The Aristocratic Element
It is in the nature of the human mind to advance to its object through continual oscillations. It is a weak bark which struggles against the wind and the motion of the waves, and yet yields to the oar; by turns it deviates to the right or to the left, as the squalls increase or diminish, and yet the helmsman keeps his eye always fixed on the same point of the shore to which he is directing it. The mind of nations, as well as of individuals, is always fixed on the happiness to which it aspires. Sometimes it deviates by turns to the right and to the left, sometimes drawn by the unruly impulses of the passions, sometimes struggling against them by an interior spring, and gaining upon them when they yield. It wavers, it continually leaves the straight line, but yet it advances.
Publicists have never yielded more to these contrary oscillations than when, endeavouring by the institution of government to secure the greatest good of all, they have wished to appreciate the utility and importance of an aristocracy. Among the political instructors of free nations, Lycurgus and Solon, Xenophon, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Livy, Tacitus, Machiavel, and Calvin, have manifested a decided leaning to aristocracy. In our time, on the contrary, it is attacked with such bitter violence, that by this name is designated all that is esteemed most odious in governments, and what it seems determined shall be extirpated everywhere. This fury is not yet appeased, and perhaps the remains of European aristocracy may yet be exposed to violent attacks. The victories of the aristocratic and democratic systems have alternated since the commencement of human communities, and other changes will yet follow. Thought, however, advances, and now begins to be convinced that aristocracy as well as democracy ere two necessary elements in all good government; both pernicious when they are exclusive, or even when they govern; both essential to the happiness of nations when they are skilfully combined, so as to work together.
Aristocracy is the power of those who obtain for themselves the name of the best; we shall only call them the most distinguished in society. It is the power attached to distinction. On the first view distinction seems personal; but aristocracy becomes a body, and is animated with the esprit de corps, actuated by the same passion, pride, as those who, not belonging to it, are exasperated against it, and eager to destroy it. Every one thirsts for distinction for himself, every one bears it impatiently in another. The received forms of modesty are opposed to any one exalting himself; but we do not fear saying of ourselves collectively, what each one would blush to say of himself. This vanity, this pride, this self-satisfaction, which are ill at ease under the yoke of the customs of the world, are all at once freed from restraint when a man can praise the body to which he belongs. Thus this body becomes dear to us because it satisfies our self-love, because in proportion to the ardour with which we exalt it we exalt ourselves. Each one seems to take a pleasure in judging all human nature from his own eminence, proclaiming that it is egotistical, inconstant, that we must grant little faith to its promises, that there is little foundation for its virtue, provided he can say: Men like ourselves cannot bear to be confounded with the crowd; we never go back; no suspicion has ever reached us; whatever may happen our honour will always remain intact. When any thing regards us, not only do we not hesitate to give openly the testimony which each one would hesitate to give of himself, but we make a virtue of our pride in the body to which we belong; we think we ought to worship it; we feel, in fact, that our egotism is annihilated before this existence, greater than our own, and we find in ourselves devotedness, greatness of mind, heroism, when they are required, for this creature of our vanity,
As the most powerful spring of human society, and in particular the strongest support of the aristocracy, is the esprit de corps, there will, perhaps, be some advantage in studying it, in those cases where the distinction which it claims for itself is not acknowledged by the rest of society. All those who have any experience of military life know that even the vulgarest minds may be inflamed with the most noble enthusiasm, may give proofs of the most admirable heroism, when the honour of their corps, the honour of their regiment, is given them to preserve. “Remember, soldiers, you are the 35th,” their general will say, when leading them to battle, and this number of their brigade, which in other men excites no recollections, is sufficient to inspire all the soldiers with unconquerable courage, to make them advance to almost certain death, to give a vigour to their limbs almost beyond human nature. Yet a few months, perhaps a few days ago, these same men, employed in working in the fields, had no idea either of the interests of their country, or of war, or of glory. They did not rise above the calculations of their domestic economy, they avoided danger, they were wretched at the thoughts of the conscription, they thought of themselves first, then of their families at most. They have become of more consequence by throwing their egotism out of themselves, by placing it entirely in the corps to whieh they consider it their glory to belong.
The esprit de corops is found at this time not only in the poorer classes, whose manual labours prevent all mental occupation, but even in bodies often degraded by intoxication. Such are the associations, corporations des garcons de m cetier, of the journeymen of trades. Even there the esprit de corps elevates the character; it leads the workmen to deprive themselves of some necessaries to give a generous assistance to the most wretched among them; it inspires them with more rigorous probity, for they would rather stifle their own consciences than lessen the honour of their trade; it inspires them with a military ardour not to be expected from them, when they imagine that they have to repel an offence from some rival association. Certainly the moral philosopher, as well as the legislator, would be very culpable, if after acknowledging the virtues, the constancy, the self-devotion, the heroism with which men may be inspired by the esprit de corps, they neglected to employ it for the advantage of the whole community; if, especially, they neglected submitting to its influence the highest classes of society, from whom the nation may expect either the greatest good or the greatest evil.
The distinctions which the legislator may recognise as preexisting in society, and which he may regard as so many natural aristocracies, already full of life before a constitution had assigned to them a rank in the social body, are the aristocracy of birth, that of manners, that of talents, and that of wealth.
Among all nations, and in all times, the antiquity of race has been considered as a distinction. There is in all the enjoyments which man can obtain on earth something so fugitive, his life passes away so fast, his name is so soon forgotten, that he seems to be for ever struggling against the devouring power of time. All which can prolong his existence and the remembrance of him appears to him a victory. He seizes with eagerness every means of connecting himself with past or future ages, he says with pride we when speaking of his associates, he says it with more still when speaking of his race. It is a successive and not simultaneous body, composed of all those whom he has succeeded, of all those united by the same blood, the same name, in whom the same bond of honour creates mutual responsibility; who living in different ages have never seen one another, so that he who is among the living is, as it were, in his turn alone entrusted with the defence of all those who have preceded him. Perhaps the most just definition of heroism would be, the greatest development of the energy of one for a common interest, and such is precisely the appeal which the aristocracy of birth makes in every generation to him who has in charge the honour of his race.
