Front Page Titles (by Subject) Undermocratic Liberal Republicans - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Undermocratic Liberal Republicans - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Undermocratic Liberal Republicans
“The Failure of the Liberal Republic in France, 1795–1799: The Road to Brumaire.” Journal of Modern History 51(December 1979):734–759.
Marxian historians of Napoleon's coup, his eighteenth Brumaire, have heretofore failed to take account of the “political history” of the period between 1795 and 1799. Consequently, unlike Marx's analysis of Louis Napoleon's ascension to power, these historians have failed to observe the parliamentary conflicts that led to the downfall of the Directory and the end of representative government. In the light of such a “political history,” we note that the success of the Brumaire coup resulted from a fundamental contradiction within the dominant, middle-class, propertied faction in the Councils. This republican faction established a representative government based on electoral politics, yet it limited direct participation by the masses to the first stage of the electoral process, reserving the final selection of delegates to some 30,000 French male property owners. These republicans of the majority faction endorsed the principles of political participation, yet they were unwilling to accept the growth of organized political parties, viewing such attempts by the Jacobin left and the constitutional-monarchist right as threats to the cohesiveness of the Revolution. Being the beneficiaries of the Revolution, landowning, professional, and commercial bourgeoisie, wanted to preserve the Revolution by establishing an anti-aristocratic government, but they were equally unwilling to tolerate a genuinely popular government of the people.
This unwillingness to organize themselves as a party led to the eventual undoing of these “centrists,” and as their own ranks of “regicides,” were replaced by new men, less committed to republican ideology, they were ripe for the anti-party rhetoric of Napoleon. Their lack of appetite for the consequences of elections is evident both in their purges of Jacobin and right wing deputies during this period, and in their opposition against annual elections.
The failure of the French liberal republic of the Directory was not the result of an unduly apathetic electorate of an overly autonomous military. Its demise was precipitated by the policy of the Council moderates who denounced parties. Thus, by 1799, a substantial number of these moderates endorsed the technocratic, authoritarian vision of government which Napoleon's coup would bring to fruition, and they endorsed his coup. Under Bonaparte as “ultimate Director,” the legislature was reduced to impotence, parties lost their function, and the executive ruled supreme—thus, the Directorial regime succumbed because it failed to rest upon the imperative of representative government, i.e. the formation of a party organization.