The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

Bertrand de Jouvenel


Its Nature and the History of Its Growth




1. The proximate cause. 2. The growth of war.

3. Kings in search of armies. 4. Power extended, war extended.

5. The men whom war takes. 6. Absolute Power is not dead.

7. The Minotaur masked. 8. The Minotaur unmasked.

9. Ubiquity of the Minotaur.


Preface by D. W. Brogan

Translation by J. F. Huntington

The Viking Press, New York, 1949

(Du Pouvoir: Histoire Naturelle de sa Croissance

© 1945 by Les Editions du Cheval Aile, Geneva)




IN THESE ominous times, when the pressure of events makes calm thought difficult and when the apparent need of drastic measures makes hesitation, scepticism, criticism seem a form of petty treason, a book like M. de Jouvenel’s may seem to need some justification.  For it is a plea for hesitation and scepticism; it is an argument for not letting necessity, “the tyrant’s plea,” have all its own way.  Or, rather, it is an argument for a repeated stocktaking, for the scrutiny of every new proposal for extending the power of the state or of any other power-monopolizing body.  And so it can be made to seem an argument that will weaken the will to action of the government and the will to obedience of the governed.

It is not that: M. de Jouvenel has too acute a sense of the world and age in which we live to ignore the necessities of that age.  But his book is an argument - and a powerful argument - against leaps in the dark when they can be avoided, and an argument against the popular pretence that the darkness is in fact well lighted and the cliff merely a slight declivity.

In this book our attention is called, first of all, to what is, at any rate, a striking coincidence: the power of the state has steadily increased and the power of the human race for deadly mischief has increased at the same time.  Written as the book was before Hiroshima, the most striking example of this parallel progress was not to the author’s hand.  But it is worth noting that when we regard with legitimate fear the potentialities of mischief inherent in modern science, we should continually remind ourselves that potentialities have only been actualized by the will of the state.  It was not a spontaneously acting group of “scientists” who made the atomic bomb.  It was a group of employees of the government of the United States who made the bomb, and the most important of them were scientists.  But the decision to make it was the decision of President Roosevelt, as the decision to use it was the decision of President Truman.  To state this is not to impute wickedness to either statesman; it is merely to call attention to the fact that only the state is powerful enough to do damage on this scale - and that the state always means politicians, whether they be politicians in the White


House or in the Kremlin.  It is a dangerous and idle dream to think that the state can become rule by philosophers turned kings or scientists turned commissars.  For if philosophers become kings or scientists commissars, they become politicians, and the powers given to the state are powers given to men who are rulers of states, men subject to all the limitations and temptations of their dangerous craft.  Unless this is borne in mind, there will be a dangerous optimistic tendency to sweep aside doubts and fears as irrelevant, since, in the state that the projectors have in mind, power will be exercised by men of a wisdom and degree of moral virtue that we have not yet seen.  It won’t.  It will be exercised by men who will be men first and rulers next and scientists or saints a long way after.  It was an illusion of the framers of the early American constitutions that they could set up “a government of laws and not of men.”  All governments are governments of men, though the better of them have a high admixture of law too - that is. of effective limitations on the free action of the rulers.

It is possible, of course, to believe that a new system or a new doctrine will alter these empirically established laws of politics.  It is possible to believe that only some easily identifiable and eradicable flaw in the older systems makes the doubts and fears of M. de Jouvenel plausible.  In a world without private property, * or without race prejudice, or without religion, or without rain on holidays, these depressing considerations will no longer apply.  If you can believe that, as the Duke of Wellington said, you can believe anything.  But it may be worth while recalling the disillusionment of Lenin (whom no one has ever accused of romantic optimism).  Yet in State and Revolution Lenin, on the eve of the seizure of power, saw in the apparatus of the state a mere transitory and soon to be evanescent phenomenon.  He learned better, and could he return to Leningrad, thirty years later, he would see installed there a state power more formidable than any known to the Czars, not because the “Revolution has been betrayed” but because, as M. de Jouvenel puts it, “Power changes its appearance but not its reality.”  Politics are about power; we cannot evade that truth or its consequences.  We dream of a better world but it is in Utopia - that is, nowhere.

