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us better to recognise the general characteristics of
the State.

The first point which forces itself upon our notice
is, that the State is absolutely devoid of inventive

The State is a rigid collective organ, which can
only act by means of a complicated apparatus, com-
posed of numerous wheels and systems of wheels,


subordinated one to another ; the State is a hier-
archy either aristocratic, or bureaucratic, or elective,
in which spontaneous thought is by the very nature
of things subjected to a prodigious number of con-
trolling and hampering checks. Such a machine can
invent nothing.

The State, as a matter of fact, invents nothing, and
never has invented anything. The whole or almost
the whole of human progress is traceable to particu-
lar names, to those exceptional men whom the prin-
cipal Minister of the Second Empire called " indi-
vidualities without a mandate."

It is through and by these " individualities without
a mandate " that the world advances and develops
ibself. These are the prophets and inspired teachers
who represent the fermentation of the human mass,
which is naturally inert.

All hierarchical collectivity, moreover, is incapable
of invention. The whole of the Musical Section of
the Academy of the Fine Arts could not produce a
respectable sonata, nor the Painting Section a good
picture. A simple, independent individual, Littre',


made a Dictionary of the first order long before the
Forty of the French Academy.

No one can say that while art and science are
matters of personal work, the labours of social
progress are matters that can be done by the com-
munity : nothing is more untrue. New social
methods demand a spontaneity of mind and heart,
which are only found in certain privileged men.
These privileged men are endowed with the gift of
persuasion, not the gift of persuading sages, but that
of gaining over the simple, and those generous but
often timid natures, which are scattered broadcast
among the crowd. A single man of initiative, among
forty million inhabitants of a country, will always
find some bold spirits who will believe in him and
follow him, and find their fortune or their ruin with
him. He would waste his time if he tried to con-
vince these bureaucratic hierarchies, which are the
heavy though necessary organs of the thought and
action of the State.

We see, therefore, how sterile, in regard to inven-
tion, is this being, whom certain foolish thinkers have


represented as the brain of society. The vocation of
a State, of any State, is first and foremost a military
one. They represent, above all, the defences of the
country. We should, therefore, be inclined to expect
that the State, through its functionaries, would pro-
duce the greater part of the inventions and appliances
relative to war, navigation, and the rapidity of com-
munication. But this is not the case.

The invention of gunpowder is traced to a monk,
not to the State. In our century it was only a
chemist, the Swedish Noble, belonging to the most
peaceable country in Europe, who invented dynamite.
Michel Chevalier in July, 1870, called the attention
of the Imperial Government to this formidable ex-
plosive. During the second siege of Paris, M. Barbe,
afterwards Minister of Agriculture, begged M. Thiers
to use this new substance. But in both cases, though
the Governments were so differently manned, and
held such different principles, they paid no attention
to these proposals.

The same thing goes on in maritime as in military
discoveries ; the Marquis of Jouffroy, in 1776, navi-


gated the first steam-boat on the Doubs; but on
seeking encouragement from the Minister Calonne he
was repulsed. He was a bad Minister, you will say ;
but in the constant series of Ministers in all countries
there are, at least, as many bad or indifferent ones as
good ones. Even when Fulton, a quarter of a
century later, addressed himself to a really great
man Napoleon this great statesman considered his
attempts childish. While the State disdained steam
and was slow in applying it, it was no less incapable
of inventing and slow in applying the screw.
Sauvage, the inventor, passed from a debtor's prison
to a madhouse.

We find the same holds good with regard to com-
munication and locomotion. By the end of the
Restoration there were three small railroads working
in France, created by private initiative and without
State-subsidies of any kind. It took the State ten
years to discuss the best kind of railroads, and by its
tergiversations, its absurd demands, it proportionately
retarded, as I shall show later on, the development of
the iron network in our country.


It was ten years after the cutting of the Suez
Canal by M. La valley's dredging-machine that the
French State began to introduce it in its own works
in constructing ports and harbours. Neither sub-
marine cables, nor the piercing of isthmuses, nor any
other of the principal works which have changed the
face of the world are due to our own or to any other

Telephones were generally used in all private
businesses before the State began to take them up.
Afterwards, many States attempted to confiscate
them. In the same way the Municipal Council of
Paris, by its absurd requirements, retarded for ten
years the introduction of the electric light in that

The modern State affects a strong predilection for
education ; yet, the French Central School of Arts
and Manufactures was founded by private indivi-
duals, and the Commercial Schools of Mulhouse,
Lyon, and Havre, were instituted by manufacturers.

The State in a rare moment of initiative wishes to
found a School of Administration : but it does not


succeed in the attempt. Ultimately, a free School
of Political Sciences is started by a private individual
who manages to win for it in two years a brilliant
renown both in the old and new worlds.

