Rousseau's Theory of the State by Michael Bakunin

Rousseau's Theory of the State
by Michael Bakunin

Rousseau's Theory of the State

by Michael Bakunin

. . . We have said that man is not only the most individualistic  being on earth -- he is also the most social. It was a great mistake on  the part of Jean Jacques Rousseau to have thought that primitive society  was established through a free agreement among savages. But Jean  Jacques is not the only one to have said this. The majority of jurists  and modern publicists, either of the school of Kant or any other  individualist and liberal school, those who do not accept the idea of a  society founded upon the divine right of the theologians nor of a  society determined by the Hegelian school as a more or less mystical  realisation of objective morality, nor of the naturalists' concept of a  primitive animal society, all accept, nolens volens, and for lack of any  other basis, the tacit agreement or contract as their starting point.

According to the theory of the social contract primitive men  enjoying absolute liberty only in isolation are antisocial by nature.  When forced to associate they destroy each other's freedom. If this  struggle is unchecked it can lead to mutual extermination. In order not  to destroy each other completely, they conclude a contract, formal or  tacit, whereby they surrender some of their freedom to assure the rest.  This contract becomes the foundation of society, or rather of the State,  for we must point out that in this theory there is no place for  society; only the State exists, or rather society is completely absorbed  by the State.

Society is the natural mode of existence of the human collectivity,  independent of any contract. It governs itself through the customs or  the traditional habits, but never by laws. It progresses slowly, under  the impulsion it receives from individual initiatives and not through  the thinking or the will of the law-giver. There are a good many laws  which govern it without its being aware of them, but these are natural  laws, inherent in the body social, just as physical laws are inherent in  material bodies. Most of these laws remain unknown to this day;  nevertheless, they have governed human society ever since its birth,  independent of the thinking and the will of the men composing the  society. Hence they should not be confused with the political and  juridical laws proclaimed by some legislative power, laws that are  supposed to be the logical sequelae of the first contract consciously  formed by men.

The state is in no wise an immediate product of nature. Unlike  society, it does not precede the awakening of reason in men. The  liberals say that the first state was created by the free and rational  will of men; the men of the right consider it the work of God. In either  case it dominates society and tends to absorb it completely.

One might rejoin that the State, representing as it does the public  welfare or the common interest of all, curtails a part of the liberty of  each only for the sake of assuring to him all the remainder. But this  remainder may be a form of security; it is never liberty. Liberty is  indivisible; one cannot curtail a part of it without killing all of it.  This little part you are curtailing is the very essence of my liberty;  it is all of it. Through a natural, necessary, and irresistible  movement, all of my liberty is concentrated precisely in the part, small  as it may be, which you curtail. It is the story of Bluebeard's wife,  who had an entire palace at her disposal, with full and complete liberty  to enter everywhere, to see and to touch everything, except for one  dreadful little chamber which her terrible husband's sovereign will had  forbidden her to open on pain of death. Well, she turned away from all  the splendours of the palace, and her entire being concentrated on the  dreadful little chamber. She opened that forbidden door, for good  reason, since her liberty depended on her doing so, while the  prohibition to enter was a flagrant violation of precisely that liberty.  It is also the story of Adam and Eve's fall. The prohibition to taste  the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for no other  reason than that such was the will of the Lord, was an act of atrocious  despotism on the part of the good Lord. Had our first parents obeyed it,  the entire human race would have remained plunged in the most  humiliating slavery. Their disobedience has emancipated and saved us.  Theirs, in the language of mythology, was the first act of human  liberty.

But, one might say, could the State, the democratic State, based  upon the free suffrage of all its citizens, be the negation of their  liberty? And why not? That would depend entirely on the mission and the  power that the citizens surrendered to the State. A republican State,  based upon universal suffrage, could be very despotic, more despotic  even than the monarchical State, if, under the pretext of representing  everybody's will, it were to bring down the weight of its collective  power upon the will and the free movement of each of its members.

However, suppose one were to say that the State does not restrain  the liberty of its members except when it tends toward injustice or  evil. It prevents its members from killing each other, plundering each  other, insulting each other, and in general from hurting each other,  while it leaves them full liberty to do good. This brings us back to the  story of Bluebeard's wife, or the story of the forbidden fruit: what is  good? what is evil?

