CONSTITUTIONAL PROJECT FOR CORSICA
You ask for a plan of government suitable for Corsica. It is asking for more than you think. There are peoples who, do what you may, are incapable of being well governed, for the law has no hold over them, and a government without laws cannot be a good government. I do not say that the Corsican people is in that condition; on the contrary, no people impresses me as being so fortunately disposed by nature to receive a good administration. But even this is not enough, for all things lead to abuses, which are often inevitable; and the abuse of political institutions follows so closely upon their establishment that it is hardly worth while to set them up, only to see them degenerate so rapidly.
Attempts are made to overcome this difficulty by mechanical devices designed to keep the government in its original condition; it is bound with a thousand chains and fetters to prevent it from declining, and is hampered to such an extent that, dragged down by the weight of its irons, it remains inactive and motionless and, if it does not go downhill, neither does it advance toward its goal.
All this is the consequence of an undue separation of two inseparable things, the body which governs and the body which is governed. In the original constitution of government, these two bodies are but one; they become separate only through the abuse of that constitution.
Really shrewd men, in such cases, follow the line of expediency, and shape the government to fit the nation. There is, however, something far better to be done, namely to shape the nation to fit the government. In the first case, to the extent that the government declines while the nation remains unchanged, expediency vanishes. But in the second case, everything changes simultaneously; the nation, carrying the government with it, supports it while it itself remains stable, and causes it to decline when it itself declines. Both remain at all times suited to each other.
The Corsican people are in that fortunate condition which makes possible the establishment of a good constitution; they can begin at the beginning, and take steps to prevent degeneration. Full of health and vigour, they can give themselves a government which will keep them healthy and vigorous. But even now the establishment of such a government will have certain obstacles to overcome. The Corsicans have not yet adopted the vices of other nations, but they have already adopted their prejudices; these prejudices are what will have to be combated and destroyed in order to create good institutions.
THE advantageous location of the island of Corsica, and the fortunate natural qualities of its inhabitants, seem to offer them a reasonable hope of being able to become a flourishing people and to make their mark in Europe if, in the constitution they are thinking of adopting, they turn their sights in that direction. But the extreme exhaustion into which they have been plunged by forty years of uninterrupted warfare, the existing poverty of the island, and the state of depopulation and devastation in which it finds itself, will not allow them immediately to provide for an expensive form of administration, such as would be needed if they were to organise with such an end in view. Furthermore, a thousand insuperable obstacles would stand in the way of the execution of such a plan. Genoa, still mistress of a part of the seacoast and of almost all the seaports, would repeatedly crush their rising merchant marine, constantly exposed as it is to the double danger of the Genoese and of the Barbary pirates. The Corsicans would be able to control the seas only with the aid of warships, which would cost them ten times more than they could earn by trade. Exposed on land and sea, forced to defend themselves on all sides, what would become of them? At the mercy of everyone, unable in their weakness to make a single advantageous trade treaty, they would be dictated to by one and all; surrounded by so many risks, they would earn only such profits as others would not deign to take, profits which would always shrink to nothing. And if, by incredible good fortune, they were to overcome all these difficulties, their very prosperity, by attracting the attention of their neighbours, would be a new source of danger to their ill-established freedom. A constant object of covetousness to fee great powers and of jealousy to the small, their island would never for a moment cease to be threatened with a new enslavement from which it could never again be extricated.
No matter what object the Corsican nation may have in view in forming a constitution, the first thing it has to do is to give itself, by its own efforts, all the stability of which it is capable. No one who depends on others, and lacks resources of his own, can ever be free. Alliances, treaties, gentlemen's agreements, such things may bind the weak to the strong, but never the strong to the weak.
Leave negotiations, then, to the powers, and depend on yourselves only. Worthy Corsicans, who knows better than you how much can be done alone? Without friends, without support, without money, without armies, enslaved by formidable masters, single-handed you have thrown off the yoke. You have seen them ally against you, one by one, the most redoubtable potentates of Europe, and flood your island with foreign armies; all this you have surmounted. Your fortitude alone has accomplished what money could never have done; if you had sought to preserve your wealth, you would have lost your liberty. Do not draw conclusions about your own nation from the experience of others; rules drawn from your own experience are the best by which to govern yourselves.
It is not so much a question of becoming different as of knowing how to stay as you are. The Corsicans have improved greatly since becoming free; they have added prudence to courage, they have learned to obey their equals, they have acquired virtue and morality, and all this without the use of laws; if they could continue thus, I would see little need to do more. But when the danger that has united them grows distant, the factions which are now repressed will revive among them; and instead of joining forces for the maintenance of their independence, they will wear out those forces against one another, and will have none left for self-defence if the attack upon them is renewed. That even now is what you must forestall. The divisions of the Corsicans have ever been a trick of their masters to make them weak and dependent; but this trick, incessantly used, has finally resulted in a propensity to dissension, and has made them naturally restless, turbulent and hard to govern, even by their own leaders. Good laws and a new constitution are needed to re-establish that concord the very desire for which has hitherto been destroyed by tyranny. Corsica, when subject to foreign masters whose hard yoke was never patiently borne, was in. constant turmoil. Her people must now reconsider its position, and look in freedom for peace.
The following, then, are the principles which ought, in my opinion, to serve as the basis for their laws: to make use of their own people and their own country as far as possible; to cultivate and regroup their own forces; to depend on those forces only; and to pay no more attention to foreign powers than as if they did not exist.
Let us proceed on this basis to establish the fundamental rules of our new constitution.
The island of Corsica, being incapable of growing rich in money, should try to grow rich in men. The power derived from population is more real than that derived from finance, and is more certain in its effects. Since the use of manpower cannot be concealed from view, it always reaches its public objective. It is not thus with the use of money, which flows off and is lost in private destinations; it is collected for one purpose and spent for another; the people pay for protection, and their payments are used to oppress them. That is why a state rich in money is always weak, and a state rich in men is always strong.1
To multiply men it is necessary to multiply their means of subsistence; hence agriculture. By this I do not mean the art of theorising on agriculture, of setting up academies to talk about it, or of writing books on the subject. I mean a constitution which will lead a people to spread out over the whole extent of its territory, to settle there, and to cultivate it throughout; this will make it love country life and labour, finding them so replete with the necessaries and pleasures of life that it will have no wish to leave them.
A taste for agriculture promotes population not only by multiplying the means of human subsistence, but also by giving the body of the nation a temperament and a way of life conducive to an increased birth-rate. In all countries, the inhabitants of the countryside have more children than city-dwellers, partly as a result of the simplicity of rural life, which creates healthier bodies, and partly as a result of its severe working-conditions, which prevent disorder and vice. For, other things being equal, those women who are most chaste, and whose senses have been least inflamed by habits of pleasure, produce more children than others; and it is no less certain that men enervated by debauchery, the inevitable fruit of idleness, are less fit for generation than those who have been made more temperate by an industrious way of life.
Peasants are much more attached to their soil than are townsmen to their cities. The equality and simplicity of rural life have, for those acquainted with no other mode of existence, an attraction which leaves them with no desire to change it. Hence that satisfaction with his own way of life which makes a man peaceful; hence that love of country which attaches him to its constitution.
Tilling the soil makes men patient and robust, which is what is needed to make good soldiers. Those recruited from the cities are flabby and mutinous; they cannot bear the fatigues of war; they break down under the strain of marching; they are consumed by illnesses; they fight among themselves and fly before the enemy. Trained militias are the best and most reliable troops; the true education of a soldier is to work on a farm.
Agriculture is the only means of maintaining the external independence of a state. With all the wealth in the world, if you lack food you will be dependent on others; your neighbours can set any value they like on your money, since they can afford to wait. But the bread we need has an indisputable value for us; and in every kind of commerce, it is always the less eager party who dictates to the other. I admit that in a system based on financial power, it would be necessary to operate on different principles; it all depends on the final goal you have in view. Commerce produces wealth, but agriculture ensures freedom.
You may say that it would be better to have both; but they are incompatible, as we shall show presently.
In all countries, it will be added, the land is cultivated. True, just as there is more or less trade and commerce in all countries; but that is not to say that agriculture and commerce flourish everywhere. I am not concerned here with the consequences which flow from natural necessities, but with those which result from the nature of the government and general spirit of the nation.
Although the form of government adopted by a people is more often the work of chance and fortune than of its own choice, there are nevertheless certain qualities in the nature and soil of each country which make one government more appropriate to it than another; and each form of government has a particular force which leads people toward a particular occupation.
The form of government we choose must be, on the one hand, the least expensive, since Corsica is poor; and it must be, on the other hand, the most favourable to agriculture, since agriculture is, at the present time, the only occupation which can preserve to the Corsican people the freedom it has won, and give it the firmness it requires.
