The State : Its Historic Role.
of adventurers, men hardened in wars, or brigands, to be his followers;
while the great mass raises cattle or cultivates the soil. And this defender soon begins to amass wealth. He gives a horse and armour
(very dear at that time) to the poor man, and reduces him to servitude;
he begins to conquer the germ of military power. On the other hand,
little by little, tradition, which constituted law in those times, is forgotten by the masses. . There hardly remains an old man who in his
memory keeps the verses and songs which tell of the "precedents," of
which customary law consists, and recites them on great festival days
before the commune. And, little by little, some families made a speciality, transmitted from father to son, of retaining these songs and verses
in their memory and of preserving "the law" in its purity. To them
villagers apply to judge differences in intricate cases, especially when
two villages or confederations refuse to accept the decisions of arbitrators taken from their midst.
The germ of princely or royal authority is already sown in these
families; and the more I study the institutions of that time, the more
I see that the knowledge of customary law did far more to constitute
that authority than the power of the sword. Man allowed himself to
be enslaved far more by his desire to "punish according to law" than
by direct military conquest.
And gradually the first "concentration of powers," the first mutual
insurance for domination—that of the judge and the military chief—
grew to the detriment of the village commune. A single man assumed
these two functions. He surrounded himself with armed men to put his
judicial decisions into execution; he fortified himself in his turret; he
accumulated the wealth of the epoch, viz. bread, cattle and iron, for his
family; and little by little he forced his rule upon the neighbouring
peasants. The scientific man of the age, that is to say, the witch-doctor
or priest, lost no time in bringing him his support and in sharing
his domination ; or else, adding the sword to his power of redoubtable
magician, he seized the domination for his own account.
A course of lectures, rather than a simple lecture, would be needed
to deal thoroughly with this subject, so full of new teachings, and to
tell how free men became gradually serfs, forced to work for the lay or
clerical lord of the manor; how authority was constituted, in a tentative
way, over villages and boroughs; how peasants leagued, revolted, struggled to fight the advancing domination, and how they succumbed in
those struggles against the strong castle walls, against the men in armour
who defended them.
Suffice it for me to say, that towards the tenth and eleventh centuries,
Europe seemed to be drifting straight towards the constitution of those