Archive for the ‘#thelaw’ Tag

Party is a Sub-Herd   Leave a comment

From “The Law” by Randolph Bourne

 

Randolph  BourneThe members of the working-classes, that portion at least which does not identify itself with the significant classes and seek to imitate it and rise to it, are notoriously less affected by the symbolism of the State, or, in other words, are less patriotic than the significant classes. For theirs is neither the power nor the glory. The State in wartime does not offer them the opportunity to regress, for, never having acquired social adulthood, they cannot lose it. If they have been drilled and regimented, as by the industrial regime of the last century, they go out docilely enough to do battle for their State, but they are almost entirely without that filial sense and even without that herd-intellect sense which operates so powerfully among their betters. They live habitually in an industrial serfdom, by which though nominally free, they are in practice as a class bound to a system of a machine-production, the implements of which they do not own, and in the distribution of whose product they have not the slightest voice, except what they can occasionally exert by a veiled intimidation which draws slightly more of the product in their direction. From such serfdom, military conscription is not so great a change. But into the military enterprise they go, not with those hurrahs of the significant classes whose instincts war so powerfully feeds, but with the same apathy with which they enter and continue in the industrial enterprise.

From this point of view, war can be called almost an upper-class sport. the novel interests and excitements it provides, the inflations of power, the satisfaction it gives to those very tenacious human impulses—gregariousness and parent-regression—endow it with all the qualities of a luxurious collective game which is felt intensely just in proportion to the sense of significant rule the person has in the class-division of society. A country at war—particularly our own country at war—does not act as a purely homogenous herd. The significant classes have all the herd-feeling in all its primitive intensity, so that this feeling does not flow freely without impediment throughout the entire nation. A modern country represents a long historical and social process of disaggregation of the herd. The nation at peace is not a group, it is a network of myriads of groups representing the cooperation and similar feeling of men on all sorts of planes and in all sorts of human interests and enterprises. In every modern industrial country, there are parallel planes of economic classes with divergent attitudes and institutions and interests—bourgeois and proletariat—with their many subdivisions according to power and function, and even their interweaving, such as those more highly skilled workers who habitually identify themselves with the owning and significant classes and strive to raise themselves to the bourgeois level, imitating their cultural standards and manners. Then there are religious groups with a certain definite, though weakening sense of kinship, and there are the powerful ethnic groups which behave almost as cultural colonies in the New World, clinging tenaciously to language and historical tradition, though their herdishness is usually founded on cultural rather than State symbols. There are certain vague sectional groups. All these small sects, political parties, classes, levels, interests, may act as foci for herd-feelings. They intersect and interweave, and the same person may be a member of several different groups lying at different planes. Different occasions will set off his herd-feeling in one direction or another. In a religious crisis he will be intensely conscious of the necessity that his sect—or sub-herd—may prevail; in a political campaign, that his party shall triumph.

Why Elites Join Government   Leave a comment

From “The Law” by Randolph Bourne

 

Randolph  BourneThere is, of course, in the feeling towards the State a large element of pure filial mysticism. The sense of insecurity, the desire for protection, sends one’s desire back to the father and mother, with whom is associated the earliest feelings of protection. It is not for nothing that one’s State is still thought of as Father or Motherland, that one’s relation towards it is conceived in terms of family affection. The war has shown that nowhere under the shock of danger have these primitive childlike attitudes failed to assert themselves again, as much in this country as anywhere. If we have not the intense Father-sense of the German who worships his Vaterland, at least in Uncle Sam we have a symbol of protecting, kindly authority, and in the many Mother-posters of the Red Cross, we see how easily in the more tender functions of war service, the ruling organization is conceived in family terms. A people at war have become in the most literal sense obedient, respectful, trustful children again, full of that naive faith in the all-wisdom and all-power of the adult who takes care of them, imposes his mild but necessary rule upon them and in whom they lose their responsibility and anxieties. In this recrudescence of the child, there is great comfort, and a certain influx of power. On most people the strain of being an independent adult weighs heavily, and upon none more than those members of the significant classes who have bequeathed to them or have assumed the responsibilities of governing. The State provides the most convenient of symbols under which those classes can retain all the actual pragmatic satisfaction of governing, but can rid themselves of the psychic burden of adulthood. They continue to direct industry and government and all the institutions of society pretty much as before, but in their own conscious eyes and in the eyes of the general public, they are turned from their selfish and predatory ways, and have become loyal servants of society, or something greater than they—the State. The man who moves from the direction of a large business in New York to a post in the war management industrial service in Washington does not apparently alter very much his power or his administrative technique. But psychically, what a transformation has occurred! He is not now only the power but the glory! And his sense of satisfaction is proportional not to the genuine amount of personal sacrifice that may be involved in the change but to the extent to which he retains the industrial prerogatives and sense of command.

From members of this class a certain insuperable indignation arises if the change from private enterprise to State service involves any real loss of power and personal privilege. If there is to be any pragmatic sacrifice, let it be, they feel, on the field of honor, in the traditionally acclaimed deaths by battle, in that detour to suicide, as Nietzsche calls war. The State in wartime supplies satisfaction for this very real craving, but its chief value is the opportunity it gives for this regression to infantile attitudes. In your reaction to an imagined attack on your country or an insult to its government, you draw closer to the herd for protection, you conform in word and deed, and you act together. And you fix your adoring gaze upon the State, with a truly filial look, as upon the Father of the flock, the quasi-personal symbol of the strength of the herd, and the leader and determinant of your definite action and ideas.