From the standpoint of the system we have under examination, the  distinction between good and evil did not exist before the conclusion of  the contract, when each individual stayed deep in the isolation of his  liberty or of his absolute rights, having no consideration for his  fellowmen except those dictated by his relative weakness or strength;  that is, his own prudence and self^^interest. At that time, still  following the same theory, egotism was the supreme law, the only right.  The good was determined by success, failure was the only evil, and  justice was merely the consecration of the fait accompli, no matter how  horrible, how cruel or infamous, exactly as things are now in the  political morality which prevails in Europe today.

The distinction between good and evil, according to this system,  commences only with the conclusion of the social contract. Thereafter,  what was recognised as constituting the common interest was proclaimed  as good, and all that was contrary to it as evil. The contracting  members, on becoming citizens, and bound by a more or less solemn  undertaking, thereby assumed an obligation: to subordinate their private  interests to the common good, to an interest inseparable from all  others. Their own rights were separated from the public right, the sole  representative of which, the State, was thereby invested with the power  to repress all illegal revolts of the individual, but also with the  obligation to protect each of its members in the exercise of his rights  insofar as these were not contrary to the common right.

We shall now examine what the State, thus constituted, should be in  relation to other states, its peers, as well as in relation to its own  subject populations. This examination appears to us all the more  interesting and useful because the State, as it is here defined, is  precisely the modern State insofar as it has separated itself from the  religious idea -- the secular or atheist State proclaimed by modern  publicists. Let us see, then: of what does its morality consist? It is  the modern State, we have said, at the moment when it has freed itself  from the yoke of the Church, and when it has, consequently, shaken off  the yoke of the universal or cosmopolitan morality of the Christian  religion; at the moment when it has not yet been penetrated by the  humanitarian morality or idea, which, by the way, it could never do  without destroying itself; for, in its separate existence and isolated  concentration, it would be too narrow to embrace, to contain the  interests and therefore the morality of all mankind.

Modern states have reached precisely this point. Christianity serves  them only as a pretext or a phrase or as a means of deceiving the idle  mob, for they pursue goals which have nothing to do with religious  sentiments. The great statesmen of our days, the Palmerstons, the  Muravievs, the Cavours, the Bismarcks, the Napoleons, had a good laugh  when people took their religious pronouncements seriously. They laughed  harder when people attributed humanitarian sentiments, considerations,  and intentions to them, but they never made the mistake of treating  these ideas in public as so much nonsense. Just what remains to  constitute their morality? The interest of the State, and nothing else.  From this point of view, which, incidentally, with very few exceptions,  has been that of the statesmen, the strong men of all times and of all  countries from this point of view, I say, whatever conduces to the  preservation, the grandeur and the power of the State, no matter how  sacrilegious or morally revolting it may seem, that is the good. And  conversely, whatever opposes the State's interests, no matter how holy  or just otherwise, that is evil. Such is the secular morality and  practice of every State.

It is the same with the State founded upon the theory of the social  contract. According to this principle, the good and the just commence  only with the contract; they are, in fact, nothing but the very contents  and the purpose of the contract; that is, the common interest and the  public right of all the individuals who have formed the contract among  themselves, with the exclusion of all those who remain outside the  contract. It is; consequently, nothing but the greatest satisfaction  given to the collective egotism of a special and restricted association,  which, being founded upon the partial sacrifice of the individual  egotism of each of its members, rejects from its midst, as strangers and  natural enemies, the immense majority of the human species, whether or  not it may be organised into analogous organisation.

The existence of one sovereign, exclusionary State necessarily  supposes the existence and, if need be, provokes the formation of other  such States, since it is quite natural that individuals who find  themselves outside it and are threatened by it in their existence and in  their liberty, should, in their turn, associate themselves against it.  We thus have humanity divided into an indefinite number of foreign  states, all hostile and threatened by each other. There is no common  right, no social contract of any kind between them; otherwise they would  cease to be independent states and become the federated members of one  great state. But unless this great state were to embrace all of  humanity, it would be confronted with other great states, each federated  within, each maintaining the same posture of inevitable hostility. War  would still remain the supreme law, an unavoidable condition of human  survival.

