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carries up to the highest pitch, the infatuations, un-
tamed impulses, and prepossessions to which the
public mind is prone.

From the preceding explanations, it would seem
that we can clearly deduce the following rules :

By virtue of its superiority from the point of view
of conception, invention, and aptitude for frequent
modifications, or varied experiments, individual action
should a priori be preferred to that of the State for
all enterprises susceptible of remuneration.

This does not imply that the State should not con-
trol certain great departments of service, such as the
post and the telegraph, which, from the point of view
of civilisation generally, it is desirable should em-
brace the whole territory. Even here, at least with
the telegraph, the monopoly of the State carries with
it considerable inconvenience. The secrecy of tele-
grams is much less observed by the State tban by
private societies. Various political parties in France
have quite recently made grave complaints on this
score. There is absolutely no pecuniary responsi-
bility in that country for the telegraphic admiuistra-


tion of the State, for its errors and its defects. On
every telegraphic notice you are carefully warned
that by the law of the land the telegraphic adminis-
tration is irresponsible. By an error of transmission
it may cause the loss of many thousands or tens of
thousands of francs to a private person, but it can
refuse to make any kind of reparation. Decrees in
the courts have recognised this immunity, which is
so liable to abuse, for telegrams relative to the opera-
tions of the Bourse.

Face to face with a State administration, the
private individual is constantly coming into collision
with an arrogant bureaucracy, more or less irrespon-
sible, with laws that derogate from the common right,
with special and more or less partial legal jurisdiction.
Thus we cannot be too chary of admitting exceptions
to the rule that all services of whatever kind, which
are susceptible to remuneration, should be left in the
hands of individual action.

Therefore, voluntary associations, free societies, in
any shape or form, by virtue of the flexibility they
enjoy, of the rapidity of their successive adaptations,


of the greater play they allow to personal interest,
and to innovation, of their better-defined responsi-
bility towards their customers, and of the competition
they have to face, and which acts as a stimulus to
them, ought to be preferred to the State for all
services which admit of being fulfilled either by the
one or by the other.

Since the State is an organ of authority which
uses the weapon of constraint or the threat of it,
wherever equivalent results, or nearly so, can be
attained by the method of liberty, this method ought
to have the preference.

Even if we conceive that the State might, under
certain circumstances, for the moment organise a
service in a more general, perhaps even a more com-
plete, manner than free societies, this would not be a
sufficient reason for pronouncing in favour of State
action. It is here, in fact, that we find the import-
ance of rising to a synthetic view of society, instead
of considering isolated parties, and examining things
as it were with a microscope. Liberty, private enter-
prise, voluntary habits of collective action, hold, in


fact, the very germs of life and progress ; and these
germs have a general importance for the entire social
medium which is vastly greater than the mere tech-
nical perfection of such and such a secondary detail.

We should not only be concerned to attain in the
present, and as rapidly as possible, such and such
material results with reference, say, to insurance, or
the assistance of the poor, we have also to think of
the conservation of a certain energy and spontaneity
of movement among all the social forces. A man has
not only the execution of his daily task to consider ;
he ought also to take care that all his organs, all his
muscles, and all his nerves, are well at his service,
and capable of acting, that none of them should go to
waste, but that they are in such condition that he can
resume the use of them at any moment should the
necessity arise.

It is the same with human societies. It is better
that life and initiative should be diffused throughout
the social body than that it should be concentrated in
a single organ which wields an unlimited power of
constraint and an unlimited power of taxation.


Besides the method of legislative constraint and
taxation, which is but another form of constraint, the
State has a third method of influencing society
namely, by way of example. This method is subject
to less criticism than the other two. But it is none
the less insidious, or likely, if the State does not use
extreme discretion in exercising it, to cause a fatal
disturbance of social relations.

The force of the example set by the State increases
every day. The indirect action of the State, alto-
gether apart from its legal injunctions or from the
levying of its taxes, is in some respects more felt in
modern societies than it was among the ancients.
Man has always been prone to imitation : the crowd
keeps its eyes uplifted towards those who occupy
prominent positions, and seeks to reproduce in its
common everyday life some of the features of their

