Essays on Political Economy - Part 10

Part 10

The new _Government_ is no less embarra.s.sed 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 inst.i.tutes a little elementary instruction; on the other, it makes a little reduction in the liquor tax (1850). But the contradiction is for ever starting up before it; if it would be philanthropic, it must attend to its exchequer; if it neglects its exchequer, it must abstain from being philanthropic.

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 bankruptcy, 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, pa.s.s by the same way, obtain the same success, and are soon swallowed up in the same gulf.

We had arrived at this point in February.[5] 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 people, in connexion 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 deceived again?"

What could the Provisional Government do? Alas! just that which always is done in similar circ.u.mstances--make promises, and gain time. It did so, of course; and to give its promises more weight, it announced them publicly thus:--"Increase of prosperity, diminution of labour, a.s.sistance, 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 a.s.sembly meets."

The National a.s.sembly meets, and, as it is impossible to realise 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 pa.s.s when the 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 the Montagnards--that 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 G.o.d, to man, and to himself; to develop his sentiments, his tendencies, and his faculties; to teach him, in short, the scientific part of his labour; 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 _et caetera_ means more than it says.)

It is bound "To attend to the relations of capital with labour, 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,, and mines; and, doubtless, to transact affairs with that industrial capacity which characterises it."

It is bound "To encourage useful experiments, to promote and a.s.sist them by every means likely to make them successful. As a regulator of credit, it will exercise such extensive influence over industrial and agricultural a.s.sociations, as shall ensure them success."

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 att.i.tude towards 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 army 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 Montagnards. 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 a.s.suredly be the jubilee of the tax-payers.

"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 superfluities!

This is not all. The Montagnards 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 patents.

"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 paralyse 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 realised:--"To give nothing to Government and to receive much from it?"

If the Montagnards were to come into 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 twofold 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 _common force_ organized, not to be an instrument of oppression and mutual plunder among citizens; but, on the contrary, to secure to every one his own, and to cause justice and security to reign.

What Is Money?

"Hateful money! hateful money!" cried F----, the economist, despairingly, as he came from the Committee of Finance, where a project of paper money had just been discussed.

"What's the matter?" said I. "What is the meaning of this sudden dislike to the most extolled of all the divinities of this world?"

F. Hateful money! hateful money!

B. You alarm me. I hear peace, liberty, and life cried down, and Brutus went so far even as to say, "Virtue! thou art but a name!" But what can have happened?

F. Hateful money! hateful money!

B. Come, come, exercise a little philosophy. What has happened to you? Has Crsus been affecting you? Has Mondor been playing you false?

or has Zoilus been libelling you in the papers?

F. I have nothing to do with Crsus; my character, by its insignificance, is safe from any slanders of Zoilus; and as to Mondor--

B. Ah! now I have it. How could I be so blind? You, too, are the inventor of a social reorganization--of the _F---- system_, in fact.

Your society is to be more perfect than that of Sparta, and, therefore, all money is to be rigidly banished from it. And the thing that troubles you is, how to persuade your people to empty their purses. What would you have? This is the rock on which all reorganizers split. There is not one, but would do wonders, if he could only contrive to overcome all resisting influences, and if all mankind would consent to become soft wax in his fingers; but men are resolved not to be soft wax; they listen, applaud, or reject, and--go on as before.

F. Thank heaven, I am still free from this fashionable mania. Instead of inventing social laws, I am studying those which it has pleased Providence to invent, and I am delighted to find them admirable in their progressive development. This is why I exclaim, "Hateful money! hateful money!"

B. You are a disciple of Proudhon, then? Well, there is a very simple way for you to satisfy yourself. Throw your purse into the Seine, only reserving a hundred sous, to take an action from the Bank of Exchange.

F. If I cry out against money, is it likely I should tolerate its deceitful subst.i.tute?

B. Then I have only one more guess to make. You are a new Diogenes, and are going to victimize me with a discourse _a la Seneca_, on the contempt of riches.

F. Heaven preserve me from that! For riches, don't you see, are not a little more or a little less money. They are bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, fuel to warm you, oil to lengthen the day, a career open to your son, a certain portion for your daughter, a day of rest after fatigue, a cordial for the faint, a little a.s.sistance slipped into the hand of a poor man, a shelter from the storm, a diversion for a brain worn by thought, the incomparable pleasure of making those happy who are dear to us. Riches are instruction, independence, dignity, confidence, charity; they are progress, and civilization. Riches are the admirable civilizing result of two admirable agents, more civilizing even than riches themselves--labour and exchange.

B. Well! now you seem to be singing the praises of riches, when, a moment ago, you were loading them with imprecations!

F. Why, don't you see that it was only the whim of an economist? I cry out against money, just because everybody confounds it, as you did just now, with riches, and that this confusion is the cause of errors and calamities without number. I cry out against it because its function in society is not understood, and very difficult to explain. I cry out against it, because it jumbles all ideas, causes the means to be taken for the end, the obstacle for the cause, the alpha for the omega; because its presence in the world, though in itself beneficial, has, nevertheless, introduced a fatal notion, a perversion of principles, a contradictory theory, which, in a mult.i.tude of forms, has impoverished mankind and deluged the earth with blood. I cry out against it, because I feel that I am incapable of contending against the error to which it has given birth, otherwise than by a long and fastidious dissertation to which no one would listen. Oh! if I could only find a patient and benevolent listener!