 


Why would Donald Trump want to be President of the United States? It wasn’t because it would be good for his businesses? And this is the reason he sometimes seems impatient with the process in DC, because he didn’t expect to lose any real power or personal privilege as president, but today’s presidency is under pressure from a Congress that no longer wants to be irrelevant and an administrative state that has gotten used to being able to do whatever it wants from President to President. Lela

Tribalism Feels Warm & Fuzzy   1 comment

From “The Law”‘ by Randolph Bourne (1917)

 

Randolph  BournePsychologists recognize the gregarious impulse as one of the strongest primitive pulls which keeps together the herds of the different species of higher animals. Mankind is no exception. Our pugnacious evolutionary history has prevented the impulse from ever dying out. This gregarious impulse is the tendency to imitate, to conform to coalesce together, and is most powerful when the herd believes itself threatened with attack. Animals crowd together for protection, and men become most conscious of their collectivity at the threat of war. Consciousness of collectivity brings confidence and a feeling of massed strength, which in turn arouses pugnacity and the battle is on. In civilized man, the gregarious impulse acts not only to produce concerted action for defense, but also to produce identity of opinion. Since thought is a form of behavior, the gregarious impulse floods up into its realms and demands that sense of uniform thought which wartime produces so successfully. And it is in this flooding of the conscious life of society that gregariousness works its havoc.

For just as in modern societies the sex-instinct is enormously over-supplied for the requirements of human propagation, so the gregarious impulse is enormously over-supplied for the work of protection which it is called upon to perform. It would be quite enough if we were gregarious enough to enjoy the companionship of others, to be able to cooperate with them, and to feel a slight malaise at solitude. Unfortunately, however, this impulse is not content with those reasonable and healthful demands, but insists that like mindedness shall prevail everywhere, in all departments of life, so that all human progress, all novelty, and nonconformity must be carried against the resistance of this tyrannical herd-instinct which drives the individual into obedience and conformity with the majority. Even in the most modern and enlightened societies this impulse shows little sign of abating. As it is driven by inexorable economic demand out of the sphere of utility, it seems to fasten itself ever more fiercely in the realm of feeling and opinion, so that conformity comes to be a thing aggressively desired and demanded.

The gregarious impulse keeps its hold all the more virulently because when the group is in motion or is taking any positive action, this feeling of being with and supported by the collective herd very greatly feeds that will to power, the nourishment of which the individual organism so constantly demands. You feel powerful by conforming, and you feel forlorn and hopeless if you are out of the crowd. While even if you do not get any access to power by thinking and feeling just as everybody else in your group does, you get at least the warm feeling of obedience, the soothing irresponsibility of protection.

Joining as it does to these very vigorous tendencies of the individual—the pleasure in power and the pleasure of obedience—this gregarious impulse becomes irresistible in society. War stimulates it to the highest possible degree, sending the influence of its mysterious herd-current with its inflations of power and obedience to the farthest reaches of the society, to every individual and little group that can possibly be affected. And it is these impulses which the State—the organization of the entire herd, the entire collectivity—is founded on and makes use of.

 


We all like to hang out together and be part of a group. It feels good when other people agree with us. That’s part of our nature. Adam was no good alone and as soon as he had Eve to be with, he pushed God away. We use our herd mentality to create enemies even when there are none. War heightens that warm, fuzzy feeling because being part of the herd makes us feel powerful. And, because the State promises to organize the herd against its enemies, it seems reasonable to let it. Lela

 

Herd Mentality   Leave a comment

From “The Law” by Randolph Bourne

 

Randolph  BourneWar—or at least modern war waged by a democratic republic against a powerful enemy—seems to achieve for a nation almost all that the most inflamed political idealist could desire. Citizens are no longer indifferent to their Government, but each cell of the body politic is brimming with life and activity. We are at last on the way to full realization of that collective community in which each individual somehow contains the virtue of the whole. In a nation at war, every citizen identifies himself with the whole and feels immensely strengthened in that identification. The purpose and desire of the collective community live in each person who throws himself whole-heartedly into the cause of war. The impeding distinction between society and the individual is almost blotted out. At war, the indvidual becomes almost identical with his society. He achieves a superb self-assurance, an intuition of the rightness of all his ideas and emotions, so that in the suppression of opponents or heretics he is invincibly strong; he feels behind him all the power of the collective community. The individual as social being in war seems to have achieved almost his apotheosis. Not for any religious impulse could the American nation have been expected to show such devotion en masse, such sacrifice, and labor. Certainly not for any secular good, such as universal education or the subjugation of nature, would it have poured forth its treasure and its life, or would it have permitted such stern coercive measures to be taken against it, such as conscripting its money and its men. But for the sake of a war of offensive self-defense, undertaken to support a difficult cause to the slogan of democracy, it would reach the highest level ever known of collective effort.

For these secular goods, connected with the enhancement of life, the education of men and the use of the intelligence to realize reason and beauty in the nation’s communal living, are alien to our traditional ideal of the State. The State is intimately connected with war, for it is the organization of the collective community when it acts in a political manner, and to act in a political manner towards a rival group has meant, throughout all history—war.

There is nothing invidious in the use of the term, herd, in connection with the State. It is merely an attempt to reduce closer to first principles the nature of this institution in the shadow of which we all live, move and have our being. Ethnologists are generally agreed that human society made its first appearance as the human pack and not as a collection of individuals or couples. The herd is in fact the original unit, and only as it was differentiated did personal individuality develop. All the most primitive tribes of men are shown to live in very complex but very rigid social organization where opportunity for individuation is scarcely given. These tribes remain strictly organized herds, and the difference between them and the modern State is one of degree of sophistication and variety of organization, and not of kind.