It is in the popularity of the pursuit of Utopia that the aggrandiz-

* Cf. Aristotle, Politics, 1263b: “None of these evils is due to the absence of property in common.  They all arise from the wickedness of human nature.”


ers of state power find their most effective ally.  Only an immensely powerful apparatus can do all that the preachers of panaceas promise, so we accept the apparatus but find that we have not got the beneficial effects of the panacea, or have got them at a very high, perhaps ruinous, price.  It is one of the many merits of this book that it insists on the price paid even for historical triumphs like the French Revolution.  Perhaps the Revolution was the only way out of the dilemma in which the French state under the ancien régime had involved itself.  M. de Jouvenel’s highly critical account of the behaviour of the French elites on the eve of the Revolution at any rate suggests that this was the case.  But the price paid was terribly high.  The Republic demanded sacrifices that no king had dared ask for, and these sacrifices were offered up.  Perhaps the only way that the decadent Czardom could be replaced as the centre of Russian state authority was by the Bolshevik Revolution, but think of the price paid and still being paid for that achievement!  If a religion or a general cause not identified with the nation-state asked for these sacrifices, we should be far more critical than we are.  And even if we put at its highest the success of the modern state in doing what it promises to do, we have to notice that nothing is done free and that the price can be ruinous.

Another lesson is the necessity for scrutinizing all claims to political infallibility and impeccability.

“The right divine of kings to govern wrong” is a doctrine we can all laugh at today.  But its defender did not deny that kings could govern wrong: that was their fault and their sin.  But some modern deifiers of the state, democratic as well as totalitarian, preach arid practise a doctrine of Divine Right far more uncritical than Filmer’s.  For their rulers, the Führer or the Duce, the Party or the Sovereign People cannot do wrong, morally or intellectually.  We are, most of us in the West, immunized against the doctrine of political infallibility and impeccability when it comes to us in the discredited forms it took in Berlin and Rome or even in the more sophisticated form it takes in Moscow.  But we are not immune from “democratic” arguments which state or imply that a majority can do no wrong, if it is our majority; that, if we are part of it, it cannot do anything disastrously silly. It can and does.  And M. de Jouvenel has rightly stressed the dangerous results of this illusion (whether Rousseau was its legitimate begetter or no matters little), for, of course, if the peo­


ple is always right and the people is the state, then there can be no danger in surrendering into the hands of its mandatories complete, uncontrolled, and irrecoverable power.

But, since the people is not always right, is capable of going wrong morally and prudentially, it would be dangerous to relax the vigilance that is the price of liberty simply because power is in the hands of “the people.”  And in any case, power will not be in the hands of the people, but in the hands of rulers.  For they are rulers, however chosen.  “There is more in common between two deputies of whom one is a revolutionary and the other isn’t, than between two revolutionaries of whom one is a deputy and the other isn’t.”  And what Robert de Jouvenel wrote of the Third Republic is true of all commonwealths.  Being a ruler is a trade.  So we can apply to all types of ruler the judgment of Swift. “Arbitrary power is the natural object of temptation to a prince, as wine or women to a young fellow, or a bribe to a judge, or vanity to a woman.”  For the best of motives, rulers will, like courts, try to add to their jurisdiction.

How is this never-ending audacity to be, at any rate, limited?  By making sure that effective power is not monopolized.  Writing from a French point of view, M. de Jouvenel is conscious of the harm done to France by the withering away, in face of the power of the French state, of all intermediate organizations of power.  We have been less tolerant of state greed, of state jealousy, and France serves rather as an example to teach us caution than as an exact parallel to our own situation.  But it would be foolish to pretend that the power of the British state is not growing and growing at the expense of the independent bodies, which, in the past, have been such a source of varied strength.  The Minotaur, as M. de Jouvenel calls the engrossing state, is permanently greedy.

But  it would be foolish not to notice that the greed of the state finds justification in the failure of the intermediate bodies either to do well what they used to do well, or to find functions in the modern world to replace those which were once their justification.  The brilliant analysis here of the decline in public utility of such French corporations as the parlements, the descent of the French legal leaders into being a merely selfish and largely parasitic body, ensures that M. de Jouvenel’s readers will not be misled into thinking that the decline in independent sources of authority is due merely to state aggression.  It may be due to the failure in adjustment of once useful bodies.  Of course, we can all see, in 1949, the


faults of the Parlement de Paris.  It is a little harder to examine the possibility that Oxford and Cambridge, the Federation of British Industries, and the Trade Union Congress are the equivalent bodies in modern Britain and that they may be dying of their own faults as well as of the more or less deliberate aggression of the state!

And lastly, M. de Jouvenel is too wise not to notice and to state that the acceptance of omnicompetent state authority is largely due to the fatigue and despair bred by endemic disorder.  The French people accepted, even welcomed, Louis XIV, to put an end to civil war; it was internal peace at almost any price.  We may be provoked into doing the same to put an end to the threat of another and more terrible war.  It was after a nine years’ war that it was possible to create the “Brave New World” of Mr. Huxley’s fable.  “The world will never be safe for democracy,” wrote Chesterton after the First World War; “it is a dangerous trade.”  One of the reasons why it is dangerous is brilliantly set out here, and one of the duties of the good citizen who treasures liberty is to reflect on the problems so set out and developed in this book.

