Commentary





If this little book were destined to live three or four thousand years,

to be read and re-read, pondered and studied, phrase by phrase, word by

word, and letter by letter, from generation to generation, like a new

Koran; if it were to fill the libraries of the world with avalanches of

annotations, explanations and paraphrases, I might leave to their fate,

in their rather obscure conciseness, the thoughts which precede. But

since they need a commentary, it seems wise to me to furnish it myself.



The true and equitable law of humanity is the free exchange of service

for service. Spoliation consists in destroying by force or by trickery

the freedom of exchange, in order to receive a service without rendering

one.



Forcible spoliation is exercised thus: Wait till a man has produced

something; then take it from him by violence.



It is solemnly condemned by the Decalogue: Thou shalt not steal.



When practiced by one individual on another, it is called robbery, and

leads to the prison; when practiced among nations, it takes the name of

conquest, and leads to glory.



Why this difference? It is worth while to search for the cause. It will

reveal to us an irresistible power, public opinion, which, like the

atmosphere, envelopes us so completely that we do not notice it.

Rousseau never said a truer thing than this: A great deal of philosophy

is needed to understand the facts which are very near to us.



The robber, for the reason that he acts alone, has public opinion

against him. He terrifies all who are about him. Yet, if he has

companions, he plumes himself before them on his exploits, and here we

may begin to notice the power of public opinion, for the approbation of

his band serves to obliterate all consciousness of his turpitude, and

even to make him proud of it. The warrior lives in a different

atmosphere. The public opinion which would rebuke him is among the

vanquished. He does not feel its influence. But the opinion of those by

whom he is surrounded approves his acts and sustains him. He and his

comrades are vividly conscious of the common interest which unites them.

The country which has created enemies and dangers, needs to stimulate

the courage of its children. To the most daring, to those who have

enlarged the frontiers, and gathered the spoils of war, are given

honors, reputation, glory. Poets sing their exploits. Fair women weave

garlands for them. And such is the power of public opinion that it

separates the idea of injustice from spoliation, and even rids the

despoiler of the consciousness of his wrong-doing.



The public opinion which reacts against military spoliation, (as it

exists among the conquered and not among the conquering people), has

very little influence. But it is not entirely powerless. It gains in

strength as nations come together and understand one another better.

Thus, it can be seen that the study of languages and the free

communication of peoples tend to bring about the supremacy of an opinion

opposed to this sort of spoliation.



Unfortunately, it often happens that the nations adjacent to a

plundering people are themselves spoilers when opportunity offers, and

hence are imbued with the same prejudices.



Then there is only one remedy--time. It is necessary that nations learn

by harsh experience the enormous disadvantage of despoiling each other.



You say there is another restraint--moral influences. But moral

influences have for their object the increase of virtuous actions. How

can they restrain these acts of spoliation when these very acts are

raised by public opinion to the level of the highest virtues? Is there a

more potent moral influence than religion? Has there ever been a

religion more favorable to peace or more universally received than

Christianity? And yet what has been witnessed during eighteen centuries?

Men have gone out to battle, not merely in spite of religion, but in the

very name of religion.



A conquering nation does not always wage offensive war. Its soldiers are

obliged to protect the hearthstones, the property, the families, the

independence and liberty of their native land. At such a time war

assumes a character of sanctity and grandeur. The flag, blessed by the

ministers of the God of Peace, represents all that is sacred on earth;

the people rally to it as the living image of their country and their

honor; the warlike virtues are exalted above all others. When the danger

is over, the opinion remains, and by a natural reaction of that spirit

of vengeance which confounds itself with patriotism, they love to bear

the cherished flag from capital to capital. It seems that nature has

thus prepared the punishment of the aggressor.



It is the fear of this punishment, and not the progress of philosophy,

which keeps arms in the arsenals, for it cannot be denied that those

people who are most advanced in civilization make war, and bother

themselves very little with justice when they have no reprisals to fear.

Witness the Himalayas, the Atlas, and the Caucasus.



If religion has been impotent, if philosophy is powerless, how is war to

cease?



Political economy demonstrates that even if the victors alone are

considered, war is always begun in the interest of the few, and at the

expense of the many. All that is needed, then, is that the masses should

clearly perceive this truth. The weight of public opinion, which is yet

divided, would then be cast entirely on the side of peace.



