Economic Sophisms/Chapter 23
|←Conclusion||Economic Sophisms by Author:Frédéric Bastiat
Physiology of Spoliation
|Two Principles of Morality→|
WHY should I go on tormenting myself with this dry and dreary science of Political Economy?
Why? The question is reasonable. Labour of every kind is in itself sufficiently repugnant to warrant one in asking to what result it leads?
Let us see, then, how it is.
I do not address myself to those philosophers who profess to adore poverty, if not on their own account, at least on the part of the human race.
I speak to those who deem wealth of some importance. We understand by that word, not the opulence of some classes, but the ease, the material prosperity, the security, the independence, the instruction, the dignity of all.
There are only two means of procuring the necessaries, conveniences, and enjoyments of life: PRODUCTION and SPOLIATION, There are some people who represent Spoliation as an acci- dent, a local and transient abuse, branded by the moralist, denounced by the law, and unworthy qf the Economist's attention.
In spite of benevolence, in spite of optimism, we are forced to acknowledge that SPOLIATION plays too prominent a part in the world, and mingles too largely in important human affairs, to warrant the social sciences, especially Political Economy, in holding it as of no account.
I go further. That which prevents the social order from attaining that perfection of which it is susceptible, is the constant effort of its members to live and enjoy themselves at the expense of each other. So that if SPOLIATION did not exist, social science would be without object, for society would then be perfect.
I go further still. When SPOLIATION has once become the recognised means of existence of a body of men united and held together by social ties, they soon proceed to frame a law which sanctions it, and to adopt a system of morals which sanctifies it.
It is sufficient to enumerate some of the more glaring forms which Spoliation assumes, in order to show the place which it occupies in human transactions.
There is first of all WAR. Among savages the conqueror puts to death the vanquished, in order to acquire a right, which, if not incontestable, is, at least, uncontested, to his enemy's hunting grounds.
Then comes SLAVERY, When man comes to find that the land may be made fertile by means of labour, he says to his brother man, "Thine be the labour, and mine the product."
Next we have PRIESTCRAFT. "According as you give or refuse me a portion of your substance, I will open to you the gate of Heaven or of Hell."
Lastly comes MONOPOLY. Its distinguishing character is to leave in existence the great social law of service for service, but to bring force to bear upon the bargain, so as to impair the just proportion between the service received and the service rendered.
Spoliation bears always in its bosom that germ of death by which it is ultimately destroyed. It is rarely the many who despoil the few. Were it so, the few would soon be reduced to such a state as to be no longer able to satisfy the cupidity of the many, and spoliation would die out for want of support.
It is almost always the majority who are oppressed, but spoliation is not the less on this account subject to an inevitable check.
For, if the agent be Force, as in the cases of War and Slavery, it is natural that Force, in the long run, should pass to the side of the greatest number.
And, if the agent be Cunning, as in the case of Priestcraft and Monopoly, it is natural that the majority should become enlightened, otherwise intelligence would cease to be intelligence.
Another natural law deposits a second germ of death in the heart of spoliation, which is this:
Spoliation not only displaces wealth, but always partially destroys it.
War annihilates many values.
Slavery paralyzes, to a great extent, men's faculties.
Priestcraft diverts men's efforts towards objects which are puerile or hurtful
Monopoly transfers wealth from one pocket to another, but much is lost in the transference.
This is an admirable law. Without it, provided there existed an equilibrium between the forces of the oppressors and oppressed, spoliation would have no limits. In consequence of the operation of this law, the equilibrium tends always to be upset; either because the spoliators have the fear of such a loss of wealth, or because, in the absence of such fear, the evil constantly increases, and it is in the nature of anything which constantly gets worse and worse, ultimately to perish and be annihilated.
There comes at last a time when, in its progressive acceleration, this loss of wealth is such that the spoliator finds himself poorer than he would have been had there been no spoliation.
Take, for example, a people to whom the expense of war costs more than the value of the booty.
A master who pays dearer for slave labour than for free labour.
A system of priestcraft, which renders people so dull and stupid, and destroys their energy to such an extent, that there is no longer anything to be got from them.
