Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Natural and Artificial Social Order - Frédéric Bastiat -2

When a man feels that he has discovered a social order different from the one that has come into being through the natural tendencies of mankind, he must, perforce, in order to have his invention accepted, paint in the most somber colors the results of the order he seeks to abolish. Therefore, the political theorists to whom I refer, while enthusiastically and perhaps exaggeratedly proclaiming the perfectibility of mankind, fall into the strange contradiction of saying that society is constantly deteriorating. According to them, men are today a thousand times more wretched than they were in ancient times, under the feudal system and the yoke of slavery; the world has become a hell. If it were possible to conjure up the Paris of the tenth century, I confidently believe that such a thesis would prove untenable.
Secondly, they are led to condemn even the basic motive power of human actions—I mean self-interest—since it has brought about such a state of affairs. Let us note that man is made in such a way that he seeks pleasure and shuns pain. From this source, I agree, come all the evils of society: war, slavery, monopoly, privilege; but from this source also come all the good things of life, since the satisfaction of wants and the avoidance of suffering are the motives of human action. The question, then, is to determine whether this motivating force which, though individual, is so universal that it becomes a social phenomenon, is not in itself a basic principle of progress.
In any case, do not the social planners realize that this principle, inherent in man's very nature, will follow them into their new orders, and that, once there, it will wreak more serious havoc than in our natural order, in which one individual's excessive claims and self-interest are at least held in bounds by the resistance of all the others? These writers always assume two inadmissible premises: that society, as they conceive it, will be led by infallible men completely immune to the motive of self-interest; and that the masses will allow such men to lead them.
Finally, our social planners do not seem in the least concerned about the implementation of their program. How will they gain acceptance for their systems? How will they persuade all other men simultaneously to give up the basic motive for all their actions: the impulse to satisfy their wants and to avoid suffering? To do so it would be necessary, as Rousseau said, to change the moral and physical nature of man.
To induce all men, simultaneously, to cast off, like an ill-fitting garment, the present social order in which mankind has evolved since its beginning and adopt, instead, a contrived system, becoming docile cogs in the new machine, only two means, it seems to me, are available: force or universal consent.
Either the social planner must have at his disposal force capable of crushing all resistance, so that human beings become mere wax between his fingers to be molded and fashioned to his whim; or he must gain by persuasion consent so complete, so exclusive, so blind even, that the use of force is made unnecessary.
I defy anyone to show me a third means of setting up and putting into operation a phalanstery or any other artificial social order.
Now, if there are only two means, and we demonstrate that they are both equally impracticable, we have proved by that very fact that the social planners are wasting their time and trouble.
Visionaries though they are, they have never dreamed of having at their disposal the necessary material force to subjugate to their bidding all the kings and all the peoples of the earth. King Alfonso had the presumption to say, “If God had taken me into His confidence, the solar system would have been better arranged.” But if he set his wisdom above the Creator's, he was not mad enough to challenge God's power; and history does not record that he tried to make the stars turn in accord with the laws of his own invention. Descartes likewise was content to construct a little world of dice and strings, recognizing that he was not strong enough to move the universe. We know of no one but Xerxes who was so intoxicated with his power as to say to the waves, “Thus far shall ye come, and no farther.” The waves, however, did not retreat from Xerxes, but Xerxes from the waves, and, if not for this wise but humiliating precaution, he would have been drowned.
The social planners, therefore, lack the force to subject humanity to their experiments. Even though they should win over to their cause the Czar of Russia, the Shah of Persia, and the Khan of the Tartars, and all the rulers who hold absolute power over their subjects, they still would not have sufficient force to distribute mankind into groups and categories and abolish the general laws of property, exchange, heredity and family, for even in Russia, even in Persia and Tartary, men must to some extent be taken into account. If the Czar of Russia took it into his head to alter the moral and physical nature of his subjects, he probably would soon have a successor, and the successor would not be tempted to continue the experiment.
Since force is a means quite beyond the reach of our numerous social planners, they have no other resource open to them than to try to win universal consent.
This can be done in two ways: by persuasion or by imposture.
Persuasion! But not even two minds have ever been known to reach perfect agreement on every point within even a single field of knowledge. How, then, can all mankind, diverse in language, race, customs, spread over the face of the whole earth, for the most part illiterate, destined to die without ever hearing the reformer's name, be expected to accept unanimously the new universal science? What is involved? Changing the pattern of work, trade, of domestic, civil, religious relations—in a word, altering man's physical and moral nature; and people talk of rallying all humanity to the cause by conviction!
Truly, the task appears an arduous one.
