred to me that my labor is as much a part of our domestic industry as yours.

II.3.4

And ever since, I have been unable to see any reason why protection should not come to the aid of my woodyard as well as your factory.

II.3.5

For after all, if you make cloth, I make roofs. We both, in different ways, shelter our customers from the cold and the rain.

II.3.6

Yet I have to run after my customers, whereas yours run after you. You have found a way of forcing them to do so by preventing them from supplying themselves elsewhere, while my customers are free to turn to whomever they like.

II.3.7

What is so astonishing about this? M. Cunin, the cabinet minister, has not forgotten M. Cunin, the textile manufacturer: that is only natural. But, alas, my humble craft has given no cabinet minister to France, although it did give a God to the world.

II.3.8

And in the immortal code this God bequeathed to man, there is not the slightest expression that could be interpreted as authorizing carpenters to enrich themselves at the expense of others, as you do.

II.3.9

Consider my position, then. I earn thirty sous a day, except Sundays and holidays. If I offer you my services at the same time as a Flemish carpenter offers you his, and if he is prepared to work for a sou less than I, you will prefer him.

II.3.10

But suppose I want to buy myself a suit of clothes? If a Belgian textile manufacturer offers his cloth on the market in competition with yours, you drive both him and his cloth out of the country.

II.3.11

Thus, forced to enter your shop, although it is the more expensive, my poor thirty sous are really worth only twenty-eight.

II.3.12

What am I saying! They are not worth more than twenty-six, for instead of expelling the Belgian manufacturer at your expense (which would be the very least you could do), you make me pay for the people whom, in your interest, you set at his heels.

II.3.13

And since a great number of your fellow legislators, with whom you have a perfect understanding, each takes from me a sou or two—one under the pretext of protecting iron; another, coal; this one, oil; and that one, wheat—I find, when everything is taken into account, that of my thirty sous I have been able to save only fifteen from being plundered.

II.3.14

You will doubtless tell me that these little sous, which pass in this way, without compensation, from my pocket to yours, provide a livelihood for the people around your castle and enable you to live in grand style. May I point out to you in reply that if you left the money in my hands, it would have provided a livelihood for the people around me.

II.3.15

Be that as it may, Mr. Cabinet Minister and Manufacturer, knowing that I should be ill-received, I do not come to you and demand, as I have a full right to do, that you withdraw the restriction you are imposing on your customers; I prefer to follow the prevailing fashion and claim a little protection for myself.

II.3.16

At this point, you will raise a difficulty for me: "My friend," you will tell me, "I should really like to protect you and others of your craft; but how are we to go about conferring tariff benefits upon the work of carpenters? Are we to forbid the importation of houses by land or by sea?"

II.3.17

This would quite obviously be absurd; but, by dint of much reflection on the matter, I have discovered another means of benefiting the sons of St. Joseph; and you will welcome it all the more readily, I hope, as it in no way differs from the means you employed in maintaining the privilege that you vote for yourself every year.

II.3.18

The wonderful means I have in mind consists in forbidding the use of sharp hatchets in France.

II.3.19

I maintain that this restriction would be no more illogical or more arbitrary than the one to which you subject us in the case of your cloth.

II.3.20

Why do you drive out the Belgians? Because they undersell you. And why do they undersell you? Because they are in some respect superior to you as textile manufacturers.

II.3.21

Between you and a Belgian, consequently, there is exactly the same difference as between a dull hatchet and a sharp hatchet.

II.3.22

And you are forcing me—me, a carpenter—to buy from you the product of a dull hatchet.

II.3.23

Look upon France as a workman who is trying, by his labor, to obtain everything he needs, including cloth.

II.3.24

There are two possible ways of doing this:

II.3.25

The first is to spin and weave the wool himself.

II.3.26

The second is to produce other commodities—for instance, clocks, wallpaper, or wine—and to exchange them with the Belgians for the cloth.

II.3.27

Of these two procedures the one that gives the better result may be represented by the sharp hatchet; the other, by the dull hatchet.

