Government, Its Functions

Title: The State

Book: The Functions Of Government

Author: Wilson, Woodrow

The Functions Of Government

1473. What are the Functions of Government? - The question has its own

difficulties and complexities: it cannot be answered out of hand and by the

list, as the physiologist might answer the question, What are the functions of

the heart? In its nature government is one, but in its life it is many: there

are governments and governments. When asked, therefore, What are the

functions of government? we must ask in return, Of what government? Different

states have different conceptions of their duty, and so undertake different

things. They have had their own peculiar origins, their own characteristic

histories; circumstance has moulded them; necessity, interest, or caprice has

variously guided them. Some have lingered near those primitive institutions

which all once knew and upheld together; others have quite forgotten that man

ever had a political childhood and are now old in complex practices of

national self-government.

1474. The Nature of the Question. - It is important to notice at the

outset that this is in one aspect obviously a simple question of fact; and yet

there is another phase of it, in which it becomes as evidently a question of

opinion. The distinction is important because over and over again the

question of fact has been confounded with that very widely different question,

What ought the functions of government to be? The two questions should be

kept entirely separate in treatment. Under no circumstances may we

instructively or safely begin with the question of opinion: the answer to the

question of fact is the indispensable foundation of all sound reasoning

concerning government, which is at all points based upon experience rather

than upon theory. The facts of government mirror the principles of government

in operation. What government does must arise from what government is: and

what government is must determine what government ought to do.

1475. Classification. - It will contribute to clearness of thought to

observe the functions of government in two groups, I. The Constituent

Functions, II. The Ministrant. Under the Constituent I would place that

usual category of governmental function, the protection of life, liberty, and

property, together with all other functions that are necessary to the civic

organization of society, - functions which are not optional with governments,

even in the eyes of strictest laissez faire, - which are indeed the very bonds

of society. Under the Ministrant I would range those other functions (such as

education, posts and telegraphs, and the care, say, of forests) which are

undertaken, not by way of governing, but by way of advancing the general

interests of society, - functions which are optional, being necessary only

according to standards of convenience or expediency, and not according to

standards of existence; functions which assist without constituting social


1476. Of course this classification is based primarily upon objective and

practical distinctions and cannot claim philosophic completeness. There may be

room for question, too, as to whether some of the functions which I class as

Ministrant might not quite as properly have been considered Constituent; but I

must here simply act upon my own conclusions without rearguing them,

acknowledging by the way that the line of demarcation is not always perfectly


1477. "The admitted functions of government," said Mr. Mill, "embrace a

much wider field than can easily be included within the ring-fence of any

restrictive definition, and it is hardly possible to find any ground of

justification common to them all, except the comprehensive one of general


1478. I. The Constituent Functions:

(1) The keeping of order and providing for the protection of persons and

property from violence and robbery.

(2) The fixing of the legal relations between man and wife and between

parents and children.

(3) The regulation of the holding, transmission, and interchange of

property, and the determination of its liabilities for debt or for crime.

(4) The determination of contract rights between individuals.

(5) The definition and punishment of crime.

(6) The administration of justice in civil causes.

(7) The determination of the political duties, privileges, and relations

of citizens.

(8) Dealings of the state with foreign powers: the preservation of the

state from external danger or encroachment and the advancement of its

international interests.

These will all be recognized as functions which are obnoxious not even to

the principles of Mr. Spencer, ^1 and which persist under every form of


[Footnote 1: As set forth in his pamphlet, Man versus the State.]

1479. II. The Ministrant Functions. - It is hardly possible to give a

complete list of those functions which I have called Ministrant, so various

are they under different systems of government. The following partial list

will suffice, however, for the purpose of the present discussion:

(1) The regulation of trade and industry. Under this head I would

include the coinage of money and the establishment of standard weights and

measures, laws against forestalling and engrossing, the licensing of trades,

etc., as well as the great matters of tariffs, navigation laws, and the like.

(2) The regulation of labor.

(3) The maintenance of thoroughfares, - including state management of

railways and that great group of undertakings which we embrace within the

comprehensive term 'Internal Improvements.'