The second source of distinction in society is elegance of manners, the knowledge and observance of all conventional forms. It supposes in men who feel themselves associated by this relation in their minds, delicacy of observation, tact, good taste, a sentiment of respect for others in proportion to what they exact for themselves. But the aristocracy of manners generally recognises its members by more frivolous signs. Not only does it require purity of language, it also often prescribes an affectation of a fashionable style of speaking; to elegance in modes of life, it also joins a knowledge of dress; for the politeness which shows respect to all, it sometimes substitutes an impertinence so much the more offensive because it is covered by outside ceremony. This aristocracy of manners is found, with the most exclusive pretensions, among those nations where the law does not admit any distinction of birth, and it is there that whatever offence it has given has been the least pardoned.
The third source of distinction in society is that of talents, and education. It is even education only which forms the bond among those who pretend to make part of the aristocracy of talent. No circumstance can place a greater difference between the relative power of two men, than that one has exercised his intellectual faculties, the other his physical strength; intelligence alone elevates us above the brutes, corporeal labour assimilates us to them. The inequality of the faculties which we bring into the world at our birth, the inequality of our aptitude in learning or reflecting, the inequality of the influences of education and example, are mysteries to us. But it is a fact, that thought is the great human power; it is a fact that education and study enable us to join to our own experience and reflection the experience and reflection of all the human race. A man remaining uncultivated, and knowing only what he has thought, what he has observed himself, opposed to him who is enriched by the thoughts and experience of ages, is like a poor individual who would contend, with his own weak arm, against the combined power of a multitude. The man also, who by the obligation of manual labour must have condemned his faculties to almost constant idleness, opposed to him who by constant exercise has given to his mind rapidity, certainty, and precision, has not the same means of making the most of his individual power of thought; whilst his adversary knows how to employ for his greatest advantage the treasure of thought of all those who have lived before him.
Aristocracy of mind, however, is never a political power, because there is, in the exercise of the intellectual faculties, something independent, which rejects association; something individual which leads men of talent to come forward alone, rather than as part of the body to which they belong; to establish their own thoughts and discoveries, rather than those of their academy. The need of association is felt in a lively manner only by weakness; minds of a superior order do not fear putting themselves alone in opposition to all the world. Of all existing bodies academies are those in which it has always been most difficult to establish the esprit de corps.
The last of social distinctions is wealth. Most frequently the aristocracy of wealth is found united with the three preceding ones. Thus, nobility is often only wealth transmitted from generation to generation. In England the proprietor of estates is seen to leave his widow and daughters in a state of deprivation, in order to transmit his estate and his wealth to a relation of the same name as himself, sometimes to a relation he does not like; his house, his estate are to him only the means of perpetuating his name and his memory, of striking posterity with the image of a long succession of ancestors. Wealth also unites more easily than poverty with the distinction of manners; it facilitates exterior elegance; and if a rich man is ever so little endued with tact, he acquires very soon the polish of mind of those with whom he lives, when it is superficial. The constant mockery which crushes upstarts really reaches only some singular persons whom a particular incapacity has rendered rebellious to the teachings of the world. The distinction of education has almost always, after the second generation, been attainable by the rich; it requires only leisure and fortune, and in our times it is seldom that it is completely wanting, even in those who have become most rapidly rich.
But considered in itself, the distinction of wealth is an extra-constitutional power, a power which becomes every day greater in society. The economical organization which now prevails, has taken from the poor almost all means of labour without putting themselves in absolute dependence on the rich; it has detached them from the land, and broken the lasting rights which they formerly had in it; it allows the proprietor to dismiss the cultivator with his family, at least at the end of his lease, after seven years, but often also every year, every week, every day, as his name of day-labourer indicates. The cultivator to whom work is refused by the proprietors, offers in vain the service of his hands and his activity. No labour is possible for him, he must die of wretchedness. The operatives in towns assembled in large workshops, are, if possible, in a state of greater dependence on the master manufacturers. There also they are engaged by the year, by the piece, or by the week, but if the masters refuse to take them in, all work is impossible to them. Besides, they do not run the risk, like agricultural labourers, only of being dismissed for want of respect, or for bad conduct; they are in danger every day of being victims not only of the reverses, but also of the success of the art in which they are engaged. If the manufactory is falling off, if fashion no longer demands its productions, they are dismissed because their master has no sale; if, on the contrary, the application of science to his employment has taught him how to do their work with much fewer hands, they are dismissed because their master reserves for himself all the profits of what he sells. Never has more absolute power been given to man over man, and never has it been more hardly exercised. It is the life and death of thousands of individuals, men, women, and children, on which the head master of the manufactory decides, sitting in his office, adding figures; and he decides without anger, as without compassion, without being acquainted with his victims, without seeing them, without knowing the number of them. His chief agent brings him a calculation: “Your manufacture of glass,” says he, “or your manufacture of porcelain, has no longer any sale; but you may employ your ovens in the preparation of chemical productions; by the advance of a million francs you may supply the consumption of all France.”—“What is the consumption of France? ”—“So much.”—“Who provides it now? ”—“Such and such manufactories, in such and such provinces.”—“Will they not continue the manufactory?”— “No, you can sell 10 per cent. cheaper than the price they get.”—“What will they do? ”—“They must sink under it.”— “What will their workmen do?”—“And they also.”—“Begin the work; you shall have the million.”
