To the Point! To Action!! (2 of 4)

[Part 1]

The representatives to the National Assembly were elected, let us not forget, to create a democratic constitution, to simplify the administration to allow a reduction in tax and respect for the individual; they were elected to set up the country.
What have they done, however?
Instead of setting up the country, they have been busy setting themselves up in government; they have deduced the consequence before establishing the principles; then, and without being able to escape the disastrous precedent they have just established, they have only been concerned, as they could only be concerned, with the health and conservation of that government.
They acted in this way—and they were consistent! Didn’t the country, in effect, cease to exist the day the representatives met in the legislative palace? Wasn’t the Assembly declared sovereign—absolute sovereign, let us make note thereof! and so absolute that it could do more than us, because it was against us.
It could stay in place indefinitely.
It could, by decree, have us imprisoned or proscribe us individually or all together!
It could sell France, bit by bit or as a whole, to foreign powers!
You might object that it will not. Certainly that is where we rest our hopes, because I repeat that it could, and I add that I do not understand how a free people can be regularly at the discretion of a single national representation which enjoys a modest instrument of action, made up of five hundred and fifty thousand bayonets.
The National Assembly has the mind of a king. The spirit of democracy is foreign to it.
The Assembly is a government. It should be a notary.
We elected representatives to draft a contract that would determine, by specific stipulations, the line where the people end and the administration begins. It decided, without composing anything, that the people end everywhere and that government begins everywhere.
If the Assembly was the faithful expression of national sovereignty, the laws and decrees that it makes would immediately safeguard the rights of citizens, rather than applying to nothing but its own security. The essence of the law is to express the will, and protect the interests, of everyone, and everyone is supposed to obey it. Well! Let us examine all the decrees issued by the Assembly. We do not find one that is not designed to preserve administrative inviolability by paralyzing civil liberties; we do not find a single one that does not sanction the restriction of society for the benefit of officialdom.
I do not believe at all in the efficacy of armed revolution and I will soon state why I do not. But, once a revolution of that sort is accomplished, once it is accepted, without contest, by the whole entire country, I can imagine the possibility of turning it to the benefit of the nation.
What are the conditions for this?
Revolutionary action must intervene; it must apply itself to institutions!
The February revolution, like that of 1830, only became of benefit to a few men, because that revolution only abolished some proper names. The machinery of government preserved, as it now preserves, the same mechanism, and I see no change other than the hand that turns the crank.
What did they mean to say when on February 24 they posted in the streets and printed in the newspapers that France had overthrown the government and regained its freedom?
Did this mean simply that the National Assembly had taken the place of the “Journal des débats”?
Did anyone think that the consequences of this event that shook the world should have the triumph of Monsieur Marrast and his friends as its bounds?
That would have been, indeed, much ado about a rather poor job! When the revolutionaries told us that the French people had regained their freedom, we took the revolutionaries at their word and we proclaimed in our hearts the abolition not only of royalty, but of royal government, government that held the liberty of France tightly shackled in its administrative clutches.
Thus, in regaining freedom of thought, freedom of the press and freedom of voting, we have abolished, together with its budget, the government of the interior that was established to spread insecurity for the benefit of the government of the king.
Thus, by regaining the freedom of education, we have abolished, with its budget, the government of public instruction, which had been set up to hone our intelligence and to direct our education for the benefit of the government of the king.
Thus, in regaining the freedom of conscience, we have abolished, with its budget, the government of religion, which was established to introduce into the church only men whose influence was gained in the interests of the government of the king.
Thus, in regaining the freedom of trade, we have abolished, with its budget, the government of commerce, which was established to hold public credit continually under the control of the government of the king.
Thus, in regaining liberty of work and industry, we have abolished, with its budget, the government of public works which was set up to provide great benefit to friends of the government.
Thus, in regaining the liberty of transactions and the liberty of the territory, we have abolished, with its budget, the government of agriculture which was set up to keep the owner of the land, that is to say the one on whom rests the overseeing of the alimentation of the people, under the immediate dependence of the government of the king.
Thus, in regaining the right to free existence, we have abolished, with its budget, the government of the barracks, which, in times of peace, has only been used to hold us in a state of political nonexistence for the benefit of the government of the king.
Thus, finally, in reclaiming all our freedoms, we have abolished, with their multiple budgets, that complex administration of the illegitimate monarchies, that exorbitant tutelage that arose in the shady days of imperial tyranny, which has lain dead, crushed by discussion, for over thirty years, and whose corrupt cadaver stifles our freedom, because we have not known how or where to bury it.
If it is true that a revolution abolishes anything, that is what we abolished on February 24th.
If it is true that the people who make a revolution do so in order to win their liberties, those are the liberties that we won on February 24th.
The last revolution’s call to democracy was not heard by our representatives.
Had that call been truly interpreted, France could have passed the barrier and gone home, that is to say to the commune. The nation thus returned to its natural domicile, there would remain in Paris only an inoffensive symbol, carrying on diplomacy with the nations of the world, directing the navy, taking on or declaring war, as events and conditions stipulated, signing peace treaties and trade pacts, keeping watch on the interior, on the implementation of the laws,—always simple and few in number among free people,—appointing, under its own responsibility, a minister for foreign affairs, a justice minister, a minister for the navy and the colonies, a minister of war and a finance minister, and managing its business with a budget which would reach, from one year to another, save for the case of hostilities and debt interest, the amount of four or five hundred million.