II.3.28

You do not deny that at present, in France, it requires more labor to obtain a piece of cloth directly from our looms (the dull hatchet) than indirectly by way of our vines (the sharp hatchet). You are so far from denying this that it is precisely because of this additional toil (which, according to you, is what wealth consists in) that you request, nay more, you impose, the use of the poorer of the two hatchets.

II.3.29

Now, at least be consistent; be impartial; and if you mean to be just, give us poor carpenters the same treatment you give yourself.

II.3.30

Enact a law to this effect:

II.3.31

"No one shall use beams or joists save those produced by dull hatchets."

II.3.32

Consider what the immediate consequences will be.

II.3.33

Where we now strike a hundred blows with the hatchet, we shall then strike three hundred. What we now do in one hour will take three hours. What a mighty stimulus to employment! Apprentices, journeymen, and masters, there will no longer be enough of us. We shall be in demand, and therefore well paid. Whoever wants to have a roof made will be henceforth obliged to accept our demands, just as whoever wants cloth today is obliged to submit to yours.

II.3.34

And if the free-trade theorists ever dare to call into question the utility of this measure, we shall know perfectly well where to find a crushing retort. It is in your parliamentary report of 1834. We shall beat them over the head with it, for in it you have made a wonderful plea on behalf of protectionism and of dull hatchets, which are simply two names for one and the same thing.

Notes for this chapter

14.

[The nickname for French peasants as a class.—TRANSLATOR.]

15.

[Laurent Cunin-Gridaine (1778-1859), a textile manufacturer, Deputy, Minister of Commerce, and extreme advocate of protectionist policies.—TRANSLATOR.]

Second Series, Chapter 4

End of Notes

Start PREVIOUS

33 of 46

NEXT End

Second Series, Chapter 4

Subordinate Labor Council

II.4.1

"What! You have the effrontery to demand for all citizens the right to buy, sell, barter, and exchange, to render and receive service for service, and settle on the price among themselves, on the sole condition that they carry on these transactions honestly and pay their taxes? What are you trying to do—deprive workingmen of their jobs, their wages, and their bread?"

II.4.2

This is what people say to us. I know what to think of it myself, but I wanted to know what the workers themselves think of it.

II.4.3

I had at hand an excellent instrument of inquiry.

II.4.4

It was not one of those supreme industrial councils, where big landlords who call themselves farmers, influential shipowners who think of themselves as sailors, and wealthy stockholders who pretend to be laborers, practice their well-known form of humanitarianism.

II.4.5

No; it was bona fide workingmen, real workingmen, as they say today—joiners, carpenters, masons, tailors, shoemakers, dyers, blacksmiths, innkeepers, grocers, etc., etc.—who in my village have established a mutual-aid society.

II.4.6

I transformed it, by my own personal authority, into a subordinate labor council, and I obtained from it a report that is worth quite as much as any other, though it is not crammed with figures and inflated to the dimensions of a quarto volume printed at government expense.

II.4.7

My aim was to interrogate these good people in regard to the way in which they are, or think they are, affected by the policy of protectionism. The president pointed out to me that this would violate to some extent the principles on which the association was founded. For, in France, in this land of freedom, people who associate give up their right to discuss politics—that is, to take counsel together concerning their common interests. However, after a great deal of hesitation, he agreed to put the question on the agenda.

II.4.8

The council was divided into as many committees as there were groups representing different trades. Each was given a form to be filled out after fifteen days of discussion.

II.4.9

On the designated day, the venerable president took the chair (we are adopting the official style, for in fact it was nothing more than an ordinary kitchen chair), and took from the table (official style again, for it was a table of poplar wood) about fifteen reports, which he read one after another.

II.4.10

The first one submitted was that of the tailors. Here is an exact and authentic copy of its text:

EFFECTS OF PROTECTION—REPORT OF THE TAILORS

Disadvantages

Advantages

1. As a result of the policy of protectionism, we are paying more for bread, meat, sugar, wood, needles, thread, etc., which is equivalent in our case to a considerable loss of income. None.*

2. As a result of the policy of protectionism, our customers also pay more for everything, which leaves them less to spend on clothing. This means less business for us, and therefore smaller profits.

