M. G. de Molinari (1912)

by Yves Guyot (1843-1928)

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Translation by Roderick T. Long

I. The Man and the Writer.
II. Protectionism and Socialism.
III. The Commercialisation of Labour.
IV. Economic and Political Evolution.
V. Truth and Error.

GM.I.1 In the month of July, the Society of Political Economy lost its president, M. Émile Levasseur. On January 28th, it lost its honorary president, M. Gustave de Molinari. On June 5th, 1902, the Society of Political Economy celebrated M. Frédéric Passy’s eighty years, and the fiftieth anniversary of membership for Messrs. de Molinari and Juglar. M. de Molinari, born in Liège on March 3rd, 1819, was our dean by a twofold claim: by age and by the date of his entry. He was the son of a senior officer of the Empire, the Baron de Molinari, who after coming to Belgium obtained certification as a physician and established himself there.
GM.I.2 In an essay on the Antwerp Exposition1, he recalled for us one of his childhood memories:
It was in the month of November, 1830. The volunteers, having brought the revolution to victory in Brussels, were on their way into Antwerp; the Dutch garrison had taken refuge in the citadel. The pavement in the streets had been torn up, and I believe I contributed my small share to the work of the pavers. There was gunfire in the street of the convent which abutted the citadel, and I can still see the scene: a volunteer in a blue blouse, ahead of his comrades in the vanguard, brandishing a large cavalry sabre to the cry of “Forward!” A shell bursts, everyone pulls back; the volunteer with the large sabre beats an agile retreat behind a barricade, this time crying “We are betrayed!” It is my first lasting impression of war. In the end a truce is concluded; but during the evening the over-excited volunteers take a mind to test the range of their rifles on a Dutch gunboat at anchor in the Scheldt. To these isolated rifle shots the commander of the Citadel, General Chassé, an ill-tempered veteran, responds with a bombardment. The inhabitants take refuge in the cellars. Through ill-closed vents can be seen the reflected gleam of fires; soon there is nothing more than an enormous tower of red flecked with black, proceeding with the grating noise of a stone sliding down a slate roof. The women and children recite their prayers; the crash of bombs and collapsing roofs mingles with the voices chanting a canticle before a lighted statue of the Virgin at the street-corner. In the first hours of the day the bombardment ceases; we rush out of the cellars to see the fires; the districts neighbouring the citadel, and the warehouses, filled with barrels of oil and bales of cotton, are in flames. It is superb! Here we are before the massive Scheldt Gate, its façade chipped by bombs. People of the neighbourhood have taken shelter within; we enter and look upon them with amazement; they have spent the night playing cards; the stakes are on the table alongside the pitchers of beer, and they cannot bring themselves to abandon the game. Behold the marvelous Flemish phlegmaticism!
These impressions, which I would be obliged to relive forty years later, albeit with some notable variations, during the siege of Paris, have remained vivid in my memory.
GM.I.5 I have cited this page because it proves M. de Molinari’s precision and acuity of observation when he was only a child. He not only retained these qualities, but developed them and applied them to all subjects. This page demonstrates at the same time the vividness and clarity with which M. G. de Molinari knew how to relate what he had observed.
GM.I.6 M. G. de Molinari believed that the duty of the writer was to save the effort of the reader by giving him a work entirely completed. He eliminated all encumbrances; he simplified the facts and presented only what was essential in them. He clarified and filtered his thought so as to give it the greatest lucidity possible. By its elegance, force, and delicacy of expression, and by the precision of its terms, M. de Molinari’s style made him one of the masters of the French language.
GM.I.7 Animated by an intense interest in propaganda, he came to Paris around 1840 to pursue economic journalism. This moment was the beginning of the great industrial revolution which railroads, transatlantic steam-powered navigation, and the telegraph would go on to bring to fruition. He understood this with remarkable prescience, as demonstrated by his article published by La Nation and then La Gazette de France in 1843, titled The Future of Railroads.
GM.I.8 M. de Molinari never ceased to show the contradiction between, on the one hand, the results achieved by industry and science to lower costs and extend markets through easier means of transportation, and, on the other hand, the protectionist policy which had as its aim the annihilation, in whole or in part, of these results by raising artificial barriers against progress from without. In 1846, he took part in founding the Free Trade Association. He at this time published a small volume titled The Organisation of Industrial Liberty and the Abolition of Slavery; the following year, another volume bearing the title History of the Tarif: Iron, Coal, Grain. He defended free-trade ideas in the Courrier Français (1846-1847), Libre-Échange, Le Commerce (1848), and La Patrie (1849-1851).