In times of the greatest feudal oppression, in times of slavery, there have been, no doubt, acts of ferocity which have made humanity shudder; but at least some motive excited their anger or their cruelty; there was some hope in the oppressed that they might avoid provoking their oppressor. Besides, the executioners of a ferocious act might soften the execution of it. The wife, the children, the priest may implore pardon, and sometimes obtain it. But in the cold and abstract oppression of wealth, there is no offence, no anger, no known executioner, no relation between man and man. Often the tyrant and his victim do not know one another by name, do not inhabit the same country, do not speak the same language. The oppressed knows not where to carry his prayers, or his resentment; the oppressor, far from being a hard man, is, perhaps, generous and feeling; he takes no account of the evil he does, he submits himself to a sort of fatality which seems at this time to govern all the manufacturing world. It is this fatality which, in spite of the promises of liberty, of equality, overwhelms with frightful oppression millions of human creatures.
Such are the aristocracies, such are the distinctions which are found throughout society. The jealousy against the exclusives, felt by those who are excluded from the distinguished classes, may be violent, may be passionate; the multitude may be led to alarming excesses against the few; the name of aristocracy and of aristocrat may be a death-cry to those whom it designates; still the same pride which shocks us in another rank, will make us eager to have our own held in respect, as soon as we can pretend to have one. The aristocracy of birth, which is beyond the chances of fortune, which neither the prince nor the people can either give or take away, will subsist in spite of the legal abolition of nobility; it will subsist, not only in the hearts of those who claim the distinction of an ancient family, but in the imagination of all those who are attached to the historical recollections of their country. The aristocracy of manners will be so much the more strongly delineated when political institutions have repudiated all others; only it will be so much the more futile as it will be more isolated. When, after the reign of terror, a new beau monde sought pleasure with intoxication, its luxury and its pretension to elegance were insolent in proportion to their frivolity. The aristocracy of mind will always repel ignorance and stupidity, for nothing can suppress the inequality of human faculties, nor the inequality of instruction. The aristocracy of riches will increase by the abasement of all the others, for it comprises them all in itself, and its yoke becomes heavier when the others appear to be broken. Philosophers may dream of a social order in which all distinctions shall be annihilated, in which all men shall remain equal; but they can only apply their theory by imagining a community which will abjure all the advantages on which distinction is founded; a community without memory of the past, without elegance of manners, without instruction, and without wealth; a community where all labouring for a common fund, would lose all the advantages which civilized life has enabled man to acquire; where all losing those motives to emulation which now sustain courage, each one would put his private indolence in opposition to the wants of the community, and would accomplish his task with repugnance under the rule of an authority which would soon become tyrannical and detested.
If inequality necessarily exists in all social order, let us endeavour, at least, to discover what advantages a nation desirous of guaranteeing its liberty and prosperity, by its political institutions, may derive from it.
The most absolute partisans of equality and democracy do not say that a nation should be governed by all the citizens at once. They know very well that in every resolution that is to be taken, there must be at least two parties, two opinions to form; to govern is to make a choice between them. At first they advance the abstract idea that sovereignty belongs to majorities; soon they come down to saying that it belongs to the distinguished men which the majorities will choose. The naked sovereignty of the majority, or in other words the sovereignty of rude strength and of the sword, would be, in effect, a very alarming idea. Every day the larger number would make its will prevail over the smaller one, and every day the opposition between these two wills would be irritated by personal interest, or by passion. The four kinds of distinction which we have pointed out in all society, would each in their turn have to decide on those questions which concern themselves: in each, eminent men are the small number; the decision, therefore, would be made by the majority, the sovereignty would belong to their adversaries. On all questions of ancient fights, the decision would be made by new men; in all those of consideration, manners, and civilization, it would be made by unpolished men; in all those in which study, experience, and the power of reflection are essential, by ignorant men; in all questions of wealth, by the poor. Even should all these four distinctions, these four aristocracies, always vote together, they would form only the small, the very small number; they would always have against them the four classes from which they are separated. Is it, then, to the compact majority of new men, of coarse men, of the ignorant, and of the poor, that we should wish the sovereignty to be deferred, to the exclusion of the highly born, the polished, the informed, and the rich? No: no publicist has had such a strange notion; if he has reduced it to practice, it has been without wishing to do so. If he has wished all the nation to be called to the right of election, it has been with the confidence that it would itself choose only distinguished men, that it would have them eminent for some one of the social qualities, and that it would acknowledge that coarseness, ignorance, poverty, even obscurity, are so many inconveniences which may become sufficiently weighty to exclude them, when the question is the choice of the heads of the state.
In reality, the end which the legislator ought to propose to himself, is to intrust power to those who possess, or who deserve distinction; that is to say, to a constitutional aristocracy, instead of letting it be taken by the natural aristocracies already pre-existing in society. This end is reasonable; distinction is necessary for the exercise of power; each kind of distinction presents advantages of its own, each, nevertheless, if power is given up to it without participation, will cruelly abuse it. It is in combining them with one another, profiting by the advantages of each, guarding by means of one against the inconveniences which another would produce; if one is in opposition to the rest, by strengthening its relations with the great mass of the people, that they may give it their support, that the art of well balancing constitutions consists.
