Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/162

This page has been validated.
150
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and it is quite possible for these disadvantages to outweigh the advantages. The controlling structures have to be maintained, and the restraints they impose have to be borne; and the evils inflicted by taxation and by tyranny may become greater than the evils prevented.

Where, as in the East, the rapacity of monarchs has sometimes gone to the extent of taking from cultivators so much of their produce as to have afterward to return part for seed, we see exemplified the truth that the agency which maintains order may cause miseries greater than the miseries caused by disorder. The state of Egypt under the Romans, who, on the native set of officials, superposed their own set, and who made drafts on the country's resources not for local administration only but also for imperial administration, furnishes an instance. Beyond the regular taxes there were demands for feeding and clothing the military, wherever quartered; extra calls were continually made on the people for maintaining public works and subaltern agents; men in office were themselves so impoverished by exactions that they "assumed dishonorable employments or became the slaves of persons in power; gifts made to the government were soon converted into forced contributions; and those who purchased immunities from extortions found them disregarded as soon as the sums asked had been received. More marked still were the curses following excessive development of political organization in Gaul during the decline of the Roman Empire:

So numerous were the receivers in comparison with the payers, and so enormous the weight of taxation, that the laborer broke down, the plains became deserts, and woods grew where the plow had been. . . . It were impossible to number the officials who were rained upon every province and town. . . . The crack of the lash and the cry of the tortured filled the air. The faithful slave was tortured for evidence against his master, the wife to depose against her husband, the son against his sire. . . . Not satisfied with the returns of the first enumerators, they sent a succession of others, who each swelled the valuation—as a proof of service done; and so the imposts went on increasing. Yet the number of cattle fell off, and the people died. Nevertheless, the survivors had to pay the taxes of the dead.

And how literally in this case the benefits were exceeded by the mischiefs is shown by the remark that "they fear the enemy less than the tax-gatherer: the truth is, that they fly to the first to avoid the last. Hence, the one unanimous wish of the Roman populace, that it was their lot to live with the barbarian."

In the same regions during later times the lesson was repeated. While internal peace and its blessings were achieved in mediæval France as fast as feudal nobles became subordinate to the king—while the central power, as it grew stronger, put an end to that primitive practice of a blood-revenge which wreaked itself on any relative of an offender, and made the "truce of God" a needful mitigation of the universal savagery; yet from this extension of political organization there presently grew up evils as great or greater—multiplication of