Every state, federated or not, would therefore seek to become the  most powerful. It must devour lest it be devoured, conquer lest it be  conquered, enslave lest it be enslaved, since two powers, similar and  yet alien to each other, could not coexist without mutual destruction.

The State, therefore, is the most flagrant, the most cynical, and  the most complete negation of humanity. It shatters the universal  solidarity of all men on the earth, and brings some of them into  association only for the purpose of destroying, conquering, and  enslaving all the rest. It protects its own citizens only; it recognises  human rights, humanity, civilisation within its own confines alone.  Since it recognises no rights outside itself, it logically arrogates to  itself the right to exercise the most ferocious inhumanity toward all  foreign populations, which it can plunder, exterminate, or enslave at  will. If it does show itself generous and humane toward them, it is  never through a sense of duty, for it has no duties except to itself in  the first place, and then to those of its members who have freely formed  it, who freely continue to constitute it or even, as always happens in  the long run, those who have become its subjects. As there is no  international law in existence, and as it could never exist in a  meaningful and realistic way without undermining to its foundations the  very principle of the absolute sovereignty of the State, the State can  have no duties toward foreign populations. Hence, if it treats a  conquered people in a humane fashion, if it plunders or exterminates it  halfway only, if it does not reduce it to the lowest degree of slavery,  this may be a political act inspired by prudence, or even by pure  magnanimity, but it is never done from a sense of duty, for the State  has an absolute right to dispose of a conquered people at will.

This flagrant negation of humanity which constitutes the very  essence of the State is, from the standpoint of the State, its supreme  duty and its greatest virtue. It bears the name patriotism, and it  constitutes the entire transcendent morality of the State. We call it  transcendent morality because it usually goes beyond the level of human  morality and justice, either of the community or of the private  individual, and by that same token often finds itself in contradiction  with these. Thus, to offend, to oppress, to despoil, to plunder, to  assassinate or enslave one's fellowman is ordinarily regarded as a  crime. In public life, on the other hand, from the standpoint of  patriotism, when these things are done for the greater glory of the  State, for the preservation or the extension of its power, it is all  transformed into duty and virtue. And this virtue, this duty, are  obligatory for each patriotic citizen; everyone is supposed to exercise  them not against foreigners only but against one's own fellow citizens,  members or subjects of the State like himself, whenever the welfare of  the State demands it.

This explains why, since the birth of the State, the world of  politics has always been and continues to be the stage for unlimited  rascality and brigandage, brigandage and rascality which, by the way,  are held in high esteem, since they are sanctified by patriotism, by the  transcendent morality and the supreme interest of the State. This  explains why the entire history of ancient and modern states is merely a  series of revolting crimes; why kings and ministers, past and present,  of all times and all countries -- statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and  warriors -- if judged from the standpoint of simple morality and human  justice, have a hundred, a thousand times over earned their sentence to  hard labour or to the gallows. There is no horror, no cruelty,  sacrilege, or perjury, no imposture, no infamous transaction, no cynical  robbery, no bold plunder or shabby betrayal that has not been or is not  daily being perpetrated by the representatives of the states, under no  other pretext than those elastic words, so convenient and yet so  terrible: "for reasons of state."

These are truly terrible words, for they have corrupted and  dishonoured, within official ranks and in society's ruling classes, more  men than has even Christianity itself. No sooner are these words  uttered than all grows silent, and everything ceases; honesty, honour,  justice, right, compassion itself ceases, and with it logic and good  sense. Black turns white, and white turns black. The lowest human acts,  the basest felonies, the most atrocious crimes become meritorious acts.

