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in his castle, and to be protected by his armed vassals. The one thing needful was to pay their rents, or perform their services, to maintain his extravagances; and these were accordingly exacted with merciless severity. Thence the general oppression of the poor, and universal outcry against the system, which produced the French Revolution.
The powerful central government, regular taxation, and large standing armies of modern Europe, have removed the chief political evils which were at times felt with such dreadful severity during the Middle Ages; but have there not been introduced social evils of a still more pernicious and irretrievable character? Private wars have disappeared; we no longer hear of chateaux burnt, fields ravaged, or serfs massacred, in pursuance of the deadly feuds of hostile barons. War has become a separate profession ; military service is no longer required from the rural tenants ; the undivided attention of industry is permitted to be directed to pacific pursuits. The ravages of hostility, and the destruction of conquest, have been diminished in amount, and greatly alleviated in severity. Taxes levied on the whole community have superseded the necessity, save in extreme cases, of ruinous exactions from individuals; war is often felt rather as a stimulus to industry by its expenditure, than a blight to it from its contributions. It is the influence of these circumstances, joined to the protection of a regular government and the unbounded stimulus of general freedom, which have given so marvellous an impulse to the prosperity of modern Europe, and rendered the British Empire in particular, where their fostering tendency has been most strongly felt, the admiration, the terror, and the envy of the world.
But in lieu of the political oppression and military exactions which, in former days, were felt as so disastrous, a host of social evils have sprung up, and are rapidly spreading their baneful influence through every class of society, to such an extent as to render it doubtful whether their effect will not ultimately be to uproot society, and destroy the whole states of modern Europe. These effects have taken place amidst general peace and apparent general prosperity ; at a time when wealth was accumulating with unheard-of rapidity, and knowledge was diffused to an unprecedented extent. Law was regularly administered ; illegal acts gene
rally checked ; foreign hostility averted ; domestic oppression removed or softened. The Chrematists were in exultation; production was every day becoming cheaper ; exports and imports in consequence increasing; and all the external symptoms of the highest prosperity, according to the doctrine of the wealth of nations, in the most flourishing state. But all these blessings have been neutralised, and a large portion of the community precipitated into the most woful degradation, by the operation of the very causes which have produced this vast increase of wealth, and its astonishing accumulation in the hands of a part of the commercial community. The incessant efforts to lessen the cost of production have beat down the wages of labour in many departments to the lowest point; the strenuous exertions made to facilitate cheaper importation have reduced the remuneration of domestic industry to the lowest point consistent with its existence. Incredible have been the efforts made by all classes to counterbalance by additional industry this disastrous progress; but the only effect of these efforts has been to augment the evil complained of, by increasing the necessity for exertion, and augmenting the mass of production with which society is flooded. Production in every line has come, in ordinary times, to outstrip consumption. Machinery has quadrupled its power; gorged markets are constantly complained of as depriving industry of its just reward, and often of any at all. Society has become a great gamblinghouse, in which colossal fortunes are made by a few, and the great majority are turned adrift penniless, friendless, to destitution, ruin, or suicide. The condition of a considerable portion of the working-classes has, in this terrible strife, generally been wofully changed for the worse. Brief periods of high prices, which induce habits of extravagance among them, are succeeded by long seasons of distress, which spread the reality of woe. In the desperate effort made to extend the foreign market, by cheapening production, nearly all the kindly relations of life have been snapped asunder. The operative is unknown to the master-employer; he is turned off at a moment's warning into a cold world, in which he can find no other employment. The tenant is too often a stranger to the landlord; or, at least, strangers are constantly brought on the land. The labourer, even, is in many cases unknown to the farmer; his place can always be supplied by a stranger, ready, probably, to work for less wages, because in greater distress. Everything is put up to auction, and sold to the highest bidder. Labour only is awarded to the lowest.
A nation which has surrendered its government to the commercial classes, and at the same time has a large population and considerable territorial possessions, cannot fail to incur ruin if their rule is long continued. The reason is, that their interest is adverse to that of the most numerous, important, and valuable classes of society; and they never cease to prosecute that interest till they have destroyed them. To import largely is for their interest; therefore, they promote all measures tending to favour the introduction of foreign productions, though their effect must be to depress, and in the end extinguish, native industry. They would have the people pay for these imports by enlarged exports ; in other words, they would convert society into a mere appendage of the trading classes. To enlarge these exports, they make the most strenuous effort in every possible way to cheapen production—that is, to lower the wages of labour. Their idea of a perfect society is one in which the labouring classes are reduced to the rank of mere attendants on machines, because that is the cheapest form of production. They would have them attend on these machines at sixpence or ninepence a-day, live chiefly on potatoes, and eat no bread but what is imported in foreign vessels, and from foreign countries, because they are cheaper than their own. In this way both exports and imports would be elevated to the highest pitch ; for the main part of the national food would figure in the imports, and the main part of national labour in the exports.
