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

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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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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FATHERLAND. Toward the middle of the last century a witty French abbe, who was at the same time a humorist and a philosopher, the abbe Coyer, exclaimed, in one of his fits of petulance, "What is there vulgar or harsh in the word patrie (fatherland) to drive it from the language? It is seldom or never heard either in the country or in the cities, still less at the court. Old men have forgotten it, children have never learned it. I look for its use in that crowd of writers who instruct us in what we know already, and I find it only in a very small number of philosophers. A polished man will not write it. It would be much worse if he pronounced it. I ask this citizen who always bears arms. What is your employment? I serve the king, he answers. Why not the fatherland? The king himself was made to serve it. I am outspoken, very much so." Our abbe asks afterward when this word fell into such discredit in France. "It was," he says, "under the ministry of Cardinal Richelieu." "Colbert," he adds, "was well fitted to restore it, but he thought that kingdom and fatherland meant the same thing." This witty and able attack was characteristic of the abbe Coyer, an avowed disciple of Montesquieu, though a Jesuit; an ardent republican, though preceptor of Prince Turenne.


—When the French revolution, so long in preparation, was at length effected, the word fatherland (patrie) regained its popularity. It was enough for a few men clothed with a questionable power to write this word on a flag, and unfurl this flag before the eyes of the multitude, to cause fourteen armies to spring from the earth, so to speak; and these fourteen armies of improvised soldiers defeated the best troops of Europe, the ablest, the best exercised, the most worthy of the confidence of kings. It seemed a miracle. But it came to pass that after having so bravely purged the soil of the father-land from foreign hosts, and justly punished some of the chiefs of the conspiracy gotten up against French liberty, the conscripts, after they became veterans, forgot the fatherland in their dreams of glory. To brilliant successes lamentable reverses succeeded. Should they alone be blamed for these disasters? Before those enterprises were undertaken in search of the vainest of glory, what a weakening of consciences, what scepticism, what a criminal disavowal of the principles in which the France of 1789 had put all its faith! When French soldiers were tainted with the folly of military triumphs. French citizens had once more forgotten the old word patrie (fatherland), or only pronounced it with a disdainful smile. It has not regained favor in France since. No one says, it is-true, as in the time of the abbe Coyer, that he serves the king. That way of speaking has grown antiquated even in France. Men no longer serve the king, but the state. This is assuredly a more noble service, since the notion of the state and that of the fatherland are frequently confounded. Still the two terms are far from being synonymous. Insurrection would never be "the most sacred of duties" as is taught by a celebrated maxim, if the state did not sometimes command what the fatherland for bids.


—The state may be defined as a being of the reason, whose matter and form are equally vague and undetermined. Properly speaking. I know the state only under the form of the individuals who govern in its name. I do not therefore owe it absolute submission under all circumstances. Louis XIV. was able to say: "L'etat c'est moi.'" Every duty, moreover, supposes a moral sanction. I love my God, my family, my country, and I ought to love them. But what kind of worship or love is to be offered to the state? The state is not dear to all noble hearts. This is enough to show that, in political science, as well as in every other science, it is necessary to distrust metaphysics and the mere creatures of the reason. What, on the contrary, is more real than the fatherland; and what more beautiful word is there? The family, in which the father commands, is the most elementary of societies. In other words, domestic life is the first degree of social life. There, as Homer says, "each one separately governs his wives and sons, as does a master." Thus, in the most remote ages whose history we can study, the dii patrii are the penates, the gods of the paternal hearth. Later, the fatherland becomes the city. "Natione Grains an barbaras," says Cicero, "patria Atheniensis ant Lacedemonius" Common interest united different families. Brought together by the necessity of mutual protection, they entered into a pact which made their interests common. From this arose the imperious duty of each one to struggle and if necessary to die for the fatherland of all. In what does virtue consist, if not in the scrupulous fulfillment of some duty? The virtue of the patriot of Athens or Rome was to make an entire sacrifice of himself to his own city, and to treat as an enemy whoever lived in a neighboring city. Later, cities inhabited by citizens of the same race come together to repel an invader from distant regions, and, after a successful use of their allied forces, they elect, or submit to a common chief, according to circumstances. Their agreement gives them strength; this strength assures them peace. During peace a daily exchange of services takes place, and national unity is established. Thenceforth the definition of Cicero is no longer exact; fatherland and nation no longer designate two different things; they designate the same thing differently considered.


—There is no intelligence so rustic that it does not comprehend perfectly the word fatherland. According to some, my fatherland is the land, the territory which I inhabit. This is a definition which is revolting "The Gracchi, the Scipios under the tyranny of Caligula," exclaims the abbe Coyer, "could they regard Rome as their fatherland?" The protest of Chevalier de Jaucourt is no less vigorous: "Those who live under an oriental despotism, where no other law is known than the will of the sovereign, no other principle of government than terror, where no fortune, no life is in safety, those, I say, have no fatherland." In other words, where political liberty does not exist, there is a herd of slaves, not a nation of citizens. It is the privilege of citizens, of free men, to have a fatherland.


—It is felt at once that this language belongs to the eighteenth century; that it announces a social tempest. It is true that the same indifference in regard to the native soil is found in this fragment of an old poet, cited by Cicero. Patria est ubicumque est bene. But this is a mere witticism. I should like to hear from the month of an exile that he lived in a foreign land without any desire, without any regret!


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