A monopoly which increases its efforts at absorption in proportion as there is less to absorb, just as one should endeavour to milk a cow more vigorously in proportion as there is less milk to be got.
Among the forms which it assumes, there are some which are very simple and primitive. Of this kind are feudal rights. Under this régime the masses are despoiled, and they know it. It implies an abuse of force, and goes down when force is wanting.
Others are very complicated. The masses are frequently despoiled without knowing it. They may even imagine that they owe all to spoliation—not only what is left to them, but what is taken from them, and what is lost in the process. Nay more, I affirm that, in course of time, and owing to the ingenious mechanism to which they become accustomed, many men become spoUators without knowing that they are so, or desiring to be so. Monopolies of this kind are engendered by artifice and nourished by error. They disappear only with advancing enlightenment.
I have said enough to show that political economy has an evident practical utility. It is the torch which, by exposing craft and dissipating error, puts an end to this social disorder of spoliation. Some one—I rather think a lady—has rightly described our science as "la serrure de sureté du pécule populaire."
Were this little book destined to last for three or four thousand years, and, like a new Koran, to be read, re-read, pondered over, and studied sentence by sentence, word by word, letter by letter; if it were destined to a place in all the libraries of the world, and to be explained by avalanches of annotations and paraphrases, I might abandon to their fate the preceding obser- vations, though somewhat obscure from their conciseness ; but since they require a gloss, I think it as well to be my own commentator.
The true and equitable law of human transactions is the exchange, freely bargained for, of service for service. Spoliation consists in banishing by force or artifice this liberty of bargaining, for the purpose of enabling a man or a class to receive a service without rendering an equivalent service.
Spoliation by force consists in waiting till a man has produced a commodity, and then depriving him of it by the strong hand.
This kind of spoliation is formally forbidden by the decalogue—Thou shalt not steal.
When this takes place between individuals, it is called theft, and leads to the hulks; when it takes place between nations, it is called conquest, and leads to glory.
Whence this difference? It is proper to search out its cause, for it will reveal to us the existence of an irresistible power, public opinion, which, like the atmosphere, surrounds and envelops us so thoroughly that we cease to perceive it. Rousseau never said anything truer than this: Il faut beaucoup de philosophie pour observer les faits qui sont trop près de nous—"You need much philosophy to observe accurately things which are under your nose."
A thief, for the very reason that he does his work secretly, has always public opinion against him. He frightens all who are within his reach. Yet if he has associates, he takes pride in displaying before them his skill and prowess. Here we begin to perceive the force of opinion; for the applause of his accomplices takes away the sense of guilt, and even prompts him to glory in his shame.
The warrior lives in a different medium. The public opinion which brands him is elsewhere, among the nations he has conquered, and he does not feel its pressure. The public opinion at home applauds and sustains him. He and his companions in arms feel sensibly the bond which unites them. The country which has created enemies, and brought danger upon herself, feels it necessary to extol the bravery of her sons. She decrees to the boldest, who have enlarged her frontiers, or brought her in the greatest amount of booty, honours, renown, and glory. Poets sing their exploits, and ladies twine wreaths and garlands for them. And such is the power of public opinion that it takes from spoliation all idea of injustice, and from the spoliator all sense of wrongdoing.
The public opinion which reacts against military spoliation makes itself felt, not in the conquering, but in the conquered, country, and exercises little influence. And yet it is not altogether inoperative, and makes itself the more felt in proportion as nations have more frequent intercourse, and understand each other better. In consequence, we see that the study of languages, and a freer communication between nations, tends to bring about and render predominant a stronger feeling against this species of spoliation.
Unfortunately, it not unfrequently happens that the nations which surround an aggressive and warlike people are themselves given to spoliation when they can accomplish it, and thus become imbued with the same prejudices.
In that case there is only one remedy—time; and nations must be taught by painful experience the enormous evils of mutual spoliation.