The least costly administration is that which has the shortest chain of command, and requires the smallest number of official categories. It is in general the republican, and in particular the democratic state.
The administration most favourable to agriculture is the one where power, not being entirely concentrated at any one point, does not carry with it an unequal distribution of population, but leaves people dispersed equally throughout the territory: such is democracy.
Switzerland illustrates these principles in a most striking fashion. Switzerland is, for the most part, a poor and sterile country. Her government is everywhere republican. But in those cantons, like Berne, Solothurn, and Freiburg, which are more fertile than the rest, the government is aristocratic. In the poorest, where agriculture is less productive and requires more effort, the government is democratic. Even under the simplest administration, the state has no more than it needs to subsist. Under any other it would exhaust itself and die.
You may say that Corsica, being more fertile and having a milder climate, can support a more onerous form of government. In other times that would be true; but now, crushed by long years of slavery, and devastated by long wars, the nation first of all must recover its health. When it has put its fertile soil into production, it can dream of becoming rich and of adopting a more brilliant administration. Indeed, if the constitution we are about to establish is successful, further constitutional change will become necessary. Cultivation of the land cultivates the spirit; all agricultural peoples multiply; they multiply in proportion to the product of their soil; and when that soil is fertile, they finally multiply to such an extent that it no longer suffices to support them; then they are forced either to found colonies or to change their form of government.
When the country is saturated with inhabitants, the surplus can no longer be employed in agriculture, but must be used in industry, commerce, or the arts; and this new system demands a different type of administration. Let us hope that the institutions Corsica is about to establish will soon require her to make such changes! But as long as she has no more men than she can use in agriculture, as long as an inch of fallow land remains on the island, she should cleave to the rural system, and change it only when the island no longer suffices.
The rural system, as I have said, involves a democratic state; we have therefore no choice as to the form of government to be adopted. It is true that this form must be somewhat modified in practice by reason of the size of the island, for a purely democratic government is suitable rather to a small town than to a nation. It would be impossible to bring together the whole people of an island like those of a city; and when the supreme authority is entrusted to delegates, the government changes and becomes aristocratic. What Corsica needs is a mixed government, where the people assemble by sections rather than as a whole, and where the repositories of its power are changed at frequent intervals. This was well understood by the author of the Vescovado Report of 1764, an excellent report, to be consulted with confidence on all matters which have been omitted from the present discussion.
The firm establishment of this form of government will produce two great advantages. First, by confining the work of administration to a small number only, it will permit the choice of enlightened men. Secondly, by requiring the concurrence of all members of the state in the exercise of the supreme authority, it will place all on a plane of perfect equality, thus permitting them to spread throughout the whole extent of the island and to populate it uniformly. This is the fundamental principle of our new constitution. If we make it such that it will keep the population everywhere in equilibrium, we shall by that fact alone have made it as perfect as possible. If this principle is correct, our regulations become clear, and our work is simplified to an astonishing degree.
A part of this work has already been done. We have fewer institutions than prejudices to destroy; the task is not so much to alter as to perfect the existing state of affairs. The Genoese themselves have prepared the way for your new constitution; and, with a care worthy of Providence, they have laid the foundations of freedom while trying to consolidate tyranny. They have deprived you of practically all commerce; and now is not in fact the time for you to engage in it. If foreign trade existed, it would be necessary to prohibit it until your constitution had become firmly established, and domestic production was supplying all it could. They have hindered the export of your agricultural produce; your interest is not that it should be exported, but that enough men should be born upon the island to consume it.
The counties and regions they have formed or initiated to facilitate the collection of taxes are the only possible means of establishing democracy among a people which cannot assemble all together at any one time and place. They are also the sole means of keeping the country independent of the cities, which can thus more easily be held in subjection. The Genoese have also applied themselves to the task of destroying your nobility, of taking away its dignities and titles, and of extinguishing the great fiefs. You are fortunate that they have taken upon themselves the odium of this enterprise, which you might not have been able to do if they had not done it before you. Have no hesitation in completing their work; when they thought they were labouring for themselves they were labouring for you. Only the purpose is different; for the Genoese were interested in the operation for its own sake, while you are interested in its results. They sought only to degrade the nobility, while you seek to ennoble the nation. This is a point on which I can see that the ideas of the Corsicans are not yet sound. In all their official protests, such as the Remonstrance of Aix-la-Chapelle, they have complained that Genoa has repressed, or rather destroyed, their nobility. It was a grievance, no doubt, but it was not a misfortune; on the contrary, it is an advantage without which it would be impossible for the Corsicans to remain free.
It is confusing shadow with substance to identify the dignity of a state with the titles of some of its members. When the kingdom of Corsica belonged to Genoa, it may have been useful for it to have had marquesses, counts and other titled noblemen to serve, so to speak, as mediators between the Corsican people and the Republic. But against whom would the Corsicans now require such protectors, protectors less apt to guarantee them against tyranny than themselves to usurp it; protectors who would afflict them with their own vexations and disputes until one of them, victorious over the others, had turned all his fellow-citizens into subjects?
We must distinguish between two types of nobility: feudal nobility, which appertains to monarchy, and political nobility, which appertains to aristocracy. The first has several orders or degrees, titled and untitled, from the great vassals down to simple gentlemen; its rights, though hereditary, are in a manner of speaking individual, remaining attached to each individual family; and, since they are wholly independent of each other, they are also independent of the constitution and sovereignty of the state. The second, on the contrary, being united in a single indivisible body, whose rights all reside in the body rather than in the members, constitutes so essential a part of the body politic that neither one can subsist without the other; and all the individuals who compose it, equal by birth in titles, privileges and authority, are known without distinction as patricians.
It is clear from the titles of the ancient Corsican nobility, and from the fiefs it possessed, with rights approaching those of sovereignty itself, that it belonged to the first of these two types, and owed its origin either to Moorish or French conquerors, or to the princes in whom the popes had vested the island of Corsica. Now this sort of nobility, far from being capable of participating in a democratic or mixed republic, is not even capable of participating in an aristocracy; for aristocracy admits only of corporate, and not of individual rights. Apart from virtue, democracy recognises no other nobility than that of freedom; and aristocracy likewise recognises no other nobility than that of authority. Everything foreign to the constitution should be carefully banished from the body politic. Leave then to other states all such titles as count and marquess, titles which degrade ordinary citizens. The fundamental law of your new constitution must be equality. Everything must be related to it, including even authority, which is established only to defend it. All should be equal by right of birth; the state should grant no distinctions save for merit, virtue and patriotic service; and these distinctions should be no more hereditary than are the qualities on which they are based. We shall soon see how it is possible to establish different gradations of rank among a people without letting birth or nobility enter into the question at all. All fiefs, allegiances, quit-rents and feudal rights hitherto abolished shall therefore remain abolished forever; and the state shall repurchase those which still remain, in order that all titles and seigneurial rights may continue extinguished and suppressed throughout the island.
In order that all parts of the state may retain between themselves, as far as possible, the same equality we are trying to establish between individuals, the boundaries of the districts, counties and regions shall be regulated in such a way as to diminish the extreme inequalities that now exist between them. The province of Bastia and Nebbio alone contains as many inhabitants as the seven provinces of Capo Corso, Aleria, Porto-Vecchio, Sartene, Vico, Calvi and Algagliola. That of Ajaccio contains more than the four neighbouring provinces. Without removing all existing boundaries and upsetting all established relationships, it is possible with a few slight changes to modify these enormous discrepancies. For example, the abolition of fiefs makes it easy to unite the fiefs of Canari, Brando and Nonza to form a new region which, with the addition of the county of Pietrabugno, will nearly equal the region of Capo Corso. The fief of Istria, joined to the province of Sartene, will still not make it equal to the province of Corte; and that of Bastia and Nebbio, although reduced by a county, can be divided at the line of the Guolo and still form two very populous regions. This is meant simply as an example to illustrate my meaning; for I do not know the local situation well enough to reach any final conclusions.
By these slight changes, the island of Corsica, which I assume to have been wholly liberated, would be divided into twelve regions which would not be entirely disproportionate to one another; especially after the municipal rights of the cities, as is proper, had been reduced, thus leaving them with less weight in their respective regions.
