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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MORALITY, Agreement of, with Political Economy. Something more than a century ago, some men of genius, in searching for the causes of the wealth of nations and giving a systematic exposition of the phenomena observed, laid the foundations of a new science under the name of political economy. Since that time, and under the influence of studies of this nature, incontestable improvements have been accomplished in every civilized country; and if we were to enumerate all the reforms brought about and the abuses abolished by political economy, and all the fruitful applications of the principles newly brought to light under this name, we should proclaim that the science of Smith and of J.B. Say, of Droz and Bastiat, of Malthus and Ricahrdo, deserves one of the highest places in public esteem. Inoffensive in its nature, intended to render prosperity as general as possible, reaching, so to speak, a material demonstration of the precepts of justice taught by religion and philosophy, political economy should be above all attack; it has however, met with numerous and violent adversaries. They not only contest its efficacy; they often question even the mortality of its tendencies. This reproach, however unjust it may be, is too grave to be despised. We shall therefore inquire here as to the cause of these accusations, and what foundation they have.


—The attacks directed against political economy come from three entirely different sources. First, there is in the religious world a certain number of persons who, having heard it spoken of as a science whose end is the creation of wealth, imagine that it must be contrary to the self-denial taught by the Gospels. More zealous than enlightened, these persons overlook the fact that it is a question not of the selfish enrichment of certain individuals, but of the production of goods indispensable to the human species, in order that it may perpetuate itself according to the direction of Providence, and develop according to the laws of eternal justice. A second group of adversaries is made up of utopists. These latter, never having taken the pains to study the theories which they assail, are convinced that political economy resigns and rules in our contemporary society. Hence, they hold is responsible for the grievances, more or less manifest of which they complain. They execrate the principle of laissez faire, as if the operations of industry met with no obstacles; they blame the principle of laisses passer, as if there were no barriers between nations. The adversaries of the third class are the most formidable to the science, because, from a narrow and restricted point of view, their complaints have some appearance of reason, and they have the faculty of identifying their private affairs with the most respectable interests; they are those who profit by monopolic and privileges condemned by political economy. They seldom take the trouble to ascertain whether a reform will not be as advantageous for themselves as for those who demand it. In their eyes a fact sanctioned by time is equivalent to a right. They intrench themselves in abuse, as in property that belongs to them; to attack them in this position is to assail great principles; it is aiding anarchists to disturb social order. Thus we find, among the enemies of political economy, men who declare themselves exclusively religious, and men who are innovators in religion; men who would render society stationary under pretext of preserving it, and others who would not fear to overturn it under pretext of improving it. Doctrinal extremes, instinctively irreconcilable, they agree marvelously in declaring deceitful, dangerous and immortal, a science which none of them has ever studied.


—With an inconsistency which it is well to point out, those who, starting from opposite standpoints, agree in accusing political economy do not perceive that they arrive at conclusions utterly contradictory to the sentiments which they profess. We see pretended apostles of progress sacrificing economic liberty, which is the pledge of individual liberty, and the instrument of social amelioration. As to those who present themselves as the exclusive guardians of old laws and old beliefs, they distinctly declare that the means best calculated to enrich society are irreconcilable with the precepts of rigorous morality. Political economists entertain a nobler and more cheering conviction. They are convinced that the science with which they are occupied is the surest auxiliary of morality. To prove the affinity of the two sciences, it is sufficient to point out the economic principles engendered, so to speak, by the moral duties which form the basis of human society.


