Every prophetic voice is addressed to the masses, and to them alone; the voice of the pulpit, the voice of education, the voice of politics, of literature, drama, journalism — all these are directed towards the masses exclusively, and they marshal the masses in the way that they are going.
One might suggest, therefore, that aspiring prophetical talent may well turn to another field. Sat patriae Priamoque datum — whatever obligation of the kind may be due the masses is already monstrously overpaid. So long as the masses are taking up the tabernacle of Moloch and Chiun, their images, and following the star of their god Buncombe, they will have no lack of prophets to point the way that leadeth to the More Abundant Life; and hence a few of those who feel the prophetic afflatus might do better to apply themselves to serving the Remnant. It is a good job, an interesting job, much more interesting than serving the masses; and moreover it is the only job in our whole civilization, as far as I know, that offers a virgin field.”
Isaiah’s Job | by Albert Jay Nock
Education Is More Than Instruction | by Albert Jay Nock
The Man versus The State (Introduction) by Albert Jay Nock
SA@TAC – The Great Neo-Con: Libertarianism Isn’t ‘Conservative’
Albert Jay Nock | by Frank Chodorov
Mencken and Nock on Elitist Individualism
Are We Isolationists? Yes and No | by Frank Chodorov
Albert Jay Nock and the Libertarian Tradition | by Jeff Riggenbach
Murray N. Rothbard: Libertarianism
Congressman Ron Paul, MD – We’ve Been NeoConned
Tom Woods : There are two ways to adquire wealth: you can create it or you can expropriate people.
Our Enemy the State!
Albert Jay Nock: Forgotten Man of the Old Right
“…For an earlier generation of American dissidents from the prevailing ideology of left-liberalism, a rite of passage was reading Albert Jay Nock’s Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, which appeared in 1943. William F. Buckley was hardly alone in seeing it as a seminal text crucial to his personal formation.
Here it is in one package, an illustration of the level of learning that had been lost with mass education, a picture of the way a true political dissident from our collectivist period thinks about the modern world, and a comprehensive argument for the very meaning of freedom and civility — all from a man who helped shape the Right’s intellectual response to the triumph of FDR’s welfare-warfare state.
It was destined to be a classic, read by many generations to come. But then the official doctrine changed. Instead of seeing war as part of the problem, as a species of socialism, National Review led the American Right down a different path. Nock’s book was quickly buried with the rise of the Cold War state, which required that conservatives reject anything like radical individualism — even of Nock’s aristocratic sort — and instead embrace the Wilson-FDR values of nationalism and militarism.
Instead of Nock’s Memoirs, young conservatives were encouraged to read personal accounts of communists who converted to backing the Cold War (e.g., Whittaker Chambers), as if warming up to the glories of nukes represents some sort of courageous intellectual step. To the extent that Nock (1870–1947) is known at all today, it is by libertarians, and for his classic essay Our Enemy, The State (1935), and his wonderful little biography, Mr. Jefferson (1926). Both are great works. He was also the founder of The Freeman in its first incarnation (1920–1924), which held to the highest literary standards and provoked unending controversy with its sheer radicalism.
However, it is with the Memoirs, this wonderful little treatise — part autobiography, part ideological instructional — that we are given the full Nockian worldview, not just his politics but his culture, his life, and his understanding of man and his place in the universe. The book makes a very bracing read today, if only because it proves how little today’s “conservative movement” has to do with its mid-century ancestor in the Old Right. It is also instructive for libertarians to discover that there is more to anarchism than childish rantings against the police power. …”
The phrase “Man of Letters” is thrown around casually these days, but A.J. Nock was the real thing. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he was homeschooled from the earliest age in Greek and Latin, unbelievably well read in every field, a natural aristocrat in the best sense of that term. …”
by Albert J. Nock
One evening last autumn, I sat long hours with a European acquaintance while he expounded a politico-economic doctrine which seemed sound as a nut and in which I could find no defect. At the end, he said with great earnestness: “I have a mission to the masses. I feel that I am called to get the ear of the people. I shall devote the rest of my life to spreading my doctrine far and wide among the populace. What do you think?”
An embarrassing question in any case, and doubly so under the circumstances, because my acquaintance is a very learned man, one of the three or four really first-class minds that Europe produced in his generation; and naturally I, as one of the unlearned, was inclined to regard his lightest word with reverence amounting to awe…
I referred him to the story of the prophet Isaiah….I shall paraphrase the story in our common speech since it has to be pieced out from various sources. . .
The prophet’s career began at the end of King Uzziah’s reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however like the reign of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, or the administration of Eubulus at Athens, or of Mr. Coolidge at Washington where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.
In the year of Uzziah’s death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. “Tell them what a worthless lot they are,” He said. “Tell them what is wrong, and why, and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don’t mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you,” He added, “that it won’t do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you, and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life.”
Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job in fact, he had asked for it but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so if the enterprise was to be a failure from the start was there any sense in starting it?
“Ah,” the Lord said, “you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it”….
What do we mean by the masses, and what by the Remnant?
As the word masses is commonly used, it suggests agglomerations of poor and underprivileged people, laboring people, proletarians. But it means nothing like that; it means simply the majority. The mass-man is one who has neither the force of intellect to apprehend the principles issuing in what we know as the humane life, nor the force of character to adhere to those principles steadily and strictly as laws of conduct; and because such people make up the great, the overwhelming majority of mankind, they are called collectively the masses. The line of differentiation between the masses and the Remnant is set invariably by quality, not by circumstance. The Remnant are those who by force of intellect are able to apprehend these principles, and by force of character are able, at least measurably, to cleave to them. The masses are those who are unable to do either.
The picture which Isaiah presents of the Judean masses is most unfavorable. In his view, the mass-man be he high or be he lowly, rich or poor, prince or pauper-gets off very badly. He appears as not only weak-minded and weak- willed, but as by consequence knavish, arrogant, grasping, dissipated, unprincipled, unscrupulous…
As things now stand, Isaiah’s job seems rather to go begging. Everyone with a message nowadays is, like my venerable European friend, eager to take it to the masses. His first, last, and only thought is of mass-acceptance and mass-approval. His great care is to put his doctrine in such shape as will capture the masses’ attention and interest….
The main trouble with this [mass-man approach] is its reaction upon the mission itself. It necessitates an opportunist sophistication of one’s doctrine, which profoundly alters its character and reduces it to a mere placebo. If, say, you are a preacher, you wish to attract as large a congregation as you can, which means an appeal to the masses; and this, in turn, means adapting the terms of your message to the order of intellect and character that the masses exhibit. If you are an educator, say with a college on your hands, you wish to get as many students as possible, and you whittle down your requirements accordingly. If a writer, you aim at getting many readers; if a publisher, many purchasers; if a philosopher, many disciples; if a reformer, many converts; if a musician, many auditors; and so on. But as we see on all sides, in the realization of these several desires the prophetic message is so heavily adulterated with trivialities, in every instance, that its effect on the masses is merely to harden them in their sins. Meanwhile, the Remnant, aware of this adulteration and of the desires that prompt it, turn their backs on the prophet and will have nothing to do with him or his message.The Remnant want only the best you have, whatever that may be. Give them that, and they are satisfied; you have nothing more to worry about….
In a sense, nevertheless, as I have said, it is not a rewarding job…. A prophet of the Remnant will not grow purse-proud on the financial returns from his work, nor is it likely that he will get any great renown out of it. Isaiah’s case was exceptional to this second rule, and there are others-but not many.
It may be thought, then, that while taking care of the Remnant is no doubt a good job, it is not an especially interesting job because it is as a rule so poorly paid. I have my doubts about this. There are other compensations to be got out of a job besides money and notoriety, and some of them seem substantial enough to be attractive. Many jobs which do not pay well are yet profoundly interesting, as, for instance, the job of the research student in the sciences is said to be; and the job of looking after the Remnant seems to me, as I have surveyed it for many years from my seat in the grandstand, to be as interesting as any that can be found in the world.
What chiefly makes it so, I think, is that in any given society the Remnant are always so largely an unknown quantity. You do not know, and will never know, more than two things about them. You can be sure of those dead sure, as our phrase is-but you will never be able to make even a respectable guess at anything else. You do not know, and will never know, who the Remnant are, nor where they are, nor how many of them there are, nor what they are doing or will do. Two things you know, and no more: first, that they exist; second, that they will find you. Except for these two certainties, working for the Remnant means working in impenetrable darkness; and this, I should say, is just the condition calculated most effectively to pique the interest of any prophet who is properly gifted with the imagination, insight, and intellectual curiosity necessary to a successful pursuit of his trade.
The fascination as well as the despair of the historian, as he looks back upon Isaiah’s Jewry, upon Plato’s Athens, or upon Rome of the Antonines, is the hope of discovering and laying bare the “substratum of right-thinking and well-doing” which he knows must have existed somewhere in those societies because no kind of collective life can possibly go on without it. He finds tantalizing intimations of it here and there in many places, as in the Greek Anthology, in the scrapbook of Aulus Gellius, in the poems of Ausonius, and in the brief and touching tribute, Bene merenti, bestowed upon the unknown occupants of Roman tombs. But these are vague and frag mentary; they lead him nowhere in his search for some kind of measure of this substratum, but merely testify to what he already knew a priori that the substratum did somewhere exist. Where it was, how substantial it was, what its power of self-assertion and resistance was of all this they tell him nothing.
Similarly, when the historian of two thousand years hence, or two hundred years, looks over the available testimony to the quality of our civilization and tries to get any kind of clear, competent evidence concerning the substratum of right-thinking and well-doing which he knows must have been here, he will have a devil of a time finding it. When he has assembled all he can get and has made even a minimum allowance for speciousness, vagueness, and confusion of motive, he will sadly acknowl edge that his net result is simply nothing. A Remnant were here, building a substratum like coral insects; so much he knows, but he will find nothing to put him on the track of who and where and how many they were and what their work was like.
Concerning all this, too, the prophet of the present knows precisely as much and as little as the historian of the future; and that, I repeat, is what makes his job seem to me so profoundly interesting. One of the most suggestive episodes recounted in the Bible is that of a prophet’s attempt the only attempt of the kind on record, I believe to count up the Remnant. Elijah had fled from persecution into the desert, where the Lord presently overhauled him and asked what he was doing so far away from his job. He said that he was running away, not because be was a coward, but because all the Remnant had been killed off except himself. He had got away only by the skin of his teeth, and, he being now all the Remnant there was, if he were killed the True Faith would go flat. The Lord replied that he need not worry about that, for even without him the True Faith could probably manage to squeeze along somehow if it had to; “and as for your figures on the Remnant,” He said, “I don’t mind telling you that there are seven thousand of them back there in Israel whom it seems you have not heard of, but you may take My word for it that there they are.”
At that time, probably the population of Israel could not have run to much more than a million or so; and a Remnant of seven thousand out a million is a highly encouraging percentage for any prophet. With seven thousand of the boys on his side, there was no great reason for Elijah to feel lonesome; and incidentally, that would be something for the modern prophet of the Remnant to think of when he has a touch of the blues. But the main point is that if Elijah the Prophet could not make a closer guess on the number of the Remnant than he made when he missed it by seven thousand, anyone else who tackled the problem would only waste his time.
The other certainty which the prophet of the Remnant may always have is that the Remnant will find him. He may rely on that with absolute assurance. They will find him without his doing anything about it; in fact, if he tries to do anything about it, he is pretty sure to put them off. He does not need to advertise for them nor resort to any schemes of publicity to get their attention. If he is a preacher or a public speaker, for example, he may be quite indifferent to going on show at receptions, getting his picture printed in the newspapers, or furnishing autobiographical material for publication on the side of “human interest.” If a writer, he need not make a point of attending any pink teas, autographing books at wholesale, nor entering into any specious freemasonry with reviewers.
All this and much more of the same order lies in the regular and necessary routine laid down for the prophet of the masses. It is, and must be, part of the great general technique of getting the mass-man’s ear-or as our vigorous and excellent publicist, Mr. H. L. Mencken, puts it, the technique of boob-bumping. The prophet of the Remnant is not bound to this technique. He may be quite sure that the Remnant will make their own way to him without any adventitious aids; and not only so, but if they find him employing such aids, as I said, it is ten to one that they will smell a rat in them and will sheer off.
The certainty that the Remnant will find him, however, leaves the prophet as much in the dark as ever, as helpless as ever in the matter of putting any estimate of any kind upon the Remnant; for, as appears in the case of Elijah, he remains ignorant of who they are that have found him or where they are or how many. They do not write in and tell him about it, after the manner of those who admire the vedettes of Hollywood, nor yet do they seek him out and attach themselves to his person. They are not that kind. They take his message much as drivers take the directions on a roadside signboard-that is, with very little thought about the signboard, beyond being gratefully glad that it happened to be there, but with very serious thought about the directions.
This impersonal attitude of the Remnant wonderfully enhances the interest of the imaginative prophet’s job. Once in a while, just about often enough to keep his intellectual curiosity in good working order, he will quite accidentally come upon some distinct reflection of his own message in an unsuspected quarter. This enables him to entertain himself in his leisure moments with agreeable speculations about the course his message may have taken in reaching that particular quarter, and about what came of it after it got there. Most interesting of all are those instances, if one could only run them down (but one may always speculate about them) where the recipient himself no longer knows where nor when, nor from whom he got the message or even where, as sometimes happens, he has forgotten that he got it anywhere and imagines that it is all a self- starting idea of his own.