In free countries it is universally acknowledged that the end of government is the welfare of all, that government is only made for the nation. From this principle was soon derived another not less incontestable, that all free government not only comes from the people, but is dependent on the people. There is no nation which has not in its turn been brought to acknowledge that the sufferings of the people, or the excesses of its governors violating their duties, have authorized revolutions, or those violent crises which overthrow acknowledged power to reconstruct the social order on a new basis. The right of all to their own safety cannot be doubted; on this right is founded the only legitimate title of all governments which have ever existed; it is this alone which has sometimes sanctioned the abuse of force for the welfare of all. In many countries this fundamental idea has been abandoned, in order to proclaim expressly the dogma of the sovereignty of the people. But this dogma, partly true, partly false, is always difficult to define; it has been only too often interpreted in a way to place command where there ought to be obedience, or rather to leave obedience out of the question altogether. The sovereignty of the people cannot be practically admitted without putting the represented above the representatives, the electors above the elected, the popular masses, sometimes even insurrections, above governments. The nation is sovereign no doubt, or rather its rights are above all constitutions and all sovereigns, but only as far as it is unanimous. For the object of a constitution is precisely to cause that legal fiction to be acknowledged, by means of which the will of such as it designates shall be received as being the will of all. When the people are unanimous no fiction is necessary, the will of all is declared, no will can be superior to it. But if all are not unanimous, the will of the larger number cannot bind that of the smaller, unless there is between them a previous contract on this subject; that is to say, only so far as the nation has voluntarily and unanimously submitted to a purely democratic constitution. The power of majorities over minorities is not a natural right but a constitutional right. When a mixed constitution admits as a principle that in each council the majority shall decide, and that the agreement of these councils shall be considered as the unanimous voice of the nation, the object of this multiplying of councils is to protect the minority. If it had placed by the side of these guarantees the principle that the majority of the whole nation should bind the minority of the whole nation, it would have destroyed with one hand what it had established with the other; it would have suppressed the guarantee of different councils, of deliberations renewed under different points of view, of majorities with different interests confirming one another; it would, as we have seen, have yielded tbe sovereignty to new men only, the rude, the ignorant, the poor, to the exclusion of all distinction; it would have annulled itself. As to revouions, even when most legitimate they produce a state of war and victory; without doubt they have been made by majorities, not by unanimity, and they are only truly legitimate when minorities have voluntarily submitted to them.
When, contrary to these fundamental ideas, it is established as a principle, that all power proceeds from the people, and that by the people is understood the majority of the citizens, when each function of government is only considered as a delegation from the people for their own advantage, and which they may resume whenever they consider it expedient; the first struggle between the momentary, perhaps illusory, interests of the population, or of an assembly of a part of the population and the general interest, may bring on the overthrow or humiliation of the government and the sacrifice of the public good. Who can have forgotten to what a point the passions of the multitude are inflammable? To what a point it may be carried by its imagination or its resentment? How soon what are called great principles, such as religious toleration, freedom of opinion, the equality of the races of men, the right to be judged only by independent tribunals, are forgotten, are trampled under foot by an excited multitude! If memory was effaced in Europe, the recent examples in America would suffice to teach us anew, how ill liberty is secured wherever the people can retake sovereignty into their own hands at the suggestions of caprice. From the time that America has had large towns, the people in public assemblies have thought themselves the sovereign people; insurrections, acts of violence, have been frequent of late years, and each of them has been an outrage on true liberty. At one time the people rise to punish those whose religion or whose humanity made them acknowledge negroes to be men; at another they rise to destroy a Catholic house of education; on a third occasion they drag from the pulpit and would tear in pieces a Protestant preacher because he spoke against the Catholics; again, they break in pieces the printing presses of the conductor of a newspaper who combats some reigning opinion; everywhere and at all times they think they are doing justice to themselves, by withdrawing those whom they accuse from the protection as well as from the jurisdiction of courts of justice.
It is not insurrection alone which causes disorder in the name of the sovereign people. Whenever it acknowledges that all power proceeds from the people by means of elections, those who hold their power more immediately from the people, those whose electors are most numerous, must consider their power as most legitimate. The municipal councillors are really men of the people, their fellow citizens have chosen them, they know them, they have often dictated their opinions to them, and they trust themselves to them. The representatives of the nation, on the contrary, even when chosen by a direct election, are always unknown to the greatest number, strangers, and chosen by a limited number of electors; it is worse still when the election is made by several steps, and it is only by a fiction that they can be called representatives of the people. Thus, whatever functions may by the law be ascribed to either one or the other of these, the first, who ought to obey, consider themselves as real members of sovereignty, and the second, who ought to command them, appear to them only as intruders, which a deception has placed above them.
All those provincial authorities more immediately constituted by the people have most frequently, however, to defend the interests of their constituents against central authorities; their resistance may be virtuous, patriotic, even enlightened, but enlightened by a light shed over parts, not over the whole. The duty of the governor of a great nation often requires it to call upon the nation to make sacrifices; every day it demands its money by taxation, or the purest of its blood by even forced levies of soldiers or sailors. The provinces ill understand this necessity; and in past ages, deputies assembled in the parliament of England, or the States-general of France, wished for war, and refused their sovereigns the means of making it. They came to these assemblies with the true feelings of the people. It is only in later times that parliaments, become the great councils of the nation, have understood the necessities of government. Local assemblies do not yet understand them. They decide on questions of peace and war by their relation to their own province, to its safety, or the danger to which it will be exposed, to its employments and to the interruption of its commerce, or by neighbouring rivalries or hatreds. They decide on administrative questions by their relation to their district. One objects to the embellishment of a capital which it will never see, another to roads and canals which will be of no use to it, a third to scientific expenses, universities, museums, to which its own population will remain strangers. Each provincial or municipal authority chosen by the people, will resist in the name of the people whose sentiments it partakes. It will resist without caring for constitutional phrases, which limit its functions to the administration of police regulations, of the great roads, of local interests; it will resist because it is strongly connected with the people; whereas national representatives, holding their powers by a much less direct election, will be denounced as being strangers to the people.
The French republic, during its short and anarchical existence, presented nothing but these continual struggles between central and local authority, both emanating from the people. Most frequently right appeared to be on the side of the local authority, reasons of state on the side of central authority. Often force was invoked; then the triumph of the local authority was marked by anarchy, that of the central by tyranny. Are we not ashamed of our short memories when we see at this time the same theory invoked after having produced such results?
