If this little book were destined to live three or four thousand years,
to be read and re-read, pondered and studied, phrase by phrase, word by
word, and letter by letter, from generation to generation, like a new
Koran; if it were to fill the libraries of the world with avalanches of
annotations, explanations and paraphrases, I might leave to their fate,
in their rather obscure conciseness, the thoughts which precede. But
since they need a commentary, it seems wise to me to furnish it myself.
The true and equitable law of humanity is the free exchange of service
for service. Spoliation consists in destroying by force or by trickery
the freedom of exchange, in order to receive a service without rendering
Forcible spoliation is exercised thus: Wait till a man has produced
something; then take it from him by violence.
It is solemnly condemned by the Decalogue: Thou shalt not steal.
When practiced by one individual on another, it is called robbery, and
leads to the prison; when practiced among nations, it takes the name of
conquest, and leads to glory.
Why this difference? It is worth while to search for the cause. It will
reveal to us an irresistible power, public opinion, which, like the
atmosphere, envelopes us so completely that we do not notice it.
Rousseau never said a truer thing than this: A great deal of philosophy
is needed to understand the facts which are very near to us.
The robber, for the reason that he acts alone, has public opinion
against him. He terrifies all who are about him. Yet, if he has
companions, he plumes himself before them on his exploits, and here we
may begin to notice the power of public opinion, for the approbation of
his band serves to obliterate all consciousness of his turpitude, and
even to make him proud of it. The warrior lives in a different
atmosphere. The public opinion which would rebuke him is among the
vanquished. He does not feel its influence. But the opinion of those by
whom he is surrounded approves his acts and sustains him. He and his
comrades are vividly conscious of the common interest which unites them.
The country which has created enemies and dangers, needs to stimulate
the courage of its children. To the most daring, to those who have
enlarged the frontiers, and gathered the spoils of war, are given
honors, reputation, glory. Poets sing their exploits. Fair women weave
garlands for them. And such is the power of public opinion that it
separates the idea of injustice from spoliation, and even rids the
despoiler of the consciousness of his wrong-doing.
The public opinion which reacts against military spoliation, (as it
exists among the conquered and not among the conquering people), has
very little influence. But it is not entirely powerless. It gains in
strength as nations come together and understand one another better.
Thus, it can be seen that the study of languages and the free
communication of peoples tend to bring about the supremacy of an opinion
opposed to this sort of spoliation.
Unfortunately, it often happens that the nations adjacent to a
plundering people are themselves spoilers when opportunity offers, and
hence are imbued with the same prejudices.
Then there is only one remedy--time. It is necessary that nations learn
by harsh experience the enormous disadvantage of despoiling each other.
You say there is another restraint--moral influences. But moral
influences have for their object the increase of virtuous actions. How
can they restrain these acts of spoliation when these very acts are
raised by public opinion to the level of the highest virtues? Is there a
more potent moral influence than religion? Has there ever been a
religion more favorable to peace or more universally received than
Christianity? And yet what has been witnessed during eighteen centuries?
Men have gone out to battle, not merely in spite of religion, but in the
very name of religion.
A conquering nation does not always wage offensive war. Its soldiers are
obliged to protect the hearthstones, the property, the families, the
independence and liberty of their native land. At such a time war
assumes a character of sanctity and grandeur. The flag, blessed by the
ministers of the God of Peace, represents all that is sacred on earth;
the people rally to it as the living image of their country and their
honor; the warlike virtues are exalted above all others. When the danger
is over, the opinion remains, and by a natural reaction of that spirit
of vengeance which confounds itself with patriotism, they love to bear
the cherished flag from capital to capital. It seems that nature has
thus prepared the punishment of the aggressor.
It is the fear of this punishment, and not the progress of philosophy,
which keeps arms in the arsenals, for it cannot be denied that those
people who are most advanced in civilization make war, and bother
themselves very little with justice when they have no reprisals to fear.
Witness the Himalayas, the Atlas, and the Caucasus.
If religion has been impotent, if philosophy is powerless, how is war to
Political economy demonstrates that even if the victors alone are
considered, war is always begun in the interest of the few, and at the
expense of the many. All that is needed, then, is that the masses should
clearly perceive this truth. The weight of public opinion, which is yet
divided, would then be cast entirely on the side of peace.