D.W. Brogan


1. The proximate cause. 2. The growth of war. 3. Kings in search of armies. 4. Power extended, war extended. 5. The men whom war takes. 6. Absolute Power is not dead. 7. The Minotaur masked. 8. The Minotaur unmasked. 9. Ubiquity of the Minotaur.


THE WAR through which we have lived has surpassed in savagery and destructive force any yet seen by the Western World.

This force has been generated by the unparalleled scale on which men and materials have been thrown in.  Not only have armies been raised to the number of ten, of fifteen, of twenty millions of men, but also, behind the lines, whole populations have been conscribed that these armies might not lack the latest and deadliest weapons.  Every inhabitant of a country with breath in him has served war’s turn, and the non-essential tasks which sweeten life have come to be tolerated at all only so far as they have been thought necessary to sustain the spirit of the one vast instrument of war into which whole peoples have been forged. [1] **

In this war everyone - workmen, peasants, and women alike - is in the fight, and in consequence everything, the factory, the harvest, even the dwelling-house, has turned target.  As a result the enemy to be fought has been all flesh that is and all soil, and the bombing plane has striven to consummate the utter destruction of them all.

The war would have counted fewer participants, it would have wrought a less frightful havoc, had not certain passions, fiercely and unanimously felt, so transformed men’s natures that a total distortion of their normal modes of doing became possible.  The task of stirring and sustaining these passions has been that of a munition of war without which the others must have proved ineffectual -propaganda. 

The most surprising feature of the spectacle which we now present to ourselves is that we feel so little surprise at it.

** The notes to which these numbers refer appear at the end of this extract.


1. The proximate cause

That the entire populations of Great Britain and the United States, countries where there was no military conscription and the rights of the individual were held sacred, should have become merely so much “human potential,” distributed and applied by Power as might best maximize the war effort, 2  is easily explained.  Germany was employing in her design of world conquest all her national resources, and there was no restraining her by other countries with only a part of theirs.  That had been the mistake of France, 3 whose subsequent fate taught Great Britain and the United States their lesson.  The former, indeed, went to the length of the conscription of women.

In like manner, the enemy who, to render its bodies more docile, mobilizes the thoughts and feelings of men, must be copied by the other side, who will otherwise fight at a disadvantage.  Thus it comes about that, just as duellists follow each other’s thrusts and feints, nations at war copy each other’s “total” methods.

The total militarization of whole societies is, then, the work - in Germany the direct work, in other countries the indirect - of Adolf Hitler.  And the reason for this achievement of his was, in his own country, this - that nothing less than the whole of her resources was adequate to his will to power.

There is no disputing this explanation, but it does not explain enough.  Hitler was not the first of Europe’s would-be conquerors.  How comes it that neither Napoleon, nor Frederick II, nor Charles XII, ever achieved the total mobilization of his entire people for war?  Simply because they were unable to.  And there have been other occasions in history when, with some formidable aggressor to repel, rulers would dearly have liked to dip deeply into the national resources; it will be enough to instance the emperors of the sixteenth century, who, even when the Turk was ravaging their lands, were never able, for all their wide domains, to raise armies which were more than moderate in size.

Therefore, neither the aggressor’s will nor the needs of his victims suffice of themselves to explain the vastness of the resources deployed in today’s war.  Rather the explanation must be sought in the controls, both spiritual and material, which modern governments have at their disposal.  It is the power of these controls which has made possible, whether for purposes of attack or of defence, the total mobilization which we see.


2. The growth of war

War is not necessarily, has not always been, what we see it today.  In the time of Napoleon only the men of military age were taken - and not all of them, for as a general rule the Emperor would call up only half a class.  All the rest of the population were left, apart from having to pay war taxes of moderate size, to lead their normal lives.

In the time of Louis XIV less still was taken: conscription was unknown, and the private person lived outside the battle.

We may say, then, that it is not an unavoidable result of an outbreak of war that every member and every resource of society must be involved in it: may we also say that the circumstances of the outbreak of which we are at once the spectators and the victims are due to chance?

Assuredly not.  And the proof is that if we arrange in chronological order the various wars which have for nearly a thousand years ravaged our Western World, one thing must strike us forcibly: that with each one there has been a steady rise in the coefficient of society’s participation in it, and that the total war of today is only the logical end of an uninterrupted advance towards it, of the increasing growth of war.