GM.I.9 During the Revolution of 1848, he combatted simultaneously the socialists and the conservative defenders of the status quo. In his book Soirées on the Rue Saint-Lazare: Conversations on Economic Laws and Defense of Property, he pressed to its extreme limits the opposition to all State intervention.
GM.I.10 The dictatorial régime which resulted from the coup d’état of December 2nd, 1851, offended M. de Molinari’s liberal opinions. He returned to Belgium, where he published, in 1852, a small volume titled Revolutions and Despotism. He became Professor of Political Economy at the Royal Belgian Museum of Industry and at the Higher Institute of Commerce in Antwerp. He has given us a summary of his lessons under the title Course of Political Economy. The second edition appeared in 1862. This is one of the works which, along with those of J.-B. Say, Adam Smith, and Bastiat, initiated me into the science of economics. To this may be added his Questions of Political Economy and Public Right, published in 1861.
GM.I.11 He returned to Paris around 1860 and, in 1867, joined the Journal des Débats, of which he became editor-in-chief under the direction of M. Bapst (1871-1876). He remained in Paris during the War of 1870 and during the Commune. He did not scorn to apprise himself of popular opinions by attending the public meetings that opened after the law of June 6th, 1868. He collected his accounts of these meetings in two volumes that are masterpieces of subtle analysis: The Socialist Movement and Public Meetings Before the Revolution of September 4th, 1870 and The Red Clubs During the Siege of Paris2.
GM.I.12 In an article concerning one of M. de Molinari’s books, I have written3: It is said that Hegel was so absorbed in his abstractions that he could not be distracted from them by the battle of Jena which was raging around his house. M. G. de Molinari would have opened his window and looked. He might perhaps have taken part in the action. Far from isolating himself from the realities of the world, he wanted to see it under all its various aspects. He toured Russia around 1860, a time when few Westerners risked travelling there, and he returned on several further visits. He crossed the Atlantic several times, making three trips to the United States and as many to Canada, and visiting Martinique and Panama. He traversed Europe in all directions.
GM.I.13 He published portions of his travel impressions in letters to the Journal des Débats, which have been reproduced in several volumes that make both engaging and very instructive reading4. M. de Molinari visited everything, saw everything, and listened to everything, including the theory of the executioner Marwood “on the superiority, for hangings, of the thick cord which leaves the condemned intact over the thin cord which cuts the flesh and does a sloppy job.” He emphasised with high and scornful irony the contradictions, exasperating habits, and stupidities of legislatures and administrations. He showed himself full of sympathy for the poor, crushed by their own ignorance and victimised by the ignorance of others. He was human in the large sense of the verse by Terence. [Online editor’s note: homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (“I am a human being; I deem nothing human alien to me”) from the Heauton Timoroumenos by Publius Terentius Afer. – RTL] On his visit to Galway prison in Ireland, he writes:
What seems to me truly admirable in this country is the effective guarantees that the law assures the most wretched and degraded man. While elsewhere the condemned man, the prostitute, the beggar, and other rejects of civilisation are too often handed over to the rough and arbitrary authority of hirelings and subordinates, here no one, however low or wretched his condition, is deprived of the protection of the common law or the guarantees necessary for taking advantage of it5.
GM.I.15 He points out the weakness of Europe in the following still timely page:
In Germany I had to exchange my francs for marks; then, in Russia, my remaining marks for rubles; in St. Petersburg, to obtain Finnish marks, not to be confused with German marks, in order to get kroner and øre in Sweden and Denmark; then marks once again in Hamburg and florins in Holland, only to return, after what a waste! to francs in Belgium and France, taking care once more not to accumulate the Belgian nickel! And my trunk! It was opened in Brussels by the Belgian customs inspectors; in Cologne, by the German customs inspectors; in Sosnowiec, by the Russian customs inspectors; in Stockholm, by the Swedish customs inspectors; in Copenhagen, by the Danish customs inspectors; in Hamburg, for the second time by the Germans; in Veule, by the Dutch; between Maastricht and Liège, by the Belgians again; and finally in Paris by the French. If I had had any articles subject to duties, they would have discharged them nine times over6!
GM.I.17 Hence the superiority of the United States with their immense territory and large population.