Cities are useful in a country in so far as they foster commerce and manufacture; but they are harmful under the system we have adopted. Their inhabitants are either idlers or agriculturists. But tillage is always better performed by countrymen than by city-dwellers; and idleness is the source of all the vices which have thus far ravaged Corsica. The stupid pride of the burghers serves only to debase and discourage the farmworker. A prey to indolence and its attendant passions, they plunge themselves into debauchery and sell themselves for pleasure. Selfishness makes them servile, and idleness makes them restless; they are either slaves or mutineers, never free men. This difference has been clearly felt throughout the present war, ever since the nation has broken its fetters. It is the vigour of your counties that made the revolution; it is their firmness that has sustained it; your unshakable courage, proof against all reverses, comes from them. Cities, inhabited by mercenary men, have sold their nation to preserve some petty privileges for themselves, privileges by which the Genoese have well known how to profit; and these cities, justly punished for their baseness, still remain the strongholds of tyranny, while the Corsican people already rejoices gloriously in the freedom it has gained at the price of its blood.
An agricultural people must not look on life in the city as a thing to be coveted, or envy the lot of the idlers who dwell therein; consequently city-dwelling must not be favoured with advantages harmful to the population at large or to the freedom of the nation. An agriculturist must not be inferior by birth to anyone; let him see above him laws and magistrates only; and let him become a magistrate himself if his talents and probity make him worthy of it. In short, cities and their inhabitants should not, any more than fiefs and their possessors, retain exclusive privileges of any sort. The whole island should enjoy equal rights, bear equal burdens, and become in equal measure what, in local parlance, is known as Terra di commune.
But if cities are harmful, capital cities are still more so; a capital is an abyss in which virtually the whole nation loses its morals, its laws, its courage and its freedom. It is imagined that large cities are favourable to agriculture because they consume much farm produce; but they consume even more farmers, partly through the attraction of the idea of finding a better job, and partly because the natural race-suicide of city populations necessitates constant recruitment from the country. The environs of capital cities have an air of vitality; but the farther they are left behind, the more desolate everything becomes. The capital breathes forth a constant pestilence which finally saps and destroys the nation.
Nevertheless, the government needs a centre, a meeting-place to which everything will be referred; to make the central administration itinerant would be unduly inconvenient. In order to have it rotate from province to province, it would be necessary to divide the island into a number of small confederated states, each of which would assume the presidency in turn; but this system would complicate the operation of the machine, and its parts would be less closely knit.
Although the island is not large enough to require any such division, it is too large to be able to dispense with a capital. But this capital must provide a means of communication between the various regions without attracting their inhabitants; all should communicate with it, but stay where they are. In short, the seat of the central government should be more like a county-town than a capital.
In this connexion, pure necessity has already led the choice of the nation to the same conclusion that reason herself would have reached. By keeping their mastery of the seaports, the Genoese have left you with only one city, Corte, which is no less fortunately located for the Corsican administration than Bastia was for the Genoese. Corte, located in the middle of the island, is almost equidistant from all its coasts. It is precisely on the dividing line between the two great regions di quà and di là de' monti, and equally accessible to all. It is far from the sea, which will keep the morality, simplicity, uprightness and national character of its inhabitants intact longer than if it were subject to foreign influences. It is in the highest part of the island, with a very healthy climate, but with soil of low fertility; and the fact that it is located near the source of its rivers, by making difficult the importation of foodstuffs, will serve to prevent it from growing over-large. If you take the still further precaution of making none of the great offices of state hereditary, or even tenable for life, it may be assumed that public men, being no more than transient residents of the capital, will not soon give it that fatal splendour which is the ornament and ruin of states.
These are the first reflexions suggested to me by a rapid survey of local conditions on the island. Before going on to discuss the government in greater detail, we must first see what that government ought to do, and on what principles it ought to be conducted. On this must rest our final decision as to the form of government; for each form has a spirit which is natural and peculiar to it, and from which it will never depart.
We have already done our best to level the site of the future nation; let us now try to sketch upon this site a plan of the building to be erected. The first rule to be followed is the principle of national character; for each people has, or ought to have, a national character; if It did not, we should have to start by giving it one. Islanders above all, being less mixed, less merged with other peoples, ordinarily have one that is especially marked. The Corsicans in particular are naturally endowed with very distinct characteristics; and if this character, disfigured by slavery and tyranny, has become hard to recognise, it is also, on the other hand, because of their isolated position, easy to re-establish and preserve.
The island of Corsica, says Diodorus, is mountainous, well-wooded, and watered by large rivers. Its inhabitants live on meat, milk and honey, with which their country supplies them in abundance; in their relations with one another they observe the rules of justice and humanity with greater strictness than do other barbarians; the first to find honey in the mountains and in the hollow trunks of trees is assured that no one will challenge his possession. They are always sure of recovering their sheep, each of which is marked by the owner, and then allowed to graze unguarded over the countryside. This same spirit of equity seems to guide them in all the circumstances of life.
Great historians, in the simplest narratives and without introducing explanations of their own, know how to make the reader aware of the causes of each fact they report.
When a country is not peopled by colonists, it is the nature of the soil that gives rise to the original character of the inhabitants. A terrain that is rough, broken, and hard to cultivate is bound to provide more nourishment for animals than for men; fields are necessarily rare, and pastures abundant. Hence pastoral life, and the multiplication of cattle. The herds of individual owners, wandering in the mountains, will be mixed and intermingled. Honey can be distinguished in no other way than by the mark of the first occupier; ownership of it can neither be created nor preserved save through public good faith; and it is necessary for everyone to be just, for otherwise no one would have anything, and the nation would perish.
Mountains, woods, rivers, pastures; would you not think you were reading a description of Switzerland? And in the past the same character ascribed by Diodorus to the Corsicans was also to be found in Switzerland: equity, humanity, good faith. The only difference was that, dwelling in a more severe climate, they were more industrious; buried in snow for half the year, they were forced to make provision for the winter; sparsely scattered over their rocky land, they cultivated it with an effort that made them robust; continuous labour left them no time to become acquainted with the passions; communications were always difficult, and when snow and ice closed them altogether, each in his own hut was forced to be sufficient unto himself and his family, which led to crude but happy industry. Each in his own household practised all the necessary arts and crafts; all were masons, carpenters, cabinet makers, wheelwrights. The rivers and torrents that divided them from one another gave each, by way of compensation, the means of getting along without his neighbours; saws, forges, and mills multiplied; they learned to regulate the flow of the waters, both for the purpose of turning wheels and of improving irrigation. Thus it is that, in the midst of their precipices and valleys, each, living on his own land, succeeded in making it satisfy all his needs; being well off on what he had, he desired nothing further. Since needs and interests did not conflict, and no one depended on anyone else, their only relations with one another were those of benevolence and friendship; peace and concord reigned in their numerous families. Marriages were almost the only subjects of negotiation between them, and here inclination alone was consulted, no marriage ever being contracted for reasons of ambition, or prevented on grounds of interest and inequality.
This people, poor but not needy, and enjoying the most perfect independence, thus multiplied in unshakable unity; they had no virtues, since, having no vices to overcome, it cost them nothing to do good; and they were good and just without ever knowing what justice and virtue were. This hard-working and independent life attached the Swiss to their fatherland with a strength which gave them two great means of defending it, namely, harmony in council and courage in battle. When you consider the constant unity that prevailed among men who had no masters and practically no laws, and whom the neighbouring princes tried to divide with all the strategems known to politics; when you see the unshakable firmness, the constancy, the very fury with which these fearsome men fought their battles, resolved to conquer or die, and not even conceiving of the idea of disjoining their life from their liberty, it is no longer difficult to understand the prodigies they performed in defence of their country and independence; it is no longer surprising to see the three greatest powers and the most warlike troops of Europe fail successively in their designs against this heroic nation, whose simplicity could no more be overcome by trickery than their courage by valour. Corsicans, this is the model you should follow in order to return to your original estate.
But these rustic men, whose knowledge at first did not extend beyond themselves, their mountains and their huts, learned to know other nations by defending themselves against them; their victories opened the neighbouring frontiers to them; their reputation for bravery gave princes the idea of employing them. They began to pay the troops they had been unable to conquer; these worthy men, who had so well defended their own liberty, became the oppressors of the liberty of others.
It was surprising to see them bring to the service of princes the same valour they had devoted to resisting them, the same fidelity they had shown toward their own fatherland; to see them sell for money those virtues which can least be bought and which money most quickly corrupts. But in this early period they brought to the service of princes the same pride they had taken in resisting them; they looked upon themselves less as their satellites than as their defenders, and believed that they had sold not so much their services as their protection.
Imperceptibly they were debased, and were no longer anything more than mercenaries; a taste for money made them feel poor; contempt for their way of life gradually destroyed the virtues that same life had engendered, and the Swiss became hirelings, like the French, though asking a penny more. Another less obvious cause also corrupted this vigorous nation. Their isolated and simple life made them independent as well as robust; each recognised no other master than himself; but all, having the same tastes and interests, found it easy to unite in pursuit of the same objects; the uniformity of their life served them in place of law. But when association with other peoples had made them love what they should have feared, and admire what they should have scorned, the ambition of their leading men made them change their principles; they felt that, the better to rule the people, they would have to give them less independent tastes. Hence the introduction of commerce, industry and luxury which, by tying the occupations and needs of private citizens to public authority, made them far more dependent on their rulers than they had been in the original state.