For an explanation, then, of the evil which besets us we must look not to the actual events which we see, but to history.

What is the continuously operative reason which has made ever wider the area of warfare?  (By “area of warfare” I mean, and shall mean throughout, the extent, whether more or less complete, to which the forces of society are sucked into it.)

The answer is given by the known facts.


3. Kings in search of armies

When we go back to the time - it was in fact the eleventh and twelfth centuries - in which the first modern states began to take shape, what at once strikes us is that, in times which have always been depicted as much given to war, the armies were very small and the campaigns very short.

The king could count on the troops mustered for him by his vassals, but their obligation to serve him was for no more than forty days.  He had on the spot some local militia, but these were troops of poor quality [4] and could hardly be relied on for more than two or three days’ campaigning.


How could he hope, with such an army, to undertake large-scale operations?  For them he needed more disciplined, long-term troops, but troops of that kind had to be paid for.

But how could the king pay for them when the only resources immediately available to him were the revenues of his private domains?  No one would let him impose taxes on any account, [5] and his main source of additional revenue was the Church, which, assuming that it approved his projected campaign, might let him have a tenth of its revenues over several years.  Even with this support, and even as late as the end of the thirteenth century, the hundred and fifty-three days which the “Crusade of Aragon” [a] lasted made it seem to contemporaries a tremendous undertaking and caused considerable financial embarrassment to the monarchy.

War in those days was always a small-scale affair - for the simple reason that Power was a small-scale affair and entirely lacked those two essential controls, the conscription of men and the imposition of taxes.

But the struggle to magnify itself is of Power’s essence, and the kings of other days were forever striving, at intervals which became ever shorter, to extract grants in aid, not only from the clergy, but from the nobility and commonalty as well.  The period covered in England by the reigns of the first three Edwards, and in France from the reign of Philip the Fair to that of Philip of Va1ois, [b] saw a steady development of this tendency.  The calculations made by Charles IV’s [c] advisers for a campaign in Gascony have come down to us: they were for 5,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot-soldiers, all hired and all under a five months’ contract.  Twelve years later we find yet another calculation for a four months’ campaign in Flanders, this time for 10,000 horsemen and 40,000 foot-soldiers.

To collect the necessary ways and means the king had to visit in succession all the principal centres of population in his realm and, having gathered the inhabitants together from highest to lowest, expound his requirements and request their help.6

We find that the course of the Hundred Years’ War - in reality a

a. The disastrous crusade against the King of Aragon was undertaken, at the prompting of the then Pope, by Philip III, “the Bold,” who ruled France from 1270 to 1285.

b. i.e., approximately, the last quarter of the thirteenth century and the first half to three-quarters of the fourteenth.

c. Charles IV, who ruled France from 1322 to 1328, was the last of the Capetian kings.  The House of Valois succeeded.


succession of short campaigns each of which had to be financed in turn - was continually marked by begging approaches of this kind.  And in the English camp the same process went on; [7]here the king had relatively more authority, and was able to extract larger and more regular grants even though his country was much the poorer and less populous of the two. [8]

The various levies, like those needed for the ransoming of King John of France, had to continue over many years.  Their permanence, even so, was never admitted, and before long the French and English peoples rose in almost simultaneous rebellion against them.

Only at the war’s end, when sacrifice had become second nature, was it possible to establish a levy permanently - the taille (poll-tax), as it was called - for the purpose of maintaining an army on a perma­nent footing in the shape of the orderly companies.

And now indeed Power had taken a big step forward.  It need no longer go a-begging from popular assemblies in times of crisis: it was henceforward permanently endowed.  Its next task, into which it would throw all its energies, would be to increase the endowment fund.


4. Power extended, war extended.

How to do it?  How increase the share of the national wealth which Power takes and converts into strength?

So long as it lasted, the monarchy never dared attempt the conscription of men.  It always hired its soldiers for cash.

Now, its civil duties, which, by the way, it came to perform quite well, justified it in acquiring a legislative capacity - a thing unknown to the Middle Ages, but with possibilities of growth.  This legislative capacity carried in its womb the right to impose taxes, though the period of gestation was to be a long one.

The great crisis of the seventeenth century which saw the revolutions in England and in Naples - the latter a hardly remembered but highly instructive one! - and the rise of the Fronde as well, marked the clash between the three great Western monarchies trying to increase their taxes [9]  and their peoples violently resisting their efforts. [d]

d. The revolt against Spanish rule in Naples occurred in 1647.  Its immediate occasion was a tax on fruit and it started as a riot between the fruit vendors and the customs officers.