(4) The maintenance of postal and telegraph systems, which is very

similar in principle to (3).

(5) The manufacture and distribution of gas, the maintenance of water-

works, etc.

(6) Sanitation, including the regulation of trades for sanitary purposes.

(7) Education.

(8) Care of the poor and incapable.

(9) Care and cultivation of forests and like matters, such as the

stocking of rivers with fish.

(10) Sumptuary laws, such as 'prohibition' laws, for example.

1480. These are all functions which, in one shape or another, all

governments alike have undertaken. Changed conceptions of the nature and duty

of the state have arisen, issuing from changed historical conditions, deeply

altered historical circumstances; and part of the change which has thus

affected the idea of the state has been a change in the method and extent of

the exercise of governmental functions; but changed conceptions have left the

functions of government in kind the same. Diversities of conception are very

much more marked than diversities of practice.

1481. The following may be mentioned among ministrant functions not

included under any of the foregoing heads, and yet undertaken by more than one

modern government: the maintenance of savings-banks, especially for small sums

(e.g., the English postal savings-bank), the issuance of loans to farmers, and

the maintenance of agricultural institutes (as in France), and the

establishment of insurance for workingmen (as in Germany).

1482. History of Governmental Function: Province of the Ancient State. -

Notable contrasts both of theory and of practice separate governments of the

ancient omnipotent type from governments of the modern constitutional type.

The ancient State, standing very near, as it did, in its thought, to that

time, still more remote, when the State was the Kin, knew nothing of

individual rights as contrasted with the rights of the state. "The nations of

Italy," says Mommsen, "did not merge into that of Rome more completely than

the single Roman burgess merged in the Roman community." And Greece was not a

whit behind Rome in the absoluteness with which she held the subordination of

the individual to the state.

1483. This thought is strikingly visible in the writings of Plato and

Aristotle, not only in what they say, but also, and even more, in what they do

not say. The ideal Republic of which Plato dreams is to prescribe the whole

life of its citizens; but there is no suggestion that it is to be set up under

cover of any new conception as to what the state may legitimately do, - it is

only to make novel experiments in legislation under the old conception. And

Aristotle's objection to the utopian projects of his master is not that they

would be socialistic (as we should say), but merely that they would be unwise.

He does not fear that in such a republic the public power would prove to have

been exalted too high; but, speaking to the policy of the thing, he foresees

that the citizens would be poor and unhappy. The state may do what it will,

but let it be wise in what it does. There is no one among the Greeks to deny

that it is the duty of the state to make its citizens happy and prosperous;

nay, to legislate them happy, if legislation may create fair skies and a kind

fortune; the only serious quarrel concerns the question, What laws are to be

tried to this end?

1484. Roman Conception of Private Rights. - Roman principles, though

equally extreme, were in some respects differently cast. That superior

capacity for the development of law, which made the Romans singular among the

nations of antiquity, showed itself in respect of the functions of government

in a more distinct division between public and private rights than obtained in

the polity of the Greek cities. An examination of the conception of the state

held in Rome reveals the singular framework of her society. The Roman family

did not suffer that complete absorption into the City which so early overtook

the Greek family. Private rights were not individual rights, but family

rights: and family rights did not so much curtail as supplement the powers of

the community. The family was an indestructible organ of the state. The

father of a family, or the head of a gens, was in a sense a member of the

official hierarchy of the City, - as the king, or his counterpart the consul,

was a greater father. There was no distinction of principle between the power

of king or consul and the power of a father; it was a mere difference of

sphere, a division of functions.

1485. A son was, for instance, in some things exempt from the authority

of the City only because he was in those things still subject, because his

father still lived, to the dominion of that original state, the family. There

was not in Rome that separation of the son from the family at majority which

characterizes the Greek polity, as it now characterizes our own. The father

continued to be a ruler, an hereditary state officer, within the original

sphere of the family life, the large sphere of individual privilege and


1486. This essential unity of state and family furnishes us with the

theoretic measure of state functions in Rome. The Roman burgess was

subordinated, not to the public authority exactly, but rather to the public

order, to the conservative integrity of the community. He was subject to a

law which embodied the steady, unbroken habit of the State-family. He was not

dominated, but merged.