Such instances as these are probably not infrequent, for, without presuming to enroll ourselves among the Remnant, we can all no doubt remember having found ourselves suddenly under the influence of an idea, the source of which we cannot possibly identify. “It came to us afterward,” as we say; that is, we are aware of it only after it has shot up full- grown in our minds, leaving us quite ignorant of how and when and by what agency it was planted there and left to germinate. It seems highly probable that the prophet’s message often takes some such course with the Remnant.
If, for example, you are a writer or a speaker or a preacher, you put forth an idea which lodges in the Unbewusstsein of a casual member of the Remnant and sticks fast there. For some time it is inert; then it begins to fret and fester until presently it invades the man’s conscious mind and, as one might say, corrupts it. Meanwhile, he has quite forgotten how be came by the idea in the first instance, and even perhaps thinks he has invented it; and in those circumstances, the most interesting thing of all is that you never know what the pressure of that idea will make him do.
Isaiah’s Job is extracted from Chapter 13 of his book, Free Speech and Plain Language, copyright 1937 by Albert Jay Nock
Our Enemy, The State
Our Enemy, The State – Albert Jay Nock
Our Enemy, The State (Part 1) by Albert Jay Nock
Our Enemy, The State (Part 2: The Origins of State and Class) by Albert Jay Nock
Our Enemy, The State (Part 3: The State in Colonial America) by Albert Jay Nock
Our Enemy, The State (Part 4: Land Monopoly and American Independence) by Albert Jay Nock
Our Enemy, The State (Part 5: Politics and Other Fetiches) by Albert Jay Nock
Our Enemy, the State
by Albert Jay Nock
If we look beneath the surface of our public affairs, we can discern one fundamental fact, namely: a great redistribution of power between society and the State. This is the fact that interests the student of civilization. He has only a secondary or derived interest in matters like price-fixing, wage-fixing, inflation, political banking, “agricultural adjustment,” and similar items of State policy that fill the pages of newspapers and the mouths of publicists and politicians. All these can be run up under one head. They have an immediate and temporary importance, and for this reason they monopolize public attention, but they all come to the same thing; which is, an increase of State power and a corresponding decrease of social power.
It is unfortunately none too well understood that, just as the State has no money of its own, so it has no power of its own. All the power it has is what society gives it, plus what it confiscates from time to time on one pretext or another; there is no other source from which State power can be drawn. Therefore every assumption of State power, whether by gift or seizure, leaves society with so much less power; there is never, nor can there be, any strengthening of State power without a corresponding and roughly equivalent depletion of social power.
Moreover, it follows that with any exercise of State power, not only the exercise of social power in the same direction, but the disposition to exercise it in that direction, tends to dwindle. Mayor Gaynor astonished the whole of New York when he pointed out to a correspondent who had been complaining about the inefficiency of the police, that any citizen has the right to arrest a malefactor and bring him before a magistrate. “The law of England and of this country,” he wrote, “has been very careful to confer no more right in that respect upon policemen and constables than it confers on every citizen.” State exercise of that right through a police force had gone on so steadily that not only were citizens indisposed to exercise it, but probably not one in ten thousand knew he had it.
Heretofore in this country sudden crises of misfortune have been met by a mobilization of social power. In fact (except for certain institutional enterprises like the home for the aged, the lunatic-asylum, city-hospital and county-poorhouse) destitution, unemployment, “depression” and similar ills, have been no concern of the State, but have been relieved by the application of social power. Under Mr. Roosevelt, however, the State assumed this function, publicly announcing the doctrine, brand-new in our history, that the State owes its citizens a living. Students of politics, of course, saw in this merely an astute proposal for a prodigious enhancement of State power; merely what, as long ago as 1794, James Madison called “the old trick of turning every contingency into a resource for accumulating force in the government”; and the passage of time has proved that they were right. The effect of this upon the balance between State power and social power is clear, and also its effect of a general indoctrination with the idea that an exercise of social power upon such matters is no longer called for.
It is largely in this way that the progressive conversion of social power into State power becomes acceptable and gets itself accepted.1 When the Johnstown flood occurred, social power was immediately mobilized and applied with intelligence and vigour. Its abundance, measured by money alone, was so great that when everything was finally put in order, something like a million dollars remained. If such a catastrophe happened now, not only is social power perhaps too depleted for the like exercise, but the general instinct would be to let the State see to it. Not only has social power atrophied to that extent, but the disposition to exercise it in that particular direction has atrophied with it. If the State has made such matters its business, and has confiscated the social power necessary to deal with them, why, let it deal with them. We can get some kind of rough measure of this general atrophy by our own disposition when approached by a beggar. Two years ago we might have been moved to give him something; today we are moved to refer him to the State’s relief-agency. The State has said to society, You are either not exercising enough power to meet the emergency, or are exercising it in what I think is an incompetent way, so I shall confiscate your power, and exercise it to suit myself. Hence when a beggar asks us for a quarter, our instinct is to say that the State has already confiscated our quarter for his benefit, and he should go to the State about it.
Every positive intervention that the State makes upon industry and commerce has a similar effect. When the State intervenes to fix wages or prices, or to prescribe the conditions of competition, it virtually tells the enterpriser that he is not exercising social power in the right way, and therefore it proposes to confiscate his power and exercise it according to the State’s own judgment of what is best. Hence the enterpriser’s instinct is to let the State look after the consequences. As a simple illustration of this, a manufacturer of a highly specialized type of textiles was saying to me the other day that he had kept his mill going at a loss for five years because he did not want to turn his workpeople on the street in such hard times, but now that the State had stepped in to tell him how he must run his business, the State might jolly well take the responsibility.
The process of converting social power into State power may perhaps be seen at its simplest in cases where the State’s intervention is directly competitive. The accumulation of State power in various countries has been so accelerated and diversified within the last twenty years that we now see the State functioning as telegraphist, telephonist, match-pedlar, radio-operator, cannon-founder, railway-builder and owner, railway-operator, wholesale and retail tobacconist, shipbuilder and owner, chief chemist, harbour-maker and dockbuilder, housebuilder, chief educator, newspaper-proprietor, food-purveyor, dealer in insurance, and so on through a long list.2
It is obvious that private forms of these enterprises must tend to dwindle in proportion as the energy of the State’s encroachments on them increases, for the competition of social power with State power is always disadvantaged, since the State can arrange the terms of competition to suit itself, even to the point of outlawing any exercise of social power whatever in the premises; in other words, giving itself a monopoly. Instances of this expedient are common; the one we are probably the most acquainted with is the State’s monopoly of letter-carrying. Social power is estopped by sheer fiat from application to this form of enterprise, notwithstanding it could carry it on far cheaper, and, in this country at least, far better. The advantages of this monopoly in promoting the State’s interests are peculiar. No other, probably, could secure so large and well-distributed a volume of patronage, under the guise of a public service in constant use by so large a number of people; it plants a lieutenant of the State at every country-crossroad. It is by no means a pure coincidence that an administration’s chief almoner and whip-at-large is so regularly appointed Postmaster-general.
Thus the State “turns every contingency into a resource” for accumulating power in itself, always at the expense of social power; and with this it develops a habit of acquiescence in the people. New generations appear, each temperamentally adjusted – or as I believe our American glossary now has it, “conditioned” – to new increments of State power, and they tend to take the process of continuous accumulation as quite in order. All the State’s institutional voices unite in confirming this tendency; they unite in exhibiting the progressive conversion of social power into State power as something not only quite in order, but even as wholesome and necessary for the public good.
In the United States at the present time, the principal indexes of the increase of State power are three in number. First, the point to which the centralization of State authority has been carried. Practically all the sovereign rights and powers of the smaller political units – all of them that are significant enough to be worth absorbing – have been absorbed by the federal unit; nor is this all. State power has not only been thus concentrated at Washington, but it has been so far concentrated into the hands of the Executive that the existing regime is a regime of personal government. It is nominally republican, but actually monocratic; a curious anomaly, but highly characteristic of a people little gifted with intellectual integrity. Personal government is not exercised here in the same ways as in Italy, Russia or Germany, for there is as yet no State interest to be served by so doing, but rather the contrary; while in those countries there is. But personal government is always personal government; the mode of its exercise is a matter of immediate political expediency, and is determined entirely by circumstances.
This regime was established by a coup d’Etat of a new and unusual kind, practicable only in a rich country. It was effected, not by violence, like Louis-Napoleon’s, or by terrorism, like Mussolini’s, but by purchase. It therefore presents what might be called an American variant of the coup d’Etat.3 Our national legislature was not suppressed by force of arms, like the French Assembly in 1851, but was bought out of its functions with public money; and as appeared most conspicuously in the elections of November, 1934, the consolidation of the coup d’Etat was effected by the same means; the corresponding functions in the smaller units were reduced under the personal control of the Executive.4 This is a most remarkable phenomenon; possibly nothing quite like it ever took place; and its character and implications deserve the most careful attention.
A second index is supplied by the prodigious extension of the bureaucratic principle that is now observable. This is attested prima facie by the number of new boards, bureaux and commissions set up at Washington in the last two years. They are reported as representing something like 90,000 new employes appointed outside the civil service, and the total of the federal pay-roll in Washington is reported as something over three million dollars per month.5 This, however, is relatively a small matter. The pressure of centralization has tended powerfully to convert every official and every political aspirant in the smaller units into a venal and complaisant agent of the federal bureaucracy. This presents an interesting parallel with the state of things prevailing in the Roman empire in the last days of the Flavian dynasty, and afterwards. The rights and practices of local self-government, which were formerly very considerable in the provinces and much more so in the municipalities, were lost by surrender rather than by suppression. The imperial bureaucracy, which up to the second century was comparatively a modest affair, grew rapidly to great size, and local politicians were quick to see the advantage of being on terms with it. They came to Rome with their hats in their hands, as governors, Congressional aspirants and such-like now go to Washington. Their eyes and thoughts were constantly fixed on Rome, because recognition and preferment lay that way; and in their incorrigible sycophancy they became, as Plutarch says, like hypochondriacs who dare not eat or take a bath without consulting their physician.
A third index is seen in the erection of poverty and mendicancy into a permanent political asset. Two years ago, many of our people were in hard straits; to some extent, no doubt, through no fault of their own, though it is now clear that in the popular view of their case, as well as in the political view, the line between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor was not distinctly drawn. Popular feeling ran high at the time, and the prevailing wretchedness was regarded with undiscriminating emotion, as evidence of some general wrong done upon its victims by society at large, rather than as the natural penalty of greed, folly or actual misdoings; which in large part it was. The State, always instinctively “turning every contingency into a resource” for accelerating the conversion of social power into State power, was quick to take advantage of this state of mind. All that was needed to organize these unfortunates into an invaluable political property was to declare the doctrine that the State owes all its citizens a living; and this was accordingly done. It immediately precipitated an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, an enormous resource for strengthening the State at the expense of society.6
There is an impression that the enhancement of State power which has taken place since 1932 is provisional and temporary, that the corresponding depletion of social power is by way of a kind of emergency-loan, and therefore is not to be scrutinized too closely. There is every probability that this belief is devoid of foundation. No doubt our present regime will be modified in one way and another; indeed, it must be, for the process of consolidation itself requires it. But any essential change would be quite unhistorical, quite without precedent, and is therefore most unlikely; and by an essential change, I mean one that will tend to redistribute actual power between the State and society.7 In the nature of things, there is no reason why such a change should take place, and every reason why it should not. We shall see various apparent recessions, apparent compromises, but the one thing we may be quite sure of is that none of these will tend to diminish actual State power.
For example, we shall no doubt shortly see the great pressure-group of politically-organized poverty and mendicancy subsidized indirectly instead of directly, because State interest can not long keep pace with the hand-over-head disposition of the masses to loot their own Treasury. The method of direct subsidy, or sheer cash-purchase, will therefore in all probability give way to the indirect method of what is called “social legislation”; that is, a multiplex system of State-managed pensions, insurances and indemnities of various kinds. This is an apparent recession, and when it occurs it will no doubt be proclaimed as an actual recession, no doubt accepted as such; but is it? Does it actually tend to diminish State power and increase social power? Obviously not, but quite the opposite. It tends to consolidate firmly this particular fraction of State power, and opens the way to getting an indefinite increment upon it by the mere continuous invention of new courses and developments of State-administered social legislation, which is an extremely simple business. One may add the observation for whatever its evidential value may be worth, that if the effect of progressive social legislation upon the sum-total of State power were unfavourable or even nil, we should hardly have found Prince de Bismarck and the British Liberal politicians of forty years ago going in for anything remotely resembling it.
When, therefore, the inquiring student of civilization has occasion to observe this or any other apparent recession upon any point of our present regime,8 he may content himself with asking the one question, What effect has this upon the sum-total of State power? The answer he gives himself will show conclusively whether the recession is actual or apparent, and this is all he is concerned to know.