Poverty did not make itself felt in Switzerland until money began to circulate there; money created inequalities both in resources and in fortunes; it became a great instrument of acquisition which was inaccessible to those who had nothing. Commercial and manufacturing establishments were multiplied; the arts and crafts diverted a multitude of hands from agriculture. Men multiplied and, no longer distributed evenly throughout the country, concentrated in regions whose location was comparatively favourable and whose resources were comparatively rich. Some deserted their fatherland; others became parasites upon it, consuming without producing anything; large numbers of children became a burden. The rate of population growth declined appreciably; and while the cities grew, the increasing neglect of agriculture and the rising cost of living had the effect of making imported foodstuffs ever more necessary, thus placing the country in a position of increasing dependence on its neighbours. Idle habits introduced corruption and multiplied the number of pensioners dependent on foreign powers; love of country, extinguished in all hearts, was replaced by an exclusive love of money; all those sentiments which give strength to the soul having been stifled, firmness was no longer to be seen in conduct, nor vigour in council. Formerly an impoverished Switzerland laid down the law to France; now a rich Switzerland trembles at the frown of a French minister.
These are important lessons for the Corsican people; let us see how it ought to apply them to its own case. The Corsican people retains many of its original virtues, which will greatly facilitate the establishment of our constitution. In servitude it has contracted many vices which will have to be corrected. Of these vices, some will disappear together with the cause that engendered them; others will require a contrary cause to uproot the passion which is responsible for their existence.2
In the first category I would place that indomitable and ferocious temper with which the Corsicans are credited. They are accused of being mutinous; who can tell, considering that they have never been justly governed? Those who constantly incited them against one another ought to have foreseen that this animosity would often be turned against its makers.
In the second category I would place that inclination to theft and murder which has made them odious. The source of these two vices is idleness and impunity. This is self-evident with regard to the former, and easily demonstrable with regard to the latter, for family feuds and schemes of vengeance, with the satisfaction of which the Corsicans were constantly occupied, are the product of idle encounters, and reinforced by gloomy meditation, and are made easy of execution through assurance of impunity.
Who could fail to be struck with horror at a barbarous government which, in order to see these luckless people cut each other's throats, spared no pains to incite them to it? Murder was not punished; nay, rather, it was rewarded; blood-money was one of the revenues of the Republic. The unhappy Corsicans were forced, in order to avoid total destruction, to pay tribute for the privilege of being disarmed.
May the Corsicans, once again restored to an industrious mode of life, lose the habit of wandering over the island as bandits; may their regular and simple occupations, by keeping them in the bosom of their own families, leave them few issues to settle between them! May their labour provide them easily with the means of subsistence for themselves and their families! May those who have all the necessaries of life be not also obliged to have cash, either to pay taxes and other assessments, or to satisfy the requirements of a capricious luxury which, without contributing to the well-being of him who flaunts it, serves merely to excite the envy and hatred of others!
It is easy to see how these advantages are brought about by the system for which we have expressed our preference; but that is not enough. It is a question of causing the people to adopt these practices, to love the way of life we want to give them, to make it the centre of their pleasures, desires and tastes, and in general to render it their only happiness in life, and the only goal of their ambitions.
The Genoese boasted of having fostered agriculture on the island; the Corsicans seem to agree. I do not share their opinion; for the ill-success of the Genoese proves that their methods were ill-chosen. In this enterprise, the Republic did not seek to multiply the inhabitants of the island, since she so openly favoured murder; nor to make them prosperous, since she ruined them by her exactions; nor even to facilitate the collection of taxes, since she burdened the sale and transport of various farm products with customs duties and forbade their exportation. Her object was, on the contrary, to make more burdensome the very taxes she did not dare to increase; to keep the Corsicans perpetually degraded, by attaching them, in a manner of speaking, to the soil, by turning them away from commerce, manufacture and all the lucrative professions, and by preventing them from improving, educating or enriching themselves. Her object was to secure all their produce at a low price through official monopolies. She used every means to drain the island of money, to make the island need money, and at the same time to prevent money from returning to it. Tyranny could not have used a more subtle device; for by appearing to favour agriculture, she succeeded in crushing the nation; she wished to reduce it to a mass of degraded peasants living in the most deplorable poverty.
What was the consequence? The Corsicans were discouraged and gave up work, since work held no hope for them; they preferred to do nothing rather than weary themselves to no purpose. Their industrious and simple life gave way to idleness, laziness and every sort of vice; thievery procured them the money they needed to pay their taxes, money that their farm produce could never have brought them; they left their fields to work on the highways.
I can see no quicker or surer means of remedying this situation than the two following: the first is to attach men to the land, in a manner of speaking, by making it the basis of their status and rights; the second is to reinforce this bond with family ties, by making land a necessary condition of paternity.
With this in mind, it has seemed to me that it would be possible, basing constitutional law on distinctions drawn from the nature of the case, to divide the whole Corsican nation into three classes; the resulting inequalities, being wholly personal, would be a fortunate substitute for the hereditary or local inequalities created by the system of municipal feudalism we are abolishing. The first class will be that of the citizens, and the second that of the patriots, the third that of the aspirants. We shall consider later the conditions of enrolment in each of these classes, and the privileges to be enjoyed by each.
This class division should not be effected by a census or enumeration at the outset of the new constitution, but should be established gradually and automatically through the simple operation of the passage of time.
The first act in the establishment of the projected system should be a solemn oath sworn by all Corsicans twenty years old or older; and all those who swear it should without distinction be enrolled as citizens. It is quite proper that all these brave men, who have delivered their nation at the price of their blood, should enter in possession of all these advantages, and in the foremost rank enjoy the freedom they have won her.
But once the union has been formed and the oath solemnly taken, all those who, although born on the island, have not yet come of age will remain in the class of aspirants until they are able, on the following conditions, to rise into the two higher classes.
Every legally married aspirant who has some property of his own, apart from his wife's dowry, shall be enrolled in the class of patriots.
Every patriot, married or widowed, who has two living children, a house of his own, and land enough to live on, shall be enrolled in the class of citizens.
This first step, though sufficient to make land honourable, is not enough to ensure its cultivation, unless we eliminate that dependence on money which caused the poverty of the island under the Genoese government. We must set it down as a safe rule that wherever money is a prime necessity, the nation will abandon agriculture to throw itself into more lucrative professions; the farmworker's way of life is then either an article of commerce and a species of manufacture for the powerful farmer, or else the last resource of poverty for the mass of the peasantry. Those who grow rich in commerce and industry invest their money, when they have made enough, in landed properties which others cultivate for them; thus the whole nation finds itself divided into rich idlers, who own the land, and wretched peasants, who starve while tilling it.
The more necessary money is to private citizens, the more necessary is it to the government; whence it follows that the more commerce flourishes, the higher the taxes; and in order to pay these taxes, the peasant must sell the produce of the land if he is to get any good out of tilling it. It is no use for him to have wheat, wine, oil, he absolutely must have money; he must carry his produce here and there in the cities; he must turn himself into a petty trader, petty salesman, petty rascal. His children, brought up in the debauching atmosphere of trade grow attached to the cities and lose all taste for their calling; they become soldiers or sailors rather than follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Soon the country is deserted, and the city teems with vagrants; there is a gradually increasing shortage of bread; the poverty of the general public increases along with the opulence of private individuals; and both of these lead in conjunction to all those vices which cause the ultimate ruin of a nation.
I am so fully convinced that any system of commerce is destructive to agriculture that I do not even make an exception for trade in agricultural products. If agriculture were to maintain itself under this system, the profits would have to be shared equally between the merchant and the tiller of the soil. But that is the very thing that cannot be; for the bargaining of the one being always free, and that of the other always forced, the former will always dictate to the latter, a relationship which, by destroying the balance, cannot lead to a solid and permanent state of affairs.
It should not be imagined that the island will be the richer for having a great deal of money. This will be true in relation to other peoples and in matters of foreign trade; but in itself a nation is neither richer nor poorer for having more or less money; or, which comes to the same thing, for having the same quantity of money circulate with greater or lesser velocity. It is not only that money is a token, but also that it is a relative token, in practice effective merely by reason of its unequal distribution. For whether we assume that each individual on the island of Corsica has ten crowns only, or that each has a hundred thousand, the relative condition of all in both cases is absolutely the same; no one is either poorer or richer in relation to his fellows; and the only difference is that on the second hypothesis trading becomes more cumbersome. If Corsica needed the services of foreigners, she would need money; but since she is capable of self-sufficiency, she does not need it; and since it is useful only as a token of inequality, the less it circulates within the island, the greater its real prosperity will be. We must see whether the things done with money cannot be done without it; and if they can, these alternative methods must be compared with reference to our purposes.
