The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

Compiled by David M. Hart
Table of Contents of the Anthology: <>

[Created: 16 August, 2016]
[Updated: 7 January, 2017 ]


Ambroise Clément, "Functionaries" (1852)

Editing History

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1st published in DEP (1852): John Joseph Lalor, Cyclopaedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., 1899). Vol 2 East India Co. - Nullification <>.

Editor's Intro




FUCTIONARIES. "Public functionaries" says M. Viven,(Etudes administrative, p.43) "are the dispensers or instruments of the power of the society: through their agency justice is done, knowledge is diffused, order is preserved, taxes collected, public property administered, national wealth increased, and the security, dignity and greatness of a country are maintained and guaranteed.

—Adam Smith, while recognizing the necessity of the service of functionaries, classed them with those laborers he called unproductive. Because he did not discern the product of their labor in any material object, he supposed that no accumulation of wealth could result from it. The erroneousness of this opinion has since been often demonstrated. Industrial production consists in modifying, transporting from one place to another, or transforming, the materials furnished by nature, so as to adapt them to our needs. What it has thus created is not matter, a thing wholly beyond human power to create, but utility; and to that end it must overcome obstacles of various kinds, among which those which arise from the passions of men, and which would arrest production by taking away security, are among the most considerable and the most difficult to vanquish. Now the especial mission of governments is to institute and apply the guarantees indispensable to that security. The functionaries they employ for this purpose co-operate then most certainly in production, while laboring to overcome one of the principal difficulties which hinder its development, and succeeding to a greater or less degree in the effort. When this mission is properly fulfilled, the utility resulting from it attaches to man himself, whom it renders more restrained in his evil inclinations, more enlightened in regard to his duties and his rights better disposed to observe the former and defend the latter; better fitted, in short, for all the useful functions of social life. One can not, then, fail to recognize that functionaries devoted to such a mission take a considerable part in the production and accumulation of the utilities of human creation which constitute wealth; but it would not be necessary hence to conclude that their co-operation is the more efficacious as they are more numerous and their field of action more extended, for this conclusion would be contrary to the truth; and here a distinction, which appears to us important, should be made between functionaries and other workers.

—All labors governed by liberty, that is to say, originating in individual activity and its voluntary combinations, are subject, in their development and their results to natural laws which observation has caused to be recognized: but the labors of functionaries, governed by authority, that is, by men invested with the power of constraining the will, do not generally fall under the operation of these laws. A few indications will suffice to give an idea of the difference and even of the frequent opposition of the conditions which govern these two classes of labor.

—Free labor has its determining cause the various needs every one experiences and satisfies at his will, according to the extent of his resources; it can not, in its various applications, take any greater development than comforts with the extent of the various classes of wants to which it responds, for no workman has the power to make others accept products or services which do not suit them, nor to oblige them to pay for more than they require. In the absence of all constraint or hindrance, every service, whether it be of labor or of exchange, is necessarily remunerated by reason if its real value, that is to say, the value, generally recognized. If a class of services increases faster than the condition of the corresponding wants requires, the value of such services falls, and laborers tend to withdraw from this class. If, on the contrary, a class of services is not sufficiently extensive relatively to the demand for them, their value rises and the tendency is for new workmen to immediately devote themselves to them. Thus freedom insures to every one a part of the general product equal to recognized value of his co-operation, and it maintains, better than could otherwise be maintained, a constant proportion between each branch of labor and the wants it is designed to satisfy. Under this régime every worker has a lively interest, in his special sphere of activity, in multiplying and perfecting his services, because the recompense from them increases with his success in increasing their importance, and because, on the other hand, they would soon fall in value and be neglected if they became inferior to those of his competitors. Hence arises, among all laborers an energetic and persevering emulation, the assured result of which is a constant improvement in the quality of work, and the progressive increase, as well in quantity as in importance, of all the services we mutually render and whose products constitute our wealth.

—Such are the most general conditions which govern free labor. But the case is quite otherwise with the labors of functionaries. The determining cause of these is the needs freely manifested by each of the individuals by which society is composed; it is in the will, that is to say, in the opinions, the views, the passions of the men invested with authority, and in the real or pretended needs which theysuppose, with more or less reason and disinterestedness to exist among the population. These labors are not then necessarily proportioned to the extent of the corresponding needs, for this extent is determined only by arbitrary estimates which are more or less independent of the assent of those interested, and also more or less well grounded. Again, those for whom the services are destined, have not the option of refusing them or of limiting the quantity. These services are not then remunerated with reference to their real value, for this value is not discussed and determined by agreement between the one who furnishes it and the one who pays for it, and the determination of its amount is the result of estimates almost inevitably erroneous or partial. Finally, the principal causes of the continued improvements in free labor are not operative in the case of the labor of functionaries, for the latter lack the stimulus of self-interest, which, in public functions, is better satisfied by canvassing and by intrigue than by improvement in the service. Besides, they lack the stimulus of competition and the certainty of a recompense exactly proportioned to the services rendered. It is evident that the labors of functionaries are not assimilable, in scarcely any respect, to free labors, and that the one class could not, in political economy, be confounded with the other; nor could they be considered as subject to the same general laws without opening the way to many errors.

—Another conclusion from the preceding indications is, that the labors of functionaries are subject to conditions incomparably less favorable to their improvement than those which govern free labor; and experience fully confirms, on this point, the indications of theory, for improvements in organization or methods of procedure are as rare in the public service as they are frequent in free labors. The latter are constantly transformed or modified under the impetus of discoveries in science or of a constantly stimulated spirit of invention, and there is scarcely an innovation adopted the effect of which is not to increase their productiveness. The former, on the contrary, are distinguished by a sort of immutability, which is rarely disturbed except at revolutionary epochs, and the innovations which are made at such times are far from always constituting true progress. As to the results of labors, such is the inferiority of those directed by public authority that we may affirm, without the least fear of exaggerating, that if free production employed as many faculties and resources to obtain, on the whole, so few useful results, it would not succeed in satisfying a tenth part of the wants for which it provides, This consideration alone would authorize us to conclude that nations which understand their own interests should endeavor to reduce as much as possible the number of pubic employments, or, in other terms, the functions of their governments; because all the branches of activity which they allow, without absolute necessity, to be taken away from the domain of individual initiative and liberty, and made an apanage of authority, lose, by that very fact, the greater part of the their usefulness. But the necessity of restricting, as far as possible, the number of public employments and functionaries appears much greater skill, if one observes all the evil results of the contrary system. Among the latter results may be counted the tendency of the system to make people lose the habit of personal effort and the feeling of responsibility, and to withdraw as much as possible from all individuals initiative and expect everything of the government. At the same time this system leads to the creation of an immense number of offices or public employments, and multiplies to a dangerous degree that portion of the population which, aspiring to live on governmental favors or the income from taxation, employs all means to that end—corruption, intrigue, solicitation, mendicity, émeutes, revolutions, counter-revolutions, etc. It thus substitutes, on a vast scale, a harmful activity for a useful activity, and renders infinitely more difficult, more precarious and more onerous the maintenance of security. Finally, it contributes greatly to increase public expenses.

E. J. L. Tr.