We may note another check—a superior and growing morality. But the object of this is to multiply virtuous actions. How then can morality restrain acts of spoliation when public opinion places such acts in the rank of the most exalted virtue? What more powerful means of rendering a people moral than religion? And what religion more favourable to peace than Christianity? Yet what have we witnessed for eighteen hundred years? During all these ages we have seen men fight, not only in spite of their religion, but in name of religion itself.
The wars waged by a conquering nation are not always offensive and aggressive wars. Such a nation is sometimes so unfortunate as to be obliged to send its soldiers into the field to defend the domestic hearth, and to protect its families, its property, its independence, and its liberty. War then assumes a character of grandeur and sacredness. The national banner, blessed by the ministers of the God of peace, represents all that is most sacred in the land; it is followed as the living image of patriotism and of honour; and warlike virtues are extolled above all other virtues. But when the danger is past, public opinion still prevails; and by the natural reaction of a spirit of revenge, which is mistaken for patriotism, the banner is paraded from capital to capital. It is in this way that nature seems to prepare a punishment for the aggressor.
It is the fear of this punishment, and not the progress of philosophy, which retains arms in the arsenals; for we cannot deny that nations the most advanced in civilization go to war, and think little of justice when they have no reprisals to fear, as the Himalaya, the Atlas, and the Caucasus bear witness.
If religion is powerless, and if philosophy is equally powerless, how then are wars to be put an end to?
Political economy demonstrates, that even as regards the nation which proves victorious, war is always made in the interest of the few, and at the expense of the masses. When the masses, then, shall see this clearly, the weight of public opinion, which is now divided, will come to be entirely on the side of peace.
Spoliation by force assumes still another form. No man will engage voluntarily in the business of production in order to be robbed of what he produces. Man himself is therefore laid hold of, robbed of his freedom and personality, and forced to labour. The language held to him is not, "If you do this for me, I will do that for you;" but this, "Yours be the fatigue, and mine the enjoyment." This is slavery, which always implies abuse of force.
It is important to inquire whether it is not in the very nature of a force which is incontestably dominant to commit abuses. For my own part, I should be loath to trust it, and would as soon expect a stone pitched from a height to stop midway of its own accord, as absolute power to prescribe limits to itself.
I should like, at least, to have pointed out to me a country and an epoch in which slavery has been abolished by the free, graceful, and voluntary act of the masters.
Slavery affords a second and striking example of the insufficiency of religious and philanthropical sentiments, when set in opposition to the powerful and energetic sentiment of self-interest. This may appear a melancholy view of the subject to certain modern schools who seek for the renovating principle of society in self-sacrifice. Let them begin, then, by reforming human nature.
In the West Indies, ever since the introduction of slavery, the masters, from father to son, have professed the Christian religion. Many times a day they repeat these words, "All men are brethren: to love your neighbour is to fulfil the whole law." And they continue to have slaves. Nothing appears to them more natural and legitimate. Do modern reformers expect that their system of morals will ever be as universally accepted, as popular, of as great authority, and be as much on men's lips, as the Gospel? And if the Gospel has not been able to penetrate from the lips to the heart, by piercing or surmounting the formidable barrier of self-interest, how can they expect that their system of morals is to work this miracle?
What! is slavery then invulnerable? No; what has introduced it will destroy it, I mean self-interest; provided that, in favouring the special interests which have created this scourge, we do not run counter to the general interests from which we look for the remedy.
It is one of the truths which political economy has demonstrated, that free labour is essentially progressive, and slave labour necessarily stationary. The triumph of the former, therefore, over the latter is inevitable. What has become of the culture of indigo by slave labour?
Free labour directed to the production of sugar will lower its price more and more, and slave property will become less and less valuable to the owners. Slavery would long since have gone down of its own accord in America, if in Europe our laws had not raised the price of sugar artificially. It is for this reason that we see the masters, their creditors, and their delegates working actively to maintain these laws, which are at present the pillars of the edifice.
Unfortunately, they still carry along with them the sympathies of those populations from among whom slavery has disappeared, and this again shows how powerful an agent public opinion is.