I am not talking about the debt that remains under this scheme. That debt, which France can reckon with so much better when she has returned to the commune and is again in possession of her own wealth, will incur less interest, since administrative charges absorb the most distinct quantity of its revenues. Here I liquidate the royal government. I oblige it, by canceling seven budgets, to return annually to the nation twelve hundred million, at least, with which the debt can easily be extinguished in a few years.
But the most immediate benefit that France must gain from the canceling of these budgets is her freedom of action, which must by nature result in confidence among the citizens, the end of the crisis and the establishment of national credit on the ruins of this feverish government credit, a credit which rises or falls as the government stabilizes or totters.
Apart from the ministerial departments of the navy and war, which are annexes to that of foreign affairs, and apart from the chief judge, on whom judicial unity depends, all other ministries are incompatible with civil liberties, because they are only a parceling out of the royal despotism that held all social elements in its grasp.
If commerce, industry, education, religion, and agriculture are free—if, in a word, the French are free—can someone tell me what need we have of the great masters of industry, of commerce, of education, of religion, of agriculture, of home affairs? Since when has great mastery ceased to be the sanction of servitude?
If the government of France is established on the bases that I have just indicated, the parties will disappear, ambitions will become extinguished and the words Liberty, Equality, Fraternity will finally leave the domain of interpretation and controversy to go into effect.
I will explain myself and my explanation will be simple:
What is opposed to the establishment of liberty, equality, fraternity among us? Ambition, which is to say the desire to dominate, to govern the people.
Where does ambition reside? In the parties, in those who desire to dominate and govern the people.
From whence does a party derive its reason for existing? From the certainty that it will have the power, if victorious, to take for itself the freedoms and taxes of the nation. From the possibility of demonstrating mastery and authority over all things and of thus imposing itself on the people and the opposition parties.
How can a party impose itself? By taking control of the administration.
So, what is the administration?
The administration is something abstract, indefinite, illogical, contradictory, obscure, incomprehensible, arbitrary, absurd, and monstrous.
It is something which comes neither from the heart, since it is arid and without sentiment, nor from science, since its partisans understand nothing.
It is an instrument without form, contour and proportions. A wicked and cowardly myth, whose ruinous culture gives occupations to a million priests, all as insolent as they are fanatic.
It is blind, but still sees everything; deaf, but it hears everything; impotent, but it is capable of everything; without weight, and yet it crushes everything; invisible, but filling everything; impalpable, but touching everywhere; impossible to grasp hold of, but capable of grasping everything; inviolable, but violating everything it touches.
It is an incandescent nebulosity of lightning, thunder and asphyxia.
It is a magical, demoniacal, infernal invention that strikes out, always strikes out at everything and in all directions, so that there is always a bulwark of whirlwinds between its officers and the people.
That is the administration!–the means by which one governs, the primary reason we need parties, ambition, tyranny, privileges, and hatred! This is the monster in dispute! There is the Minotaur that drinks blood and devours millions upon millions! Here is the fortress by turns besieged, conquered, resieged, reconquered, and besieged again to be reconquered anew by the parties!
Remove the administration, smother the monster, crush the Minotaur, demolish the fortress, and what is left? Doctrines, and nothing more! Individual doctrines having no way to impose themselves! Isolated doctrines, timorous and abashed, that you would see running, utterly out of breath, throwing themselves, for protection and security, onto the bosom of that great human doctrine: equity.
Let us slay this dragon bristling with talons, which the nationalists want to tame for the benefit of Monsieur Cavaignac, in order to make it bite us.
Which the socialists want to tame for the benefit of Monsieur Proudhon, in order to make it bite us.
Which the Orleanists want to tame for the benefit of Monsieur de Paris, in order to make it bite us.
Which the imperialists want to tame for the benefit of Monsieur Bonaparte, in order to make it bite us.
Which the legitamists want to tame for the benefit of Monsieur de Bourbon, in order to make it bite us.
Disperse the nails of the animal in the municipalities; keep them with care so that no one can reunite them with the body, and discord will flee with its sole cause; there will be in France only free people, respecting the right of others, as their own rights should be respecting, and embracing one another in the fraternal ambition of contributing to their common welfare. Mistrust loses the guarantee of its heinous impulses, capital is attracted to production, production is supported by capital, and national and individual credit is established.
Having achieved this level of liberation, we will each be masters of ourselves. No one will be above the rest. No one will be above the common law. From then on, national sovereignty will be a fact, and universal suffrage will have a democratic meaning.
Instead of the silly and puerile right to choose our masters, which has just been granted us, we will select delegates who, instead of being guided by administrative law, as is the practice at the time I write, will be guided by national law, which will be specified in accordance with the facts.
