The Fifteen Day Essay | Mac Crary Civil Stories
It is not, however, simply in criminal matters, it is almost everywhere that you find examples of official arrogance, cruelty, and incapacity, not arising, as I hold, from bad intention, but from the corrupting effect of power which is uncontrolled—all power, remember, being necessarily uncontrolled where the area of officialism is large. It is plain that, just as this area of official management is extended, so all effective control on the part of a busy public must necessarily grow weaker and weaker. I call to mind that many years ago the published (from an occasional correspondent, I think—not its own) an account of how stray dogs in Paris were destroyed after being captured. They were simply thrust on to great hooks, which pierced the throat, and were so left to die as they could. The thing impressed me a good deal as a young man, and, having to go to Paris, I saw a gentleman who was interested in the matter, who told me, rather despondingly, that they had not succeeded as yet in getting it changed, and spoke but doubtfully of their being able to do so. There, in miniature, is the exact picture of the bureaucratic state. In this instance, dogs; in the next instance, men and women. Any cruelty, any stupidity, any incapacity, may go on indefinitely, just because there is no living, acting public opinion to scorch the thing up into tinder. There can't be such public opinion where people are unceasingly administered. There may be revolutionary forces smoldering at the bottom, but the living, healthful opinion of every day, acknowledging its responsibility for what is officially done, cannot exist among the timorous, compressed self-distrustful human particles who live under the heel of the officials. Now take other matters, none of them, perhaps, in itself inflicting a grievous burden, but still expressing significantly enough the oppressive and vexatious whole of which they form a part. Take the ludicrous prohibition about sea water. An unfortunate seaside resident may not go and dip his bucket into great Father Ocean and carry off water for his bath, as such liberty might interfere with the revenue derived from salt. I would commend this fact to any innocent-minded land nationalizer as a trifling but significant example of the spirit in which governments deal with so-called national property. So, too, if I am rightly informed, no ordinary person is allowed to fish in the sea within the three-mile limit—that ordinary right of the citizen being turned into a bit of state property and reserved for special classes of persons; again I bespeak the attention of the innocent-minded land nationalizer. So also notice the petty tyranny which forbids a child being called by a new name, requiring, I believe, that the name given should be one that has been already in use; or the stringent rules affecting joint-stock companies, rules which, in the opinion of the , would in this country prevent the best men from acting as directors or the vexatious formalities that have surrounded public meetings; or the perfectly absurd extension of the law of libel—already most absurdly exaggerated with us—under which, for example, a Paris firm that retailed a newspaper published in America was recently held responsible for the contents; or the liberty of the press itself, which is occasionally conceded in moments of indulgence, like sweetmeats to a child, then snatched away again by the rude hand of the state. Referring to this matter, Professor A. Dicey writes (, p. 256): “To sum the whole matter up, the censorship (of the press) though constantly abolished has been constantly revived in France, because the exertion of discretionary powers by the government has been and still is in harmony with French laws and institutions.” The recent exaggerated and unreasoning legislation passed in a panic after the bomb explosion in the Chamber is a striking example of this tendency to fall back into the arms of government and to renounce vital rights whenever there is public alarm. In another passage Professor Dicey says, that notwithstanding recent legislation in favor of a free press, the notion (in France) seems still to exist that press offenses “require in some sort exceptional treatment.” To continue the list of petty vexations—the suppression (before trial in court) of an ingenious person who discovered a way of cleaning and renovating playing cards, his machinery being seized, and his trade stopped, because he might have diminished the profits arising from the card tax; or the harassing proceedings lately instituted against aliens; or the law under which persons who have been detected committing adultery () may be hauled off by the police before the correctional court; or the disregard of truth in official matters, and the suppression of inconvenient facts, such as those relating to the existence of cholera: or the quite incredible official persecution, resembling a legend imported from Timbuctoo, of a most eminent man like Leroy Beaulieu—it was fully described in the and the facts are given in a special pamphlet—because the government was afraid of his entrance into the Chamber; or the panic-begotten law that was lately passed, making it a crime to disturb confidence in the government savings banks; or the still worse mixture of timidity as regards free speech and blind belief in punishment which led-on the charge of defaming the army—to the imprisonment of a man for declaring that the army was a school of licentiousness and most corrupting to young men in its influence; and the last piece of quite unnecessary intolerance which compels those preparing for the priesthood (I think it was also reported as regards those who had actually become priests) not simply to serve in the ambulance corps but in the ranks. Well, this is but a part, a small part, of the black list which might be drawn up against official France, as indeed it might be drawn up against official Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain—I need not perhaps include Russia or Turkey. I could myself extend it to many pages, and those who know France really well could extend it so as to fill a volume. Is there any occasion for wonder at such a state of things? It will always be so, say we liberty folks, wherever the spirit of administration, the spirit of officialism, takes strong root in a country. Like the rest of us, the French people have their faults—their grave faults—but left to themselves, freed from this vexing and maddening rule of the officials, they would be, as I believe, a gay, friendly, bright-tempered people, charming Europe with their quick perceptions, their ingenuity and resource, their strong family instincts, their love of the bright side of things. But officialism is destroying that pleasant side of their character. It has entered like iron into their souls. It has developed envy and jealousy and fear and hatred of each other, while it makes of their country the dangerous explosive spot in Europe, because passions are so strong, and self-control—the child of liberty—is so slight.