GM.I.18 But even there one has to enter, and in 1876 he notes that “the American government refuses to accept its own paper money at its customs offices”; he shows how “protectionist tariffs provoke the demoralisation of commerce and the corruption of the administration: one house brazenly imported, under the title of objets d’art, statues of Christopher Columbus and other majestic and corpulent personages made of lead.”
GM.I.19 M. G. de Molinari made three voyages to Canada and, concerned for its future, he there took part in the founding of the Canadian Building and Loan Association, serving as a member of its Board of Directors. He was very sympathetic toward the French-Canadians. Taking up, however, the reproaches that the English make against them for having an excessive taste for politics and political functions, along with a mentality mired in routine and an inferiority in the conduct of business, he wrote: “Every year reinforcements of energetic and industrious men arrive from England with an increasing quota of capital, while the French-Canadians are cut loose, abandoned entirely to their own powers. Thanks to capital from the mother-country, the Anglo-Canadians got hold of all the large businesses, developed a spirit of enterprise, and have preferred the independence and wealth brought by industry increased and fertilised by capital to the electoral dependence and meager stations that politics and administration might bring them.”
GM.I.20 At the end of 1881, after the death of Joseph Garnier, M. de Molinari became editor-in-chief of the Journal des Économistes. His readers know with what authority, with what distinction, with what concern for truth and science, he fulfilled this function until the month of November, 1909. During this period he published a series of scientific works of the first order which mark an epoch in the history of thought: Economic Evolution in the 19th Century: A Theory of Progress. 1880. – Political Evolution and the Revolution. 1884. – The Natural Laws of Political Economy. 1887. – Economic Morality. 1888. – Fundamental Notions of Political Economy and an Economic Program. 1891. – Religion. 1892. – Science and Religion. 1894. – How Is The Social Question To Be Resolved? 1896. – Viriculture. 1897. – The Greatness and Decline of War. 1898. – Outline of the Political and Economic Organisation of the Society of the Future. 1899. – Problems of the 20th Century. 1901. Economic Questions on the Agenda. 1906. The Economics of History: A Theory of Evolution. 1908; and finally, this past year, Ultima Verba7.
GM.I.21 To these articles we must add various articles in the first and second editions of the Dictionary of Political Economy, and several manifestoes.
GM.I.22 M. de Molinari had the idea of founding a continental customs union, and published a program for it. He traversed Europe to find adherents for the idea. He had a conversation with Bismarck. In the Times for July 28th, 1887, he set forth a project for establishing a League of Neutrals, “without deceiving oneself, incidentally, that there was any chance of carrying it out in the present state of minds and things.”
GM.I.23 Naturally, M. G. de Molinari was regarded as a representative of the hard-hearted school. Nevertheless, A. Raffalovitch [Online editor’s note: economist Arthur Raffalovich (1853-1921). – RTL], whose family was long connected with M. de Molinari, writes to me: “Here was an entirely disinterested man. ... What acts of charity his relatives and friends saw him perform discreetly and quietly!”
GM.I.24 M. de Molinari to his final days retained his enthusiasm for the ideas that he did not cease to defend. He followed events with interest and examined them in their connection with the evolution of humanity, judging them sometimes as favourable and sometimes as regressive. He retired to his family in Brussels at the end of 1909. In 1911, he had gone to spend the belle saison at the Belgian seaside resort of De Panne. He liked it well enough there that in the autumn he settled in a villa sheltered from the winds of the open sea, situated in the territory of the neighbouring community of Adinkerque. There he ended his days, admirably cared for by his daughter-in-law, Mlle. Marie Le Roy, our colleague in the Society of Political Economy, who had long served as his devoted secretary.
GM.I.25 The body, deposited in a provisional vault, was brought back to a family vault in Père-Lachaise. At the funeral, M. de Nalèche represented the Journal des Débats, and I represented the Society of Political Economy and the Journal des Économistes. In accordance with M. de Molinari’s wishes, no speech was made. I regretted not having been able to express the respectful friendship that I maintained toward him, and the admiration that I experienced for his life, entirely dedicated to the defense of truth, and for his work, which will be reckoned among the intellectual monuments of the nineteenth century.
GM.I.26 I shall attempt to extract from his work its broad outlines.
GM.II.1 M. de Molinari began by combatting protectionism around 1840, and the arguments which he offered then he could take up again at the end of his life; for truth is immutable. Protectionists and socialists, by contrast, change their arguments often, according to circumstance or according to their audience. Falsehoods and errors are easily adaptable.
