The Political Lie-Max Simon Nordau-1883
Conventional Lies of our Civilization-Max Simon Nordau-1883
The Political Lie
Let us take a specimen man of our modern civilization, and examine the relations existing between him and the commonwealth, a man of the people, without family connections or influence to attract the favorable notice of those in power and thus obtain special privileges. I mean of course, a citizen of one of the regularly organized European states. Some portions of the portrait I intend to draw will not apply to this or that special country. The measure of liberty conceded to the individual varies in different places, and so does the form in which the limitations occur. But in the general outlines, my description will give a faithful representation of the place and conditions prepared by our civilization for the average citizen of any European state.
My specimen typical man is at the age when his parents recognize the necessity of attending to the cultivation of his mind. He is sent to the public school. Before he is admitted his certificate of birth must be produced. One would suppose that in order to share profitably in the blessings of public instruction, all that would be necessary would be to live and to have attained to a certain measure of physical and mental development. But this would be a mistake. A certificate of birth is absolutely indispensable. This respectable document is the key to the secrets of reading and writing. If it is not in his possession, a long and tedious process of red-tape must be gone through with, into whose details I need not enter, to procure a certificate signed by certain persons, recorded and stamped, to prove satisfactorily to the authorities that he was born. The boy is finally duly admitted into the school, and leaves it a few years later to enter upon his business career. His tastes and inclinations impel him to assist his fellow-citizens in their suits at law, with counsel and mediation. But he is forbidden by the authorities to even attempt anything of the kind until he has procured the permission of the State, set forth in various diplomas. While on the contrary, he is perfectly free to make himself useful in the world by making shoes for instance, although a badly made shoe is sure to cause more suffering than a foolish piece of legal advice. He is now twenty years old and would like to finish his education by travel. This he is not allowed to do. The time has come when he is obliged to serve out his term of military service, give up all claims to his own individuality for several years, which is even more painful than the loss of his shadow was to Peter Schlemihl, and become an automaton with no will of its own. Very well. He owes this sacrifice to his country, which may be threatened some day with invasion. During this time of military service, my Hans — I will call him Hans for convenience — finds leisure and opportunity to fall in love with some young woman. He is a high-minded young fellow and scorns to make love to his sweetheart in the kitchen, according to the usual convenient garrison style. He wishes to get married. Very well again. He wishes to, but he is not allowed to. As long as he is a soldier he must remain a bachelor. Surely it would not interfere with anybody’s rights, nor diminish his ability for bearing arms, nor injure any one far or near, if he were a married soldier, but all that is not to the point, he is obliged to wait until he has taken off his uniform for good. This finally comes to pass. Now can he take his sweetheart home with him? Certainly, if both he and she are provided with all the necessary papers, and a goodly lot of them is required. If even one of them is lacking, it is all up with the wedding. Hans manages to sail around this dangerous reef by skill and good fortune at last, and now he would like to open a wine-house. This he can not do without the permission of the authorities, and they will or will not grant this permission as they happen to think best. He would meet with the same experience in many other trades which he might select, even if they did not interfere in the slightest with the rights of others, nor could possibly be construed as a nuisance, as injurious to the health of others or as immoral. Hans wishes to rebuild his house. He must not stir in the matter unless he has the requisite certificate of permission from the authorities in his hand. This is easily understood. The street belongs to everybody, his house stands on the street—consequently he must submit to the usual regulations. He has also an extensive garden, and in the centre of it, far from the public street, sheltered from all eyes and where no stranger’s foot would ever enter, he wishes to erect some building. Even this is not allowable without the indispensable permit from the authorities. He perhaps has a store, and feels no need of a day of rest in every seven. He would like to sell goods Sundays as well as other days. This he must not do, unless he wishes to be arrested by the police and fined or imprisoned. The shop may be a restaurant. Hans suffers from sleeplessness and rather prefers than otherwise, to keep his establishment open all night. The police appoint a time to close and if he attempts to suit his own pleasure he is threatened with punishment. His wife presents him with a child. More bother. He must register the fact at the proper place, or else it will go hard with the little one later. He must also attend to its being vaccinated, although he has noticed that persons not vaccinated resisted the disease, during a small-pox epidemic, while others who had been vaccinated, took it and died.
I hasten by the hundred petty annoyances which Hans meets with during the year. He wanted to establish an omnibus line to run in the streets of his native city; he was not allowed to do so without a license. He took a fancy to a charming spot in the public park, kept up by the money of the city treasury; he was warned to keep off the grass. He undertook one day a pedestrian tour through his province; a few hours after he had started, he met a policeman who began asking him all kinds of indiscrete questions, about his name, his business, his family, trip, etc., and when he replied somewhat cavalierly to this total stranger who had not introduced himself, with the customary apology, he was forced to undergo several annoying indignities before he was at liberty to continue his tour. A neighbor one day coolly appropriated part of his garden and fenced it in for his own use; Hans appealed to the law; the proof of the trespass was clear and convincing; the case dragged along for months. He won the suit, but the defendant proved that he was insolvent, so that although Hans got the bit of his garden back again, he had lost in time and money about twenty times what it was worth, to say nothing of the vexation, which he did not reckon in the account—because he was so used to it from his youth up. He saw in the Museum a beautiful picture of the time of the Renaissance, the clothing of the persons represented in it appeared to him so sensible and graceful that he had a similar suit made for himself. When he appeared in it on the street one Sunday, the police threatened him with arrest, unless he returned home and took off at once, what they called a masquerade costume. He found a few congenial friends and concluded to form with them a club, to meet frequently and express their indignation at the existing conditions of the laws. The police demanded at once a list of the members’ names, and after a while forbade their future meetings on account of the political nature of the club. Hans had become somewhat obstinate by this time and he founded a second club, to be an informal savings institution and mutual aid society; however this was at once interdicted by the police because no license had been obtained. Amid all sorts of contrary happenings Hans grew old and gray. When he was in a contented frame of mind, he consoled himself by thinking how much worse off the Russians were in their country, than he in his; when, on the contrary, he was disturbed and annoyed, he dwelt upon the thought of the degree of the liberty enjoyed by the English and Americans. He believed this by what the newspapers said; he had no personal experience in the matter. One day his wife died. He did not want to lose her even in death, so he buried her beneath her favorite tree in the garden. This time he was in a serious scrape. A regular police thunderstorm broke upon his devoted head. Burying a corpse on one’s own grounds was strictly forbidden! He had become liable to heavy penalties, and his wife was dug up and carried to the cemetery by the authorities.
Hans was now alone in the world, he lost his spirit and courage, his business declined and soon he sank into absolute poverty. He fell so low that one evening he took up his position on a street corner and begged for alms. He was at once arrested by a policeman. He was taken to the station where he had an instructive conversation with the police commissioner. “You know that begging is strictly prohibited,” exclaimed the latter. “I know it is so, but I can not understand the reason,” said Hans, “I was in nobody’s way, troubled no one, I merely held out my hand silently.” “That is idle talk, I can not waste my time listening to it. You must go to jail for eight days.” “And what shall I do, when I am set at liberty again?” “That is none of my business. You must attend to that.” “I am old and am not able to work. I have nothing. I am sickly.” “If you are sickly, go to the hospital!” exclaimed the commissioner impatiently, but then added: “No, you can not go to the hospital if you are only ailing. You must have a serious disease to get in there.” “I understand,” says Hans, “such a disease as a man either dies of soon, or if he does not, recovers from in a short time.” “You are right,” replied the official and turned to the next comer. Hans served out his term of imprisonment, and then was so fortunate as to be admitted into a poor-house. Here he had food and shelter, but the former was bad, and the latter rendered insupportable by the fact that he was treated like a criminal and a prisoner. He was obliged to wear a sort of uniform which attracted attention and ridicule on the street. He once met a man whom he had known in better days. He bowed, but the latter did not reply to his greeting. Hans walked straight up to him and asked: “Why this contempt?” “Because you did not understand how to follow the example of respectable people who have become rich,” replied the man and passed on quickly, an expression of disgust upon his features.
