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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STATE, The. Although natural, and founded on what is most imperious in our sympathies and our wants, society is not maintained and preserved without an effort. The bond which holds it together would be weak indeed and forever in jeopardy if a protective power were not established superior to individual wills to keep them within bounds and to defend the persons and the rights of each against the attacks of violence. Men may wish to see the authority here referred to invested with this form or that; they may attribute to it this or that historical origin: but all agree that it is indispensable to the maintenance of human society, and that only perfectly wise or perfectly brute creatures can do without government.


—But it is clear that there is a great difference between the purely repressive authority with which the elders of a tribe are invested, and the complicated and powerful organism called the state in nations advanced in civilization. When society has reached a certain degree of development; when the cultivation of land possessed in common or appropriated by individuals requires security; when foresight inspired by offensive or defensive war has engendered the habit in a people of making certain preparations in common in view of common danger and enterprises in common; and when certain ideas, beliefs and feelings, held by all the members of a given society, have given birth to the moral unity of the nation, the nation is necessarily developed, and assumes a character of solidity, duration and permanence. It extends its sphere of action, and is completed by the addition and regular working of numerous wheels, each having a distinct existence, and all functioning in harmony. The living personification of the fatherland, the instrument of its strength at home and abroad, the author and enforcer of the law, the supreme arbiter of interests, judge of peace and war, the protector of the weak, the representative of all that is general in the wants of society, the organ of the common reason and of the collective force of society: such is the state in all its power and majesty. Superior to all it governs, the state nevertheless owes to its own citizens all that it is. But it is absolutely necessary that we should remark: what society has confided to the guardianship of the state as a precious deposit depends no more upon society than it does upon the state—the sacred deposit of justice. (See JUSTICE.) Justice does not emanate from the individuals who compose society; it imposes itself on them as their rule of action. In vain do certain publicists maintain that the state can do everything because it is above everything. Nothing is more destitute of foundation than such an assertion. Its rights would be limited by its duties even if they were not limited by positive guarantees written in the laws. The state, too, has a rule and bridle in justice. The law emanates from the state. But the power to make the law and to employ force in its service, does not imply that the state has the unlimited power to make what is unjust just, or the just unjust, at its pleasure. Human beings are subject to moral laws, against which the state has no more power than it has against the physical laws which govern matter.—(See NATION, CHECKS AND BALANCES, GOVERNMENT, GOVERNMENTAL INTERFERENCE, LEGISLATION, REPRESENTATION.)


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