But it is not in this that the secret of the new
power lies which the example set by the State ex-
ercises to-day. It arises from the fact that the State
is the greatest consumer, the greatest executor of


works, the greatest " employer of labour " in the
nation. For the requirements of national defence,
that is, for those two formidable and progressive in-
dustries, the naval and military services : for the
gigantic public works with which it has over-laden
its trinity of powers, the central, provincial and
municipal authorities: for all the services which it
has more or less monopolised the post, the
telegraph, education, etc. the State spends annu-
ally in ordinary and extraordinary (an extraordinary
which is, however, permanent) from forty to fifty
millions sterling, after deducting the interest on the
national and the local debts. This amounts to
certainly more than a tenth of the entire expenditure,
both public and private, of all the citizens put to-
gether, and they are the most ostentatious forms of
expenditure, and the ones that most immediately
strike the eye. If, therefore, the State should make
up its mind to declare that in its workshops no one
should work more than eight or nine hours in the
day, and if it imposed on its purveyors the observ-
ance of the same length of working-day : if by means


of simple internal regulations it were pleased to de-
cree that certain combinations, more or less new and
more or less contested, such as co-operation, or profit-
sharing, should be practised by all the industrial
houses with which it has relations ; if it should fix
for the labourers in its employ, or in that of the food
purveyors to whom it gives orders, a different rate of
pay from that which is in ordinary use : it is clear
that this example being set by so gigantic a con-
sumer, so preponderating a customer, will have an
enormous weight with the nation at large.

The fancies and caprices of the State, even when
they do not take the form of general injunctions or
laws, reverberate for these reasons far and wide
throughout the whole social domain. Such examples
set by the State may often prove useful if they are
undertaken with extreme discretion and careful con-
sideration : but there is on the whole more likelihood
of their being pernicious and disturbing.

When the State thus undertakes to furnish models
to private individuals, and to encourage types of
organisation which it believes to be progression, it


assumes, often all too lightly, a very grave responsi-
bility. For, first, it does not act with the resources
that are its own property, but with derived resources
taken from others, so that even if at first in appear-
ance lacking, fiscal constraint ultimately becomes a
necessity. And next, the State does not enjoy entire
liberty, or absolute independence of judgment, be-
cause the electoral yoke and all the mental servitude
it involves weighs without a single moment's inter-
mission constantly upon the shoulders of those who
represent the Modern State. Lastly, being obliged to
act always uniformly and on a large scale, it
multiplies the errors that are so frequent in all
human endeavours.


The Essential Functions of the State : Its Mission
of Security, Justice, Legislation, and General


General Survey of the Functions of the State Con-
sidered with Reference to its Nature.

THE functions of the State spring from its very nature The
mission of the State is to provide for the common wants of the
nation ; distinction between common wants and general wants
The State is par excellence the determiner of judicial rights
and responsibilities The State, which alone possesses perpetu-
ity, ought to be the defender of permanent interests against
the short-sighted pursuit of present interests The State is the
natural protector of the weak : difficulties and exaggerations
which are incidental to this part of its mission The State can,
moreover, lend a helping hand to the development of those
individual works which constitute progressive civilisation : the
perils and temptations to encroachment which may beset this
faculty Impossibility of fixing, by a theoretical rule, the
limits within which this assistance of civilising agencies should


be confined : necessity of relying upon experience ; and exces-
sive abstention on the part of the State in this matter is less
harmful at our level of civilisation than an excessive intrusion.

THE State has, nevertheless, incumbent on it an
enormous, even a growing task, in some senses abso-
lute, in others relative. It is not the case, as one
philosopher (M. Jules Simon) has written, that " the
State ought to strive to render itself useless, and to
prepare for its own decease."

Its duty is only to avoid scattering its energies and
frittering away its forces, which is a very different
matter. It ought also to impose upon itself rules of
modesty and circumspection, as all sagacious indi-
viduals do, and this with all the more care since the
mistakes of a private person weigh on scarcely any
one but himself, whereas the mistakes of the State
affect mainly others, that is to say, all individuals, not
only qua members of the community, but also qua
private persons.

The essential functions of the State spring out of its
very nature. One of its characteristic features is to
represent the universality of the territory and its


inhabitants, to have a thought and action which can
everywhere make itself obeyed, by the aid of force if
need be. From this it follows that the State is
charged to provide for the common wants of the
nation ; for those, that is, which cannot be suitably
provided for under the regime of private initiative?
and which demand, as an essential preliminary, the
absolute concurrence of all citizens.

A distinction has justly been drawn between com-
mon wants and general wants. General wants are
those which exist for everyone, such as those of food,
drink, and amusement ; these can be perfectly well
provided for by individuals, or by the free and flexible
groupings which they constitute at their pleasure.
Common wants are those which cannot be completely
satisfied without the action of the community itself
as a whole, since any individual opposition, however
limited, would place an obstacle in the way of their
accomplishment; such are security, preservation against
certain contagious maladies, the maintenance of justice.
All the apparatus of compulsion and coercion is here
a sine qua non. If the State did not undertake it,


it would have to be done by private persons or societies,
and done empirically, partially, insufficiently.