Hans grew more and more melancholy. All sorts of dark thoughts swarmed in his brain. One bright morning he set out for a walk, and his whole life passed before him in imagination; he began to talk to himself first in a whisper and then louder as he became excited: “Here I am, seventy years old, and how has it been with me? I have never been myself. I have never been allowed to have a mind of my own. As soon as I formed a decision and tried to carry it out, the authorities interfered. Unwarranted people have stuck their noses into my most private and personal affairs. I had to pay attention and respect to everybody, and nobody paid respect and attention to me. Under the pretext of protecting the rights of others, they deprived me of every one of my own, and come to think of it, they deprived the others of their rights too. All my life long I was not allowed to do more than to play with my dog unmolested, and even with him I was dragged before the courts by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, if I ventured to whip him. I can appreciate the reasons for my being forced into the army—but if enemies should invade and overrun the country owing to the lack of an army to repulse them, my private welfare would hardly suffer more than under the blessed authorities; and also for my being called upon for such heavy taxes — the police, which has always had its eye so paternally upon me, must be paid, although it was not exactly necessary to rate me for a business that did not support me, and to punish my insolvency by seizure. But what good were all the other oppressions and vexations? What advantages did I get from the authorities for all the sacrifices of my independence which they demanded? To be sure they protected my property — that was an easy matter, for I have none, and when all that I had, my garden, was taken away from me, I had to stand the annoyance and pay for it all myself, besides. If there were no police every one would do exactly what he chose —well, what then? Then I would have shot my neighbor dead, or he me, and that would have put an end to the matter. The authorities see to it that we have good paved streets—Ugh, I don’t know but what I had rather wade through the mud in high boots for ever than have the everlasting police nuisances around. And may the devil fly away with the whole concern!”
And as Hans arrived at this point in his monologue, he turned and jumped into the river along whose banks he had been walking. But the police were on hand as usual, fished him out and carried him to the nearest magistrate, who condemned him to a term of imprisonment for his attempted suicide. But Hans had taken cold in the water; consumption set in, and, I do not know whether to say fortunately or unfortunately, he died in prison. His death gave the authorities their last chance for an official certificate as far as he was concerned.
My poor Hans reasoned like an embittered and uncultivated man. He spoke of the police authorities alone, because they were the only wheels of the machinery of State that were visible to him; he exaggerated the inconveniences of our civilization and failed to appreciate its blessings. But, taken as a whole, he was right: the restrictions imposed by the State upon the individual, are out of all proportion to the benefits it offers him in return. The citizen resigns his independence only for a certain purpose and with the expectation of certain advantages to be gained by it. He supposes that the State to whom he has sacrificed a large part of his rights as an individual, will in return, guarantee the security of his life and property, and apply the combined strength of all to certain matters, to carry out certain undertakings, which will promote the personal interests of each individual, but which alone he could neither have planned nor accomplished. Well then: we must admit that the State fulfills these theoretical presuppositions but very imperfectly, hardly better than the primitive, barbarous communities, which allowed their members an incomparably larger share of individual liberty than the civilized State of modern times. It ought to ensure to us our life and property. This it does not do, for it can not prevent wars, which cause the violent death of a horribly large number of citizens. Wars between civilized nations are no rarer and no less bloody than between savage races, and with all his laws and restrictions to liberty, the man of our civilization does not procure any greater security from the deadly weapon of his enemy than the barbarian, unrestricted by the blessings of a police guardianship. To find any actual difference in security to life and limb between the two, we must be convinced that the death that comes to a man in uniform from the hand of a murderer also clothed in uniform and obeying the word of command, is less of a death than that caused by the tomahawk of some painted warrior, acting according to no manual of regulations. Some isolated minds dream of the abolition of wars and the substitution of arbitration in their place. What will be, will be. I am not speaking of a future that may never arrive, but of the present. All the sacrifices of his personal liberty during times of peace do not relieve the individual from the necessity of defending his own skin at critical moments, the same as the savage in the jungles of Africa. And even aside from war, all our regulations and restrictions do not protect the life of the single citizen any more than the unrestrained freedom of barbarism. Murders between the members of a savage tribe occur no more frequently than in civilized communities. Acts of violence are almost always committed under the influence of passion, and this is entirely beyond the control of our restraining laws. Passion is a relapse into the primitive condition of mankind. It is the same in the highly cultured cosmopolitan as in the Australian native. A man under the influence of passion, will commit violence, and kill, without the slightest thought of the laws and authorities. And it does not benefit much the dead man to have his murderer arrested and punished for the crime—and even this is not always the case, for the jury is very apt to acquit any one who committed an act of violence when impelled by passion or emotional insanity as it is called in the courtroom. And even this feeble and as we have seen, practically insignificant consolation, that the murderer will be obliged to pay the penalty of his crime, is equally the right of the savage and is far more liable to be realized in his case, because the vengeance of the family and tribe is much more difficult to escape from than the pursuit of the detectives, notwithstanding the descriptions and rewards published in the newspapers. Next to the crimes caused by passion come the cold-blooded and premeditated crimes. These are decidedly more frequent in civilized than in savage communities. They are principally the work of a certain class of human beings which owes its origin and development to civilization alone. Science has proved that habitual criminals are degraded organizations, descended from drunken or licentious parents, and usually cursed with epilepsy or other diseases of the nervous system. The extreme poverty of the lowest classes in the large cities stunts both the physical and mental growth to such an extent that the pathological condition of habitual criminality ensues. All the laws in the world are powerless to prevent the crimes which are the consequences of this circumstance due directly to civilization, and the presence of these thieves and murderer-robbers in the midst of our conventional well-regulated society, is a menace whose gravity can not be over-estimated.
We have about the same measure of security in regard to the possession of our property, as of life. In spite of all our laws and regulations we are robbed and plundered, sometimes straight from our pockets, sometimes indirectly, by swindles of various kinds, large and small, individually and as a people. What protection have we against the founder of swindling enterprises who steals the savings of the public, or against the speculators, the bulls and bears, who by some manipulation of the markets destroy or at least diminish, the fortunes of thousands? Does not the man of civilization whose property is in paper, does not he lose his property by these crimes just as completely as the barbarian whose flocks and herds are driven off? The reply is made to my questions: we can protect ourselves against the swindler and speculator; no one compels us to put our money in the hands of the one, nor to buy the artificially inflated stock of the other. To which I reply: Certainly we can. The cautious man, the reasoning man can do so. The multitudes can not. And if it comes to self-protection of what use is the law? Of what use are our sacrifices of liberty and our taxes? Even the savage if he has strong dogs, stout weapons and servants enough, if he is vigilant and strong, can successfully protect his property and that without any police. And the member of our civilized society who has not sagacity, which is one kind of strength and vigilance, will lose his savings out of his chest and his purse from his pocket, notwithstanding the countless numbers of pens scratching away on stamped paper all day long in the official bureaus. And here is another point to be regarded. The man of civilization has not only to look after his own protection, like the barbarian, but has moreover to offer up continual sacrifices of his possessions to pay for the protection that the State ostensibly affords him, but which is adequate only in theory, and these sacrifices are often more considerable than the total amount for which protection might be required in case of need. Of course the man of wealth pays over to the commonwealth much less than the amount remaining to him 1 , but millionaires are the exception everywhere. The rule is that the great majority of people in every country are poor, even in the most favored lands, or at best, only possess the necessaries of life. But every one, even the poor man, pays taxes, and to such an amount that he would be comfortably off at the close of his life, if he had been able to retain for himself the fruits of his labor which he has bee n obliged to pay over to the State. That the barbarian may lose his property is only possible, that the man of our civilization is deprived of his by the State, by means of direct and indirect taxation, is certain. And if anything remains to the latter after his taxes etc., are paid, it can be stolen or swindled away from him, unless he guards it with the same care as the barbarian does his property, for which he has had no tithes to pay. The case of the civilized man is therefore like that of the young fellow in the anecdote, who enquired of the boat’s captain what the price of passage between Strasburg and Basle would be, and received the answer: “Four gulden on the boat, but only two gulden if you’ll help draw the boat on the towpath.” The case of the man of our civilization is even worse than this, for he is not allowed the alternative of choice; he is obliged to help draw on the tow-path and pay his two gulden besides.
