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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Nations, in Political Economy. From the earliest historical ages humanity has been divided into a multitude of nations, dissimilar in manners, aptitudes and language, and possessing different institutions. Each of these nations has its own particular physiognomy and its own existence, its autonomy—This phenomenon, which interests in a high degree all branches of moral and political science, must be considered here only from an economic point of view. The economist must first inquire whether the division of humanity into a multitude of nations is beneficial, or whether it would not be better, as some declare, for the human race to form only one community, a universal monarchy or republic. There can be no doubt as to the answer to this question. The division of humanity into nations has its utility, because it develops a principle of emulation of considerable power. There is in each nation a feeling of honor, or a kind of collective self-esteem, which, directed toward useful ends, can accomplish wonders. An example of this was furnished at the universal exposition at London, to which the greater part of civilized nations brought the tribute of their industry and each made it a point of honor not to be too far behind its rivals. If humanity constituted only a single political assemblage, would not the spirit of emulation, deprived of the stimulant of national honor, be manifested in a less degree? Another drawback, more serious still, would result from the unification of humanity: the faults committed in the government of society would reach much farther than they do in the existing state of affairs. If a bad measure is taken to-day by a government, if a false theory is applied to the management of the affairs of a nation, the evil which results from it is confined to a certain locality. Other nations can refrain from renewing an experience, the results of which have been disastrous. If all humanity, on the contrary, were subjected to a uniform law, would not the evil resulting from the application of a bad measure be universal? And the division of society into nations is no obstacle to progress, which betters the condition of man. When an experiment has resulted successfully with a nation, are not other nations eager to take advantage of it? Are they not most frequently obliged to do so by the pressure of competition?


—The division of humanity into autonomous nations may therefore be considered as essentially economic. Besides, this division results from the primitive arrangement of things; it is a natural phenomenon that no artificial combination can destroy nor even sensibly modify. Conquerors, for instance, have dreamt of the utopia of universal monarchy. Have they succeeded in realizing it? Have not those who have approached nearest to it, beheld their gigantic political establishments dissolve by the very force of things? Has not experience taught them that there are limits which no domination can exceed in any lasting manner? Other utopists have dreamt of unity of religion, and some have wished to enforce it by violence; but it was useless for them to employ fire and the sword to compass their design, and they failed. Religious beliefs have continued to reflect the diversity of temperaments, of manners, and of the intelligence of different nations. Others, finally, have dreamt of unity of language, and governments have been known to endeavor to force a uniform language upon peoples of different origin, whom they had united under their rule. The Dutch government, for example, attempted to substitute the Dutch language for the French language in some of the southern provinces of the old kingdom of the Netherlands. What was the result? An aversion was taken to the language required by law, by the populations upon which the government wished to force it, and this experiment, which was contrary to the nature of things, contributed much to the downfall of the government which tried it. Languages like religious beliefs and political institutions, are the expression of the special genius of different nations. The form of institutions and of language can without doubt be modified in an artificial manner, but their substance will nevertheless remain. Although it would be absurd to wish to efface, for the sake of a chimerical unity, the characteristic marks of nationalities, it does not follow that nations must be isolated from and kept in a permanent state of hostility toward each other. The autonomy of nations implies neither isolation nor hostility. Nations are interested in freedom of communication with one another, in order that they may increase in wealth and power; they are still more interested in living in peace with one another.


—These truths, too long unrecognized, have been admirably demonstrated by economists, especially by J. B. Say. To those who pretend, for instance, that a nation can only be enriched by the impoverishment of its rivals, the illustrious author of the theory of outlets replies with truth: "A nation bears the same relation to a neighboring nation that a province does to another province, that a city does to the country; it is interested in seeing it prosper, and certain to profit by its wealth. The United States are right, then, for example, it always having tried to encourage industry in the savage tribes; it has been their purpose to obtain something from them in exchange; for nothing can be gained from people who have nothing to give. It is of advantage to humanity for a nation to conduct itself toward others, under all circumstances, according to liberal principles. It will be shown, by the brilliant results it will obtain from so doing, that vain systems, baleful theories, are the exclusive and jealous maxims of the old states of Europe, which they with effrontery endow with the name of practical truths, because, unfortunately, they put them in practice."


—Nothing is more deceitful adds this judicious economist, than the advantage which a nation thinks it gains by an encroachment upon the domain of another, by the conquest of a province or a colony from a rival power. "If France had possessed," he says, "at any time whatever, an economic government, and had employed for fertilizing the provinces in the centre of the kingdom, the money which she expended for conquering distant provinces and colonies which could not be kept, she would be much more happy and more powerful. Highways, parish roads, canals for irrigation and navigation, are means which a government has always at its disposal to improve provinces which are unproductive. Production is always expensive in a province, when the expense of the transportation of its products is great. An interior conquest indubitably augments the strength of a state, as a distant conquest almost always enfeebles it. All that constitutes the strength of Great Britain is in Great Britain itself; it has been rendered much stronger by the loss of America; it will be more so when it shall have lost India."


—Hence J. B. Say is thoroughly convinced that, when economic intelligence shall be more widely diffused, when the true sources of the prosperity and the greatness of nations shall be better known, the old policy, which consists in conquering new territory to tax its people to excess, in taking possession of new markets to submit them to a selfish and pitiless exploitation, this evil policy of antagonism and hatred, will end by losing all credit. "All this old policy will perish," he says; "ability will consist in meriting preference, and not in demanding it by force. The effects which are made to secure domination procure only an artificial greatness, which necessarily makes an enemy of every foreigner. This system produces debts, abuses, tyrants and revolutions; while the attraction of a reciprocal agreement procures friends, extends the circle of useful relations; and the prosperity which results from it is lasting, because it is natural."