Among the common wants of the nation I include
also some degree of intervention in the preparation, if
not in the execution, of public works : I refer to the
exercise of the right of expropriation which can only
devolve upon the State.

The general wants of the nation, which depend for
their satisfaction upon private initiative, are often
mistakenly confused with common wants, which are,
by their very nature, dependent on the community.
A mistake of this kind was made some years ago in
the State of Zurich, when the people were appealed
to for the constitution of a monopoly in the corn
trade. The electors of Zurich, who are not always so
well inspired, had the good sense to reject this social-
istic proposal by a two-third majority of votes. The
essence of Socialism consists in despoiling the in-
dividual of part of the functions which naturally
belong to him in order to confer them upon the State.

Among all the common wants of a nation, or even
of humanity generally, the next in importance after


security is justice. Security and justice are not
identical. The latter is of much vaster extent than
the former.

The State is essentially the determiner of judicial
rights and responsibilities. This, which is necessarily
incumbent upon it, is in itself an enormous task. We
shall presently see in what spirit, by what method,
and with how great prudence it ought to acquit itself
of this task.

Another feature of the State is the possession, or, at
any rate, the reputed possession of its tenure in per-
petuity. It endures for a succession of centuries. It
ought therefore to represent permanent interests and
to safeguard them against the short-sighted pursuit of
present interests. This is one of the most important
functions of the State.

The individual, or rather most individuals, those
who have least foresight, and who possess the least
themselves, often yield to the enticements of im-
mediate enjoyment, to the sacrifice of their future
well-being. If by doing so they only injure them-
selves, the State ought not in general to interfere.


But if they are deteriorating the general conditions of
national existence in the future, the State would fail to
carry out its most evident mission if it stayed its hand.

From the fact that the State thus represents per-
petuity, various and numerous duties devolve upon
it, some active, but more consisting of supervision
and control. The Modern State very rarely performs
these duties satisfactorily. And to make matters
worse, it has in many cases, actuated by jealousy,
suppressed those great durable corporations which in
former times supplemented its deficiencies.

The State is the natural guardian and protector of
the weak who have no one to support them. This
duty the modern society exhibits no tendency to
shirk. It rather tends to exaggerate its extent. It
is not bound to bring about universal happiness. But,
in fact, this mission of the State is attended with very
great difficulties of application. If men set about it
with an excessive sentimentalism, and lose sight of
what lies in the very nature of things, namely, that
each one must be responsible for his own weaknesses
and must suffer for them, they run a serious risk of


enervating society and rendering it less capable of

The State may, lastly, in a very variable measure
according to times and places, lend an accessory and
secondary aid to the development of the various works
which go to make up civilisation, and which emanate
from individual initiative, or from free groupings
of individuals.

The reader will not fail to perceive that whereas
the first functions of the State which we have pointed
out, viz., security, and the conservation of conditions
favourable to the physical medium in which a nation
moves, may be laid down with much clearness and
precision, the two last, on the contrary, the protection
of the weak, and the accessory aid given to civilising
agencies, cannot be determined with the same rigour
and exactness. In these matters its sphere of
influence may be variously estimated, and it is
especially on this side that the State in its threefold
capacity of central, provincial, and local authority is
apt to make encroachments which carry it beyond
its legitimate bounds.


In the absence of absolute theoretical rules, which
it is impossible to formulate, it is only by such a
rapid survey as we have just taken of the various
services which Modern States have taken upon them-
selves that we can hope to determine the limits which
the State ought to observe. At the level of civilisa-
tion which we have now reached, where we are more
in danger of succumbing to a narrowing governmental
constraint than of remaining behind-hand through
individual inertia, an excessive abstention on the
part of the State is attended by far less danger than
an excessive intrusion and interference.


The Service of Security.

THE collective security of the nation and the private security of
the individual The former has always been considered to be
the primary function of the State Government always
presents first and foremost the appearance of a military and
diplomatic apparatus The Modern State, that is to say, the
elective, over-changing State seems in the long run to en-
danger the force of this military and diplomatic apparatus
which, however, is as essential as ever to the life of nations
The Modern State presents but slight guarantees even for the
defence of the nation Superficial hopes of perpetual peace,
either within or without : grounds for quarrel which neverthe-
less continue to exist Security for individuals comes after
security for the nation itself as a whole : development both
in stringency and in precision of the service of internal
security Recent extensions of the service of security
Extreme delicacy of the problems they involve : precautions
against epidemics, maintenance of penitentiaries and re-
formatory schools The service of security tends in certain
respects to relapse into primitive barbarism The Modern
State bowed down with the weight of electoral servitude is
not always in a condition to guarantee absolute security of
wealth, or even of person.