There remains the last aim of the State: the combination of the powers of all to execute certain works for the benefit of the individual, which the individual alone could not accomplish. This task is fulfilled by the State, it must be acknowledged. But even this is performed in an offensive and imperfect way. The State as at present organized, is a machine which works with an enormous waste of power. Only a small and constantly diminishing portion of the original force, obtained at such an incredibly high cost, remains for actual production; the rest is lost in overcoming the internal friction or else escapes in the smoke and noise of the steam whistle. According to the way in which all the European states of today are governed, the sums exacted from the citizens are squandered on foolish, frivolous and criminal undertakings. The whims of certain men, the selfish interests of certain small minorities, determine only too frequently the purposes to which the efforts of the community shall be directed. Hence the individual citizen labors and bleeds so that wars may be carried on which put an end to his life or his prosperity, that fortresses, palaces, railroads, harbors or canals may be built, from which neither he nor nine tenths of the nation will ever derive the slightest benefit, so that new offices may be created to make the machinery of State more complicated, to increase the friction between its wheels, in which he will lose still more of his time and leave still another piece of his liberty, so that office holders may be paid high salaries, who have no other aim in life than to lead an ornamental existence at his expense and lay another burden upon his shoulders, in short, he spends his life laboring and bleeding to add with his own hands to the weight of his yoke and the number of his chains and to create the possibility for new demands upon his labor and blood. Only in very small states or in those of extensive decentralization and self government, are the results of the taxation of the people free from unjustifiable waste. Such communities resemble in their constitution and conditions of existence, the cooperative societies in which each member can easily superintend the application of his contributions, prevent unnecessary expenditure, oppose unpromising undertakings and cause them to be abandoned in time. Every benefit and every loss is felt directly by each member, the former compensates him for his sacrifices and he is warned by the latter to take precautionary measures against their reoccurrence. In such communities it is certainly difficult to procure funds to carry on any ideal or distant enterprises which do not promise appreciable benefits or pleasures to each individual member, but it is still more difficult to use the power of the whole to satisfy the caprices of one, or to inveigle money from the members to buy the rods with which they are to be beaten.
To condense the foregoing details: the life and property of the individual are no more protected by the modern complicated machinery of State, by the everlasting writing, recording, office holding, permits and injunctions than entirely without the whole intricate apparatus. For all the sacrifices of blood, money and liberty offered to the State by the individual citizen, he receives in return hardly any other actual benefits than the administration of justice, which is costly and tedious out of all proportion to what it should be, and public instruction, which can not be said to lie accessible to all in the same degree. In order to have these advantages, hardly any one of the restrictions of individual liberty and independence are strictly necessary. The pretext that the liberty of the one is only restricted out of regard for the rights of others, is a bad joke; this pretended regard does not prevent the oppression of the individual and deprives all of the larger part of their natural liberty of action.
The law exerts upon every one alike the same steady and certain pressure, which without the law, would be only exerted in exceptional cases, by single violent natures. It is true that in our present civilization the average duration of life of the individual is longer, his health better protected, the level of general morality higher, the common existence more peaceful and deeds of violence, except those committed by habitual and hereditary criminals, rarer than in a state of barbarism. But these facts are in no way the results of the bureaus and their regulations, but the natural consequences of the higher cultivation and better judgment of the people. The citizen in the chains with which he is loaded down by the State, is obliged to rely upon himself for protection as much as the free barbarian, but is less skillful in it than the latter, because he has forgotten from want of practice, how to look out for himself, because he has no longer the proper sense for the appreciation of his near and distant interests, because from his earliest years he is accustomed to bear with an oppression and compulsion against which the savage would protest even at the expense of his life, because the State has brought him up in the idea that the government officials are to do the thinking for him in all cases, because the law has broken the elasticity of his character, crushed out every power of resistance by its constant pressure and brought him down to such a point that the oppression of the State has ceased to be injustice in his eyes.
It is not true that all our existing police regulations are needed to protect our life and property. In the mining camps of the West and in Australia, the individuals took their protection into their own hands, forming the so-called “Vigilance Committees”, and the most model order prevailed without any official machinery. It is not true that all our legal squabblings and janglings are needed to have justice properly administered. In those primitive communities to which I refer, a public and private right was recognized, which ensured to the first possessor his legal title to his “claim” and to all the fruits of his labor, and this without courts, magistrates and records, due solely to the common sentiment of what is equitable and proper, which civilization has developed in mankind. These were the circumstances in those camps formed of the roughest, most passionate and undisciplined individuals of all nations. And the great majority of humanity, the gentle, the peaceable, the quiet-loving members of society, do they require these everlasting leading-strings? If nine tenths of the existing laws and regulations, courts and magistrates, decrees and records were entirely done away with, the security in regard to life and property would remain the same as at present, every human being would continue to enjoy his rights unmolested, not one of the genuine advantages of civilization would be diminished in the slightest, and yet the individual would acquire by it a liberty of action unknown before, he would appreciate and live up to his individuality with a delightful intensity of which he can now form no conception, hemmed in as he is on all sides by the present inherited conditions of existence. Perhaps this emancipation might cause him at first uneasiness and alarm, such as a bird born in captivity, might experience if the cage door were left open; it must first learn to spread its wings, conquer its dread of space, and experiment until it has confidence and courage in every fibre of its being. But on the other hand, the barbarian accustomed to untrammelled self-control and self-guidance could not conform himself without constant and acute suffering to a life in which he would feel a hand upon his shoulder, an eye fixed upon his face and an order resounding in his ear all the time, continually forced onward by outside, foreign impulses, continually obliged to obey a foreign will—this life of external control with its perpetual licenses, would kill him in a short time probably.
Is this condition which I recommend as desirable, is it anarchy? Only an absent-minded or superficial reader could have deduced this conclusion from my preceding remarks. Anarchy, the absence of all government, is a creation of certain minds, incapable of correct observation. As soon as even two human beings settle down to dwell together, a government is necessarily formed, that is, forms and regulations of intercourse and behavior, consideration and subordination, become necessary. The natural condition of humanity is not that of an amorphous aggregation of matter, that is, without crystallization in its particles, but exactly the reverse, a mass whose atoms assume invariably certain regular forms owing to their inherent power of attraction. In every mixed mass of human beings, forming an apparent social chaos, a state is sure to be organizing itself, as crystals are sure to be developed immediately in any solution of crystallizable matter. The rational mind therefore does not demand anarchy, that is utterly inconceivable, but an autonomy, an oligarchy, a government of and for self, of limited extent, with the radical simplification of the present machinery of government, the suppression of all unnecessary wheels, the liberation of the individual from purposeless compulsion and the limitation of the demands of the community upon the citizen to that which is obviously indispensable to the fulfillment of its duties. The individual will thus be freed from what Herbert Spencer calls “The Coming Slavery,” while retaining all the advantages civilization has to offer him.