There is also an impression that if actual recessions do not come about by themselves, they may be brought about by the expedient of voting one party out and another one in. This idea rests upon certain assumptions that experience has shown to be unsound; the first one being that the power of the ballot is what republican political theory makes it out to be, and that therefore the electorate has an effective choice in the matter. It is a matter of open and notorious fact that nothing like this is true. Our nominally republican system is actually built on an imperial model, with our professional politicians standing in the place of the praetorian guards; they meet from time to time, decide what can be “got away with,” and how, and who is to do it; and the electorate votes according to their prescriptions. Under these conditions it is easy to provide the appearance of any desired concession of State power, without the reality; our history shows innumerable instances of very easy dealing with problems in practical politics much more difficult than that. One may remark that in this connexion also the notoriously baseless assumption that party-designations connote principles, and that party-pledges imply performance. Moreover, underlying these assumptions and all others that faith in “political action” contemplates, is the assumption that the interests of the State and the interests of society are, at least theoretically, identical; whereas in theory they are directly opposed, and this opposition invariably declares itself in practice to the precise extent that circumstances permit.
However, without pursuing these matters further at the moment, it is probably enough to observe here that in the nature of things the exercise of personal government, the control of a huge and growing bureaucracy, and the management of an enormous mass of subsidized voting-power, are as agreeable to one stripe of politician as they are to another. Presumably they interest a Republican or a Progressive as much as they do a Democrat, Communist, Farmer-Labourite, Socialist, or whatever a politician may, for electioneering purposes, see fit to call himself. This was demonstrated in the local campaigns of 1934 by the practical attitude of politicians who represented nominal opposition parties. It is now being further demonstrated by the derisible haste that the leaders of the official opposition are making towards what they call “reorganization” of their party. One may well be inattentive to their words; their actions, however, mean simply that the recent accretions of State power are here to stay, and that they are aware of it; and that, such being the case, they are preparing to dispose themselves most advantageously in a contest for their control and management. This is all that “reorganization” of the Republican party means, and all it is meant to mean; and this is in itself quite enough to show that any expectation of an essential change of regime through a change of party-administration is illusory. On the contrary, it is clear that whatever party-competition we shall see hereafter will be on the same terms as heretofore. It will be a competition for control and management, and it would naturally issue in still closer centralization, still further extension of the bureaucratic principle, and still larger concessions to subsidized voting-power. This course would be strictly historical, and is furthermore to be expected as lying in the nature of things, as it so obviously does.
Indeed, it is by this means that the aim of the collectivists seems likeliest to be attained in this country; this aim being the complete extinction of social power through absorption by the State. Their fundamental doctrine was formulated and invested with a quasi-religious sanction by the idealist philosophers of the last century; and among peoples who have accepted it in terms as well as in fact, it is expressed in formulas almost identical with theirs. Thus, for example, when Hitler says that “the State dominates the nation because it alone represents it,” he is only putting into loose popular language the formula of Hegel, that “the State is the general substance, whereof individuals are but accidents.” Or, again, when Mussolini says, “Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State,” he is merely vulgarizing the doctrine of Fichte, that “the State is the superior power, ultimate and beyond appeal, absolutely independent.”
It may be in place to remark here the essential identity of the various extant forms of collectivism. The superficial distinctions of Fascism, Bolshevism, Hitlerism, are the concern of journalists and publicists; the serious student9 sees in them only the one root-idea of a complete conversion of social power into State power. When Hitler and Mussolini invoke a kind of debased and hoodwinking mysticism to aid their acceleration of this process, the student at once recognizes his old friend, the formula of Hegel, that “the State incarnates the Divine Idea upon earth,” and he is not hoodwinked. The journalist and the impressionable traveller may make what they will of “the new religion of Bolshevism”; the student contents himself with remarking clearly the exact nature of the process which this inculcation is designed to sanction.
This process – the conversion of social power into State power – has not been carried as far here as it has elsewhere; as it has in Russia, Italy or Germany, for example. Two things, however, are to be observed. First, that it has gone a long way, at a rate of progress which has of late been greatly accelerated. What has chiefly differentiated its progress here from its progress in other countries is its unspectacular character. Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1823 that there was no danger he dreaded so much as “the consolidation [i.e., centralization] of our government by the noiseless and therefore unalarming instrumentality of the Supreme Court.” These words characterize every advance that we have made in State aggrandizement. Each one has been noiseless and therefore unalarming, especially to a people notoriously preoccupied, inattentive and incurious. Even the coup d’Etat of 1932 was noiseless and unalarming. In Russia, Italy, Germany, the coup d’Etat was violent and spectacular; it had to be; but here it was neither. Under covers of a nation-wide, State-managed mobilization of inane buffoonery and aimless commotion, it took place in so unspectacular a way that its true nature escaped notice, and even now is not generally understood. The method of consolidating the ensuing regime, moreover, was also noiseless and unalarming; it was merely the prosaic and unspectacular “higgling of the market,” to which a long and uniform political experience had accustomed us. A visitor from a poorer and thriftier country might have regarded Mr. Farley’s activities in the local campaigns of 1934 as striking or even spectacular, but they made no such impression on us. They seemed so familiar, so much the regular thing, that one heard little comment on them. Moreover, political habit led us to attribute whatever unfavourable comment we did hear, to interest; either partisan or monetary interest, or both. We put it down as the jaundiced judgment of persons with axes to grind; and naturally the regime did all it could to encourage this view.
The second thing to be observed is that certain formulas, certain arrangements of words, stand as an obstacle in the way of our perceiving how far the conversion of social power into State power has actually gone. The force of phrase and name distorts the identification of our own actual acceptances and acquiescences. We are accustomed to the rehearsal of certain poetic litanies, and provided their cadence be kept entire, we are indifferent to their correspondence with truth and fact. When Hegel’s doctrine of the State, for example, is restated in terms by Hitler and Mussolini, it is distinctly offensive to us, and we congratulate ourselves on our freedom from the “yoke of a dictator’s tyranny.” No American politician would dream of breaking in on our routine of litanies with anything of the kind. We may imagine, for example, the shock to popular sentiment that would ensue upon Mr. Roosevelt’s declaring publicly that “the State embraces everything, and nothing has value outside the State. The State creates right.” Yet an American politician, as long as he does not formulate that doctrine in set terms, may go further with it in a practical way than Mussolini has gone, and without trouble or question. Suppose Mr. Roosevelt should defend his regime by publicly reasserting Hegel’s dictum that “the State alone possesses rights, because it is the strongest.” One can hardly imagine that our public would get that down without a great deal of retching. Yet how far, really, is that doctrine alien to our public’s actual acquiescences? Surely not far.
The point is that in respect of the relation between the theory and the actual practice of public affairs, the American is the most unphilosophical of beings. The rationalization of conduct in general is most repugnant to him; he prefers to emotionalize it. He is indifferent to the theory of things, so long as he may rehearse his formulas; and so long as he can listen to the patter of his litanies, no practical inconsistency disturbs him – indeed, he gives no evidence of even recognizing it as an inconsistency.
The ablest and most acute observer among the many who came from Europe to look us over in the early part of the last century was the one who is for some reason the most neglected, notwithstanding that in our present circumstances, especially, he is worth more to us than all the de Tocquevilles, Bryces, Trollopes and Chateaubriands put together. This was the noted St.-Simonien and political economist, Michel Chevalier. Professor Chinard, in his admirable biographical study of John Adams, has called attention to Chevalier’s observation that the American people have “the morale of an army on the march.” The more one thinks of this, the more clearly one sees how little there is in what our publicists are fond of calling “the American psychology” that it does not exactly account for; and it exactly accounts for the trait we are considering.
An army on the march has no philosophy; it views itself as a creature of the moment. It does not rationalize conduct except in terms of an immediate end. As Tennyson observed, there is a pretty strict official understanding against its doing so; “theirs not to reason why.” Emotionalizing conduct is another matter, and the more of it the better; it is encouraged by a whole elaborate paraphernalia of showy etiquette, flags, music, uniforms, decorations, and the careful cultivation of a very special sort of comradery. In every relation to “the reason of the thing,” however – in the ability and eagerness, as Plato puts it, “to see things as they are” – the mentality of an army on the march is merely so much delayed adolescence; it remains persistently, incorrigibly and notoriously infantile. Past generations of Americans, as Martin Chuzzlewit left record, erected this infantilism into a distinguishing virtue, and they took great pride in it as the mark of a chosen people, destined to live forever amidst the glory of their own unparalleled achievements wie Gott in Frankreich. Mr. Jefferson Brick, General Choke and the Honourable Elijah Pogram made a first-class job of indoctrinating their countrymen with the idea that a philosophy is wholly unnecessary, and that a concern with the theory of things is effeminate and unbecoming. An envious and presumably dissolute Frenchman may say what he likes about the morale of an army on the march, but the fact remains that it has brought us where we are, and has got us what we have. Look at a continent subdued, see the spread of our industry and commerce, our railways, newspapers, finance-companies, schools, colleges, what you will! Well, if all this has been done without a philosophy, if we have grown to this unrivalled greatness without any attention to the theory of things, does it not show that philosophy and the theory of things are all moonshine, and not worth a practical people’s consideration? The morale of an army on the march is good enough for us, and we are proud of it. The present generation does not speak in quite this tone of robust certitude. It seems, if anything, rather less openly contemptuous of philosophy; one even sees some signs of a suspicion that in our present circumstances the theory of things might be worth looking into, and it is especially towards the theory of sovereignty and rulership that this new attitude of hospitality appears to be developing. The condition of public affairs in all countries, notably in our own, has done more than bring under review the mere current practice of politics, the character and quality of representative politicians, and the relative merits of this-or-that form or mode of government. It has served to suggest attention to the one institution whereof all these forms or modes are but the several, and, from the theoretical point of view, indifferent, manifestations. It suggests that finality does not lie with consideration of species, but of genus; it does not lie with consideration of the characteristic marks that differentiate the republican State, monocratic State, constitutional, collectivist, totalitarian, Hitlerian, Bolshevist, what you will. It lies with consideration of the State itself.
There appears to be a curious difficulty about exercising reflective thought upon the actual nature of an institution into which one was born and one’s ancestors were born. One accepts it as one does the atmosphere; one’s practical adjustments to it are made by a kind of reflex. One seldom thinks about the air until one notices some change, favourable or unfavourable, and then one’s thought about it is special; one thinks about purer air, lighter air, heavier air, not about air. So it is with certain human institutions. We know that they exist, that they affect us in various ways, but we do not ask how they came to exist, or what their original intention was, or what primary function it is that they are actually fulfilling; and when they affect us so unfavourably that we rebel against them, we contemplate substituting nothing beyond some modification or variant of the same institution. Thus colonial America, oppressed by the monarchical State, brings in the republican State; Germany gives up the republican State for the Hitlerian State; Russia exchanges the monocratic State for the collectivist State; Italy exchanges the constitutionalist State for the “totalitarian” State.
It is interesting to observe that in the year 1935 the average individual’s incurious attitude towards the phenomenon of the State is precisely what his attitude was towards the phenomenon of the Church in the year, say, 1500. The State was then a very weak institution; the Church was very strong. The individual was born into the Church, as his ancestors had been for generations, in precisely the formal, documented fashion in which he is now born into the State. He was taxed for the Church’s support, as he now is for the State’s support. He was supposed to accept the official theory and doctrine of the Church, to conform to its discipline, and in a general way to do as it told him; again, precisely the sanctions that the State now lays upon him. If he were reluctant or recalcitrant, the Church made a satisfactory amount of trouble for him, as the State now does. Notwithstanding all this, it does not appear to have occurred to the Church-citizen of that day, any more than it occurs to the State-citizen of the present, to ask what sort of institution it was that claimed his allegiance. There it was; he accepted its own account of itself, took it as it stood, and at its own valuation. Even when he revolted, fifty years later, he merely exchanged one form or mode of the Church for another, the Roman for the Calvinist, Lutheran, Zuinglian, or what not; again, quite as the modern State-citizen exchanges one mode of the State for another. He did not examine the institution itself, nor does the State-citizen today.
My purpose in writing is to raise the question whether the enormous depletion of social power which we are witnessing everywhere does not suggest the importance of knowing more than we do about the essential nature of the institution that is so rapidly absorbing this volume of power.10 One of my friends said to me lately that if the public-utility corporations did not mend their ways, the State would take over their business and operate it. He spoke with a curiously reverent air of finality. Just so, I thought, might a Church-citizen, at the end of the fifteenth century, have spoken of some impending intervention of the Church; and I wondered then whether he had any better-informed and closer-reasoned theory of the State than his prototype had of the Church. Frankly, I am sure he had not. His pseudo-conception was merely an unreasoned acceptance of the State on its own terms and at its own valuation; he showed himself no more intelligent, and no less, than the whole mass of State-citizenry at large.
It appears to me that with the depletion of social power going on at the rate it is, the State-citizen should look very closely into the essential nature of the institution that is bringing it about. He should ask himself whether he has a theory of the State, and if so, whether he can assure himself that history supports it. He will not find this a matter that can be settled off-hand; it needs a good deal of investigation, and a stiff exercise of reflective thought. He should ask, in the first place, how the State originated, and why; it must have come about somehow, and for some purpose. This seems an extremely easy question to answer, but he will not find it so. Then he should ask what it is that history exhibits continuously as the State’s primary function. Then, whether he finds that “the State” and “government” are strictly synonymous terms; he uses them as such, but are they? Are there any invariable characteristic marks that differentiate the institution of government from the institution of the State? Then finally he should decide whether, by the testimony of history, the State is to be regarded as, in essence, a social or an anti-social institution?
It is pretty clear now that if the Church-citizen of 1500 had put his mind on questions as fundamental as these, his civilization might have had a much easier and pleasanter course to run; and the State-citizen of today may profit by his experience.