The great Italian political philosopher Machiavelli was the first to  use these words, or at least the first to give them their true meaning  and the immense popularity they still enjoy among our rulers today. A  realistic and positive thinker if there ever was one, he was the first  to understand that the great and powerful states could be founded and  maintained by crime alone -- by many great crimes, and by a radical  contempt for all that goes under the name of honesty. He has written,  explained, and proven these facts with terrifying frankness. And, since  the idea of humanity was entirely unknown in his time; since the idea of  fraternity -- not human but religious -- as preached by the Catholic  Church, was at that time, as it always has been, nothing but a shocking  irony, belied at every step by the Church's own actions; since in his  time no one even suspected that there was such a thing as popular right,  since the people had always been considered an inert and inept mass,  the flesh of the State to be moulded and exploited at will, pledged to  eternal obedience; since there was absolutely nothing in his time, in  Italy or elsewhere, except for the State -- Machiavelli concluded from  these facts, with a good deal of logic, that the State was the supreme  goal of all human existence, that it must be served at any cost and  that, since the interest of the State prevailed over everything else, a  good patriot should not recoil from any crime in order to serve it. He  advocates crime, he exhorts to crime, and makes it the sine qua non of  political intelligence as well as of true patriotism. Whether the State  bear the name of a monarchy or of a republic, crime will always be  necessary for its preservation and its triumph. The State will doubtless  change its direction and its object, but its nature will remain the  same: always the energetic, permanent violation of justice, compassion,  and honesty, for the welfare of the State.

Yes, Machiavelli is right. We can no longer doubt it after an  experience of three and a half centuries added to his own experience.  Yes, so all history tells us: while the small states are virtuous only  because of their weakness, the powerful states sustain themselves by  crime alone. But our conclusion will be entirely different from his, for  a very simple reason. We are the children of the Revolution, and from  it we have inherited the religion of humanity, which we must found upon  the ruins of the religion of divinity. We believe in the rights of man,  in the dignity and the necessary emancipation of the human species. We  believe in human liberty and human fraternity founded upon justice. In a  word, we believe in the triumph of humanity upon the earth. But this  triumph, which we summon with all our longing, which we want to hasten  with all our united efforts -- since it is by its very nature the  negation of the crime which is intrinsically the negation of humanity --  this triumph cannot be achieved until crime ceases to be what it now is  more or less everywhere today, the real basis of the political  existence of the nations absorbed and dominated by the ideas of the  State. And since it is now proven that no state could exist without  committing crimes, or at least without contemplating and planning them,  even when its impotence should prevent it from perpetrating crimes, we  today conclude in favour of the absolute need of destroying the states.  Or, if it is so decided, their radical and complete transformation so  that, ceasing to be powers centralised and organised from the top down,  by violence or by authority of some principle, they may recognise --  with absolute liberty for all the parties to unite or not to unite, and  with liberty for each of these always to leave a union even when freely  entered into -- from the bottom up, according to the real needs and the  natural tendencies of the parties, through the free federation of  individuals, associations, communes, districts, provinces, and nations  within humanity.

Such are the conclusions to which we are inevitably led by an  examination of the external relations which the so-called free states  maintain with other states. Let us now examine the relations maintained  by the State founded upon the free contract arrived at among its own  citizens or subjects.

We have already observed that by excluding the immense majority of  the human species from its midst, by keeping this majority outside the  reciprocal engagements and duties of morality, of justice, and of right,  the State denies humanity and, using that sonorous word patriotism,  imposes injustice and cruelty as a supreme duty upon all its subjects.  It restricts, it mutilates, it kills humanity in them, so that by  ceasing to be men, they may be solely citizens -- or rather, and more  specifically, that through the historic connection and succession of  facts, they may never rise above the citizen to the height of being man.

We have also seen that every state, under pain of destruction and  fearing to be devoured by its neighbour states, must reach out toward  omnipotence, and, having become powerful, must conquer. Who speaks of  conquest speaks of peoples conquered, subjugated, reduced to slavery in  whatever form or denomination. Slavery, therefore, is the necessary  consequence of the very existence of the State.

Slavery may change its form or its name -- its essence remains the  same. Its essence may be expressed in these words: to be a slave is to  be forced to work for someone else, just as to be a master is to live on  someone else's work. In antiquity, just as in Asia and in Africa today,  as well as even in a part of America, slaves were, in all honesty,  called slaves. In the Middle Ages, they took the name of serfs: nowadays  they are called wage earners. The position of this latter group has a  great deal more dignity attached to it, and it is less hard than that of  slaves, but they are nonetheless forced, by hunger as well as by  political and social institutions, to maintain other people in complete  or relative idleness, through their own exceedingly hard labour.  Consequently they are slaves. And in general, no state, ancient or  modern, has ever managed or will ever manage to get along without the  forced labour of the masses, either wage earners or slaves, as a  principal and absolutely necessary foundation for the leisure, the  liberty, and the civilisation of the political class: the citizens. On  this point, not even the United States of North America can as yet be an  exception.