GM.II.2 Here are some of the arguments which I find in M. de Molinari’s work. I do not give their dates. They are as true today as they were sixty years ago:
Man has not progressed, and cannot progress, except through competition; but he does not like it, because it requires effort.
Protected producers within a country suppress competition from without. Thanks to the premium they receive, they raise the value of their products in an artificial manner. They impose on consumers a private tax. This is a form of expropriation, since in return for this increase in price they give the consumers nothing.
GM.II.5 In his final volume, Ultima Verba, M. de Molinari, after having examined protectionist arguments old and new, concludes: “These are arguments for show. The most ardent defenders of the protective tariff do not take them seriously. ... Protectionism is nothing but political power placed in the service of certain particular interests in opposition to the general interest.”
GM.II.6 The socialists are pacifists in foreign policy and boosters of social war in domestic policy. [Online editor’s note: the French contrast “à l’extérieur ... à l’intérieur” might also convey the connotation that socialists are pacifists “on the outside” but warlike “on the inside.” – RTL] “The only idea common to them all,” writes M. de Molinari, “is that of the mode of acquisition by robbery, transmitted from generation to generation since primitive times, and implying that wealth is acquired only at others’ expense8.”
GM.II.7 We still find in persistence the mode of acquisition of wealth by destruction and robbery alongside its rival, that of production and exchange.
GM.II.8 All protectionist and socialist policy aims at putting political competition in the place of economic competition, and at making public power, which should represent only common interests, serve to support the particular interests of groups or personalities. It is always the application of this old adage: “One man’s profit means another man’s loss.” It is a matter of gaining the profit for oneself and imposing the loss on the other, whether the other be a fellow-citizen or a foreigner. The State is regarded as the necessary instrument of this work. Whoever has the power must employ it for himself and his own, to the detriment of the vanquished. The whole socialist theory of class struggle takes its point of departure from this absurd prejudice; but the policies it deduces therefrom are such as would, if they prevailed, drag those peoples most advanced in evolution toward a stupid and abominable regression.
GM.II.9 “Socialism is war against capital. It is a form of robbery9.”
GM.II.10 Yet it is the employees more than all others that have an interest in the increase of capital: because capital goods are the instruments of labour. Every capitalist seeks their employment directly. Even if he sinks them in consumption expenses, he makes an expenditure of various products. The socialist policy, using progressive taxation as an instrument of confiscation, halts the formation and productive employment of capital goods and diverts their circulation. It discourages saving and injures labour. The cheaper the capital, the greater labour’s share. When the socialists wage war on capital, it is on labour that their blows fall.
GM.III.1 The labour contract is just another exchange contract. With remarkable prescience, M. de Molinari, in his 1843 article on The Future of Railroads, showed that railroads would extend markets, bring producers and consumers into alignment, and render prices uniform by raising them in the locus of production and lowering them in the locus of consumption. Why shouldn’t labour benefit from these advantages? Admittedly, man is an unwieldy parcel, far less easily transportable than ore and grain. Nevertheless, he will learn to profit from the facility that the means of circulation offer him. Events have verified M. de Molinari’s foresight, since today we see Italians going off to harvest crops in the United States and the Republic of Argentina.
GM.III.2 The going rate for labour differs greatly from one place to another. Why might workers not engage in arbitrage just as wheat merchants and the possessors of transferable securities do?
1° Under a régime of complete liberty and the normal progress of bargaining, the prevailing price of any type of labour would always tend, in each locality, to level out at that of the wider market;
2° The prevailing price of labour on the wider market would tend, in its turn, to reach the level of its natural price, that is to say, that of the costs of production augmented by a proportional share of the net product, less the remuneration of intermediaries10.
GM.III.5 On July 20th, 1846, M. de Molinari issued an appeal to labourers in the Courrier Français, edited by Victor Durrieu. He proposed to publish labour bulletins regularly.
GM.III.6 There immediately arose against this proposal that spirit of monopoly which always haunts the workers. The meeting of the Paris stonemasons rejected this proposal as being of such a nature as to attract competitors onto the Parisian market. Under the revolution of 1848, M. G. De Molinari’s idea was no better received. But he was not discouraged. In 1857, he founded at Brussels a journal titled The Labour-Exchange; his brother, M. Eugène de Molinari, served as its editor-in-chief. It met with the double hostility of workers and industrialists and had to cease publication at the end of a few months11.
