Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/538

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

sum of happiness if their country contains 208,670 square miles instead of 203,070.[1] Few errors are more evident. There are thousands of examples to prove that the welfare of citizens is in no way a function of the extent of the state. If it were so, Russia would be the richest country in Europe, while everybody knows it is exactly the contrary. Taxation in that country is pushed to limits that might almost be called absurd, and for that reason the extent of the nation is one of the greatest obstacles to its prosperity.

As an example to illustrate the absurdity of the idolatry of square miles, take California, which now has 158,360 square miles,[2] and 1,200,000 inhabitants. If in another century the population should rise to forty millions, it might be expedient for the good government of these men to divide the State into several. If the conservatives of that period should declare that they would give the last drop of their blood to preserve the unity of their Commonwealth, they would be afflicted with the square-mile craze, and as foolish as the Europeans. Territorial divisions are made for men, not men for territorial divisions. The object enlightened patriots should pursue is not that a certain geographical extent should be included under one name or many, but that the divisions should conform to the aspirations and desires of the citizens. They should impose as little restraint as possible upon the economical and intellectual progress of societies.

The inhabitants of the province of Rio Grande recently wanted to secede from Brazil. The Government at Rio Janeiro, afflicted like other governments by the square-mile craze, would not consent to it, and hostilities broke out. Suppose the Rio Grandians had been victorious in this war; what would have been the result? There would have been eleven states in South America instead of ten. No modern political theorist would see the presage of an extraordinary calamity in such an event as that. The new state would have been recognized by the other powers, and things would have gone on as before. But if the central Government, respecting the wishes of the Rio Grandians, had consented to the secession, the empirical politicians of our time would have affirmed that the world had been unbalanced. Yet the situation would have been exactly the same in point of territorial divisions—eleven independent states instead of ten. We have then to think that, in the eyes of modern politicians, the avoidance of a war, the fact of sparing hundreds of millions of money and thousands of human lives, diminishes wealth, while the waste of capital and massacres should increase it! It would be hard to be less logical or more absurd.

  1. The difference is the extent of Alsace-Lorraine.
  2. About the extent of the British Isles, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland combined.