AS FAR back as one can follow the run of civilization, it presents two fundamentally different types of political organization. This difference is not one of degree, but of kind. It does not do to take the one type as merely marking a lower order of civilization and the other a higher; they are commonly so taken, but erroneously. Still less does it do to classify both as species of the same genus – to classify both under the generic name of “government,” though this also, until very lately, has been done, and has always led to confusion and misunderstanding.
A good understanding of this error and its effects is supplied by Thomas Paine. At the outset of his pamphlet called Common Sense, Paine draws a distinction between society and government. While society in any state is a blessing, he says, “government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” In another place, he speaks of government as “a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world.” He proceeds then to show how and why government comes into being. Its origin is in the common understanding and common agreement of society; and “the design and end of government,” he says, is “freedom and security.” Teleologically, government implements the common desire of society, first, for freedom, and second, for security. Beyond this it does not go; it contemplates no positive intervention upon the individual, but only a negative intervention. It would seem that in Paine’s view the code of government should be that of the legendary king Pausole, who prescribed but two laws for his subjects, the first being, Hurt no man, and the second, Then do as you please; and that the whole business of government should be the purely negative one of seeing that this code is carried out.
So far, Paine is sound as he is simple. He goes on, however, to attack the British political organization in terms that are logically inconclusive. There should be no complaint of this, for he was writing as a pamphleteer, a special pleader with an ad captandum argument to make, and as everyone knows, he did it most successfully. Nevertheless, the point remains that when he talks about the British system he is talking about a type of political organization essentially different from the type that he has just been describing; different in origin, in intention, in primary function, in the order of interest that it reflects. It did not originate in the common understanding and agreement of society; it originated in conquest and confiscation.1
Its intention, far from contemplating “freedom and security,” contemplated nothing of the kind. It contemplated primarily the continuous economic exploitation of one class by another, and it concerned itself with only so much freedom and security as was consistent with this primary intention; and this was, in fact, very little. Its primary function or exercise was not by way of Paine’s purely negative interventions upon the individual, but by way of innumerable and most onerous positive interventions, all of which were for the purpose of maintaining the stratification of society into an owning and exploiting class, and a property-less dependent class. The order of interest that it reflected was not social, but purely anti-social; and those who administered it, judged by the common standard of ethics, or even the common standard of law as applied to private persons, were indistinguishable from a professional-criminal class.
Clearly, then, we have two distinct types of political organization to take into account; and clearly, too, when their origins are considered, it is impossible to make out that the one is a mere perversion of the other. Therefore when we include both types under a general term like government, we get into logical difficulties; difficulties of which most writers on the subject have been more or less vaguely aware, but which, until within the last half-century, none of them has tried to resolve.
Mr. Jefferson, for example, remarked that the hunting tribes of Indians, with which he had a good deal to do in his early days, had a highly organized and admirable social order, but were “without government.” Commenting on this, he wrote Madison that “it is a problem not clear in my mind that [this] condition is not the best,” but he suspected that it was “inconsistent with any great degree of population.” Schoolcraft observes that the Chippewas, though living in a highly-organized social order, had no “regular” government. Herbert Spencer, speaking of the Bechuanas, Araucanians and Koranna Hottentots, says they have no “definite” government; while Parkman, in his introduction to The Conspiracy of Pontiac, reports the same phenomenon, and is frankly puzzled by its apparent anomalies.
Paine’s theory of government agrees exactly with the theory set forth by Mr. Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. The doctrine of natural rights, which is explicit in the Declaration, is implicit in Common Sense;2 and Paine’s view of the “design and end of government” is precisely the Declaration’s view, that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men”; and further, Paine’s view of the origin of government is that it “derives its just powers from the consent of the governed.” Now, if we apply Paine’s formulas or the Declaration’s formulas, it is abundantly clear that the Virginian Indians had government; Mr. Jefferson’s own observations show that they had it. Their political organization, simple as it was, answered its purpose. Their code-apparatus sufficed for assuring freedom and security to the individual, and for dealing with such trespasses as in that state of society the individual might encounter – fraud, theft, assault, adultery, murder. The same is clearly true of the various peoples cited by Parkman, Schoolcraft and Spencer. Assuredly, if the language of the Declaration amounts to anything, all these peoples had government; and all these reporters make it appear as a government quite competent to its purpose.
Therefore when Mr. Jefferson says his Indians were “without government,” he must be taken to mean that they did not have a type of government like the one he knew; and when Schoolcraft and Spencer speak of “regular” and “definite” government, their qualifying words must be taken in the same way. This type of government, nevertheless, has always existed and still exists, answering perfectly to Paine’s formulas and the Declaration’s formulas; though it is a type which we also, most of us, have seldom had the chance to observe. It may not be put down as the mark of an inferior race, for institutional simplicity is in itself by no means a mark of backwardness or inferiority; and it has been sufficiently shown that in certain essential respects the peoples who have this type of government are, by comparison, in a position to say a good deal for themselves on the score of a civilized character. Mr. Jefferson’s own testimony on this point is worth notice, and so is Parkman’s. This type, however, even though documented by the Declaration, is fundamentally so different from the type that has always prevailed in history, and is still prevailing in the world at the moment, that for the sake of clearness the two types should be set apart by name, as they are by nature. They are so different in theory that drawing a sharp distinction between them is now probably the most important duty that civilization owes to its own safety. Hence it is by no means either an arbitrary or academic proceeding to give the one type the name of government, and to call the second type simply the State.
Aristotle, confusing the idea of the State with the idea of government, thought the State originated out of the natural grouping of the family. Other Greek philosophers, labouring under the same confusion, somewhat anticipated Rousseau in finding its origin in the social nature and disposition of the individual; while an opposing school, which held that the individual is naturally anti-social, more or less anticipated Hobbes by finding it in an enforced compromise among the anti-social tendencies of individuals. Another view, implicit in the doctrine of Adam Smith, is that the State originated in the association of certain individuals who showed a marked superiority in the economic virtues of diligence, prudence and thrift. The idealist philosophers, variously applying Kant’s transcendentalism to the problem, came to still different conclusions; and one or two other views, rather less plausible, perhaps, than any of the foregoing, have been advanced.
The root-trouble with all these views is not precisely that they are conjectural, but that they are based on incompetent observation. They miss the invariable characteristic marks that the subject presents; as, for example, until quite lately, all views of the origin of malaria missed the invariable ministrations of the mosquito, or as opinions about the bubonic plague missed the invariable mark of the rat-parasite. It is only within the last half-century that the historical method has been applied to the problem of the State.3
This method runs back the phenomenon of the State to its first appearance in documented history, observing its characteristic marks, and drawing inferences as indicated. There are so many clear intimations of this method in earlier writers – one finds them as far back as Strabo – that one wonders why its systematic application was so long deferred; but in all such cases, as with malaria and typhus, when the characteristic mark is once determined, it is so obvious that one always wonders why it was so long unnoticed. Perhaps in the case of the State, the best one can say is that the cooperation of the Zeitgeist was necessary, and that it could be had no sooner.
The positive testimony of history is that the State invariably had its origin in conquest and confiscation. No primitive State known to history originated in any other manner.4 On the negative side, it has been proved beyond peradventure that no primitive State could possibly have had any other origin.5 Moreover, the sole invariable characteristic of the State is the economic exploitation of one class by another. In this sense, every State known to history is a class-State. Oppenheimer defines the State, in respect of its origin, as an institution “forced on a defeated group by a conquering group, with a view only to systematizing the domination of the conquered by the conquerors, and safeguarding itself against insurrection from within and attack from without. This domination had no other final purpose than the economic exploitation of the conquered group by the victorious group.”
An American statesman, John Jay, accomplished the respectable feat of compressing the whole doctrine of conquest into a single sentence. “Nations in general,” he said, “will go to war whenever there is a prospect of getting something by it.” Any considerable economic accumulation, or any considerable body of natural resources, is an incentive to conquest. The primitive technique was that of raiding the coveted possessions, appropriating them entire, and either exterminating the possessors, or dispersing them beyond convenient reach. Very early, however, it was seen to be in general more profitable to reduce the possessors to dependence, and use them as labour-motors; and the primitive technique was accordingly modified. Under special circumstances, where this exploitation was either impractical or unprofitable, the primitive technique is even now occasionally revived, as by the Spaniards in South America, or by ourselves against the Indians. But these circumstances are exceptional; the modified technique has been in use almost from the beginning, and everywhere its first appearance marks the origin of the State. Citing Ranke’s observations on the technique of the raiding herdsmen, the Hyksos, who established their State of Egypt about B.C. 2000, Gumplowicz remarks that Ranke’s words very well sum up the political history of mankind.
Indeed, the modified technique never varies. “Everywhere we see a militant group of fierce men forcing the frontier of some more peaceable people, settling down upon them and establishing the State, with themselves as an aristocracy. In Mesopotamia, irruption succeeds irruption, State succeeds State, Babylonians, Amoritans, Assyrians, Arabs, Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Parthians, Mongols, Seldshuks, Tatars, Turks; in the Nile valley, Hyksos, Nubians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks; in Greece, the Doric States are specific examples; in Italy, Romans, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Franks, Germans; in Spain, Carthaginians, Visigoths, Arabs; in Gaul, Romans, Franks, Burgundians, Normans; in Britain, Saxons, Normans.” Everywhere we find the political organization proceeding from the same origin, and presenting the same mark of intention, namely: the economic exploitation of a defeated group by a conquering group.
Everywhere, that is, with but one significant exception. Wherever economic exploitation has been for any reason either impractical or unprofitable, the State has never come into existence; government has existed, but the State, never. The American hunting tribes, for example, whose organization so puzzled our observers, never formed a State, for there is no way to reduce a hunter to economic dependence and make him hunt for you.6
Conquest and confiscation were no doubt practicable, but no economic gain would be got by it, for confiscation would give the aggressors but little beyond what they already had; the most that could come of it would be the satisfaction of some sort of feud. For like reasons primitive peasants never formed a State. The economic accumulations of their neighbours were too slight and too perishable to be interesting;7 and especially with the abundance of free land about, the enslavement of their neighbours would be impracticable, if only for the police-problems involved.8
It may now be easily seen how great the difference is between the institution of government, as understood by Paine and the Declaration of Independence, and the institution of the State. Government may quite conceivably have originated as Paine thought it did, or Aristotle, or Hobbes, or Rousseau; whereas the State not only never did originate in any of those ways, but never could have done so. The nature and intention of government, as adduced by Parkman, Schoolcraft and Spencer, are social. Based on the idea of natural rights, government secures those rights to the individual by strictly negative intervention, making justice costless and easy of access; and beyond that it does not go. The State, on the other hand, both in its genesis and by its primary intention, is purely anti-social. It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.9
So far from encouraging a wholesome development of social power, it has invariably, as Madison said, turned every contingency into a resource for depleting social power and enhancing State power.10 As Dr. Sigmund Freud has observed, it can not even be said that the State has ever shown any disposition to suppress crime, but only to safeguard its own monopoly of crime. In Russia and Germany, for example, we have lately seen the State moving with great alacrity against infringement of its private monopoly by private persons, while at the same time exercising that monopoly with unconscionable ruthlessness. Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.
Such are the antecedents of the institution which is everywhere now so busily converting social power by wholesale into State power.11 The recognition of them goes a long way towards resolving most, if not all, of the apparent anomalies which the conduct of the modern State exhibits. It is of great help, for example, in accounting for the open and notorious fact that the State always moves slowly and grudgingly towards any purpose that accrues to society’s advantage, but moves rapidly and with alacrity towards one that accrues to its own advantage; nor does it ever move towards social purposes on its own initiative, but only under heavy pressure, while its motion towards anti-social purposes is self-sprung.
Englishmen of the last century remarked this fact with justifiable anxiety, as they watched the rapid depletion of social power by the British State. One of them was Herbert Spencer, who published a series of essays which were subsequently put together in a volume called The Man versus the State. With our public affairs in the shape they are, it is rather remarkable that no American publicist has improved the chance to reproduce these essays verbatim, merely substituting illustrations drawn from American history for those which Spencer draws from English history. If this were properly done, it would make one of the most pertinent and useful works that could be produced at this time.12
These essays are devoted to examining the several aspects of the contemporary growth of State power in England. On the essay called Over-legislation, Spencer remarks the fact so notoriously common in our experience,13 that when State power is applied to social purposes, its action is invariably “slow, stupid, extravagant, unadaptive, corrupt and obstructive.” He devotes several paragraphs to each count, assembling a complete array of proof. When he ends, discussion ends; there is simply nothing to be said. He shows further that the State does not even fulfil efficiently what he calls its “unquestionable duties” to society; it does not efficiently adjudge and defend the individual’s elemental rights. This being so – and with us this too is a matter of notoriously common experience – Spencer sees no reason to expect that State power will be more efficiently applied to secondary social purposes. “Had we, in short, proved its efficiency as judge and defender, instead of having found it treacherous, cruel, and anxiously to be shunned, there would be some encouragement to hope other benefits at its hands.”