Experience ought to have taught it us: the dogma of the sovereignty of the people becomes false, when to interpret it, all the social powers are supposed to have their origin in elections by the people; when they are all considered as delegations from one will only, which can suspend them when it pleases; when, in short, they are all merged in democracy without the publicists of the day being willing to admit even the name of aristocracy either to temper or resist it. It is, on the contrary, one of the most valuable advantages of an aristocracy, that it may be able to strengthen any one of the social powers; so that, not proceeding from the people, it may not be changed by their caprice or overthrown by their breath.
We look upon the social sciences as having advanced since public opinion has acknowledged that there is no other end in association but the advantage of all, no other source of right in a nation but the rights of all. But it is exactly in the name of this advantage of all, of these rights of all, that we claim the existence in the social body, of a will and a power independent of the caprice of the multitude, of a will and a power taking in at one glance the future and the past; employed in promoting the advantages of all, and subordinating different parties to itself; guaranteeing not the satisfying of the passions of the day, but respect for social principles, prudence, constancy, courage, economy, honour, all those qualities without which no government can make a nation prosper.
Among these qualities each one is found more or less placed under the guarantee of some one of the natural aristocracies, of some one of these sources of distinction. That of birth seeks its claim to respect through past ages, looks upon itself as the daughter of time, powerful from the glory of the past, maintaining itself independent of circumstances which can neither give nor take away the glory of its ancestors, and attached strongly to the delicate point of honour which forms its inheritance. Its first attention is not to allow the honour of that name to be compromised, which it would transmit pure from age to age. Forced to choose, it will prefer danger, privation, suffering, ruin, even reproach, to dishonour. Thus, though it is not enough merely to admit an infusion of chivalric qualities into a government, for they are often deceptive, yet it would be a great evil to exclude them, not to give always to these sentiments a voice by which they may make themselves heard; to abandon power entirely to those who, feeling that their names are unknown, that no one is proud of them, escape the responsibility of renown.
The aristocracy of manners cannot pretend to so much delicacy on the point of honour. Subject to the fashion which has crested it, quarrelling with it, taking pleasure in effacing the traces of time, in continually renewing itself, and in contrasting itself with the past, it gives to institutions neither the security of duration nor of elevation of mind. Often a certain degree of dissipation becomes the fashion, and favourites of the opinion of the day do not fear impressing on the government the character of perfidy which may be fashionable. Besides the aristocracy of manners is especially formed in the atmosphere of courts; it is there only that it attains its perfection; and that flexibility of opinions and principles which makes the acquisition of fine manners most easy, as it is the quality which pleases the monarch most, is at the same time that which is least suitable for the nation. It is, however, always fortunate when the aristocracy of manners preserves sufficient influence to introduce s system of respect into public life, when it teaches all those who are depositories of some portion of social power to respect themselves, and to make themselves respected by respecting others. It is only in our own times, that it has been completely forgotten in political discussions, how important it is for the good of the country not to offend, not to mortify adversaries; what bitterness and permanence is added to dislike by treacherous insinuations being admitted into debates, by the bitter sarcasms which are thrown out, the malicious intentions which are attributed by one to another. The daily press, which collects with eagerness these frequently calumnious accusations, which gives to them the publicity not of an assembly but of the whole nation, and the duration not of a passing word but of writing, makes forgiveness and oblivion almost impossible; at the same time it accustoms the public to an habitual distrust of, to an habitual contempt for, what it ought to respect. No disloyalty, no aspersions, no perfidy seem to it improbable in men in power. It has for vouchers of its suspicions the insinuations of those whom it believes most capable of judging them, because they are always engaged in a contest with them. First, it is indignant at the corruption of all public morality which is represented as the character of politics; then it becomes accustomed to it, and the level of the degree of integrity necessary in order not to be dishonoured becomes every day lower. It is with deep regret that in our days we have seen men, who by their social position were called upon to show themselves the guardians of good manners, the chiefs of the aristocracies of courts and drawing-rooms, descend in their turns into this shameful arena, and endeavour to cover their adversaries with dirt. We have seen them attack with the same coarseness, or with an impertinence of bon ton as insulting, the representatives of authority when they renounced their prejudices, and the ministers of the king when they considered them as too liberal. Their journals are distinguished amongst those of the Opposition by bitterness, personality, sometimes by treacherous insinuations, by indecency and scandal. Of all their faults, this is the one which least deserves pardon, for they sin against the spirit of their caste, and of their principles; they have delivered up to the enemy the post of honour, with the defence of which they were most specially entrusted.
The aristocracy of talent, that which owes its distinction to education and the extent of knowledge, is eminently that from which power ought continually to endeavour to obtain recruits. The government of men is a work of mind; of all sciences, social science is perhaps at this time the most difficult. It comprehends in itself, as it were, the result and application of all others: it requires besides, a quickness in the perceptions, a clearness in the ideas, and at the same time a decision in the character, without which a man may be a learned man of the first order, but could not be a statesman. Besides, a liberal education is necessary to teach men to act on the minds of others. The greatest power of conception would be useless to a statesman, if it were not joined to the talent of making those who deliberate with him adopt his ideas, or of defending them against their attacks. To introduce illiterate men into the councils of a nation, would be, as if in a combat of gladiators unarmed men were allowed to descend on the arena, whilst their adversaries employed the sharpest arms.
But knowledge, mind, and talent, are not caste; those who possess them, deeply marked with individual character, represent not a system, but the ideas and wills of all. They refuse to be enrolled either in the government, or in the opposition; they discuss everything, and combat everywhere, but they cannot be formed into a phalanx either for attack or resistance. Thus, the aristocracy of talent and education, when it would form a separate body, is only the aristocracy of manners. It is not knowledge which makes its distinction, it is the elegance of the form under which it has been received. Thus, in England, a well educated man is distinguished by his profound knowledge of the classics, by the correctness of his ear or of his memory for Latin and Greek prosody. He is not required to have a mind well furnished, to have thought much, but to prove by the first words he speaks that he has received the expensive education of Oxford or Cambridge.
