The Rationale of Reward

Book I

Of Rewards in General

Chapter II


Between the four objects---delinquency, punishment, expenditure, and reward, there is an intimate connexion. He who knows through the nature and possible modifications of any one, knows thoroughly the nature and possible modifications of all the rest. Why so? Because they are all of them but so many modifications of good and evil---of the instruments or causes of pain and pleasure, considered in a particular point of view. Whatever mischief being produced contrary to the will of the legislator, takes the name of an offence, the same when produced in pursuance of that will (so it be with a direct intention on his part that the party shall be a sufferer by it) takes the name of punishment. Reward is to good, what punishment is to evil: reward on one part supposes expenditure on the other: whatever is received by one party on the footing of reward, is expended by some other:---when a view, then, is given of the several possible modifications of offence, a view is at the same time given in reality, if not in name, of the several possible modifications of reward.

This may at first sight appear a paradox; but as the absence of good is comparatively an evil, so the absence of evil is comparatively a good: the notion, therefore, of evil, and of all sorts of evil, is included in the notion of reward.

The several modifications of the matter of reward may be comprised under four heads:---1. The matter of wealth; 2. Honour; 3. Power; 4. Exemptions. In respect of the employment of the direct mode for affording pleasure, it belongs not properly to political, but to domestic government or education.

1. The matter of wealth.---Money, or money's worth, is by much the most common stuff of which rewards are made; and in general the most suitable of which they can be made: why it is so will appear hereafter.

2. Honour.---Honour may be made out of any stuff. In some cases, it is produced by the bearing a particular title not hereditary,---as the name of the office a man holds. In other cases, it is hereditary, and places the individuals bearing it in a distinct rank, superior to that of the other classes,---as in the case of the nobility. In other cases, it is unaccompanied with any distinguishing denomination, or any particular title,---as in the case of medals, or public thanks conferred after any great victory, in the name of the king and parliament.

A graduated scale of ranks, especially when its gradations are determined by merit, and depend upon actual service, is an excellent institution. It creates a new source of happiness, by means of a tax upon honour, almost imperceptible to those by whom it is paid: it augments the sum of human enjoyment; it increases the power of government, by clothing its authority with benignity; it opens new sources for the exercise of hope, the most precious of all possessions; and it nourishes emulation, the most powerful of all incentives to virtuous actions. Such a graduated scale of ranks has at all times been in use in the military branch of the public service. But in this case, the principal object is not honour but power:---superiority in rank is invariably accompanied by superiority in command. The honour which accompanies the power is but an accidental appendage.

Catherine II. extended the application of his arrangement to the civil service. She distributed all the public officers in the civil department into distinct and even numerical classes, corresponding with the distribution of rank in the army:---secretaries, judges, musicians, academicians, all the civil functionaries, being advanced by steps, a perpetual state of emulation and of hope stimulated their labours throughout the whole course of their career. It was an invention in politics, which matches the most ingenious discovery n art that the present century has witnessed. At one stroke, without violence or injustice, hereditary nobility was deprived of the greater part of its injurious prerogatives. The foremost in rank and wealth began his career at the lowest step: his ascent through each gradation depending upon the appointment of the sovereign, if without merit, he was left behind, while men of the most obscure birth took precedence of him. This engine was the more powerful, from the gentleness with which it operated---the simple non-collation of reward performing the office of punishment.

Another advantage gained by the transference of the denominations of the military ranks into the civil service is, that the respect borne by the military to the civil functionaries is thus in no small degree increased. It is an ingenious artifice for conquering the barbarous and absurd contempt for civil functions which prevails in all military governments. The assimilation of ranks naturally leads to the assimilation of respect. From the time that this arrangement was made, the nobility were seen eagerly to engage in offices, which before they had regarded with disdain.

Orders of knighthood appear like floating fragments detached from some such regular system of honorary rewards.

In some states, an order of knighthood bas been established under the title of ``The Order of Merit''. It might be supposed that this order had been established as a jest, by way of satire upon all other orders. Not so, however: whatever ridicule there maybe, falls exclusively upon those who are members of this order: of all orders it is the least distinguished; the nobility are not candidates for admission---they consider it derogatory to their birth. It is the reward---it may be purchased by, service.