Yet, he remarks, it is just this monstrously extravagant hope that society is continually indulging; and indulging in the face of daily evidence that it is illusory. He points to the anomaly which we have all noticed as so regularly presented by newspapers. Take up one, says Spencer, and you will probably find a leading editorial “exposing the corruption, negligence or mismanagement of some State department. Cast your eye down the next column, and it is not unlikely that you will read proposals for an extension of State supervision.14 …Thus while every day chronicles a failure, there every day reappears the belief that it needs but an Act of Parliament and a staff of officers to effect any end desired.15 Nowhere is the perennial faith of mankind better seen.”
It is unnecessary to say that the reasons which Spencer gives for the anti-social behaviour of the State are abundantly valid, but we may now see how powerfully they are reinforced by the findings of the historical method; a method which had not been applied when Spencer wrote. These findings being what they are, it is manifest that the conduct which Spencer complains of is strictly historical. When the town-dwelling merchants of the eighteenth century displaced the landholding nobility in control of the State’s mechanism, they did not change the State’s character; they merely adapted its mechanism to their own special interests, and strengthened it immeasurably.16
The merchant-State remained an anti-social institution, a pure class-State, like the State of the nobility; its intention and function remained unchanged, save for the adaptations necessary to suit the new order of interests that it was thenceforth to serve. Therefore in its flagrant disservice of social purposes, for which Spencer arraigns it, the State was acting strictly in character.
Spencer does not discuss what he calls “the perennial faith of mankind” in State action, but contents himself with elaborating the sententious observations of Guizot, that “a belief in the sovereign power of political machinery” is nothing less than “a gross delusion.” This faith is chiefly an effect of the immense prestige which the State has diligently built up for itself in the century or more since the doctrine of jure divino rulership gave way. We need not consider the various instruments that the State employs in building up its prestige; most of them are well known, and their uses well understood. There is one, however, which is in a sense peculiar to the republican State. Republicanism permits the individual to persuade himself that the State is his creation, that State action is his action, that when it expresses itself it expresses him, and when it is glorified he is glorified. The republican State encourages this persuasion with all its power, aware that it is the most efficient instrument for enhancing its own prestige. Lincoln’s phrase, “of the people, by the people, for the people” was probably the most effective single stroke of propaganda ever made in behalf of republican State prestige.
Thus the individual’s sense of his own importance inclines him strongly to resent the suggestion that the State is by nature anti-social. He looks on its failures and misfeasances with somewhat the eye of a parent, giving it the benefit of a special code of ethics. Moreover, he has always the expectation that the State will learn by its mistakes, and do better. Granting that its technique with social purposes is blundering, wasteful and vicious – even admitting, with the public official whom Spencer cites, that wherever the State is, there is villainy – he sees no reason why, with an increase of experience and responsibility, the State should not improve.
Something like this appears to be the basic assumption of collectivism. Let but the State confiscate all social power, and its interests will become identical with those of society. Granting that the State is of anti-social origin, and that it has borne a uniformly anti-social character throughout its history, let it but extinguish social power completely, and its character will change; it will merge with society, and thereby become society’s efficient and disinterested organ. The historic State, in short, will disappear, and government only remain. It is an attractive idea; the hope of its being somehow translated into practice is what, only so few years ago, made “the Russian experiment” so irresistibly fascinating to generous spirits who felt themselves hopelessly State-ridden. A closer examination of the State’s activities, however, will show that this idea, attractive though it be, goes to pieces against the iron law of fundamental economics, that man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion. Let us see how this is so.
There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means.17 The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means. The primitive exercise of the political means was, as we have seen, by conquest, confiscation, expropriation, and the introduction of a slave-economy. The conqueror parcelled out the conquered territory among beneficiaries, who thenceforth satisfied their needs and desires by exploiting the labour of the enslaved inhabitants.18 The feudal State, and the merchant-State, wherever found, merely took over and developed successively the heritage of character, intention and apparatus of exploitation which the primitive State transmitted to them; they are in essence merely higher integrations of the primitive State.
The State, then, whether primitive, feudal or merchant, is the organization of the political means. Now, since man tends always to satisfy his needs and desires with the least possible exertion, he will employ the political means whenever he can – exclusively, if possible; otherwise, in association with the economic means. He will, at the present time, that is, have recourse to the State’s modern apparatus of exploitation; the apparatus of tariffs, concessions, rent-monopoly, and the like. It is a matter of the commonest observation that this is his first instinct. So long, therefore, as the organization of the political means is available – so long as the highly-centralized bureaucratic State stands as primarily a distributor of economic advantage, an arbiter of exploitation, so long will that instinct effectively declare itself. A proletarian State would merely, like the merchant-State, shift the incidence of exploitation, and there is no historic ground for the presumption that a collectivist State would be in any essential respect unlike its predecessors;19 as we are beginning to see, “the Russian experiment” has amounted to the erection of a highly-centralized bureaucratic State upon the ruins of another, leaving the entire apparatus of exploitation intact and ready for use. Hence, in view of the law of fundamental economics just cited, the expectation that collectivism will appreciably alter the essential character of the State appears illusory.
Thus the findings arrived at by the historical method amply support the immense body of practical considerations brought forward by Spencer against the State’s inroads upon social power. When Spencer concludes that “in State-organizations, corruption is unavoidable,” the historical method abundantly shows cause why, in the nature of things, this should be expected – vilescit origine tali. When Freud comments on the shocking disparity between State-ethics and private ethics – and his observations on this point are most profound and searching – the historical method at once supplies the best of reasons why that disparity should be looked for.20 When Ortega y Gasset says that “Statism is the higher form taken by violence and direct action, when these are set up as standards,” the historical method enables us to perceive at once that his definition is precisely that which one would make a priori.
The historical method, moreover, establishes the important fact that, as in the case of tabetic or parasitic diseases, the depletion of social power by the State can not be checked after a certain point of progress is passed. History does not show an instance where, once beyond this point, this depletion has not ended in a complete and permanent collapse. In some cases, disintegration is slow and painful. Death set its mark on Rome at the end of the second century, but she dragged out a pitiable existence for some time after the Antonines. Athens, on the other hand, collapsed quickly. Some authorities think Europe is dangerously near that point, if not already past it; but contemporary conjecture is probably without much value. That point may have been reached in America, and it may not; again, certainty is unattainable – plausible arguments may be made either way. Of two things, however, we may be certain; the first is, that the rate of America’s approach to that point is being prodigiously accelerated; and the second is, that there is no evidence of any disposition to retard it, or any intelligent apprehension of the danger which that acceleration betokens.
IN CONSIDERING the State’s development in America, it is important to keep in mind the fact that America’s experience of the State was longer during the colonial period than during the period of American independence; the period 1607-1776 was longer than the period 1776-1935. Moreover, the colonists came here full-grown, and had already a considerable experience of the State of England and Europe before they arrived; and for purposes of comparison, this would extend the former period by a few years, say at least fifteen. It would probably be safe to put it that the American colonists had twenty-five years’ longer experience of the State than citizens of the United States have had.
Their experience, too, was not only longer, but more varied. The British State, the French, Dutch, Swedish and Spanish States, were all established here. The separatist English dissenters who landed at Plymouth had lived under the Dutch State as well as the British State. When James I made England too uncomfortable for them to live in, they went to Holland; and many of the institutions which they subsequently set up in New England, and which were later incorporated into the general body of what we call “American Institutions,” were actually Dutch, though commonly – almost invariably – we credit them to England. They were for the most part Roman-Continental in their origin, but they were transmitted here from Holland, not from England.1 No such institutions existed in England at that time, and hence the Plymouth colonists could not have seen them there; they could have seen them only in Holland, where they did exist.
Our colonial period coincided with the period of revolution and readjustment in England, referred to in the preceding chapter, when the British merchant-State was displacing the feudal State, consolidating its own position, and shifting the incidence of economic exploitation. These revolutionary measures gave rise to an extensive review of the general theory on which the feudal State had been operating. The earlier Stuarts governed on the theory of monarchy by divine right. The State’s economic beneficiaries were answerable only to the monarch, who was theoretically answerable only to God; he had no responsibilities to society at large, save such as he chose to incur, and these only for the duration of his pleasure. In 1607, the year of the Virginia colony’s landing at Jamestown, John Cowell, regius professor of civil law at the University of Cambridge, laid down the doctrine that the monarch “is above the law by his absolute power, and though for the better and equal course in making laws he do admit the Three Estates unto Council, yet this in divers learned men’s opinions is not of constraint, but of his own benignity, or by reason of the promise made upon oath at the time of his coronation.”
This doctrine, which was elaborated to the utmost in the extraordinary work called Patriarcha, by Sir Robert Filmer, was all well enough so long as the line of society’s stratification was clear, straight and easily drawn. The feudal State’s economic beneficiaries were virtually a close corporation, a compact body consisting of a Church hierarchy and a titled group of hereditary, large-holding landed proprietors. In respect of interests, this body was extremely homogeneous, and their interests, few in number, were simple in character and easily defined. With the monarch, the hierarchy, and a small, closely-limited nobility above the line of stratification, and an undifferentiated populace below it, this theory of sovereignty was passable; it answered the purposes of the feudal State as well as any.
But the practical outcome of this theory did not, and could not, suit the purposes of the rapidly-growing class of merchants and financiers. They wished to introduce a new economic system. Under feudalism, production had been, as a general thing, for use, with the incidence of exploitation falling largely on a peasantry. The State had by no means always kept its hands off trade, but it had never countenanced the idea that its chief reason for existence was, as we say, “to help business.” The merchants and financiers, however, had precisely this idea in mind. They saw the attractive possibilities of production for profit, with the incidence of exploitation gradually shifting to an industrial proletariat. They saw also, however, that to realize all these possibilities, they must get the State’s mechanism to working as smoothly and powerfully on the side of “business” as it had been working on the side of the monarchy, the Church, and the large-holding landed proprietors. This meant capturing control of this mechanism, and so altering and adapting it as to give themselves the same free access to the political means as was enjoyed by the displaced beneficiaries. The course by which they accomplished this is marked by the Civil War, the dethronement and execution of Charles I, the Puritan protectorate, and the revolution of 1688.
This is the actual inwardness of what is known as the Puritan movement in England. It had a quasi-religious motivation – speaking strictly, an ecclesiological motivation – but the paramount practical end towards which it tended was a repartition of access to the political means. It is a significant fact, though seldom noticed, that the only tenet with which Puritanism managed to evangelize equally the non-Christian and Christian world of English-bred civilization is its tenet of work, its doctrine that work is, by God’s express will and command, a duty; indeed almost, if not quite, the first and most important of man’s secular duties. This erection of labour into a Christian virtue per se, this investment of work with a special religious sanction, was an invention of Puritanism; it was something never heard of in England before the rise of the Puritan State. The only doctrine antedating it presented labour as the means to a purely secular end; as Cranmer’s divines put it, “that I may learn and labour truly to get mine own living.” There is no hint that God would take it amiss if one preferred to do little work and put up with a poor living, for the sake of doing something else with one’s time. Perhaps the best witness to the essential character of the Puritan movement in England and America is the thoroughness with which its doctrine of work has pervaded both literatures, all the way from Cromwell’s letters to Carlyle’s panegyric and Longfellow’s verse.
But the merchant-State of the Puritans was like any other; it followed the standard pattern. It originated in conquest and confiscation, like the feudal State which it displaced; the only difference being that its conquest was by civil war instead of foreign war. Its object was the economic exploitation of one class by another; for the exploitation of feudal serfs by a nobility, it proposed only to substitute the exploitation of a proletariat by enterprisers. Like its predecessor, the merchant-State was purely an organization of the political means, a machine for the distribution of economic advantage, but with its mechanism adapted to the requirements of a more numerous and more highly differentiated order of beneficiaries; a class, moreover, whose numbers were not limited by heredity or by the sheer arbitrary pleasure of a monarch.
The process of establishing the merchant-State, however, necessarily brought about changes in the general theory of sovereignty. The bald doctrine of Cowell and Filmer was no longer practicable; yet any new theory had to find room for some sort of divine sanction, for the habit of men’s minds does not change suddenly, and Puritanism’s alliance between religious and secular interests was extremely close. One may not quite put it that the merchant-enterprisers made use of religious fanaticism to pull their chestnuts out of the fire; the religionists had sound and good chestnuts of their own to look after. They had plenty of rabid nonsense to answer for, plenty of sour hypocrisy, plenty of vicious fanaticism; whenever we think of seventeenth-century British Puritanism, we think of Hugh Peters, of Praise God Barebones, of Cromwell’s iconoclasts “smashing the mighty big angels in glass.” But behind all this untowardness there was in the religionists a body of sound conscience, soundly and justly outraged; and no doubt, though mixed with an intolerable deal of unscrupulous greed, there was on the part of the merchant-enterprisers a sincere persuasion that what was good for business was good for society. Taking Hampden’s conscience as representative, one would say that it operated under the limitations set by nature upon the typical sturdy Buckinghamshire squire; the mercantile conscience was likewise ill-informed, and likewise set its course with a hard, dogged, provincial stubbornness. Still, the alliance of the two bodies of conscience was not without some measure of respectability. No doubt, for example, Hampden regarded the State-controlled episcopate to some extent objectively, as unscriptural in theory, and a tool of Antichrist in practice; and no doubt, too, the mercantile conscience, with the disturbing vision of William Laud in view, might have found State-managed episcopacy objectionable on other grounds than those of special interest.
