Experience constitutes almost the only effective process by which

a truth may be solidly established in the mind of the masses, and

illusions grown too dangerous be destroyed. To this end,

however, it is necessary that the experience should take place on

a very large scale, and be very frequently repeated. The

experiences undergone by one generation are useless, as a rule,

for the generation that follows, which is the reason why

historical facts, cited with a view to demonstration, serve no

purpose. Their only utility is to prove to what an extent

experiences need to be repeated from age to age to exert any

influence, or to be successful in merely shaking an erroneous

opinion when it is solidly implanted in the mind of the masses.

Our century and that which preceded it will doubtless be alluded

to by historians as an era of curious experiments, which in no

other age have been tried in such number.

The most gigantic of these experiments was the French Revolution.

To find out that a society is not to be refashioned from top to

bottom in accordance with the dictates of pure reason, it was

necessary that several millions of men should be massacred and

that Europe should be profoundly disturbed for a period of twenty

years. To prove to us experimentally that dictators cost the

nations who acclaim them dear, two ruinous experiences have been

required in fifty years, and in spite of their clearness they do

not seem to have been sufficiently convincing. The first,

nevertheless, cost three millions of men and an invasion, the

second involved a loss of territory, and carried in its wake the

necessity for permanent armies. A third was almost attempted not

long since, and will assuredly be attempted one day. To bring an

entire nation to admit that the huge German army was not, as was

currently alleged thirty years ago, a sort of harmless national

guard,[15] the terrible war which cost us so dear had to take

place. To bring about the recognition that Protection ruins the

nations who adopt it, at least twenty years of disastrous

experience will be needful. These examples might be indefinitely


rough-and-ready associations of dissimilar things, the mechanism

of which I have previously explained. The French national guard

of that period, being composed of peaceable shopkeepers, utterly

lacking in discipline and quite incapable of being taken

seriously, whatever bore a similar name, evoked the same

conception and was considered in consequence as harmless. The

error of the crowd was shared at the time by its leaders, as

happens so often in connection with opinions dealing with

generalisations. In a speech made in the Chamber on the 31st of

December, 1867, and quoted in a book by M. E. Ollivier that has

appeared recently, a statesman who often followed the opinion of

the crowd but was never in advance of it--I allude to M.

Thiers--declared that Prussia only possessed a national guard

analogous to that of France, and in consequence without

importance, in addition to a regular army about equal to the

French regular army; assertions about as accurate as the

predictions of the same statesman as to the insignificant future

reserved for railways.

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