The higher ranks of knighthood, are they to be considered as rewards?---are they public rewards? To this question it appears difficult to give a decisive answer. They are bestowed for so great a variety of reasons, that to give any description of them, which shall be applicable to all cases, is impossible. They are sometimes given for the performance of distinguished services; but much more generally to courtiers and men of rank, who are the companions of the sovereign, to increase the splendour of his court. In these cases, the merit proved is, that the individual has made himself agreeable to the sovereign. But if persons thus decorated claim distinctions not belonging to other members of the community,---if everyone must yield them precedence, ought not some public reason to be given for creating this superiority---for this comparative degradation of the largest portion of the community? Ought such drafts upon the respect of the public to be drawn in favour of an individual, till it has been shown that he has rendered services to entitle him to this special homage? When thus conferred, is not a resource that might yield important fruits employed with bad economy? We shall return to this subject.

3. Power.---The principles which ought to regulate the distribution of this great object of human desire, belong to the head of constitutional law, rather than to our present subject. Power is created for a purpose altogether different from that of serving as matter of reward. Merit is not the only consideration by which its distribution must be governed.

Under a monarchical government, for example, the inconveniences attending the election of a king may be so serious, that the supreme power ought to be attached to some qualification more manifest and indispensable than the personal merit of an individual. In a mixed government, also, in which there is a chief magistrate, and a body of hereditary nobles invested with certain powers, it may be thought proper that this body should be composed of many members: but the more numerous, the less susceptible is it of that sort of selection which supposes in each individual distinguished merit.

Thus far, however, we may determine in general, viz. that power, wherever it can be employed without inconvenience as matter of reward, ought to be so employed.

In thus using it, the difficulty is to select any act or event that shall serve as evidence of the capacity of individua]s for exercising the power with which they may come to be invested. In public employments, for example, how various are the talents required, for the possession of which no single act can be considered as satisfactory evidence! Were this not the case, the greater number of public employments might be conferred as rewards for the performance of some determinate service, respectively relating to them.

In the Gazette, notices might be given, couched in the following terms:---``Who ever produces the most perfect die, shall be placed at the head of the Mint.''---``Who ever produces a model of the most serviceable piece of artillery, shall be placed at the head of the Ordnance.''---``He who constructs the swiftest sailing vessel, united with the most perfect means of attack and defence, shall be placed at the head of the naval architecture.''---``The author who writes the best treatise upon commerce, finances, or the art of war, shall be placed at the head of the Board of Trade, shall be first Lord of the Treasury, or Commander-in-Chief, respectively. He who writes the best treatise on the laws, shall be made Chancellor.''

At first view, nothing can be more captivating than such a plan; but upon the slightest examination, it will be found more specious than solid. Why? Because it is by no means uncommon for a man who is in an eminent degree endowed with one of the qualities requisite, to be altogether destitute of other equally indispensable.

There are, besides, cases in which even this imperfect mode of proof is altogether wanting. During a long period of tranquillity, by what describable service can a military man display his talents for command? Among the qualities most essential for such a duty, are presence of mind, enlarged views, foresight, activity, courage, perseverance, personal influence, &c. &c. By what specific act can an officer who has seen no service, show himself to be possessed of any of these qualifications? We are reduced, then, to mere conjecture. The best founded opinions are drawn from his habits of life, his attachment to his profession, and above all the confidence reposed in him by those who are engaged in the same profession, whose opinion is founded upon a multiplicity of acts, which in the aggregate constitute his character.

Discernment, or the art of judging of individual capacity, is a rare quality, whose use it is impossible to supersede by general rules.

A slight advance might perhaps be made in this difficult art, did we possess a catalogue of the indications of talents or capacity, as applicable to the various departments of state.

4. Exemptions.---The legislator creates two sorts of evils: he appoints punishment for offences; he imposes burthensome duties upon the various members of the community. Hence exemptions may be of two kinds: exemptions from punishment a1ready incurred; exemptions from civil burthens.

An exemption from punishment already incurred, is a pardon. Pardons have often been given in the way of reward, that is, in consideration of former services. Such acts cannot be foreseen and provided for by anticipation: they are the result of the discretion entrusted on this behalf to the sovereign.

Under the English law, however, there are instances in which, by anticipation, exemption from punishment is granted; that is to say, before the punishment is inflicted. Thus, from the policy or weakness of the temporal sovereign, the English clergy obtained in times of barbarism an exemption in all cases from capital and several other kinds of punishment: an exemption which being by statute law confined, in regard to causes on the one hand, while by common law it was extended, with regard to persons on the other, has left this part of the penal branch of the law in the confusion under which it still labours.[3]

The nobility followed the example of the clergy. In almost every country of Europe they have found themselves invested with exemptions of this nature. Ancient Rome set the example. No citizen could be put to death: Verres, convicted of the most atrocious crimes, atoned for them by enjoying at distance from Rome the fruits of his plunder.