Forcible spoliation also takes another form. Without waiting for a man

to produce something in order to rob him, they take possession of the

man himself, deprive him of his freedom, and force him to work. They do

not say to him, If you will do this for me, I will do that for you,

but they say to him, You take all the troubles; we all the enjoyments.

This is slavery.



Now it is important to inquire whether it is not in the nature of

uncontrolled power always to abuse itself.



For my part I have no doubt of it, and should as soon expect to see the

power that could arrest a stone in falling proceed from the stone

itself, as to trust force within any defined limits.



I should like to be shown a country where slavery has been abolished by

the voluntary action of the masters.



Slavery furnishes a second striking example of the impotence of

philosophical and religious sentiments in a conflict with the energetic

activity of self-interest.



This may seem sad to some modern schools which seek the reformation of

society in self-denial. Let them begin by reforming the nature of man.



In the Antilles the masters, from father to son, have, since slavery was

established, professed the Christian religion. Many times a day they

repeat these words: All men are brothers. Love thy neighbor as thyself;

in this are the law and the prophets fulfilled. Yet they hold slaves,

and nothing seems to them more legitimate or natural. Do modern

reformers hope that their moral creed will ever be as universally

accepted, as popular, as authoritative, or as often on all lips as the

Gospel? If that has not passed from the lips to the heart, over or

through the great barrier of self-interest, how can they hope that their

system will work this miracle?



Well, then, is slavery invulnerable? No; self-interest, which founded

it, will one day destroy it, provided the special interests which have

created it do not stifle those general interests which tend to overthrow

it.



Another truth demonstrated by political economy is, that free labor is

progressive, and slave labor stationary. Hence the triumph of the first

over the second is inevitable. What has become of the cultivation of

indigo by the blacks?



Free labor, applied to the production of sugar, is constantly causing a

reduction in the price. Slave property is becoming proportionately less

valuable to the master. Slavery will soon die out in America unless the

price of sugar is artificially raised by legislation. Accordingly we see

to-day the masters, their creditors and representatives, making vigorous

efforts to maintain these laws, which are the pillars of the edifice.



Unfortunately they still have the sympathy of people among whom slavery

has disappeared, from which circumstance the sovereignty of public

opinion may again be observed. If public opinion is sovereign in the

domain of force, it is much more so in the domain of fraud. Fraud is its

proper sphere. Stratagem is the abuse of intelligence. Imposture on the

part of the despoiler implies credulity on the part of the despoiled,

and the natural antidote of credulity is truth. It follows that to

enlighten the mind is to deprive this species of spoliation of its

support.



I will briefly pass in review a few of the different kinds of spoliation

which are practiced on an exceedingly large scale. The first which

presents itself is spoliation through the avenue of superstition. In

what does it consist? In the exchange of food, clothing, luxury,

distinction, influence, power--substantial services for fictitious

services. If I tell a man: I will render you an immediate service, I

am obliged to keep my word, or he would soon know what to depend upon,

and my trickery would be unmasked.



But if I should tell him, In exchange for your services I will do you

immense service, not in this world but in another; after this life you

may be eternally happy or miserable, and that happiness or misery

depends upon me; I am a vicar between God and man, and can open to you

the gates of heaven or of hell; if that man believes me he is at my

mercy.



This method of imposture has been very extensively practiced since the

beginning of the world, and it is well known to what omnipotence the

Egyptian priests attained by such means.



It is easy to see how impostors proceed. It is enough to ask one's self

what he would do in their place.



If I, entertaining views of this kind, had arrived in the midst of an

ignorant population, and were to succeed by some extraordinary act or

marvelous appearance in passing myself off as a supernatural being, I

would claim to be a messenger from God, having an absolute control over

the future destinies of men.



Then I would forbid all examination of my claims. I would go still

further, and, as reason would be my most dangerous enemy, I would

interdict the use of reason--at least as applied to this dangerous

subject. I would taboo, as the savages say, this question, and all

those connected with it. To agitate them, discuss them, or even think of

them, should be an unpardonable crime.



Certainly it would be the acme of art thus to put the barrier of the

taboo upon all intellectual avenues which might lead to the discovery

of my imposture. What better guarantee of its perpetuity than to make

even doubt sacrilege?



However, I would add accessory guarantees to this fundamental one. For

instance, in order that knowledge might never be disseminated among the

masses, I would appropriate to myself and my accomplices the monopoly of

the sciences. I would hide them under the veil of a dead language and

hieroglyphic writing; and, in order that no danger might take me

unawares, I would be careful to invent some ceremony which day by day

would give me access to the privacy of all consciences.