3. As a result of the policy of protectionism, cloth is expensive, so that people put off buying clothes for a longer time and make do with what they have. This again means less business for us and compels us to offer our services at a lower price. * In spite of all our efforts, we found it impossible to discover any respect whatsoever in which the policy of protectionism is of advantage to our business.

II.4.11

Here is another report:

EFFECTS OF PROTECTION—REPORT OF THE BLACKSMITHS

Disadvantages

Advantages

1. Every time we eat, drink, heat our homes, and buy clothing, the policy of protectionism imposes on us a tax that never reaches the treasury. None.

2. It imposes a similar tax on all our fellow citizens who are not blacksmiths; and since they have that much less money, most of them use wooden pegs for nails and a piece of string for a latch, which deprives us of employment.

3. It keeps iron at such a high price that it is not used on farms for plows, gates, or balconies; and our craft, which could provide employment for so many people who need it, does not provide us even with enough for ourselves.

4. The revenue that the tax collector fails to realize from duties on foreign goods that are not imported into the country is added to the tax we pay on salt and postage.

II.4.12

As the same refrain recurs in all the other reports, I spare the reader their perusal. Gardeners, carpenters, shoemakers, clogmakers, boatmen, millers—all gave vent to the same grievances.

II.4.13

I regret that there were no farmers in our association. Their report would certainly have been very instructive.

II.4.14

But alas, in our section—the Landes16*—the poor farmers, well protected though they are, do not have a sou, and after they have insured their livestock, they themselves lack the means of joining a mutual-aid society. The alleged benefits of protection do not prevent them from being the pariahs of our social order. What shall I say of the vineyardists?

II.4.15

What I find particularly noteworthy is the good sense which our villagers showed in perceiving not only the direct injury that the policy of protectionism inflicts on them, but also the indirect injury that, after first affecting their customers, rebounds upon them.

II.4.16

This, I said to myself, is what the economists of the Moniteur industriel apparently do not understand.

II.4.17

And perhaps those—the farmers in particular—whose eyes are dazzled by a little protection would be willing to give it up if they could see this side of the question.

II.4.18

Perhaps they would say to themselves: "It is better to support oneself by one’s own efforts and have customers who are well off than to be protected and have customers who are impoverished."

II.4.19

For to seek to enrich each industry in turn by creating a void around one after another is as futile an endeavor as trying to leap over one’s own shadow.

Notes for this chapter

16.

[A department in southwestern France.—TRANSLATOR.]

Second Series, Chapter 5

End of Notes

Start PREVIOUS

34 of 46

NEXT End

Second Series, Chapter 5

High Prices and Low Prices17*

II.5.1

I feel it my duty to present to the reader certain—alas, theoretical—comments on the illusions to which the expressions high prices and low prices give rise. At first glance, I know, people may be inclined to consider these comments a little abstruse; but the question is, not whether they are abstruse, but whether they are true. Now, I believe that they are not only perfectly true but particularly well suited to raise some doubts in the minds of those—by no means few in number—who have a sincere faith in the efficacy of protectionism.

II.5.2

Whether we are advocates of free trade or proponents of restrictive measures, we are all obliged to make use of the expressions high prices and low prices. The former proclaim themselves in favor of low prices, with a view to the interests of the consumer; the latter declare themselves in favor of high prices, having regard for the interests of the producer. Others take a middle position and say: "The producer and the consumer are one and the same person"; thereby leaving it quite undecided whether the law should aim at high prices or at low.

II.5.3

Faced with this conflict, the law, it would seem, has only one alternative, and that is to permit price to be arrived at naturally. But then one has to meet the objections of the implacable enemies of laissez faire. They absolutely insist that the law intervene, even without knowing in what direction. Yet it is incumbent upon those who want to use the law for the purpose of creating artificially high or unnaturally low prices to explain the grounds of their preference. The burden of proof rests exclusively upon them. Hence, it follows that free trade is always to be deemed good until the contrary is proved, for free trade consists in allowing prices to be arrived at naturally.