Such are the internal conditions that necessarily result for the  State from its objective stance, that is, its natural, permanent, and  inevitable hostility toward all the other states. Let us now see the  conditions resulting directly for the State's citizens from that free  contract by which they supposedly constituted themselves into a State.

The State not only has the mission of guaranteeing the safety of its  members against any attack coming from without; it must also defend  them within its own borders, some of them against the others, and each  of them against himself. For the State -- and this is most deeply  characteristic of it, of every state, as of every theology --  presupposes man to be essentially evil and wicked. In the State we are  now examining, the good, as we have seen, commences only with the  conclusion of the social contract and, consequently, is merely the  product and very content of this contract. The good is not the product  of liberty. On the contrary, so long as men remain isolated in their  absolute individuality, enjoying their full natural liberty to which  they recognise no limits but those of fact, not of law, they follow one  law only, that of their natural egotism. They offend, maltreat, and rob  each other; they obstruct and devour each other, each to the extent of  his intelligence, his cunning, and his material resources, doing just as  the states do to one another. By this reasoning, human liberty produces  not good but evil; man is by nature evil. How did he become evil? That  is for theology to explain. The fact is that the Church, at its birth,  finds man already evil, and undertakes to make him good, that is, to  transform the natural man into the citizen.

To this one may rejoin that, since the State is the product of a  contract freely concluded by men, and since the good is the product of  the State, it follows that the good is the product of liberty! Such a  conclusion would not be right at all. The State itself, by this  reasoning, is not the product of liberty; it is, on the contrary, the  product of the voluntary sacrifice and negation of liberty. Natural men,  completely free from the sense of right but exposed, in fact, to all  the dangers which threaten their security at every moment, in order to  assure and safeguard this security, sacrifice, or renounce more or less  of their own liberty, and, to the extent that they have sacrificed  liberty for security and have thus become citizens, they become the  slaves of the State. We are therefore right in affirming that, from the  viewpoint of the State, the good is born not of liberty but rather of  the negation of liberty.

Is it not remarkable to find so close a correspondence between  theology, that science of the Church, and politics, that science of the  State; to find this concurrence of two orders of ideas and of realities,  outwardly so opposed, nevertheless holding the same conviction: that  human liberty must be destroyed if men are to be moral, if they are to  be transformed into saints (for the Church) or into virtuous citizens  (for the State)? Yet we are not at all surprised by this peculiar  harmony, since we are convinced, and shall try to prove, that politics  and theology are two sisters issuing from the same source and pursuing  the same ends under different names; and that every state is a  terrestrial church, just as every church, with its own heaven, the  dwelling place of the blessed and of the immortal God, is but a  celestial state.

Thus the State, like the Church, starts out with this fundamental  supposition, that men are basically evil, and that, if delivered up to  their natural liberty, they would tear each other apart and offer the  spectacle of the most terrifying anarchy, where the stronger would  exploit and slaughter the weaker -- quite the contrary of what goes on  in our model states today, needless to say! The State sets up the  principle that in order to establish public order, there is need of a  superior authority; in order to guide men and repress their evil  passions, there is need of a guide and a curb.

. . . In order to assure the observance of the principles and the  administration of laws in any human society whatsoever, there has to be a  vigilant, regulating, and, if need be, repressive power at the head of  the State. It remains for us to find out who should and who could  exercise such power.

For the State founded upon divine right and through the intervention  of any God whatever, the answer is simple enough; the men to exercise  such power would be the priests primarily, and secondarily the temporal  authorities consecrated by the priests. For the State founded on the  free social contract, the answer would be far more difficult. In a pure  democracy of equals -- all of whom are, however, considered incapable of  self-restraint on behalf of the common welfare, their liberty tending  naturally toward evil -- who would be the true guardian and  administrator of the laws, the defender of justice and of public order  against everyone's evil passions? In a word, who would fulfil the  functions of the State?