—Man has duties to fulfill toward himself, toward his neighbor, and toward God. The spark of life which he received from his parents, and which he is to transmit to his descendants, is a deposit which he can not dispose of as he pleases. But it is not enough for man to preserve his life. It is the will of Providence, which has placed infinite resources within his reach, that he shall perfect his organism, by procuring for himself the well-being compatible with the laws of his country and the sentiment of his own dignity. In proportion as he increases his physical power, he ought to enrich his mind and soul, and develop in particular his special gifts, in order to render himself more useful to the community in which he lives. Man's duty to himself is in a certain sense but the means of accomplishing his duties toward his neighbor. Being evidently created for society, he owes himself unreservedly to his family, because the family is the constitutive element of all society. He should study, when at home, to make it easy to command there when it is his duty to obey, and to facilitate obedience there when his turn has come to command. Just as the individual is the atom in the family, so that family is in turn the unit in that vast family which is called a nation. Filial devotion to paternal authority is the most elevated conception of country. This ideal implies two duties of the citizen, to respect the law, and cause it to be respected, without which there is no country; and to contribute by every means in his power to render the law like the guardianship of the head of a family, that is, just but mild, and generous without ceasing to be provident. The instinct of family and the love of country, while deeply rooted in our nature, and usually strengthened by personal interest, may, however, degenerate into a stern and selfish passion. The corrective of this kind of egotism is to be found in man's duties toward all his fellow-men, whether superiors or inferiors, compatriots or foreigners, friends or enemies. If every man owes it to himself to improve and ennoble his own life in proportion to his faculties, it follows that he should not offer any obstacle to the fulfillment of this same obligation on the part of his neighbor. The right of the individual results from the duty of each toward all. Every offense against this natural law, every encroachment upon this legitimate share of liberty to which all have an equal right, is a crime against morality. Not to do unto others that we would not wish done to us, was the negative virtue of antiquity. Christianity goes farther, and prescribes devotion to others' well-being, that is to say, an active and disinterested virtue. The measure of duty, which varies for each one, is proportioned to his faculties. When a swarm of children enter the house, the eldest who has given his hand to his little brothers and watched over them by the way, has no greater merit in the eyes of the father of the family: this is a picture of Christian fraternity. Responsibility increases with strength and intelligence; each one owes his like all that he has received from the common Father.


—Finally come the duties of man toward God, which are the basis and the crowning of his other duties. In order to strengthen his empire over himself, and to acquire greater influence over others, man must elevate his soul to the idea of a power infinite in its wisdom and in its goodness; he must frequently encourage himself with the thought, that in accomplishing what little good he may be able to do, he is conforming himself to the views of Providence.


—Man's entire code of duties may, therefore, be summed up in a few words. To preserve his life and develop his faculties; to devote himself to his family, and to recognize a second family in his country; to respect in others the rights which he claims for himself; to elevate himself to God, as the source of all good thoughts, such are the moral laws dictated by religion or recommended by philosophy. It still remains for us to examine what mysterious links unite these precepts with the axioms of political economy.


—Man's destiny on earth is to purchase each day of his existence by labor. Without the aid of human hands, the fruits would rot upon the branches, and the trunk upon its roots; vegetable parasites, stagnant water and the slow decomposition of refuse matter would dispute air and space with animate beings; mankind would soon disappear. Man is then, so to speak, the responsible guardian of the works of the Creator. It is in accordance with this title that his first duty is to preserve himself by employing the resources which nature has placed at his disposal. Thus it is that morality and political economy start from the same point. The former ordains that man should insure his life to himself by productive labor; the latter inquires which are the laws of production best fitted to the preservation of the human species.


—Created physically and morally perfectible, man still owes it to himself to increase his own prosperity within the limits of decency and justice, because it is to be desired in the universal order that the individual perfect himself physically, and develop the useful faculties, the germs of which are implanted in him. But how shall we increase each one's contingent, unless by favoring the exchange of products and services in society? How shall we develop individual talents but by the division of labor?


—Science has proved that useful labor would soon be suspended, if we did not reserve from the fruits of each enterprise the elements of a subsequent enterprise. The more men save in a country, says political economy, the easier and more fruitful industrial activity becomes. But if a man were to think only of himself, would he look beyond the necessities of his old age? Would he take any interest in the works which are to come after him? He would not. If he curtails his consumptions, and restrains his fancies, it is because he belongs to his wife, his children, and to descendants whom he may not see but about whom nevertheless he thinks. Here the economic law of saving corroborates the instinctive sentiment of family.