If public opinion is sovereign, even in the region of Force, it is very much more so in the region of Craft [Ruse]. In truth, this is its true domain. Cunning is the abuse of intelligence, and public opinion is the progress of intelligence. These two powers are at least of the same nature. Imposture on the part of the spoliator implies credulity on the part of those despoiled, and the natural antidote to credulity is truth. Hence it follows that to enlighten men's minds is to take away from this species of spoliation what supports and feeds it.
I shall pass briefly in review some specimens of spoliation which are due to craft exercised on a very extensive scale.
The first which presents itself is spoliation by priestcraft [ruse théocratique].
What is the object in view? The object is to procure provisions, vestments, luxury, consideration, influence, power, by exchanging fictitious for real services.
If I tell a man, "I am going to render you great and immediate services," I must keep my word, or this man will soon be in a situation to detect the imposture, and my artifice will be instantly unmasked.
But if I say to him, "In exchange for your services I am going to render you immense service, not in this world, but in another; for after this life is ended, your being eternally happy or miserable depends upon me. I am an intermediate being between God and His creature, and I can, at my will, open the gates of heaven or of hell." If this man only believes me, I have him in my power.
This species of imposture has been practised wholesale since the beginning of the world, and we know what plenitude of power was exercised by the Egyptian priests.
It is easy to discover how these impostors proceed. We have only to ask ourselves what we should do were we in their place.
If I arrived among an ignorant tribe with views of this sort, and succeeded by some extraordinary and marvellous act to pass myself off for a supernatural being, I should give myself out for an envoy of God, and as possessing absolute control over the future destinies of man.
Then I should strictly forbid any inquiry into the validity of my titles and pretensions. I should do more. As reason would be my most dangerous antagonist, I should forbid the use of reason itself, unless applied to this formidable subject. In the language of the savages, I should taboo this question and everything relating to it. To handle it, or even think of it, should be declared an unpardonable sin.
It would be the very triumph of my art to guard with a taboo barrier every intellectual avenue which could possibly lead to a discovery of my imposture ; and what better security than to declare even doubt to be sacrilege?
And still to this fundamental security I should add others. For example, effectually to prevent enlightenment ever reaching the masses, I should appropriate to myself and my accomplices the monopoly of all knowledge, which I would conceal under the veil of a dead language and hieroglyphic characters; and in order that I should never be exposed to any danger, I would take care to establish an institution which would enable me, day after day, to penetrate the secrets of all consciences.
It would not be amiss that I should at the same time satisfy some of the real wants of my people, especially if, in doing so, I could increase my influence and authority. Thus, as men have great need of instruction, and of being taught morals, I should constitute myself the dispenser of these. By this means I should direct as I saw best the minds and hearts of my people. I should establish an indissoluble connexion between morals and my authority. I should represent them as incapable of existing, except in this state of union; so that, if some bold man were to attempt to stir a tabooed question, society at large, which could not dispense with moral teaching, would feel the earth tremble under its feet, and would turn with rage against this frantic innovator.
When things had come to this pass, it is obvious that the people would become my property in a stricter sense than if they were my slaves. The slave curses his chains—they would hug theirs; and I should thus succeed in imprinting the brand of servitude, not on their foreheads, but on their innermost consciences.
Public opinion alone can overturn such an edifice of iniquity; but where can it make a beginning, when every stone of the edifice is tabooed? It is obviously an affair of time and the printing-press.
God forbid that I should desire to shake the consoling religious convictions which connect this life of trial with a life of felicity. But that our irresistible religious aspirations have been abused, is what no one, not even the head of the Church himself, can deny. It appears to me that there is a sure test by which a people can discover whether they are duped or not. Examine Religion and the Priest, in order to discover whether the priest is the instrument of religion, or whether religion is not rather the instrument of the priest.
If the priest is the instrument of religion, if his sole care is to spread over the countiy morals and blessings, he will be gentle, tolerant, humble, charitable, full of zeal; his life will be a reflection of his Divine Model; he will preach liberty and equality among men, peace and fraternity between nations; he will repel the seductions of temporal power, desiring no alliance with what of all things in the world most requires to be kept in check; he will be a man of the people, a man of sound counsels, a man of consolation, a man of public opinion, a man of the Gospel.