Mercantile business would come to supersede every other—it alone would be attended with any profit. Meanwhile, domestic industry would languish and decline—the home market would be destroyed the rural population, the mainstay of a nation, gradually withered away and wasted. Poverty and misery would weaken and alienate the working classes ; and, amidst a constant increase of exports and imports, and growth of commercial wealth, the nation would be destroyed.
This is no imaginary picture. The ruin of the Roman empire in ancient, the desolation of the Campagna of Rome in modern times, are permanent proofs of its reality.
It is generally said that slavery was the devouring cancer which destroyed the Roman Empire, and thence it is concluded by the Chrematists that, as we have no slaves, we can never be ruined like them. They forget that the reality of slavery may exist, and its evils remain, although its name has been expunged from the statute book. It is always to be recollected that slavery existed to just as great an extent in the most flourishing as in the decaying periods of the Roman dominion—in the days of Scipio and Cæsar, as in those of Constantine or Honorius. Cato was a great dealer in slaves. He was especially careful to sell his slaves when they became old, lest, when worn out, they should become chargeable. The republic was brought to the brink of ruin a hundred years before the birth of Christ by the Servile War; yet, with that devouring cancer in its intestines, it afterwards conquered the world. It was not slavery, but the combination of slavery with free trade and vast patrician and commercial wealth, which really brought ruin on the ancient world. Verumque confitentibus," says Pliny, "latifundia perdidere Italiam : imo et provincias.” It was the accumulation of patrician revenue and commercial wealth in the capital, when the provinces were cultivated only by slaves, and the gradual extinction of Italian agriculture by the introduction of Egyptian and Libyan grain-where it could be raised cheaper than in the Italian fields, because money was less plentiful in the impoverished extremities than in the gorged centre of the Empire,——which was the real cause of its ruin. The free race of Italian cultivators, the strength of the legions, disappeared before the fleets which wafted cheap grain from the banks of the Nile and the shores of Africa to the Tiber. Thence the impoverishing of the small freeholders--the buying up of all small freeholds by the great families—the extinction of grain culture in Italy—the managing of the huge estates into which the country was parcelled, in pasture cultivation, by means of slaves--the disappearance of Italian free husbandmen—and the ruin of the Empire. So rich was the capital when it fell, that Olympiodorus has recorded that, when Alaric appeared before Rome, it contained within its walls seventeen hundred and fifty great families, many of whom had estates, almost entirely in pasturage, which yielded them one hundred and sixty thousand pounds sterling of yearly rent, or above £300,000 a-year of our money.
To the same cause is to be ascribed the continued desolation of the Campagna of Rome in modern times. Slavery has disappeared; but the curse of an unlimited and extraordinary supply of foreign grain to the Tiber still continues, and chains the proprietors of the Agro Romano to pasturage as the only means of profitable cultivation. Travellers are never weary of expressing their astonishment at the desolation which comes up to the very gates of Rome, as of Constantinople ; but a very simple cause explains it in both. It is more profitable to keep the land in pasturage than to lay it out in grain cultivation, by reason of the deluge of foreign grain raised in semi-barbarous countries, with which the capital is flooded. From official documents laid before the Papal Government, which made the most anxious and minute inquiries into this subject, it appears that 8000 crowns laid out in agriculture in the Campagna of Rome, at the prices of Rome, would bring in a profit of only 30 crowns a-year ; while the same sum laid out in pasturage of sheep, on the same land, would bring in 1972 crowns. It is not surprising, in these circumstances, that the Campagna remains in grass.*
The cause of this extraordinary state of things is to be found, not in any peculiar adaptation of the Campagna to grass cultivation ; for the land is, generally, of the most extraordinary fertility, and in former times, in the infancy of Rome, literally speaking “every rood had its man.” The cause, and the sole cause, is to be found in the constant low price of grain in the capital, and the purchase of the whole of its supply from foreign states. The Papal Government inherited from its Imperial predecessor the habit, and the necessity, of making periodical distributions of grain, at a cheap rate, to the people. The people inherited, from the lazy successors of the conquerors of the world, the habit of looking to the public stores for cheap distributions of food, as those of Paris did during the Revolution. Government, elective, weak, without any armed force, and in the hands of
NICOLAI, dell' Agro Romano, iii. 167–171. Sismondi's Etudes Sociales, ii. 46.