When Catherine II., empress of Russia, convened together deputies from all the provinces of that immense empire, under the pretence of their assisting her in the formation of a code of laws (a sort of parody of the legislative assemblies of free states, which was not however without its use, in so far as it contributed to the spread of enlightened ideas,) she conferred upon them, amongst other privileges, an exemption from all corporal punishment, cases of high treason excepted. This species of distinction, which as a reward for legislators, could scarcely be imagined in any other state than one just emerging from a state of barbarism, had doubtless for its object the increasing their self importance, and the conferring upon them a sort of rank which should last beyond the duration of their duties.

As a man may be punished in his person, his reputation, his property,---in like manner, through necessity, and with the view of punishing him, he may be burthened. An exemption from a burthen is an exemption from the obligation of rendering service: services are either services of submission, in the rendering of which the will of the party has no share---or services of behaviour.

Of exemption from services of submission, not exacted in the way of punishment, we shall not find a great variety of examples. In Great Britain, members of the upper house of Parliament and other peers constantly, and members of the lower house at certain periods, are exempted from arrests: this privilege they may be considered as enjoying partly on the grounds of satisfaction, partly that they may not he diverted from the exercise of their functions, and partly because, being members of the sovereign body, they would have it so.

Among services performed by action, are some which may be styled services of respect. It is a service of respect exacted by usage in every kingdom in Europe not to wear a hat, or what is equivalent, in the presence of the king. In Spain, some families among the nobility enjoy the privilege of remaining covered in the presence of the king. In Ireland, the head of one family (the family of the De Courcys, earls of Kinsale) enjoys the like exemption, us a reward for some service rendered by an ancestor.

By a British statute, he who apprehends and prosecutes to conviction a criminal of a certain description, received amongst other rewards an exemption from parish offices, together with the privilege of transferring1g that exemption to another.

By other British statutes, persons who have borne arms for a certain length of time in the service of the state, were exempted from the obligation of those laws which, lest industry should be too common, forbade a man from working for his own benefit at a trade at which he had not worked seven years for the benefit of another.

There are various other exemptions of the same nature: but as the object here is not to give an exhaustive view of these several exemptions, but merely a few instances to servo by way of example, the above specimens may suffice.

One general observation applies to all cases of exemptions from general obligations imposed by law: it is---that the more severe the law, the more abundant, as drawn from this source, is the fund of reward. It may be created by a mere act of restitution by the rendering of justice: to some may be given what ought to be left for all: conditions may be annexed to what ought to be given gratuitously. The greater the mass of injustice inflicted, the greater the opportunity for generosity in detail. The oppressive government of one sovereign is a mine of gold to his successor. In the church, it is the good works of their predecessors---in the state, it is their bad works, that increase the treasure of their successors In Russia and in Poland, emancipation is a very distinguished reward. A tyrant may reward by doing less mischief.

One word on the last, article of reward---Pleasures. Punishment may be applied in all shapes to all persons. Pleasure, however, in the hands of the legislator, is not equally manageable: pleasure can be given only by giving the means by which it is purchased---that is to say, the matter of wealth which every one may employ in his own way.

Among certain barbarous or half-civilised nations, the services of their warriors have been rewarded by the favours of women. Helvetius appears to smile with approbation at this mode of exciting bravery. It was perhaps Montesquieu that led him into this error. In speaking of the Samnites, among whom the young man declared the most worthy selected whomsoever he pleased for his wife, he adds, that this custom was calculated to produce most beneficial effects. Philosophers distinguished for their humanity---both of them good husbands and good fathers, both of them eloquent against slavery, how could they speak in praise of a law which supposes the slavery of the best half of the human species?---how could they have forgotten that favours not preceded by an uncontrouled choice, and which the heart perhaps repelled with disgust, afforded the spectacle rather of the degradation of woman than the rewarding a hero? The warrior, surrounded by palms of honour, could he descend to act the part of a ravisher? And if he disdained this barbarous right, was not his generosity a satire on the law?

Voltaire relates with great simplicity, that at the first representation of one of his tragedies, the audience, who saw the author in a box with an extremely beautiful young duchess, required that she should give him a kiss, by way of acknowledging the public gratitude. The victim, a partaker in the general enthusiasm, felt apparently no repugnance to making the sacrifice: and, without the intervention of the magistrate, we may trust to the enthusiasm of the sex, and their passion for distinction, for preferences that may animate courage and genius in their career.

[RR, Book I, Chapter I] [RR, Book I, Chapter III]