When a man comes and says to his fellow men:
“For five thousand years there has been a misunderstanding between God and man. From Adam's time until now the human race has been on the wrong road, and if it will but listen to me, I shall put it back on the right track. God intended mankind to take a different route; mankind refused, and that is why evil entered the world. Let mankind hearken to my voice, and turn about; let it proceed in the opposite direction; then will the light of happiness shine upon all men.”
When, I say, a man begins like this, he is doing well if he gets five or six disciples to believe him; and from five or six to a billion men is a far, far cry, so far in fact that the distance is incalculable!
And then, reflect that the number of social inventions is as limitless as man's own imagination; that there is not a single planner who, after a few hours alone in his study, cannot think up a new scheme; that the inventions of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen, Cabet, Blanc, etc., bear no resemblance whatsoever to one another; that not a day passes without still others burgeoning forth; that, indeed, humanity has some reason for drawing back and hesitating before rejecting the order God has given it in favor of deciding definitely and irrevocably on one of the countless social inventions available. For what would happen if, after one of these schemes had been selected, a better one should present itself? Can the human race establish a new basis for property, family, labor, and exchange every day in the year? Can it risk changing the social order every morning?
“Thus,” as Rousseau says, “since the lawgiver cannot use either force or reason, he must have recourse to a different manner of authority that can win support without violence and persuade without convincing.”
What is that authority? Imposture. Rousseau does not dare utter the word; but, as is his invariable custom in such cases, he puts it behind the transparent veil of a purple passage:
“This,” he says, “is what, in all times, forced the founding fathers of nations to have recourse to the intervention of Heaven and to give credit to the gods for their own wisdom, so that the people, submitting to the laws of the state as if to the laws of Nature, and recognizing the selfsame power as the creator of men and as the creator of their commonwealth, might obey with liberty and bear docilely the yoke of their public felicity. The decrees ofsublime reason, which is above the reach of the common herd, are imputed by the lawgiver to the immortal gods, so as to win by divine authority the support of those whom human wisdom could not move. But it is not for every man to make the gods speak....”
And so, lest anyone be deceived, he completes his thought in the words of Machiavelli: Mai non fu alcuno ordinatore di leggi STRAORDINARIE in un popolo che non ricorresse a Dio.
Why does Machiavelli recommend invoking God's authority, and Rousseau the authority of the gods, and the immortals? I leave the answer to the reader.
Certainly I do not accuse the modern founding fathers of stooping to such unworthy subterfuge. Yet, considering the problem from their point of view, we readily appreciate how easily they can be carried away by their desire for success. When a sincere and philanthropic man is firmly convinced that he possesses a social secret by means of which his fellow men may enjoy boundless bliss in this world; when he clearly sees that he cannot win acceptance of his idea either by force or by reason, and that guile is his only recourse; his temptation is bound to be great. We know that even the ministers of the religion that professes the greatest horror of untruth have not recoiled from the use of pious fraud; and we observe (witness the case of Rousseau, that austere writer who inscribed at the head of all his works the motto: Vitam impendere vero) that even proud philosophy herself can be seduced by the enticements of a very different motto: The end justifies the means. Why, then, be surprised if the modern social planners should likewise think in terms of “giving credit to the gods for their own wisdom, of putting their own decrees in the mouths of the immortal gods, of winning support without violence and persuading without convincing”?
We know that, like Moses, Fourier had his Deuteronomy following his Genesis. Saint-Simon and his disciples had gone even further in their apostolic nonsense. Others, more shrewd, lay hold of religion in its broadest sense, modifying it to their views under the name of neo-Christianity. No one can fail to be struck by the tone of mystic affectation that nearly all the modern reformers put into their preachings.
But the efforts in this direction have proved only one thing, which has, to be sure, its importance, namely, that in our day not everyone who wills may become a prophet. In vain he proclaims himself God; nobody believes him, not the public, not his peers, not even he himself.
Since I have mentioned Rousseau, I shall venture to make a few observations about this social planner, particularly as they will be helpful in showing in what respects artificial social orders differ from the natural order. This digression, moreover, is not inopportune, since for some time now the Social Contract has been hailed as a miraculous prophecy of things to come.
Rousseau was convinced that isolation was man's natural state, and, consequently, that society was a human invention. “The social order,” he says at the outset, “does not come from Nature; it is therefore founded on convention.”
Furthermore, our philosopher, though loving liberty passionately, had a low opinion of men. He considered them completely incapable of creating for themselves the institutions of good government. The intervention of a lawgiver, a founding father, was therefore indispensable.
“The people being subject to the law should be the authors of the law,” he says. “Only those who associate together have the right to regulate the conditions of their association. But how shall they regulate them? Shall it be by common agreement or by a sudden inspiration? How is a blind multitude of men, who often do not know what they want, since they rarely know what is good for them, to accomplish of themselves such a vast and difficult enterprise as that of devising a system of legislation? .... Individuals see the good and reject it; the public seeks the good and cannot find it: both are equally in need of guides..... Hence the necessity of a lawgiver.”
