The Strong versus the Weak

Monday, Jul 11, 2011

Is it more likely that the strong control the weak in a so-called Hobbesian world or a world in which governments monopolize security? Gustave de Molinari was a French economist in the 19th century.

Man experiences a multitude of needs, on whose satisfaction his happiness depends, and whose non-satisfaction entails suffering. Alone and isolated, he could only provide in an incomplete, insufficient manner for these incessant needs. The instinct of sociability brings him together with similar persons, and drives him into communication with them. Therefore, impelled by the self-interest of the individuals thus brought together, a certain division of labor is established, necessarily followed by exchanges. In brief, we see an organization emerge, by means of which man can more completely satisfy his needs than he could living in isolation.

This natural organization is called society.

The object of society is therefore the most complete satisfaction of man's needs. The division of labor and exchange are the means by which this is accomplished.

Among the needs of man, there is one particular type which plays an immense role in the history of humanity, namely the need for security.

What, indeed, is the situation of men who need security? Weakness. What is the situation of those who undertake to provide them with this necessary security? Strength. If it were otherwise, if the consumers of security were stronger than the producers, they obviously would dispense with their assistance.

Now, if the producers of security are originally stronger than the consumers, won't it be easy for the former to impose a monopoly on the latter?

Everywhere, when societies originate, we see the strongest, most warlike races seizing the exclusive government of the society. Everywhere we see these races seizing a monopoly on security within certain more or less extensive boundaries, depending on their number and strength.

And, this monopoly being, by its very nature, extraordinarily profitable, everywhere we see the races invested with the monopoly on security devoting themselves to bitter struggles, in order to add to the extent of their market, the number of their forced consumers, and hence the amount of their gains.

War has been the necessary and inevitable consequence of the establishment of a monopoly on security.

Another inevitable consequence has been that this monopoly has engendered all other monopolies.

When they saw the situation of the monopolizers of security, the producers of other commodities could not help but notice that nothing in the world is more advantageous than monopoly. They, in turn, were consequently tempted to add to the gains from their own industry by the same process. But what did they require in order to monopolize, to the detriment of the consumers, the commodity they produced? They required force. However, they did not possess the force necessary to constrain the consumers in question. What did they do? They borrowed it, for a consideration, from those who had it. They petitioned and obtained, at the price of an agreed upon fee, the exclusive privilege of carrying on their industry within certain determined boundaries. Since the fees for these privileges brought the producers of security a goodly sum of money, the world was soon covered with monopolies. Labor and trade were everywhere shackled, enchained, and the condition of the masses remained as miserable as possible.

Nevertheless, after long centuries of suffering, as enlightenment spread through the world little by little, the masses who had been smothered under this nexus of privileges began to rebel against the privileged, and to demand liberty, that is to say, the suppression of monopolies.

This process took many forms. What happened in England, for example? Originally, the race which governed the country and which was militarily organized (the aristocracy), having at its head a hereditary leader (the king), and an equally hereditary administrative council (the House of Lords), set the price of security, which it had monopolized, at whatever rate it pleased. There was no negotiation between the producers of security and the consumers. This was the rule of absolutism. But as time passed, the consumers, having become aware of their numbers and strength, arose against the purely arbitrary regime, and they obtained the right to negotiate with the producers over the price of the commodity. For this purpose, they sent delegates to the House of Commons to discuss the level of taxes, the price of security. They were thus able to improve their lot somewhat. Nevertheless, the producers of security had a direct say in the naming of the members of the House of Commons, so that debate was not entirely open, and the price of the commodity remained above its natural value.

One day the exploited consumers rose against the producers and dispossessed them of their industry. They then undertook to carry on this industry by themselves and chose for this purpose a director of operations assisted by a Council. Thus communism replaced monopoly. But the scheme did not work, and twenty years later, primitive monopoly was re-established. Only this time the monopolists were wise enough not to restore the rule of absolutism; they accepted free debate over taxes, being careful, all the while, incessantly to corrupt the delegates of the opposition party. They gave these delegates control over various posts in the administration of security, and they even went so far as to allow the most influential into the bosom of their superior Council. Nothing could have been more clever than this behavior. Nevertheless, the consumers of security finally became aware of these abuses, and demanded the reform of Parliament. This long-contested reform was finally achieved, and since that time, the consumers have won a significant lightening of their burdens.

But is it conceivable that the production of security could be organized other than as a monopoly or communistically? Could it conceivably be relegated to free competition?

The response to this question on the part of political writers is unanimous: No.

Why? We will tell you why.

Because these writers, who are concerned especially with governments, know nothing about society. They regard it as an artificial fabrication, and believe that the mission of government is to modify and remake it constantly.

Now in order to modify or remake society, it is necessary to be empowered with an authority superior to that of the various individuals of which it is composed.

One cannot intervene in human affairs, one cannot attempt to direct and regulate them, without daily offending a multitude of interests. Unless those in power are believed to have a mandate from a superior entity, the injured interests will resist.

Whence the fiction of divine right.

One fine day [people] took it into their heads to question and to reason, and in questioning, in reasoning, they discovered that their governors governed them no better than they, simply mortals out of communication with Providence, could have done themselves.

It was free inquiry that demonetized the fiction of divine right, to the point where the subjects of monarchs or of aristocracies based on divine right obey them only insofar as they think it in their own self-interest to obey them.

Has the communist fiction fared any better?

According to the communist theory, of which Rousseau is the high-priest, authority does not descend from on high, but rather comes up from below. The government no longer looks to Providence for its authority, it looks to united mankind, to the one, indivisible, and sovereign nation.

Here is what the communists, the partisans of popular sovereignty, assume. They assume that human reason has the power to discover the best laws and the organization which most perfectly suits society; and that, in practice, these laws reveal themselves at the conclusion of a free debate between conflicting opinions. If there is no unanimity, if there is still dissension after the debate, the majority is in the right, since it comprises the larger number of reasonable individuals. (These individuals are, of course, assumed to be equal, otherwise the whole structure collapses.) Consequently, they insist that the decisions of the majority must become law, and that the minority is obliged to submit to it, even if it is contrary to its most deeply rooted convictions and injures its most precious interests.

That is the theory; but, in practice, does the authority of the decision of the majority really have this irresistible, absolute character as assumed? Is it always, in every instance, respected by the minority? Could it be?

Suppose nevertheless that the partisans of an artificial organization, either the monopolists or the communists, are right; that society is not naturally organized, and that the task of making and unmaking the laws that regulate society continuously devolves upon men, look in what a lamentable situation the world would find itself. The moral authority of governors rests, in reality, on the self-interest of the governed. The latter having a natural tendency to resist anything harmful to their self-interest, unacknowledged authority would continually require the help of physical force.

If anyone, says M. de Maistre, attempts to detract from the authority of God's chosen ones, let him be turned over to the secular power, let the hangman perform his office.

If anyone does not recognize the authority of those chosen by the people, say the theoreticians of the school of Rousseau, if he resists any decision whatsoever of the majority, let him be punished as an enemy of the sovereign people, let the guillotine perform justice.

These two schools, which both take artificial organization as their point of departure, necessarily lead to the same conclusion: TERROR.

The Production of Security, Gustave de Molinari, Journal des Economistes, 1849, http://praxeology.net/GM-PS.htm.