The best citizens, would be the answer, the most intelligent and the  most virtuous, those who understand better than the others the common  interests of society and the need, the duty, of everyone to subordinate  his own interests to the common good. It is, in fact; necessary for  these men to be as intelligent as they are virtuous; if they were  intelligent but lacked virtue, they might very well use the public  welfare to serve their private interests, and if they were virtuous but  lacked intelligence, their good faith would not be enough to save the  public interest from their errors. It is therefore necessary, in order  that a republic may not perish, that it have available throughout its  duration a continuous succession of many citizens possessing both virtue  and intelligence.

But this condition cannot be easily or always fulfilled. In the  history of every country, the epochs that boast a sizeable group of  eminent men are exceptional, and renowned through the centuries.  Ordinarily, within the precincts of power, it is the insignificant, the  mediocre, who predominate, and often, as we have observed in history, it  is vice and bloody violence that triumph. We may therefore conclude  that if it were true, as the theory of the so-called rational or liberal  State clearly postulates, that the preservation and durability of every  political society depend upon a succession of men as remarkable for  their intelligence as for their virtue, there is not one among the  societies now existing that would not have ceased to exist long ago. If  we were to add to this difficulty, not to say impossibility, those which  arise from the peculiar demoralisation attendant upon power, the  extraordinary temptations to which all men who hold power in their hands  are exposed, the ambitions, rivalries, jealousies, the gigantic  cupidities by which particularly those in the highest positions are  assailed by day and night, and against which neither intelligence nor  even virtue can prevail, especially the highly vulnerable virtue of the  isolated man, it is a wonder that so many societies exist at all. But  let us pass on.

Let us assume that, in an ideal society, in each period, there were a  sufficient number of men both intelligent and virtuous to discharge the  principal functions of the State worthily. Who would seek them out,  select them, and place the reins of power in their hands? Would they  themselves, aware of their intelligence and their virtue, take  possession of the power? This was done by two sages of ancient Greece,  Cleobulus and Periander; notwithstanding their supposed great wisdom,  the Greeks applied to them the odious name of tyrants. But in what  manner would such men seize power? By persuasion, or perhaps by force?  If they used persuasion, we might remark that he can best persuade who  is himself persuaded, and the best men are precisely those who are least  persuaded of their own worth. Even when they are aware of it, they  usually find it repugnant to press their claim upon others, while wicked  and mediocre men, always satisfied with themselves, feel no repugnance  in glorifying themselves. But let us even suppose that the desire to  serve their country had overcome the natural modesty of truly worthy men  and induced them to offer themselves as candidates for the suffrage of  their fellow citizens. Would the people necessarily accept these in  preference to ambitious, smooth-tongued, clever schemers? If, on the  other hand, they wanted to use force, they would, in the first place,  have to have available a force capable of overcoming the resistance of  an entire party. They would attain their power through civil war which  would end up with a disgruntled opposition party, beaten but still  hostile. To prevail, the victors would have to persist in using force.  Accordingly the free society would have become a despotic state, founded  upon and maintained by violence, in which you might possibly find many  things worthy of approval -- but never liberty.

If we are to maintain the fiction of the free state issuing from a  social contract, we must assume that the majority of its citizens must  have had the prudence, the discernment, and the sense of justice  necessary to elect the worthiest and the most capable men and to place  them at the head of their government. But if a people had exhibited  these qualities, not just once and by mere chance but at all times  throughout its existence, in all the elections it had to make, would it  not mean that the people itself, as a mass, had reached so high a degree  of morality and of culture that it no longer had need of either  government or state? Such a people would not drag out a meaningless  existence, giving free rein for all its instincts; out of its life,  justice and public order would rise spontaneously and naturally. The  State, in it, would cease to be the providence, the guardian, the  educator, the regulator of society. As it renounced all its repressive  power and sank to the subordinate position assigned to it by Proudhon,  it would turn into a mere business office, a sort of central accounting  bureau at the service of society.

There is no doubt that such a political organization, or rather such  a reduction of political action in favour of the liberty of social  life, would be a great benefit to society, but it would in no way  satisfy the persistent champions of the State. To them, the State, as  providence, as director of the social life, dispenser of justice, and  regulator of public order, is a necessity. In other words, whether they  admit it or not, whether they call themselves republicans, democrats, or  even socialists, they always must have available a more or less  ignorant, immature, incompetent people, or, bluntly speaking, a kind of  canaille to govern. This would make them, without doing violence to  their lofty altruism and modesty, keep the highest places for  themselves, so as always to devote themselves to the common good, of  course. As the privileged guardians of the human flock, strong in their  virtuous devotion and their superior intelligence, while prodding the  people along and urging it on for its own good and well-being, they  would be in a position to do a little discreet fleecing of that flock  for their own benefit.