Even in these ideal circumstances the citizen would be obliged to work for the community, in other words, pay taxes, but the public assessments would lose their characteristic of extortion which makes them so odious now. We make no resistance when called upon to pay for our loaves of bread, our tickets to the theatre and our subscriptions to clubs and societies, at the utmost we regret that it is not always easy to make up the sum total. Why is there no resistance in this case? Because we know that we receive the value of what we pay out; because we can not feel that we are being robbed. When a government is so simple in its construction that every citizen knows all about its purposes, can supervise its work and has a voice in the direction of its energy, then he looks upon the taxes he pays as an expenditure for which he receives a direct return. He knows what he is getting with every penny of his tax-money, and the evident equitableness of such a transaction precludes the possibility of discontent. But in the State as at present organized, the taxes are necessarily odious impositions; not only because they are everywhere far higher than they ought to be, on account of the enormous expense of running the governmental machine owing to its defective construction, but also because they are founded upon and surrounded by injustice in every form, due to the historical organization of society and its blundering laws, and principally owing to the fact that the expenditure of the public funds derived from taxation, is regulated by Fiscalism and not by rational common sense for the benefit of the State. By Fiscalism I mean the organized system of plundering the people, getting the utmost out of them, ostensibly for their own future benefit, without the slightest consideration of the true rational purpose of the State and its political results to the individual. Fiscalism does not ask: “What sacrifices are indispensable to carry on the legitimate and necessary functions of the State!” but: “How can we manage things so as to get the largest possible revenue out of the people?” It does not study and enquire: “How can we protect best the interests of the individual without allowing the community to suffer by our indulgence?” but: “In what way can we revenue drivers get at the money of the people with the very least expenditure of mental energy, attention and consideration for others?” The modern conception of a State is an arrangement to increase the well-being of the individual; the feudal conception on the contrary, sees in the individual only a slave to increase the glory and power of the State. Fiscalism is based upon this latter conception. In its eyes the State is the pre-existing and natural ruler, the citizen the later arrival and the natural object to be ruled. The taxes are not an expense which the citizen voluntarily assumes, voluntarily pays and for which he expects to receive certain benefits in return, but a tribute, such as one would pay to a third person, and for which the third person, the hideous Moloch, State, gives nothing in return but a receipt. We feel that we are members of a free combination for the attainment of certain common ends. Fiscalism recognizes in us merely slaves of the State. We call ourselves citizens, Fiscalism calls us subjects. The difference between the two points of view is expressed in full in these words.
Fiscalism is a necessary consequence of the historical development of the system of taxation. There were no assessments in primitive communities. The chief of the tribe paid his necessarily higher expenses out of his larger income, in wars each man capable of bearing arms supplied his own necessities and the priest alone received contributions from the people. The State had no needs, consequently it required nothing from those belonging to it. But this state of things soon changed everywhere, either owing to the oriental despotism that arose from the acceptation of the fiction of the divine origin of the person and power of the king, or else from the subjugation of the people by some alien conquering race. In both cases the mass of the people became a drove of slaves, the personal property of the king or of the conquerors, and they were obliged to pay taxes, not for any state purpose, but merely to fill the money chests of their masters, who did not feel called upon to do anything in return for the people, but accepted the revenue as they did their income from their lands or herds of cattle. Free races in those days looked upon taxation as a disgrace, a token of servitude, and many centuries of hard pressure were required before the Germanic races, for instance, could be prevailed upon to pay the taxes levied upon them, resembling those they had been accustomed to exact at the point of the sword from the nations they had subdued. The fiction that the citizens are bond-men, obliged to work first for their owner the king, has been the foundation for the rights of the State ever since the Middle Ages, as also for the relations between the subject and the ruler, who in his person represents the entire State. This fiction is still accepted in our times; and in the form of Fiscalism we find it prominent in our modern State, with all its constitutionalism and Parliaments, supposed to embody the sovereignty of the people.
The same fiction is also the foundation upon which rests the organization of the system of public offices and the positions of the officials in regard to the citizen. According to the enlightened conception of the State, the public official is an agent of the people, who receives his support, his authority and his position directly from the people. He must consider himself the servant of the community according to this conception, feel his responsibility and constantly keep in remembrance the fact that he is installed to attend to certain interests of the individual members of the community, who can not attend to them personally with the same convenience and certainty. He ought never to forget that he is not theoretically indispensable to the community any more than a servant to a household; each individual could if necessary, black his own boots and fetch the water for himself, and in the same way could attend personally to the administration of the government, so that a recognition of the advantages attending the division of labor is the only cause of the existence of the office holding public. But in reality the office holder considers himself the master, not the servant of the public. He believes that he owes his authority not to the people but to the ruler, he may be either king or president of a republic. He looks upon himself as the dispenser of a part of the supreme governing power. Hence he demands from the citizens the respect and subservience which they owe to the principle of sovereign authority. The public functionary is a more developed form of the steward or overseer, considered historically. The clerk growling at the citizens summoned to his office is the historical descendant of the commandant or overseer appointed by a tyrant of the Dark Ages to superintend his people of slaves, and to keep them in a becoming state of obedience by his body guard of warriors, with the whip and the goad. As the public functionary is a fragment of the royal grace-of-Godness, he lays claim to some of its infallibility. His position is below that of the head of the State, but it is above that of the masses to be governed. They are the flock, the ruler is the shepherd and he is the shepherd’s dog. He can bark and bite and the sheep must bear it. And what is the most remarkable of all: the sheep do bear it! The average citizen, such a man as my Hans, accepts without question the pretensions of the office holder. He admits his right x> command and assumes the duty of obedience upon himself. He comes to the public bureau not as to a place where he could insist upon what was due to him, but as if he had come to beg for a favor. Besides it would be very foolish of him to rebel against these paradoxical circumstances for, in any discussion or contest with a public functionary, the latter would be sure to come out victorious in the end, and even in the most favorable case, the citizen would be exposing his interests during the continuation of the contest, to delays, hindrances and disadvantages of all kinds. Fiscalism is rounded into a whole by Mandarinism, and both are logical deductions from the conception of a sovereign by the grace of God and a people subject by the curse of God. The laws are made today the same as centuries ago to favor Fiscalism and Mandarinism. Out of a hundred laws decreed with or without the cooperation of the people, as the case may be, ninety nine are sure to have for their object not the increased liberty of the citizens, nor the amelioration of their conditions of life, but improved facilities for the bailiffs and sheriffs in the exercise of their authority. The people are subjected to a thousand annoyances that the public functionaries may have an easier time. We are designated by letters and numbers like so many cattle, so that we can be counted and compared with less trouble. We are all punished in advance by suspicious restrictions because one of us might some time step over the line. Shall I mention an example? All merchants and bankers are compelled by law to keep their sets of books in a certain prescribed way. Why? Because some one of them might plead bankruptcy fraudulently and the examiner would only be able to discover the fraud by considerable mental exertion, unless the books were kept according to a certain formula and everything set down in its proper place. If there were no books at all the examiner would have a hard time finding his way through the wilderness of business memoranda. In order to save him this trouble in case of a bankruptcy, the law deprives a hundred other merchants who would never think of defrauding their creditors, of their freedom of action. Each one of us is obliged to report his coming and going, at least in the large cities, to the police. Why? Because one of us might happen to commit a crime some day, in which case the police would be obliged to hunt him up. In order to save themselves this trouble, for which by the way, they are hired and paid, they oblige us to take upon ourselves this constant trouble of reporting our whereabouts to them. I could give a hundred such examples if I were not afraid of their monotony. At the same time the restrictions thus imposed by the State upon the citizens miss their aim completely. The laws oppress those only who have no idea of resisting them; while on the other hand, they have never prevented the consummation of any unlawful act by those who have determined to submit no longer to their control. The bigamist commits his crime in spite of the formalities which render marriage so difficult, expensive and surrounded by such ceremonies to the honest man. The robber has his knife and his revolver in his pocket in spite of the laws forbidding the peaceable citizens to carry weapons. And it is the same in every thing. It is the same system as Herod’s although less tragical, who ordered all the children to be killed because there was a possibility that one of them might grow up to be a pretender to his throne and allowed the very one to escape the slaughter who was to become dangerous to him.