THE first function of the State is to guarantee

security: the collective security of the nation, and



the personal security of the individual and of his

On this point there is no dispute as to principle.
But there is considerable difficulty of application.

As I have just said, there are two kinds of security ;
one against external danger, the other against internal
disorder. The first of these has in all time been con-
sidered the most essential task of the State. It is in
fact of paramount importance that the nation should
keep its life, preserve its limits, be subject to no
oppression and no tribute from abroad, and that be-
sides this it should have sufficient confidence in the
organisation of its forces not to be distracted from its
daily task by any panic.

This is why the Government has always seemed to
the people to be primarily a military and diplo-
matic apparatus.

There are some young nations, living under special
social conditions which will probably not be per-
manent, and having no near neighbours such as the
United States of America, for instance who seem to
escape from this common destiny of nations. It


would be rash indeed to maintain that it would
always be so. These countries undoubtedly enjoy for
the moment, from the circumstances of their origin,
the priceless advantage of being able to devote less
effort, and hence less thought and ingenuity, to their
army, their navy, and their diplomacy. But we must
not take this exception for the rule. It would be
madness on our part to attempt to copy it. 1

Everything in the constitution of a State which
endangers the cohesion of national forces, their pre-
paredness in time of peace, their continuity of practice
with respect to armament and the direction of foreign
policy, must be considered as contrary to the very
idea of the State, and a source of peril to the nation.

Unfortunately, the Modern State, out and out
elective, without reserve and without counterpoise,

1 We see already in recent acts of the American Government,
notably in the first despatch of the new President, Mr. Harri-
son, a tendency to take a more prominent part in different
matters which concern not only the new world but also the old.
A similar inclination may be observed in the Australian
Colonies. It is a mistake to suppose that these young societies
have arrived at a definite state of constitution ; they are still in
their infancy or youth. Their maturity will render them much
more analogous to the European States.


for ever varying in its personate, in its institutions,
its general ideas, and its technical conceptions, the
State which regards itself as " eternally provisional,"
which gives the lie to all tradition, proclaims itself a
parvenu, foolishly placing the date of its entry into
the world as a hundred years ago instead of twenty
centuries, as it could and ought to do, such a State,
precarious, vague, always changing, seems especially
to endanger, if not at first, yet in the long run, the
efficiency of that military and diplomatic apparatus,
the weakness of which might easily deliver it over as
a prey to the greed of rival nations.

Instead of changing your War Minister and your
Major-General once in ten or fifteen years, have
twenty in rapid succession ; instead of choosing your
generals for their professional knowledge, choose them
for their opinions, political, religious, or philosophic ;
instead of considering, in the recruiting of the army,
how to confer upon it the maximum of force, while
causing the minimum of perturbation in the necessary
civil career, make it depend on electoral grudges, and
flattery of low popular prejudices ; have one day for


the head of your navy a Minister who despises iron-
clads, favours torpedo-boats and will cover the face of
the sea with them; next day have another who
despises torpedo-boats and will hear of nothing but
iron-clads ; suppress all tradition and all method
from your foreign policy ; pose, to the world without,
not as a thoughtful man, circumspect but firm in his
designs, but rather as a capricious and changeable
woman in whom no one dare place confidence and it
is clear that you can never fulfil the function of the
State from the point of view of security. 1 It is
a sad avowal to make, but unfortunately a true one,
that the Modern State offers but scanty guarantees

1 The war of 1570-71 gave striking proofs of this infirmity of
the Modern State from the point of view of national defence ;
on the one hand the adventurous march on Sedan which was
only decided on from fear that the return of the army to Paris
would provoke trouble there ; on the other, the Revolution of
the 4th of September, that is, the destruction of the Govern-
ment at the very moment when it was most indispensable that
the whole nation should rally round it. A people which
abandons its chiefs at the very moment of disaster deprives
itself of its best chances of repairing such disasters. Moreover,
it is singularly difficult for a State based upon election not to be
thrown into panic and complete disarray at the first serious


even for the defence of the nation. Some thinkers
have made up their minds that since all States must
ultimately be modernised and delivered over, bound
hand and foot to the absolute electoral regime, the
conditions will then be the same for all, and there
will be no inferiority for any. 1

This reasoning is only half true. We should still
have to take into account national temperaments,
what is called for instance the heaviness of some but
is in reality only circumspection, patience, persever-
ance, the spirit of logical consistency such a nation
would perhaps use the purely elective regime and yet
render it less unsettled and less variable. Moreover
it has never been light-minded men or peoples who
have made the world their own ; but those who know

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Online LibraryPaul Leroy-BeaulieuThe modern state in relation to society and the individual; → online text (page 8 of 11)