GM.III.7 M. de Molinari is the inventor of the term; but the labour-exchanges which were founded in Paris and France show to what distortions a correct idea is susceptible. The trade-unions that got into the labour-exchanges had the purchasers of labour excluded from them; a singular manner, surely, of raising labour’s price! They made the labour-exchanges into headquarters of the social war, at the expense of taxpayers so naïve and so feeble that they themselves were preparing, against themselves, the social war they feared.
GM.III.8 In the preface to his book The Labour-Exchanges, written in 1893, M. de Molinari, noting this deviation, wrote (p. 9):
It is possible that the revolutionary socialists may carry out the first part of their program: that which consists in seizing the capital accumulated in the upper regions of society in order to distribute it to the multitude.
On the other hand, we can affirm that it will be impossible for them to carry out the second part, that is, to deprive capital of its governance over production and to change the mode of distribution of wealth by abolishing the wage-system. With all due respect to the theorists of socialism, governance over production belongs naturally to capital and cannot by any means be taken from it, because capital bears, and capital alone can bear, the risks of production: the wage-system cannot be abolished, because it is the only mode that is adapted to the situation and needs of the immense majority of the cooperators in production. In other words, all the organisations, all the systems that the socialists may undertake to put in place of the present régime will come to grief, because this régime is founded on the laws that govern the production and distribution of wealth, and is adapted to the nature of things and men.
GM.III.11 That does not mean, M. de Molinari added, that the organisation of enterprises of production and the mode of distribution of labour are in no way susceptible to improvement; and I have confirmed this, on the basis of M. de Molinari’s idea and by outlining the program of commercial societies of labour, in my book Labour Conflicts and Their Solution.
GM.IV.1 M. de Molinari had always been concerned with the evolution of societies, above all from an economic point of view. He may be reckoned, along with Darwin and Herbert Spencer, among the men who have elucidated the questions involved. He has demonstrated the importance of acquisitiveness.
GM.IV.2 Organisms do not preserve, develop, or perpetuate themselves except on condition that they acquire more than they expend. Competition is the motive force; it establishes selection to the benefit of the fittest and eliminates the weakest; no penal sanction devised by men is as implacable as that which results naturally from competition.
GM.IV.3 The acquisitiveness of living beings expresses itself in expropriation without making any return. Man also began his career with such expropriation: the expropriation of animals through hunting and fishing, and the gathering of fruits and certain vegetables; he did not practise exchange until much later, when he plowed the soil and returned to it a portion of the harvest; when he domesticated animals and fed, preserved, and bred them. In his relations with his fellows he also began with expropriation. The commercial phase, in which human beings acquire the concept of exchanging an object for an equivalent, implies a certain development of civilisation.
GM.IV.4 M. de Molinari and Herbert Spencer are in agreement in thinking that the political organisation of human groups took its origin from warfare: they formed enterprises whose aim was plunder. War was the form of competition among States. To preserve and develop themselves, they had to have recourse to organised force. They brought about the selection of the strongest. The equipment of destruction improved more quickly than that of production.
GM.IV.5 But security is one of the conditions of existence of the individual within the group: it has made necessary individual appropriation and contracts; and contracts have force only if some sanction falls on those who default; this sanction is entrusted to the public authority. Certain acts considered as injurious must be repressed; but the history of penal law shows us of what atrocious aberrations man is capable.
GM.IV.6 Liberty and property, writes M. de Molinari12, are bound up with the economic phenomenon of value. Value is the objective of liberty and the substance of property. Man can make effective use of his liberty only to create value, and value is the only thing he can possess.
GM.IV.7 Right, considered as a science, may be defined as: the knowledge of liberty and property whether individual or collective, of their natural limits, and of the means of safeguarding them within those limits. Considered as an art, it is the application of these scientifically identified principles under the conditions and restrictions necessitated by the imperfect state of man and of the milieu in which he lives.
GM.IV.8 In the Journal des Économistes for April 1908 I have analysed his penultimate volume, A Theory of Evolution – a compendium that belongs in every serious library. M. de Molinari, taking up an objective viewpoint, shows how the various transformations of humanity have been produced. When need was the only right and labour the only duty, the stronger imposed labour on the weaker: hence slavery. But the stronger themselves realised that of all forms of labour, labour under compulsion was the most expensive; hence the transition to serfdom. Next, the personal serf becomes the serf by subscription: the dues become fixed instead of being up to the whims of the master. Finally, we arrive at free labour; and labour’s emancipation will be complete when it has been commercialised.