The State in France grows weary of the ancient
educational methods which it originally borrowed
from a private society the Jesuits it is now seized
with a violent infatuation for the work of another
private society that of the Ecole Monge it deter-
mines all at once to generalise the principles of this
school, and to apply them throughout its territory.

I have no wish to contest the services which in
some directions the State undoubtedly renders, or to
overlook the* perfecting in detail which many of its
engineers or experts introduce or disseminate. I do
not deny that the State has in its service some
eminent and distinguished men ; I maintain, how-
ever, that most of them, when they have the oppor-
tunity, prefer to leave the official administration,
where advancement is slow and pedantically managed,
and is subject to nepotism or senile incapacity, that
they may enter the ranks of private enterprise where


men are at once admitted to the rank which their
talents and their merit mark out for them.

How could it be otherwise ? " The spirit," says the
Scripture, like the wind, " bloweth where it listeth."
Modern philosophy has rendered this great thought
by another formula, " Tout le monde a plus d'esprit
que Voltaire." (Everyone has more wit than Voltaire.)
It is not within regular limits, prudently and deliber-
ately designed, that the spirit of invention will work ;
it chooses its 6lite freely from among the crowd.

When we say that the State is essentially lacking
in the faculty of invention and in the faculty of
promptly applying new discoveries, we have no in-
tention of blackening its character, or laying it open
to damaging sarcasms. We are simply portraying its
najjire, which has different and opposing merits.

From the social point of view again, the State can
discover nothing. Bills of exchange, demand drafts,
cheques, the multifarious operations of banks, the
clearing-house, assurance, savings banks, ingenious
methods of payment by profit-sharing, co-operative
societies not one of all these improvements is


traceable to the thought or the action of the State.
All these ingenious contrivances have sprung out of
the free social medium.

What, then, is the State ? It is not a creative
organ, by any means. It is an organ of criticism, an
organ of generalisation, co-ordination, vulgarisation.
It is, above all, an organ of conservation.

The State is a copyist, an enlarger, an exaggerator
even. In its copies and adaptations from private
enterprises, it runs many chances of making mistakes,
or of multiplying indefinitely whatever mistakes it-
finds in the original from which it is borrowing.

It intervenes after discoveries have been made,
and it may then give them a certain amount of
assistance. But it may also stifle them : with the
intervention of the State which may, in many cases,
be beneficent we have always this element of cap-
rice to fear, this brutal, monopolising tendency, this
quia nominor leo. It possesses, in fact, a double
power, which it can wield with terrible force, legal
constraint and fiscal constraint.

From this very fact that the State is so absolutely


destitute of the faculty of invention, that it possesses
only the capacity of assimilation and of co-ordination,
and that in a very variable measure, it follows that
the State cannot be the first agent, the primary cause
of progress in human society : it is not in a position
to do more than to play the part of an auxiliary, an
agent of propagation, which, moreover, runs the risk
pf transforming itself, by an injudicious presumption,
into an agent of perturbation.

It must, therefore, descend from the throne on
which some have attempted to place it.

It follows, further, that the State is not the highest
form of personality, as M. Von Stein maintains. It is
the largest, no doubt, but not the highest, since it is
devoid of that most marvellous of human attributes
the power of invention.

Before entering in detail into the tasks undertaken
by the trinity of State-powers the central, pro-
vincial, and communal power we have thought it
desirable to refute these errors, and to lay down these
principles. The mission of the State will by this
means become all the clearer.


Special Characteristics of the Modern State Its
Weaknesses Its Natural Field of Action.


Nature of the Modern State The State as Elective,
but with a Variable Staff of Officials.

THK Modern State in the Western World presents many special
characteristics which distinguish it from many ancient and
from all the Oriental States The Modern State rests on the
temporary delegation of authority by those who are to submit
to it Idea that the will of the majority makes laws, that the
forces of the Government ought to be employed in the inter-
ests of the labouring classes : disdain of tradition, nai've con-
fidence in legislative changes General prejudices against
ancient customs and ancient institutions Decisive influence
exercised on the direction of the Modern State by the younger
generation Submission of fathers to their children Histori-
cal experience is far from having pronounced in favour of
this organisation.

AN apparatus of coercion, subjecting all citizens to

the double constraint of the law which regulates



certain acts of their life, and of the impost which
carries off a considerable part of their resources : a
machine, necessarily complicated in proportion to
the extent and variety of the tasks to which it is
destined, comprising a constantly increasing number
of wheels overlaid or inter-linked with each other,
only daring to act slowly and with uniformity for
fear of getting out of order such is the State in
its essential features from the time when Society
has passed out of the first stages of barbarism. We
have already seen that this organism is by nature
lacking in one of the fairest attributes which have
fallen to the lot of man the spirit of invention.

