I wish some one would offer a prize for a good, simple, and
intelligent definition of the word "Government."
What an immense service it would confer on society!
The Government! what is it? where is it? what does it do? what
ought it to do? All we know is, that it is a mysterious personage;
and, assuredly, it is the most solicited, the most tormented, the
most overwhelmed, the most admired, the most accused, the most
invoked, and the most provoked of any personage in the world.
I have not the pleasure of knowing my reader but I would stake ten
to one that for six months he has been making Utopias, and if so,
that he is looking to Government for the realization of them.
And should the reader happen to be a lady: I have no doubt that
she is sincerely desirous of seeing all the evils of suffering
humanity remedied, and that she thinks this might easily be done, if
Government would only undertake it.
But, alas! that poor unfortunate personage, like Figaro, knows not
to whom to listen, nor where to turn. The hundred thousand mouths of
the press and of the platform cry out all at once -
"Organize labor and workmen."
"Repress insolence and the tyranny of capital."
"Make experiments upon manure and eggs."
"Cover the country with railways."
"Irrigate the plains."
"Plant the hills."
"Make model farms."
"Found social workshops."
"Instruct the youth."
"Assist the aged."
"Send the inhabitants of towns into the country."
"Equalize the profits of all trades."
"Lend money without interest to all who wish to borrow."
"Emmancipate oppressed people everywhere."
"Rear and perfect the saddle-horse."
"Encourage the arts, and provide us musicians, painters, and
"Restrict commerce, and at the same time create a merchant
"Discover truth, and put a grain of reason into our heads. The
mission of Government is to enlighten, to develop, to extend, to
fortify, to spiritualize, and to sanctify the soul of the people."
"Do have a little patience, gentlemen" says Government,
in a beseeching tone. "I will do what I can to satisfy you, but
for this I must have resources. I have been preparing plans for five
or six taxes, which are quite new, and not at all oppressive. You
will see how willingly people will pay them."
Then comes a great exclamation: - "No! indeed! where is the
merit of doing a thing with resources? Why, it does not deserve the
name of a Government!
So far from loading us with fresh taxes, we would have you
withdraw the old ones. You ought to suppress
"The tobacco tax."
"The tax on liquors."
"The tax on letters."
In the midst of this tumult, and now that the country has again
and again changed the administration, for not having satisfied all
its demands, I wanted to show that they were contradictory. But,
what could I have been thinking about? Could I not keep this
unfortunate observation to myself!
I have lost my character forever! I am looked upon as a man
without heart and without feeling - a dry philosopher, an
individualist, a plebeian - in a word, an economist of the practical
school. But, pardon me, sublime writers, who stop at nothing, not
even at contradictions. I am wrong, without a doubt, and I would
willingly retract. I should be glad enough, you may be sure, if you
had really discovered a beneficent and inexhaustible being, calling
itself the Government, which has bread for all mouths, work for all
hands, capital for all enterprises, credit for all projects, oil for
all wounds, balm for all sufferings, advice for all perplexities,
solutions for all doubts, truths for all intellects, diversions for
all who want them, milk for infancy, and wine for old age - which
can provide for all our wants, satisfy all our curiosity, correct
all our errors, repair all our faults, and exempt us henceforth from
the necessity for foresight, prudence, judgment, sagacity,
experience, order, economy, temperance, and activity.
What reason could I have for not desiring to see such a discovery
made? Indeed, the more I reflect upon it, the more do I see that
nothing could be more convenient than that we should all of us have
within our reach an inexhaustible source of wealth and enlightenment
- a universal physician, an unlimited treasure, and an infallible
counselor, such as you describe Government to be. Therefore it is
that I want to have it pointed out and defined, and that a prize
should be offered to the first discoverer of the phoenix. For no one
would think of asserting that this precious discovery has yet been
made, since up to this time everything presenting itself under the
name of the Government has at some time been overturned by the
people, precisely because it does not fulfill the rather
contradictory conditions of the programme.
I will venture to say that I fear we are, in this respect, the
dupes of one of the strangest illusions which have ever taken
possession of the human mind.
Man recoils from trouble - from suffering; and yet he is
condemned by nature to the suffering of privation, if he does not
take the trouble to work. He has to choose, then, between these two
evils. What means can he adopt to avoid both? There remains now, and
there will remain, only one way, which is, to enjoy the labor of
others. Such a course of conduct prevents the trouble and the
satisfaction from preserving their natural proportion, and causes
all the trouble to become the lot of one set of persons, and all the
satisfaction that of another. This is the origin of slavery and of
plunder, whatever its form may be - whether that of wars,
imposition, violence, restrictions, frauds, &c. - monstrous
abuses, but consistent with the thought which has given them birth.