In proportion as other distinctions become effaced, that of fortune is more obvious. We have seen what immense power the rich exercise over the poor, by the organization of society alone; their political power has been increasing ever since credit became the great arsenal whence governments sought their arms. Since then tities and dignities have fallen on those great capitalists, who open or close loans, and raise or lower the public funds. These, however, citizens of Europe, treating with princes, are less than any other wealthy men attached to a country. Their speculations are sometimes lucrative in proportion to its disasters, and the immensity of the interests which they pursue makes them often forget calamities which are advantageous to them. A crown cannot well choose worse advisers than those who are desirous of having great transactions of business with it.
The character which distinguishes those of the wealthy aristocracy, who are not gamblers, is the desire of stability. As long as this aristocracy is excluded from power, which it sees occupied by the aristocracy of birth, it may give heads to the opposition. These chiefs, to the virtuous motives of sympathy with the wants and wishes of the people, frequently add a perhaps natural jealousy of those superiors, who seem to them scarcely their equals. But as soon as they are themselves seated in the curule chairs, their anxiety to preserve their opulence sharpens what they feel for their new dignities. Their suspicions are always alive, their liberality disappears on the first disturbance. They seem to feel that the accident of fortune alone distinguishes them from their fellow-citizens, that an accident may lower them as it has raised them, and render them undistinguished. As their greatness is only material, so they have recourse to material means to preserve it. No compromise with them, no recourse to moral influences, to persuasion, to sympathy. It is they who have brought into use those phrases which invest fear with a character of ferocity; force rests with the law, force must be employed, insurrections must be annihilated. When power has once fallen into their hands, it acquires a character more stubborn, more contemptuous, more inflexible.
Most of the European states have been at first organized as a monarchy, and liberty, as well as popular power, have been only gradually introduced, as a corrective of existing abuses, not as the base on which the edifice ought to rest. The true difficulties of social organization had not then been felt: power was already founded, and was only too powerful; the object was merely to restrain it. Royalty disposed of the army, of the arsenals, of the treasure, of the police, of posts and telegraphs; it disposed of all salaried employments, and there was scarcely a family in the state who was not interested in courting it. The friends of liberty knew where the danger was, almost the only danger; they had little anxiety about the employment of their strength, or of the use they should make of their victory. It is to create by law a government which does not yet exist, and to create it with such a just regulation of its strength, that it shall have enough to maintain itself, and not enough to oppress, in which consists the true difficulty of the establishment of a constitution. In the middle ages, when the people, as it may be said, were not born, kings had only to contend with the aristocracy of birth, which was at the same time an aristocracy of wealth, for all property was then territorial. In this contest, kings maintained the principle of order and unity, nobles that of liberty. All the real progress of independence of character, of the security of rights, of the limits which discussion sets to the caprices and vices of absolute power, were due to the aristocracy of birth, for it formed the opposition. Kings had, on the contrary, on their side, the aristocracy of manners among the courtiers, that of talents in the parliaments and the clergy, that of personal wealth in the financiers. They have since changed parts, when the people were born and seen to grow more important; some of the new aristocracies turned to this power, which was also a new one. The nobility joined the crown; talents the people; the rich were seen by turns with power, or with the opposition; fashion itself hesitated between them. Nevertheless the contest has always been among the members of these different aristocracies, and still continues to be so in all monarchies, for ministers and public functionaries, peers and deputies, are always taken from one of these four aristocracies. Individuals in fact act on the masses only, because they are become of some importance, because they have acquired some kind of distinction.
It is in a republic, and especially in a newly established republic, that the difficulty of the creation of power is felt, and the necessity of finding a support in the aristocracy, an anchor to cast upon a solid bottom, in the bosom of a stormy sea.
The more free a state is, and the more the wishes, the sentiments of all the citizens appear divergent, the more does each party seem subjected to a centrifugal force, which tends to detach it from the mass, and to make it act by a peculiar and independent impulse. For a nation, as for an individual, liberty is the development of will, and its full and entire action. But who does not know how varied will is in man, how much opinions differ even on the most abstract questions, or rather that two are never found exactly alike. How much more complicated this variety of opinions and of wills must be, when all the interests most dear to man are in agitation, and when a man is called upon to decide on each of them in concert with those who differ from him. The submission of the minority to the majority is a continual sacrifice of the opinion, of the interests, of the will of one portion of the nation to another; it is a sacrifice which must be made at the moment, when each one is by discussion most confirmed in his own opinion, when the passions are most inflamed, when the self love of all is most active, when each one considers the opinion of his party, if not as the public opinion, at least as that of all honest men, and when every one considers it a duty not to yield. Now, on every new question the majority may change; each one, therefore, by turns finds himself opposed to it, each one is obliged to obey contrary to his intimate conviction, each one complains, each one thinks himself oppressed. This is not all: in all free countries, not only does every one express his opinion, but he raises his voice to express it, and finds daily papers, who make a lucrative business of fanning the fire of passion, and of giving to every complaint the most energetic, the most offensive expression. Thus there rises from all parties a concert of complaints, of accusations, of detractions, of calumnies, which would make it be thought that free countries are the worst governed, the most wretched of all countries upon earth. Look at the journals of England, America, France, Switzerland, the Low Countries, Spain and Portugal; in all will be found the expression of universal discontent. This discontent will be so much the more violent, the less real suffering in any country is caused by its government. Then consult public opinion, as far as it can be formed in any country under an absolute government, and it will be seen that, bewildered by these clamours, it takes much more interest in foreign quarrels, than in the sufferings of the country where it is formed. Many good Germans, who have no security that they will not be thrown to-morrow into the dungeon of a fortress, that their fortunes may not be ruined by arbitrary decrees, that they may not be overwhelmed by taxes for expenses contrary to the interest of the public, never think of exclaiming against tyranny and oppression, except on occasion of the decisions of a whig minister in England, or a doctrinaire in France.