II.5.4

But the roles have been reversed. The advocates of high prices have succeeded in making their system prevail, and it is incumbent upon the proponents of natural prices to prove the superiority of theirs. On both sides the argument turns on the meaning of two expressions, and it is therefore essential to ascertain just what these two expressions really mean.

II.5.5

But first we must call attention to a series of events that may well disconcert the champions of both camps.

II.5.6

In order to raise prices, the restrictionists have obtained protective tariffs; and, much to their surprise and disappointment, prices have fallen.

II.5.7

In order to reduce prices, the freetraders have sometimes succeeded in securing the adoption of their program, and, to their great astonishment, what followed was a rise in prices.

II.5.8

For example, in France, in order to favor agriculture, a duty of twenty-two per cent was imposed on foreign wool; and yet domestic wool has been selling at a lower price after the law than it did before.

II.5.9

In England, for the relief of the consumer, the duty on wool was reduced and finally removed entirely; and yet the price of English wool is higher than ever before.

II.5.10

And these are not isolated cases, for there is nothing unique about the price of wool that exempts it from the general law governing all prices. The same result is produced whenever the circumstances are analogous. Contrary to every expectation, a protective tariff has more often brought about a fall, and competition more often a rise, in commodity prices.

II.5.11

Then the debate reached the height of confusion with the protectionists saying to their adversaries: "It is our system that brings about these low prices of which you boast so much," and the latter replying: "It is free trade that brings about those high prices that you find so advantageous."18*

II.5.12

Would it not be amusing to see low prices in this way become the password in the rue Hauteville, and high prices in the rue Choiseul?19*

II.5.13

Evidently there is in all this a misunderstanding, an illusion, that needs to be dispelled, and this is what I shall now attempt to do.

II.5.14

Imagine two isolated nations, each containing a million inhabitants. Suppose that, other things being equal, one of them has twice as much of everything—wheat, meat, iron, furniture, fuel, books, clothing, etc.—as the other. Evidently, then, one is twice as rich as the other.

II.5.15

However, there is no reason to assert that money prices will differ in these two countries. They may even be higher in the richer country. It may be that in the United States everything is nominally more expensive than in Poland, and that the American people are nevertheless better provided in all respects; whence we see that what constitutes wealth is, not the money prices of goods, but their abundance. Hence, when we wish to compare protectionism and free trade, we should not ask which of the two produces low prices and which produces high prices, but which leads to abundance and which leads to scarcity.

II.5.16

For it should be noted that, when products are exchanged, a relative scarcity of everything and a relative abundance of everything leave the money prices of things at exactly the same point, but not the relative condition of the inhabitants of the two countries.

II.5.17

Let us enter a little more deeply into this subject.

II.5.18

When tariff increases and reductions are found to produce effects directly contrary to those expected of them—a fall in prices often following a higher duty, and a rise in prices sometimes accompanying the removal of a duty—it becomes the obligation of political economy to seek an explanation of phenomena that controvert all our accepted ideas; for needless to say, science—if it is to be worthy of the name—is but the faithful description and correct explanation of events.

II.5.19

Now, the one that we are examining here can be quite satisfactorily accounted for by a circumstance that must never be lost sight of, namely, that high prices have two causes, and not just one.

II.5.20

The same is true of low prices.20*

II.5.21

One of the best-established principles of political economy is that prices are determined by the relation between supply and demand.

II.5.22

There are, then, two factors that influence prices: supply and demand. These factors are inherently variable. They can work together in the same direction, or they can work in opposite directions, and in infinitely varied proportions in either case. Hence, prices are the resultant of an inexhaustible number of combinations of these two factors.

II.5.23

Prices may rise, either because the supply diminishes or because the demand increases.

II.5.24

They may fall, either because the supply increases or because the demand diminishes.

II.5.25

Hence, there are two types of high prices and two types of low prices.

II.5.26

High prices of the bad type are the results of diminution in the supply, for this implies scarcity and therefore privation (such as was experienced this year in regard to wheat); high prices of the good type result from an increase in demand, for this presupposes a rise in the general level of prosperity.