Any logical and straightforward theory of the State is essentially  founded upon the principle of authority, that is, the eminently  theological, metaphysical, and political idea that the masses, always  incapable of governing themselves, must at all times submit to the  beneficent yoke of a wisdom and a justice imposed upon them, in some way  or other, from above. Imposed in the name of what, and by whom?  Authority which is recognised and respected as such by the masses can  come from three sources only: force, religion, or the action of a  superior intelligence. As we are discussing the theory of the State  founded upon the free contract, we must postpone discussion of those  states founded on the dual authority of religion and force and, for the  moment, confine our attention to authority based upon a superior  intelligence, which is, as we know, always represented by minorities.

What do we really see in all states past and present, even those  endowed with the most democratic institutions, such as the United States  of North America and Switzerland? Actual self-government of the masses,  despite the pretence that the people hold all the power, remains a  fiction most of the time. It is always, in fact, minorities that do the  governing. In the United States, up to the recent Civil War and partly  even now, and even within the party of the present incumbent, President  Andrew Johnson, those ruling minorities were the so-called Democrats,  who continued to favour slavery and the ferocious oligarchy of the  Southern planters, demagogues without faith or conscience, capable of  sacrificing everything to their greed, to their malignant ambition. They  were those who, through their detestable actions, and influence,  exercised practically without opposition for almost fifty successive  years, have greatly contributed to the corruption of political morality  in North America.

Right now, a really intelligent, generous minority -- but always a  minority -- the Republican party, is successfully challenging their  pernicious policy. Let us hope its triumph may be complete; let us hope  so for all humanity's sake. But no matter how sincere this party of  liberty may be, no matter how great and generous its principles, we  cannot hope that upon attaining power it will renounce its exclusive  position of ruling minority and mingle with the masses, so that popular  self-government may at last become a fact. This would require a  revolution, one that would be profound in fat other ways than all the  revolutions that have thus far overwhelmed the ancient world and the  modern.

In Switzerland, despite all the democratic revolutions that have  taken place there, government is still in the hands of the well-off, the  middle class, those privileged few who are rich, leisured, educated.  The sovereignty of the people -- a term, incidentally, which we detest,  since all sovereignty is to us detestable--the government of the masses  by themselves, is here likewise a fiction. The people are sovereign in  law, but not in fact; since they are necessarily occupied with their  daily labour which leaves them no leisure, and since they are, if not  totally ignorant, at least quite inferior in education to the propertied  middle class, they are constrained to leave their alleged sovereignty  in the hands of the middle class. The only advantage they derive from  this situation, in Switzerland as well as in the United States of North  America, is that the ambitious minorities, the seekers of political  power, cannot attain power except by wooing the people, by pandering to  their fleeting passions, which at times can be quite evil, and, in most  cases, by deceiving them.

Let no one think that in criticising the democratic government we  thereby show our preference for the monarchy. We are firmly convinced  that the most imperfect republic is a thousand times better than the  most enlightened monarchy. In a republic, there are at least brief  periods when the people, while continually exploited, is not oppressed;  in the monarchies, oppression is constant. The democratic regime also  lifts the masses up gradually to participation in public life--something  the monarchy never does. Nevertheless, while we prefer the republic, we  must recognise and proclaim that whatever the form of government may  be, so long as human society continues to be divided into different  classes as a result of the hereditary inequality of occupations, of  wealth, of education, and of rights, there will always be a  class-restricted government and the inevitable exploitation of the  majorities by the minorities.

The State is nothing but this domination and this exploitation, well  regulated and systematised. We shall try to prove this by examining the  consequences of the government of the masses by a minority, intelligent  and dedicated as you please, in an ideal state founded upon the free  contract.