To resist this continual storm, there must be a vigour in the government of the nation that cannot be created on the moment. There must be that power, produced by the memory of past times, which causes an illusion as to the little real strength of authority when it demands obedience; there must be that love of past glory, that instructive sentiment which, for example, would be awakened by the name of France, and which would make all look upon the project of dividing the country as a sacrilege; there must also, perhaps, be that indifference and that ignorance in the masses, which attaches them to established order without weighing it, and which upholds all that exists by the force of inertia. But give the same government to a country which has hitherto had, as a nation, no political existence, which has had no past in which to glory, or at least, no past analogous to the organization which it is giving itself, and then try to say to it, as was done in the year 3 , “That the primary assemblies, municipal and electoral, cannot employ themselves about any object foreign to the elections with which they are entrusted, that they cannot send or receive any address, any petition, any deputation, that they cannot correspond among themselves.” These assemblies, as soon as the passions are excited, as soon as local or provincial interests are agitated, will be busy about everything, will correspond everywhere, will unite by federations, will declare themselves the immediate deputies of the sovereign people, will proclaim that the central government, by not entering into their views, has betrayed its commission, has betrayed the country; they will depose it, or pronounce it illegal. Even in France, where so many retrospections, so many customs, so many affections, maintained the idea of the great national unity; in France, where the preponderance of Paris accustomed the provinces to receive their ideas ready made from the capital, it required the bloody tyranny of the committee of public safety, the arbitrary violence of the directory, in short, the powerful hand of Napoleon, to hold together the fasces, ever ready to separate, to suppress one after another the primary and electoral assemblies, to force the departments, the districts, the communes, at the expense of their liberty, and in spite of their rights, to submit to the central government.
At this time, rash men are continually talking of uniting Switzerland to make her strong; that is to say, to suppress all those institutions which in that country are imbued with life, all those which long recollections have endeared to the mass of the nation, all those which have power only through the affection of every citizen for his old country. Imprudent innovators do not see that on the contrary it is the division of Switzerland into sovereign cantons which maintains its union, because this division has removed from the diet almost all those questions which might have excited the passions, almost all those which would have roused the local against the central authority. In Switzerland, an assemblage of small nations, who are accustomed, from being separated by mountains, to keep their interests also separate, and who have preserved, in fact, the strangest diversity in their manners, laws, language, and customs, each of these little nations is already only too much disposed to consider itself as absolutely independent, each canton to divide as Basle has done, as Schwitz has been on the point of doing. If the radicals should gain the ascendancy, if they should choose a constituency, and if this constituency should endeavour to produce uniformity in civil, religious, and commercial laws, in taxes, in the organization of the militia, in that of the communes, there will thenceforward be no more Switzerland; nor would there be, if any central power were to make a similar attempt. On every attempt to do this, twenty-one of the twenty-two cantons would be wounded in their habits, in their opinions, in their dearest affections; each one would be jealous, would be offended because the system of his neighbour would have prevailed over his own; each one would take up arms to repel what would be called a tyranny, a foreign yoke. If, in the struggle which would ensue, the central government should triumph, it would be obliged to become, in fact, tyrannical, in order to be able to resist the wills of the different localities; if it fell, it could never be replaced by any other.
It should never be lost sight of, that in free countries there is, there must be a constant disposition to resistance; placed under the guarantee of all, their institutions are secured by this disposition to resistance. All the citizens are continually interested on public affairs, which are almost entirely forgotten in despotic countries. They attach themselves warmly to the opinions which they have embraced; they are always excited by all the organs of public opinion, to make it a point of honour not to yield; they allow themselves to be persuaded by party calumnies that their adversaries are traitors or rascals. Those who have only seen nations subjected to absolute power, bowing the head to the first command, can have no idea of their habitual resistance. Thus, those are very poor publicists who imagine that to conduct a free and ardent people, declarations of principles inserted in a charter are institutions.
Every day must convince us more that the ancients understood liberty, and the conditions of free governments, infinitely better than we do. They, at least, did not fall into similar errors; they gave, to sustain their republics, not phrases, but a spirit of life. They taught all the citizens to make a religion of the love of country, instead of considering their country as only a mercantile partnership, where profit and loss are calculated, and from whence a man endeavours to retire when the balance is not favourable. They encompassed the majesty of the people with veneration, but the people was to them the whole of the nation, with every class of citizens, all its interests, all its recollections, all its hopes, and all its glory. By the side of this great image of what they held most dear, most venerable, they knew well how to appreciate at their real value, the fluctuations of the suffrages of the multitude, so often decided by levity and caprice, for want of reflection and opinion. They knew well the importance of the two elements, monarchical and democratical, and they would not have thought of laying the fimndations of a free and durable constitution without assigning to each their share. They knew that they could have no liberty, if the people did not preserve a direct action in the sovereignty; if they did not join to the guarantee of their right the exercise of a power which would be respected; if every part of the social body were not animated with their spirit of life, their instinct of greatness and virtue. They knew that there would be no vigour or celerity in the action of the government, if they did not assign to chiefs acting individually all those functions which require a comprehensive view, prompt decision, and the feeling of undivided responsibility. But they knew also that their republic would be lost, if the people thought they could do everything, and undo everything, by their suffrages. They knew that it would be lost if the prince could pretend to perpetuate his power; they knew how the people are carried away by the favourites they have themselves created, and if they allowed them to designate the temporary heads of the state, they took care to require that there should be at least two consuls, two first magistrates, lest, like the presidents of our new republics, a single chief should aspire to royalty. Above all, they entrusted the sacred worships of their country, the priesthood of liberty, the spirit of life and duration, the guardianship of tradition, of glory, of the public fortune, and the constant foresight of the future, to a senate in which they endeavoured to concentrate all that is good and great in aristocracies, and at the same time to keep out of it everything that is vicious in that element of government.