—If, then, economists do not share the illusions of the humanitarian socialists, who would like to unite all nations into a single flock, ruled by an all-governing shepherd; if they do not think that it is a measure of utility to efface, in an artificial manner, the characteristic differences of nations; if they only accept with reservations the beautiful verses of the author of the Marseillaise of Peace:

"Nations! mot pompeux pour dire barbarie!
* * * * * *
Déchirez ces drapeaux! une autre voix vous crie;
L'égoisme et is haine ont seuls une patrie;
La fraternité n'en a pas";

if they think that nations have their raison d'être itself in the bosom of civilization, they do not work less actively to demolish the walls of separation, which old errors, prejudices of centuries and barbarous hatreds have raised between nations; they show to nations that it is for their interest to exchange their ideas and their products in order to augment their wealth, their power and their civilization; they condemn war as a bad speculation, as an operation in which the risks of loss exceed the chances of gain; and without being humanitarians or advocates of unity, they show to nations the true methods of realizing practical fraternity.


—Errors no less fatal, on the subject of the interior government of nations, have attracted the attention of economists. As once it was the common conviction that a nation could only be powerful and rich by the enfeeblement and impoverishment of its rivals, as singularly exaggerated share of influence and action in the life of nations was attributed to the government. Because the government and society were confounded in primitive communities, when the division of labor had not yet separated social functions, it was thought that it must always be so; it was thought that it was the province of the government to communicate movement and action to the social organism, and make life circulate there; it was thought that nothing could be effected except by the impetus of this sovereign motor. Political economy has done justice to so disastrous an error.


—Economists have demonstrated that the functions of government should be simplified and specialized more and more, by virtue of the principle of the division of labor, rather than extended and multiplied; they have demonstrated that communism belonged to the infancy of nations, and that it ceased to be expedient in their maturity. With the coolness of a surgeon who removes a cancer, J.B. Say has shown to what point a government which is not strictly limited to fulfilling its natural functions can cause trouble, corruption and discomfort in the economy of the social body, and he has declared that in his eyes such a government was a veritable ulcer. This figurative expression, ulcerous government, employed by the illustrious economist to designate a government which interferes improperly in the domain of private activity, reglementary and socialist writers have frequently cast as a reproach upon political economy. Some even have taken it as a foundation for the assumption that political economy has misunderstood the importance of the mission with which governments are charged in society, and they have accused it of having given birth to the celebrated doctrine of anarchy. (See ANARCHY.) But, nothing is less merited than such a reproach. Political economy, rightly understood, leads no more to the suppression of governments than it does to the destruction of nationalities. J. B. Say says: "When authority is not a despoiler itself, it procures for nations the greatest of benefits, that of guaranteeing them against despoilers. Without this protection which lends the aid of all to the needs of one alone, it is impossible to conceive any important development of the productive faculties of man, of land or of capital; it is impossible to conceive the existence of capital itself, since capital is only values accumulated and working under the safeguard of public authority. It is for this reason that no nation has ever arrived at any degree of wealth, without having been subject to a regular government; it is to the security which political organization procures, that civilized nations owe not only the innumerable and varied productions which satisfy their wants, but also their fine arts, their leisure hours, the fruit of accumulation, without which they could not cultivate their intellectual gifts, nor consequently rise to all the dignity that the nature of man admits of."


—Political economy is not therefore anarchic. Economists are perfectly convinced that governments play a necessary part in society, and it is precisely because they appreciate all the importance of this part, that they consider that governments should be occupied with nothing else.


—Finally, economists think that the same practices of scrupulous economy, which are the rule in private industry, should be the rule also in the government of nations. Let us again quote J. B. Say, on this subject: "A nation which only respects its prince when he is surrounded with pomp, with glitter, with guards, with horses, with all that is most expensive, has to pay for it. It economizes, on the contrary, when it accords its respect to simplicity rather than to display, and when it obeys the laws without display."


—Causes purely political, and the form of government which they produce, influence the expense of the salaries of civil and judicial functionaries, that of representation, and that which public institutions and establishments require. Thus, in a despotic country, where the prince disposes of the property of his subjects, he alone fixing his salary—that is to say, what he uses of the public funds for his own personal benefit, his pleasures, and the maintenance of his household—that salary may be fixed higher than in the country where it is discussed by the representatives of the prince and those of the tax payers. The salaries of subordinates depend also either upon their individual influence, or upon the general system of government. The services which they render are costly or cheap, not only in proportion to the price paid for them, but also according as their duties are more or less well performed. A service poorly performed is dear, although very little may be paid for it; it is dear if there is but little need of it. It is like a piece of furniture which does not answer the purpose for which it was intended, of which there is no need, and which is a trouble rather than a benefit. Such were, under the old French monarchy, the positions of grand-admiral, grand-master, grand-cupbearer, master of the hounds, and a multitude of others, which served only to add lustre to the crown, and many of which were only methods employed to distribute perquisites and favors. For the same reason, when the machinery of the administration is complicated, the people are made to pay for services which are not indispensable to the maintenance of public order; this is like giving a useless shape to a product, which is not worth more on that account, and is generally worth less. Under a bad government, which can not keep up its encroachments, its injustices, its exactions, except by means of numerous satellites, of an active system of espionage, and by the multiplication of prisons; these prisons, spies and soldiers are an item of expense to the people, who are certainly not happier on that account."


—To sum up, political economy recognizes that the division of humanity into nations has its utility, its raison d'étre; it recognizes that no nation, unless it be composed of angels, can dispense with a government; but, at the same time, it demonstrates that it is for the interest of nations to base their foreign policy upon peace, and their domestic policy upon economy; it demonstrates that it is for the interest of nations to maintain free and friendly relations with one another, and to be governed as little as possible.


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