À Bas l’État!

In 1849, Thoreau famously wrote:

I heartily accept the motto, – “That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, – “That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Charles DunoyerBut it turns out that the French classical liberal Charles Dunoyer essentially beat him to it, if less clearly and less eloquently, by more than three decades:

In a well-ordered state, it must be the case that the greatest possible number of individuals work, and the smallest possible number govern. The height of perfection would be for everyone to work and nobody to govern. (“Considerations on the Present State of Europe,” Censeur Européen II, 1817.)

Governments progress in proportion as they make themselves less felt, so that the best-governed country would be one in which, security no longer requiring the intervention of a special and permanent force, the government would in a sense disappear, leaving the inhabitants in the full enjoyment of their time, their income, and their liberty. (Review of Say’s Observations on Men and Society, Censeur Européen VII, 1818.)

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4 Responses to À Bas l’État!

  1. William H. Stoddard November 13, 2007 at 2:15 am #

    The Tao Te Ching was a bit earlier, though its language was more poetic. Unfortunately my copy is hiding in a pile of books somewhere, so I can’t quote it just now.

  2. Matt Robison November 13, 2007 at 11:40 am #

    Didn’t know that about Thoreau. Thanks!

    I’ve been arguing the same thing for a while, that eventually government will be seen as obsolete. The internet will continue to become more relevant and critical in creating well informed and educated populaces that will continue to trend toward freedom.

    The only major problem to combat is that of the outside aggressor. Once technology catches up to where self-defense is easy and cheap, even against huge monolithic foes, government really will be obsolete.

  3. Administrator November 13, 2007 at 1:26 pm #

    Certainly there are anarchistic passages in Lao-tzu, but I don’t remember that particular argument – which takes the form “since you grant a) that a government is better in proportion as it governs less , you’re committed to concluding b) that the best government would cease to govern entirely.” I think he believed both (a) and (b) — and the argument would have been an effective point against the Confucians, who accepted (a) but not (b); but does that particular move appear?

  4. William H. Stoddard November 13, 2007 at 5:48 pm #

    If I turn up my copy of the Tao Te Ching in the next few days, I’ll scan through it and see if I can find that specific position.

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