1487. Powers of the Roman Senate. - The range of state power in ancient

times, as a range broken only by limits of habit and convenience, is well

illustrated in the elastic functions of the Roman Senate during the period of

the Republic. With an unbroken life which kept it conscious of every

tradition and familiar with every precedent; with established standards of

tested experience and cautious expediency, it was able to direct the movements

of the compact society at whose summit it sat, as the brain and consciousness

direct the movements of the human body; and it is evident from the freedom of

its discussions and the frequency of its action upon interests of every kind,

whether of public or of private import, that the Roman state, as typified in

its Senate, was in its several branches of family, tribe, and City, a single

undivided whole, and that its prerogatives were limited by nothing save

religious observance and fixed habit. Of that individual liberty which we

cherish it knew nothing. (Compare secs. 173, 174.)

1488. Government the Embodiment of Society. - As little was there in

Greek politics any seed of the thought which would limit the sphere of

governmental action by principles of inalienable individual rights. Both in

Greek and in Roman conception government was as old as society, - was indeed

nothing less than the express image and embodiment of society. In government

society lived and moved and had its being. Society and government were one,

in some such sense as the spirit and body of man are one: it was through

government, as through mouth and eyes and limbs, that society realized and

gave effect to its life. Society's prejudices, habits, superstitions, did

indeed command the actions of government; but only because society and

government were one and the same, not because they were distinct and the one

subordinate to the other. In plain terms, the functions of government had no

limits of principle, but only certain limits of wont and convenience, and the

object of administration was nothing less than to help society on to all its

ends: to speed and facilitate all social undertakings. So far as full

citizens of the state were concerned, Greek and Roman alike was what we should

call a socialist; though he was too much in the world of affairs and had too

keen an appreciation of experience, too keen a sense of the sane and possible,

to attempt the Utopias of which the modern socialist dreams, and with which

the ancient citizen's own writers sometimes amused him. He bounded his

politics by common sense, and so dispensed with 'the rights of man.'

1489. Feudalism: Functions of Government Functions of Proprietorship. -

Individual rights, after having been first heralded in the religious world by

the great voice of Christianity, broke into the ancient political world in the

person of the Teuton. But the new politics which the invader brought with him

was not destined to establish at once democratic equality: that was a work

reserved for the transformations of the modern world. During the Middle Ages,

government, as we conceive it, may be said to have suffered eclipse. In the

Feudal System the constituent elements of government fell away from each

other. Society was drawn back to something like its original family groups.

Conceptions of government narrowed themselves to small territorial

connections. Men became sovereigns in their own right by virtue of owning

land in their own right. There was no longer any conception of nations or

societies as wholes. Union there was none, but only interdependence.

Allegiance bowed, not to law or to fatherhood, but to ownership. The

functions of government under such a system were simply the functions of

proprietorship, of command and obedience: "I say unto one, Go, and he goeth;

and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth

it." The public function of the baron was to keep peace among his liegemen, to

see that their properties were enjoyed according to the custom of the manor

(if the manor had been suffered to acquire custom on any point), and to exact

fines of them for all privileges, whether of marrying, of coming of age, or of

making a will. The baronial conscience, bred in cruel, hardening times, was

the only standard of justice; the baronial power the only conclusive test of


1490. This was between baron and vassal. Between baron and baron the

only bond was a nominal common allegiance to a distant king, who was himself

only a greater baron. For the rest there was no government, but only

diplomacy and warfare. Government lived where it could and as it could, and

was for the most part divided out piecemeal to a thousand petty holders.

Armed feuds were the usual processes of justice.

1491. The Feudal Monarchy. - The monarchy which grew out of the ruins of

this disintegrate system concentrated authority without much changing its

character. The old idea, born of family origins, that government was but the

active authority of society, the magistrate but society's organ, bound by

society's immemorial laws, had passed utterly away, and government had become

the personal possession of one man. The ruler did not any longer belong to

the state; the state belonged to him: he was himself the state, as the rich

man may be said to be his possessions. The Greek or Roman official was

wielded by the community. Not so the king who had swept together into his own

lap the powers once broadcast in the feudal system: he wielded the community.