The philosophical conception of the State has altered, the relation of the citizen to the State is theoretically that of a member of a society where all have equal rights, every one of the constitutions which have been formed since 1789, being based upon the principle of the sovereignty of the people, but practically the machinery of the State has remained the same. It works today just as it did in the darkest times of the Middle Ages, and if its pressure appears somewhat lighter upon the individual it is only on account of its wearing smoother. The tacit presumption upon which all our laws and regulations are based is now as much as ever before, that the citizen is the personal property of the sovereign, or at least of that impersonal phantom the State, which has inherited all the privileges of the ancient despots, the public functionaries being its visible incarnation. The government official is not the employé of the people, but the agent of the powers of the State, consequently the enemy, overseer and jailor of the people. The laws are intended to give the official the opportunity to defend the interests of his real or ideal master the monarch or the State, against the people, which is credited with a perpetual tendency to rid itself of its task-master. This is the only possible explanation of the respectful consideration and the prominence conceded to the autocratic office holder to this very day. He is not able to dazzle the public by his rich relations, nor by the brilliancy and luxury of his manner of living; neither can he compel the admiration of cultivated minds by his higher culture or greater talents, the utilitarians can not consider his employment any more useful than the class of direct producers, the farmers, artisans, artists or scientists. But if the position of a public functionary does not mean the possession of a larger income, greater talents nor especially capability, why is it that a government office confers upon its incumbent an importance and respect beyond that of almost any other position? Why? Because the official is a part of the sovereign authority, which the people, unconsciously to themselves, from sheer stress of custom, regard as something mysterious, supernatural, awe-inspiring and terrible The grace of God in which the sovereign basks, illuminates also his employés; a few drops of the sacred oil with which the king is anointed at his coronation, fall upon the brow of the government official. This phenomenon takes place even in those countries which have no monarch nor coronation, nor any grace of God. It has become a reflex action of the people’s mind.
And now what about representative legislation? Does it not return to the individual the liberty of which he has been deprived by Fiscalism and Mandarinism and the laws passed in their interests? Does it not change the feudal subject into the modern citizen? Does it not place in the hands of every individual the right to govern and decide the destinies of the State, in conjunction with the rest? Is not the voter on the day when his representative is elected, a real sovereign, exercising even if indirectly, the old royal privileges of appointing employés, passing laws, levying taxes and deciding upon the foreign policy of the Government? In short, is not the ballot the all-powerful weapon with which our poor Hans for instance, can humble the pride of the government official, that even Shakespeare complained of, and by its assistance is he not able to attack and demolish all the regulations which reduce him to slavery?
Certainly. Representative legislation accomplishes all this. But unfortunately, only in theory. In practice it is a lie as enormous as all the other phases of our present state and social life. I must not omit to mention that the lies by which we are surrounded are of two kinds. Some wear the mask of the past, the rest the mask of the future. Some are forms which had once a substance—the others, forms which have as yet no substance at all. Religion and the monarchical form of government are lies because we allow the external forms to remain although we are convinced of the absurdity of the empty sham. Representative legislation, Parliamentism, on the other hand, is a lie because as yet it is only an external form, the internal organization of the State remaining completely unchanged. In the former case it is new wine in old bottles and in the latter, old dregs in new vessels.
Representative legislation is the machinery by which the principle of the sovereignty of the people becomes action. Strictly according to theory, the entire people should assemble in an immense mass meeting, make its own laws and appoint its employés, thus expressing its will directly and carrying it immediately into action, without the loss of power and the modifications it is sure to undergo as an inevitable consequence of repeated transmissions. But as civilization increases, it has a tendency to group the individuals into larger and larger communities, to unite into one nation all those speaking the same language, the entire race, and to enlarge the confines of the States to immense proportions. Consequently the direct practice of self-government by assembling the entire people, has already become a material impossibility in by far the largest number of countries, and in those remaining, it is only a question of time. Hence the people are obliged to transfer their power to a small number of delegates whom they authorize to act for them and exercise their rights of self-government. These delegates in turn are obliged to transfer the power a second time, as they can not govern directly, and they authorize a still smaller number of chosen men, the members of the Cabinet, who in fact, prepare and administer the laws, levy and collect taxes, appoint employés and decide upon peace or war. In order to have the people retain its sovereignty, in order to have its will continue to be the sole arbiter of the destinies of the nation, notwithstanding the repeated transmissions of authority, certain suppositions must be proved to be true. The confidential agents of the people must divest themselves of their personality. The seats in the legislative assembly must not be filled by men, but by mandates, who speak and vote. The will of the people acting through the agent, should not experience any interruption or modification nor be subjected to any personal influence. The members of the Cabinet likewise should be impersonal machines to receive and carry out the intentions and will of the majority of the. legislators. Every neglect of the commission with which the Cabinet is charged by the representatives, and the latter by the people, should be followed at once by the removal of the offender. But the commission must be clearly and unmistakably understood in the first place. The people must be united in their opinions on the laws and the method of administration which they have decided to be necessary for the best interests of the State, and they must require the strictest adherence to these methods and principles from their representatives. They should choose for their representatives such men alone as they know possess character and talent, with the ability to comprehend and carry out the programme laid down for them by the electors, so that they will not deviate from the straight line drawn for them, nor hesitate to sacrifice their time, labor and their personal interests when necessary, to the common welfare. This would be ideal representation; in this way the legislation would be the actual work of the legislators. The centre of gravity of the entire structure of State would be in the ballot box, and every individual citizen would have his visible and perceptible share in the guidance of public affairs.
But now let us turn from theory to practice. What a disappointment awaits us here! Representative legislation even in its most classic homes, England and Belgium, does not fulfill a single one of the conditions I have been enumerating. The will of the citizen expressed in his vote, is entirely Barren of results. The delegates elected act in all cases according to their individual pleasure, and their only sentiment of constraint is in regard to their rivals, not at all in regard to the wishes of the people who elected them. The Cabinet not only rules the country but the Parliament as well; instead of their following a policy prescribed to them, they dictate the policy of the Parliament and nation. They manage all the powers and resources of the nation according to their own discretion, bestow favors and presents, support numerous hangers-on in luxury at the expense of the community and never hear a word of reproof if they remember to send to the majority in Parliament occasional titbits from the royal feast spread for them by the State. In actual practice the ministers are no more accountable than the members of Parliament. They are not punished in the slightest for the hundred acts of arbitrary power, injustice and misuse of their authority, which they commit every day. When a case does occur once in a century, of a minister being called to account for his misdemeanors, because he has proved himself an exceptionally outrageous rascal, or because he has aroused a passionate hatred against his person, the impeachment proceeds in a pompous and imposing manner, but terminates in an absurdly insignificant sentence. The Parliament is an institution for the satisfaction of vanity and ambition and for the furtherance of the personal interests of the members. The people has been for thousands of years in the habit of submitting to a sovereign will and of showing honors to a privileged aristocracy, in whose hands they left all the funds of the State for their personal use. Certain enlightened minds, capable of seeing into the future, gave them a form of government in representative legislation, which permitted them to set up their own will as the sovereign power and to deprive the aristocracy of their control of the public finances. What did the people do? They hastened to put on representative legislation, but on top of their old habits, so that now as much as ever before, they are ruled by an individual will and they are plundered by a privileged class; only this will is no longer called the king, but the leader of his party and the privileged class, not the aristocracy, but the majority in the House. The old relation between the average citizen and the State remains unaltered; my Hans to whom I am always returning, continues to pay taxes whose amount he does not fix himself and whose expenditure he can not control, he must obey laws which he did not impose upon himself and whose utility he fails to recognize, he must take off his hat to the public employé that another’s will has set up over him, whether his name be Johnny in England, Ivan in Russia or Hans in the German-speaking countries.