II.5.27

In the same way, low prices are desirable when they have their source in abundance, and are lamentable when they are caused by a cessation in demand resulting from the poverty of the consumer.

II.5.28

Now, please observe that a policy of protectionism tends to produce, at the same time, both the bad type of high prices and the bad type of low prices: the bad type of high prices, in that it diminishes the supply of goods—which, indeed, is its avowed purpose; and the bad type of low prices, in that it also reduces demand, since it encourages unwise investment of both capital and labor, and burdens the consumer with taxes and restrictions.

II.5.29

Hence, so far as prices are concerned, these two tendencies neutralize each other; and that is why this system, which restricts demand at the same time as supply, does not in the long run result even in the high prices that are its object.

II.5.30

But, so far as the condition of the population is concerned, these two tendencies do not neutralize each other; on the contrary, they co-operate in making it worse.

II.5.31

The effect of free trade is precisely the opposite. In its general consequences, it may likewise fail to result in the low prices it was intended to produce; for it, too, has two tendencies, the one toward a desirable reduction in prices effected by an increase in the supply, i.e., by way of abundance, and the other toward an appreciable rise in prices resulting from an increase in demand, i.e., in general wealth. These two tendencies neutralize each other in regard to money prices; but they co-operate in improving the well-being of the population.

II.5.32

In short, in so far as a policy of protectionism is put into effect, men retrogress toward a state of affairs in which both supply and demand are enfeebled; under a system of free trade, they advance toward a state of affairs in which both supply and demand increase together without necessarily affecting money prices. Such prices are not a good criterion of wealth. They may very easily remain the same, whether society sinks into the most abject poverty or advances to a high level of prosperity.

II.5.33

The following remarks may serve to illustrate this point briefly.

II.5.34

A farmer in the south of France thinks he has the treasures of Peru in his hand because he is protected by tariffs from foreign competition. It makes no difference that he is as poor as Job; he nonetheless believes that sooner or later the policy of protectionism will make him rich. In these circumstances, if the question is put to him, in the terms in which it was framed by the Odier Committee: "Do you want to be subject to foreign competition—yes or no?" his first reaction is to answer, "No," and the Odier Committee21* proudly gives wide publicity to his answer.

II.5.35

However, one must probe a little more deeply into the matter. Unquestionably, foreign competition—and indeed, competition in general—is always irksome; and if one branch of industry alone could get rid of it, business in that branch would for some time be very profitable.

II.5.36

But protection is not an isolated privilege; it is a system. If it tends to create, to the profit of the farmer, a scarcity of grain and of meat, it tends also to create, to the profit of other producers, a scarcity of iron, of cloth, of fuel, of tools, etc. that is, a scarcity of everything.

II.5.37

Now, if the scarcity of wheat tends to raise its price on account of the diminution in the supply, the scarcity of all the other commodities for which wheat is exchanged tends to lower the price of wheat on account of the diminution in demand; so that it is by no means certain that in the long run the price of wheat will be one centime higher than under a system of free trade. All that is certain is that, since there is less of everything in the country, everyone will be less well provided in every respect.

II.5.38

The farmer really ought to ask himself whether it would not be better for him if a certain quantity of wheat and livestock were imported from abroad, so long as, on the other hand, he was surrounded by a well-to-do population, able to consume and pay for all sorts of agricultural products.

II.5.39

Suppose there were a department in France in which the inhabitants were clothed in rags, dwelt in hovels, and lived on chestnuts. How could you expect agriculture to flourish there? What could you make the earth produce with any reasonable hope of fair return? Meat? It would form no part of their diet. Milk? They would have to be content to drink water. Butter? For them it would be a luxury. Wool? They would use as little of it as possible. Is it to be supposed that all these consumers’ goods could be thus forgone by the masses without exerting a downward pressure on prices concomitantly with the upward pressure exerted by protectionism?

