Why did not Napoleon simply decree the abolition of beggary at a stroke? This question is just as valid as that of our “Prussian" who asks: “Why does the King not decree the education of all deprived children at a stroke?” Does the “Prussian” understand what the King would have to decree? Nothing over that the abolition of the proletariat. To educate children it is necessary to feed them and free them from the need to earn a livelihood. The feeding and educating of the entire future proletariat, would mean the abolition of the proletariat and pauperism.
For a moment the Convention had the courage to decree the abolition of pauperism, not indeed “at a stroke,” as the “Prussian" requires of his King, but only after instructing the Committee of Public Safety to draw up the necessary plans and proposals and after the latter had made use of the extensive investigation by the Constituent Assembly into the state of poverty in France and, through Barer, had proposed the establishment of the “Livre de la beinfaisance nationale” [Book of national charity], etc. What was achieved by the decree of the Convention? Simply that there was now one decree more in the world and that one year later starving women besieged the Convention.
The Convention, however, represented the maximum of political energy, political power and political understanding.
No government in the whole world has issued decrees about pauperism at a stroke and without consulting authorities. The English Parliament even sent emissaries to all the countries in Europe in order to discover the different administrative remedies in use. But in their attempts to come to grips with pauperism every government has struck fast at charitable and administrative measures or even regressed to a more primitive stage than that.
Can the state do otherwise?
The state will never discover the source of social evils in the “state and the organization of society,” as the Prussian expects of his King. Wherever there are political parties each party will attribute every defect of society to the fact that its rival is at the helm of the state instead of itself. Even the radical and revolutionary politicians look for the causes of evil not in the nature of the state but in a specific form of the state which they would like to replace with another form of the state.
From a political point of view, the state and the organization of society are not two different things. The state is the organization of society. In so far as the state acknowledges the existence of social grievances, it locates their origins either in the laws of nature over which no human agency has control, or in private life, which is independent of the state, or else in malfunctions of the administration which is dependent on it. Thus England finds poverty to be based on the law of nature according to which the population must always outgrow the available means of subsistence. From another point of view, it explains pauperism as the consequence of the bad will of the poor, just as the King of Prussia explains it in terms of the unchristian feelings of the rich and the Convention explains it in terms of the counter-revolutionary and suspect attitudes of the proprietors. Hence England punishes the poor, the Kings of Prussia exhorts the rich and the Convention heheads the proprietors.
Lastly, all states seek the cause in fortuitous or intentional defects in the administration and hence the cure is sought in administrative measures. Why? Because the administration is the organizing agency of the state.
The contradiction between the vocation and the good intentions of the administration on the one hand and the means and powers at its disposal on the other cannot be eliminated by the state, except by abolishing itself; for the state is based on this contradiction. It is based on the contradiction between public and private life, between universal and particular interests. For this reason, the state must confine itself to formal, negative activities, since the scope of its own power comes to an end at the very point where civil life and work begin. Indeed, when we consider the consequences arising from the asocial nature of civil life, of private property, of trade, of industry, of the mutual plundering that goes on between the various groups in civil life, it becomes clear that the law of nature governing the administration is impotence. For, the fragmentation, the depravity, and the slavery of civil society is the natural foundation of the modern state, just as the civil society of slavery was the natural foundation of the state in antiquity. The existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery. The state and slavery in antiquity – frank and open classical antitheses – were not more closely welded together than the modern state and the cut-throat world of modern business – sanctimonious Christian antithesis. If the modern state desired to abolish the impotence of its administration, it would have to abolish contemporary private life. And to abolish private life, it would have to abolish itself, since it exists only as the antithesis of private life. However, no living person believes the defects of his existence to be based on the principle, the essential nature of his own life; they must instead be grounded in circumstances outside his own life. Suicide is contrary to nature. Hence, the state cannot believe in the intrinsic impotence of its administration – i.e., of itself. It can only perceive formal, contingent defects in it and try to remedy them. If these modification are inadequate, well, that just shows that social ills are natural imperfections, independent of man, they are a law of God, or else, the will of private individuals is too degenerate to meet the good intentions of the administration halfway. And how perverse individuals are! They grumble about the government when it places limits on freedom and yet demand that the government should prevent the inevitable consequences of that freedom!
The more powerful a state and hence the more political a nation, the less inclined it is to explain the general principle governing social ills and to seek out their causes by looking at the principle of the state – i.e., at the actual organization of society of which the state is the active, self-conscious and official expression. Political understanding is just political understanding because its thought does not transcend the limits of politics. The sharper and livelier it is, the more incapable is it of comprehending social problems. The classical period of political understanding is the French Revolution. Far from identifying the principle of the state as the source of social ills, the heroes of the French Revolution held social ills to be the source of political problems. Thus Robespierre regarded great wealth and great poverty as an obstacle to pure democracy. He therefore wished to establish a universal system of Spartan frugality. The principle of politics is the will. The more one-sided – i.e., the more prefect – political understanding is, the more completely it puts its faith in the omnipotence of the will the blinder it is towards the natural and spiritual limitations of the will, the more incapable it becomes of discovering the real source of the evils of society. No further arguments are needed to prove that when the “Prussian" claims that “the political understanding” is destined “to uncover the roots of social want in Germany” he is indulging in vain illusions.