Facts prove that the island of Corsica, even in its present fallow and exhausted state, is sufficient to support its inhabitants, for even during thirty-six years of war, when their hands have been more often put to arms than to the plough, not a single shipload of provisions or foodstuffs of any kind has been landed for their use; and even apart from foodstuffs, the island has everything it needs to keep the population in a nourishing condition without borrowing anything from abroad. It has wool for textiles, hemp and flax for rope and canvas, leather for shoes, timber for ships, iron for its forges, copper for utensils and small change. It has salt enough for home consumption; it will have a surplus by restoring the salt works of Aleria, which the Genoese went to so much trouble and expense to destroy, and which still yield salt in spite of them. Even if they wanted to, the Corsicans could not carry on foreign trade in kind without buying superfluities; even in this case, therefore, money would not be necessary to their commerce, since money is the sole commodity they would be seeking. From this it follows that, in her relations with other nations, Corsica has no need for money.
The island itself is fairly large and divided by mountains; its great and numerous rivers are largely unnavigable; there is no natural communication between its several parts; but the variety of their products keeps these parts in mutual dependence by making each necessary to the others. The province of Capo Corso, which produces almost nothing but wine, needs the wheat and oil supplied to it by Balagna. Similarly Corte, on its heights, produces grain, and lacks all else; Bonifazio, on the outskirts of the marshes at the other extremity of the island, needs everything and supplies nothing. Thus the project of equalising the population calls for a circulation of agricultural produce, for the facilitation of payments from region to region, and thus for internal trade.
On this point, however, I have two comments to make: first, that this trade can, with government assistance, be effected largely by barter; second, that with this same assistance, and as a natural consequence of our new arrangements, this trade and barter ought steadily to diminish, and in the end to be reduced to very little.
You know that, in the state of exhaustion to which the Genoese had reduced Corsica, money was constantly flowing out and never returning, and thus became at last so rare that, in some cantons of the island, it was no longer known, and no buying or selling was done except by barter.
In their official protests the Corsicans have cited this fact as one of their grievances; they were right, for these poor people needed money to pay their taxes, and when they no longer had any they were seized and distrained in their homes, and saw themselves stripped of their most necessary utensils, their furniture, their poultry, their rags, all of which had then to be transported from place to place and sold at less than a tenth of the true value; with the result that, for lack of money, they paid the tax tenfold.
But since, under our system, no one will be forced to pay taxes in specie, lack of money will not be a token of poverty and will not serve to increase it; exchange can thus be effected in kind, without intermediary assets, and it will be possible to live in abundance without ever handling a penny.
I see that under the Genoese governors, who banned and in a thousand ways harassed the movement of produce from province to province, the communes set up warehouses to store wheat, wine and oil until the moment when trade would be both favourable and licit, and that these warehouses served the Genoese officials as pretext for a thousand odious monopolies. Since the idea of such warehouses is not new, it would be all the easier to put it into execution, and it would provide a means of exchange which would be simple and convenient both for the nation and for private individuals, without the danger of disadvantages which would make it burdensome to the people.
Even without having recourse to actual warehouses and depots, it would be possible in each county town to set up a public double-entry register, where private individuals each year would have recorded, on one side, the nature and quantity of their surplus products, and on the other side those they lacked. By balancing and comparing these registers from province to province, the price of produce and the volume of trade could be so regulated that each county would dispose of its surplus and satisfy its needs without deficiency or excess, and almost as conveniently as if the harvest were measured to its needs.
These operations can be performed with the greatest nicety and without the use of real money; either by way of direct exchange, or with the aid of a purely imaginary monetary unit which could serve as a term of comparison, as pistoles are used in France; or else by using as money some concrete form of denumerable property, like oxen among the Greeks and sheep among the Romans, and by reckoning it at its average value. For then an actual ox may be worth more or less than an ox, and a sheep more or less than a sheep, an anomaly which makes the imaginary unit preferable, since the latter is conceived only as an abstract number and is therefore always accurate.
As long as you confine yourselves to this, trade will remain in balance; and exchange, being regulated solely according to the relative abundance or scarcity of produce, and the greater or lesser facility of transport, will everywhere and at all times remain on a basis of proportionate equality; and all the products of the island, being equally distributed, will adjust themselves automatically to the level of the population. I will add that the public administration will be able without difficulty to preside over these transactions and exchanges, to keep account of them, to regulate their volume and to effect their distribution; for in so far as transactions are in kind, public officials will not be able, and will not even feel any temptation, to abuse them. Whereas the conversion of produce into money opens the way to all those exactions, monopolies and rascalities which in such cases are typical of office-holders.
Many difficulties are to be expected at the beginning; but these difficulties are inevitable in any system which is new and runs counter to established usage. I may add that this system of administration, once established, will become easier every year, not only as a result of experience and practice, but also by reason of the progressive diminution of trade which must necessarily follow, until it has been reduced of its own accord to the smallest possible volume, which is the final goal we ought to envisage.
Everyone should make a living, and no one should grow rich; that is the fundamental principle of the prosperity of the nation; and the system I propose, so far as in it lies, proceeds as directly as possible toward that goal. Since superfluous produce is not an article of commerce, and is not retailed for money, it will be cultivated only to the extent that necessaries are needed; and anyone who can procure directly the things he lacks will take no interest in having a surplus.
As soon as the products of the earth cease to be merchandise, their cultivation will gradually be proportioned in each province, and even on each farm, to the general requirements of the province and the particular requirements of the farmer. Each will try to have everything he needs by producing it directly on his own land, rather than by exchange, which will always be less convenient and less certain, however greatly it may be facilitated.
It cannot be denied that it is advantageous to have each sort of land produce the things for which it is best suited; by this arrangement you get more out of a country, and with less effort, than in any other way. But this consideration, for all its importance, is only secondary. It is better for the land to produce a little less and for the inhabitants to lead better-regulated lives. With any movement of trade and commerce it is impossible to prevent destructive vices from creeping into a nation. The lack of certain advantages in the choice of land can be compensated by labour; and it is better to make bad use of fields than to make bad use of men. Furthermore, each farmer can and should have this in mind in selecting his own land, and each parish or commune in selecting its community property, as we shall see hereafter.
It may be feared that this economic system would produce an effect contrary to my expectations; that it would tend to discourage rather than to encourage agriculture; that the farmers, deriving no profit from their produce, would neglect their work, that they would confine themselves to mere subsistence farming, and that, without seeking prosperity and content with raising an absolute minimum for their own use, they would let the remainder of their land lie fallow. This is apparently confirmed by the experience of the Genoese government, under which the ban on the exportation of agricultural produce had precisely this effect.
But it must be remembered that, under this administration, money was the prime necessity, and thus the immediate object of labour; and that in consequence all labour incapable of earning money was necessarily neglected; that the farmer, overwhelmed by contempt, vexations and poverty, regarded his calling as the worst of misfortunes; and that, seeing he could not grow rich following it, he either went looking for another or else grew discouraged. But the whole basic tendency of our new constitution is to make this calling happy in its mediocrity, and respectable in its simplicity. Providing all the necessaries of life, all the means of acquiring social recognition and of discharging public obligations, and all this without sale or traffic, it will leave men incapable even of imagining a better or nobler way of life. Those who succeed in it, seeing nothing above them, will glory in it, and on making their way to the highest offices, will fill them as successfully as the early Romans. Being unable to leave this way of life, they will want to distinguish themselves in it, outdoing the rest by harvesting larger crops, by supplying the state with a stronger military contingent, by earning popular votes in the elections. Large families, well nourished and well clad, will bring honour to their fathers; and real abundance being the only known form of luxury, each will want to distinguish himself by luxury of this sort. As long as the human heart remains as it is, such institutions will not breed idleness.
What local magistrates and heads of families should do in each region, parish and household to make themselves independent of the rest, the central government of the island should do to make itself independent of neighbouring peoples.
An exact tabulation of the goods imported into the island during a certain number of years will give a good and reliable list of things that cannot be dispensed with; for the present situation is not one in which luxury and superfluity can occur. By careful observation of what the island both does and can produce, you will find that necessary foreign imports amount to very little; and this is fully confirmed by the facts; for in the years 1735 and 1736, when the island, under blockade by the Genoese navy, had no communication with the mainland, there was not only no lack of anything in the way of foodstuffs, but there were no unbearable shortages of any sort. The most appreciable deficiencies were in munitions of war, in leather, and in cotton for candle-wicks; and a substitute for the last was found in the pith of certain reeds.