Once the conditions of the contract have been accepted, it remains  only to put them into effect. Suppose that a people recognised their  incapacity to govern, but still had sufficient judgment to confide the  administration of public affairs to their best citizens. At first these  individuals are esteemed not for their official position but for their  good qualities. They have been elected by the people because they are  the most intelligent, capable, wise, courageous, and dedicated among  them. Coming from the mass of the people, where all are supposedly  equal, they do not yet constitute a separate class, but a group of men  privileged only by nature and for that very reason singled out for  election by the people. Their number is necessarily very limited, for in  all times and in all nations the number of men endowed with qualities  so remarkable that they automatically command the unanimous respect of a  nation is, as experience teaches us, very small.  Therefore, on pain of  making a bad choice the people will be forced to choose its rulers from  among them.

Here then is a society already divided into two categories, if not  yet two classes. One is composed of the immense majority of its citizens  who freely submit themselves to a government by those they have  elected; the other is composed of a small number of men endowed with  exceptional attributes, recognised and accepted as exceptional by the  people and entrusted by them with the task of governing. As these men  depend on popular election, they cannot at first be distinguished from  the mass of citizens except by the very qualities which have recommended  them for election, and they are naturally the most useful and the most  dedicated citizens of all. They do not as yet claim any privilege or any  special right except that of carrying out, at the people's will, the  special functions with which they have been entrusted. Besides, they are  not in any way different from other people in their way of living or  earning their means of living, so that a perfect equality still subsists  among all. Can this equality be maintained for any length of time? We  claim it cannot, a claim that is easy enough to prove.

Nothing is as dangerous for man's personal morality as the habit of  commanding. The best of men, the most intelligent, unselfish, generous,  and pure, will always and inevitably be corrupted in this pursuit. Two  feelings inherent in the exercise of power never fail to produce this  demoralisation: contempt for the masses, and, for the man in power, an  exaggerated sense of his own worth.

"The masses, on admitting their own incapacity to govern themselves,  have elected me as their head. By doing so, they have clearly  proclaimed their own inferiority and my superiority. In this great crowd  of men, among whom I hardly find any who are my equals, I alone am  capable of administering public affairs. The people need me; they cannot  get along without my services, while I am sufficient unto myself. They  must therefore obey me for their own good, and I, by deigning to command  them, create their happiness and well-being." There is enough here to  turn anyone's head and corrupt the heart and make one swell with pride,  isn't there? That is how power and the habit of commanding become a  source of aberration, both intellectual and moral, even for the most  intelligent and most virtuous of men.

All human morality--and we shall try, further on, to prove the  absolute truth of this principle, the development, explanation, and  widest application of which constitute the real subject of this  essay--all collective and individual morality rests essentially upon  respect for humanity. What do we mean by respect for humanity? We mean  the recognition of human right and human dignity in every man, of  whatever race, colour, degree of intellectual development, or even  morality. But if this man is stupid, wicked, or contemptible, can I  respect him? Of course, if he is all that, it is impossible for me to  respect his villainy, his stupidity, and his brutality; they are  repugnant to me and arouse my indignation. I shall, if necessary, take  the strongest measures against them, even going so far as to kill him if  I have no other way of defending against him my life, my right, and  whatever I hold precious and worthy. But even in the midst of the most  violent and bitter, even mortal, combat between us, I must respect his  human character. My own dignity as a man depends on it. Nevertheless, if  he himself fails to recognise this dignity in others, must we recognise  it in him? If he is a sort of ferocious beast or, as sometimes happens,  worse than a beast, would we not, in recognising his humanity, be  supporting a mere fiction? No, for whatever his present intellectual and  moral degradation may be, if, organically, he is neither an idiot nor a  madman--in which case he should be treated as a sick man rather than as  a criminal--if he is in full possession of his senses and of such  intelligence as nature has granted him, his humanity, no matter how  monstrous his deviations might be, nonetheless really exists. It exists  as a lifelong potential capacity to rise to the awareness of his  humanity, even if there should be little possibility for a radical  change in the social conditions which have made him what he is.

Take the most intelligent ape, with the finest disposition; though  you place him in the best, most humane environment, you will never make a  man of him. Take the most hardened criminal or the man with the poorest  mind, provided that t neither has any organic lesion causing idiocy or  insanity; the criminality of the one, and the failure of the other to  develop an awareness of his humanity and his human duties, is not their  fault, nor is it due to their nature; it is solely the result of the  social environment in which they were born and brought up.

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