If, on the contrary, religion is the instrument of the priest, he will treat it as we treat an instrument, which we alter, bend, and twist about in all directions, so as to make it available for the purpose we have in view. He will increase the number of questions which are tabooed; his morals will change with times, men, and circumstances. He will endeavour to impose upon people by gestures and studied attitudes; and will mumble a hundred times a day words, the meaning of which has evaporated, and which have come to be nothing better than a vain conventionalism. He will traffic in sacred things, but in such a way as not to shake men's faith in their sacredness; and he will take care, when he meets with acute, clear-sighted people, not to carry on this traffic so openly or actively as in other circumstances. He will mix himself up with worldly intrigues; and he will take the side of men in power, provided they embrace his side. In a word, in all his actions, we shall discover that his object is not to advance the cause of religion through the clergy, but the cause of the clergy through religion; and as so many efforts must have an object, and as this object, on our hypothesis, can be nothing else than wealth and power, the most incontestable sign of the people having been duped is that the priest has become rich and powerful.
It is quite evident that a true religion may be abused as well as a false religion. The more respectable its authority is, the more is it to be feared that the proofs of that respectability will be pressed too far. But the results will be widely diflerent. Abuses have a tendency to excite the sound, enlightened, and independent portion of the population to rebellion. And it is a much more serious thing to shake public belief in a true than in a false religion.
Spoliation by such means, and the intelligence of a people, are always in an inverse ratio to each other; for it is of the nature of abuses to be carried as far only as safety permits. Not that in the midst of the most ignorant people pure and devoted priests are never to be found; but the question is, how can we prevent a knave from assuming the cassock, and ambition from encircling his brow with a mitre? Spoliators obey the Malthusian law: they multiply as the means of existence increase; and a knave's means of existence is the credulity of his dupes. Public opinion must be enlightened. There is no other remedy.
Another variety of spoliation by craft and artifice is to be found in what are called commercial frauds, an expression, as it appears to me, not sufficiently broad; for not only is the merchant who adulterates his commodities, or uses a false measure, guilty of fraud, but the physician who gets paid for bad advice, and the advocate who fans and encourages lawsuits. In an exchange between two services, one of them may be of bad quality; but here, the services received being stipulated for beforehand, spoliation must evidently recede before the advance of public enlightenment.
Next in order come abuses of public services—a vast field of spoliation, so vast that we can only glance at it.
Had man been created a solitary animal, each man would work for himself. Individual wealth would, in that case, be in proportion to the services rendered by each man to himself.
But, man being a sociable animal, services are exchanged for other services; a proposition which you may, if you choose, construe backwards [à rebours].
There exist in society wants so general, so universal, that its members provide for them by organizing public services. Such, for example, is the need of security. We arrange, we club together, to remunerate by services of various kinds those who render us the service of watching over the general security.
There is nothing which does not come within the domain of political economy. Do this for me, and I will do that for you. The essence of the transaction is the same, the remunerative process alone is different; but this last is a circumstance of great importance.
In ordinary transactions, each man is the judge, both of the service he receives and the service he renders. He can always refuse an exchange, or make it elsewhere; whence the necessity of bringing to market services which will be willingly accepted.
It is not so in state matters, especially before the introduction of representative government. Whether we have need of such services as the government furnishes or not, whether they are good or bad, we are forced always to accept them such as they are, and at the price at which the government estimates them. Now it is the tendency of all men to see through the small end of the telescope the services which they render, and through the large end the services which they receive. In private transactions, then, we should be led a fine dance, if we were without the security afforded by a price freely and openly bargained for.
Now this guarantee we have either not at all or to a very limited extent in public transactions. And yet the government, composed of men (although at the present day they would persuade us that legislators are something more than men), obeys the universal tendency. The government desires to render us great service, to serve us more than we need, and to make us accept, as true services, services which are sometimes very far from being so, and to exact from us in return other services or contributions.