From this small number of necessary imports must also be subtracted everything the island does not now provide, but could provide if it were better cultivated and more vigorously industrialised. Although we must be careful to reject the idle arts, the arts of pleasure and luxury, we must be equally careful to favour those which are useful to agriculture and advantageous to human life. We have no need for wood-carvers and goldsmiths, but we do need carpenters and blacksmiths; we need weavers, good workers in woollens, not embroiderers or drawers of gold thread.
We shall begin by making sure of having the most necessary raw materials, namely wood, iron, wool, leather, hemp and flax. The island abounds in wood both for construction and for fuel; but we must not rely on this abundance to abandon the use and cutting of forests to the sole discretion of the proprietors. As the population of the island increases and new land is brought under cultivation, the woods will suffer a rapid deterioration which can only be repaired very slowly.
Switzerland was formerly covered with woods so abundant that they were an encumbrance; but as a result both of the multiplication of pasturage and of the establishment of manufactures, they were cut without rule or measure; now these immense forests have nothing to show but nearly naked rock. Fortunately the Swiss, warned by the example of France, have seen the danger, and have brought it under control to the best of their abilities. It remains to be seen whether their precautions are not too late; for if, in spite of these precautions, their woods diminish daily, it is clear that they must end in destruction.
Corsica, by starting earlier, would not have the same danger to fear; a strict system of forest control must be set up in good season, and cutting so regulated that production equals consumption. It should not be done as in France, where the water and forest wardens receive a fee for cutting rights, and have therefore an interest in destroying everything; a task they fulfil to the best of their abilities. The future must be provided for long in advance; and so, although now may not be the right moment to establish a navy, the time will come when it will be necessary to do so; and then you will appreciate the advantage of not having handed over to foreign navies the fine forests which lie by the sea. Old and no longer profitable woods should be exploited or sold; but those which are vigorous should be left standing; they will be used when their time has come.
It is said that a copper mine has been found on the island; that is good; but iron mines are worth still more. There must surely be some on the island; the location, the mountains, the nature of the terrain, the thermal springs found in the province of Capo Corso and elsewhere, all this makes me believe that many such mines will be found if you look carefully with the aid of competent experts. Assuming this to be so, you will not allow them to be exploited indifferently; but in setting up forges you will choose those sites which are most favourable, most accessible to woods and rivers, and most capable of being opened to convenient lines of transport.
The same attention will be paid to manufactures of all sorts, each with reference to its own particular needs, in order to facilitate labour and distribution as far as possible. Care will be taken, however, not to set up establishments of this sort in the most populous and fertile sections of the island. On the contrary, other things being equal, you will choose the most arid sites, sites which, unless they were peopled by industry, would remain desert. This will cause some difficulties in the matter of supplying necessary provisions; but the advantages gained and the disadvantages avoided ought infinitely to outweigh this consideration.
In this way, above all, we are following our great and primary principle, which is not only to extend and multiply the population, but to equalise it as far as possible throughout the island. For if the sterile places were not peopled by industry, they would remain desert; and so much would be lost for the possible increase of the nation.
If you were to found such establishments in fertile places, the abundance of provisions and the profits of labour, profits necessarily greater in the arts and crafts than in agriculture, would divert farmers or their families from rural cares, and would gradually depopulate the countryside, making it necessary to attract new settlers from afar to cultivate it. Thus, by overloading some points of territory with inhabitants, we should depopulate others, and in thus destroying the balance we should be going directly counter to the spirit of our new constitution.
The transportation of foodstuffs, by rendering them more costly in the factories, will diminish the profit of the workers and, by keeping their condition closer to that of the farmers, will better maintain the balance between them. This balance can never be such, however, that the advantage will not still lie with industry, partly because it attracts a larger share of the money circulating in the state, partly because wealth provides opportunities for the effects of power and inequality to be felt, and partly because increased strength accrues to large numbers of men gathered together in one place, a strength which the ambitious know how to combine to their own advantage. It is, therefore, important that this too-favoured part should remain dependent for its livelihood on the rest of the nation; in the case of internal conflict, it is in the nature of our new constitution that the farmer should be the one to lay down the law to the worker.
With these precautions, there will be no danger in favouring the establishment of useful arts and crafts upon the island; and I suspect that these establishments, if well managed, will be able to ensure all the necessaries without requiring any foreign imports at all, with the possible exception of some trifles for the sake of which a proportionate export will be permitted, the balance being at all times carefully maintained by the administration.
So far, I have shown how the Corsican people could subsist in ease and independence with very little trade; how of the little that is necessary the greater part can easily be effected by barter; and how the need for imports from outside the island can be reduced to practically nothing. Thus we have seen that if the use of money and currency cannot be absolutely destroyed in private transactions, it can at least be reduced to so small a matter that it will be hard for it to give rise to abuses; that no fortunes will be made in this way; and that if they could be made, they would become practically useless and would give their possessors little advantage.
But the question of public finance remains; how shall we regulate it? What revenues shall we assign to the administration? Shall its officials be paid or unpaid? How shall we arrange for its upkeep? That is the next point to be considered.
Systems of public finance are a modern invention; the word finance was no more known to the ancients than the words tithe and capitation. The word vectigal was used in a different sense, as we shall explain hereafter. The sovereign laid imposts on conquered or vanquished peoples, never on its own immediate subjects; this was especially true of republics. The people of Athens, far from being taxed, was paid by the government; and Rome, whose wars must have cost her so much, often made distribution of wheat, and even of land, to the people. The state none the less subsisted, and maintained large armed forces on land and sea, and constructed considerable public works which were at least as expensive, proportionately, as those of modern states. How was this done?
Two periods are to be distinguished in the life of states, the period of origins, and the period of growth. In the beginning, a state had no other revenue than the public domain, and this domain was considerable. Romulus reserved for it one third of all the land; he assigned the second third for the maintenance of priests and holy things; the third only was divided among the citizens. It was little, but this little was free. Do you think that a French farmer would not willingly reduce himself to a third of the land he now cultivates, on condition that this third be held free of all tallages, corvées and tithes, and that no taxes of any kind be levied on it?
Thus the public revenue in Rome was collected not in money, but in foodstuffs and other products. Expenditures were of the same nature as receipts. Magistrates and soldiers were not paid, but fed and clothed; and in cases of urgent need, the extraordinary levies imposed on the people were corvées, not money taxes. Its onerous public works cost the state practically nothing; they were the labour of those redoubtable legions which worked as they fought, and were made up not of riff-raff but of citizens.
When the Romans began to expand and turned into conquerors, they placed the burden of maintaining their troops upon the conquered peoples; when soldiers were paid, it was the subjects, never the Romans, who were taxed. In moments of pressing danger the senate assessed itself; it raised loans which were faithfully repaid; and during the whole life of the Republic, I do not know of the Roman people ever paying money taxes, either on real estate or by capitation.
Corsicans, this is a fine model! Be not surprised that there were more virtues among the Romans than elsewhere; money was less necessary to them; the state had small revenues and did great things. Its treasure was in the strength of its citizens. I would say that owing to the situation of Corsica and the form of its government, no administration in the world will be less costly; for, being an island and a republic, it will have no need of standing armies; and the chiefs of state, since all return to the equality of private life, will be unable to withdraw anything from the common mass that will not very soon return to it.
But it is not thus that I envisage the sinews of public power. On the contrary, I want to see a great deal spent on state service; my only quarrel, strictly speaking, is with the choice of means. I regard finance as the fat of the body politic, fat which, when clogged up in certain muscular tissues, overburdens the body with useless obesity, and makes it heavy rather than strong. I want to nourish the state on a more salutary food, which will add to its substance; food capable of turning into fibre and muscle without clogging the vessels; which will give vigour rather than grossness to the members, and strengthen the body without making it heavy.
Far from wanting the state to be poor, I should like, on the contrary, for it to own everything, and for each individual to share in the common property only in proportion to his services. Joseph's acquisition, on behalf of the king, of all the property of the Egyptians, would have been a good thing if he had not done too much or too little. But, without entering into speculations which would take me too far afield, it is sufficient here to explain my idea, which is not to destroy private property absolutely, since that is impossible, but to confine it within the narrowest possible limits; to give it a measure, a rule, a rein which will contain, direct, and subjugate it, and keep it ever subordinate to the public good. In short, I want the property of the state to be as large and strong, that of the citizens as small and weak, as possible. That is why I avoid embodying it in things over which the private possessor has too much control; such as money and currency, which can be readily hidden from public inspection.