 


A herd is a whole lot easier to control than a bunch of individuals. Individuals don’t follow one another into a paddock or over a cliff. They go their own way, seek their own truths. The State prefers if we’re homogeneous. Unity around the war effort provided that in a largely individualistic society under Woodrow Wilson. Bourne didn’t live to see our own time when everybody is encouraged to join a group – particularly an aggrieved group — but in the next section, he does write about tribalism and why it leads to problems. Lela 

War Is the Health of the State   Leave a comment

From Randolph Bourne’s “The Law”

 

Image result for image of randolph bourneThe classes which are able to play an active and not merely a passive role in the organization for war get a tremendous liberation of activity and energy. Individuals are jolted out of their old routine, many of them are given new positions of responsibility, new techniques must be learnt. Wearing home times are broken and women who would have remained attached with infantile bonds are liberated for service overseas. A vast sense of rejuvenescence pervades the significant classes, a sense of new importance in the world. Old national ideals are taken out, re-adapted to the purpose and used as the universal touchstones, or molds into which all thought is poured. Every individual citizen who in peacetimes had no living fragment of the State becomes an active amateur agent of the Government in reporting spies and disloyalists, in raising Government funds, or in propagating such measures as are considered necessary by officialdom. Minority opinion, which in times of peace was only irritating and could not be dealt with by law unless it was conjoined with actual crime, becomes with the outbreak of war, a case for outlawry. Criticism of the State, objections to war, lukewarm opinions concerning the necessity or the beauty of conscription, are made subject to ferocious penalties, far exceeding [in] severity those affixed to actual pragmatic crimes. Public opinion, as expressed in the newspapers, and the pulpits and the schools, becomes one solid block. Loyalty, or rather war orthodoxy, becomes the sole test for all professions, techniques, occupations. Particularly is this true in the sphere of the intellectual life. There the smallest taint is held to spread over the whole soul, so that a professor of physics is ipso facto disqualified to teach physics or hold honorable place in a university—the republic of learning—if he is at all unsound on the war. Even mere association with persons thus tainted is considered to disqualify a teacher. Anything pertaining to the enemy becomes taboo. His books are suppressed wherever possible, his language is forbidden. His artistic products are considered to convey in the subtlest spiritual way taints of vast poison to the soul that permits itself to enjoy them. So enemy music is suppressed, and energetic measures of opprobrium taken against those whose artistic consciences are not ready to perform such an act of self-sacrifice. The rage for loyal conformity works impartially, and often in diametric opposition to other orthodoxies and traditional conformities or ideals. The triumphant orthodoxy of the State is shown at its apex perhaps when Christian preachers lose their pulpits for taking in more or less literal terms the Sermon on the Mount, and Christian zealots are sent to prison for twenty years for distributing tracts which argue that war is unscriptural.

War is the health of the State. It automatically sets in motion throughout society those irresistible forces for uniformity, for passionate cooperation with the Government in coercing into obedience the minority groups and individuals which lack the larger herd sense. The machinery of government sets and enforces the drastic penalties. The minorities are either intimidated into silence, or brought slowly around by subtle process of persuasion which may seem to them really to be converting them. Of course, the ideal of perfect loyalty, perfect uniformity is never really attained. The classes upon whom the amateur work of coercion falls are unwearied in their zeal, but often their agitation, instead of converting merely serves to stiffen their resistance. Minorities are rendered sullen, and some intellectual opinion bitter and satirical. But in general, the nation in wartime attains a uniformity of feeling, a hierarchy of values culminating at the undisputed apex of the State ideal, which could not possibly be produced through any other agency than war. Other values such as artistic creation, knowledge, reason, beauty, the enhancement of life, are instantly and almost unanimously sacrificed, and the significant classes who have constituted themselves the amateur agents of the State, are engaged not only in sacrificing these values for themselves but in coercing all other persons into sacrificing them.

 


Bourne wrote in 1917, not during World War 2, Vietnam  or in our present age, but he nailed what we should probably know of those war-time eras in our society. During wartime, the nation walks in lockstep, empowered by a general feeling of unity and us-against-them. So, here we are at war for 17 years and why is there no sign that it will ever stop. Could it be because “war is the health of the state” and as long as the state can keep us concerned about war, the state doesn’t have to reform its spending or reduce its domestic spying capabilities? Lela

History of a Country As a State   Leave a comment

From The Law by Randolph Bourne

Randolph  BourneNow this feeling for country is essentially noncompetitive; we think of our own people merely as living on the earth’s surface along with other groups, pleasant or objectionable as they may be, but fundamentally as sharing the earth with them. In our simple conception of country there is no more feeling of rivalry with other peoples than there is in our feeling for our family. Our interest turns within rather than without, is intensive and not belligerent. We grow up and our imaginations gradually stake out the world we live in, they need no greater conscious satisfaction for their gregarious impulses than this sense of a great mass of people to whom we are more or less attuned, and in whose institutions we are functioning. The feeling for country would be an uninflatable maximum were it not for the ideas of State and Government which are associated with it. Country is a concept of peace, of tolerance, of living and letting live. But State is essentially a concept of power, of competition: it signifies a group in its aggressive aspects. And we have the misfortune of being born not only into a country but into a State, and as we grow up we learn to mingle the two feelings into a hopeless confusion.

The State is the country acting as a political unit, it is the group acting as a repository of force, determiner of law, arbiter of justice. International politics is a power politics because it is a relation of States and that is what States infallibly and calamitously are, huge aggregations of human and industrial force that may be hurled against each other in war. When a country acts as a whole in relation to another country, or in imposing laws on its own inhabitants, or in coercing or punishing individuals or minorities, it is acting as a State. The history of America as a country is quite different from that of America as a State. In one case it is the drama of the pioneering conquest of the land, of the growth of wealth and the ways in which it was used, of the enterprise of education, and the carrying out of spiritual ideals, of the struggle of economic classes. But as a State, its history is that of playing a part in the world, making war, obstructing international trade, preventing itself from being split to pieces, punishing those citizens whom society agrees are offensive, and collecting money to pay for all.

Government on the other hand is synonymous with neither State nor Nation. It is the machinery by which the nation, organized as a State, carries out its State functions. Government is a framework of the administration of laws, and the carrying out of the public force. Government is the idea of the State put into practical operation in the hands of definite, concrete, fallible men. It is the visible sign of the invisible grace. It is the word made flesh. And it has necessarily the limitations inherent in all practicality. Government is the only form in which we can envisage the State, but it is by no means identical with it. That the State is a mystical conception is something that must never be forgotten. Its glamor and its significance linger behind the framework of Government and direct its activities.