Forcible spoliation also takes another form. Without waiting for a man
to produce something in order to rob him, they take possession of the
man himself, deprive him of his freedom, and force him to work. They do
not say to him, If you will do this for me, I will do that for you,
but they say to him, You take all the troubles; we all the enjoyments.
This is slavery.
Now it is important to inquire whether it is not in the nature of
uncontrolled power always to abuse itself.
For my part I have no doubt of it, and should as soon expect to see the
power that could arrest a stone in falling proceed from the stone
itself, as to trust force within any defined limits.
I should like to be shown a country where slavery has been abolished by
the voluntary action of the masters.
Slavery furnishes a second striking example of the impotence of
philosophical and religious sentiments in a conflict with the energetic
activity of self-interest.
This may seem sad to some modern schools which seek the reformation of
society in self-denial. Let them begin by reforming the nature of man.
In the Antilles the masters, from father to son, have, since slavery was
established, professed the Christian religion. Many times a day they
repeat these words: All men are brothers. Love thy neighbor as thyself;
in this are the law and the prophets fulfilled. Yet they hold slaves,
and nothing seems to them more legitimate or natural. Do modern
reformers hope that their moral creed will ever be as universally
accepted, as popular, as authoritative, or as often on all lips as the
Gospel? If that has not passed from the lips to the heart, over or
through the great barrier of self-interest, how can they hope that their
system will work this miracle?
Well, then, is slavery invulnerable? No; self-interest, which founded
it, will one day destroy it, provided the special interests which have
created it do not stifle those general interests which tend to overthrow
Another truth demonstrated by political economy is, that free labor is
progressive, and slave labor stationary. Hence the triumph of the first
over the second is inevitable. What has become of the cultivation of
indigo by the blacks?
Free labor, applied to the production of sugar, is constantly causing a
reduction in the price. Slave property is becoming proportionately less
valuable to the master. Slavery will soon die out in America unless the
price of sugar is artificially raised by legislation. Accordingly we see
to-day the masters, their creditors and representatives, making vigorous
efforts to maintain these laws, which are the pillars of the edifice.
Unfortunately they still have the sympathy of people among whom slavery
has disappeared, from which circumstance the sovereignty of public
opinion may again be observed. If public opinion is sovereign in the
domain of force, it is much more so in the domain of fraud. Fraud is its
proper sphere. Stratagem is the abuse of intelligence. Imposture on the
part of the despoiler implies credulity on the part of the despoiled,
and the natural antidote of credulity is truth. It follows that to
enlighten the mind is to deprive this species of spoliation of its
I will briefly pass in review a few of the different kinds of spoliation
which are practiced on an exceedingly large scale. The first which
presents itself is spoliation through the avenue of superstition. In
what does it consist? In the exchange of food, clothing, luxury,
distinction, influence, power--substantial services for fictitious
services. If I tell a man: I will render you an immediate service, I
am obliged to keep my word, or he would soon know what to depend upon,
and my trickery would be unmasked.
But if I should tell him, In exchange for your services I will do you
immense service, not in this world but in another; after this life you
may be eternally happy or miserable, and that happiness or misery
depends upon me; I am a vicar between God and man, and can open to you
the gates of heaven or of hell; if that man believes me he is at my
This method of imposture has been very extensively practiced since the
beginning of the world, and it is well known to what omnipotence the
Egyptian priests attained by such means.
It is easy to see how impostors proceed. It is enough to ask one's self
what he would do in their place.
If I, entertaining views of this kind, had arrived in the midst of an
ignorant population, and were to succeed by some extraordinary act or
marvelous appearance in passing myself off as a supernatural being, I
would claim to be a messenger from God, having an absolute control over
the future destinies of men.
Then I would forbid all examination of my claims. I would go still
further, and, as reason would be my most dangerous enemy, I would
interdict the use of reason--at least as applied to this dangerous
subject. I would taboo, as the savages say, this question, and all
those connected with it. To agitate them, discuss them, or even think of
them, should be an unpardonable crime.
Certainly it would be the acme of art thus to put the barrier of the
taboo upon all intellectual avenues which might lead to the discovery
of my imposture. What better guarantee of its perpetuity than to make
even doubt sacrilege?
However, I would add accessory guarantees to this fundamental one. For
instance, in order that knowledge might never be disseminated among the
masses, I would appropriate to myself and my accomplices the monopoly of
the sciences. I would hide them under the veil of a dead language and
hieroglyphic writing; and, in order that no danger might take me
unawares, I would be careful to invent some ceremony which day by day
would give me access to the privacy of all consciences.