—Pursuing their analysis still further, economists show that these amounts saved by each man from his products are not ordinarily preserved in kind; but are changed into goods that will keep, and are invested in something that is productive of revenue, as land, houses, materials of industry, rents or money. Sometimes also men give what they have saved to acquire a trade or an art, which constitutes a sort of life annuity. All these accumulated values, whether material or personal, constitute, as the indispensable instruments of public prosperity, what science calls national capital. The idea of country is closely allied with this nation of capital; for country does not mean the soil we tread upon nor the air we breathe; it is a moral sympathy based upon a certain solidarity of interests; it is a mutual guarantee under the protection of a common law. Now, when science demonstrates the necessity of capitalization, when it introduces the varying principle of emulation in individual property, it strengthens the legal measures taken instinctively in every country to secure to every man the fruit of his labor. It encourages that love of country which moralists prescribe, by promising it, as a recompense, the collective enrichment of society.


—Nevertheless, powerful men, by whom the laws are nearly always made, naturally endeavor to secure exceptional advantages for themselves. To this tendency, which is the source of revolutions, morality opposes the duty of respecting in others the rights which we claim for ourselves. Political economy reaches the same conclusion, when, studying the phenomena of the circulation and the distribution of wealth, it shows the public misery caused by the unproductive consumption of governments, by the injustice of monopolies established for the benefit of certain privileged individuals, and by the obstacles arbitrarily opposed to the exercise of individual faculties. These demonstrations of science tend to introduce into governmental practice this great precept of ancient wisdom: "Do not unto others what you would not that they should do unto you"; a precept which Christianity has exalted be rendering it. "Do unto others as you would they should do unto you."


—In the last analysis, all the investigations of political economy lead to this maxim: Freedom of labor at home, and freedom of exchange with foreign nations. What is the moral significance of this axiom? That God has varied the gifts of individuals and the products of countries in order that men and nations may be necessary one to another. He has established to wonderful equilibrium between their wants and their faculties, so that their wants are better and better satisfied in proportion as their faculties obtain freer scope. He wished that the incessant exchange of products and services should become the pledge of fraternity between citizens and of peace among nations. Once convinced that misery is not the inevitable portion of the greater part of mankind, but that prosperity might, on the contrary, become general, if providential harmony were not incessantly broken in upon by ignorance or merciless cupidity, it is impossible not to have within one's self a feeling of gratitude which purifies the heart and elevates the mind; there is no consideration better calculated to recall man to his duties toward God.


—The parallel which we have just drawn will probably be received in some places with a smile in incredulity. We shall be told that "from what has been said of political economy and morality, it does not follow that the two sciences tend to the same end. This may be all the more doubtful since there are divergent tendencies among those who call themselves economists." The objection is sufficiently specious to make an impression upon the ignorant; it is, however, easily refuted. Men ordinarily form a wrong idea of political economy. The vulgar opinion is, that it is an arbitrary indication of the measures which are judged capable of contributing to the material prosperity of nations, and that consequently its teachings must vary according to the standpoint which one takes. It this were true, it would be prostituting the name of science to apply it to political economy. The physician does not invent the laws of nature; he observes, analyzes, and makes known the results of his discoveries, from which may result in practice either good or ill results. In like manner the political economist confines himself to analyzing, in an abstract and disinterested manner, a series of special phenomena which, in the order of productive labor, result from the instincts, wants and aptitudes of mankind. In this difficult labor each one can proceed well or ill, draw legitimate or doubtful conclusions. There is, in reality, but one political economy, despite its different applications, just as there is only one law of physics or chemistry, despite the eccentricities of certain savants. How then can we distinguish the true from the false? Morality itself will become for the man, acting in good faith, the criterion of truth.


—We repeat, economic philosophy has not created the essential laws of production: they have been dictated by eternal wisdom. The thinker's task is merely to show that human labor becomes more effective, and that this labor lenders prosperity more general in society in proportion as men approach in it to the divine law. It is evident that the surest means of increasing social prosperity must be at the same time the most conformable to absolute justice. The progressive amelioration of the condition of mankind can be only the result of increasing morality. To suppose that it could be otherwise would be to wound conscience still more than reason: it would be offering an insult to Providence. The conformity of the doctrines of economy with moral law is the best criterion of their truth. It is interesting to apply this test to the arbitrary systems which are opposed to rational political economy.


