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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

As early of the late 1890s the French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) could see that the resurgence of tariffs, the arms race (especially the naval arms race), and the scramble for colonies in the third world was leading inevitably to a major conflict between the major European powers. He asked himself how this was possible given the enormous physical costs of modern warfare and the economic burdens it imposed on ordinary taxpayers. His sad conclusion was that bellicose policies benefited certain members of the governing class who were well organised, whereas the governed class who bore the burdens were “amorphous” and not well organised in the opposition. He identified a number of powerful groups in European societies who benefited from what he called “the State of War”: the political elites who dominated the legislatures and controlled expenditure, the senior bureaucrats who administered government expenditure, the military elites who got to spend taxpayers money on new ships and artillery and who benefitted from promotions, the business elites whose factories produced the war materiel, and the officials who administered colonial policy in the occupied territories. Molinari concluded, perhaps somewhat wistfully, that this situation had to come to an end when the taxpayers and the producers realised the enormous expences they were forced to pay. Molinari died in 1912 two years before the outbreak of World War One showed how destructive modern wars would be.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

26 November, 2012

MolinariObitB-300

Molinari on the elites who benefited from the State of War (1899)

Read the full quote in context here.

The French economist Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912) concluded in 1899 that wars would continue to be fought, in spite of their growing cost in terms of destruction wrought, lives lost, and high taxes, as long as powerful groups within society benefited personally from such a situation. To his mind, this meant the powerful political, bureaucratic, and military elites which controlled European societies at the end of the 19th century:

Every State includes a governing class and a governed class. The former is interested in the immediate multiplication of employments open to its members, whether these be harmful or useful to the State, and also desires to remunerate these officials at the best possible rate. But the majority of the nation, the governed class, pays for the officials, and its only desire is to support the least necessary number. A State of War, implying an unlimited power of disposition over the lives and goods of the majority, allows the governing class to increase State employments at will—that is, to increase its own sphere of employment. A considerable portion of this sphere is found in the destructive apparatus of the civilised State—an organism which grows with every advance in the power of the rivals. In time of peace the army supports a hierarchy of professional soldiers, whose career is highly esteemed, and is assured if not particularly remunerative. In time of war the soldier obtains an additional remuneration, more glory, and an increased hope of professional advancement, and these advantages more than compensate the risks which he is compelled to undergo. In this way a State of War continues to be profitable both to the governing class as a whole, and to those officials who administer and officer the army.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

The fact that war has become useless is not, however, sufficient to secure its cessation. It is useless because it ceases to minister to the general and permanent benefit of the species, but it will not cease until it also becomes unprofitable, till it is so far from procuring benefit to those who practise it, that to go to war is synonymous with embracing a loss.

A consideration of modern wars from this aspect produces two opposite replies. Every State includes a governing class and a governed class. The former is interested in the immediate multiplication of employments open to its members, whether these be harmful or useful to the State, and also desires to remunerate these officials at the best possible rate. But the majority of the nation, the governed class, pays for the officials, and its only desire is to support the least necessary number. A State of War, implying an unlimited power of disposition over the lives and goods of the majority, allows the governing class to increase State employments at will—that is, to increase its own sphere of employment. A considerable portion of this sphere is found in the destructive apparatus of the civilised State—an organism which grows with every advance in the power of the rivals. In time of peace the army supports a hierarchy of professional soldiers, whose career is highly esteemed, and is assured if not particularly remunerative. In time of war the soldier obtains an additional remuneration, more glory, and an increased hope of professional advancement, and these advantages more than compensate the risks which he is compelled to undergo. In this way a State of War continues to be profitable both to the governing class as a whole, and to those officials who administer and officer the army. Moreover, every industrial improvement increases this profit, for the enormous late increase in the wealth which nations derive from this source necessitates enlarged armaments, but also permits the imposition of heavier imposts.

But while the State of War has become more and more profitable to the class interested in the public services, it has become more burdensome and more injurious to the infinite majority which only consumes those services. In time of tranquillity it supports the burden of the armed peace, and the abuse, by the governing class, of the unlimited power of taxation necessitated by the State of War, intended to supply the means of national defence, but perverted to the profit of government and its dependents. The case of the governed is even worse in time of war. Whatever the issue of the struggle, and receiving none of the compensation afforded in previous ages, when a war ensured its safety from attack by the barbarian, it supports an immediate increase in the taxes, and a future and semi-permanent increase in the interest on loans, those inseparable accidents of modern war, and also the indirect losses which accompany the disorganisation of trade—injuries whose effects become more far-reaching with every extension in the time and area covered by modern commercial relations.

The human balance sheet under a State of War thus favours the governor at the expense of the governed, nor can the most cursory glance at the budgets of civilisation—especially if directed to their provisions for the service of National Debts—fail to perceive to which quarter, and in how large a degree, that balance inclines. This, in itself, affords no guarantee that the State of War is nearing an end, for the governing class, under present conditions, disposes of a far more formidable power than that immense, but, as we may call it, amorphous strength, which is dormant in the masses. They, as no one may deny, have often risen against governments extorting too high a price for their services, or threatening to overwhelm them with intolerable burdens, but the success of such movements seldom results in more than a change of masters, and the new governing class has usually been larger and of inferior quality. The result of these revolutions has been what it always must be—augmented burdens and a recrudescence of the State of War.

Nevertheless, this State of War must come to its inevitable conclusion. It continuously and, one may say, automatically drains the resources of the governed, and, since it is these resources which support the governing class, that class must eventually find itself face to face with the end. The same influences that maintain the State of War, though long since effete, will then close it, and humanity will enter a new and better period of existence, the period of Peace and Liberty. We have already attempted to sketch the political and economic organisation which will follow, built upon understanding of the motive forces and natural laws which govern human action. The difference between this organisation and the socialistic programme is singularly essential—it will observe, while theirs denies, these laws.

[More works by Gustave de Molinari (1819 – 1912) and on War and Peace]