The Fronde was the name given (meaning toy catapult and derived from the pelting of Mazarin’s windows by the Paris mob) to certain French factions during the minority of Louis XIV which were hostile to the Court and the Minister, Mazarin, and gave rise to a series of disturbances between 1648 and 1654.  The trouble started with a tax levied in the former year on the judicial officers of the Parlement of Paris.


When Power had once safely rounded that cape, the results were clear to see: 200,000 men engaged in killing each other at Malplaquet against 50,000 at Marignan. [e]

Louis XVI had 180,000 men-at-arms against  Charles VII’s (King of France, 1403 - 1461) 12,000.  The King of Prussia of the time of Louis XVI had 195,000 and the Emperor 240,000.

This growth frightened Montesquieu.[10]  “And soon,” he wrote prophetically, “having soldiers will result in having nothing but soldiers, and we shall become like the Tartars.”  And he went on with remarkable prescience: “All that is necessary for that to come about is that the new invention of militias set up in nearly the whole of Europe should become the normal rule and that their effectives should be pushed to as high a level as that which those of the regular forces have already attained.” [11]

But to do that was quite beyond the power of the monarchy.  Louvois f had created some territorial regiments to be drawn from their own districts and to give service - or that was the idea - nowhere else; when he tried to convert them into reserves for general service units he met with strong opposition.  In Prussia, on the other hand, the same project, embodied in the rescript of 1733, fared better.  But all the same, and to a much greater extent than the resulting increase of taxation, the peoples hated these first attempts at conscription, which constituted a major grievance against Power.

To say that the monarchy did no more than increase the size of armies would be ridiculous.  That it established internal order, that it protected the weak against the strong, that it raised the community’s standard of life, that it conferred great benefits on industry, commerce, and agriculture - all that is well enough known.

But, for the very reason that it had to make itself competent in the role of benefactor, it had to set up in concrete form a governmental machine - an executive, laws, a legislature - which may fairly be compared to a power house setting the governed in motion by means of ever more powerful controls.

And it is by means of these controls, operated from this power

e. The Battle of Marignan was fought in 1515 between the French army under Francis I and the Swiss troops of Maximilian Sforza, Duke of Milan.

f. Louvois (1641 - 1691) was war minister of Louis XIV.  As a war minister he ranks with Carnot, but has little else to commend him.

6  Index

house, that Power has become able, whenever war is actual or impending, to make such exactions from its people as were never conceived by a feudal monarch in his dreams.

Therefore the extension of Power, which means its ability to control ever more completely a nation’s activities, is responsible for the extension of war.


5. The men whom war takes

We have learned, and fairly enough, to link up the ideas of absolute monarchies, dynastic wars, and sacrifices laid on peoples.  For, while it is not the case that all kings have been ambitious, yet, if one such there was, the extent of his authority enabled him to lay heavy burdens.

When the people upset the Power of kings, it was, so they thought, of just these burdens that they were ridding themselves.  It was the burdens of taxation and, above all, military conscription which they hated.  That being so, it is not a little surprising to see these burdens grow heavier under an up-to-date regime, and most surprising of all to see conscription instituted, not by absolute monarchy, but as the result of its fall.

Taine remarks that it was the present threat and past experience of invasion and its sufferings which won the people’s consent to conscription.

The people conceived of conscription as an accidental and temporary necessity.  But it became permanent and established when, after victory and peace had been achieved, the people’s Government kept it on.  Thus, Napoleon kept it on in France after the Treaties of Lunéville and Amiens, and the Prussian Government kept it on in Prussia after the Treaties of Paris and Vienna.

As war has followed war, the burden of conscription has grown heavier.  Like a slow contagion it has spread from State to State until now the whole of continental Europe is in its grip.  There it holds court along with the friend of its youth its twin brother, that comes always just before it – with universal suffrage; both of them brought to birth at about the same time, the one bringing in its train, more or less openly and completely, the other, both of them the blind and terrible guides or masters of the future, the one placing in the hands of every adult person, a voting paper, the other putting on his back a soldier’s knapsack.  The promise which they hold for the twentieth century of slaughter and bankruptcy, the exacerbation of hatred and suspicion between nations, the wastage of the work of men’s hands, the perversion to base uses of the beneficent dis-


coveries of science, the return to the low and debased shapes of primitive societies on the warpath, the retrograde movement towards a barbarous and instinctual egotism, towards the feelings, manners and morals of ancient cities and savage tribes - all this we know too well! [12]

The event, however, surpassed even the imagination of Taine.  At the end of the Napoleonic Wars there were 3,000,000 men in Europe under arms.  The 1914 - 1918 war killed or mutilated five times as many.  And in the 1939 - 1945 war there is no counting the men, and the women and children, engaged in the struggle - as long ago those on Ariovistus’s chariots were counted.