Parliamentism has one advantage; it makes it possible for those who are ambitious, to rise by utilizing their fellow-citizens. I will show that this is a genuine advantage. Every nation, and especially those still engaged in an ascending self-development, inspired by an inexhaustible vital energy, produces in each generation some individual in whom an especially powerfully organized personality clamors for room for expansion. These are men born to rule, who refuse to bear another’s yoke or to submit to another’s control. They want to have their head and their elbows free. They are only able to yield to the discipline of their own will and judgment, never to those of another. They submit because they choose or think best, never because they are compelled to do so. These individuals never meet with a barrier that they do not demolish or ride over it. Life does not seem worth living to them unless they experience that satisfaction produced alone by the unchecked play of all their capabilities and inclinations. The consciousness that a large part of their horizon is obscured by some alien consciousness, removed alike beyond their influence and observation, destroys their enjoyment of it, they look upon their Ego as a cramped and wretched Ego, incapable of stretching and asserting itself, their very existence appears insupportable to them if they consider it impelled and guided by alien forces. Such individuals require room. In solitude they find it without effort or difficulty. If they are anchorites, if they are hermits or fakirs, Canadian trappers or pioneers of the back-woods, they can live out their lives without conflicts with others. But if they are to remain in the society of man, there is but one place for them: that of leader. They would not remain an instant in the condition of my Hans. They are no soft plasma, but crystals, hard as diamonds. They can not squeeze into the hole which the structure of State has left open for them, without regard to their shape and size. They must have a special cell, made to fit their angles and planes. They rebel against the laws which do not fit their case, in whose creation they had no share, and they shake their fists in the face of the government official who attempts to give instead of receiving commands. There is no room at all for such natures in an absolute monarchy. This form of government is usually stronger than their power of expansion and they are worsted in their attempt to overthrow it. But before they succumb they shake the State until the king trembles upon his throne and the peasant in his cottage is thrown down by the violence of the shock.
They become regicides, rebels or at least highway robbers or freebooters. In the Middle Ages they wandered through the forests as Robin Hood, or as leaders of a band of brigands, became the terror of princes and peoples. Later as Cortez and Pizarro, they conquered and plundered the New World, fought at Pavia as captains of freelances, and as soldiers of fortune during the Thirty Years War rented their services to the different generals and rose to power, or were broken upon the wheel like Schinderhannes and Cartouche. Today they are called in Russia Nihilists, as yesterday they were known in the Ottoman Empire as Mehemet Ali. A representative government allows these men with the powerful Ego to act out their impulses, maintain their individuality, without disturbing or even threatening the State. Much less exertion is required to be elected to Parliament than to climb to Wallenstein’s position, and it is even easier to become prime minister in a constitutional state than to overthrow an ancient throne. A member of Parliament can hold his head high where Hans would be obliged to stoop, and a prime minister may have to struggle but never to obey another’s will. Hence Parliamentism in a country is the safety valve which prevents the powerful individuals of the nation from causing destructive explosions. If we study the psychology of the professional politicians in all those countries with a representative form of government, we will find that the compelling force which drives them into public life, is the necessity for a larger space in which the growth and activity of their Ego can continue without restraint. This is called ambition. I have nothing to say against this term if it is defined correctly. What is ambition? Is it what the German word for it, Ehrgeiz, honor greed, represents, a craving for external titles of honor? This motive may influence some grocer who has found a fortune in his coffee-sacks and is now trying to get into office. But it plays no role in the life-career of a Disraeli, a Kossuth, a La Salle or a Gambetta. Such men as these do not care for the respectful greetings of self-important or obtrusive nonentities on the street, nor to wear gay uniforms, nor to have reporters, biographers and artists on illustrated weeklies, at their heels continually, nor for the notes from pupils in the young ladies’ seminaries, begging for their autographs. Merely for the sake of these petty gratifications of their vanity they would never have assumed the terrible burden of public life, which repeats in the midst of our culture and civilization all the conditions of prehistoric existence. In public, political life there is no rest nor peace possible, every one is either fighting, hiding in ambush, lying, listening, hunting for trails, or removing the trace of his own, sleeping with one eye open and his gun in his hand, looking upon every one he meets as an enemy, his hand against everybody and everybody’s hand against him, slandered, traduced, badgered, provoked and wounded—in short, he must live like a red skin on the warpath in the trackless forest. The so-called ambition which compelled the statesman to enter upon his political career, to select this dangerous and thorny path, was nothing else than the necessity of allowing his personality to develop completely and freely, a sensation of indescribable delight which the ordinary class of men never experience and which is only gained from the consciousness of a will which has overcome each and every obstacle. The case is similar in regard to the passion for ruling. It is a matter of much less importance to the genuine, born party leader to rule over others, than to prevent any one from ruling over him. When he bends the wills of others and makes them yield to him, it is principally to appreciate and rejoice in the consciousness of the strength of his own will. There is but one choice open to the man living in the midst of our modern conditions of State and society, unless he lives like a hermit in the wilderness—he must either rule or be ruled. As strong natures can not endure the latter, they are obliged to decide upon the former; not because it gives them any special pleasure, but because it is today the only way in which the individual can retain his liberty and independence. Those who love authority are not counting the heads beneath them, to satisfy their vanity, but those above them. Cesar preferred to be the first in some village rather than the second in Rome. In the latter place he would have ruled over millions, subject to but one, while in the former only a few hundred men would have recognized in him their master. Would not the passion for ruling, have been gratified a thousandfold more in Rome than in the village? Yes, if Cesar had only been anxious to rule. But he wished to be conscious only of his own Ego; in Rome it came in contact with another and stronger will, while in the village it could expand in all directions without meeting another. In Cesar’s remark lies the whole theory of the ambition which compels the politician to enter the arena of public life. Men of small calibre, the rank and file of politicians, may be influenced by other motives; they think it a matter of the greatest importance to secure for themselves and their friends the spoils of office, to bore a small hole into the State barrel and help themselves to its contents through their own little straw. These petty politicians and carpet-baggers, as they are called in North America, these office seekers are only the paid hirelings of the leaders; they are not an indispensable part of Parliamentism, but help fill it out as wadding. To the leaders however, the material advantages of then-position are but secondary matters. The point of the greatest importance to them is the unchecked expansion of an Ego that has painful cramps if obliged to stay folded up.
No word reappears so often in politics as “I”. I and always I alone. This shows that a representative constitution has proved to be the triumph, the apotheosis o> egotism. According to abstract theory it is an organized fellowship, but in practice it is self-interest reduced to a science. The fiction is that the representative relinquishes his individuality and is transformed into a selfless collective being, through whom those who elected him think and speak, decide and act. The reality is that the electors renounce by the act of election, all their rights in favor of the representative, and he gains the entire authority which they lose. In his programme and in the speeches with which he wins the vote of the people, the candidate of course pretends to accept this fiction. Before election he talks of nothing but the interests of the public, he is the guardian and promoter of the common good, he forgets himself in his anxiety for the welfare of the community. But these are only formulas which even the most good-natured simpleton has ceased to accept literally. What are the interests and welfare of the general public to the candidate? Less than Hecuba to the player. He wishes to rise in the world and his constituents are the rounds of his ladder. He work for the community? Not much! He expects the community to work for him. Some one has described the public as voting cattle. This is a picturesque and unusually appropriate expression. Representative legislation produces conditions resembling those of patriarchal times. The representatives take the place of the patriarchs and their wealth consists similarly in herds and flocks. But nowadays, these herds are not composed of actual cattle with horns and hoofs, but of cattle, figuratively speaking, who on election days are driven up to the ballot-box to deposit their votes. Rabagas is supposed to be a caricature and a satire. But he seems to me more like a faithful portrait. Why should we be astonished and smile at the fact that Rabagas, the great revolutionist, should force upon the people, when he had once attained to the summit of power by the help of the people, the identical forms of governmental oppression which he had denounced as crimes in his incendiary speeches against his predecessors? To me this change seems natural and consistent. The politician has no other purpose and no other motive for his actions than the gratification of his egotism. To compass this he must have the support of the masses. And this support is only obtained by the usual promises and party cries which the politician rattles off as glibly as the beggar on the church steps repeats his customary prayer. The candidate submits to this old-established custom mechanically, almost unconsciously. This wins for him the support of the voting public and he steps into power. His egotism is thus satisfied; the voting public vanish from his horizon completely and do not reappear until he is threatened with the loss of his authority. Then he will do what is necessary to retain it, as he did before what was necessary to obtain it. He will either bind upon his brow the wreath of promises and party cries or else threaten the grumblers, as the emergency may require. This sequence of logical premises and conclusions is called by the world representative legislation.