It would not be amiss for me to supply some of the real wants of my
people, especially if by doing so I could add to my influence and
authority. For instance, men need education and moral teaching, and I
would be the source of both. Thus I would guide as I pleased the minds
and hearts of my people. I would join morality to my authority by an
indissoluble chain, and I would proclaim that one could not exist
without the other, so that if any audacious individual attempted to
meddle with a tabooed question, society, which cannot exist without
morality, would feel the very earth tremble under its feet, and would
turn its wrath upon the rash innovator.
When things have come to this pass, it is plain that these people are
more mine than if they were my slaves. The slave curses his chain, but
my people will bless theirs, and I shall succeed in stamping, not on
their foreheads, but in the very centre of their consciences, the seal
Public opinion alone can overturn such a structure of iniquity; but
where can it begin, if each stone is tabooed? It is the work of time
and the printing press.
God forbid that I should seek to disturb those consoling beliefs which
link this life of sorrows to a life of felicity. But, that the
irresistible longing which attracts us toward religion has been abused,
no one, not even the Head of Christianity, can deny. There is, it seems
to me, one sign by which you can know whether the people are or are not
dupes. Examine religion and the priest, and see whether the priest is
the instrument of religion, or religion the instrument of the priest.
If the priest is the instrument of religion, if his only thought is to
disseminate its morality and its benefits on the earth, he will be
gentle, tolerant, humble, charitable, and full of zeal; his life will
reflect that of his divine model; he will preach liberty and equality
among men, and peace and fraternity among nations; he will repel the
allurements of temporal power, and will not ally himself with that
which, of all things in this world, has the most need of restraint; he
will be the man of the people, the man of good advice and tender
consolations, the man of public opinion, the man of the Evangelist.
If, on the contrary, religion is the instrument of the priest, he will
treat it as one does an instrument which is changed, bent and twisted in
all ways so as to get out of it the greatest possible advantage for
one's self. He will multiply tabooed questions; his morality will be
as flexible as seasons, men, and circumstances. He will seek to impose
on humanity by gesticulations and studied attitudes; an hundred times a
day he will mumble over words whose sense has evaporated and which have
become empty conventionalities. He will traffic in holy things, but just
enough not to shake faith in their sanctity, and he will take care that
the more intelligent the people are, the less open shall the traffic be.
He will take part in the intrigues of the world, and he will always
side with the powerful, on the simple condition that they side with him.
In a word, it will be easy to see in all his actions that he does not
desire to advance religion by the clergy, but the clergy by religion,
and as so many efforts indicate an object, and as this object, according
to the hypothesis, can be only power and wealth, the decisive proof that
the people are dupes is when the priest is rich and powerful.
It is very plain that a true religion can be abused as well as a false
one. The higher its authority the greater the fear that it may be
severely tested. But there is much difference in the results. Abuse
always stirs up to revolt the sound, enlightened, intelligent portion of
a people. This inevitably weakens faith, and the weakening of a true
religion is far more lamentable than of a false one. This kind of
spoliation, and popular enlightenment, are always in an inverse ratio to
one another, for it is in the nature of abuses to go as far as possible.
Not that pure and devoted priests cannot be found in the midst of the
most ignorant population, but how can the knave be prevented from
donning the cassock and nursing the ambitious hope of wearing the mitre?
Despoilers obey the Malthusian law; they multiply with the means of
existence, and the means of existence of knaves is the credulity of
their dupes. Turn whichever way you please, you always find the need of
an enlightened public opinion. There is no other cure-all.
Another species of spoliation is commercial fraud, a term which seems
to me too limited because the tradesman who changes his weights and
measures is not alone culpable, but also the physician who receives a
fee for evil counsel, the lawyer who provokes litigation, etc. In the
exchange of two services one may be of less value than the other, but
when the service received is that which has been agreed upon, it is
evident that spoliation of that nature will diminish with the increase
of public intelligence.
The next in order is the abuse in the public service--an immense field
of spoliation, so immense that we can give it but partial consideration.
If God had made man a solitary animal, every one would labor for
himself. Individual wealth would be in proportion to the services each
one rendered to himself. But since man is a social animal, one service
is exchanged for another. A proposition which you can transpose if it
In society there are certain requirements so general, so universal in
their nature, that provision has been made for them in the organizing of
the public service. Among these is the necessity of security. Society
agrees to compensate in services of a different nature those who render
it the service of guarding the public safety. In this there is nothing
contrary to the principles of political economy. Do this for me, I will
do that for you. The principle of the transaction is the same, although
the process is different, but the circumstance has great significance.