We are ending where the savages began.  We have found again the lost arts of starving non-combatants, burning hovels, and leading away the vanquished into slavery.  Barbarian invasions would be superfiuous: we are our own Huns.


6. Absolute Power is not dead

How very strange!  When their masters were kings, the peoples never stopped complaining at having to pay war taxes.  Then, when they have overthrown these masters and taken to taxing themselves, the currency in which they pay is not merely a part of their incomes but their very lives!

How do we explain this amazing somersault?  Has the rivalry of nations taken the place of that of dynasties?  Is the popular will so warlike and expansionist that the ordinary citizen likes paying for wars and joining armed forces?  So that we now bear with enthusiasm self-imposed sacrifices which are far heavier than those at which in other times we kicked?


When he gets a warning from the tax collector or a summons to barracks from the policeman, the recipient is far from seeing in the warning or in the travel voucher an exercise of his own will, however much extolled and transfigured for him that will may be. Rather they are to him the dictates of a foreign power, of an impersonal master now popularly called “they” but in other days known as “the evil spirits. “They’ increase our taxes, ‘they’ mobilize us” - that is the language of the man in the street.  So far as the ordinary man is concerned it is as if a successor to the vanished monarchy had brought to fruition the interrupted tasks of absolutism.

In the past armies and taxes have been seen to grow with the


growth of the royal Power, so that there was a correspondence between the peak of taxation and military effectives, and the peak of absolutism: must we not say, then, when we see the curve of these two irrefutable indices, taxes and soldiers, still moving onwards and upwards and the same effects still monstrously expanding, that the same cause is at work, and that, though in another shape, Power has increased and is increasing?

Viollet was conscious of this: “The modern State is just the king of other days bringing to a triumphal end his unremitting work.” 13

All that has happened is that the royal power house has been improved on: its controls, moral and material, have been made progressively more efficient so as to drive ever deeper into society and to take from it in an ever tighter clutch its goods and men.

All that has changed is that Power in its present swollen form has become a stake in a political contest.

This Power [said Marx] with its vast bureaucratic and military organization and its complicated and artificial mechanism, this frightful parasite which enmeshes as in a net the body of French society and obstructs all its pores, started at the time of absolute monarchy, when the feudal system, in whose overthrow it helped, was in decline. . . . The effect of overthrows of Power has been merely to improve the government machine,  not to smash it.  The political parties which in turn fought for Power conceived of the seizure of this vast edifice as the spoils of victory. [14]


7. The Minotaur masked

From the twelfth to the eighteenth century governmental authority grew continuously.  The process was understood by all who saw it happening; it stirred them to incessant protest and to violent reaction.

In later times its growth has continued at an accelerated pace, and its extension has brought a corresponding extension of war.  And now we no longer understand the process, we no longer protest, we no longer react.  This quiescence of ours is a new thing, for which Power has to thank the smoke-screen in which it has wrapped itself. Formerly it could be seen, manifest in the person of the king, who did not disclaim being the master he was, and in whom human passions were discernible.  Now, masked in anonymity, it claims to have no existence of its own, and to be but the impersonal and passionless instrument of the general will.

But that is clearly a fiction.


By a fiction, or, as some would say, by an abstraction, it is claimed that the General Will, which in reality emanates from the persons invested with political power, emanates from a collective being, the Nation, of which the rulers are nothing more than the instruments; and the rulers are always anxious to drive this idea into the heads of their peoples.  They well understand its usefulness to them in making their power or their tyranny acceptable. [15]

Today as always Power is in the hands of a group of men who control the power house.  The so-called Power is this group, whose relationship with their fellow-men is that of the ruler with the ruled.  All that has changed is that it has now been made easy for the ruled to change the personnel of the leading wielders of Power. Viewed from one angle, this weakens Power, because the wills which control a society’s life can, at the society’s pleasure, be replaced by other wills, in which it feels more confidence.

But, by opening the prospect of Power to all the ambitious talents, this arrangement makes the extension of Power much easier.  Under the ancien régime, society’s moving spirits, who had, as they knew, no chance of a share of Power, were quick to denounce its smallest encroachment.  Now, on the other hand, when everyone is potentially a minister, no one is concerned to cut down an office to which he aspires one day himself, or to put sand in a machine which he means to use himself when his turn comes. [16]  Hence it is that there is in political circles of modern society a wide complicity in the extension of Power.

