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- CHAPTER XXXIV.
CENTRALIZATION. INFLUENCE OF CAPITAL CITIES.
We have seen in how great a degree French centralism has produced an incapacity for self-rule, according to one of the most distinguished statesmen of France herself. This centralism, in conjunction with imperatorial sovereignty, has produced some peculiar effects upon a nation so intelligent, ardent, and so wedded to system as the French are. And before I conclude this treatise, I beg leave to offer a few remarks, which naturally suggest themselves, and are connected either with centralism or imperatorial sovereignty; both so prominent at this moment in France.
Centralism has given to Paris an importance which no capital possesses in any other country. The French themselves often say Paris is France; foreigners always say so; and to them as well as to those French people who desire to possess themselves of as much of all that French civilization produces, at one round, this is, doubtless, very agreeable and instructive. Paris is brilliant, as centralism altogether frequently is; Paris naturally flatters the vanity of the French ; Paris stands with many peo
ple for France, because they see nothing of France but Paris. Centralization appears most imposing in Paris—in the buildings, in demonstrations, in rapidity of execution, and in an æsthetical point of view. Upon a close examination of history, however, we shall find that it has been not only a natural effect of centralism, but an object of all absolute rulers over intelligent races, to beautify the capital and raise its activity to the highest point. The effect is remarkable. The government of king Jerome, of Westphalia—now again prince of France-was one of the most ruinous that has ever existed, and yet long after the downfall of that ephemeral kingdom, every disapproval of it was answered by a reference to the embellishment of Cassel, the capital.
Capital cities and residences of kings, and even petty princes, have in this respect the same effect which single large fortunes or single busy places have on the minds of the superficial, in point of political economy. They are palpable, and strike the mind, yet they prove nothing of themselves. There is not a war, however ruinous, that does not produce some gigantic gains of bankers, contractors, and able speculators. They are often pointed out to prove that a certain war has not been fatal to general prosperity. There have never existed greater fortunes than those of some princely Roman senators, with their latifundia, in the very worst periods of the Roman empire, amidst universal ruin, and when the country was fast declining to that state in which the tillers of the soil abandoned their farms, because unable to pay the taxes, and in which Italy, with the
utmost exertion of the government, was not able to raise an army against invading hordes.
Whenever we shall have executed our railway to the Pacific, nothing of it will be seen at one moment and by the physical eye, that differs from the rails of any other road, and the vulgar will be struck far more by a palace at Versailles, or a column of Trajan; unless, indeed, a pointing hand were hewn in granite, at San Francisco, with the words, To the Atlantic, and another at some Atlantic city, with the words, To the Pacific; and even then the real grandeur of the road would not be perceived by the physical eye. And so it is with capitals.
We live in an age which has justly been called the age of large cities. Populous cities are indispensable to civilization, and even to liberty, though I own that one of our problems yet to be solved is, how to unite the highest degree of individual liberty with order, in large cities.
But absorbing cities, cities on which monarchs are allowed to lavish millions upon millions of the national money, always belong to a low state of general national life, often to effete empires. The vast cities of Asia, imperial Rome and other cities prove it. On the other hand, it is an unfortunate state of things in which one city rules supreme, either
i No one will charge the author, he trusts, with political iconoclasm, that has read his chapter on monuments in his Political Ethics.
2 The Age of Great Cities, or Modern Society viewed in its Relar tion to Intelligence, Morals and Religion, by Robert Vaughn, D.D. London, 1843.
by an overwhelming population, as Naples, or by concentration, as Paris. Constant changes of governments seem almost inevitable, whether they are produced by the people, as in the case of Paris, or by foreigners, as in the case of Naples.
A comparison between Paris and London, in this respect, is instructive. London, far more populous, has far less influence than Paris; and London, incomparably richer, is far less brilliant than Paris. Monarchical absolutism and centralism strike the eye and strive to do so; liberty is brilliant indeed, but it is brilliant in history, and must be studied in her institutions.
Great as the influence of Paris has been ever since the reign of the Valois, it has steadily increased, and those who stroye for liberty were by no means behind the others in their worship of the capital. This singular idolatry was actually acknowledged by several resolutions of the representatives of the people, during the late republic. ...
The intense influence of Paris, together with the wide-spread system ‘of government every single thread of which centers in Paris, is such that, in 1848, the republic was literally telegraphed to the departments, and adopted without any resistance from any quarter, civil or military, which cannot be explained by the often ayowed horror of the French at shedding French blood, since blood was readily shed to elevate Louis Napoleon. The same causes made it possible for the republic, apparently so readily and unanimously adopted, to be with equal
readiness apparently changed by eight millions of votes into a monarchy.
It has already been admitted that centralism, by the very fact that it concentrates great power, can produce many striking effects which it is not in the power of governments on a different principle to exhibit. These effects please and often popularize a government, but there is another fact to be taken into consideration. Symmetry is one of the elements of humanity; systematizing is one of man's constant actions. They captivate and become dangerous, if other elements and activities equally important are neglected, or if they are carried into spheres to which they properly do not belong. The regularity and consistent symmetry, together with the principle of unity, which pervade the whole French government, charm many a beholder, and afford pleasure not unlike that which many persons derive from looking at a plan of a mathematically regular city, or from gardens architectonically trimmed. But freedom is life, and, wherever we find life it is marked, indeed, by agreement of principles and harmony of development, but also by variety of form and phenomena, and a subordinate exactness of symmetry. The centralist, it might be said, mistakes lineal and angular exactness, formal symmetry and mathematical proportions, for harmonious evolution and unrestricted vitality. He prefers an angular garden of the times of Louis the Fourteenth to a living shady grove.
Centralism, and the desire to bring everything under the influence of government, or to do as far as possible everything by government, has fearfully