Government breathed with his breath, and it was its function to serve him.

The state had become, by the processes of the feudal development, his private


1492. Modern De-socialization of the State. - The reaction from such

conceptions, slow and for the most part orderly in England, sudden and

violent, because long forcibly delayed, on the Continent, was natural, and

indeed inevitable. When it came it was radical; but it did not swing the

political world back to its old-time ideas; it turned it aside rather to new.

The ancient man had had no thought but to live loyally the life of society;

but it became the object of the revolutionist and the democrat of the new

order of things to live his own life. The antique citizen's virtues were not

individual in their point of view, but social; whereas our virtues are almost

entirely individual in their motive, social only in some of their results.

1493. In brief, the modern State has been largely de-socialized. The

modern idea is this: the state no longer absorbs the individual; it only

serves him. The state, as it appears in its organ, the government, is the

representative of the individual, and not his representative even except

within the definite commission of constitutions; while for the rest each man

makes his own social relations. 'The individual for the State' has been

reversed and made to read, 'The State for the individual.'

1494. More Changes of Conception than of Practice. - Such are the

divergencies of conception separating modern from ancient politics,

divergencies at once deep and far-reaching. How far have such changes of

thought been accompanied by changes of function? By no means so far as might

be expected. Apparently the new ideas which have been given prevalence in

politics from time to time have not been able to translate themselves into

altered functions, but only into somewhat curtailed functions, breeding rather

a difference of degree than a difference of kind. Even under the most liberal

of our modern constitutions we still meet government in almost every field of

social endeavor. Our modern life is so infinitely wide and complex, it is

true, that we may go great distances in any field of enterprise without

receiving either direct aid or direct check from government; but that is only

because every field of enterprise is vastly big nowadays, not because

government is not somewhere in it: and we know that the tendency is for

governments to make themselves everywhere more and more conspicuously present.

We are conscious that we are by no means in the same case with the Greek or

Roman: the state is ours, not we the state's. But we know at the same time

that the tasks of the state have not been much diminished. Perhaps we may say

that the matter stands thus: what is changed is not the activities of

government but only the morals, the conscience of government. Government may

still be doing substantially the same things as of old; but an altered

conception of its responsibility deeply modifies the way in which it does

them. Social convenience and advancement are still its ultimate standard of

conduct, just as if it were still itself the omnipotent impersonation of

society, the master of the individual; but it has adopted new ideas as to what

constitutes social convenience and advancement. Its aim is to aid the

individual to the fullest and best possible realization of his individuality,

instead of merely to the full realization of his sociality. Its plan is to

create the best and fairest opportunities for the individual; and it has

discovered that the way to do this is by no means itself to undertake the

administration of the individual by old-time futile methods of guardianship.

1495. Functions of Government much the Same now as always. - This is

indeed a great and profound change; but it is none the less important to

emphasize the fact that the functions of government are still, when

catalogued, found to be much the same both in number and magnitude that they

always were. Government does not stop with the protection of life, liberty,

and property, as some have supposed; it goes on to serve every convenience of

society. Its sphere is limited only by its own wisdom, alike where republican

and where absolutist principles prevail.

1496. The State's Relation to Property. - A very brief examination of the

facts suffices to confirm this view. Take, for example, the state's relation

to property, its performance of one of the chief of those functions which I

have called Constituent. It is in connection with this function that one of

the most decided contrasts exists between ancient and modern political

practice; and yet we shall not find ourselves embarrassed to recognize as

natural the practice of ancient states touching the right of private property.

Their theory was extreme, but, outside of Sparta, their practice was moderate.

1497. In Sparta. - Consistent, logical Sparta may serve as the point of

departure for our observation. She is the standing classical type of

exaggerated state functions and furnishes the most extreme example of the

antique conception of the relations of the state to property. In the early

periods of her history at least, besides being censor, pedagogue, drill

sergeant, and housekeeper to her citizens, she was also universal landlord.