GM.IV.9 The scientific discoveries, and applications thereof, that we have made since Condorcet have justified his conviction of the perfectibility of man; they have surpassed what could have been foreseen not only by his contemporaries but by even the most optimistic men of the first half of the nineteenth century.
GM.IV.10 The machinery of production increases the productivity of industry, and produces a still more beneficial result by elevating the nature of labour. In place of physical labour, common to man and beast of burden alike, it leaves the worker only the direction and monitoring of, and the responsibility for, his work, requiring the use of his intellectual and moral faculties.
GM.IV.11 But at the beginning of the twentieth century, we note that although scientific and industrial progress have transformed humanity, it remains enmired in the political and economic remnants of less advanced eras.
GM.IV.12 In the preface to his book The Socialist Movement (1872), while discussing the change from the imperial régime to the republican régime, M. de Molinari wrote, “it would be an error to believe that liberty must necessarily gain from this change of régime. It is entirely possible that the Republic may judge it indispensable to protect itself by prohibiting the circulation of ideas and the propagation of doctrines which it considers subversive of the existing political and social order. This would be no more than to follow the traditions of all the governments which have succeeded one another in France – for there is not one of them that has not sought to crush offences of opinion.”
GM.IV.13 To conclude, from the fact that governments have committed certain deeds, that a new government is equally bound to commit them, was an excessively defeatist fatalism; and M. de Molinari’s prediction has not been confirmed. Since 1881, the category of offences of opinion has disappeared; its disappearance has even involved impunity for incitement to offences and crimes, which has nothing in common with liberty of opinion.
GM.IV.14 The economists, partisans of competition, endorse it for ideas just as they endorse it for goods and services. M. G de Molinari showed, from the standpoint of the development of economic science, the utility of protectionism and socialism. From 1840 to 1851, economic literature had been fertile. After 1851, there was silence, and M. de Molinari notes an arrest in the development of economic studies. Also, far from demanding any sort of prevention or repression directed against socialist propaganda, he wrote:
Despite the disorder which this agitation engenders, despite the temporary harm done to interests, despite the worry it creates for the government, it must be left entirely free, since it is the precondition of necessary progress in ideas and in things.
GM.IV.16 It is dangerous only if the men in power forget that their first obligation is to protect the security of persons and goods.
GM.IV.17 The economists are logical in demanding intellectual liberty and political liberty simultaneously with economic liberty.
GM.IV.18 But how is this contradiction to be reconciled – that the protectionists and socialists, who call for intellectual liberty and political liberty, intend to make use of it to impose economic servitude?
GM.IV.19 They affirm the fitness of every individual to influence the general direction of the country, to criticise, to judge every question, and at the same time, they deny his fitness to regulate his own affairs; the protectionists subject him to a fine if he wishes to buy this or that product or to devote himself to this or that industry, this or that trade, which does not suit them; the socialists of all descriptions intend, by means of so-called social laws and labour legislation, to substitute, for the individual’s will, his initiative, his judgment, his responsibility, the decisions of a government composed of individuals, as if power conferred infallibility on those who govern, and as if the governed were nothing but incompetents.
GM.IV.20 Yet daily experience proves that the individual feels his own sufferings and joys more vividly than he feels those of others. He acts more energetically on his own behalf than others act on his behalf. It is the efforts of individuals that comprise the progress of humanity; the wealth of peoples is only the total sum of individuals’ wealth: and while everyday facts prove it, what political phenomena do we behold?
GM.IV.21 M. de Molinari shows that political evolution for individuals has consisted in the removal of a certain number of rights that had been assigned to the rulers: absolute sovereigns exploited their subjects without being accountable to them in any way, and their power was limited only by the competition of other sovereigns and foreign peoples.
