Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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DIVIDE AND REIGN. The weak have had recourse to artifice in all ages, and, under certain circumstances, the severest morality can hardly frown upon its use. When weakness results from the number of one's enemies, an equality of power may be brought about by dividing them, if that be possible. People resort to this means instinctively. We all know the story of the fight between the Horatii and the Curatii, and how the only survivor of the Horatii killed his three adversaries by separating them from one another.


—But that which may be justifiable in a case of legitimate defense could scarcely be approved when, for instance, it wished to establish a despotism. In the first place, we can not see under what circumstances usurpation of sovereign power, or conquest, conforms to the precepts of a healthy code of ethics. A small number of such acts, it is true, seem to have been followed by good effects. But utility has not yet been adopted by the public conscience as the criterion of our acts. Moreover, the question of the morality of the act should be weighed before doing it, not after. And its utility is often not established by evidence until after a number of years. We conclude that no one should aim at or maintain himself in power except with the general consent; and then there is no reason for fomenting division and dissension.


—So much for the principles: let us now look at the facts. The precept of practical politics which forms the subject of this article, applies above all to foreign relations. Every state is interested in preventing a coalition which has for object to injure it, the conquest of a portion of her territory, or the imposing upon her of any humiliation whatsoever. Now, how can a nation prevent the formation of a hostile combination against it? The surest way is to acquire, by appealing to its interests, the good-will of the power which threatens her safety. When self-interest does not lead to the desired result, resort is sometimes had to dangerous measures, which are at least questionable. The passions are appealed to, and those especially excited on which some hold can be had. Men are called upon in the name of religion, or in that of principle, absolute or liberal. Much is made of a common ancestry or nationality, self-respect is appealed to, jealousy is aroused, to say nothing of the arguments or motives of action which circumstances may inspire or bring into play. Family ties between princes have hardly any bearing nowadays upon events.


—In home politics, also, the maxim "divide and reign" finds application also. But if favorable results are only obtained by the greatest prudence abroad, how much more carefully ought the matter to be conducted at home! In constitutional governments in which the people rule, through the elections only can any influence be wielded. Some governments, indeed, make use of brutal means, such as threats and abuse of the authority they hold under the law. But this method is fraught with more than one danger. Less dangerous, though not without peril, is the influence directed through the channel of subtle or secret corruption.


—In countries governed absolutely divisions are sometimes excited among the population belonging to different nationalities or of different religions, sometimes between the different classes of society. Here, the clergy are depended upon; there, the nobility; again the peasants, the laborers or artizans; and these are sought at different crises as allies. Thus the government provides itself with masters whom it is obliged to flatter, and therein lies its well-merited punishment.


—The best thing a government can do is to satisfy the just demands of reasonable people. It will by this means keep the mass of the people from union with one of the extreme parties which are found in all countries, at least dormant, and which are not to be feared so long as the aggregate of citizens have no real grievances to complain of. When disaffection takes root among a people, division becomes a method of very little efficacy. We repeat: only by serious reforms can a sovereign regain the popularity necessary to a peaceful reign.


—We would say, in closing, that those among whom it is sought to sow the germs of disunion should have ever in mind the axiom which Belgium has inscribed upon her coat of arms—"Union is strength."


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