There was a distinct reminiscence in her practice of the time when the state

was the family, and as such the sole owner of property. She was regarded as

the original proprietor of all the land in Laconia, and individual tenure was

looked upon as rather of the nature of a usufruct held of the state and at the

state's pleasure than as resting upon any complete or indefeasible private

title. (Compare sec. 105.)

1498. Peculiar Situation of the Spartans. - There were in Sparta special

reasons for the persistence of such a system. The Spartans had come into

Laconia as conquerors, and the land had first of all been tribal booty. It

had been booty of which the Spartan host as a whole, as a state, had had the

dividing, and it had been the purpose of the early arrangement to make the

division of the land among the Spartan families as equal as possible. Nor did

the state resign the right of disposition in making this first distribution.

It remained its primary care to keep its citizens, the favored Spartiatoe,

upon an equal footing of fortune, to the end that they might remain rich in

leisure, and so be the better able to live entirely for the service of the

state, which was honorable, to the avoidance of that pursuit of wealth which

was dishonorable. The state, accordingly, undertook to administer the wealth

of the country for the benefit of its citizens. When grave inequalities

manifested themselves in the distribution of estates it did not hesitate to

resume its proprietary rights and effect a reapportionment; no one dreaming,

the while, of calling its action confiscation. It took various means for

accomplishing its ends. It compelled rich heiresses to marry men without

patrimony; and it grafted the poor citizen upon a good estate by means of

prescribed adoption. No landed estate could be alienated either by sale or

testament from the family to which the state had assigned it unless express

legislative leave were given. In brief, in respect of his property the

citizen was both ward and tenant of the state.

1499. Decay of the System. - As the Spartan state decayed this whole

system was sapped. Estates became grossly unequal, as did also political

privileges even among the favored Spartiatoe. But these changes were due to

the decadence of Spartan power and to the degeneration of her political fibre

in days of waning fortune, not to any conscious or deliberate surrender by the

state of its prerogatives as owner, guardian, and trustee. She had grown old

and lax simply; she had not changed her mind.

1500. In Athens. - When we turn to Athens we experience a marked change

in the political atmosphere, though the Athenians hold much the same abstract

conception of the state. Here men breathe more freely and enjoy the fruits of

their labor, where labor is without reproach, with less restraint. Even in

Athens there remain distinct traces, nevertheless, of the family duties of the

state. She too, like Sparta, felt bound to dispose properly of eligible

heiresses. She did not hesitate to punish with heavy forfeiture of right

(atimia) those who squandered their property in dissolute living. There was

as little limit in Athens as in Sparta to the theoretical prerogatives of the

public authority. The freedom of the citizen was a freedom of indulgence

rather than of right: he was free because the state refrained, - as a

privileged child, not as a sovereign under Rousseau's Law of Nature.

1501. In Rome. - When we shift our view to republican Rome we do not find

a simple city omnipotence like that of Greece, in which all private rights are

sunk. The primal constituents of the city yet abide in shapes something like

their original. Roman society consists of a series of interdependent links:

the family the gens, the city. The aggregate, not the fusion, of these makes

up what we should call the state. But the state, so made up, was omnipotent,

through one or other of its organs, over the individual. Property was not

private in the sense of being individual; it vested in the family, which was,

in this as in other respects, an organ of the state. Property was not

conceived of as state property, because it had remained the undivided property

of the family. The father, as a ruler in the immemorial hierarchy of the

government, was all-powerful trustee of the family estates; individual

ownership there was none.