The merchant-State’s political rationale had to respond to the pressure of a growing individualism. The spirit of individualism appeared in the latter half of the sixteenth century; probably – as well as such obscure origins can be determined – as a by-product of the Continental revival of learning, or, it may be, specifically as a by-product of the Reformation in Germany. It was long, however, in gaining force enough to make itself count in shaping political theory. The feudal State could take no account of this spirit; its stark regime of status was operable only where there was no great multiplicity of diverse economic interests to be accommodated, and where the sum of social power remained practically stable. Under the British feudal State, one large-holding landed proprietor’s interest was much like another’s, and one bishop’s or clergyman’s interest was about the same in kind as another’s. The interests of the monarchy and court were not greatly diversified, and the sum of social power varied but little from time to time. Hence an economic class-solidarity was easily maintained; access upward from one class to the other was easily blocked, so easily that very few positive State-interventions were necessary to keep people, as we say, in their place; or as Cranmer’s divines put it, to keep them doing their duty in that station of life unto which it had pleased God to call them. Thus the State could accomplish its primary purpose, and still afford to remain relatively weak. It could normally, that is, enable a thorough-going economic exploitation with relatively little apparatus of legislation or personnel.2
The merchant-State, on the other hand, with its ensuing regime of contract, had to meet the problem set by a rapid development of social power, and a multiplicity of economic interests. Both these tended to foster and stimulate the spirit of individualism. The management of social power made the merchant-enterpriser feel that he was quite as much somebody as anybody, and that the general order of interest which he represented – and in particular his own special fraction of that interest – was to be regarded as most respectable, which hitherto it had not been. In short, he had a full sense of himself as an individual, which on these grounds he could of course justify beyond peradventure. The aristocratic disparagement of his pursuits, and the consequent stigma of inferiority which had been so long fixed upon the “base mechanical,” exacerbated this sense, and rendered it at its best assertive, and at its worst, disposed to exaggerate the characteristic defects of his class as well as its excellences, and lump them off together in a new category of social virtues – its hardness, ruthlessness, ignorance and vulgarity at par with its commercial integrity, its shrewdness, diligence and thrift. Thus the fully-developed composite type of merchant-enterpriser-financier might be said to run all the psychological gradations between the brothers Cheeryble at one end of the scale, and Mr. Gradgrind, Sir Gorgius Midas and Mr. Bottles at the other.
This individualism fostered the formulation of certain doctrines which in one shape or another found their way into the official political philosophy of the merchant-State. Foremost among these were the two which the Declaration of Independence lays down as fundamental, the doctrine of natural rights and the doctrine of popular sovereignty. In a generation which had exchanged the authority of a pope for the authority of a book – or rather, the authority of unlimited private interpretation of a book – there was no difficulty about finding ample Scriptural sanction for both these doctrines. The interpretation of the Bible, like the judicial interpretation of a constitution, is merely a process by which, as a contemporary of Bishop Butler said, anything may be made to mean anything; and in the absence of a coercive authority, papal, conciliar or judicial, any given interpretation finds only such acceptance as may, for whatever reason, be accorded it. Thus the episode of Eden, the parable of the talents, the Apostolic injunction against being “slothful in business,” were a warrant for the Puritan doctrine of work; they brought the sanction of economic interest into complete agreement, uniting the religionist and the merchant-enterpriser in the bond of a common intention. Thus, again, the view of man as made in the image of God, made only a little lower than the angels, the subject of so august a transaction as the Atonement, quite corroborated the political doctrine of his endowment by his Creator with certain rights unalienable by Church or State. While the merchant-enterpriser might hold with Mr. Jefferson that the truth of this political doctrine is self-evident, its Scriptural support was yet of great value as carrying an implication of human nature’s dignity which braced his more or less diffident and self-conscious individualism; and the doctrine that so dignified him might easily be conceived of as dignifying his pursuits. Indeed, the Bible’s indorsement of the doctrine of labour and the doctrine of natural rights was really his charter for rehabilitating “trade” against the disparagement that the regime of status had put upon it, and for investing it with the most brilliant lustre of respectability.
In the same way, the doctrine of popular sovereignty could be mounted on impregnable Scriptural ground. Civil society was an association of true believers functioning for common secular purposes; and its right of self-government with respect to these purposes was God-given. If on the religious side all believers were priests, then on the secular side they were all sovereigns; the notion of an intervening jure divino monarch was as repugnant to Scripture as that of an intervening jure divino pope – witness the Israelite commonwealth upon which monarchy was visited as explicitly a punishment for sin. Civil legislation was supposed to interpret and particularize the laws of God as revealed in the Bible, and its administrators were responsible to the congregation in both its religious and secular capacities. Where the revealed law was silent, legislation was to be guided by its general spirit, as best this might be determined. These principles obviously left open a considerable area of choice; but hypothetically the range of civil liberty and the range of religious liberty had a common boundary.
This religious sanction of popular sovereignty was agreeable to the merchant-enterpriser; it fell in well with his individualism, enhancing considerably his sense of personal dignity and consequence. He could regard himself as by birthright not only a free citizen of a heavenly commonwealth, but also a free elector in an earthly commonwealth fashioned, as nearly as might be, after the heavenly pattern. The range of liberty permitted him in both qualities was satisfactory; he could summon warrant of Scripture to cover his undertakings both here and hereafter. As far as this present world’s concerns went, his doctrine of labour was Scriptural, his doctrine of master-and-servant was Scriptural – even bond-service, even chattel-service was Scriptural; his doctrine of a wage-economy, of money-lending – again the parable of the talents – both were Scriptural. What especially recommended the doctrine of popular sovereignty to him on its secular side, however, was the immense leverage it gave him for ousting the regime of status to make way for the regime of contract; in a word, for displacing the feudal State and bringing in the merchant-State.
But interesting as these two doctrines were, their actual application was a matter of great difficulty. On the religious side, the doctrine of natural rights had to take account of the unorthodox. Theoretically it was easy to dispose of them. The separatists, for example, such as those who manned the Mayflower, had lost their natural rights in the fall of Adam, and had never made use of the means appointed to reclaim them. This was all very well, but the logical extension of this principle into actual practice was a rather grave affair. There were a good many dissenters, all told, and they were articulate on the matter of natural rights, which made trouble; so that when all was said and done, the doctrine came out considerably compromised. Then, in respect of popular sovereignty, there were the Presbyterians. Calvinism was monocratic to the core; in fact, Presbyterianism existed side by side with episcopacy in the Church of England in the sixteenth century, and was nudged out only very gradually.3 They were a numerous body, and in point of Scripture and history they had a great deal to say for their position. Thus the practical task of organizing a spiritual commonwealth had as hard going with the logic of popular sovereignty as it had with the logic of natural rights.
The task of secular organization was even more troublesome. A society organized in conformity to these two principles is easily conceivable – such an organization as Paine and the Declaration contemplated, for example, arising out of social agreement, and concerning itself only with the maintenance of freedom and security for the individual – but the practical task of effecting such an organization is quite another matter. On general grounds, doubtless, the Puritans would have found this impracticable; if, indeed, the times are ever to be ripe for anything of the kind, their times were certainly not. The particular ground of difficulty, however, was that the merchant-enterpriser did not want that form of social organization; in fact, one can not be sure that the Puritan religionists themselves wanted it. The root-trouble was, in short, that there was no practicable way to avert a shattering collision between the logic of natural rights and popular sovereignty, and the economic law that man tends always to satisfy his needs with the least possible exertion.
This law governed the merchant-enterpriser in common with the rest of mankind. He was not for an organization that should do no more than maintain freedom and security; he was for one that should redistribute access to the political means, and concern itself with freedom and security only so far as would be consistent with keeping this access open. That is to say, he was thoroughly indisposed to the idea of government; he was quite as strong for the idea of the State as the hierarchy and nobility were. He was not for any essential transformation in the State’s character, but merely for a repartition of the economic advantages that the State confers.
Thus the merchant-polity amounted to an attempt, more or less disingenuous, at reconciling matters which in their nature can not be reconciled. The ideas of natural rights and popular sovereignty were, as we have seen, highly acceptable and highly animating to all the forces allied against the feudal idea; but while these ideas might be easily reconcilable with a system of simple government, such a system would not answer the purpose. Only the State-system would do that. The problem therefore was, how to keep these ideas well in the forefront of political theory, and at the same time prevent their practical application from undermining the organization of the political means. It was a difficult problem. The best that could be done with it was by making certain structural alterations in the State, which would give it the appearance of expressing these ideas, without the reality. The most important of these structural changes was that of bringing in the so-called representative or parliamentary system, which Puritanism introduced into the modern world, and which has received a great deal of praise as an advance towards democracy. This praise, however, is exaggerated. The change was one of form only, and its bearing on democracy has been inconsiderable.4
The migration of Englishmen to America merely transferred this problem into another setting. The discussion of political theory went on vigorously, but the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty came out in practice about where they had come out in England. Here again a great deal has been made of the democratic spirit and temper of the migrants, especially in the case of the separatists who landed at Plymouth, but the facts do not bear it out, except with regard to the decentralizing congregationalist principle of church order. This principle of lodging final authority in the smallest unit rather than the largest – in the local congregation rather than in a synod or general council – was democratic, and its thorough-going application in a scheme of church order would represent some actual advance towards democracy, and give some recognition to the general philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty. The Plymouth settlers did something with this principle, actually applying it in the matter of church order, and for this they deserve credit.5
Applying it in the matter of civil order, however, was another affair. It is true that the Plymouth colonists probably contemplated something of the kind, and that for a time they practised a sort of primitive communism. They drew up an agreement on shipboard which may be taken at its face value as evidence of their democratic disposition, though it was not in any sense a “frame of government,” like Penn’s, or any kind of constitutional document. Those who speak of it as our first written constitution are considerably in advance of their text, for it was merely an agreement to make a constitution or “frame of government” when the settlers should have come to land and looked the situation over. One sees that it could hardly have been more than this – indeed, that the proposed constitution itself could be no more than provisional – when it is remembered that these migrants were not their own men. They did not sail on their own, nor were they headed for any unpreempted territory on which they might establish a squatter sovereignty and set up any kind of civil order they saw fit. They were headed for Virginia, to settle in the jurisdiction of a company of English merchant-enterprisers, now growing shaky, and soon to be superseded by the royal authority, and its territory converted into a royal province. It was only by misreckonings and the accidents of navigation that, most unfortunately for the prospects of the colony, the settlers landed on the stern and rockbound coast of Plymouth.
These settlers were in most respects probably as good as the best who ever found their way to America. They were bred of what passed in England as “the lower orders,” sober, hard-working and capable, and their residence under Continental institutions in Holland had given them a fund of politico-religious ideas and habits of thought which set them considerably apart from the rest of their countrymen. There is, however, no more than an antiquarian interest in determining how far they were actually possessed by those ideas. They may have contemplated a system of complete religious and civil democracy, or they may not. They may have found their communist practices agreeable to their notion of a sound and just social order, or they may not. The point is that while apparently they might be free enough to found a church order as democratic as they chose, they were by no means free to found a civil democracy, or anything remotely resembling one, because they were in bondage to the will of an English trading-company. Even their religious freedom was permissive; the London company simply cared nothing about that. The same considerations governed their communist practices; whether or not these practices suited their ideas, they were obliged to adopt them. Their agreement with the London merchant-enterprisers bound them, in return for transportation and outfit, to seven years’ service, during which time they should work on a system of common-land tillage, store their produce in a common warehouse, and draw their maintenance from these common stores. Thus whether or not they were communists in principle, their actual practice of communism was by prescription.
The fundamental fact to be observed in any survey of the American State’s initial development is the one whose importance was first remarked, I believe, by Mr. Beard; that the trading-company – the commercial corporation for colonization – was actually an autonomous State. “Like a State,” says Mr. Beard, “it had a constitution, a charter issued by the Crown… like the State, it had a territorial basis, a grant of land often greater in area than a score of European principalities… it could make assessments, coin money, regulate trade, dispose of corporate property, collect taxes, manage a treasury, and provide for defense. Thus” – and here is the important observation, so important that I venture to italicize it – “every essential element long afterward found in the government of the American State appeared in the chartered corporation that started English civilization in America.” Generally speaking, the system of civil order established in America was the State-system of the “mother countries” operating over a considerable body of water; the only thing that distinguished it was that the exploited and dependent class was situated at an unusual distance from the owning and exploiting class. The headquarters of the autonomous State were one side of the Atlantic, and its subjects on the other.
This separation gave rise to administrative difficulties of one kind and another; and to obviate the – perhaps for other reasons as well – one English company, the Massachusetts Bay Company, moved over bodily in 1630, bringing their charter and most of their stockholders with them, thus setting up an actual autonomous State in America. The thing to be observed about this is that the merchant-State was set up complete in New England long before it was set up in Old England. Most of the English immigrants to Massachusetts came over between 1630 and 1640; and in this period the English merchant-State was only at the beginning of its hardest struggles for supremacy. James I died in 1625, and his successor, Charles I, continued his absolutist regime. From 1629, the year in which the Bay Company was chartered, to 1640, when the Long Parliament was called, he ruled without a parliament, effectively suppressing what few vestiges of liberty had survived the Tudor and Jacobean tyrannies; and during these eleven years the prospects of the English merchant-State were at their lowest.6
It still had to face the distractions of the Civil War, the retarding anomalies of the Commonwealth, the Restoration, and the recurrence of tyrannical absolutism under James II, before it succeeded in establishing itself firmly through the revolution of 1688.