Oppression should be detested and resisted - it can hardly be called
Slavery is disappearing, thank heaven! and, on the other hand,
our disposition to defend our property prevents direct and open
plunder from being easy.
One thing, however, remains - it is the original inclination
which exists in all men to divide the lot of life into two parts,
throwing the trouble upon others, and keeping the satisfaction for
themselves. It remains to be shown under what new form this sad
tendency is manifesting itself.
The oppressor no longer acts directly and with his own powers
upon his victim. No, our conscience has become too sensitive for
that. The tyrant and his victim are still present, but there is an
intermediate person between them, which is the Government -that is,
the Law itself. What can be better calculated to silence our
scruples, and, which is perhaps better appreciated, to overcome all
resistance? We all therefore, put in our claim, under some pretext
or other, and apply to Government. We say to it, " I am
dissatisfied at the proportion between my labor and my enjoyments. I
should like, for the sake of restoring the desired equilibrium, to
take a part of the possessions of others. But this would be
dangerous. Could not you facilitate the thing for me? Could you not
find me a good place? or check the industry of my competitors? or,
perhaps, lend me gratuitously some capital which, you may take from
its possessor? Could you not bring up my children at the public
expense? or grant me some prizes? or secure me a competence when I
have attained my fiftieth year? By this mean I shall gain my end
with an easy conscience, for the law will have acted for me, and I
shall have all the advantages of plunder, without its risk or its
As it is certain, on the one hand, that we are all making some
similar request to the Government; and as, on the other, it is
proved that Government cannot satisfy one party without adding to
the labor of the others, until I can obtain another definition of
the word Government I feel authorized to give it my own. Who knows
but it may obtain the prize? Here it is:
"Government is the great fiction through which
everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."
For now, as formerly, every one is, more or less, for profiting by
the labors of others. No one would dare to profess such a sentiment;
he even hides it from himself; and then what is done? A medium is
thought of; Government is applied to, and every class in its turn
comes to it, and says, "You, who can take justifiably and
honestly, take from the public, and we will partake." Alas!
Government is only too much disposed to follow this diabolical
advice, for it is composed of ministers and officials - of men, in
short, who, like all other men, desire in their hearts, and always
seize every opportunity with eagerness, to increase their wealth and
influence. Government is not slow to perceive the advantages it may
derive from the part which is entrusted to it by the public. It is
glad to be the judge and the master of the destinies of all; it will
take much, for then a large share will remain for itself; it will
multiply the number of its agents; it will enlarge the circle of its
privileges; it will end by appropriating a ruinous proportion.
But the most remarkable part of it is the astonishing blindnesss
of the public through it all. When successful soldiers used to
reduce the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous, but they were
not absurd. Their object, like ours, was to live at other people's
expense, and they did not fail to do so. What are we to think of a
people who never seem to suspect that reciprocal plunder is no less
plunder because it is reciprocal; that it is no less criminal
because it is executed legally and with order; that it adds nothing
to the public good; that it diminishes it, just in proportion to the
cost of the expensive medium which we call the Government?
And it is this great chimera which the French nation, for example,
placed in 1848, for the edification of the people, as a frontispiece
to its Constitution. The following is the beginning of the preamble
to this Constitution: -
"France has constituted itself a republic for the
purpose of raising all the citizens to an ever-increasing degree of
morality, enlightment, and well-being."
Thus it is France, or an abstraction, which is to raise the French
to morality, well-being, &c. Is it not by yielding to this
strange delusion that we are led to expect everything from an energy
not our own? Is it not giving out that there is, independently of
the French, a virtuous, enlightened, and rich being, who can and
will bestow upon them its benefits? Is not this supposing, and
certainly very gratuitously, that there are between France and the
French - between the simple, abridged, and abstract denomination of
all the individualities, and these individualities themselves -
relations as of father to son, tutor to his pupil, professor to his
scholar? I know it is often said, metaphorically, "the country
is a tender mother." But to show the inanity of such a
constitutional proposition, it is only needed to show that it may be
reversed, not only without inconvenience, but even with advantage.
Would it be less exact to say:
"The French have constituted themselves a Republic
to raise France to an ever-increasing degree of morality,
enlightenment, and well being."
Now, where is the value of an axiom where the subject and the
attribute could change places without inconvenience? Everybody
understands what is meant by this: "The mother will feed the
child." But it would be ridiculous to say, "The child will
feed the mother."
The Americans formed another idea of the relations of the
citizens with the Government when they placed these simple words at
the head of their constitution: -
"We, the people of the United States, for the
purpose of forming a more perfect union, of establishing justice, of
securing interior tranquillity, of providing for our common defense,
of increasing the general well-being, and of securing the benefits
of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, decree," &c.