We have also gathered from history that the
State had for its primary object the conservation
of Society : that later on it became incumbent on
it gradually and prudently to generalise certain
rules and processes discovered by the initiative of
private persons or of free associations, and that it re-
quires the support not only of the majority but of the
whole of the inhabitants in order that the nation may
draw from it all the profit that it has a right to expect.


This second task calls for an important reservation :
since human society progresses and develops only
by means of the spirit of invention, and since the
State is absolutely devoid of this gift, it being a
monopoly of the individual and of those infinite
and diversified groups which the free individual
forms, the State should be ever on the watch with
an incessant and attentive care so to circumscribe
its own action as that it maj T not, save in cases of
evident necessity, in any degree prejudice individual
energy or the liberty of private associations.

I have already said that in the present work I
intend to deal, not with the State in itself, which
is an abstraction somewhat hard to grasp, but with
the Modern State. I do not wish to investigate
the duties and properties of the State in the time
of Lycurgus or Constantine, nor yet to occupy my-
self with the mission which to-day devolves upon
the State in China or Thibet.

No doubt since man is fundamentally the same
everywhere, and the rules which determine his
activity are of the same nature everywhere, though


with varying degrees of intensity, it might be said
that most of the observations which are suggested by
the Modern State of the Western World might,
though in a different measure, apply to the ancient
and to Asiatic States. Nevertheless, it is well to
circumscribe ourselves within certain limits of space
and time. The Western State of modern times pre-
sents special characteristics in some senses more and
in some less fitted and qualified for the performance
of certain tasks.

What do we understand by the Modern State of
the Western World ? It is a State resting mainly on
the basis of the temporary delegation of authority by
those who are to submit to it. It is an elective State
with a variable staff of officials.

It is true that in all times and in almost all
countries, election has played some part in the con-
stitution of/ the State. But in the Western States
to-day we find it playing more than an accessory or
subordinate part, exercising more than a simple con-
trol. The elective principle there has invaded and
absorbed everything.


In the Old World, France and Switzerland, and in
the New World, all the States except Brazil, present,
in the most marked manner, these special features of
the Modern Western State. In the other countries
belonging to our group of civilisation, Russia alone
excepted, we find conditions, if not identical, at least
very analogous : in certain of them we find some
counterpoise to the elective regime; but in Eng-
land, Belgium, Holland, the Scandinavian States,
in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Brazil, even in Austria,
these counterpoises are but slight, and they do
not prevent the elective principle from having
the general direction of the policy of these

In Germany, or rather Prussia, we find different
conditions obtaining to-day. The elective principle
there has been seriously kept in check, more by the
course of events and the ascendancy of certain ex-
ceptionally gifted and exceptionally fortunate men,
than by the actual constitution of the State. The
constitution did but leave the door open to aspirations
which will necessarily, sooner or later, have their


vent, and which cannot fail to find satisfaction in
some way or other.

Whatever may be the minutiae of Government
machinery, public opinion, in all the Christian nations
everywhere to-day, obeys the same general impulses :
the idea that the will of the greater number makes
law, that the forces of Government ought to be em-
ployed as much as possible in the relief of the
labouring classes, a certain contempt for tradition, a
naive confidence in legislative changes such is the
social atmosphere in which the nations of the Western
World, in modern times, are working.

Ennius, the old Latin poet, fragments of whose
writings have remained to us, might write :

Moribus cmtiquis res stat Romana virisqiie.

But to-day very few people have any care for
ancient manners and customs : the general prejudice
is against them. M. de Play, the social reformer, may
preach to his contemporaries the duty of yielding to
old age the predominating influence in public life. I
do not know if this would even be desirable, but, in


any case, there are no signs that people are becoming
converted to this doctrine.

We do, no doubt, find some old men holding a pro-
minent place in politics, only recently in France, and
at this moment in Germany, England, and Italy.
But these are usually men of a- daring and enthusi-
astic temperament, who, by one of those caprices of
fancy in which old age sometimes indulges, become
the servants of the ideas by which the younger
generation are possessed, and are often in their decline
fonder of novelties than either in their youth or their
maturity. Mr. Gladstone presents an instance of this,
and, perhaps, also M. Thiers.

The younger generation has a marked influence on
the general direction of the Modern State. First, they
have considerable weight by their votes. For the
last 20 to 25 years there have been in France
1,400,000 electors, and deducting those who are
included in the ranks of the army, there still re-
main 1,000,000 young men, almost youths, all
active citizens, very few of whom abstain from
voting, who represent a tenth part of the regis-


tered electorate, and an eighth of the actual work-
ing electorate.

These younger generations have still more weight
through the influence they exert. It is well known
that in the modern family, instead of the father guid-
ing the child, the latter, when he is grown up, guides
his father. 1 If we further take account of the fact
that in all countries rival political parties are only
separated by a comparatively small number of votes,
we may conclude that the youngest and least ex-
perienced portion of the nation is in modern times
practically in possession of the conduct of affairs.