From this will emerge a simple administration, and, consequently, a comprehensible one; a true administration, and, consequently, a just one. The program of the accession of the French to all the jobs will cease to be a crude lie, an iniquitous delusion whose turpitude is demonstrated by the inability of special study to educate men to understand the mechanism of a single section of the formidable administration that rules us.
And, our liberties once safe, the administration once simplified, the government once stripped of its means of aggression, put a Frenchman at its head. It is of no matter to me whether he is called Cavaignac, Proudhon, d’Orléans, Bonaparte, or Bourbon. As long as they cannot usurp my mastery, as long as they cannot fail in their duties towards me, those in office do seem to me to require serious attention. The names of those who serve me are of little importance to me. If they act badly, I will punish them; if they act well, they have done nothing but their duty, and I owe them nothing but the salary we have agreed upon.
What I have said about their name, I also say about their title. It is of little importance to me if the head of a democratic administration is called president, king, emperor, satrap, sultan, if he is mister, citizen or majesty! When the nation is truly sovereign, I am sure of one thing, and that is that the head of state, whatever his name may be, must be nothing other than the first servant of the nation, and that satisfies me. Once he is established, de facto, as a public functionary, salaried by the people, he is nothing but a servant of the people. I know that the people will remain protected on the passing of the functionary, who will find himself before the people who pay him, from whom he earns his living, to whom he owes his services, and who, therefore, are his master. This known, there is no more indecision in the city: public law is defined, the nation is queen and the civil servant is no more than a member of some hierarchy, remunerated by a political position, who owes everything to everyone, and to whom no one personally owes anything.
If democracy is the overthrow of a regime unworthy of office;
If democracy is the consecration of the dignity of the citizen;
If democracy is the nonexistence of ambition and crime, and at the same time a source of altruism and its virtues;
If democracy is the government of the people, the government by oneself for oneself;
If democracy is nothing but pure and simple rule and not a tyranny of administration;
It seems to me that I am speaking to the point.
There are only two points among the people on which no divergence of opinion can exist, two points on which the good sense of all parties converge, regardless of the details.
Those two points are:
The repression of crime against the person and against property, and the defense of the territory.
Consult on this question all the sectarians of the social sects. Ask the socialists, the conservatives of this regime without name in the National Assembly, the Orleanists, the imperialists, or the legitimists—ask them, I tell you, if it is necessary to punish the assassin and the thief, and if it is necessary to defend the country’s borders. All will respond unanimously in the affirmative. For all, regardless, the person and his belongings are sacred, and the national territory is inviolable. These are the common, universal doctrines; before them the parties step aside and fade away. At these ultimate points of public rendezvous, every Frenchman is in agreement and fraternally offers his hand.
So why should we seek the guardian spirit of a government outside this reservoir of common aspirations? Why should we permit the introduction of a dose of individual attachment to this potion prepared for the health of all?
Do you want a strong government with the consent of the public? A government whose existence is in no way threatened by the irritation and sudden attacks of minorities? Establish a serious governmental administration, a stranger to the petty squabbling and to the wretched ambitions of individuals; a national administration which includes the parties by their rational and sensible foundations, an administration whose power, though limited, extends to provide assistance in the execution of judgments decreed with a view to repress crimes and offenses against the person and against property, and to regulate the agreements and differences between our country and foreign nations.
A government whose powers are thus defined cannot excite the discontent of anyone without at the same time being condemned by everyone. Since it only concerns itself with issues on which everyone is in agreement, whether it acts well or it acts badly, it has no opposition. The sanction of its acts is in the conscience of all. To protect a government from revolutions, it must not be permitted to interfere in the real lives of its citizens, it must not be allowed to touch the instincts, the tastes, and the private interests of its citizens; because these instincts, tastes, and interests are varied and changing, while the rules of an administration are uniform and fixed. A democratic government must remain forever a social abstraction.
If I am enjoined, by a higher authority, to think in one way rather than another, to trade on such a condition rather than some other, to instruct myself in one school or with such a book rather than in another school or with another book; to exercise one profession rather than another; to like this instead of liking that—that is to tyrannize me as much as if I were ordered to eat vegetables rather than meat, and a government that has powers over such details will not fail to annoy an intelligent people that possesses a sense of human dignity.
If we let our attention rest for a moment on the spirit of the institution that concerns me, it will be impossible for us to find a ministerial act that does not carry within its flanks the violation of a liberty. A minister (I speak of those whose administration applies to the instincts, to the tastes or to the interests), could only respect the public right—I speak not of the written law—on the condition that he did not act. Since, acting, he acts for everyone and in the place of everyone, it would be necessary for him to act well and without hurting anyone, that he has an instinct for current trends, a mind for current tastes and an awareness of the current interests of everyone. That being the case, one thing astonishes me: that there are still men sufficiently wicked or so profoundly unfit to not be able to shrink back from accepting a portfolio.
Who then would have suffered from the reduction of the apparatus of monarchy?
Some civil servants!
Who would have benefited from it? All France!
Who suffers from the preservation of the full apparatus of monarchy? All France!
Who benefits from it? Some civil servants!
I have said enough to make it understood, how, by taking the revolution of February at its word, it is possible to attain both sides of the democratic equation: individual freedom and cheap government.
[to be continued…]
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.