The most striking example of this is offered by the socialists.  Here is what their doctrine teaches them:

The State is nothing but an instrument of oppression of one class by another - no less so in a democratic republic than in a monarchy. [17]

Through all the innumerable revolutions which have taken place in Europe since the end of the feudal system, this bureaucratic and military machine has developed, improved and strengthened. . . . Every revolution of the past has done no more than improve the government machine, when its real task was to smite and smash it. [18]

But this does not prevent the socialists from viewing the growth of this “instrument of oppression” with much favour; their plan is not to “smash” it but to get hold of it. [19]  Rightly denouncing war, as they do, they do not realize that there is a link between its monstrous extension and the extension of Power.


To no purpose was Proudhon’s lifelong denunciation of the perversion of democracy into a mere competition for the imperium.  [g]

This competition brought forth in time its inevitable fruits - a Power which was at once widespread and weak.  But it is of Power’s essence not to be weak. Circumstances arise which make the people themselves want to be led by a powerful will.  Then comes the time when whoever has taken hold of Power, whether it be a man or a gang, can make fearless use of its controls.  These users quickly demonstrate the crushing enormity of Power.  They are thought to have built it, but they did not.  They are only its bad tenants.


8. The Minotaur unmasked

The power house was there before them: they do no more than make use of it. The giant was already up and about: they do no more than furnish him with a terrible spirit.  The claws and talons which he then makes felt grew in the season of democracy.  It is he that mobilizes the population, but the principle of conscription was founded in a democratic time.  He is the despoiler of wealth, but democracy provided him with the inquisitorial mechanism of taxation which he uses.  The tyrant would not derive legitimacy from the plebiscite if the general will had not already been proclaimed the sufficient source of authority.  The weapon of party with which he consolidates himself is the offspring of the competition for Power.  The way has been made straight for the conditioning of minds in childhood by the monopoly, whether more or less complete, of education.  Opinion has been prepared for the seizure by the state of the means of production.  Even the police regime, that most insupportable attribute of tyranny, has grown in the shadow of democracy. 20  The ancien régime hardly knew of such a thing. 21

Democracy, then, in the centralizing, pattern-making, absolutist shape which we have given to it is, it is clear, the time of tyranny’s incubation.

By means of the air of apparent innocence which Power derives from it, Power has attained a vastness of which a war and a despotism such as Europe never saw before give us the measure.  Had Hitler succeeded Maria Theresa on the throne, does anyone suppose

g. Imperium denotes here, as elsewhere, the sovereign authority, as distinct from the potestas of a subordinate office.  Proudhon (1809 - 1865), French socialist writer, was called by Morley “the trenchant genius of French Socialism in 1840 and onwards.”  To the modern socialist the libertarian cast of his thought must seem odd.


that it would have been possible for him to forge so many up-to-date weapons of tyranny?  Is it not clear that he must have found them ready prepared?  The more we think on these lines, the better we can appreciate the problem which faces our Western World.

It is, alas, no longer possible for us to believe that by smashing Hitler and his regime we are striking at the root of the evil.  Even while we do it, we are already making plans for after the war, which will make the state the arbiter of every individual destiny and will place, inevitably, in Power’s hands means adequate to the vastness of its task.

Can anyone doubt that a state which binds men to itself by every tie of need and feeling will be that much the better placed for devoting them all one day to the dooms of war?  The more departments of life that Power takes over, the greater will be its material sources for making war; the more clearly seen the services which it renders, the readier will be the answer to its summons.  And will anyone be so bold as to guarantee that this vast mechanism of state will never fall into the hands of a glutton of empire?  Is not the will to Power rooted deep in human nature, and have not the outstanding qualities of leadership needed for the handling of a machine which goes ever from strength to strength often had for companion the lust of conquest?


9. Ubiquity of the Minotaur

Now it suffices, as we have just seen and as the whole of history teaches us, for only one of the great powers of the future to produce a leader who will convert into sinews of war the powers taken for social advancement, and then all the others must follow suit.  For the more complete the hold which the state gets on the resources of a nation, the higher, the more sudden, the more irresistible will be the wave in which an armed community can break on a pacific one.

It follows that, in the very act of handing over more of ourselves to the state, no matter how benevolent a face it wears today, we may be fostering tomorrow’s war and ensuring that it will be to the last one as the last one was to the wars of the Revolution.

In saying this I am not setting up as an enemy of the growth of Power and of the distension of the state.  I know well the hopes that men have of it, and how their trust in the Power which shall be warms itself at the fire of the sufferings which the Power that was inflicted on them.  The desire of their hearts is social security. Their


rulers, or those who hope to become their rulers, feel no doubt that science now enables them to condition the minds and the bodies of men, to fit each single person into his proper niche in society, and to ensure the happiness of all by the interlocking functions of each.  This undertaking, which is not lacking in a certain grandeur, marks the culmination of the history of the West.