We must study the details of the profession of politician before we can appreciate how shamelessly the practice of Parliamentism belies its theory.
How does a man become a representative to Congress or Parliament? Only once in ten years or so does it happen that the voting public seeks some sagacious and honest fellow citizen and begs him to be its representative, and even in this case it is usually under the influence of certain circumstances which deprive it completely of its ideality. Some party has an interest in placing the authority in the hands of this chosen man, perhaps because his name will be an ornament to its standard, or else to oppose a strong candidate to the dangerous one nominated by the other party. In this case the candidate’s name is advertised and his virtues celebrated, without any effort on his part, without any solicitation from him, and the office falls to the most suitable one among the citizens according to the abstract theory of representation. But the case is usually entirely different: some ambitious individual steps up before his fellow-citizens and tries to convince them that he, more than any one else, deserves their confidence. What motive impels him to this step? Because he feels an impulse within him to make himself useful to the community? Who can believe this? Men are rarely met with in our times, who have such a sense of fellowship with the people and with mankind at large, that it compels them to seek their happiness in working and sacrificing for the community. Even in such men their very nature renders them more sensible to rude and vulgar impressions than other men, as they are more ideal and susceptible. And do such ideal, sensitive natures expose themselves voluntarily to the mental and physical annoyances of a political campaign? Never! They can suffer and die for humanity but they can not pay empty compliments to a horde of dull voters. They can do what they consider to be their duty, without regard to reward or appreciation, but they can not sing their own praises before a crowd in extravagant phraseology. They withdraw into their study or into a small circle of congenial minds and avoid the rude turmoil of the market place, as a usual thing, with a timidity which others often mistake for superciliousness, but which is in reality, only their fear of contaminating their sacred ideal. Reformers and martyr spirits sometimes appear before the multitude but only to instruct it, to point out its faults, to tear it away from its cherished customs, not to flatter it, confirm it in its errors and repeat in honeyed terms what it loves to listen to. Hence they are more often stoned than crowned with flowers. Wycliffe and Knox, Huss and Luther, Arnold de Brescia and Savonarola have each exerted a powerful influence upon large numbers of people and aroused passionate devotion as well as bitter hatred. But I do not believe that they or a Rousseau, a Goethe, a Kant, or a Carlyle, would ever have been appointed to represent the people in the legislature in any country or city district, by their own powers alone, without the help of any supporting committee. These men would not stoop so far as to pay court to their constituents to inveigle their votes, and thus conquer with his own weapons the opposition candidate, who would carry everything before him by merely following the ordinary routine. The method by which a political office is to be obtained often deters a man of true refinement from attempting it, but it is no obstacle to the egotists who are determined to attain to influence and distinction and are willing to do any thing to promote their ends.
A certain man decides to enter upon a political career. The mainspring of his decision is self-interest; as he requires popularity to attain to the position he covets, and as popularity is usually only won by those who promote or appear to promote, the public welfare, he begins to work for the interests of the public, or to pretend that he does so. He must possess certain qualities in order to ensure success, which do not make him more loveable. He must not be modest, for in that case he would not push himself forward, and this he must do if he wants to be noticed. He must be ready to dissemble and lie, for he is obliged to assume friendly interest in certain men, who are, if not repugnant to him, yet certainly indifferent, otherwise he would make enemies of them. He must make hundreds of promises that he knows beforehand he will not be able to fulfill. He must learn how to assume and play upon the lower aspirations and passions of the public, their prejudices and customary beliefs, for these are the most widely extended, and he must win over the majority to his side. These traits combine to form a physiognomy absolutely repulsive to a nobler man. Such a figure in a novel would never arouse the sympathetic affection of the reader. But in real life the same reader casts his vote for him every time.
A political as well as a military campaign has its science of warfare, its strategy and its manual of tactics. The candidate seldom comes into direct personal contact with the constituents. A committee stands between them, whose authority is created only by their own presuming audacity. Some individual comes to the conclusion that he would like to assert himself somewhat. He summons his fellow-citizens to a public meeting, entirely on his own responsibility. If he feels that he is not yet of sufficient importance to make it a success alone, he invites some friends to join with him, or he calls upon a few rich and empty-headed nonentities and tells them that it is their privilege and their duty to place themselves at the head of their fellow-citizens, assume the guidance of public opinion, etc. The wealthy idiots feel very much flattered by this invitation and lose no time in signing their names to the summons, which is then published in the newspapers or posted on the walls, and their signature gives it brilliancy in the eyes of all those who judge a man by his bank account, rank or social position. Thus the public meeting is arranged and a committee formed to take charge of it. Each committee of this kind is composed of two elements, the energetic and the unscrupulous schemers who are working for some personal advantage of a moral or material nature, and the consequential narrow-minded blockheads, solemnly in earnest, who are taken on board by the former for ballast. Others can become members of the committee if they choose, even if they are not invited to join. All that is necessary is to speak loudly and fervently in the meeting and thus attract the attention of the crowd. A man with a powerful voice and a rapid utterance, no matter what he says, will soon attain to a certain degree of authority in a mass meeting, and as these qualities make him desirable as a member of the committee, and formidable as an antagonist, he is consequently welcomed into the committee
The committee can organize itself around the man who wishes to become the candidate, or it can be formed uninfluenced by him. In the former case the candidate guides the whole procedure; he organizes his staff, he summons the public to meetings, appoints orators to speak in them, and fights his own battles. In the latter case the committee is a band of wandering adventurers “whose leadership can be won by any enterprising man, and whose services are rented out to any candidate that may require them to conduct the campaign. Many politicians have worked in this way for others, before they set up their own claims for candidacy; they made and unmade representatives; they gave or rather sold offices to those who were willing to pay for their services in hard cash or minor offices and advantages of different kinds; in certain rare cases merely for vanity, so as to be recognized as the most influential men in the voting district. In a mass meeting loud talking wins the day. The crowd only listens to those who speak sonorously, deal in fine promises and everyday matters, easily understood. On election day the most influential voters whom the candidate has taken especial care to win over to his side, deposit their votes according to the dictates of their vanity or of their interests; the majority however, vote for the candidate in whose behalf the committee has labored most zealously. They put into the box the name that has been buzzing about their ears for so many weeks. They do not know the man to whom it belongs, they know nothing of his character, his capability, his opinions; they vote for him because his name is the most familiar. If they were asked to lend him an old tea-kettle for a few hours they would search out his antecedents more carefully. But they are ready to confide to him the highest interests of the community, as well as their own, without knowing anything more about him than that he is recommended and endorsed by a committee of men who are often as perfect strangers as the candidate himself. And it does no good to rebel against this act of violence, for such it is. A private citizen who accepts seriously his constitutional rights and wishes to learn more about the man to whom these important trusts are to be confided, tries in vain to resist the tyranny of the committee, forcing upon his acceptance a candidate of whom he knows so little. His resistance is impotent and his conscientiousness is smothered and lost in the indolence of the crowd. What can he do? He can stay away from the polls on election day, or vote for the man of his individual preference. But neither of these proceedings will help him in the slightest. The man will be elected nevertheless, for whom the great mass of the thoughtless, the indifferent or the intimidated deposit their votes, and this mass proclaims always the name which has been kept most loudly, forcibly and constantly before the public. It is true that theoretically every citizen is at liberty to endorse the man of his individual choice, to convene meetings for him, and create a party to support him. But in real life it is much more difficult to win adherents by extolling the superior virtues of a candidate, than by promising advantages of all kinds. In consequence of this fact the citizen who conscientiously tries to practise his political rights with a view to the welfare of the community, will always find himself in the minority, while the majority are following the lead of the professional politicians who carry on their public life as a regular lucrative business career.