GM.IV.22 Sovereigns who exploit the State without being accountable to their subjects are becoming rarer and rarer exceptions. Russia, Turkey, and China are adopting systems of government that are imitations, to greater or lesser degree, of the English parliamentary government: the nation must be governed and administered by representatives and ministers, but the representatives are named by a part or the whole of the adult male population. “Under limited suffrage,” writes M. de Molinari, “voters sufficiently enlightened and moral to have in view the interest of the State alone formed only a minority. The proof lies in the well-founded reproach, directed against the class endowed with the electoral monopoly, of satisfying its particular interests first and foremost, without inquiring whether they accorded with the general interest.” But the history of universal suffrage shows that the majority of voters are susceptible to grand illusions, and that those who know how to exploit them are their favourites. The sovereign with a million heads, like the sovereign with a single head, loves its courtiers; and it prefers, to the truth which shocks its prejudices and its hopes, the lie which flatters and sustains them.
GM.IV.23 The voters authorise the tax; they might be expected, consequently, to be very sparing, since they are the one who pay it. Not in the least! They authorise and instigate spending in the hope that others will do the paying and that they themselves will enjoy the benefit. In every country public expenditures grow more swollen.
GM.IV.24 Each one of these voters demands his own personal liberty; so they ought to restrict the powers of the State within narrow limits. On the contrary, their tendency is to augment them, always in the hope of deriving profit therefrom.
GM.IV.25 These detestable policies may enrich the privileged few who profit from the monopolies conferred upon them by public power; but they impoverish the nation as a whole.
GM.IV.26 All these facts demonstrate the accuracy of these conclusions drawn by M. G of Molinari:
If, in its production of wealth, a society does not obey the law of least effort, if it squanders its forces by diverting them away from their destination, it weakens them, and ends by exhausting them.
Wars, protectionism, socialism, the economic and political errors which continue to dominate the minds of even the élite among nations – these are the forces destructive of wealth.
GM.V.1 The duty of men of progress, consequently, is clearly laid out for them. They must undertake a double task: the task of criticising errors, and at the same time the positive task of revealing truths.
The task of men of progress must consist in eliminating the causes that make life costlier, in diminishing the total sum of labour and thought that it requires. In so doing they will realise the dream of the economists of the eighteenth century: government at a bargain price.
This evolution cannot be accomplished except on condition that the general interest becomes strong enough to overcome those particular interests that profit from the perpetuation and intensification of the former régime of war and monopoly.
GM.V.4 M. de Molinari persisted in denouncing the risk of war, though he was never a candidate for the Nobel Prize. He believed, not without reason, that direct appeals to peace and generous feelings were not the path by which the elimination of war would be achieved. He expressed the following dictum, which I recommend to everyone’s attention: An interest can be defeated only by a stronger interest.
GM.V.5 This profound observation is universally applicable.
GM.V.6 Protectionism is not defeated until men become convinced that free trade is more in their interest than is protection: and that is what came about in Great Britain13. The “tariff reformers” [Online editor’s note: protectionists. – RTL] could not conquer the industrial counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the workers were not willing to sacrifice the certainty of good prices in favour of the tempting chimeras that were offered to them.
GM.V.7 Socialism will not be defeated until employees become convinced that it means their own ruin no less than the ruin of the capitalists and industrialists.
GM.V.8 In the preface to his Ultima Verba, written in his ninety-second year, M. de Molinari wrote: “My last work deals with the total concern that has filled my life: free exchange and peace.” And he added: “These fundamental ideas are everywhere in decline.”
GM.V.9 A few years earlier, he told me: “The scant success of the campaign which I have waged for more than sixty years against the protectionists and socialists has driven me to pessimism.”
GM.V.10 Nevertheless, he closed his book Ultima Verba with these words:
One may hope that there will develop a climate of opinion intelligent enough to comprehend that the existence of civilised societies can henceforth be secured with less expense, and powerful enough to wrest the securing State from the particular interests which struggle with one another to possess it, and which, instead of simplifying and lightening this old and heavy mechanism, strive daily to complicate it and make it heavier.
GM.V.12 Observation of facts shows us that although political evolution may lag behind scientific and industrial progress, it has nevertheless not remained stationary.
GM.V.13 From 1815 to 1853, apart from the war in Spain, there was no war among the nations of Europe; and since 1870, that is to say for more than forty years, although the threat of war has always weighed heavily on them, there has been only the 1877 war between Russia and Turkey. The usages of war render it less and less productive for the victor. Plunder has been banned from the earth. The English government did not confiscate the mines of the Transvaal as the Anglophobes of the continent supposed. War is an industry that does not repay its costs. M. de Molinari observed that the state of peace has become the normal state: and he lived to see the success of Mr. Taft’s [Online editor’s note: U.S. President William H. Taft. – RTL] proposal for general arbitration, a proposal which only twenty years ago no one could have foreseen.