1502. Under Modern Governments. - We with some justice felicitate

ourselves that to this omnipotence of the ancient state in its relations to

property the practice of our own governments offers the most pronounced

contrasts. But the point of greatest interest for us in the present

connection is this, that these contrasts are contrasts of policy, not of

power. To what lengths it will go in regulating property rights is for each

government a question of principle, which it must put to its own conscience,

and which, if it be wise, it will debate in the light of political history:

but every government must regulate property in one way or another and may

regulate it as much as it pleases. If the ancient state was regarded as the

ultimate owner, the modern state is regarded as the ultimate heir of all

estates. Failing other claimants, property escheats to the state. If the

modern state does not assume, like the ancient, to administer their property

upon occasion for competent adults, it does administer their property upon

occasion for lunatics and minors. The ancient state controlled slaves and

slavery. The modern state has been quite as absolute: it has abolished slaves

and slavery. The modern state, no less than the ancient, sets rules and

limitations to inheritance and bequest. Most of the more extreme and hurtful

interferences with rights of private ownership government has abandoned, one

may suspect, rather because of difficulties of administration than because of

difficulties of conscience. It is of the nature of the state to regulate

property rights; it is of the policy of the state to regulate them more or

less. Administrators must regard this as one of the Constituent functions of

political society.

1503. The State and Political Rights. - Similar conclusions may be drawn

from a consideration of the contrasts which exist in the field of that other

Constituent function which concerns the determination of political rights, -

the contrasts between the status of the citizen in the ancient state and the

status of the citizen in the modern state. Here also the contrast, as between

state and state, is not one of power, but one of principle and habit rather.

Modern states have often limited as narrowly as did the ancient the enjoyment

of those political privileges which we group under the word Franchise. They,

too, as well as the ancient states, have admitted slavery into their systems;

they too have commanded their subjects without moderation and fleeced them

without compunction. But for all they have been so omnipotent, and when they

chose so tyrannical, they have seldom insisted upon so complete and unreserved

a service of the state by the citizen as was habitual to the political

practice of both the Greek and the Roman worlds. The Greek and the Roman

belonged each to his state in a quite absolute sense. He was his own in

nothing as against the claims of his city upon him: he freely acknowledged all

his privileges to be but concessions from his mother, the commonwealth. Those

privileges accrued to him through law, as do ours; but law was to him simply

the will of the organic community; never, as we know it in our constitutions,

a restraint upon the will of the organic community. He knew no principles of

liberty save only those which custom had built up: which inhered, not in the

nature of things, not in abstract individuality, but in the history of

affairs, in concrete practice. His principles were all precedents.

Nevertheless, however radically different its doctrines, the ancient state was

not a whit more completely master touching laws of citizenship than the state

of to- day is.

1504. As Regards the State's Ministrant Functions. - Of the Ministrant,

no less than of the Constituent functions, the same statement may be made,

that practically the state has been relieved of very little duty by

alterations of political theory. It is natural enough that in the field of

the Constituent functions the state should serve society now as always; in

this field of the Ministrant functions one would expect the state to be less

active now than formerly. But there is in fact no such difference: government

does now whatever experience permits or the times demand; and though it does

not do exactly the same things it still does substantially the same kind of

things that the ancient state did. It will conduce to clearness if I set

forth my illustrations of this in the order of the list of Ministrant

functions which I have given (sec. 1479).

1505. (1) The State in Relation to Trade. - All nations have habitually

regulated trade and commerce. In the most remote periods of which history has

retained any recollection the regulation of trade and commerce was necessary

to the existence of government. The only way in which communities which were

then seeking to build up a dominant power could preserve an independent

existence and work out an individual development was to draw apart to an

absolutely separate life. Commerce meant contact; contact meant

contamination: the only way in which to develop character and achieve cohesion

was to avoid intercourse. In the classical states this stage is passed and

trade and commerce are regulated for much the same reasons that induce modern

states to regulate them, in order, that is, to secure commercial advantage as

against competitors or in order to serve the fiscal needs of the state.

Athens and Sparta and Rome, too, regulated the corn trade for the purpose of

securing for their citizens full store of food. In the Middle Ages the feuds

and highway brigandage of petty lords loaded commerce with fetters of the most

harassing sort, except where the free cities could by militant combination

keep open to it an unhindered passage to and fro between the great marts of

North and South. As the mediaeval states emerge into modern times we find

trade and commerce handled by statesmen as freely as ever, but according to

the reasoned policy of the mercantilist thinkers; and in our own days

according to still other conceptions of national advantage.