II.5.40

What we have said of the farmer is just as true of the manufacturer. Textile manufacturers assert that foreign competition will lower prices by increasing the supply. Granted; but will not these prices rise again as a result of an increase in demand? Is the consumption of cloth a fixed, invariable quantity? Does everyone have as much of it as he could and should have? And if the general level of prosperity was raised by the abolition of all these taxes and restrictions, would not the first use that people would make of the money be to clothe themselves better?

II.5.41

The problem—the eternal problem—then, is not whether protectionism favors this or that particular branch of industry; but whether, all things considered, restriction is, by its very nature, more productive than free trade.

II.5.42

Now, no one ventures to maintain this. Otherwise people would not always be granting that we are "right in principle."

II.5.43

If this is the case, if restriction is advantageous to each particular branch of industry only by impairing the general well-being to an even greater extent, we must conclude that money prices in themselves express a relation between each particular branch of industry and industry in general, between supply and demand, and, accordingly, that a remunerative price, which is the object of protectionism, far from being realized by such a policy, is actually rendered impossible by it.22*

Addendum

II.5.44

The article that we published under the title, "High Prices and Low Prices," has brought us the following two letters, which we present here, together with our replies:

II.5.45

Dear Editor:

You are upsetting all my ideas. I used to be a staunch champion of free trade and found it very persuasive to use low prices as an argument. Everywhere I went, I used to say: "Under a system of free trade, bread, meat, wool, linen, iron, and fuel are going to be cheaper." This displeased those who sold these commodities, but pleased those who bought them. Now you are raising doubts about whether free trade will, in fact, result in low prices. If not, of what use is it? What will people gain by it, if foreign competition, which can injure them in their sales, brings them no advantage in their purchases?

II.5.46

Dear Freetrader:

II.5.47

Allow us to inform you that you only half read the article that inspired your letter. We said that free trade acts in the same way as roads, canals, railways, and everything else that facilitates communication by removing obstacles. Its first tendency is to increase the supply of the duty-free commodity, and consequently to lower its price. But, by increasing at the same time the supply of everything else for which this commodity may be exchanged, it concomitantly increases the demand for it, and its price accordingly goes up. You ask how people will gain by free trade. Suppose you have a balance consisting of several scales, in each of which there are a certain number of the items that you have enumerated. If you add a little wheat to one scale, it will tend to tip the balance; but if you add a little cloth, a little iron, and a little fuel to the other scales, the equilibrium will be restored. So far as the beam is concerned, nothing has changed. But so far as the people are concerned, they are evidently better fed, better clothed, and better housed.

II.5.48

Dear Editor:

I am a textile manufacturer and a protectionist. I confess that your article on "High Prices and Low Prices" is causing me to reconsider my position. It has a certain plausibility about it that would require only a conclusive proof to bring about a conversion.

II.5.49

Dear Protectionist:

II.5.50

We say that the object of your restrictive measures is something evil, namely, artificially high prices. But we do not say that they always realize the hopes of those who support them. It is certain that they inflict on the consumer all the evil consequences of high prices. But it is not certain that they invariably confer any of the expected benefits on the producer. Why? Because while they diminish the supply, they also diminish the demand.

II.5.51

This proves that in the economic arrangement of this world there is a moral force, a healing power, that makes unjust ambition ultimately meet with disappointment.

II.5.52

Be good enough to observe, sir, that one of the factors making for the prosperity of each individual branch of industry is the general wealth of the community. The price of a house depends not only on its original cost but also on the number and economic status of the occupants. Do two houses that are exactly similar necessarily have the same price? Certainly not, if one is situated in Paris and the other in Lower Brittany. One should never speak of price without taking all the relevant circumstances into consideration, and one should recognize quite clearly that no undertaking is more futile than that of trying to base the prosperity of the parts on the ruination of the whole. And yet this is what the policy of protectionism seeks to do.

II.5.53

Competition always has been and always will be troublesome to those who have to meet it. That is why men have always and everywhere struggled to rid themselves of it. We (and perhaps you, too) are acquainted with a municipal council in which the resident merchants wage violent war on nonresident merchants. Their projectiles are their exactions for local permits to stall animals, for licenses to set up stands for the sale of goods, for bridge-tolls, etc., etc.