Wartime brings the ideal of the State out into very clear relief, and reveals attitudes and tendencies that were hidden. In times of peace the sense of the State flags in a republic that is not militarized. For war is essentially the health of the State. The ideal of the State is that within its territory its power and influence should be universal. As the Church is the medium for the spiritual salvation of man, so the State is thought of as the medium for his political salvation. Its idealism is a rich blood flowing to all the members of the body politic. And it is precisely in war that the urgency for union seems greatest, and the necessity for universality seems most unquestioned. The State is the organization of the herd to act offensively or defensively against another herd similarly organized. The more terrifying the occasion for defense, the closer will become the organization and the more coercive the influence upon each member of the herd. War sends the current of purpose and activity flowing down to the lowest levels of the herd, and to its remote branches. All the activities of society are linked together as fast as possible to this central purpose of making a military offensive or military defense, and the State becomes what in peacetimes it has vainly struggled to become—the inexorable arbiter and determinant of men’s businesses and attitudes and opinions. The slack is taken up, the cross-currents fade out, and the nation moves lumberingly and slowly, but with ever accelerated speed and integration, towards the great end, towards that peacefulness of being at war, of which L. P. Jacks has spoken so unforgettably.


Nations form countries as they spread out across geographical regions, but countries are about getting along with those like us. Country is cooperation. The State,  however, is force. States compete with the states around them. They struggle to get the people (the nation) on board with this competition until war is declared. Lela

Sanctifying the State   1 comment

Randolph  BourneFrom “The State” by Randolph Bourne

To most Americans of the classes which consider themselves significant the war brought a sense of the sanctity of the State which, if they had had time to think about it, would have seemed a sudden and surprising alteration in their habits of thought. In times of peace, we usually ignore the State in favor of partisan political controversies, or personal struggles for office, or the pursuit of party policies. It is the Government rather than the State with which the politically minded are concerned. The State is reduced to a shadowy emblem which comes to consciousness only on occasions of patriotic holiday.

Government is obviously composed of common and unsanctified men, and is thus a legitimate object of criticism and even contempt. If your own party is in power, things may be assumed to be moving safely enough; but if the opposition is in, then clearly all safety and honor have fled the State. Yet you do not put it to yourself in quite that way. What you think is only that there are rascals to be turned out of a very practical machinery of offices and functions which you take for granted. When we say that Americans are lawless, we usually mean that they are less conscious than other peoples of the august majesty of the institution of the State as it stands behind the objective government of men and laws which we see. In a republic the men who hold office are indistinguishable from the mass. Very few of them possess the slightest personal dignity with which they could endow their political role; even if they ever thought of such a thing. And they have no class distinction to give them glamour.


I had never really given any thought to why Americans wrap ourselves in the flag, in parade pageantry, in hard-to-sing songs and putting our hands over our hearts. Bourne tore the blinders off and made me think about these questions. Lela

Roots of Government Interference   Leave a comment

Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system.  I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.

To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.

Image result for image of government interferenceThe socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

We are therefore left to conjecture, in this case, upon
what foundation universal suffrage is claimed for them
with so much importunity.
The pretensions of organizers suggest another question,
which I have often asked them, and to which I am
not aware that I ever received an answer: Since the natural
tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to
allow them liberty, how comes it to pass that the tendencies
of organizers are always good? Do not the legislators
and their agents form a part of the human race? Do they
consider that they are composed of different materials
from the rest of mankind? They say that society, when left
to itself, rushes to inevitable destruction, because its
instincts are perverse. They presume to stop it in its downward
course, and to give it a better direction. They have,
therefore, received from heaven, intelligence and virtues
that place them beyond and above mankind: let them
show their title to this superiority. They would be our
shepherds, and we are to be their flock. This arrangement
presupposes in them a natural superiority, the right to
which we are fully justified in calling upon them to prove.
You must observe that I am not contending against
their right to invent social combinations, to propagate
them, to recommend them, and to try them upon themselves,
at their own expense and risk; but I do dispute
their right to impose them upon us through the medium
of the law, that is, by force and by public taxes.
I would not insist upon the Cabetists, the Fourierists,
the Proudhonians, the Academics, and the Protectionists
renouncing their own particular ideas; I would only have
them renounce the idea that is common to them all—viz., that of subjecting us by force to their own categories and
rankings to their social laboratories, to their ever-inflating
bank, to their Greco-Roman morality, and to their commercial
restrictions. I would ask them to allow us the faculty
of judging of their plans, and not to oblige us to
adopt them if we find that they hurt our interests or are
repugnant to our consciences.
To presume to have recourse to power and taxation,
besides being oppressive and unjust, implies further, the
pernicious assumption that the organized is infallible, and
mankind incompetent.
And if mankind is not competent to judge for itself,
why do they talk so much about universal suffrage?
This contradiction in ideas is unhappily to be found
also in facts; and whilst the French nation has preceded all
others in obtaining its rights, or rather its political claims,
this has by no means prevented it from being more governed,
and directed, and imposed upon, and fettered, and
cheated, than any other nation. It is also the one, of all
others, where revolutions are constantly to be dreaded,
and it is perfectly natural that it should be so.
So long as this idea is retained, which is admitted by
all our politicians, and so energetically expressed by Mr.
Louis Blanc in these words—“Society receives its impulse
from power,” so long as men consider themselves as capable
of feeling, yet passive—incapable of raising themselves
by their own discernment and by their own energy to any
morality, or well-being, and while they expect everything
from the law; in a word, while they admit that their relations
with the State are the same as those of the flock with
the shepherd, it is clear that the responsibility of power is
immense. Fortune and misfortune, wealth and destitution,
equality and inequality all proceed from it. It is charged with everything, it undertakes everything, it does everything;
therefore it has to answer for everything. If we are
happy, it has a right to claim our gratitude; but if we are
miserable, it alone must bear the blame. Are not our persons
and property in fact, at its disposal? Is not the law
omnipotent? In creating the educational monopoly, it has
undertaken to answer the expectations of fathers of families
who have been deprived of liberty; and if these
expectations are disappointed, whose fault is it?
In regulating industry, it has undertaken to make it
prosper, otherwise it would have been absurd to deprive
it of its liberty; and if it suffers, whose fault is it? In pretending
to adjust the balance of commerce by the game
of tariffs, it undertakes to make commerce prosper; and
if, so far from prospering, it is destroyed, whose fault is
it? In granting its protection to maritime armaments in
exchange for their liberty, it has undertaken to render
them self-sufficient; if they become burdensome, whose
fault is it?
Thus, there is not a grievance in the nation for which
the Government does not voluntarily make itself responsible.
Is it any wonder that every failure threatens to
cause a revolution? And what is the remedy proposed?
To extend indefinitely the dominion of the law, i.e., the
responsibility of Government. But if the Government
undertakes to raise and to regulate wages, and is not able
to do it; if it undertakes to assist all those who are in
want, and is not able to do it; if it undertakes to provide
work for every laborer, and is not able to do it; if it
undertakes to offer to all who wish to borrow, easy
credit, and is not able to do it; if, in words that we regret
should have escaped the pen of Mr. de Lamartine, “the
State considers that its mission is to enlighten, to develop, to enlarge, to strengthen, to spiritualize, and to
sanctify the soul of the people”—if it fails in this, is it
not obvious that after every disappointment, which,
alas! is more than probable, there will be a no less
inevitable revolution?