If it seems to some of us that there is in this design rather too much confidence here and rather too much presumption there; that premature attempts to apply an inexact science may inflict a more than barbarian cruelty – witness the experimentation in breeding – that mistakes in the switching of vast trainloads of human beings cannot but bring catastrophe; that, to conclude, the pliability of the masses on the one hand and the authority of their leaders on the other forebode wars of which the last one was but a foretaste - what is the good of being Jeremiahs?

In my view, none; and the purpose of my book is merely to examine the reasons why, and the way in which, Power grows in society.




1. “The needs of the civilian population must receive sufficient satisfaction to ensure that its work on war production will not suffer,” wrote the Frankfurter Zeitung of December 29, 1942.  The paper was inspired by a “liberal” motive!  It was concerned to justify the survival of a remnant of life’s ordinary activities.  That could be done only by demonstrating that the activities of death could not be carried on without them.  In England, too, the release of miners from the Forces was urged in numerous debates in Parliament, the argument advanced being the capital importance of coal-mining for the war.

2. The formula is President Roosevelt’s.

3. In my book Après be defaite, published in November 1940, I have demonstrated how the pressing of all its resources, economic and intellectual, into the service of one idea gives a country which is subjected to such a discipline an immense advantage over one which has not been concentrated to the same extent.  This sort of monolithism, the product of our monolithic age, is now, alas, the one condition on which a society can survive in war.

4. Great emphasis is laid on the part which they played at Bouvines, but what happened at Crécy illustrates their more usual role.  There, says Froissart, after drawing their swords while the enemy was still two miles off and shouting, “To the death, to the death,” they took to their heels precipitately as soon as the English army came in sight.

5. Cf. A. Caullery, Histoire du pouvoir royal d’imposer depuis la féodallté jusqu’ a Charles V (Brussels: 1879).

6. According to the documents published by M. Maurice Jusselin in Blbliothèque de l’école des Chartes, 1912, p. 209.

7. Baldwin Schuyler Terry, The Financing of the Hundred Years’ War, 1337 – 1360, (Chicago and London: 1914).

8. Of the wealth of France at the start of the war, Froissart writes: “Adonc etat le royaume de France gras, plains at drus, et les gens riches et possessans de grand avoir, et on’ i savait parler de nulle guerre.”

9. An increase was to some extent necessitated by the general rise in prices following the influx of precious metals from America.

10. “A new disease has broken out in Europe: it has infected our rulers and caused them to maintain armies which are out of all proportion.  It has its recurrences and soon becomes contagious; inevitably, because as soon as one State increases the number of its troops, as they are called, the others at once increase theirs, so that the general ruin is all that comes out of it.  Every monarch keeps permanently on foot armies which are as large as would be needed if his people were in imminent danger of extermination; and this struggle of all against all is called peace.”  Esprits des Lois, Livre XIII, chap. xvii.

11. Loc cit.

12. H. Taine, Les Origines de la France contemporaine, Vol. X, pp. 120 – 23.

13. Paul Viollet, Le Roi et ses ministres pendant les trios derniers siecle de la monarchie (Paris: 1912), p.8.

14. Karl Marx, Le dix-huit brumaire de Louis Bonaparte.

15. L. Duguit, L’Etat, la drolt objectif at la lol positive (Paris: 1901) Vol. 1, p. 320.

16. Cf. Benjamin Constant: “Your party man, however excellent his intentions may be, is always opposed to any limitation of sovereignty.  He regards himself as the next in succession, and handles gently the property that is to come to him, even while his opponents are its tenants.” Cours de politiques constltutionelle, ed. Laboulaye (Paris: 1872) Vol. I, p. 10.

17. Engels, in his 1891 preface to Marx’s Guerre civile.

18. Lenin, L’Etat at Ia Revolution, ed. Humanité (1925) p. 44.

19. “What they distrust,” Constant went on to say, “is this or that form of government and this or that class of governors; but once allow them to organize government in their own way, once let them entrust it to mandatories chosen by themselves, and there are no limits to what they will think its desirable extension.” Loc. cit.

20. Cf. A. Ullinann, La Police, quatriême pouvoir (Paris: 1935).

21. The reason is that in a stratified society the police agent is afraid to attack anyone of importance.  He is never free of the fear that he will come off second best in such a conflict, and that fear keeps him down and renders him inactive.  It is only in an egalitarian society that the nature of his activities elevates him above everyone else, and this inflation of the man contributes to the inflation of the office.