It would not be amiss for me to supply some of the real wants of my

people, especially if by doing so I could add to my influence and

authority. For instance, men need education and moral teaching, and I

would be the source of both. Thus I would guide as I pleased the minds

and hearts of my people. I would join morality to my authority by an

indissoluble chain, and I would proclaim that one could not exist

without the other, so that if any audacious individual attempted to

meddle with a tabooed question, society, which cannot exist without

morality, would feel the very earth tremble under its feet, and would

turn its wrath upon the rash innovator.



When things have come to this pass, it is plain that these people are

more mine than if they were my slaves. The slave curses his chain, but

my people will bless theirs, and I shall succeed in stamping, not on

their foreheads, but in the very centre of their consciences, the seal

of slavery.



Public opinion alone can overturn such a structure of iniquity; but

where can it begin, if each stone is tabooed? It is the work of time

and the printing press.



God forbid that I should seek to disturb those consoling beliefs which

link this life of sorrows to a life of felicity. But, that the

irresistible longing which attracts us toward religion has been abused,

no one, not even the Head of Christianity, can deny. There is, it seems

to me, one sign by which you can know whether the people are or are not

dupes. Examine religion and the priest, and see whether the priest is

the instrument of religion, or religion the instrument of the priest.



If the priest is the instrument of religion, if his only thought is to

disseminate its morality and its benefits on the earth, he will be

gentle, tolerant, humble, charitable, and full of zeal; his life will

reflect that of his divine model; he will preach liberty and equality

among men, and peace and fraternity among nations; he will repel the

allurements of temporal power, and will not ally himself with that

which, of all things in this world, has the most need of restraint; he

will be the man of the people, the man of good advice and tender

consolations, the man of public opinion, the man of the Evangelist.



If, on the contrary, religion is the instrument of the priest, he will

treat it as one does an instrument which is changed, bent and twisted in

all ways so as to get out of it the greatest possible advantage for

one's self. He will multiply tabooed questions; his morality will be

as flexible as seasons, men, and circumstances. He will seek to impose

on humanity by gesticulations and studied attitudes; an hundred times a

day he will mumble over words whose sense has evaporated and which have

become empty conventionalities. He will traffic in holy things, but just

enough not to shake faith in their sanctity, and he will take care that

the more intelligent the people are, the less open shall the traffic be.

He will take part in the intrigues of the world, and he will always

side with the powerful, on the simple condition that they side with him.

In a word, it will be easy to see in all his actions that he does not

desire to advance religion by the clergy, but the clergy by religion,

and as so many efforts indicate an object, and as this object, according

to the hypothesis, can be only power and wealth, the decisive proof that

the people are dupes is when the priest is rich and powerful.



It is very plain that a true religion can be abused as well as a false

one. The higher its authority the greater the fear that it may be

severely tested. But there is much difference in the results. Abuse

always stirs up to revolt the sound, enlightened, intelligent portion of

a people. This inevitably weakens faith, and the weakening of a true

religion is far more lamentable than of a false one. This kind of

spoliation, and popular enlightenment, are always in an inverse ratio to

one another, for it is in the nature of abuses to go as far as possible.

Not that pure and devoted priests cannot be found in the midst of the

most ignorant population, but how can the knave be prevented from

donning the cassock and nursing the ambitious hope of wearing the mitre?

Despoilers obey the Malthusian law; they multiply with the means of

existence, and the means of existence of knaves is the credulity of

their dupes. Turn whichever way you please, you always find the need of

an enlightened public opinion. There is no other cure-all.



Another species of spoliation is commercial fraud, a term which seems

to me too limited because the tradesman who changes his weights and

measures is not alone culpable, but also the physician who receives a

fee for evil counsel, the lawyer who provokes litigation, etc. In the

exchange of two services one may be of less value than the other, but

when the service received is that which has been agreed upon, it is

evident that spoliation of that nature will diminish with the increase

of public intelligence.



The next in order is the abuse in the public service--an immense field

of spoliation, so immense that we can give it but partial consideration.



If God had made man a solitary animal, every one would labor for

himself. Individual wealth would be in proportion to the services each

one rendered to himself. But since man is a social animal, one service

is exchanged for another. A proposition which you can transpose if it

suits you.