What Is Liberty   Leave a comment

Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system.  I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.

To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.

Image result for image of liberty cryingThe socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

 

On the other hand, society is the human race. The human race, then, is to receive its impulse from Mr. Louis Blanc. It is at liberty to do so or not, it will be said. Of course
the human race is at liberty to take advice from anybody, whoever it may be. But this is not the way in which Mr. Louis Blanc understands the thing. He means that his project should be converted into law, and consequently forcibly imposed by power.

In our project, the State has only to give a legislation to labor, by means of which the industrial movement may and ought to be accomplished in all liberty. It (the State) merely places society on an incline (that is all) that it may descend, when once it is placed there, by the mere force of things, and by the natural course of the established mechanism.
But what is this incline? One indicated by Mr. Louis Blanc. Does it not lead to an abyss? No, it leads to happiness.

Why, then, does not society go there of itself? Because it does not know what it wants, and it requires an impulse. What is to give it this impulse? Power. And who is to give the impulse to power? The inventor of the machine, Mr. Louis Blanc.

We shall never get out of this circle—mankind passive, and a great man moving it by the intervention of the law. Once on this incline, will society enjoy something like liberty?
Without a doubt.

And what is liberty? Once for all: liberty consists not only in the right granted, but in the power given to man to exercise, to develop his faculties under the empire of justice, and under the protection of the law. And this is no vain distinction; there is a deep meaning
in it, and its consequences are imponderable. For when once it is admitted that man, to be truly free, must have the power to exercise and develop his faculties, it follows that every member of society has a claim upon it for such education as shall enable his faculties to display themselves, and for the tools of labor, without which human activity can find no scope. Now, by whose intervention is society to give to each of its members the requisite
education and the necessary tools of labor, unless by that of the State?

Thus, liberty is power. In what does this power consist? In possessing education and tools of labor. Who is to give education and tools of labor? Society, who owes them. By whose intervention is society to give tools of labor to those who do not possess them? By the intervention of the State. From whom is the State to obtain them?

It is for the reader to answer this question, and to notice whither all this tends.
One of the strangest phenomena of our time, and one that will probably be a matter of astonishment to our descendants, is the doctrine which is founded upon this triple hypothesis: the radical passiveness of mankind,— the omnipotence of the law,—the infallibility of the legislator:

this is the sacred symbol of the party that proclaims itself exclusively democratic. It is true that it professes also to be social. So far as it is democratic, it has an unlimited faith in
mankind. So far as it is social, it places mankind beneath the mud.

Are political rights under discussion? Is a legislator to be chosen? Oh, then the people possess science by instinct: they are gifted with an admirable discernment; their will is
always right; the general will cannot err. Suffrage cannot be too universal. Nobody is under any responsibility to society. The will and the capacity to choose well are taken
for granted. Can the people be mistaken? Are we not living in an age of enlightenment? What! Are the people to be forever led about by the nose? Have they not acquired their rights at the cost of effort and sacrifice? Have they not given sufficient proof of intelligence and wisdom? Are they not arrived at maturity? Are they not in a state to
judge for themselves? Do they not know their own interest?

Is there a man or a class who would dare to claim the right of putting himself in the place of the people, of deciding and of acting for them? No, no; the people would be free, and they shall be so. They wish to conduct their own affairs, and they shall do so. But when once the legislator is duly elected, then indeed the style of his speech alters. The nation is sent back into passiveness, inertness, nothingness, and the legislator takes possession of omnipotence. It is for him to invent, for him to direct, for him to impel, for him to organize. Mankind has nothing to do but to submit; the hour of despotism has struck. And we must observe that this is decisive; for the people, just before so enlightened, so moral, so perfect, have no inclinations at all, or, if they have any, these all lead them downwards towards degradation.

And yet they ought to have a little liberty! But are we not assured by Mr. Considerant that liberty leads fatally to monopoly? Are we not told that liberty is competition? and that competition, according to Mr. Louis Blanc, is a system of extermination for the people, and of ruination for trade? For that reason people are exterminated and ruined in proportion as they are free—take, for example, Switzerland, Holland, England, and the United States?

Does not Mr. Louis Blanc tell us again that competition leads to monopoly, and that, for the same reason, cheapness leads to exorbitant prices? That competition tends to drain the sources of consumption, and diverts production to a destructive activity? That competition forces production to increase, and consumption to decrease—whence it
follows that free people produce for the sake of not consuming; that there is nothing but oppression and madness among them; and that it is absolutely necessary for Mr.
Louis Blanc to see to it?

