Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

and show that a democracy utterly scorns and repudiates this kind of assistance offered to it. The Social Democrats of Elberfeld, in the Rhine province, are bitterly hostile to a system of obligatory public relief which is even more liberal than our own Poor Law, and gives only outdoor relief. At best such a system is regarded as an instalment and a mean instalment-of what is conceived by the working classes to be due to them from society. Communistic and suggestive as obligatory relief of the poor is, it is not communistic enough for those of them who profess the most advanced opinions.

The whole question lies in a proper appreciation of an extremely nice point which is contained in the recent dictum of an eminent French writer to which we shall presently again refer. It is contended that on the one hand no man has any right to demand relief, and that it is injurious to him to give him such a right; on the other hand it is allowed that society is morally bound to relieve the indigent. It is probable that a dull bureaucrat would see a contradiction in this statement. There is, however, no such contradiction. The element of time must be introduced into the proposition. Thus a child is to be taught that he must rely upon his own exertions, and when he is grown up he carries the lesson out in practice. Yet at some unforeseen crisis in his life he becomes indigent. Then society recognises a moral duty to assist him. That is not the same as to give him the right of demanding assistance. In that case he would have foreseen and helped to create the crisis. If there is no right, then the indigent man has to take his chance with others; there is an element of doubt and uncertainty, just as there is in nature. What do men do under such circumstances? They make efforts. They rely on themselves. They do not revolt against the absence of the right to claim assistance. Revolutions are the supreme effort of the masses to secure just laws for their class, the suppression of privileges, and the means of dispensing with the help of others.

In these few words it is hoped that the reader will see a justification of the French system which denies the morality of legal and obligatory charity. This view was well stated by Thiers many years ago in the following words :- When the virtue of charity ceases to be private and becomes collective, it is essential that it should preserve its character of a virtue: that is to say, that it should remain voluntary and spontaneous; for otherwise it would cease to be a virtue and would become a dangerous compulsion.'

It has often been asserted that the secularisation of charity in France took place after the Revolution; but this is not the case. The edicts of the sovereigns of the sixteenth century prove that charity was, to a certain extent, public, and that for landowners and parishes it had even an obligatory character. But the movement towards a Poor

Law, such as that of Elizabeth of England, was checked, and for two centuries charity remained on its previous footing, partly of legal, partly of voluntary, impulse. The Church of France retained in her hands the endowments of the poor. Her efforts were greatly aided by St. Vincent de Paul, who in 1632 founded the order of the Priests of the Missions, one of whose chief duties was to administer consolation and relief to the sick and the indigent in the country villages as well as in the towns.

On the 2nd of November 1789, the Constituent Assembly declared, on the motion of Mirabeau, that tous les biens ecclésiastiques seraient à la disposition de la nation, à la charge de pourvoir, d'une manière convenable aux frais du culte, à l'entretien de ses ministres et un soulagement des pauvres.' It was decreed in the Constitution of 1791 that a general establishment of Public Assistance should be formed for the education of deserted children, the relief of the sick poor, and the provision of work to the poor in health who were unable to find it for themselves. The Convention adopted the declaration of the Assembly that the assistance of the pocr is a sacred debt,' and proceeded to establish a complete system of national relief. At the same time it was ordered that the property of the hospitals and charitable foundations should be sold. It was made illegal not only to beg, but to assist the poor privately. A Book of National Benevolence' was instituted, in which the names of all indigent persons were inscribed, and pensions allotted to them of from 80 to 160 francs. It was made a public boast that there were to be no more alms or benevolent institutions in republican France.

"

6

This scheme soon proved impracticable: the State was utterly unable to support its cost. In 1796, the Legislature abolished the system, and restored to the various establishments such part of their property as had not been alienated. And the important step was taken of instituting 'bureaux de bienfaisance,' which were charged with the distribution of public charity at the homes of the poor. This plan is the foundation of the present system. We need now only remark that probably every convulsion in France has had for one of its immediate results the attempt to establish the right of the workman either to State-provided labour, or, in default, public assistance. The Second Empire carried on this form of Communism longer than any other government since the Revolution, for it bribed the workmen of Paris with constant employment at the cost of the rest of France. The capital was beautified; the country was impoverished; and the way was cleared for a still more advanced Communism, which, not content with a Poor Law that would only tax wealth, demanded the distribution of all property.

The general principle on which the actual organisation of Public Assistance is founded is clearly stated in the following words:

La législation charitable en France est dominée actuellement par ce principe: que, si la société a le devoir moral de ne laisser aucune souffrance réelle sans soulagement, l'assistance ne peut jamais être réclamée comme un droit par l'indigent. L'assistance ne constitue donc pas, et c'est un honneur pour notre pays, une dépense obligatoire de l'État et des communes.3

6

This declaration of principle will be seen on examination to bring out in strong relief the difference between the English and French. methods. The French say to the poor, We do not acknowledge that you have the right to demand assistance, but we will help you because it is a moral duty to relieve suffering.' The result is that charity in France has always a tender conscience. The charitably disposed are always asking themselves whether such a candidate has any moral claim upon them. That claim may be destroyed in many ways which the English system must ignore; idleness, for instance, or a dissolute life, would destroy it. The English say to the poor, "We give you the legal right to demand relief; the only condition we impose is that your indigence shall be real.' Can it seriously be argued that to recognise the subjective duty of helping the distressed is the same thing as to set up the legal right to demand assistance? At any rate, as we shall presently see, the results of the two systems are very different.