In this way the state is also subject to the Malthusian law. It tends to pass the level of its means of existence, it grows great in proportion to these means, and these means consist of the people's substance. Woe, then, to those nations who are unable to set bounds to the action of the government! Liberty, private enterprise, wealth, thrift, independence, all will be wanting in such circumstances.
For there is one circumstance especially which it is very necessary to mark—it is this: Among the services which we demand from the government, the principal one is security. To ensure this there is needed a force which is capable of overcoming all other forces, individual or collective, internal or external, which can be brought against it. Combined with that unfortunate disposition, which we discover in men to live at other people's expense, there is here a danger which is self-evident. Just consider on what an immense scale, as we learn from history, spoliation has been exercised through the abuse and excess of the powers of government. Consider what services have been rendered to the people, and what services the public powers have exacted from them, among the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Egyptians, Romans, Persians, Turks, Chinese, Russians, English, Spaniards, Frenchmen. Imagination is startled at the enormous disproportion.
At length, representative government has been instituted, and we should have thought, a priori, that these disorders would have disappeared as if by enchantment.
In fact, the principle of representative government is this:
"The people themselves, by their representatives, are to decide on the nature and extent of the functions which they judge it right to regard as public services, and the amount of remuneration to be attached to such services."
The tendency to appropriate the property of others, and the tendency to defend that property, being thus placed in opposite scales, we should have thought that the second would have outweighed the first.
I am convinced that this is what must ultimately happen, but it has not happened hitherto.
Why? For two very simple reasons. Governments have had too much, and the people too little, sagacity.
Governments are very skilful. They act with method and consistency, upon a plan well arranged, and constantly improved by tradition and experience. They study men, and their passions. If they discover, for example, that they are actuated by warlike impulses, they stimulate this fatal propensity, and add fuel to the flame. They surround the nation with dangers through the action of diplomacy, and then they very naturally demand more soldiers, more sailors, more arsenals and fortifications; sometimes they have not even to solicit these, but have them offered; and then they have rank, pensions, and places to distribute. To meet all this, large sums of money are needed, and taxes and loans are resorted to.
If the nation is generous, government undertakes to cure all the ills of humanity; to revive trade, to make agriculture flourish, to develop manufactures, encourage arts and learning, extirpate poverty, etc., etc. All that requires to be done is to create offices, and pay functionaries.
In short, the tactics consist in representing restraints as effective services; and the nation pays, not for services, but for disservices. Governments, assuming gigantic proportions, end by eating up half the revenues they exact. And the people, wondering at being obliged to work so hard, after hearing of inventions which are to multiply products ad infinitum, … continue always the same overgrown children they were before.
While the government displays so much skill and ability, the people display scarcely any. When called upon to elect those whose province it is to determine the sphere and remuneration of govermental action, whom do they choose? The agents of the government. Thus, they confer on the executive the power of fixing the limits of its own operations and exactions. They act like the Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who, in place of himself deciding on the number and cut of his coats, referred the whole thing—to his tailor.
And when matters have thus gone on from bad to worse, the people at length have their eyes opened, not to the remedy—(they have not got that length yet)—but to the evil.
To govern is so agreeable a business, that every one aspires to it The counsellors of the people never cease telling them: We see your sufferings, and deplore them. It would be very different if we governed you.
In the meantime, and sometimes for a long period, there are rebellions and émeutes. When the people are vanquished, the expense of the war only adds to their burdens. When they are victorious, the personnel of the government is changed, and the abuses remain unreformed.
And this state of things will continue until the people shall learn to know and defend their true interests—so that we always come back to this, that there is no resource but in the progress of public intelligence.
Certain nations seem marvellously disposed to become the prey of government spoliation; those especially where the people, losing sight of their own dignity and their own energy, think themselves undone if they are not governed and controlled in everything. Without having travelled very much, I have seen countries where it is believed that agriculture can make no progress unless experimental farms are maintained by the government; that there would soon be no horses but for the state haras; and that fathers of families would either not educate their children, or have them taught immorality, if the state did not prescribe the course of education, etc., etc. In such a country, revolutions succeed each other, and the governing powers are changed in rapid succession. But the governed continue nevertheless to be governed on the principle of mercy and compassion (for the tendency which I am here exposing is the very food upon which governments live), until at length the people perceive that it is better to leave the greatest possible number of services in the category of those which the parties interested exchange at a price fixed by free and open bargaining.