What sort of liberty should be allowed to men? Liberty of conscience?—But we should see them all profiting by the permission to become atheists. Liberty of education?—
But parents would be paying professors to teach their sons immorality and error; besides, if we are to believe Mr. Thiers, education, if left to the national liberty, would cease to be national, and we should be educating our children in the ideas of the Turks or Hindus,
instead of which, thanks to the legal despotism of the universities, they have the good fortune to be educated in the noble ideas of the Romans. Liberty of labor? But this is
only competition, whose effect is to leave all products unconsumed, to exterminate the people, and to ruin the tradesmen. The liberty of exchange? But it is well known that the protectionists have shown, over and over again, that a man will inevitably be ruined when he exchanges freely, and that to become rich it is necessary to exchange without liberty. Liberty of association? But according to the socialist doctrine, liberty and association exclude each other, for the liberty of men is attacked just to force them to associate.
You must see, then, that the socialist democrats cannot in conscience allow men any liberty, because, by their own nature, they tend in every instance to all kinds of regradation and demoralization.

Social Planners or Tyrants   1 comment

Frédéric Bastiat was a contemporary with Alexis de Toqueville and they both came from France. Both were admirers of the United States who noted risks to that wonderful experiment in constitutional republicanism with democratic features. While Toqueville focused on the United States in the most familiar of his writing, Bastiat focused on France while touching on the United States system.  I find Bastiat’s writing to be prescient. He spoke to his own time and society, but he could have been addressing his comments to American circa 2017.

To read the entire series, here is the Table of Contents.

The socialists were in ascendancy in France in Bastiat’s day, which was the primary purpose he wrote this essay The Law. Bastiat hoped to convince his fellow citizens that socialism was a bad, bad mistake. He actually managed that for a while, until people stopped reading his essay and started listening to socialists again. Lela

 

According to Bastiat, government social planner-types are convinced that ordinary human beings are incapable of making wise decisions for themselves, but there are some people — namely politicians:

[U]pon whom Heaven has bestowed opposite tendencies, not for their own sake only, but for the sake of the rest of the world. Whilst mankind tends to evil, they incline to good; whilst mankind is advancing towards darkness, they are aspiring to enlightenment; whilst mankind is drawn towards vice, they are attracted by virtue. And, this granted, they demand the assistance of force, by means of which they are to substitute their own tendencies for those of the human race.

To make his case, Bastiat provided a survey of literature, because it “is only needful to open, almost at random, a book on philosophy, politics, or history, to see how strongly this idea—the child of classical studies and the mother of socialism—is rooted in our country; that mankind is merely inert matter, receiving life, organization, morality, and wealth from power; or, rather, and still worse—that mankind itself tends towards degradation, and is only arrested in its tendency by the mysterious hand of the legislator.”

Bastiat started with a quotation by Jacques-Benigne Bousset – a French theologian of the previous generation who was court preacher of Louix XIV. He was a strong advocate for political absolutism and the divine right of kings and a vocal opponent of Protestantism.

One of the things which was the most strongly impressed (by whom?) upon the mind of the Egyptians, was the love of their country. . . . Nobody was allowed to be useless to the State; the law assigned to every one his employment, which descended from father to son. No one was permitted to have two professions, nor to adopt another. . . . But there was one occupation which was obliged to be common to all, this was the study of the laws and of wisdom; ignorance of religion and the political regulations of the country was excused in no condition of life. Moreover, every profession had a district assigned to it (by whom?). . . . Amongst good laws, one of the best things was, that everybody was taught to observe them (by whom?). Egypt abounded with wonderful inventions, and nothing was neglected which could render life comfortable and tranquil.

Bastiat objected to Bossuet’s assertion that men derive nothing from themselves, that all patriotism, wealth, innovation, husbandry, science, etc., flows from the king and the system of laws these people live under. Bossuet saw the same pattern among the Persians, by the way:

One of the first cares of the prince was to encourage agriculture. . . . As there were posts established for the regulation of the armies, so there were offices for the superintending of rural works. . . . The respect with which the Persians were inspired for royal authority was excessive. The Greeks, although full of mind, were no less strangers to their own responsibilities; so much so, that of themselves, like dogs and horses, they would not have  ventured upon the most simple games. In a classical sense, it is an undisputed thing that everything comes to the people from without. 

The Greeks, naturally full of spirit and courage, had been early cultivated by kings and colonies who had come from Egypt. From them they had learned the exercises of the body, foot races, and horse and chariot races. . . . The best thing that the Egyptians had taught them was to become docile, and to allow themselves to be formed by the laws for the public good. 

Francois Fenelon was a student of Bussuet’s who disagreed strongly with him over the love of God, but Bastiat found that they agreed on this subject of the wise ruling class needing to guide the poor dumb brutes that composed the majority of society. Reared in the study and admiration of antiquity and a witness of the power of Louis XIV, Fenelon adopted the idea that mankind should be passive, recognizing that its misfortunes and prosperities, virtues and vices, are caused by the external influence that is exercised upon it by the law or the law’s makers. In Utopia of Salentum, he brings ordinary people, with their interests, their faculties, their desires, and their possessions, under the absolute direction of the legislator:

Whatever the subject may be, they themselves have no voice in it—the prince judges for them. The nation is just a shapeless mass, of which the prince is the soul. In him resides the thought, the foresight, the principle of all organization, of all progress; on him, therefore, rests all the responsibility.