6

French legislation leaves the greatest liberty to works of private charity. In fact the whole system is one vast scheme of organised charity, assisted only to a small extent by subventions from the public purse, in return for which the Government exercises a certain control. The extent to which this control is carried is in one direction considerable, in another comparatively slight. The Ministry of the Interior is charged with the duty of a general supervision over all works of charity. When these works have reached the stage of institutions, and desire to assure their stability, they are recognised by the State as being of public utility,' and obtain certain privileges on conditions which are easy to fulfil. There is no monopoly of public charity. Religious bodies of all kinds, bishoprics, presbyteries, congregations, may receive gifts and legacies for the relief of the poor. Even works of charity which do not enjoy a civil existence because they have never been recognised as being of public utility can receive gifts by means of a decree which authorises the mayor, in the name of the poor assisted by these works of charity, to accept the gifts and see that they are properly applied to the purpose for which they were intended.4 From this it will be seen that such scandals as occasionally take place in England from the misapplication of charitable funds are impossible in France.

Whilst the establishment of works of charity is nowhere compulsory, the French have nevertheless very generally recognised the

Rapport de l'inspection générale des Etablissements de Bienfaisance, 1874.
Ordonnance Royale du 2 avril 1817.

6

moral duty of assisting the poor. In the capital, in all the great towns, and in many country places, there exists an administrative organisation known as the Assistance Publique.' Whilst there are private works of charity in operation which are not included in the general scheme of public assistance, the very great majority of efforts, both public and private, for the relief of the poor form a portion of it. The Assistance Publique is the channel through which the greatest part of private benevolence flows. It is subsidised by departments, by municipalities, and by communes. It is recognised by the Church, which makes collections for it. It is a corporation, or rather an aggregation of corporations, any of which can receive gifts and legacies.

The Assistance Publique works through two different classes of institution, which may roughly be said to represent indoor and outdoor relief. The first of these consists of hospitals and hospices, the latter of Bureaux de Bienfaisance. Each of these classes has a separate administration, except in Paris, where the two services are united.

6

Before proceeding to describe in detail the two great branches of public assistance, it will be necessary to define exactly the part which the State takes in the relief of the poor. In the first place, the Minister of the Interior has the direct management of certain national benevolent establishments. These are the hospice of the QuinzeVingts' for the blind, and another for the young, the Maison de Charenton for insane persons, three institutions for the deaf and dumb in various parts of France, two convalescent asylums, and the Institution of Mont Genèvre for assisting travellers in the Alps. The Minister of the Interior further superintends the various charitable establishments of France which are under the control of the Assistance Publique by means of general inspectors, of whom there were five in 1875. He exercises a more direct influence over the bringing up of pauper children through a body of departmental inspectors who are appointed by him. Special credits opened annually in his budget permit him to grant subventions to a large number of establishments of public charity and of works of private benevolence, and even to accord help to individuals under special circumstances. The Minister of the Interior also disposes of a certain number of places in the hospices of the capital. The only other occasions on which the Government grants public aid are when inundations or other public calamities have caused local distress.

Although the above includes all that is done by the Ministry of the Interior, or the central State authority, the departments, which represent the State in another form, have also their share of the work to do. The principal representative of local government is the General Council of each department. On this body devolves the duty of distributing their own charitable subventions and those of the Minister of the Interior. But it has a more important duty in connection with the relief of

distress than even this. There are two classes of paupers who are supported by the operation of an obligatory poor law-the insane and pauper children. To these must be added vagrants who partially support themselves. The General Councils have to provide from the local funds for these two classes and the mendicants.

The way is now clear for the closer examination of the Assistance Publique. If the first axiom of French public relief is that obligatory charity is false in principle and hurtful in practice, the second certainly is that charity should be so administered as to disturb as little as possible the family life. Hence the central idea of the system is that the commune, as represented by the Bureau de Bienfaisance, should look after its own poor, and should assist them at their own homes. We shall therefore consider these institutions first. But one of the greatest merits of the French method is the fact that hospitals, hospices, and Bureaux de Bienfaisance are all included in one great system. A very imperfect idea of the Public Assistance would be gained if it were not carefully kept in mind that there is complete harmony between the different parts of the scheme. The love of organisation and order goes even further than this. The central authorities have recently urged the desirableness of establishing an agreement among all the works of public and private charity existing in the same commune. This would be, it is believed, the best method of relieving genuine suffering. This is, in fact, the scheme of the British Charity Organisation Society, but it is far less important that the principle should be carried out in France than in England. In the former country the non-obligatory system of public charity does its work much more efficaciously than our Poor Law does in many places, so that there is less need for purely private benevolence in France. It is probable that the Legislature will shortly place the actual management of both branches of the Public Assistance throughout France in the same hands, as is already the case in Paris. In the meantime there is complete intercommunication between the two branches, and imposture and waste are thus rendered impossible.

C

The materials for a close inquiry into the Bureaux de Bienfaisance are at hand. In 1872 the Inspection Générale' of the charitable establishments of France was charged with the duty of inquiring into the administrative and financial situation of the Bureaux de Bienfaisance. After twenty months of continuous labour, the report of the Council of General Inspection was presented to the Minister, and was printed in 1875. The first report of this kind on the bureaux was published in 1833. The second was drawn up in 1847 by the Baron de Watteville. The present one is edited by M. Paul Bucquet, the chief of the five inspectors-general who form the Council.

The resources of the Bureaux de Bienfaisance do not permit them to give more than moderate assistance (des secours modiques). They can only in exceptional cases attempt to draw out of their state of

« AnteriorContinua »