In society there are certain requirements so general, so universal in

their nature, that provision has been made for them in the organizing of

the public service. Among these is the necessity of security. Society

agrees to compensate in services of a different nature those who render

it the service of guarding the public safety. In this there is nothing

contrary to the principles of political economy. Do this for me, I will

do that for you. The principle of the transaction is the same, although

the process is different, but the circumstance has great significance.



In private transactions each individual remains the judge both of the

service which he renders and of that which he receives. He can always

decline an exchange, or negotiate elsewhere. There is no necessity of an

interchange of services, except by previous voluntary agreement. Such is

not the case with the State, especially before the establishment of

representative government. Whether or not we require its services,

whether they are good or bad, we are obliged to accept such as are

offered and to pay the price.



It is the tendency of all men to magnify their own services and to

disparage services rendered them, and private matters would be poorly

regulated if there was not some standard of value. This guarantee we

have not, (or we hardly have it,) in public affairs. But still society,

composed of men, however strongly the contrary may be insinuated, obeys

the universal tendency. The government wishes to serve us a great deal,

much more than we desire, and forces us to acknowledge as a real service

that which sometimes is widely different, and this is done for the

purpose of demanding contributions from us in return.



The State is also subject to the law of Malthus. It is continually

living beyond its means, it increases in proportion to its means, and

draws its support solely, from the substance of the people. Woe to the

people who are incapable of limiting the sphere of action of the State.

Liberty, private activity, riches, well-being, independence, dignity,

depend upon this.



There is one circumstance which must be noticed: Chief among the

services which we ask of the State is security. That it may guarantee

this to us it must control a force capable of overcoming all individual

or collective domestic or foreign forces which might endanger it.

Combined with that fatal disposition among men to live at the expense of

each other, which we have before noticed, this fact suggests a danger

patent to all.



You will accordingly observe on what an immense scale spoliation, by the

abuses and excesses of the government, has been practiced.



If one should ask what service has been rendered the public, and what

return has been made therefor, by such governments as Assyria, Babylon,

Egypt, Rome, Persia, Turkey, China, Russia, England, Spain and France,

he would be astonished at the enormous disparity.



At last representative government was invented, and, a priori, one

might have believed that the disorder would have ceased as if by

enchantment.



The principle of these governments is this:



The people themselves, by their representatives, shall decide as to the

nature and extent of the public service and the remuneration for those

services.



The tendency to appropriate the property of another, and the desire to

defend one's own, are thus brought in contact. One might suppose that

the latter would overcome the former. Assuredly I am convinced that the

latter will finally prevail, but we must concede that thus far it has

not.



Why? For a very simple reason. Governments have had too much sagacity;

people too little.



Governments are skillful. They act methodically, consecutively, on a

well concerted plan, which is constantly improved by tradition and

experience. They study men and their passions. If they perceive, for

instance, that they have warlike instincts, they incite and inflame this

fatal propensity. They surround the nation with dangers through the

conduct of diplomats, and then naturally ask for soldiers, sailors,

arsenals and fortifications. Often they have but the trouble of

accepting them. Then they have pensions, places, and promotions to

offer. All this calls for money. Hence loans and taxes.



If the nation is generous, the government proposes to cure all the ills

of humanity. It promises to increase commerce, to make agriculture

prosperous, to develop manufactures, to encourage letters and arts, to

banish misery, etc. All that is necessary is to create offices and to

pay public functionaries.



In other words, their tactics consist in presenting as actual services

things which are but hindrances; then the nation pays, not for being

served, but for being subservient. Governments assuming gigantic

proportions end by absorbing half of all the revenues. The people are

astonished that while marvelous labor-saving inventions, destined to

infinitely multiply productions, are ever increasing in number, they are

obliged to toil on as painfully as ever, and remain as poor as before.



This happens because, while the government manifests so much ability,

the people show so little. Thus, when they are called upon to choose

their agents, those who are to determine the sphere of, and compensation

for, governmental action, whom do they choose? The agents of the

government. They entrust the executive power with the determination of

the limit of its activity and its requirements. They are like the

Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who referred the selection and number of his

suits of clothes to his tailor.



However, things go from bad to worse, and at last the people open their

eyes, not to the remedy, for there is none as yet, but to the evil.



Governing is so pleasant a trade that everybody desires to engage in it.

Thus the advisers of the people do not cease to say: We see your

sufferings, and we weep over them. It would be otherwise if we

governed you.



This period, which usually lasts for some time, is one of rebellions and

insurrections. When the people are conquered, the expenses of the war

are added to their burdens. When they conquer, there is a change of

those who govern, and the abuses remain.