Bastiat referred his readers to Fenelon’s The Adventures of Telemachus, particularly the 10th book of the series. He quoted from it at random to show Fenelon’s all-consuming belief that human beings cannot manage their own lives without the ruling class telling them how to do it:

We could not turn our eyes to the two shores, without perceiving rich towns and country seats, agreeably situated; fields that were covered every year, without intermission, with golden crops; meadows full of flocks; laborers bending under the weight of fruits that the earth lavished on its cultivators; and shepherds who made the echoes around repeat the  soft sounds of their pipes and flutes. “Happy,” said Mentor, “is that people who is governed by a wise king.”. . . Mentor afterwards desired me to remark the happiness and abundance that was spread over all the country of Egypt, where twenty-two thousand
cities might be counted. He admired the excellent police regulations of the cities; the justice administered in favor of the poor against the rich; the good education of the children, who were accustomed to obedience, labor, and the love of arts and letters; the exactness with which all the ceremonies of religion were performed; the disinterestedness, the desire of honor, the fidelity to men, and the fear of the gods, with which every father inspired his children. He could not sufficiently admire the prosperous state of the country. “Happy” said he, “is the people whom a wise king rules in such a manner.

Fénelon’s idyll on Crete is still more fascinating. Mentor is made to say:

All that you will see in this wonderful island is the result of the laws of Minos. The education that the children receive renders the body healthy and robust. They are accustomed, from the first, to a frugal and laborious life; it is supposed that all the
pleasures of sense enervate the body and the mind; no other pleasure is presented to them but that of being invincible by virtue, that of acquiring much glory . . . there they punish three vices that go unpunished amongst other people—ingratitude, dissimulation, and avarice. As to pomp and dissipation, there is no need to punish these, for they are
unknown in Crete. . . . No costly furniture, no magnificent clothing, no delicious feasts, no gilded palaces are allowed.

Mentor’s purpose is to prepare his scholar to mold and manipulate the people of Ithaca, for their own good, no doubt, even if it is against their will.

So we receive our first political notions. We are taught to treat men very much as farmers treat soil or potters clay.

Charles-Louis de Montesquieu was a French lawyer, scholar and political philosopher who lived in the Age of Englightment. We get separation of powers from him. We also get our modern notion of class from him as he divided French society into three — the monarchy, the aristocracy and the commons. Bastiat may have met him as they both lived in Paris at the same time. Despite his strong influence on our Founders, Montesquieu also believed in the ruling class telling the commons what to do in pretty much every instance.

To sustain the spirit of commerce, it is necessary that all the laws should favor it; that these same laws, by their regulations in dividing the fortunes in proportion as commerce enlarges them, should place every poor citizen in sufficiently easy circumstances to enable him to work like the others, and every rich citizen in such mediocrity that he must work, in order to retain or to acquire. 

Bastiat rightly recognized that this would eliminate all fortunes. Yes, in a democracy, the State should support “real equality”, but that is very difficult to measure. Montesquieu would see massive redistribution of wealth … equalization by force of the law.

There were, in Greece, two kinds of republics. One was military, as Sparta; the other commercial, as Athens. In the one it was wished (by whom?) that the citizens should be idle: in the other, the love of labor was encouraged. It is worth our while to pay a little attention to the extent of genius required by these legislators, that we may see how, by confounding all the virtues, they showed their wisdom to the world.

Lycurgus, blending theft with the spirit of justice, the hardest slavery with extreme liberty, the most atrocious sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave stability to his city. He seemed to deprive it of all its resources, arts, commerce, money, and walls; there was ambition without the hope of rising; there were natural sentiments where the individual was neither child, nor husband, nor father. Chastity even was deprived of modesty. By this road Sparta was led on to grandeur and to glory.

The phenomenon that we observe in the institutions of Greece has been seen in the midst of the degeneracy and corruption of our modern times. An honest legislator has formed a people where probity has appeared as natural as bravery among the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a true Lycurgus, and although the former had peace for his object, and the latter war, they resemble each other in the singular path along which they have led their people, in their influence over free men, in the prejudices which they have overcome, the passions they have subdued.

America’s founders admired Rouseau, but it’s important to remember that that his philosophies ignited the French Revolution. Although Rousseau’s philosophy held strong authority with the democrats, Bastiat thought him a strong advocate for “the entire passiveness of human nature: in the presence of the lawgiver:

If it is true that a great prince is a rare thing, how much more so must a great lawgiver be? The former has only to follow the pattern proposed to him by the latter. This latter is the engineer who invents the machine; the former is merely the workman who sets it in motion.

And what part have men to act in all this? That of the machine, which is set in motion; or rather, are they not the brute matter of which the machine is made? Thus, between the legislator and the prince, between the prince and his subjects, there are the same relations as those that exist between the agricultural writer and the agriculturist, the agriculturist and the clod. At what a vast height, then, is the politician placed, who rules over legislators themselves and teaches them their trade in such imperative terms as the following:

Would you give consistency to the State? Bring the extremes together as much as possible. Suffer neither wealthy persons nor beggars.

If the soil is poor and barren, or the country too much confined for the inhabitants, turn to industry and the arts, whose productions you will exchange for the provisions which you require. . . . On a good soil, if you are short of inhabitants, give all your attention to agriculture, which multiplies men, and banish the arts, which only serve to depopulate the country. . . . Pay attention to extensive and convenient coasts. Cover the sea with vessels, and you will have a brilliant and short existence. If your seas wash only inaccessible rocks, let the people be barbarous, and eat fish; they will live more quietly, perhaps better, and most certainly more happily. In short, besides those maxims which are common to all, every people has its own particular circumstances, which demand a legislation peculiar to itself. 

 

Bastiat found it interesting that Rousseau though the government should reflect the needs of the nation, but didn’t reaction that the nation could reflect its own needs without help from the government.

Why does he not allow that by obeying their own impulse, men would of themselves apply agriculture to a fertile district, and commerce to extensive and commodious coasts without the interference of a Lycurgus, a Solon, or a Rousseau, who would undertake it at the risk of deceiving themselves?

Be that as it may, we see with what a terrible responsibility Rousseau invests inventors, institutors, conductors, and manipulators of societies. He is, therefore, very exacting with regard to them.