On the other hand, the leaders of the Bay Colony were free from the first to establish a State-policy of their own devising, and to set up a State-structure which should express that policy without compromise. There was no competing policy to extinguish, no rival structure to refashion. Thus the merchant-State came into being in a clear field a full half-century before it attained supremacy in England. Competition of any kind, or the possibility of competition, it has never had. A point of greatest importance to remember is that the merchant-State is the only form of State that ever existed in America. Whether under the rule of a trading company or a provincial governor or a republican representative legislature, Americans have never known any other form of the State. In this respect the Massachusetts Bay colony is differentiated only as being the first autonomous State ever established in America, and as furnishing the most compete and convenient example for purposes of study. In principle it was not differentiated. The State in New England, Virginia, Maryland, the Jerseys, New York, Connecticut, everywhere, was purely a class-State, with control of the political means reposing in the hands of what we now style, in a general way, the “business-man.”
In the eleven years of Charles’s tyrannical absolutism, English immigrants came over to join the Bay colony, at the rate of about two thousand a year. No doubt at the outset some of the colonists had the idea of becoming agricultural specialists, as in Virginia, and of maintaining certain vestiges, or rather imitations, of semi-feudal social practice, such as were possible under that form of industry when operated by a slave-economy or a tenant-economy. This, however, proved impracticable; the climate and soil of New England were against it. A tenant-economy was precarious, for rather than work for a master, the immigrant agriculturalist naturally preferred to push out into unpreempted land, and work for himself; in other words, as Turgot, Marx, Hertzka, and many others have shown, he could not be exploited until he had been expropriated from the land. The long and hard winters took the profit out of slave-labour in agriculture. The Bay colonists experimented with it, however, even attempting to enslave the Indians, which they found could not be done, for the reasons that I have already noticed. In default of this, the colonists carried out the primitive technique by resorting to extermination, their ruthless ferocity being equalled only by that of the Virginia colonists.7
They held some slaves, and did a great deal of slave-trading; but in the main, they became at the outset a race of small freeholding farmers, shipbuilders, navigators, maritime enterprisers in fish, whales, molasses, rum, and miscellaneous cargoes; and presently, moneylenders. Their remarkable success in these pursuits is well known; it is worth mention here in order to account for many of the complications and collisions of interest subsequently ensuing upon the merchant-State’s fundamental doctrine that the primary function of government is not to maintain freedom and security, but to “help business.”
One examines the American merchant-State in vain for any suggestion of the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty. The company-system and the provincial system made no place for it, and the one autonomous State was uncompromisingly against it. The Bay Company brought over their charter to serve as the constitution of the new colony, and under its provisions the form of the State was that of an uncommonly small and close oligarchy. The right to vote was vested only in shareholding members, or “freemen” of the corporation, on the stark State principle laid down many years later by John Jay, that “those who own the country should govern the country.” At the end of a year, the Bay colony comprised perhaps about two thousand persons; and of these, certainly not twenty, probably not more than a dozen, had anything whatever to say about its government. This small group constituted itself as a sort of directorate or council, appointing its own executive body, which consisted of a governor, a lieutenant-governor, and a half-dozen or more magistrates. These officials had no responsibility to the community at large, but only to the directorate. By the terms of the charter, the directorate was self-perpetuating. It was permitted to fill vacancies and add to its numbers as it saw fit; and in so doing it followed a policy similar to that which was subsequently recommended by Alexander Hamilton, of admitting only such well-to-do and influential persons as could be trusted to sustain a solid front against anything savouring of popular sovereignty.
Historians have very properly made a great deal of the influence of Calvinist theology in bracing the strongly anti-democratic attitude of the Bay Company. The story is readable and interesting – often amusing – yet the gist of it is so simple that it can be perceived at once. The company’s principle of action was in this respect the one that in like circumstances has for a dozen centuries invariably motivated the State. The Marxian dictum that “religion is the opiate of the people” is either an ignorant or a slovenly confusion of terms, which can not be too strongly reprehended. Religion was never that, nor will it ever be; but organized Christianity, which is by no means the same thing as religion, has been the opiate of the people ever since the beginning of the fourth century, and never has this opiate been employed for political purposes more skilfully than it was by the Massachusetts Bay oligarchy.
In the year 311 the Roman emperor Constantine issued an edict of toleration in favour of organized Christianity. He patronized the new cult heavily, giving it rich presents, and even adopted the labarum as his standard, which was a most distinguished gesture, and cost nothing; the story of the heavenly sign appearing before his crucial battle against Maxentius may quite safely be put down beside that of the apparitions seen before the battle of the Marne. He never joined the Church, however, and the tradition that he was converted to Christianity is open to great doubt. The point of all this is that circumstances had by that time made Christianity a considerable figure; it had survived contumely and persecution, and had become a social influence which Constantine saw was destined to reach far enough to make it worth courting. The Church could be made a most effective tool of the State, and only a very moderate amount of statesmanship was needed to discern the right way of bringing this about. The understanding, undoubtedly tacit, was based on a simple quid pro quo; in exchange for imperial recognition and patronage, and endowments enough to keep up to the requirements of a high official respectability, the Church should quit its disagreeable habit of criticizing the course of politics; and in particular, it should abstain from unfavourable comment on the State’s administration of the political means.
These are the unvarying terms – again I say, undoubtedly tacit, as it is seldom necessary to stipulate against biting the hand by which one is fed – of every understanding that has been struck since Constantine’s day, between organized Christianity and the State. They were the terms of the understanding struck in the Germanies and in England at the Reformation. The petty German principality had its State Church as it had its State theatre; and in England, Henry VIII set up the Church in its present status as an arm of the civil service, like the Post-office. The fundamental understanding in all cases was that the Church should not interfere with or disparage the organization of the political means; and in practice it naturally followed that the Church would go further, and quite regularly abet this organization to the best of its ability.
The merchant-State in America came to this understanding with organized Christianity. In the Bay colony the Church became in 1638 an established subsidiary of the State,8 supported by taxation; it maintained a State creed, promulgated in 1647. In some other colonies also, as for example, in Virginia, the Church was a branch of the State service, and where it was not actually established as such, the same understanding was reached by other means, quite as satisfactory. Indeed the merchant-State both in England and America soon became lukewarm towards the idea of an Establishment, perceiving that the same modus vivendi could be almost as easily arrived at under voluntaryism, and that the latter had the advantage of satisfying practically all modes of credal and ceremonial preference, thus releasing the State from the troublesome and profitless business of interference in disputes over matters of doctrine and Church order.
Voluntaryism pure and simple was set up in Rhode Island by Roger Williams, John Clarke, and their associates who were banished from the Bay colony almost exactly three hundred years ago, in 1636. This group of exiles is commonly regarded as having founded a society on the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty in respect of both Church order and civil order, and as having launched an experiment in democracy. This, however, is an exaggeration. The leaders of the group were undoubtedly in sight of this philosophy, and as far as Church order is concerned, their practice was conformable to it. On the civil side, the most that can be said is that their practice was conformable in so far as they knew how to make it so; and one says this much only by a very considerable concession. The least that can be said, on the other hand, is that their practice was for a time greatly in advance of the practice prevailing in other colonies – so far in advance that Rhode Island was in great disrepute with its neighbours in Massachusetts and Connecticut, who diligently disseminated the tale of its evil fame throughout the land, with the customary exaggerations and embellishments. Nevertheless, through acceptance of the State system of land-tenure, the political structure of Rhode Island was a State-structure from the outset, contemplating as it did the stratification of society into an owning and exploiting class and a propertyless dependent class. Williams’s theory of the State was that of social compact arrived at among equals, but equality did not exist in Rhode Island; the actual outcome was a pure class-State.
In the spring of 1638, Williams acquired about twenty square miles of land by gift from two Indian sachems, in addition to some he had bought from them two years before. In October he formed a “proprietary” of purchasers who bought twelve-thirteenths of the Indian grant. Bicknell, in his history of Rhode Island, cites a letter written by Williams to the deputy-governor of the Bay colony, which says frankly that the plan of this proprietary contemplated the creation of two classes of citizens, one consisting of landholding heads of families, and the other, of “young men, single persons” who were a landless tenantry, and as Bicknell says, “had no voice or vote as to the officers of the community, or the laws which they were called upon to obey.” Thus the civil order in Rhode Island was essentially a pure State order, as much so as the civil order of the Bay colony, or any other in America; and in fact the landed-property franchise lasted uncommonly long in Rhode Island, existing there for some time after it had been given up in most other quarters of America.9
By way of summing up, it is enough to say that nowhere in the American colonial civil order was there ever the trace of a democracy. The political structure was always that of the merchant-State; Americans have never known any other. Furthermore, the philosophy of natural rights and popular sovereignty was never once exhibited anywhere in American political practice during the colonial period, from the first settlement in 1607 down to the revolution of 1776.
AFTER conquest and confiscation have been effected, and the State set up, its first concern is with the land. The State assumes the right of eminent domain over its territorial basis, whereby every landholder becomes in theory a tenant of the State. In its capacity as ultimate landlord, the State distributes the land among its beneficiaries on its own terms. A point to be observed in passing is that by the State-system of land-tenure each original transaction confers two distinct monopolies, entirely different in their nature, inasmuch as one concerns the right to labour-made property, and the other concerns the right to purely law-made property. The one is a monopoly of the use-value of land; and the other, a monopoly of the economic rent of land. The first gives the right to keep other persons from using the land in question, or trespassing on it, and the right to exclusive possession of values accruing from the application of labour to it; values, that is, which are produced by exercise of the economic means upon the particular property in question. Monopoly of economic rent, on the other hand, gives the exclusive right to values accruing from the desire of other persons to possess that property; values which take their rise irrespective of any exercise of the economic means on the part of the landholder.1
Economic rent arises when for whatsoever reason, two or more persons compete for the possession of a piece of land, and it increases directly according to the number of persons competing. The whole of Manhattan Island was bought originally by a handful of Hollanders from a handful of Indians for twenty-four dollars worth of trinkets. The subsequent “rise in land-values,” as we call it, was brought about by the steady influx of population and the consequent high competition for portions of the island’s surface; and these ensuing values were monopolized by the holders. They grew to an enormous size, and the holders profited accordingly; the Astor, Wendel, and Trinity Church estates have always served as classical examples for study of the State-system of land-tenure.
Bearing in mind that the State is the organization of the political means – that its primary intention is to enable the economic exploitation of one class by another – we see that it has always acted on the principle already cited, that expropriation must precede exploitation. There is no other way to make the political means effective. The first postulate of fundamental economics is that man is a land-animal, deriving his subsistence wholly from the land.2
His entire wealth is produced by the application of labour and capital to land; no form of wealth known to man can be produced in any other way. Hence, if his free access to land be shut off by legal preemption, he can apply his capital only with the landholder’s consent, and on the landholder’s terms; in other words, it is at this point, and at this point only, that exploitation becomes practicable.3 Therefore the first concern of the State must be invariably, as we find it invariably is, with its policy of land-tenure.
I state these elementary matters as briefly as I can; the reader may easily find a full exposition of them elsewhere.4 I am here concerned only to show why the State system of land-tenure came into being, and why its maintenance is necessary to the State’s existence. If this system were broken up, obviously the reason for the State’s existence would disappear, and the State itself would disappear with it.5 With this in mind, it is interesting to observe that although all our public policies would seem to be in process of exhaustive review, no publicist has anything to say about the State system of land-tenure. This is no doubt the best evidence of its importance.6
Under the feudal State there was no great amount of traffic in land. When William, for example, set up the Norman State in England after conquest and confiscation in 1066-76, his associated banditti, among whom he parcelled out the confiscated territory, did nothing to speak of in the way of developing their holdings, and did not contemplate gain from the increment of rental-values. In fact, economic rent hardly existed; their fellow-beneficiaries were not in the market to any great extent, and the dispossessed population did not represent any economic demand. The feudal regime was a regime of status, under which landed estates yielded hardly any rental-value, and only a moderate use-value, but carried an enormous insignia-value. Land was regarded more as a badge of nobility than an active asset; its possession marked a man as belonging to the exploiting class, and the size of his holdings seems to have counted for more than the number of his exploitable dependents.7 The encroachments of the merchant-State, however, brought about a change in these circumstances. The importance of rental-values was recognized, and speculative trading in land became general.
Hence, in a study of the merchant-State as it appeared full-blown in America, it is a point of utmost importance to remember that from the time of the first colonial settlement to the present day, America has been regarded as a practically limitless field for speculation in rental-values.8
One may say at a safe venture that every colonial enterpriser and proprietor after Raleigh’s time understood economic rent and the conditions necessary to enhance it. The Swedish, Dutch and British trading-companies understood this; Endicott and Winthrop, of the autonomous merchant-State on the Bay, understood it; so did Penn and the Calverts; so did the Carolinian proprietors, to whom Charles II granted a lordly belt of territory south of Virginia, reaching from the Atlantic to the Pacific; and as we have seen, Roger Williams and Clarke understood it perfectly. Indeed, land-speculation may be put down as the first major industry established in colonial America. Professor Sakolski calls attention to the fact that it was flourishing in the South before the commercial importance of either negroes or tobacco was recognized. These two staples came fully into their own about 1670 – tobacco perhaps a little earlier, but not much – and before that, England and Europe had been well covered by a lively propaganda of Southern landholders, advertising for settlers.9
Mr. Sakolski makes it clear that very few original enterprisers in American rental-values ever got much profit out of their ventures. This is worth remarking here as enforcing the point that what gives rise to economic rent is the presence of a population engaged in a settled exercise of the economic means, or as we commonly put it, “working for a living” – or again, in technical terms, applying labour and capital to natural resources for the production of wealth. It was no doubt a very fine dignified thing for Carteret, Berkeley, and their associate nobility to be the owners of a province as large as the Carolinas, but if no population were settled there, producing wealth by exercise of the economic means, obviously not a foot of it would bear a pennyworth of rental-value, and the proprietors’ chance of exercising the political means would therefore be precisely nil. Proprietors who made the most profitable exercise of the political means have been those – or rather, speaking strictly, the heirs of those – like the Brevoorts, Wendels, Whitneys, Astors, and Goelets, who owned land in an actual or prospective urban centre, and held it as an investment rather than for speculation.