This lawgiver, as we have seen, “being unable to use either force or reason, must of necessity have recourse to a different manner of authority,” namely, in plain words, to guile and duplicity.
Nothing can adequately convey the idea of the dizzy heights above other men on which Rousseau places his lawgiver:
“We should have gods to give laws to men..... He who dares to institute a society must feel himself capable, so to speak, of changing human nature itself.... of altering man's essential constitution, so that he may strengthen it..... He must deprive man of his own powers that he may give him others that are alien to him..... The lawgiver is, in every respect, an extraordinary man in the state.... his function is a unique and superior one, which has nothing in common with the ordinary human status..... If it is true that the great prince is a very special man, what should one say of the great lawgiver? The former has only to follow the ideal, whereas it is the latter's role to create it. The lawgiver is the inventor of the machine; the prince, merely the operator.”
And what, then, is mankind in all this? The mere raw material out of which the machine is constructed.
Truly, what is this but arrogance raised to the point of monomania? Men, then, are the raw materials of a machine that the prince operates and the lawgiver designs; and the philosopher rules the lawgiver, placing himself immeasurably above the common herd, the prince, and the lawgiver himself; he soars above the human race, stirs it to action, transforms it, molds it, or rather teaches the founding fathers how to go about the task of stirring, transforming, and molding it.
However, the founder of a nation must set a goal for himself. He has human raw material to put to work, and he must shape it to a purpose. Since the people are without initiative and everything depends on the lawgiver, he must decide whether his nation is to be commercial or agricultural, or a society of barbarians and fisheaters, etc.; but it is to be hoped that the lawgiver makes no mistake and does not do too much violence to the nature of things.
The people, by agreeing to form an association, or rather by forming an association at the will of the lawgiver, have, then, a very definite end and purpose. “Thus it is,” says Rousseau, “that the Hebrews and more recently the Arabs, had religion as their principal object; the Athenians, letters; Carthage and Tyre, commerce; Rhodes, shipping; Sparta, war; and Rome, civic virtue.”
What will be the national objective that will persuade us French to abandon the isolation of the state of nature in order to form a new society? Or rather (for we are only inert matter, the raw material for the machine), toward what end shall our great lawgiver direct us?
According to the ideas of Rousseau, it could hardly be toward letters, commerce, or shipping. War is a nobler goal, and civic virtue is nobler still. Yet there is one goal above all others, one which “should be the end and purpose of all systems of legislation, and that is liberty and equality.”
But we must know what Rousseau meant by liberty. To enjoy liberty, according to him, is not to be free, but tocast our vote, even in case we should be “swept along without violence and persuaded without being convinced, for then we obey with liberty and bear docilely the yoke of public felicity.”
“Among the Greeks,” he said, “all that the populace had to do it did for itself; the people were constantly assembled in the market place, their climate was mild, they were not avaricious, slaves did all their work, and their great concern was their liberty.”
“The English people,” he says elsewhere, “believe that they are free. They are very much mistaken. They are free only while they are electing their members of parliament. Once they have elected them, they are slaves, they are nothing.”
The people, then, must do for themselves everything that relates to the public service if they are to be free, for it is in this that liberty consists. They must be constantly carrying on elections, constantly in the market place. Woe to them if they think of working for their livelihood! The instant a single citizen decides to take care of his own affairs, that very instant (to use a favorite phrase of Rousseau) everything is lost.
But surely this is no minor difficulty. What is to be done? For, obviously, in order to practice virtue, even to enjoy the right to liberty, we must first stay alive.
We have already noted the rhetorical verbiage that Rousseau uses to conceal the word “imposture.” Now we see him resort to flights of oratory to gloss over the logical conclusion of his whole work, which is slavery.
“Your harsh climate imposes special wants. For six months in the year your market place cannot be frequented, your muted tongues cannot make themselves heard in the open air, and you fear slavery less than poverty.
“Truly you see that you cannot be free.
“What! Liberty can be preserved only if supported by slavery? Perhaps.”
If Rousseau had ended with this horrible word, the reader would have been revolted. Recourse to impressive declamation is in order. Rousseau responds nobly.
“Everything that is unnatural [he is speaking of society] has its inconveniences, and civil society even more than anything else. There are unfortunate situations in which one man's liberty can be preserved only at the expense of another's, and where the citizen can be perfectly free only on condition that the slave be abjectly a slave. You nations of the modern world have no slaves, but you yourselves are slaves; you purchase their freedom at the price of your own..... I am unmoved by the noble motives you attribute to your choice; I find you more cowardly than humane.”
