Basic Elements of the Liberal State

Updated: Jul 28

From El Fascio, No. 1, March 16th, 1933,


The liberal state believes in nothing, not even in itself. The liberal state allows everything to be questioned, even the value of its own existence.

For the liberal statesman there is nothing illicit in the doctrine by which the state is replaceable. That is to say, in his position at the head of an 'established' state, he does not even believe in the intrinsic merits, the justice, the usefulness of that particular state. Rather like a ship's captain who is not sure whether it is better to make port or to be shipwrecked. The liberal outlook amounts to taking a frivolous view of one's own destiny; it permits one to hoist oneself to positions of authority without even being persuaded that there should be any positions of authority at all, or feeling that they entail any obligations, not even that of holding on to them.

They recognize but one limiting factor: the law. Oh, yes; one can attempt the destruction of all that exists; but without overstepping the boundaries of the law. But what exactly is the law ? Here again there is no reference to any immutable principles. The law is the expression of the sovereign will of the people; in practice, that of the majority of voters.

Two points in this connection:

Firstly. For the liberal, the law is not consecrated by its aims but by its 'source'

Those schools of thought whose constant aim is the public good consider good laws those which serve such an end, and bad laws those which stray from this course, regardless of who has promulgated them. The democratic school of thought — democracy being the system which most fully expresses liberal thinking — considers that a law is good and legitimate if it has obtained the consent of the majority of voters, even though its content may be utterly monstrous.

Secondly. Liberals do not consider what is right to be a category of reason but a product of will. Nothing is right in itself. There is never any reference to some scale of values by which to gauge the rightness of any law that is passed. It is enough to find sufficient votes endorsing it.

All this can be summed up in one sentence: "The people is sovereign." Sovereign in the sense that it is entitled to justify its own decisions. The people's decisions are right because they are the people's. The theories of regal absolutism stated. Quod principi placuit legem habet vigorem. The time was bound to come when the theoreticians of democracy would say, 'There has to be a certain authority in society whose actions do not have to be right in order to be valid; this authority resides only in the people.' These words are by Jurieu, one of the forerunners of Rousseau.


The liberal state — that uninspired and indifferent state — wrote these three splendid words on the frontispiece of its temple: LIBERTY, EQUALITY, FRATERNITY. But under its auspices none of these three things flourish. Liberty cannot live without the protection of strong and immutable principles. When principles change with the fluctuations of public opinion, there can be freedom only for those who happen to agree with that change. The minorities have no choice but to suffer in silence. Under the tyrants of the Middle Ages the victims at least had the comfort of knowing that they were being tyrannized. The tyrant might be oppressing them, but those who were actually suffering oppression none the less were right, and the tyrant was wrong. High above the heads of tyrants and subjects alike there used to be certain eternal truths, in the light of which each was given his due. In the democratic state, this does not apply; the law — not the state, but the law, the supposed will of the majority — 'is always right'.

Thus the victim of oppression, besides being oppressed, can moreover be charged with dangerous waywardness if he calls the law unjust. Not even that freedom remains to him.

That is why the belief that a people has gained its freedom the very day it proclaims the dogma of national sovereignty and accepts universal suffrage is said by Duguit to be 'fatally misguided' Beware, he says, of democratic absolutism! More energetic precautions may be needed against the despotism of popular assemblies than against the despotism of kings. ' A thing remains unjust even if it be ordained by the people and its representatives, quite as much as though it had been ordained by a prince. Because of the dogma of popular sovereignty this tends to be all too easily forgotten.

This is what happens to freedom under the rule of the majority, and to equality too. First of all, there is no equality between the dominant party which legislates as it pleases and the rest of the citizens who endure it. Besides, the liberal state produces an even more profound inequality: economic inequality. Since in theory the worker and the capitalist enjoy equal freedom to enter into a labor contract, the worker ends up by being enslaved by the capitalist. Not that the latter obliges the former by force to accept any given conditions; he merely lets hunger take its course; he makes an offer which in theory the worker is free to reject; but if he does reject it, he will have nothing to eat, and eventually he is bound to accept it. This is how liberalism brought us the accumulation of capital and the proletarianization of the great mass of the people. In order to defend the oppressed against the economic tyranny of the powerful, something as anti liberal as socialism had to emerge.

Lastly, it is fraternity's turn to be shattered. Since the democratic system is based on the rule of the majority, the only way to attain victory within it is to get the support of the majority at any cost. To this end all weapons are permissible; it is all right to accuse an opponent wrongfully of bad faith if this helps to deprive him of a few votes. If there is to be a majority and a minority, there must needs be 'division'.

If the other party is to be split, there must needs be 'hatred'. Division and hatred, though, are incompatible with fraternity. And thus the members of one and the same people cease to feel part of a whole superior to themselves, part of a lofty historical unity which encompasses all of them. The fatherland is reduced to the state of a battlefield, where two — or several — contending factions seek to gain ground, each heeding a different sectarian voice, while the dear voice of the common land, which ought to make all of them brothers, seems to have fallen silent.


All the aims of the new state could be summed up in a single word: unity. The fatherland is a historic whole into which all of us merge, superior to all and any of our groups. Out of respect for this unity, all classes and individuals must seek to adapt themselves. And its realization must be based on the following two principles:


With regard to its 'purpose', the state must be a tool in the service of that unity, in which it must firmly believe. Nothing that goes against this precious and transcendental unity can be accepted as being good, be those who favor it many or few.


With regard to its 'shape', the state can only be established on a basis of national solidarity, of vigorous and fraternal co-operation. The class struggle and the festering strife of party politics are incompatible with this concept of the state.

The creation of a new type of politics wherein these two principles will be joined — that is the task which history has entrusted to our generation.

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