It’s curious how the mind works. Sometimes, you’re a little bored, you read or think about something, and you start doing strange ideas associations. Sometimes, they make sense. It’s up to you to decide if this one does.

I don’t know about your country, but here in France you can often hear some variation of the statement “you need to buy social peace”. It’s the idea that if we let go of the Welfare State, or some of it, people will go wild and riot, so you have to throw money(previously taken from them by force by the agents of the State…) at them to keep them somewhat peaceful. You’re also probably familiar with the saying “panem et circenses”. You keep the citizens fed and distracted so they don’t come after you. You could say this is the way the Welfare State works if you’re an evil antisocial antistate egoist atomist libertarian. It was also how King Louis XIV’s Versailles Court worked.

Louis XIV (5 September 1638 – 1 September 1715)  was King of France and Navarre from 1643 until his death.His reign of 72 years and 110 days is probably the longest of any monarch of a major country in European history. He is the archetypal divine right absolute monarch and arguably the first modern French ruler, setting up a centralized state that pretty much remains today(Interestingly, he said on his deathbed “I depart, but the State will always remain”, boy was he right about this one), though not as a monarchy. There is a lot to say about him and how his reign shaped France and even Europe, and he’s without a doubt one of the most interesting figures in the history of this country, but we’ll stay focused.

The first major event of his life happened during his childhood : the Fronde, a revolt of the nobility against the regency. Louis learned one lesson from it : he had to weaken and control the nobles so they could never go up against the Crown again. While he continued the ongoing trend of transferring power from the traditional feudal aristocracy to ennobled bourgeois bureaucrats, he came up with another scheme. He built the famous Palace of Versailles and attracted the nobles to its magnificent court. There, he had them compete for favors and rents. The nobles became completely dependent on him, they became courtesans. He basically put them on the dole. He bought the social peace with money and distractions, and the aristocrats stayed under the control of the State until the end of the Ancien Regime. Does anything here sound familiar to you?

One could say that it isn’t comparable to the modern Welfare State, that the State putting people on the dole, being omnipresent in people’s lives and having them compete for favors(“The great fiction in which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else” as Bastiat put it) is not about controlling them but about helping them(what, we aren’t “buying social peace” now?) but you might wanna take a look at our great leaders before agreeing too fast. Furthermore you can arguably attribute the creation of the modern Welfare State to Otto von Bismarck. Who as we all know was someone who only had the best interest of the people in mind and wasn’t trying to spur support for the new german nation-state unified around Prussia.