In private transactions each individual remains the judge both of the
service which he renders and of that which he receives. He can always
decline an exchange, or negotiate elsewhere. There is no necessity of an
interchange of services, except by previous voluntary agreement. Such is
not the case with the State, especially before the establishment of
representative government. Whether or not we require its services,
whether they are good or bad, we are obliged to accept such as are
offered and to pay the price.
It is the tendency of all men to magnify their own services and to
disparage services rendered them, and private matters would be poorly
regulated if there was not some standard of value. This guarantee we
have not, (or we hardly have it,) in public affairs. But still society,
composed of men, however strongly the contrary may be insinuated, obeys
the universal tendency. The government wishes to serve us a great deal,
much more than we desire, and forces us to acknowledge as a real service
that which sometimes is widely different, and this is done for the
purpose of demanding contributions from us in return.
The State is also subject to the law of Malthus. It is continually
living beyond its means, it increases in proportion to its means, and
draws its support solely, from the substance of the people. Woe to the
people who are incapable of limiting the sphere of action of the State.
Liberty, private activity, riches, well-being, independence, dignity,
depend upon this.
There is one circumstance which must be noticed: Chief among the
services which we ask of the State is security. That it may guarantee
this to us it must control a force capable of overcoming all individual
or collective domestic or foreign forces which might endanger it.
Combined with that fatal disposition among men to live at the expense of
each other, which we have before noticed, this fact suggests a danger
patent to all.
You will accordingly observe on what an immense scale spoliation, by the
abuses and excesses of the government, has been practiced.
If one should ask what service has been rendered the public, and what
return has been made therefor, by such governments as Assyria, Babylon,
Egypt, Rome, Persia, Turkey, China, Russia, England, Spain and France,
he would be astonished at the enormous disparity.
At last representative government was invented, and, a priori, one
might have believed that the disorder would have ceased as if by
The principle of these governments is this:
The people themselves, by their representatives, shall decide as to the
nature and extent of the public service and the remuneration for those
The tendency to appropriate the property of another, and the desire to
defend one's own, are thus brought in contact. One might suppose that
the latter would overcome the former. Assuredly I am convinced that the
latter will finally prevail, but we must concede that thus far it has
Why? For a very simple reason. Governments have had too much sagacity;
people too little.
Governments are skillful. They act methodically, consecutively, on a
well concerted plan, which is constantly improved by tradition and
experience. They study men and their passions. If they perceive, for
instance, that they have warlike instincts, they incite and inflame this
fatal propensity. They surround the nation with dangers through the
conduct of diplomats, and then naturally ask for soldiers, sailors,
arsenals and fortifications. Often they have but the trouble of
accepting them. Then they have pensions, places, and promotions to
offer. All this calls for money. Hence loans and taxes.
If the nation is generous, the government proposes to cure all the ills
of humanity. It promises to increase commerce, to make agriculture
prosperous, to develop manufactures, to encourage letters and arts, to
banish misery, etc. All that is necessary is to create offices and to
pay public functionaries.
In other words, their tactics consist in presenting as actual services
things which are but hindrances; then the nation pays, not for being
served, but for being subservient. Governments assuming gigantic
proportions end by absorbing half of all the revenues. The people are
astonished that while marvelous labor-saving inventions, destined to
infinitely multiply productions, are ever increasing in number, they are
obliged to toil on as painfully as ever, and remain as poor as before.
This happens because, while the government manifests so much ability,
the people show so little. Thus, when they are called upon to choose
their agents, those who are to determine the sphere of, and compensation
for, governmental action, whom do they choose? The agents of the
government. They entrust the executive power with the determination of
the limit of its activity and its requirements. They are like the
Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who referred the selection and number of his
suits of clothes to his tailor.
However, things go from bad to worse, and at last the people open their
eyes, not to the remedy, for there is none as yet, but to the evil.
Governing is so pleasant a trade that everybody desires to engage in it.
Thus the advisers of the people do not cease to say: We see your
sufferings, and we weep over them. It would be otherwise if we
This period, which usually lasts for some time, is one of rebellions and
insurrections. When the people are conquered, the expenses of the war
are added to their burdens. When they conquer, there is a change of
those who govern, and the abuses remain.