The setting up of a public domain is not, I admit, as easy to do in present-day Corsica, which is already divided among its inhabitants, as it was at the birth of Rome, when its conquered territory did not as yet belong to anyone. However, I know that there is a large quantity of excellent land still lying fallow on the island, land of which the government could easily make use, either by alienating it for a certain number of years to those who will put it under cultivation, or by having it brought under the plough by corvées in the several communities. It would be necessary to have been on the spot to judge regarding the possible distribution of these lands, and the possible use to be made of them; but I have no doubt that by means of a few exchanges and by certain fairly easy adjustments it will be possible in each region, and even in each parish, to procure community property which can even be augmented in a few years by the system of which we shall speak in dealing with the law of succession.
Another method which is even simpler, and which should provide clearer, more certain and much more considerable revenues, is to follow an example which I find close at hand in the Protestant cantons of Switzerland. At the time of the Reformation these cantons seized the ecclesiastical tithes; and these tithes, on which they worthily support their clergy, have constituted the main revenue of the state. I do not say that the Corsicans ought to touch the revenues of the church, God forbid! But I think that the people will not be greatly vexed if the state demands as much of them as do the clergy, who are already sufficiently endowed with real estate. The levying of this tax will be carried out without difficulty and inconvenience, and almost without cost, since it will only be necessary to double the ecclesiastical tithe and then take half of it.
I derive a third sort of revenue, the best and surest of all, from men themselves, using their labour, their arms and their hearts, rather than their purses, in the service of the fatherland, both for its defence, in the militia, and for its utility, in corvées on public works.
Do not let the word corvee frighten republicans! I know that it is held in abomination in France; but is it so held in Switzerland? The roads there are also built by corvées, and no one complains. The apparent convenience of money payment can delude none but superficial minds; and it is a sure principle that the fewer the intermediaries between need and service, the less onerous the service should be.
Without venturing to express my thoughts in their entirety, without arguing here that corvées and all other forms of personal service by citizens are an absolute good, I would agree, if you wish, that it would be better to have all that done on a paid basis, if the means of payment did not introduce an infinity of measureless abuses and of evils greater and more unlimited than those which can result from this form of constraint; especially when this constraint is imposed by one whose walk of life is the same as that of those on whom he imposes it.
Finally, in order that the contribution should be shared equally, it is just that those who, having no lands, cannot pay a tithe of their produce, should pay with their own labour; thus the corvées ought to fall especially on the order of aspirants. But citizens and patriots ought to lead them to the work and set them an example. Let everything done for the public good be at all times honourable! Let the magistrate himself, though occupied with other cares, show that the rest are not beneath him, like those Roman consuls who, to set an example to their troops, were the first to put their hands to the construction of field-works.
With regard to fines and confiscations, which constitute a fourth type of revenue in republics, I hope that our new constitution will render such revenue practically non-existent among us; I therefore shall not take it into account.
All these public revenues, being in kind rather than in money, would seem hard to collect, to store, and to use; and this is true in part. But we are less concerned here with ease than with soundness of administration; and it is better for it to be a bit more troublesome if it engenders fewer abuses. The best economic system for Corsica and for a republic is certainly not the best for a monarchy and for a large state. The one I suggest would certainly not work in France or England, and could not even be established there; but it is most successful in Switzerland, where it has been established for centuries, and it is the only one that country could have endured.
In Switzerland, taxes in each district are farmed out; they are collected either in kind or in money, as the contributors may elect; magistrates and officials everywhere are likewise paid for the most part in wheat, wine, fodder, wood. In this way collection is neither embarrassing to the public nor burdensome to private citizens; but the disadvantage of the system, as I see it, is that there are men whose profession it is to cheat the prince and vex the subjects.
It is most important not to allow any professional tax-farmers in the Republic, not so much because of their dishonest profits as because of the fatal example they set; an example which, all too promptly diffused throughout the nation, destroys all worthy feelings by making illicit wealth and its advantages respectable, and by casting unselfishness, simplicity, morality and all the virtues under a cloud of scorn and opprobrium.
Let us beware of increasing our pecuniary at the expense of our moral treasure; it is the latter that puts us truly in possession of men and of all their power, whereas the former gives only the appearance of service, since the will cannot be bought. It is better that the administration of the public treasury should be like that of the father of family, and lose something, than for it to gain more and be like that of a usurer.
Let us, then, leave tax collections in the hands of the state, even though it may bring in much less. Let us even avoid making tax-collecting a profession, for this would lead to nearly the same disadvantages as tax-farming. What is most pernicious in a system of public finance is the employment of professional tax-gatherers. At any price we must avoid having a single publican in the state. Instead of making the collection of taxes and public revenues a lucrative career, we must make it, on the contrary, a test of ability and integrity for the younger citizens; we must make this branch of administration the novitiate, so to speak, for public employment, and the first step toward the winning of magistracies. This idea was suggested to me by a comparison of the administration of the Charity Hospital of Paris, whose depredations and robberies are notorious, with that of the Charity Hospital of Lyons, which is a model of unselfishness and good management possibly unequalled anywhere on earth. Whence comes this difference? Are the people of Lyons intrinsically better than Parisians? No. But in Lyons the office of hospital administrator is temporary. You must begin by properly discharging the duties of this office in order to become a municipal magistrate and a merchant provost; whereas in Paris the administrators serve for life; they manage to derive the greatest possible advantage from an office which for them is not a proving-ground, but a profession, a reward, a privileged position attached, so to speak, to other privileges. There are certain offices where it is agreed that the income should be augmented by the right to rob the poor.
Nor should it be thought that this work requires more experience and training than young people are able to have; it simply demands a kind of activity for which they are peculiarly suited; and since they are ordinarily less avaricious, less hard-hearted in their exactions than their elders, since they are sensitive, on the one hand, to the sufferings of the poor, and strongly interested, on the other hand, in discharging well the duties of an office in which they are being tested, they will conduct themselves in that office exactly as the situation requires.
The collector of each parish shall render his accounts to the county, that of each county to its region, that of each region to the chamber of accounts, which will be composed of a certain number of councillors of state. The public treasure will thus consist, for the most part, of agricultural produce and other products, scattered in small warehouses throughout the republic, and in part of money which will be remitted to the general treasury, after the deduction of such minor disbursements as have to be made locally.
Since private citizens will always be at liberty to pay their assessments in money or in kind, at a rate to be established annually in each region, the government, once it has calculated the optimum proportion to be maintained between these two types of contribution, will be in a position to perceive immediately any change in this proportion as soon as it occurs, and to look for its cause and cure.
This is the keystone of our political system, the only point that requires skill, calculation, and thought. That is why the chamber of accounts, which everywhere else is only a very minor tribunal, will be for us the centre of affairs, the motive power behind the whole administration, and will be composed of the leading persons in the state.
When collections in kind exceed their due proportion, and those in money are deficient, it will be a sign that agriculture and population are doing well, but that useful industries are being neglected; it will be proper to re-animate them somewhat, lest the private citizens, by becoming too isolated, wild and independent, no longer place sufficient value on the government.
But this defect, an infallible sign of prosperity, will always be little to be feared and easily remedied. It will not be the same with the opposite defect, which, as soon as it becomes perceptible, is already a matter of the highest consequence, and cannot be too quickly corrected. For when the tax-payers supply more money than agricultural produce, it is a sure sign that too much is being exported abroad; that trade is becoming too easy, that lucrative arts and crafts are growing on the island at the expense of agriculture, and consequently that simplicity and all its attendant virtues are beginning to degenerate. The abuses this alteration produces indicate the remedies to be brought to bear upon them. But these remedies call for great wisdom in their manner of application, for in this matter it is much easier to forestall the evil than to eradicate it.
If you did no more than to impose taxes on objects of luxury, close the ports to foreign commerce, suppress manufactures, and halt the circulation of specie, you would simply plunge the people into idleness, poverty and discouragement. You would make money disappear without increasing agricultural production; you would eliminate the resources of wealth without reestablishing those of labour. Changing the value of money is also a bad policy in a republic: first because then it is the public which robs itself, which is absolutely meaningless; secondly, because there is between the quantity of tokens and the quantity of things a proportion which always regulates their respective values in the same way, with the result that, when the sovereign tries to change the tokens, he does no more than change the names, since the value of things then necessarily changes in the same proportion. With kings it is a different matter; and when the sovereign inflates the currency, he derives therefrom the real advantage of robbing his creditors. But if ever this operation is repeated, this advantage is compensated and wiped out by the loss of public credit.