1506. (2) The State in Relation to Labor. - Labor, too, has always been

regulated by the state. By Greek and Roman the labor of the handicrafts and

of agriculture, all manual toil indeed, was for the most part given to slaves

to do; and of course law regulated the slave. In the Middle Ages the labor

which was not agricultural and held in bondage to feudal masters was in the

cities, where it was rigidly ordered by the complex rules of the guild system,

as were trade also and almost all other like forms of making a livelihood.

Where, as in England, labor in part escaped from the hard service of the

feudal tenure the state stepped in with its persistent "statutes of laborers"

and sought to tie the workman to one habitation and to one rate of wages.

'The rustic must stay where he is and must receive only so much pay,' was its

command. Apparently, however, all past regulation of labor was but timid and

elementary as compared with the labor legislation about to be tried by the

governments of our own day. The birth and development of the modern industrial

system has changed every aspect of the matter; and this fact reveals the true

character of the part which the state plays in the case. The rule would seem

to be that in proportion as the world's industries grow must the state advance

in its efforts to assist the industrious to advantageous relations with each

other. The tendency to regulate labor rigorously and minutely is as strong in

England, where the state is considered the agent of the citizen, as it was in

Athens, where the citizen was deemed the child and tool of the state, and

where the workman was a slave.

1507. (3) Regulation of Corporations. - The regulation of corporations is

but one side of the modern regulation of the industrial system, and is a

function added to the antique list of governmental tasks.

1508. (4) The State and Public Works. - The maintenance of thoroughfares

may be said to have begun with permanent empire, that is to say, for Europe,

with the Romans. For the Romans, indeed, it was first a matter of moving

armies, only secondarily a means of serving commerce; whereas with us the

highway is above all things else an artery of trade, and armies use it only

when commerce stands still at the sound of drum and trumpet. The building of

roads may therefore be said to have begun by being a Constituent function and

to have ended by becoming a Ministrant function of government. But the same

is not true of other public works, of the Roman aqueducts and theatres and

baths, and of modern internal improvements. They, as much as the Roman tax on

old bachelors, are parts, not of a scheme of governing, but of plans for the

advancement of other social aims, - for the administration of society.

Because in her conception the community as a whole was the only individual,

Rome thrust out as of course her magnificent roads to every quarter of her

vast territory, considered no distances too great to be traversed by her

towering aqueducts, deemed it her duty to clear river courses and facilitate

by every means both her commerce and her arms. And the modern state, though

holding a deeply modified conception of the relations of government to

society, still follows a like practice. If in most instances our great iron

highways are left to private management, it is oftener for reasons of

convenience than for reasons of conscience.

1509. (5) Administration of the Conveniences of Society. - Similar

considerations apply in the case of that modern instrumentality, the public

letter-post, in the case of the still more modern manufacture of gas, and in

the case of the most modern telegraph. The modern no less than the ancient

government unhesitatingly takes a hand in administering the conveniences of


1510. (6) Sanitation. - Modern governments, like the government of Rome,

maintain sanitation by means of police inspection of baths, taverns, and

houses of ill fame, as well as by drainage; and to these they add hospital

relief, water supply, quarantine, and a score of other means.

1511. (7) Public Education. - Our modern systems of public education are

more thorough than the ancient, notwithstanding the fact that we regard the

individual as something other than a mere servant of the state, and educate

him first of all for himself.

1512. (8) Sumptuary Laws. - In sumptuary laws ancient states of course

far outran modern practice. Modern states have foregone most attempts to make

citizens virtuous or frugal by law. But even we have our prohibition

enactments; and we have had our fines for swearing.

1513. Summary. - Apparently it is safe to say with regard to the

functions of government taken as a whole that, even as between ancient and

modern states, uniformities of practice far out-number diversities of

practice. One may justly conclude, not indeed that the restraints which

modern states put upon themselves are of little consequence, or that altered

political conceptions are not of the greatest moment in determining important

questions of government and even the whole advance of the race; but that it is

rather by gaining practical wisdom, rather by long processes of historical

experience, that states modify their practices. New theories are subsequent

to new experiences.

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