They wished their senate to be the unchangeable representative of the spirit of conservatism, always the same in republics. They wished it to be in some sort immortal, and they avoided with care all those crises which could change its spirit. Thus, in almost all the republics of antiquity, the senators were irremoveable. Elected for life, they grew old in their employment, and died off successively; in this way they were replaced one by one, at uncertain periods, without any excitement; the renewal was unfelt, and no general election caused a fermentation in the state. The new comer entered a body, whose customs were all sanctioned by time, whose spirit seemed superior to the spirit of each man; he soon became animated with the sentiments of this body; he founded his own opinion on that of the assembly.
The spirit of conservatism, the spirit of duration, belongs to antiquity of race. The patricians, in possession of the past, in imagination seized on the future; they identified themselves with their ancestors, and with their descendants; they were deeply moved at any suspicion cast on their forefathers, by any danger which threatened their most distant posterity. The republics of antiquity seized on this precious feeling, they fixed it on the eternal city, as each affectionately called his country; they were eager to adorn their senate with noble and historical distinctions. But they did not wish any citizen to think himself great in himself: he must derive it all from his country. They never admitted hereditary rights to power, hereditary rights to magistracy. A peerage is a monarchical invention; republican senates were elective; though they were renewed from the patrician order, it was still by a free choice; but constituted by the ever-governing idea of perpetuity, they were in general authorized to recruit themselves, sometimes by a scrutiny of all the members, sometimes by the election of some officers taken from their own body, as the censors.
The pride of nobility which each family nourishes, often places it in opposition with the nation. Each race endeavours to isolate itself, by comparing its own sources of distinction with those of all others; those who pretend to be of the best nobility, pour down contempt on those who are ennobled, on those who are not of old families. Royal favour has increased these rivalships among the nobility, by granting to some and not to others, different rights, different entrées at court, requiring gentlemen to prove their birth, to verify their sixteen quarters. From thence rivalry, jealousy, and hatred among the nobles of a monarchy. The republics of the middle ages taking for their seigniors baronial nobles already powerful from their territory and their vassals, could not avoid these quarrels of the nobility and the factions which they excited; but the republics of antiquity did not allow of such distinctions in the aristocratic body: all the patricians were equally eligible to the senate, all the senators were equal. They never permitted, they never would suffer any family to have the power to become a faction. They lowered these proud heads to the level of an aristocratic equality; they scarcely allowed them, whilst their public functions lasted, any personal dignity; but they made the consul on leaving office re-enter the rank of his equals; they wished his glory only to increase that of the senate. It was thus that they fixed their attention on developing more and more that powerful esprit de corps, that spirit which taught each senator to forget himself, to desire credit, power, and glory, only for the body of which he made a part; that spirit which united the wills of all into one sole will, every effort into one effort, and which, devoting this gigantic force to the service of the country, kept united the fasces of the state, in spite of the independence of all the different wills, and their constant efforts to unloose it.
In the ancient republics, the electors of the senate chose in preference among families historically distinguished, those who were required to keep up its numbers, but they were not in general restricted to this circle. The aristocracy of manners seemed to them scarcely less respectable, because in republics the best manners were invested with that grave and severe character which is a security of duration. Whilst in monarchies, those manners which mark the great world are elegant but frivolous, in republics, all that belongs to aristocracy must be dignified, chaste, and regular. Purity of morals, reserve in speech, modesty in dress, the absence of pomp of every kind, was not less taught in the best ages of Rome, by the Roman matrons and the censors, than in the republics of the middle ages, by the laws, the sumptuary tribunals, consistories, and chambers of reform.
The aristocracy of talents, less political than all the others, fills, however, the first rank in republics, because the more men live in public, the more their personal capacity becomes known. There, neither secret intrigues nor mean services are admitted, nor can they open a way to favour. In the senate, as well as in the assemblies of the people, capacity is equally necessary to comprehend, and eloquence to persuade and to influence. Talent, the genius of a general, the knowledge of the civilian, have the people for their judges, not a master deceived by flattery or abandoned to favouritism. The senate is continually careful not to compromise its credit, not to weaken its power of action, by delegating its power to those who would let it be lost in their hands. It may make a bad choice for a bad object, but not from ignorance or carelessness. In vain would the patricians of Rome have made a display of their great names, and of the images of their ancestors; if they were not worthy of them, they did not succeed in arriving at dignities, for in a republic the road to distinction is talent.
Last of all, the aristocracy of wealth is not without influence, for in every country opulence is a power independent of the constitution of the state, but it is exactly for this reason that republics are jealous of it. They do not wish to have in the country any power which does not spring from the country. Liberty, order, the protection of law, contribute to increase the wealth of all: but the spirit of the aristocracy in republics, is to honour poverty, to call Cincinnatus from the plough to the commend of armies, to maintain equality between the rich and the poor; to forbid the former, if not the accumulation of treasures, at least their display and the enjoyment of all those pleasures of luxury which dazzle the crowd, as well as those which weaken the mind and enervate the body of opulent men; all those which accustom him to think that his fortune is worth more than honour, or than his country.
We shall stop with these general considerations on the aristocratic element. Doubtless they will appear vague, and not to lead to any conclusions. In fact, it is only by examining successively, as we propose to do, constitutional monarchy, indivisible and federal republics, that we can at last understand the combination of these three elements of government, and establish some principles for the constitutions of free countries.