Monopoly of the Worst Kind
AUGUST 01, 1962 by HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE
The following excerpt from Buckle’s History of Civilization in England (1857) refers to the tendency toward centralization of government in France, which began in the fourteenth century, was pushed further by Louis XIV in the seventeenth and by Napoleon in the nineteenth. It reminds us in the twentieth century that those who will not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
In France everything is referred to one common center in which all civil functions are absorbed. All improvements of any importance, all schemes for bettering even the material condition of the people, must receive the sanction of government, the local authorities not being considered equal to such arduous tasks. In order that inferior magistrates may not abuse their power, no power is conferred upon them. The exercise of independent jurisdiction is almost unknown. Everything that is done must be done at headquarters. The government is believed to see everything, know everything, and provide for everything.
To enforce this monstrous monopoly there has been contrived a machinery well worthy of the design. The entire country is covered by an immense array of officials who, in the regularity of their hierarchy and in the order of their descending series, form an admirable emblem of that feudal principle which, ceasing to be territorial, has now become personal. In fact, the whole business of the state is conducted on the supposition that no man either knows his own interest or is fit to take care of himself.
So paternal are the feelings of government, so eager for the welfare of its subjects that it has drawn within its jurisdiction the most rare as well as the most ordinary actions of life. In order that the French may not make imprudent wills, it has limited the right of bequest; and, for fear that they should bequeath their property wrongly, it prevents them from bequeathing the greater part of it at all. In order that society may be protected by its police, it has directed that no one shall travel without a passport. And when men are actually traveling, they are met at every turn by the same interfering spirit, which, under pretense of protecting their persons, shackles their liberty….
The people, even in their ordinary amusements, are watched and carefully superintended. Lest they should harm each other by some sudden indiscretion, precautions are taken similar to those with which a father might surround his children. In their fairs, at their theaters, their concerts, and their other places of public resort, there are always present soldiers, who are sent to see that no mischief is done, that there is no unnecessary crowding, that no one uses harsh language, that no one quarrels with his neighbor. Nor does the vigilance of government stop there. Even the education of children is brought under the control of the state, instead of being regulated by the judgment of masters or parents. And the whole plan is executed with such energy that, as the French while men are never let alone, just so while children they are never left alone.
At the same time, it being reasonably supposed that adults thus kept in pupilage cannot be proper judges of their own food, the government has provided for this also. Its prying eye follows the butcher to the shambles, and the baker to the oven. By its paternal hand, meat is examined lest it should be bad, and bread is weighed lest it should be light.
In short, without multiplying instances with which most readers must be familiar, it is enough to say that in France, as in every country where the protective principle is active, the government has established a monopoly of the worst kind, a monopoly which comes home to the business and bosoms of men, follows them in their daily avocations, troubles them with its petty, meddling spirit, and, what is worse than all, diminishes their responsibility to themselves, thus depriving them of what is the only real education that most minds receive—the constant necessity of providing for future contingencies, and the habit of grappling with the difficulties of life.