We have seen that an exchange of services constitutes society; and it must be an exchange of good and loyal services. But we have shown also that men have a strong interest, and consequently an irresistible bent, to exaggerate the relative value of the services which they render. And, in truth, I can perceive no other cure for this evil but the free acceptance or the free refusal of those to whom these services are offered.
Whence it happens that certain men have recourse to the law in order that it may control this freedom in certain branches of industry. This kind of spoliation is called Privilege or Monopoly. Mark well its origin and character.
Everybody knows that the services which he brings to the general market are appreciated and remunerated in proportion to their rarity. The intervention of law is invoked to drive out of the market all those who come to offer analogous services; or, which comes to the same thing, if the assistance of an instrument or a machine is necessary to enable such services to be rendered, the law interposes to give exclusive possession of it.
This variety of spoliation being the principal subject of the present volume, I shall not enlarge upon it in this place, but content myself with one remark.
When monopoly is an isolated fact, it never fails to enrich the man who is invested with it. It may happen, then, that other classes of producers, in place of waiting for the downfall of this monopoly, demand for themselves similar monopolies. This species of spoliation, thus erected into a system, becomes the most ridiculous of mystifications for everybody; and the ultimate result is, that each man believes himself to be deriving greater profit from a market which is impoverished by all.
It is unnecessary to add, that this strange régime introduces a universal antagonism among all classes, all professions, and all nations; that it calls for the interposition (constant, but always uncertain) of government action; that it gives rise to all the abuses we have enumerated; that it places all branches of industry in a state of hopeless insecurity; and that it accustoms men to rely upon the law, and not upon themselves, for their means of subsistence. It would be difficult to imagine a more active cause of social perturbation.
But it may be said, Why make use of this ugly term. Spoliation? It is coarse, it wounds, irritates, and turns against you all calm and moderate men—it envenoms the controversy.
To speak plainly, I respect the persons, and I believe in the sincerity of nearly all the partisans of protection; I claim no right to call in question the personal probity, the delicacy, the philanthropy, of any one whatsoever. I again repeat that protection is the fruit, the fatal fruit, of a common error, of which everybody, or at least the majority of men, are at once the victims and the accomplices. But with all this I cannot prevent things being as they are.
Figure Diogenes putting his head out of his tub, and saying, "Athenians, you are served by slaves. Has it never occurred to you, that you thereby exercise over your brethren the most iniquitous species of spoliation?" Or, again, figure a tribune speaking thus in the forum: "Romans, you derive all your means of existence from the pillage of all nations in succession.*'
In saying so, they would only speak undoubted truth. But are we to conclude from this that Athens and Rome were inhabited only by bad and dishonest people, and hold in contempt Socrates and Plato, Cato and Cincinnatus?
Who could entertain for a moment any such thought? But these great men lived in a social medium which took away all consciousness of injustice. We know that Aristotle could not even realize the idea of any society existing without slavery.
Slavery in modern times has existed down to our own day without exciting many scruples in the minds of planters. Armies serve as the instruments of great conquests, that is to say, of great spoliations. But that is not to say that they do not contain multitudes of soldiers and officers personally of as delicate feelings as are usually to be found in industrial careers, if not indeed more so; men who would blush at the very thought of anything dishonest, and would face a thousand deaths rather than stoop to any meanness.
We must not blame individuals, but rather the general movement which carries them along, and blinds them to the real state of the case; a movement for which society at large is responsible.
The same thing holds of monopoly. I blame the system, and not individuals—society at large, and not individual members of society. If the greatest philosophers have been unable to discover the iniquity of slavery, how much more easily may agriculturists and manufacturers have been led to take a wrong view of the nature and effects of a system of restriction!