This is the physiology of the elections of members to representative bodies. The one elected is supposed to be the man in whom the majority have confidence, whereas he is in reality, only the choice of an insignificant minority. But the minority is organized into a compact whole, while the majority of voters are a mass of loose molecules which the former can mould to its will. The membership should be presented to the wisest and most capable citizen; it falls however, to the one who pushes himself forward most audaciously. Cultivation, experience, honor and intellectual superiority are unessential qualifications in a candidate. They do not detract, but they do not aid him in the slightest in his political struggle. But what he needs above all is self-appreciation, audacity, fluency of speech and vulgarity At the very best, it is possible for the candidate to lie an honest and shrewd man, but he can never be of a refined, sensitive and modest nature. This explains the great scarcity of characters in representative bodies, while talents are frequently met with.
The professional politician has now obtained the coveted position by his false promises, his tail-wagging before the public, by unabashed self-laudation and declamatory speeches full of common-places, aided by his comrades who are all fighting with the same weapons and whom he will aid in turn. How will he exercise the authority with which he has been invested? He is either an exceptional individuality or an average man of his class. If the former, he will found a party, if the latter, he will join one already established.
That quality which makes its possessor a leader of men, is the will. It is a natural endowment which has nothing in common with reason, imagination, foresight or magnanimity. A powerful will can be combined with a narrow mind, dishonorableness, selfishness, malice and general lowness of sentiments. It is an organic strength and can belong to some moral monster, as well as a fine figure and muscular development to some corrupt or mentally insignificant being. Whatever his other qualities may be, the man of the most powerful will always take the lead in any assembly, guides and controls it. He will destroy the weaker wills that oppose him; his relation to them will always be that of the iron to the earthen pots. A superior intelligence is able to bring a stronger will into subjection. But how? Not by conquering it in an open hand to hand fight but by apparently submitting to its control and at the same time whispering in its ears the desired ideas and opinions, so skillfully that it learns to consider them as its own. The most important ally of the will in Parliament, is eloquence. This is also a natural gift, entirely distinct from high intellectual culture or character. A man can be the greatest thinker, poet, general or legislator in the world, and yet not be able to make an effective speech, and the reverse is also true, he can have an especial talent for eloquence with an average, mediocre intellect. The history of representative legislation records few examples of great orators who ever did anything to enlarge the mental horizon of their race. The most famous extemporaneous speakers, whose share in important debates led to decisions affecting the history of the world, and crowned them with fame and power—their speeches when read produce such a paltry impression that the reader exclaims: “What can it have been that made this speech have such incomprehensible effect?” It is not the rational sentence that finds an attentive audience in the crowd, but the one forcibly delivered. The most brilliant and easily comprehended argument has little chance of moving a large number of hearers unless its delivery has been carefully prepared and rehearsed beforehand. While it happens very often that they are entirely carried away by the inspiration of some foolish orator and pass resolutions in a rash, almost unaccountable precipitation, which they can not even explain to themselves upon cool reflection.
When the party leader unites to his indomitable will the talent of eloquence, he plays the chief role upon the world’s stage. But if he does not possess this gift he stays behind the scenes and as manager, dictates and controls the actions of all the players on the stage, invisible to the public, but the highest authority, the moving spirit of the whole parliamentary comedy. He has eloquent orators then to speak for him, as he has often high but timid and vacillating intellects to think for him.
The means by which the leader of men exercises his power, is the party. What is a political party? In theory it is an union of men who combine their individual energies to attain the realization of their common ideas in regard to the laws and the policy of the Government. In reality there is no great single party, that is, ruling or capable of ruling, by its size and strength, which is founded on the basis of a single platform.
It sometimes happens that small groups are formed consisting of ten or twenty persons at most, attracted by the similarity of their ideas in regard to the affairs of public life. Large parties however, are only called into existence by the influence of private ambition, private self-interest or the power of attraction of some predominant central personality. Men are divided by nature into two classes; one of them can not endure the control of others, hence, as I have noted in the preceding pages, it must become the ruler, according to the present arrangement of things in this world; the other is born to obey, for under the necessity of making decisions and carrying out the dictates of its will, it shrinks from the responsibility of the consequences of its actions, the indispensable adjuncts of liberty and self-government. The first class is naturally in a diminishing minority compared to the other. As soon as a man of the comfortable, obeying kind meets a man with a strong will and passion for ruling, he yields to him of his own free will and places the guidance of his affairs and the responsibility for the same in his hands not only with pleasure, but with a sensible lightening of his heart. Such obeyers are often capable of carrying out the tasks imposed upon them by another’s will, with the greatest energy, sagacity, perseverance and even sacrifice of self. But they must receive the impulse from another’s will. They may have every talent; they only lack the power of the initiative, that is, a will. These men enter at once into the service of the leader whenever they come in contact with him. All the material functions of the representative legislative assemblies are performed by the party leaders alone. They alone decide, make wars and triumph. The public sessions are scenes without any real significance. Debates are carried on so as not to allow the fiction of parliamentism to be dropped. But only in the rarest cases has a debate led to any really important parliamentary resolution. Debates and speeches give the speech-makers fame, power and position; but as a general rule they have not the slightest influence upon the result determined beforehand, consequently the parliamentary proceedings might be entirely suppressed without detriment and only the decisions arrived at by the parties in obedience to the will of the leaders, be put to the deciding test of a vote.
The causes which lead to the downfall of a party leader who has obtained control of the reins of government, are not the blunders which he makes in the administration of the supreme authority; these only serve as pretexts for attacks upon him. They are either the appearance of a more powerful antagonistic will or the detection of mercenaries whose greed for the spoils of victory he has not been able or willing to satisfy, or a combination of these two causes. This is so truly the case that a ministerial crisis, which appears to transfer the power from the hands of one into those of the other party utterly and diametrically opposed to it, is yet powerless to effect any radical change in the interior policy of a Government. The relation of the individual to the State remains the same as of old, the private citizen need hardly notice when he reads his newspaper, that another party has climbed to the summit of power and another Cabinet has replaced the old. The designations Liberal and Conservative are simply masks for the real motives of all parliamentary contests, conflicts, campaigns and changes—ambition and egotism.
This is the colossal lie of our modern political life with its many different strata. In several countries the fiction of representative legislation is the screen behind which is concealed an absolute, “by the grace of God” monarchy. In those nations in which it is an actual reality, where the representative body really reigns and governs, it amounts to nothing but a dictatorship of certain persons, who in turn, obtain control of the supreme power. Theoretically representative legislation ensures the fulfillment of the will of the majority; in reality it only carries out the will of half a dozen party leaders, their advisers and standard-bearers. Theoretically the opinions of the representatives should be formed or influenced, by the arguments advanced in the parliamentary debates; in reality they are not influenced by them in the slightest, but depend entirely upon the party leader or upon private interests. Theoretically the representatives should have only the good of the commonwealth before their eyes; in reality their only thought is how to advance their private interests and those of their friends at the expense of the commonwealth. Theoretically the representatives are supposed to be the best and wisest of all the citizens; in reality they are the most ambitious, the most pushing and the coarsest. Theoretically the vote deposited in favor of a candidate means that he is known and trusted by the voter; in reality the voter knows nothing whatever about him except that a set of ranting speech-makers have been deafening him for weeks with the candidate’s name and placarding it before his eyes. The forces which theoretically keep the parliamentary machine in motion, are experience, foresight and abnegation of self; in reality they are strength of will, egotism and fluency of speech. Culture, intelligence and noble sentiments are defeated by noisy eloquence and indomitable audacity, and the halls of legislature are ruled, not by true wisdom, but by individual, obstinate wills.
Not an atom of the right of representative legislation supposed to be gained by universal suffrage, falls to the individual average citizen. Now as much as ever before is my poor Hans obliged to pay taxes and to obey the authorities, bruising his elbows again and again, by coming in contact with the thousand absurd restrictions that hem him in on every side. All the share he has in the whole business of representative legislation, with all its fuss and ceremonies, is his fatigue on election days, from walking to the-polls, and his dissatisfaction that more entertaining and profitable reading matter is crowded out of the newspapers to make room for the uninteresting, interminable congressional debates.