The lure of the political means in America, however, gave rise to a state of mind which may profitably be examined. Under the feudal State, living by the political means was enabled only by the accident of birth, or in some special cases by the accident of personal favour. Persons outside these categories of accident had no chance whatever to live otherwise than by the economic means. No matter how much they may have wished to exercise the political means, or how greatly they may have envied the privileged few who could exercise it, they were unable to do so; the feudal regime was strictly one of status. Under the merchant-State, on the contrary, the political means was open to anyone, irrespective of birth or position, who had the sagacity and determination necessary to get at it. In this respect, America appeared as a field of unlimited opportunity. The effect of this was to produce a race of people whose master-concern was to avail themselves of the opportunity. They had but the one spring of action, which was the determination to abandon the economic means as soon as they could, and at any sacrifice of conscience or character, and live by the political means. From the beginning, this determination has been universal, amounting to monomania.10
We need not concern ourselves here with the effect upon the general balance of advantage produced by supplanting the feudal State by the merchant-State; we may observe only that certain virtues and integrities were bred by the regime of status, to which the regime of contract appears to be inimical, even destructive. Vestiges of them persist among peoples who have had a long experience of the regime of status, but in America, which has had no such experience, they do not appear. What the compensations for their absence may be, or whether they may be regarded as adequate, I repeat, need not concern us; we remark only the simple fact that they have not struck root in the constitution of the American character at large, and apparently can not do so.
It was said at the time, I believe, that the actual causes of the colonial revolution of 1776 would never be known. The causes assigned by our schoolbooks may be dismissed as trivial; the various partisan and propagandist views of that struggle and its origins may be put down as incompetent. Great evidential value may be attached to the long line of adverse commercial legislation laid down by the British State from 1651 onward, especially to that portion of it which was enacted after the merchant-State established itself firmly in England in consequence of the events of 1688. This legislation included the Navigation Acts, the Trade Acts, acts regulating the colonial currency, the act of 1752 regulating the process of levy and distress, and the procedures leading up to the establishment of the Board of Trade in 1696.11 These directly affected the industrial and commercial interests in the colonies, though just how seriously is perhaps an open question – enough at any rate, beyond doubt, to provoke deep resentment.
Over and above these, however, if the reader will put himself back into the ruling passion of the time, he will at once appreciate the import of two matters which have for some reason escaped the attention of historians. The first of these is the attempt of the British State to limit the exercise of the political means in respect of rental-values.12 In 1763 it forbade the colonists to take up lands lying westward of the source of any river flowing through the Atlantic seaboard. The dead-line thus established ran so as to cut off from preemption about half of Pennsylvania and half of Virginia and everything to the west thereof. This was serious. With the mania for speculation running as high as it did, with the consciousness of opportunity, real or fancied, having become so acute and so general, this ruling affected everybody. One can get some idea of its effect by imagining the state of mind of our people at large if stock-gambling had suddenly been outlawed at the beginning of the last great boom in Wall Street a few years ago.
For by this time the colonists had begun to be faintly aware of the illimitable resources of the country lying westward; they had learned just enough about them to fire their imagination and their avarice to a white heat. The seaboard had been pretty well taken up, the freeholding farmer had been pushed back farther and farther, population was coming in steadily, the maritime towns were growing. Under these conditions, “western lands” had become a centre of attraction. Rental-values depended on population, the population was bound to expand, and the one general direction in which it could expand was westward, where lay an immense and incalculably rich domain waiting for preemption. What could be more natural than that the colonists should itch to get their hands on this territory, and exploit it for themselves alone, and on their own terms, without risk of arbitrary interference by the British State? – and this of necessity meant political independence. It takes no great stress of imagination to see that anyone in those circumstances would have felt that way, and that colonial resentment against the arbitrary limitation which the edict of 1763 put upon the political means must therefore have been great.
The actual state of land-speculation during the colonial period will give a fair idea of the probabilities in the case. Most of it was done on the company-system; a number of adventurers would unite, secure a grant of land, survey it, and then sell it off as speedily as they could. Their aim was a quick turnover; they did not, as a rule, contemplate holding the land, much less settling it – in short, their ventures were a pure gamble in rental-values.13 Among these pre-revolutionary enterprises was the Ohio company, formed in 1748 with a grant of half a million acres; the Loyal Company, which like the Ohio Company, was composed of Virginians; the Transylvania, the Vandalia, Scioto, Indiana, Wabash, Illinois, Susquehanna, and others whose holdings were smaller.14
It is interesting to observe the names of persons concerned in these undertakings; one can not escape the significance of this connexion in view of their attitude towards the revolution, and their subsequent career as statesmen and patriots. For example, aside from his individual ventures, General Washington was a member of the Ohio Company, and a prime mover in organizing the Mississippi Company. He also conceived the scheme of the Potomac Company, which was designed to raise the rental-value of western holdings by affording an outlet for their produce by canal and portage to the Potomac River, and thence to the seaboard. This enterprise determined the establishment of the national capital in its present most ineligible situation, for the proposed terminus of the canal was at that point. Washington picked up some lots in the city that bears his name, but in common with other early speculators, he did not make much money out of them; they were appraised at about $20,000 when he died.
Patrick Henry was an inveterate and voracious engrosser of land lying beyond the dead-line set by the British State; later he was heavily involved in the affairs of one of the notorious Yazoo companies, operating in Georgia. He seems to have been most unscrupulous. His company’s holdings in Georgia, amounting to more than ten million acres, were to be paid for in Georgia scrip, which was much depreciated. Henry bought up all these certificates that he could get his hands on, at ten cents on the dollar, and made a great profit on them by their rise in value when Hamilton put through his measure for having the central government assume the debts they represented. Undoubtedly it was this trait of unrestrained avarice which earned him the dislike of Mr. Jefferson, who said, rather contemptuously, that he was “insatiable in money.”15
Benjamin Franklin’s thrifty mind turned cordially to the project of the Vandalia Company, and he acted successfully as promoter for it in England in 1766. Timothy Pickering, who was Secretary of State under Washington and John Adams, went on record in 1796 that “all I am now worth was gained by speculations in land.” Silas Deane, emissary of the Continental Congress in France, was interested in the Illinois and Wabash Companies, as was Robert Morris, who managed the revolution’s finances; as was also James Wilson, who became a justice of the Supreme Court and a mighty man in post-revolutionary land-grabbing. Wolcott of Connecticut, and Stiles, president of Yale College, held stock in the Susquehanna Company; so did Peletiah Webster, Ethan Allen, and Jonathan Trumbull, the “Brother Jonathan,” whose name was long a sobriquet for the typical American, and is still sometimes so used. James Duane, the first mayor of New York City, carried on some quite considerable speculative undertakings; and however indisposed one may feel towards entertaining the fact, so did the “Father of the Revolution” himself – Samuel Adams.
A mere common-sense view of the situation would indicate that the British State’s interference with a free exercise of the political means was at least as great an incitement to revolution as its interference, through the Navigation Acts, and the Trade Acts, with a free exercise of the economic means. In the nature of things it would be a greater incitement, both because it affected a more numerous class of persons, and because speculation in land-values represented much easier money. Allied with this is the second matter which seems to me deserving of notice, and which has never been properly reckoned with, as far as I know, in studies of the period.
It would seem the most natural thing in the world for the colonists to perceive that independence would not only give freer access to this one mode of the political means, but that it would also open access to other modes which the colonial status made unavailable. The merchant-State existed in the royal provinces complete in structure, but not in function; it did not give access to all the modes of economic exploitation. The advantages of a State which should be wholly autonomous in this respect must have been clear to the colonists, and must have moved them strongly towards the project of establishing one.
Again it is purely a common-sense view of the circumstances that leads to this conclusion. The merchant-State in England had emerged triumphant from conflict, and the colonists had plenty of chance to see what it could do in the way of distributing the various means of economic exploitation, and its method of doing it. For instance, certain English concerns were in the carrying trade between England and America, for which other English concerns built ships. Americans could compete in both these lines of business. If they did so, the carrying-charges would be regulated by the terms of this competition; if not, they would be regulated by monopoly, or, in our historic phrase, they could be set as high as the traffic would bear. English carriers and shipbuilders made common cause, approached the State and asked it to intervene, which it did by forbidding the colonists to ship goods on any but English-built and English-operated ships. Since freight-charges are a factor in prices, the effect of this intervention was to enable British shipowners to pocket the difference between monopoly-rates and competitive rates; to enable them, that is, to exploit the consumer by employing the political means.16 Similar interventions were made at the instance of cutlers, nailmakers, hatters, steelmakers, etc.
These interventions took the form of simple prohibition. Another mode of intervention appeared in the customs-duties laid by the British State on foreign sugar and molasses.17 We all now know pretty well, probably, that the primary reason for a tariff is that it enables the exploitation of the domestic consumer by a process indistinguishable from sheer robbery.18 All the reasons regularly assigned are debatable; this one is not, hence propagandists and lobbyists never mention it. The colonists were well aware of this reason, and the best evidence that they were aware of it is that long before the Union was established, the merchant-enterprisers and industrialists were ready and waiting to set upon the new-formed administration with an organized demand for a tariff.
It is clear that while in the nature of things the British State’s interventions upon the economic means would stir up great resentment among the interests directly concerned, they would have another effect fully as significant, if not more so, in causing those interests to look favourably on the idea of political independence. They could hardly have helped seeing the positive as well as the negative advantages that would accrue from setting up a State of their own, which they might bend to their own purposes. It takes no great amount of imagination to reconstruct the vision that appeared before them of a merchant-State clothed with the full powers of intervention and discrimination, a State which should first and last “help business,” and which should be administered by persons of actual interest like to their own. It is hardly presumable that the colonists generally were not intelligent enough to see this vision, or that they were not resolute enough to risk the chance of realizing it when the time could be made ripe; as it was, the time was ripened almost before it was ready.19 We can discern a distinct line of common purpose uniting the interests of the actual or potential speculator in rental-values – uniting the Hancocks, Gores, Otises, with the Henrys, Lees Wolcotts, Trumbulls – and leading directly towards the goal of political independence.
The main conclusion, however, towards which these observations tend, is that one general frame of mind existed among the colonists with reference to the nature and primary function of the State. This frame of mind was not peculiar to them; they shared it with the beneficiaries of the merchant-State in England, and with those of the feudal State as far back as the State’s history can be traced. Voltaire, surveying the debris of the feudal State, said that in essence the State is “a device for taking money out of one set of pockets and putting it into another.” The beneficiaries of the feudal State had precisely this view, and they bequeathed it unchanged and unmodified to the actual and potential beneficiaries of the merchant-State. The colonists regarded the State primarily as an instrument whereby one might help oneself and hurt others; that is to say, first and foremost they regarded it as the organization of the political means. No other view of the State was ever held in colonial America. Romance and poetry were brought to bear on the subject in the customary way; glamorous myths about it were propagated with the customary intent; but when all came to all, nowhere in colonial America were actual practical relations with the State ever determined by any other view than this.20
The charter of the American revolution was the Declaration of Independence, which took its stand on the double theses of “unalienable” natural rights and popular sovereignty. We have seen that these doctrines were theoretically, or as politicians say, “in principle,” congenial to the spirit of the English merchant-enterpriser, and we may see that in the nature of things they would be even more agreeable to the spirit of all classes in American society. A thin and scattered population with a whole wide world before it, with a vast territory full of rich resources which anyone might take a hand at preempting and exploiting, would be strongly on the side of natural rights, as the colonists were from the beginning; and political independence would confirm it in that position. These circumstances would stiffen the American merchant-enterpriser, agrarian, forestaller and industrialist alike in a jealous, uncompromising and assertive economic individualism.
So also with the sister doctrine of popular sovereignty. The colonists had been through a long and vexatious experience of State interventions which limited their use of both the political and economic means. They had also been given plenty of opportunity to see how the interventions had been managed, and how the interested English economic groups which did the managing had profited at their expense. Hence there was no place in their minds for any political theory that disallowed the right of individual self-expression in politics. As their situation tended to make them natural-born economic individualists, so it also tended to make them natural-born republicans.
Thus the preamble of the Declaration hit the mark of a cordial unanimity. Its two leading doctrines could easily be interpreted as justifying an unlimited economic pseudo-individualism on the part of the State’s beneficiaries, and a judiciously managed exercise of political self-expression by the electorate. Whether or not this were a more free-and-easy interpretation than a strict construction of the doctrines will