Bastiat might well have said to Barack Obama that daring to undertake the fundamental transformation of the American nation requires manipulating every individual, denying him his right to live his life as he chooses. “He must feel that he can change the constitution of man, to fortify it, and substitute a social and moral existence for the physical and independent one that we have all received from nature. In a word, he must
deprive man of his own powers, to give him others that are foreign to him.”

Where is the dignity in that?

Bastiat continued his survey with a quote by Guillaume Thomas Raynal, a French writer and scholar during the Enlightment;

The climate, that is, the air and the soil, is the first element for the legislator. His resources prescribe to him his duties. First, he must consult his local position. A population dwelling upon maritime shores must have laws fitted for navigation. . . . If the colony is located in an inland region, a legislator must provide for the nature of the soil, and for its degree of fertility. . . . It is more especially in the distribution of property that the wisdom of legislation will appear. As a general rule, and in every country, when a new
colony is founded, land should be given to each man, sufficient for the support of his family. . . . In an uncultivated island, which you are colonizing with children, it will only be needful to let the germs of truth expand in the developments of reason!

. . . But when you establish old people in a new country, the skill consists in only allowing it those injurious opinions and customs which it is impossible to cure and correct. If you wish to prevent them from being perpetuated, you will act upon the rising generation by a general and public education of the children. A prince or legislator ought never to found a colony without previously sending wise men there to instruct the youth…. In a new colony, every facility is open to the precautions of the legislator who desires to purify the tone and the manners of the people. If he has genius and virtue, the lands and the men that are at his disposal will inspire his soul with a plan of society that a writer can only vaguely trace, and in a way that would be subject to the instability of all hypotheses, which are varied and complicated by an infinity of circumstances too difficult to foresee and to combine.

Bastiat noted that Raynal wrote as if he were a professor of agriculture telling his pupils how best to amend the soil. But the soil that he is discussing happen to be people, “your equals, intelligent and free beings like yourselves, who have received from God, as you have, the faculty of seeing, of foreseeing, of thinking, and of judging for themselves!”

Bastiat continued by quoting Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, a French philosopher and historian of the 18th century.

Mably was writing that the laws can become obsolete and sometimes neglect security, so:

Under these circumstances, we must be convinced that the bonds of Government are slack. Give them a new tension (it is the reader who is addressed), and the evil will be remedied. . . . Think less of punishing the faults than of encouraging the virtues that you want. By this method you will bestow upon your republic the vigor of youth.

Through ignorance of this, a free people has lost its liberty! But if the evil has made so much way that the ordinary magistrates are unable to remedy it effectually, have recourse to an extraordinary magistracy, whose time should be short, and its power considerable. The imagination of the citizens requires to be impressed.

In other words, treat your subjects like children until they rebel and then come down on them hard. “There was a time when, under the influence of teaching like this, which is the foundation of classical education, everyone was for placing himself beyond and above
mankind, for the sake of arranging, organizing, and instituting it in his own way.”

Bastiat wasn’t done yet with showing his readers what their leaders had been learning. He quoted Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, a French epistemologist who studies psychology:

Take upon yourself, my lord, the character of Lycurgus or of Solon. Before you finish reading this essay, amuse yourself with giving laws to some wild people in America or in Africa. Establish these roving men in fixed dwellings; teach them to keep flocks. . . . Endeavor to develop the social qualities that nature has implanted in them. . . . Make them begin to practice the duties of humanity. . . . Cause the pleasures of the passions to become distasteful to them by punishments, and you will see these barbarians, with every plan of your legislation, lose a vice and gain a virtue.

All these people have had laws. But few among them have been happy. Why is this? Because legislators have almost always been ignorant of the object of society, which is to unite families by a common interest. Impartiality in law consists in two things, in establishing equality in the fortunes and in the dignity of the citizens. . . . In proportion to the degree of equality established by the laws, the dearer will they become to every citizen. How can avarice, ambition, dissipation, idleness, sloth, envy, hatred, or jealousy agitate men who are equal in fortune and dignity, and to whom the laws leave no hope of disturbing their equality? What has been told you of the republic of Sparta ought to enlighten you on this question. No other State has had laws more in accordance with the order of nature or of equality.

Bastiat thought we shouldn’t be surprised that 17th and 18th century thinkers thought of people as inert matter, ready to receive everything down to the thoughts we think from a great prince, or legislator, or genius. They had been educated bo believe that few men in history had molded mankind according to their fancy, enslaved by the force of the law.

And what does this prove? That because men and society are improvable, error, ignorance, despotism, slavery, and superstition must be more prevalent in early times. The mistake of the writers quoted above is not that they have asserted this fact, but that they have proposed it as a rule for the admiration and imitation of future generations. Their mistake has been, with an inconceivable absence of discernment, and upon the faith of a puerile conventionalism, that they have admitted what is inadmissible, viz., the grandeur, dignity, morality, and well-being of the artificial societies of the ancient world; they have not understood that time produces and spreads enlightenment; and that in proportion to the increase of enlightenment, right ceases to be upheld by force, and society regains possession of herself.

Bastiat believed in the instinctive effort of people toward liberty. “[W]hat is liberty, whose name can make every heart beat, and which can agitate the world, but the union of all liberties, the liberty of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of movement, of labor, and of exchange; in other words, the free exercise, for all, of all the inoffensive faculties; and again, in other words, the destruction of all despotisms, even of legal despotism, and the reduction of law to its only rational sphere, which is to regulate the individual right of legitimate defense, or to repress injustice?”

While liberty is the tendencu of the human race, it can be thwarted by education that insists politicians must place themselves above mankind to arrange, organize and regulate it based on what they think is best.

For whilst society is struggling to realize liberty, the great men who place themselves at its head, imbued with the principles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, think only of subjecting it to the philanthropic despotism of their social inventions, and making it bear with docility, according to the expression of Rousseau, the yoke of public felicity as pictured in their own imaginations.

 

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