Here there is no chimerical creation, no abstraction, from which
the citizens may demand everything. They expect nothing except from
themselves and their own energy.
If I may be permitted to criticise the first words of the French
Constitution of 1848, I would remark, that what I complain of is
something more than a mere metaphysical subtilty, as might seem at
I contend that this personification of Goverment has been, in
past times, and will be hereafter, a fertile source of calamities
There is the public on one side, Government on the other,
considered as two distinct beings; the latter bound to bestow upon
the former, and the former having the right to claim from the
latter, all imaginable human benefits. What will be the consequence?
In fact, Government is not maimed, and cannot be so. It has two
hands - one to receive and the other to give; in other words, it has
a rough hand and a smooth one. The activity of the second
necessarily subordinate to the activity of the frrst. Strictly,
Government may take and not restore. This is evident, and may be
explained by the porous and absorbing nature of its hands, which
always retain a part, and sometimes the whole, of what they touch.
But the thing that never was seen, and never will be seen or
conceived, is, that Government can restore to the public more than
it has taken from it. It is therefore ridiculous for us to appear
before it in the humble attitude of beggars. It is radically
impossible for it to confer a particular benefit upon any one of the
individualities which constitute the community, without inflicting a
greater injury upon the community as a whole.
Our requisitions, therefore, place it in a dilemma. If it refuses
to grant the requests made to it, it is accused of weakness,
ill-will, and incapacity. If it endeavors to grant them, it is
obliged to load the people with fresh taxes - to do more harm than
good, and to bring upon itself from another quarter the general
Thus, the public has two hopes, and Government makes two promises
- many benefits and no taxes. Hopes and promises, which, being
contradictory, can never be realized.
Now, is not this the cause of all our revolutions? For, between
the Government, which lavishes promises which it is impossible to
perform, and the public, which has conceived hopes which can never
be realized, two classes of men interpose - the ambitious and the
Utopians. It is circumstances which give these their cue. It is
enough if these vassals of popularity cry out to the people: "The
authorities are deceiving you; if we were in their place, we would
load you with benefits and exempt you from taxes."
And the people believe, and the people hope, and the people make a
No sooner are their friends at the head of affairs, than they are
called upon to redeem their pledge. "Give us work, bread,
assistance, credit, instruction, more money," say the people; "and
withal deliver us, as you promised, from the demands of the
The new Government is no less embarrassed than the former one, for
it soon finds that it is much more easy to promise than to perform.
It tries to gain time, for this is necessary for maturing its vast
projects. At first, it makes a few timid attempts. On one hand it
institutes a little elementary instruction; on the other, it makes a
little reduction in some taxes. But the contradiction is forever
starting up before it; if it would be philanthropic, it must attend
to its exchequer; if it neglects its exchequer, it must abstain from
These two promises are for ever clashing with each other; it
cannot be otherwise. To live upon credit, which is the same as
exhausting the future, is certainly a present means of reconciling
them: an attempt is made to do a little good now, at the expense of
a great deal of harm in future. But such proceedings call forth the
spectre of bancruptcy, which puts an end to credit. What is to be
done then? Why, then, the new Government takes a bold step; it
unites all its forces in order to maintain itself; it smothers
opinion, has recourse to arbitrary measures, ridicules its former
maxims, declares that it is impossible to conduct the administration
except at the risk of being unpopular; in short, it proclaims itself
governmental. And it is here that other candidates for popularity
are waiting for it. They exhibit the same illusion, pass by the same
way, obtain the same success, and are soon swallowed up in the same
We had arrived at this point, in France, in February, 1849. At
this time the illusion which is the subject of this article had made
more way than at any former period in the ideas of the French
people, in connection with Socialist doctrines. They expected, more
firmly than ever, that Government, under a republican form, would
open in grand style the source of benefits and close that of
taxation. "We have often been deceived," said the people; "but
we will see to it ourselves this time, and take care not to be
What could the Provisional Government do? Alas! just that which
always is done in similar circumstances - make promises, and gain
It did so, of course; and to give its promises more weight, it
announced them publicly thus: "Increase of prosperity,
diminution of labor, assistance, credit, gratuitous instruction,
agricultural colonies, cultivation of waste land, and, at the same
time, reduction of the tax on salt, liquor, letters, meat; all this
shall be granted when the National Assembly meets."
The National Assembly meets, and, as it is impossible to realize
two contradictory things, its task, its sad task, is to withdraw, as
gently as possible, one after the other, all the decrees of the
Provisional Government. However, in order somewhat to mitigate the
cruelty of the deception, it is found necessary to negotiate a
little. Certain engagements are fulfilled, others are, in a measure,
begun, and therefore the new administration is compelled to contrive
some new taxes.