—To revert, for example, to the two systems mentioned in the beginning of this article, that of utopian innovators and that upheld by the partisans of despotic immobility, we see the leaders forcibly enrolling individuals in a fictitious organization, in which, under promise of rendering them prosperous in spite of themselves, they begin by despoiling them of their freedom of action. Now these systems which reduce man to the condition of a machine are subversive of all morality, since morality is based upon the proposition that man, created free and responsible for his acts, deserves merit or blame within the limit of the duty which has been taught him, or which his mind has conceived. In a communistic utopia with equality of wages, no matter what the exertion and service of the workman, as men would no longer incur the responsibility of their idleness, there would be so flagrant a violation of moral law, that the falseness of the economic principle of this utopia might be asserted a priori.


—Let us now interrogate those pretended conservatives who in reality do not dream of preserving anything but their autocracy. What conceptions do they oppose to the teachings of the economic school? What are their ideas upon the development of society? Giving an exaggerated extension to this simple word of the Gospel, "There will always be poor among you," they make a theory of the inequality of social advantages, and this inequality, as they conceive it, is not that natural inequality which is to a certain extent necessary as a means of exciting emulation. They desire to establish an hierarchical classification, in which the mission of one class would be to consume a great deal in order to afford the other the opportunity to pass their lives in laboring for the powerful ones of the earth. Ignoring, and that designedly, the distinction made by economists between productive and unproductive consumption, they assert that all expenditure, of whatever nature, enrich a country. The ideal of political institutions therefore consists, according to them, in creating a class so opulent that the crumbs which fall from their banqueting table shall suffice to satisfy the multitude. Nor can we be accused of exaggerating the opinion which is opposed to us in order to ridicule it. We find the following in a work entitled Traité d' Economic Politique, by Saint-Chamans, an interpreter of the schools which style themselves exclusively conservative and religions. "We fear that men may be scandalized to see us boast of luxury, incite all classes to expense, and blame thrift and the wise economy of the father of a family: but it must be borne in mind that we are in this work considering a special object considered apart, the wealth of nations. * * Let religion command simplicity and modesty in our manner of life, let the wise moralist condemn the superfluities of luxury, let the prudent man impose economy upon himself for the sake of his children and of his own future, and there can be nothing better than to follow these counsels. * * We merely say that this virtuous and wise conduct is not the way to reach progress in general wealth, nor the well-being of the suffering classes." What then are the means of relieving those who are suffering? J. B. Say, in exposing the injury caused by unproductive consumption, has shown that the treasure wasted in ruinous fancies might be much better utilized as reproductive capital, and that we should not see nearly so many men without shirts and shoes regarding with envious eyes persons dressed in velvet and jewels, if a larger proportion of the sums devoted to superfluities were invested in useful enterprises. Saint-Chamans replies to this illustrious economist: "The poor man has shoes because the rich man has gold buckles, and poor man wears a shirt because the rich man is clad in velvet." Do not luxury and prodigality in the upper classes, and passive submission and fatalism under the name of resignation in the needy multitude, afford a double chance of securing corruption of morals? Thus does the author whom we have just quoted declare ingeniously enough that his theory upon the enrichment of nations has nothing in common with morality. Nations are thus left to choose between poverty and immorality. An admirable conclusion, truly!


—We have then the touchstone by the aid of which we may discover the purity of economic doctrines. The false doctrines are those which, when pushed to their extreme consequences, will lead to immorality. The true doctrines are those which we find always absolutely conformable to the laws of morality. Let this test be applied to history, and we shall find that nations come nearer to economic truths whenever they introduce moral principles into their organization, and increase in material prosperity in proportion as they approach political economy. Considered from this height, the study of this science becomes one of the most honorable as well as one of the most useful employments of the human mind, and to describe it by a definition worthy of its noble tendencies, it might perhaps be called "morality in its application to labor."


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