This lasts until the people learn to know and defend their true
interests. Thus we always come back to this: there is no remedy but in
the progress of public intelligence.
Certain nations seem remarkably inclined to become the prey of
governmental spoliation. They are those where men, not considering their
own dignity and energy, would believe themselves lost, if they were not
governed and administered upon in all things. Without having traveled
much, I have seen countries where they think agriculture can make no
progress unless the State keeps up experimental farms; that there will
presently be no horses if the State has no stables; and that fathers
will not have their children educated, or will teach them only
immoralities, if the State does not decide what it is proper to learn.
In such a country revolutions may rapidly succeed one another, and one
set of rulers after another be overturned. But the governed are none the
less governed at the caprice and mercy of their rulers, until the
people see that it is better to leave the greatest possible number of
services in the category of those which the parties interested exchange
after a fair discussion of the price.
We have seen that society is an exchange of services, and should be but
an exchange of good and honest ones. But we have also proven that men
have a great interest in exaggerating the relative value of the services
they render one another. I cannot, indeed, see any other limit to these
claims than the free acceptance or free refusal of those to whom these
services are offered.
Hence it comes that certain men resort to the law to curtail the natural
prerogatives of this liberty. This kind of spoliation is called
privilege or monopoly. We will carefully indicate its origin and
Every one knows that the services which he offers in the general market
are the more valued and better paid for, the scarcer they are. Each one,
then, will ask for the enactment of a law to keep out of the market all
who offer services similar to his.
This variety of spoliation being the chief subject of this volume, I
will say little of it here, and will restrict myself to one remark:
When the monopoly is an isolated fact, it never fails to enrich the
person to whom the law has granted it. It may then happen that each
class of workmen, instead of seeking the overthrow of this monopoly,
claim a similar one for themselves. This kind of spoliation, thus
reduced to a system, becomes then the most ridiculous of mystifications
for every one, and the definite result is that each one believes that he
gains more from a general market impoverished by all.
It is not necessary to add that this singular regime also brings about
an universal antagonism between all classes, all professions, and all
peoples; that it requires the constant but always uncertain interference
of government; that it swarms with the abuses which have been the
subject of the preceding paragraph; that it places all industrial
pursuits in hopeless insecurity; and that it accustoms men to place upon
the law, and not upon themselves, the responsibility for their very
existence. It would be difficult to imagine a more active cause of
It may be asked, Why this ugly word--spoliation? It is not only coarse,
but it wounds and irritates; it turns calm and moderate men against you,
and embitters the controversy.
I earnestly declare that I respect individuals; I believe in the
sincerity of almost all the friends of Protection, and I do not claim
that I have any right to suspect the personal honesty, delicacy of
feeling, or philanthropy of any one. I also repeat that Protection is
the work, the fatal work, of a common error, of which all, or nearly
all, are at once victims and accomplices. But I cannot prevent things
being what they are.
Just imagine some Diogenes putting his head out of his tub and saying,
Athenians, you are served by slaves. Have you never thought that you
practice on your brothers the most iniquitous spoliation? Or a tribune
speaking in the forum, Romans! you have laid the foundation of all your
greatness on the pillage of other nations.
They would state only undeniable truths. But must we conclude from this
that Athens and Rome were inhabited only by dishonest persons? that
Socrates and Plato, Cato and Cincinnatus were despicable characters?
Who could harbor such a thought? But these great men lived amidst
surroundings that relieved their consciences of the sense of this
injustice. Even Aristotle could not conceive the idea of a society
existing without slavery. In modern times slavery has continued to our
own day without causing many scruples among the planters. Armies have
served as the instruments of grand conquests--that is to say, of grand
spoliations. Is this saying that they are not composed of officers and
men as sensitive of their honor, even more so, perhaps, than men in
ordinary industrial pursuits--men who would blush at the very thought
of theft, and who would face a thousand deaths rather than stoop to a
It is not individuals who are to blame, but the general movement of
opinion which deludes and deceives them--a movement for which society in
general is culpable.
Thus is it with monopoly. I accuse the system, and not individuals;
society as a mass, and not this or that one of its members. If the
greatest philosophers have been able to deceive themselves as to the
iniquity of slavery, how much easier is it for farmers and manufacturers
to deceive themselves as to the nature and effects of the protective