Now, I transport myself, in thought, to a period a few months
hence, and ask myself, with sorrowful forebodings, what will come to
pass when agents of the new Government go into the country to
collect new taxes upon legacies, revenues, and the profits of
agricultural traffic? It is to be hoped that my presentiments may
not be verified, but I foresee a difficult part for the candidates
for popularity to play.
Read the last manifesto of one of the political parties - which
they issued on the occasion of the election of the President. It is
rather long, but at length it concludes with these words: "Government
ought to give a great deal to the people, and take little from them."
It is always the same tactics, or, rather, the same mistake.
"Government is bound to give gratuitous instruction and
education to all the citizens."
It is bound to give "A general and appropriate professional
education, as much as possible adapted to the wants, the callings,
and the capacities of each citizen."
It is bound "To teach every citizen his duty to God, to man,
and to himself; to develop his sentiments, his tendencies, and his
faculties; to teach him, in short, the scientific part of his labor;
to make him understand his own interests, and to give him a
knowledge of his rights."
It is bound "To place within the reach of all literature and
the arts, the patrimony of thought, the treasures of the mind, and
all those intellectual enjoyments which elevate and strengthen the
soul." It is bound "To give compensation for every
accident, from fire, inundation &c., experienced by a citizen."
(The etcetera means more than it says.)
It is bound "To attend to the relations of capital with
labor, and to become the regulator of credit."
It is bound "To afford important encouragement and efficient
protection to agriculture."
It is bound "To purchase railroads, canals, and mines; and,
doubtless, to transact affairs with that industrial capacity which
It is bound "To encourage useful experiments, to promote and
assist them by every means likely to make them successful. As a
regulator of credit, it will exercise such extensive influence over
industrial and agricultural associations as shall insure them
Government is bound to do all this, in addition to the services to
which it is already pledged; and further, it is always to maintain a
menacing attitude toward foreigners; for, according to those who
sign the programme, "Bound together by this holy union, and by
the precedents of the French Republic, we carry our wishes and hopes
beyond the boundaries which despotism has placed between nations.
The rights which we desire for ourselves, we desire for all those
who are oppressed by the yoke of tyranny; we desire that our
glorious arms should still, if necessary, be the army of liberty."
You see that the gentle hand of Government - that good hand which
gives and distributes, will be very busy under the government of the
reformers. You think, perhaps, that it will be the same with the
rough hand - that hand which dives into our pockets. Do not deceive
yourselves. The aspirants after popularity would not know their
trade, if they had not the art, when they show the gentle hand, to
conceal the rough one. Their reign will assuredly be the jubilee of
"It is superfluities, not necessaries," they say, "which
ought to be taxed."
Truly, it will be a good time when the exchequer, for the sake of
loading us with benefits, will content itself with curtailing our
This is not all. The reformers intend that "taxation shall
lose its oppressive character, and be only an act of fraternity."
Good heavens! I know it is the fashion to thrust fraternity in
everywhere, but I did not imagine it would ever be put into the
hands of the tax-gatherer.
To come to the details:-Those who sign the programme say, "We
desire the immediate abolition of those taxes which affect the
absolute necessaries of life, as salt, liquors, &c., &c."
"The reform of the tax on landed property, customs, and
"Gratuitous justice - that is, the simplification of its
forms, and reduction of its expenses." (This, no doubt, has
reference to stamps.)
Thus, the tax on landed property, customs, patents, stamps, salt,
liquors, postage, all are included. These gentlemen have found out
the secret of giving an excessive activity to the gentle hand of
Government, while they entirely paralyze its rough hand.
Well, I ask the impartial reader, is it not childishness, and more
than that, dangerous childishness? Is it not inevitable that we
shall have revolution after revolution, if there is a determination
never to stop till this contradiction is realized: -"To give
nothing to government and to receive much from it?"
If the reformers were to come to power, would they not become the
victims of the means which they employed to take possession of it?
Citizens! In all times, two political systems have been in
existence, and each may be maintained by good reasons. According to
one of them, Government ought to do much, but then it ought to take
much. According to the other, this two-fold activity ought to be
little felt. We have to choose between these two systems. But as
regards the third system, which partakes of both the others, and
which consists in exacting everything from Government, without
giving it anything, it is chimerical, absurd, childish,
contradictory, and dangerous. Those who parade it, for the sake of
the pleasure of accusing all governments of weakness, and thus
exposing them to your attacks, are only flattering and deceiving
you, while they are deceiving themselves.
For ourselves, we consider that Government is and ought to be
nothing whatever but the united power of the people, organized, not
to be an instrument of oppression and mutual plunder among citizens;
but, on the the contrary, to secure to every one his own, and to
cause justice and security to reign.