GM.V.14 A century ago we were under the régime of the Continental Blockade. Until the first years that followed 1860, in France, Belgium, and Germany there were prohibitions and duties, on such raw materials as wool, which have never since been reestablished. The United Kingdom has resisted the protectionist assault mounted by Mr. Chamberlain [Online editor’s note: Joseph Chamberlain, British Colonial Secretary and leader of the anti-free-trade “Imperial Preference” movement. – RTL] and his friends since 1903; and by the power of its industry and trade it proves that, despite the exigencies of the trade unions and the shortened working-hours, its industry can enjoy, thanks to free trade, a prosperity that is solid and not dependent on artificial factors.
GM.V.15 M. de Molinari’s religion was the worship of truth. It is a burdensome religion for its devotees; but it also gives unfailing satisfactions to those who dare to practise it.
GM.V.16 M. de Molinari passionately pursued it, and generally found it.
GM.V.17 No one deserved less than M. de Molinari the reproach of scorning facts and losing oneself in theories. His own theories were the fruit not only of vast reading but of direct observation.
GM.V.18 All the same, in M. de Molinari’s opinion it is not enough to set down facts one after another. The task of science, in his view, is to examine the relations among these facts and to determine how they are connected. Many men are incapable of such an effort.
GM.V.19 His work demonstrates the superiority of generalising minds, like his, over minds with blinders on. Certain skeptics, thinking themselves clever, say: “To what end? You can see how men like M. de Molinari have seen their ideas go unrecognised or ignored by rulers and statesmen, and no less by the multitude; and some so distorted that they lead to consequences diametrically opposed to those envisaged by their author, as with the labour-exchanges.”
GM.V.20 M. de Molinari was well aware that science is not popular.
Error is more accessible to the multitude than is truth; it is better fitted to the general capacity of people’s minds; in the moral sciences, no less than in the physical sciences, it better conforms to the appearances which strike the senses and to which the great number habitually defer. The idea of property, for example, in all its applications, and with its implication that the appropriation of land is beneficial even to those who do not possess and never will possess an inch of ground – isn’t this more complicated and arcanely highbrow than the idea of communism?
GM.V.22 Perhaps so, but we must recall this observation of Buckle’s: “A truth once advanced is never lost.” [Online editor’s note: English historian Henry Thomas Buckle; retranslated quotation pending identification of the original. – RTL.] Admittedly, it can undergo eclipse or be preserved only by some: but it no longer awaits discovery. From having been a point to arrive at, it becomes a point of departure.
GM.V.23 M. de Molinari has given humanity a certain number of new points of departure; and he has encapsulated certain truths in definitive formulas to make them clearly understood and engraved in memory. Here is one: “The duty of the State is the maintenance of an environment of liberty.”
GM.V.24 With this dictum of such great insight and clarity, I conclude this too brief study.

Journal des Économistes, vol. 33. – February 1912 (pp. 177-192).

GM.n1.1 1 In Canada, Russia, Corsica, and the Antwerp Exposition. 1 vol. 1886, Reinwald.
GM.n2.1 2 Garnier ed., 1871.
GM.n3.1 3 The book was A Theory of Evolution. The article appeared in the Journal des Économistes for April 1908.
GM.n4.1 4 Letters on the United States and Canada, 1876. Letters on Russia, 1861, and 2nd edition, 1877. Ireland, Canada, and Jersey, 1881. In Canada and the Rocky Mountains; in Russia; in Corsica, 1886. In Panama, Martinique, and Haiti, 1887.
GM.n5.1 5 Ireland, 1880, p. 64.
GM.n6.1 6 Voyage to Russia, 1882. [Online editor’s note: included in In Canada, Russia, and Corsica, 1886. – RTL]
GM.n7.1 7 See the analysis of this work in the Journal des Économistes for March 1911.
GM.n8.1 8 The Socialist Movement, 1872.
GM.n9.1 9 Ultima Verba, p. 146.
GM.n10.1 10 G. de Molinari, Course of Political Economy, vol. I, 10th lesson.
GM.n11.1 11 See The Labour-Exchanges, 1893, p. 138.
GM.n12.1 12 Economic Morality, p. 33. 1 vol. gr. in-8. Guillaumin ed., 1888.
GM.n13.1 13 See Yves Guyot. Mr. Chamberlain’s Program, Journal des Économistes, July 1903.

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