This lasts until the people learn to know and defend their true

interests. Thus we always come back to this: there is no remedy but in

the progress of public intelligence.



Certain nations seem remarkably inclined to become the prey of

governmental spoliation. They are those where men, not considering their

own dignity and energy, would believe themselves lost, if they were not

governed and administered upon in all things. Without having traveled

much, I have seen countries where they think agriculture can make no

progress unless the State keeps up experimental farms; that there will

presently be no horses if the State has no stables; and that fathers

will not have their children educated, or will teach them only

immoralities, if the State does not decide what it is proper to learn.

In such a country revolutions may rapidly succeed one another, and one

set of rulers after another be overturned. But the governed are none the

less governed at the caprice and mercy of their rulers, until the

people see that it is better to leave the greatest possible number of

services in the category of those which the parties interested exchange

after a fair discussion of the price.



We have seen that society is an exchange of services, and should be but

an exchange of good and honest ones. But we have also proven that men

have a great interest in exaggerating the relative value of the services

they render one another. I cannot, indeed, see any other limit to these

claims than the free acceptance or free refusal of those to whom these

services are offered.



Hence it comes that certain men resort to the law to curtail the natural

prerogatives of this liberty. This kind of spoliation is called

privilege or monopoly. We will carefully indicate its origin and

character.



Every one knows that the services which he offers in the general market

are the more valued and better paid for, the scarcer they are. Each one,

then, will ask for the enactment of a law to keep out of the market all

who offer services similar to his.



This variety of spoliation being the chief subject of this volume, I

will say little of it here, and will restrict myself to one remark:



When the monopoly is an isolated fact, it never fails to enrich the

person to whom the law has granted it. It may then happen that each

class of workmen, instead of seeking the overthrow of this monopoly,

claim a similar one for themselves. This kind of spoliation, thus

reduced to a system, becomes then the most ridiculous of mystifications

for every one, and the definite result is that each one believes that he

gains more from a general market impoverished by all.



It is not necessary to add that this singular regime also brings about

an universal antagonism between all classes, all professions, and all

peoples; that it requires the constant but always uncertain interference

of government; that it swarms with the abuses which have been the

subject of the preceding paragraph; that it places all industrial

pursuits in hopeless insecurity; and that it accustoms men to place upon

the law, and not upon themselves, the responsibility for their very

existence. It would be difficult to imagine a more active cause of

social disturbance.





JUSTIFICATION.



It may be asked, Why this ugly word--spoliation? It is not only coarse,

but it wounds and irritates; it turns calm and moderate men against you,

and embitters the controversy.



I earnestly declare that I respect individuals; I believe in the

sincerity of almost all the friends of Protection, and I do not claim

that I have any right to suspect the personal honesty, delicacy of

feeling, or philanthropy of any one. I also repeat that Protection is

the work, the fatal work, of a common error, of which all, or nearly

all, are at once victims and accomplices. But I cannot prevent things

being what they are.



Just imagine some Diogenes putting his head out of his tub and saying,

Athenians, you are served by slaves. Have you never thought that you

practice on your brothers the most iniquitous spoliation? Or a tribune

speaking in the forum, Romans! you have laid the foundation of all your

greatness on the pillage of other nations.



They would state only undeniable truths. But must we conclude from this

that Athens and Rome were inhabited only by dishonest persons? that

Socrates and Plato, Cato and Cincinnatus were despicable characters?



Who could harbor such a thought? But these great men lived amidst

surroundings that relieved their consciences of the sense of this

injustice. Even Aristotle could not conceive the idea of a society

existing without slavery. In modern times slavery has continued to our

own day without causing many scruples among the planters. Armies have

served as the instruments of grand conquests--that is to say, of grand

spoliations. Is this saying that they are not composed of officers and

men as sensitive of their honor, even more so, perhaps, than men in

ordinary industrial pursuits--men who would blush at the very thought

of theft, and who would face a thousand deaths rather than stoop to a

base action?



It is not individuals who are to blame, but the general movement of

opinion which deludes and deceives them--a movement for which society in

general is culpable.



Thus is it with monopoly. I accuse the system, and not individuals;

society as a mass, and not this or that one of its members. If the

greatest philosophers have been able to deceive themselves as to the

iniquity of slavery, how much easier is it for farmers and manufacturers

to deceive themselves as to the nature and effects of the protective

system.





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