I will not stay here to examine whether this state
of things may be considered as final. It presents
some advantages, and many very real inconveniences.

It is difficult to believe that in this organisation
humanity will ultimately choose to make its perman-
ent resting-place. The Oriental peoples, some of whom,

1 This tendency is not peculiar only to France and the United
States of America ; we find it again in Russia. TourgueniefFs
novel, Fathers and Children, gives us proof of it. The Russian
author goes so far as to represent men of forty or forty-five years
belonging to the upper or middle-classes as old men in ecstatic
admiration over their children.


notably the Chinese, seem destined shortly to make
their entry on the scene of political affairs, are domin-
ated by .an entirely different conception of social life.
But besides this, the study of history does not lead us
to augur very favourably for the organisation which
our fathers and grandfathers hailed with so much

The past seems to prove that kings and aristocracies
make States, and that, left to themselves, the people
unmake them.

I shall carefully refrain from any definite prophe-
cies as to the future. But it seems to me not impro-
bable that, after a considerable lapse of time, it may
be, and after much painful groping and many severe
shocks from different quarters, nations whose terri-
tories are thickly populated, and who are surrounded
by dangerous neighbours, will revert to the system of
great administrative monarchies, like that of ancient
France, only with more checks and counterpoises, or
rather like that of the existing Prussian monarchy, or
again, like the Roman Empire in its best days, which
lasted over a period of at least two centuries.


But these are only conjectures. We have now to
study what the Modern State, that is, the State more
or less elective, and with a variable staff of officials,
can and ought to do for the conservation of societies
and the progress of civilisation.

Let us compare the vast ambitions to which it is
now being prompted with the means it has at its dis-
posal and the results that it has shown itself capable
of attaining.


Consequences of the Special Nature of the Modern

THIS Modern State is a prey- successively to infatuations of
every kind The Modern State of to-day represents the zenith
of the temporary infatuation for the majority of the nation
Different kinds of infatuation to which the Modern State may
become a victim The elections are like an instantaneous
photograph which takes a horse at a gallop and represents
him as galloping for ever Legislation in Modern States is
necessarily almost always extreme either in the direction of
action or of reaction Parliamentary over-pressure : happy
effects of obstruction and of the referendum The Modern
State has very little sequence, either in ideas or in the per-
sonages which compose it The principle of victoribus tpolia
If it avoids this peril, the State falls into gerontocracy The
Modern State by its very definition lacks impartiality, seeing
that it is government by a party The party in power has
never more than a precarious possession of it The principle
of division of labour creates the class of politicians, with all
their special vices The precarious tenure of power gives to
the officers of the Modern State a feverish and superficial
energy Analogous effects produced by Oriental despotisms
and by contemporary democracy : pillage of public resources
The Modern State has very little grasp of social interests in

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their synthetic form It has more, appreciation of immediate
interests, however secondary, than of far-distant interests
even of primary importance The functionaries of the State
have neither the stimulus nor the restraint of personal interest
The State is sheltered from the action of competition
Reply to the objection as to the vital competition between
parties and between States Of the so-called right of secession
Personal emigration Forgetfulness of modesty in the
Modern State.

THE general characteristics of the Modern State
entail very serious consequences. It would be absurd
to pass them over in silence as do so many who deal
with the mission of the State.

The first of these characteristics is that since the
Modern State is constituted from out of the mass of
its citizens by delegation of authority for short
periods, it is not only not in its essence more intelli-
gent than they especially than the more enlightened
among them but also it is subject to all the succes-
sive prejudices which dominate and which lead astray
the human kind : it is a prey to all kinds of infatua-
tions one after another.

But more than this, it is in itself always in some
sort the r&swmi, the accentuation, the intensification


of the special kind of infatuation prevalent in the
country at the last renewal of the public authorities,
that is, at the last general election.

This characteristic of the Modern State has not
been sufficiently insisted on. The Modern State
expresses for four or five years at a time the will not
of the whole nation, but of a mere majority, and
often of a majority that is more apparent than real :
and further, it expresses this will as it was mani-
fested at a period of excitement and of fever.
Elections are not preceded by retreats, by fasting,
and by prayer; they are not conducted in silence and
meditation. But even if this were the case, they
would still be defective, since it is incidental to
human nature that the elections should always be
influenced by intrigue, and by the prestige which
professional politicians and all turbulent, excited, and
ambitious persons know how to win among those
yielding and timid souls who practically form the
great bulk of the electorate. The elections take place

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Online LibraryPaul Leroy-BeaulieuThe modern state in relation to society and the individual; → online text (page 5 of 11)