Does not this simply mean: Modern nations, you would do better not to be slaves yourselves but, instead, to own slaves?
I beg the reader to forgive this long digression, which, I trust, has not been without value. For some time we have had Rousseau and his disciples of the Convention held up to us as the apostles of the doctrine of the brotherhood of man. Men as the raw material, the prince as the operator of a machine, the founding father as the designer, the philosopher high and mighty above them all, fraud as the means, and slavery as the end—is this the brotherhood of man that was promised?
It also seemed to me that this analysis of the Social Contract was useful in showing what characterizes artificial social orders. Start with the idea that society is contrary to Nature; devise contrivances to which humanity can be subjected; lose sight of the fact that humanity has its motive force within itself; consider men as base raw materials; propose to impart to them movement and will, feeling and life; set oneself up apart, immeasurably above the human race—these are the common practices of the social planners. The plans differ; the planners are all alike.
Among the new arrangements that poor weak mortals are invited to consider, there is one that is presented in terms worthy of our attention. Its formula is: progressive and voluntary association.
But political economy is based on this very assumption, that society is purely an association of the kind described in the foregoing formula; a very imperfect association, to be sure, because man is imperfect, but capable of improvement as man himself improves; in other words, progressive. Is it a question of a closer association among labor, capital, and talent, which should result in more wealth for the human family and its better distribution? Provided the association remains voluntary, that force and constraint do not intervene, that the parties to the association do not propose to make others who refuse to enter foot the bill, in what way are these associations contrary to the idea of political economy? Is not political economy, as a science, committed to the examination of the various forms under which men see fit to join their forces and to apportion their tasks, with a view to greater and more widely diffused prosperity? Does not the business world frequently furnish us with examples of two, three, four persons forming such associations? Is not the métayage, for all its imperfections, a kind of association of capital and labor? Have we not recently seen stock companies formed that permit even the smallest investors to participate in the largest enterprises? Are there not in our country some factories that have established profit-sharing associations for their workers? Does political economy condemn these efforts of men to receive a better return for their labor? Does it declare anywhere that mankind has gone as far as it can? Quite the contrary, for I am convinced that no science proves more clearly that society is in its infancy.
But, whatever hopes we may entertain for the future, whatever ideas we may have of the forms man may discover for the improvement of his relations with his fellow man, for the more equitable distribution of wealth, and for the dissemination of knowledge and morality, we must nonetheless recognize that the social order is composed of elements that are endowed with intelligence, morality, free will, and perfectibility. If you deprive them of liberty, you have nothing left but a crude and sorry piece of machinery.
Liberty! Today, apparently, we are no longer interested. In this land of ours, this France, where fashion reigns as queen, liberty seems to have gone out of style. Yet, for myself, I say: Whoever rejects liberty has no faith in mankind. Recently, it is alleged, the distressing discovery has been made that liberty leads inevitably to monopoly.2 No, this monstrous linking, this unnatural joining together of freedom and monopoly is nonexistent; it is a figment of the imagination that the clear light of political economy quickly dissipates. Liberty begets monopoly! Oppression is born of freedom! But, make no mistake about it, to affirm this is to affirm that man's tendencies are inherently evil, evil in their nature, evil in their essence; it is to affirm that his natural bent is toward his deterioration and that his mind is attracted irresistibly toward error. What good, then, are our schools, our study, our research, our discussions, except to add momentum to our descent down the fatal slope; since, for man, to learn to choose is to learn to commit suicide? And if man's tendencies are perverse, where will the social planners seek to place their fulcrum? According to their premises, it will have to be outside of humanity. Will they seek it within themselves, in their own intelligence, in their own hearts? But they are not yet gods: they too are men and hence, along with all humanity, careening down toward the fatal abyss. Will they call upon the state to intervene? But the state is composed of men; and we should have to prove that the men who form the state constitute a class apart, to whom the general laws of society are not applicable, since they are called upon to make the laws. Unless this be proved, the facing of the dilemma is not even postponed.
Let us not thus condemn mankind until we have studied its laws, forces, energies, and tendencies. Newton, after he had discovered the law of gravity, never spoke the name of God without uncovering his head. As far as intellect is above matter, so far is the social world above the physical universe that Newton revered; for the celestial mechanism is unaware of the laws it obeys. How much more reason, then, do we have to bow before the Eternal Wisdom as we contemplate the mechanism of the social world in which the universal mind of God also resides (mens agitat molem), but with the difference that the social world presents an additional and stupendous phenomenon: its every atom is an animate, thinking being endowed with that marvelous energy, that source of all morality, of all dignity, of all progress, that exclusive attribute of man—freedom!

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