Enact sumptuary laws, therefore, but make them always more severe for the leaders of the state, and more lenient for the lower orders; make simplicity a point of vanity, and arrange things so that a rich man will not know how to derive honour from his money. These are not impractical speculations; thus do the Venetians reserve for their noblemen the right to wear the plain, rough, black cloth of Padua, so that the best citizens consider it an honour to receive the like permission.
When manners are simple, agrarian laws are necessary, for then the rich, being unable to invest their wealth in anything else, accumulate real estate. But neither agrarian laws, nor any other law, can ever be retroactive; and no lands legitimately acquired, no matter how great the quantity, can be confiscated by virtue of a subsequent law forbidding the ownership of so much. No law can despoil any private citizen of any part of his property; the law can merely prevent him from acquiring more. Then, if he breaks the law, he deserves punishment; and the illegitimately acquired surplus can and ought to be confiscated. The Romans saw the necessity of agrarian laws when the time to enact them had already passed; and through their failure to make the distinction just stated, they finally destroyed the Republic by a means which ought to have preserved it. The Greeks wanted to deprive their patricians of their lands; they should have prevented them from acquiring them. It is very true that, later on, these same patricians acquired still more, in defiance of the law; but that was because the evil was already inveterate when the law was passed, and there was no longer time to cure it.
Fear and hope are the two great instruments for the governance of men; but instead of using both indiscriminately, you must use each according to its own nature. Fear does not stimulate, it restrains; and its use in penal laws is not to make men do good, but to prevent them from doing evil. We do not even find that fear of poverty makes idlers industrious. To excite men to vie with one another in labour, therefore, you should present it to them not as a means of avoiding hunger, but as a means of advancing toward well-being. Let us take it, then, as a general rule that no one should be punished for having failed to act, but only for having acted.
To stimulate the activity of a nation, therefore, you must offer it great hopes, great desires, great motives for positive action. The great springs of human conduct come down, on close examination, to two, pleasure and vanity; and what is more, if you subtract from the first all that appertains to the second, you will find in the last analysis that everything comes down to practically pure vanity. It is easy to see that all public voluptuaries are merely vain; their pretended pleasure is pure ostentation, and consists rather in showing or describing pleasure than in enjoying it. True pleasure is simple and peaceable, it loves silence and meditation; he who enjoys it is entirely absorbed in the thing itself, and finds no amusement in saying 'I am enjoying myself.' But vanity is the fruit of opinion; it arises from it and feeds upon it. Whence it follows that the arbiters of a people's opinion are also arbiters of its actions. It seeks things in proportion to the value it places upon them; to show it what it ought to respect is to tell it what it ought to do. This word vanity is not well chosen, since vanity is only one of the two branches of self-esteem. I must explain my meaning. Opinion which lays great store by frivolous objects produces vanity; but that which lights on objects intrinsically great and beautiful produces pride. You can thus render a people either proud or vain, depending on the choice of the objects to which you direct its judgments.
Pride is more natural than vanity, since it consists in deriving self-esteem from truly estimable goods; whereas vanity, by giving value to that which is valueless, is the work of prejudices which are slow to arise. It takes time to bedazzle the eyes of a nation. Since there is nothing more truly beautiful than power and independence, every people in process of formation begins by being proud. But no new people was ever vain; for vanity, by its very nature, is individual; it cannot be the instrument of so great an enterprise as the creation of a national body.
Two contrary conditions plunge men into the torpor of idleness: the first is that peace of soul which makes men content with what they possess; the second is an unlimited covetousness which makes them see the impossibility of satisfying their desires. He who lives without desire, and he who knows he cannot obtain what he desires, remain equally in a state of inaction. To act you must both aspire to something and be able to have hopes of achieving it. Any government which tries to stimulate activity among the people must first take care to place within its reach objects capable of tempting it. Arrange things so that work will offer citizens great advantages, not only in your own estimation, but also in theirs; infallibly you will make them industrious. Among these advantages, it is true not only that wealth is not always the most attractive, but that it may even be the least attractive of all, as long as it does not serve as a means to the attainment of those which are desired.
The most general and certain of all possible means to the satisfaction of your desires, whatever they may be, is power. Thus, to whatever passions a man or a people inclines, if those passions are vigorous they will vigorously aspire to power, either as an end, if they are proud or vain, or as a means, if they are vindictive or pleasure-loving.
It is, therefore, in the skilful and economical management of civil power that the great art of government consists; not only to preserve the government itself, but also to diffuse life and activity throughout the state, and to render the people active and industrious.
Civil power is exercised in two ways: the first legitimate, by authority; the second abusive, by wealth. Wherever wealth dominates, power and authority are ordinarily separate; for the means of acquiring wealth and the means of attaining authority are not the same, and thus are rarely employed by the same people. Apparent power, in these cases, is in the hands of the magistrates, and real power in those of the rich. In such a government everything proceeds in response to the passions of men; nothing aims toward the goal set by the original constitution.
Under these conditions the goal of ambition becomes twofold: some aspire to authority in order to sell the use thereof to the rich and thus themselves grow rich; the rest, the majority, go directly after wealth, with which they are sure one day of having power, either by buying authority for themselves, or by buying those who are its depositaries.
Let us assume that, in a state so constituted, honours and authority, on the one hand, are hereditary; and that, on the other hand, the means of acquiring wealth, being beyond the reach of all but a minority, depend on credit, favour, friends; it is then impossible, while a few adventurers go on to fortune and thence, by easy stages, to public office, for universal discouragement not to overcome the bulk of the nation and to plunge it into a state of listlessness.
Generally speaking, therefore, the government of all rich nations is weak, and I apply this term indiscriminately both to one which always acts weakly and, which comes to the same thing, to one which must use violent means to maintain itself.
I can explain my meaning in no better way than by the example of Carthage and Rome. The first massacred and crucified its generals, its magistrates and its citizens, and was only a feeble government, frightened of everything and increasingly unstable. The second deprived no one of his life, and did not even confiscate his property; an accused criminal could depart in peace, and that was the end of the proceedings. The vigour of this admirable government had no need of cruelty; the greatest of misfortunes was to be excluded from its membership.
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3 Peoples will be industrious when work is honoured; and it always depends on the government to make it so. When esteem and authority are within the reach of the citizens, they will try to attain them; but if they see that they are too far removed, they will not stir a step. What plunges them into discouragement is not the greatness of the work, but its futility.
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You will ask if it is by tilling a field that one acquires the talents needed for governing. I answer yes, in a government as simple and upright as ours. Great talents are a substitute for patriotic zeal; they are necessary to lead a people which does not love its country and does not honour its leaders. But make the people love the commonwealth, seek virtue, and do not concern yourself with great talents; they would do more harm than good. The best motive force for a government is love of country, and this love is cultivated together with the land. Common sense suffices to govern a well-constituted state; and common sense develops quite as much in the heart as in the head, since men who are not blinded by their passions always behave well.
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Men are naturally lazy: but ardour in labour is the first-fruit of a well-regulated society; and when a people relapses into laziness and discouragement, it is always a result of the abuse of that same society, which no longer gives labour the reward it has a right to expect.
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Wherever money reigns, the money the people gives to maintain its liberty is always the instrument of its enslavement; and what it pays voluntarily today is used tomorrow to compel it to pay.
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When a country becomes overpopulated, it will be necessary to employ the excess population in industry and the arts in order to draw from abroad those things that so numerous a people requires for its subsistence. Then, little by little, the vices inseparable from these establishments will also arise and, gradually corrupting the nation in its tastes and principles, will alter and at last destroy the government. This evil is inevitable; and since it is necessary that all human things should come to an end, it is well that a state, after a long and vigorous existence, should end by excess of population.
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Printed in Great Britain at the Press of the Publishers Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, Edinburgh
1. Most usurpers have used one of the following two methods to consolidate their power: the first is to impoverish and barbarise the conquered peoples; the second is, on the contrary, to make them effeminate under the pretext of educating and enriching them. The first of these means has always defeated its own purpose; it has always led, on the part of the oppressed peoples, to acts of vigour, revolutions, republics. The second means has always been successful; and the peoples, grown soft, corrupt, feeble and disputatious, making fine speeches on liberty in the depths of slavery, have all been crushed by their masters, then destroyed by conquerors.
2. There is in all states a progression, a natural and necessary development, from birth to destruction. To make their life as long and excellent as possible, it is better to emphasise the period before rather than the period after they have attained maximum vigour. It is not desirable for Corsica all at once to be all that she is capable of becoming; it is better for her to ascend toward this point than to reach it immediately, and then do nothing but decline; her state of decay is such that if her state of maximum vigour occurred now it would be a very feeble state; whereas placing her in a position to reach it in the future will make it very good when it arrives.
3. [The following are disconnected fragments. TR.]
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Maintained: Jon Roland of the Constitution Society
Original date: 1998/8/26 —