II.5.54

Now, consider what would have become of Paris if this war had been waged successfully there.

II.5.55

Suppose that the first shoemaker who established himself there had succeeded in keeping out all others; that the first tailor, the first mason, the first printer, the first watchmaker, the first hairdresser, the first doctor, and the first baker had all likewise been successful in maintaining a monopoly on their services. Paris today would still be a village of from 1,200 to 1,500 inhabitants. Instead, the market has been open to everyone (save those whom you still debar), and this is precisely what has made it the great metropolis it is today. For the enemies of competition it has meant only a long series of vexations; but it has made Paris a city of a million inhabitants. No doubt it has raised the general level of prosperity; but has it been detrimental to the individual prosperity of the shoemakers and the tailors? That is the essential question you have to ask yourself. As competitors arrived, you would have said, "The price of shoes is going to fall." But has it fallen? No; for if the supply has increased, the demand has increased as well.

II.5.56

The same will be true of cloth, sir; let it be imported duty-free. You will have more competitors, it is true; but you will also have more customers, and what is more, they will be richer. Has this never occurred to you on seeing nine-tenths of your fellow countrymen in the winter obliged to do without that cloth which you weave so well?

II.5.57

If you wish to prosper, let your customer prosper. This is a lesson it has taken you a very long time to learn.

II.5.58

When people have learned this lesson, everyone will seek his individual welfare in the general welfare. Then jealousies between man and man, city and city, province and province, nation and nation, will no longer trouble the world.

Notes for this chapter

17.

[This chapter first appeared as an article in Le Libre échange, issue of July 25, 1847.—EDITOR.]

18.

Recently M. Duchâtel,* who had formerly advocated free trade, with a view to low prices, stated in the Chamber, "It would not be difficult for me to prove that protectionism results in low prices."

* [Charles Jacques Marie Tanneguy, Comte de Duchâtel (1803-1867), author of Considérations d'économie politique sur la bienfaisance (1836). He collaborated with Pierre Leroux and others in editing Le Globe, a political and literary review, served as a cabinet minister under the July monarchy, and was one of the promoters of the tariff reform of 1834.—TRANSLATOR.]

19.

[Bastiat himself lived for some time in the rue Choiseul, while the Odier Committee (see infra, p. 167) was established in the rue Hauteville.—TRANSLATOR.]

20.

[The author, in the speech he gave on September 29, 1846, at Montesquieu Hall, provided a striking illustration demonstrating this very principle. Cf. this speech in Vol. II (of the French edition).—EDITOR.]

21.

[The Committee for the Defense of Domestic Industry, a protectionist organization of which Antoine Odier (1766-1853), President of the Chamber of Commerce of Paris, a Deputy, and later a Peer of France, was one of the leaders.—TRANSLATOR.]

22.

[In Le Libre échange of August 1, 1847, the author presented an exposition of this topic that we deem worthy of reprinting here.—EDITOR.]

About these ads

3 réponses à Présidentielles 2012: L’État, c’est la grande fiction à travers laquelle tout le monde s’efforce de vivre aux dépens de tout le monde (From Washington to Paris: back to plunder as a way of life?)

  1. [...] ne pas repenser, face aux boniments de nos nouveaux Montagnards, aux avertissements prophétiques il y a plus d’un siècle et demi du plus “américain” de nos [...]

    J'aime

  2. [...] ne pas repenser, face aux boniments de nos nouveaux Montagnards, aux avertissements prophétiques il y a plus d’un siècle et demi du plus “américain” de nos [...]

    J'aime

  3. [...] C’est là un bien indirect cent fois supérieur aux avantages directs de la liberté commerciale. Bastiat (Lettre à Cobden, le 20 avril [...]

    J'aime

Laisser un commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion / Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Google+

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Google+. Déconnexion / Changer )

Connexion à %s

Suivre

Recevez les nouvelles publications par mail.

Rejoignez 310 autres abonnés

%d bloggers like this: