Front Page Titles (by Subject) ON CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY a - Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government
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ON CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY a - Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi, Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government 
Political Economy and the Philosophy of Government; A Series of Essays selected from the Works of M. de Sismondi. With an Historical Notice of his Life and Writings by M. Mignet (London: John Chapman, 1847).
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ON CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHYa
If we were to endeavour to sum up in one word the spirit of our study of the Social Sciences, or the advice which we venture to give to the friends of liberty and of the dignity of man, it would be an exhortation never to be discouraged. The work of bringing men back to the sentiment of the duty they owe to themselves and to their country, is everywhere long and difficult. Everywhere the study of this subject discovers to us the extreme complication of the springs of society; and the uncertainty of all calculations intended to make us foresee how they will act, as well as the vanity of the rules which blind presumption has given us for principles; but on the other side, whenever we see a community emerging from the corrupting influence of despotism, whenever we see the men who compose it looking above the narrow circle of personal interest, and occupying themselves with the advancement of their fellow-men, we are astonished to see what life there is in it, how vicious institutions may be corrected by the constant effort of each man to ameliorate the social state, how they may be made conducive to the welfare of all, and secure the progress of the human race. If there are doubts as to each particular principle, if the social state may admit of anomalous modifications, it is certain that the co-operation for good, of all men of elevated character, will produce the good which they seek. Let the friends of humanity, let liberals, let patriots recollect what ages they have before them, that they must work for their descendants to the latest generation, and that the greatest enemy to their success is their own precipitation; let them study the past, let them consult present experience, rather than hold to an always doubtfull deduction from controvertible principles, and they will be convinced that social science is not yet arrived at certainty. Causes yet unknown determine the character of nations, of their prejudices, of their passions; in their turn, this character, these prejudices, these passions, cause the success or the fall of institutions. Thus, no wise man will say beforehand with certainty that an innovation will succeed, or even that a practice crowned with success in one country can be transplanted with the same success into another; but still, by means which seem opposite, a good strongly willed is in the end always effected. Let the friends of the human race then never be discouraged, for this human race everywhere wants their assistance; almost everywhere it appears to us suffering, degraded, oppressed, and everywhere there is an immensity to do for it. Let the friends of the human race on the other side never forget, in their impatience, that they know of no sovereign remedy; let them try, by degrees, with caution, always waiting to see the effects of one innovation before they attempt a new one, always acting, yet observing, doubting; and let them always remember that they do not know all the organs of the social body, for its life may perhaps depend on what appears to them an unsound excrescence which they are desirous of removing.
We are not afraid of repeatiug that we have no affection for hereditary monarchies, no prejudice in favour of them. That we might here show their advantages, we have asked ourselves, with sincerity, what they were, in comparison with other forms of government, and we have not been able to discover them; but they exist, and this single fact has more weight with us than all theories; they exist; they are then, for the most part, deeply rooted in the heart of nations, and these affections are a right, are a national will, on which no theory can be permitted to infringe. They are supported at the same time by a prejudice which appears generally spread among men, that of expecting a more prompt obedience when the form of command is more simple. The orders of a man are sooner understood than the abstract precept of a law, and leave no hesitation. Lastly, monarchies are founded on an idea of right which has acquired general credit. Through a universal, though no doubt vicious confusion of the idea of a function with that of property, men, forgetting themselves, have accustomed themselves to believe that their monarchs had the rights of property, to apply those laws which regulate inheritance among individuals to the transmission of their dignity, to give them the sanction of time, and not to ask the reason of their power. Thanks to these affections, to these prejudices, to these errors, the monarchies which at this day cover Europe are indued with life; they maintain themselves without being shaken; they have no need to inspire terror in order to defend themselves. It would be the height of imprudence to shake the social body on the faith of controvertible theories, perhaps to deprive it of life; to suppress a power which exists, and to substitute another which we have never seen in action.
We have also no repugnance to the system of a simple republic; we see nothing in this theory which appears to us impracticable. We believe that those nations who are accustomed to form only one single empire, who feel their individuality, who are attached by their economic interests, their historical recollsetions and ancient glory, to a centralized government, may be easily brought to form themselves into republics, one and indivisible, if ever they engage in war with their old dynasties; but we believe also, that they ought to look upon this event with alarm, end retard it as much as possible, simply because such governments do not exist now, and because we do not possess any sufficient experience to throw light on our speculations. History presents us with very few great empires governed by a republican constitution. After Rome, Carthage, and Venice, the only name which presents itself is that of France, during the revolution. Rome, whose constitution appears to us the nearest to perfection of any in the ancient world, cannot however serve as a model. Sovereign city of a great empire, a city with slaves, she cannot teach us how a great nation can combine liberty and sovereignty. We know Carthage only from the circumstances which rank her in the same category as Rome. Venice, glorious and formidable republic, which long held a rank equal to that of the greatest monarchies, sacrificed her liberties, her subjects, her citizens, even her nobles, to dreams of ambition, to the rigorous maintenance of order, of prudence, of economy, and of an unvarying policy. There remains France in 1794; France, whose example can inspire only terror; France, who has taught us what dsmocratie tyranny can do, and into what a gulf a nation may fall, who destroying order, tradition, social power, respect for customs and recollections, trusts to abstract principles to reconstruct everything. Hitherto we have only studied liberty under republican forms in small states. Some of those which have preserved them in the New World are of vast extent, but in their origin had a very small population, and at the most have only a medium one at this day. As their population increases, their experience will spread fresh light. Perhaps the time may come when a large empire, governed as a republic, may no longer be a brilliant dream of the imagination; but hitherto experience shows us no great nation arrived at liberty under any form but that of coustitutional monarchy, or of federation, and we too much distrust a theory which does not rest upon facts, not to reject the trial of another system, unless from incontestable necessity.
Let us cast our eyes on the picture of the population of the different states of Europe. This part of the world is estimated to contain two hundred millions of inhabitants at least, and at most two hundred and twenty-five millions. Of this immense population, we only find Switzerland with its two millions, or at most two millions one hundred thousand inhabitants, which has preserved republican institutions; and it is divided into twenty-two sovereign states, of which the largest has not more than a hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. All other Europeans are subject to monarchs, of whom about half pretend to be absolute, whilst the others reign according to constitutions more or less improved. It is then the progress of this constitutional form which must be considered as the great European interest.
For the rest, monarchy, under whatever form it presents itself in Europe, is already in a state of progress, Turkey alone excepted. We must sometimes follow the travellers who have explored the vast countries of Africa and of Asia, to know despotism in its frightful nakedness. We must see the population bending under blows, stripped of all it possesses, continually obliged to fly into the desert, at the risk of dying there of hunger and thirst, throughout Egypt, throughout Nubia, from one extremity to the other of that valley of the Nile over which the river dispenses in vain such a prodigious fertility; we must see the human race perishing from wretchedness, diminishing from generation to generation, in the magnificent empires of Turkey and Persia, where Providence has collected together for the happiness of man every kind of beauty and abundance. We must interrogate a great legislator and a great philosopher, Sir James Mackintosh, as to what he saw in Independent India, which he crossed in 1808. We find in his journal, royalty without laws, without being limited by opinion, without progress, such as it appeared to him in these countries.
“All India, except the British territories, is at present in one of two conditions. Some part of it is subject to upstart military adventurers, Scindia, Holkar, and others of the same sort, but of inferior note, who act pretty openly as chiefs of freebooters, levying money by force or terror wherever they can flnd it, without troubling themselves to find pretexts; rambling about in search of booty, visiting their capital not once in ten years, not affecting any forms or exterior of civil authority, and not much more connected with what is called their own territories than with any other district equally well situated for plunder. They live in their camps, and they pursue booty as avowedly as any man in a well-regulated society can do his most honourable occupations.
“The rest is in the hands of more ancient possessors, who have dwindled into mere voluptuaries and pageants. Among them is the Peshwa, the Nizam, the Nabob of Oude, &c., &c. They in reality exercise no functions of government, except that of collecting the revenue. In other respects they throw the reins on the horse's neck. In their dominion there is no police, no administration of justice; sovereignty is to them a perfect sinecure. I observe that the want of capital punishment at Lucknow has been quoted in England, with this observation—suchis their tenderness of blood. This inference is made in a capital where you cannot ride out in a morning without the risk of trampling on a newly murdered man. The very reverse is the proper inference. Such is their disregard for the lives of their subjects, that they do not think it worth their while to punish a murderer. Such negligence of life, by the title of humanity, is a gross confusion of ideas.”a
Let not the great despot of the Russias, or the little despot of Modena, boast of having remained stationary. They do not resemble the sovereigns of these unhappy countries, much more favoured by nature than theirs, of these countries inhabited by the earliest civilized and the most industrious of all the races of man. They may profess the principle, that the authority of Scindia, of that of the Nizam, is legitimate like theirs; that resistance either to one or the other is a crime, that every attempt to put bounds to one or the other is monstrous; but they have, however, yielded to the empire of public opinion, to the revolutionary opinions which they combat; they are liberalized in spite of themselves; despotism in their hands is humanized, it has not remained in its primitive and Indian purity; they will never return to it, though it would be the natural consequence of their principles. On the contrary as they have made some progress they will still make more, unless their hostility towards themselves, as well as towards their subjects, should end by overthrowing them. Without doubt they have a long way to go, before they arrive only at the point of granting their subjects civil securities equal to what their immediate neighbours have granted; they cannot yet flatter themselves that whatever state of society, and whatever security they maintain, is doing more good than harm. Their neighbours have on their side a great way to go to arrive at the constitutional guarantees which we find in France and England, and these two monarchies, in their turn, are not yet arrived at the end which they ought to propose to themselves. Social science, in the times to which we are advancing, will improve; the securities of the citizens will be increased; the dignity of man, his morality, his independence in every rank of society will be more secure than they are now. The human race is continually going forward; whatever disturbante may be perceived in the ranks of this immense column, a high satisfaction is fel_ in observing that a common movement directs it, and that even the laggers who appear to stop, who appear to wish to turn back, will soon be drawn forward by the same impulse.
In this progression of all the European race, we must not be surprised at the halting of some battalions, or at their hesitating to follow the march of the others. They must have time to become enlightened by experience, and to surmount the obstacles which they meet with. We must remember that those who wished to press on too fast have often thrown the whole column into disorder, and lost much more time than they hoped to gain. Without doubt we find ourselves at this day in one of those vpeclm when both nationa and their chiefs hesitate, and the incontestable cause of this delay is the precipitation of those who wished to give an example to others. From one end of Europe to the other, the feeling of the dignity of man has germinated in every class. There is no longer any nation which resigns itself to being ill-governed, which does not think that it has a right to demand for itself, light, liberty, and virtue. There is no nation in which thinkers have not entered upon the ]nghest social questions, and where numerous and enthusiastic classes are not earnest to understand their lessons and eager to follow them. There is no nation among whom the great events of our era have not awakened an anxious discussion, an active curiosity to know, not only the crises which their neighbours experience, but their causes. Kings have endeavoured to forbid this discussion, to place writings and journals under censorship in their own country, to keep out those of foreigners, and to be informed of private conversations by means of spies; but the fermentation of mind is too strong to be repressed by all these measures; they would have too much to punish if they wished to reach all those who judge them with severity; they are obliged to let them speak. Let them not deceive themselves: those who speak will act as soon as they see clearly what they ought to do.
But is it strange that nations and kings should at this day alike ask, where is the way, where is the object? Nations applauded with transport the revolution in France of 1830, and now they are persuaded, by the declamations of the press, that from that time France has gone back in the career of liberty. Nations received as a great popular victory the Reform Bill in England, and since that bill passed they have only been told of increasing fermentation, of more violent hatred of the ministry, of imminent revolts in Ireland and Canada. Nations looked upon the Iberian peninsula, oppressed under the double yoke of despotism and superstition, as the shame of Europe; and since that double yoke has been broken, Spain and Portugal alarm them still more, by the fury of the people in civil war, by the atrocity of reprisals, by the destruction of property, by the in-efficacy of these two governments.
The example of these last revolutions has made an impression not less profound, and not less fatal, on kings. It has arrested their progress, as it has arrested that of their people. Let it not be thought that these princee have never reflected on the advantages of constitutional rule, that they have not calculated what they might themselves gain by it. The splendour, the power, the opulence of the king of England have struck them; they saw him resist alone the French revolution; they had recourse to him as their support in their necessity; they found in him a banker always ready to open his immense treasures; they had learned by experience that his throne was more solidly established than theirs. Again, they had been astonished to see in France after the restoration, a monarchy exhausted by such long wars, by being twice conquered, and by the con -tributions which Europe levied upon her, raise herself with so much energy. The powerful heads of absolute monarchies were, no doubt, offended to see, in these two states, princes and their ministers submitting to the criticism of their subjects; but they found, after all, that the condition of the constitutional king of France or England is sufficiently noble to cause them much alarm. Their opinion on the consequences of the concessions which they may have made, has changed, and must have changed during the last six years. They have had before them the examples of the queens of Spain and Portugal, which they could not be tempted to imitate. They imagined that the thrones of the kings of France and England were also on a volcano, on which they did not wish to place their own.
Till 1830, the smaller princes thought they had still stronger reasons for drawing nearer to their people. It is not known to what humiliations, to what dependence, they are obliged to submit to preserve the good graces of the great powers which protect them; it is not known to what a degree they sacrifice their rights of sovereignty, how often they act unwillingly, how often it is they who must exhaust their savings to furnish funds for enterprizes which they dare not avow, or for civil wars which disturb Europe. The small absolute princes know well that a constitutional government with its publicity, would soon break these heavy and shameful chains. They know well that in the present balance of Europe a king with two thousand souls is nothing, but a king with two million souls is something. Small princes have the feeling, that with the representative system they might arrive at increased importance and power, at a more true independence, perhaps might act a more glorious part. But how could they resolve to make this attempt, when they saw that those among them who had tried to call around them deputies from the people, have found in them, sometimes a sordid economy which shackled all their projects; sometimes a systematic opposition, founded on principles inapplicable to the actual state of their communities; sometimes, in short, a greedy seeking after popularity, which they thought to obtain particularly by revealing all the scandal of courts.
If we do not wish to precipitate ourselves into revolutions, we must advance towards liberty without incensing princes. If we would not disturb nations, and render them incapable of profiting by the advantages which are offered to them, the rights of which they are put in possession must be proportioned to their capacity and to their education; silence must be imposed on those flatterers of the multitude who endeavour to persuade every nation that it is the first of nations, and that everything which another is capable of doing, it will with still more reason be able to do itself.
On the contrary, it must not be forgotten that liberty is a generous wine which disturbs weak heads, and that it is only by long habit and by being gradually accustomed to it, that a strong dose of it can be borne. Do not say to the legislator that he has advanced with the age, but rather that he has stopped with the men he led, or that he has regulated his steps by theirs. Let him not be told that he has made the best possible laws, but the best laws that the men for whom they were intended could bear; and let it be remembered that among these men are the princes who must sanction them, as well as the nations who must obey them.
Between the French and English, we do not pretend to decide which have most capacity, most talent, or most virtue; but we can boldly pronounce that the usages, the opinions, and the customs of the French do not yet render them fit to enjoy a degree of liberty of which the English preserve peaceful possession. A respectable newspaper in England recently advised all the nations of the continent to employ, in order to promote their rights, the system which the Irish orator O'Connell has called agitation. The editor did not see that throughout the contiuent this word would be almost immediately translated into those of tumult, or civil war. The English know how to meet in a public place or in a great county hall, there to discuss all political questions, to excite one another by passionate speeohes, and afterwards to separate quietly, after having voted a series of resolutions or declarations of principles. The French would immediately pass from deliberation, from a profession of principles to action, and the funeral procession of General Lamarque was a beginning of civil war. The English have preserved the most entire liberty of meeting, of petitioning, of publishing, and they never employ it except to arrive at their object by legal means; the French never get hold of any public power which they do not first endeavour to turn against the government, in order to overthrow it. The English call upon the people to decide by juries, all questions of public order, of the security of persons, of opinion, of property; but then it should be observed with what respect a citizen seated in the jury box submits to the law, to faith in an oath, to the prudence of the judge. The Frenchman, as soon as he is called on to take a place in the tribunal, puts himself above all authority, repels the word respect almost like an insult, and when he wishes to mark his independence, always displays his hostility. We hope when the institutions of France shall have grown older, that the French will learn to look upon them as their prerogative and their glory, that each citizen will feel himself as interested in defending them as the government itself, and that the first use he makes of the means of action, will not be to destroy everything which surrounds him. But now it cannot be said that everything which is allowable to an Englishman, ought to be allowable to a Frenchman; their position is not the same; for the one sees behind the law the respect of the people, love, and long habits; the other sees behind the law only the ruins which his arm has heaped up in preceding combats.
As far as the English are at this day superior to the French, in being able to bear a very strong dose of liberty without disturbance, so far are the French superior to all the other monarchical nations of the continent, at which we cannot be astonished, since they have been labouring for nearly fifty years to accustom themselves to it. All other nations, on the contrary, during these fifty years, and perhaps from the commencement of their history, have found that with them authority was the enemy of liberty. Consequently, every effort which has been made among them to bring down power, to withdraw from obedience, in short, all anarchical efforts, have been looked upon by them as generous undertakings. This illusion was a necessary consequence of the position in which they found themselves; the friends of liberty had no other possible part to act but to attack a power which had been misused. But by anarchical efforts, what exists may be overthrown, and nothing can be founded: now the design of all truly liberal efforts ought to be to lay a foundation. Far from us be the thought of decrying the generous contests which almost all nations in our times have sustained for liberty, or to be unmindful of their rights; but let us examine their history well; we shall everywhere find that these men ardent for liberty, after having overthrown inimical power, have attacked with almost equal ardour protecting power, the saving power which they had at first themselves raised. They have scoffed at it, disparaged it; they have tied its hands, and then reproached it with weakness; and it is thus that they have, perhaps, been the first cause of the reverses of Poland and Italy, of the ruinous insurrections of Belgium, of the anarchy of Greece, of the failure of the revolutions of Germany, of the reaction in some minds in France, in England, and in Switzerland, and lastly of the lamentable civil wars in Spain and Portugal.
When a nation arrives at liberty without a revolution, when it arrives at it by the concessions which it obtains from its sovereign, it must know how to be content with a slow and gradual advance; it must know how to say to itself that all which it wishes would not be suitable for it, that all which would suit it would not suit him who is still its master. It must, therefore, set bounds to its desires and its demands, if it would not let the occasion slip, and run the risk of losing everything. The double end which it ought to propose to itself is, to inform itself and to initiate itself in the management of its own affairs; the second is to prepare the triumph of public reason by enlightening opinion, by maturing it, and by giving it time to become calm. To whatever point nations which are advancing towards liberty may have been raised, this double end is always the same; but the means of arriving at it, the rights to be entrusted to the people, and the form of deliberation under which opinion will become enlightened, must be proportioned to the progress which this nation has already made in constitutional manners and morals, and attachment to its institutions.
The popular formation of local authorities is the first and surest means of accustoming the people to know their own affairs, to rise to the consideration of the community instead of concentrating their attention on their domestic interests. It is in municipal councils that the deputy of the people should learn how to become acquainted with social affairs, to think of them and to speak of them. Those nations to whom this first political education has been refused, will necessarily abuse the powers entrusted to them, or which they have seized. In general, not even absolute governments oppose this, the formation of the first step in popular power. Municipal officere cost them nothing, and they do their business more conacientiously than the deputies of power. Let municipal officers preserve the advantage of serving gratuitously. If they have the offer of payment, let them refuse it. It is because their functions are gratuitous that they are honourable, that they are independent. If they were paid, the people would no longer put any confidence in them, and the prince would soon give their places to his creatures.
The local authorities ought not and cannot anywhere be sovereigns; the unity of the state would be broken if they were not brought back to depend on the central authority. But there are two ways of limiting their power; their activity may be confined to a small number of subjects on which they may be allowed to decide without appeal, or they may be allowed to meddle with everything without their decisions being final. It is towards this last system that all local authorities ought to tend; they should exert themselves to obtain permission to solicit all local ameliorations, to reveal all abuses, to denounce all malversations, even should their part stop there. Let them remember that it is deliberation, and not decision, which forms the minds of the citizens and raises their character. They will have obtained much if on all public questions they can lay before superior authority their opinion and their wishes. Let them not be uneasy if nothing results from their requests. They will have laboured to form and mature public opinion; the moment will come when this will decide.
The second prerogative which gives polltioal eduoation to the people, which develops in thegn intelligence and respect for law, is their participation in judicial power. Wherever this prerogative exists, even with semi-barbarous forms, care should be taken not to shake it, under pretence of respect for principles or by the division of power. After having lost it, it will not be easy to regain it. The effort should be to enlighten more and more the popular tribunal of the slcaid, of the way-wode, or of the burgomaster. Wherever the people have no share in jurisdiction, let laws and customs prepare them for the future introduction of the jury by the complete publicity of proceedings and by oral debate. These two innovations are, to the audience who look on, an initiation into the study of the ]awe and the administration of justice, and they are a safeguard to those who are brought before the tribunals. But let there not be an idea of giving the trial by jury to the people, till they have shown themselves worthy to he eonstituted the defenders of order instead of being the allies of crime.
The institution of national guards, or the participation of the people in the public forces, is also a coneession which despots themselves have sometimes been brought to make for their own interest. Sometimes they only proposed thus to maintain order in the interior; sometimes the trouble which their neighbours occasioned them, led them to prepare resources to defend themselves. Arming the people appeared to them a means of procuring forces with little expense. Now a people which is armed and organized in such a way as to support the, first shock of troops of the line, is a free people. We are far from wishing to propose to them to turn the arms with which they have been entrusted against the government from which they have received them; very far from wishing to transport the deliberations of councils into the guard-room, or to recommend any recourse to force. But when the people are armed and have a military organization, they feel that they have strength, and the prince acknowledges it at the same time. Every inhabitant of a town who carries a musket learns to consider himself u as guardian of order in the first place, but also as a guardian of liberty. From a subject he is become a citizen; already he respects himself, and the government learns to respect him also. It would not dare to command the national guard to do anything violently repugnant to public opinion; it would not dare even to execute such a thing in presence of it.
Some governments have made the guilty attempt to establish a party militia, to put arms only into the hands of a violent and irreconcilable faction, and to indulge it in acts of vengeance against the contrary faction. Let the people not be alarmed; let them endeavour to neutralize this institution such as it has been given to them. Let them press into the ranks of this national guard, however factious it may be. No government can long persist in excluding from it good citizens, and admitting only bad ones. The spirit of faction becomes calm, the regulations of public order regain ascendancy; moderate men become the majority even in those bodies which had been formed to exclude all moderation, and the instrument which had been invented to do violence to opinion will secure its triumph. Let the friends of liberty, in countries that are not free, remember that their part must be that of patience and perseverance. Let them not be disheartened because the service of the national guard involves loss of time and some expense; let them not be discouraged even should this body have manifested a bad spirit, even should it have proclaimed it by a bad choice of officers. Let them persist in coming forward, in performing the service; and let them be assured that they will modify this spirit, that they will replace these officers, and that the time will soon come in which the government, although really hostile to all liberty, will acknowledge the necessity of submitting to reason, perhaps even whilst reproaching itself for having given those arms to the people which have caused it to prevail.
It is in the means of forming this reason, of calling on it to declare itself, and of making the prince resolve according to it, that political liberty especially consists. Public opinion is enlightened and matured by a double deliberation; the spontaneous discussion of the whole public, and the official discussion of constituted bodies. There can be no doubt that the first liberty to obtain is that of thought and of the effusions of friendship; that the tyranny which is still exercised in several countries, and which subjects to espionage either the secret opinions of men or their intimate conversations, should be everywhere repelled with horror. But we are considering only that point at which political action begins: it is with spontaneous discussion, for it is that which awakens opinion, redoubles its force, and ends by giving it a leading power. Now this is exercised in three ways: books or printed writings, daily newspapers, and popular assemblies. We name them in the order in which the people may demand and obtain them, in which the prince can grant them, as the people are more or less ripe for liberty.
Let not this he mistaken; true discussion, serious discussion, that which makes light and truth penetrate into every thinking mind, is what is kept up by hooks. It is that for which authors prepare themselves by profound study, by continued reflection; that to which is attached their moral responsibility, and on which depends their reputation; that which is addressed to the intelligence, and not to the passions of the readers; that which forms their opinion by study, and not by the habit of hearing the same thing repeated. The greatest step which the French have made towards admitting the nation to the direction of its affairs, is owing to the publication of the Esprit des Lois (Spirit of Laws), by Montesquieu, to that of l'Administration des Finances (The Administration of the Finances), by Necker. The first of these works taught men to judge of governments theoretically, according to the advantages they conferred on nations; the second initiated the French into the knowledge of the burdens of government and of all its resources. The veil which had so long hidden the secrets of state from the public was raised, and the eagerness with which men of letters, and thinkers, thenceforth fell upon the discussion of principles and facts, showed that the nation understood her interests, that she was alive, that she would soon be mistress. There is no greater absurdity on the part of absolute governments than to forbid their people this grave and serious discussion. And yet, how many are there at this day, who not being able to prevent the introduction of futile and often corrupting foreign books, yet prevent the publication at home of all those which would advance and purify social science. Let them remember that the discussion of all questions relating to the interests of the people, and the institution of power, has begun even in their own countries, that the elements of it are everywhere disseminated, that every mind is occupied with them. What then can be the advantage to absolute governments of refusing to the people the knowledge of facts, of permitting the discussion of principles only under the surveillance of a censor of the press? Can they have failed to discover that by this method the most dangerous errors for all, and for the government itself, gain credit, whilst anti-anarchical reasonings are decried, are dishonoured, because they appear under the authority of the censor? The first liberty of political discussion for the people to demand, the first for the prince to grant, is that which is exercised by books. Let authors and booksellers remain responsible for what they have given to the public, but let them not be liable to any previous censorship.
With a nation so animated with political passions as the French are, so ardent, so accustomed to the wars of the journals, it was not possible to enforce that law of the restoration which suppressed the censorship of the press only in regard to writings containing more than twenty printed sheets. There was so much avidity for political discussion, that war would soon have been made by means of prefaces affixed to the most indifferent publications. This is not saying that a similar law would be everywhere else as inefficacious. On the contrary, in countries which are not free, the mass of the public is rarely so much awake with regard to political affairs as to seek with avidity the means of informing itself, or of flattering its passions. Serious works meet with only a small number of readers, the mass of idlers are content with any journal which they find at hand; one or two brilliant pamphlets may have temporary success, but the public is too economical of time and money, to give a sustained attention to pamphlets, and to enable these to supply the place of the daily press, by eluding the censorship.
We believe that every nation in Europe would gain by the abolition of the censorship on books; but that only a small number of them could bear its abolition on newspapers. Men of letters must have been long exercised in all the brauches of social science before they have learned how to teach the people, before they can be allowed to make their opinions prevail by repeating them every day in the ears of unreflecting minds. In the great free states where the loftiest interests are undergoing discussion, superior men have been seen to descend lightly armed into that arena, and engage in a daily skirmish which has really matured the public mind. In these same states the companies of proprietors of the celebrated journals are so opulent as to attract superior talent among young men still seeking a profession, and who are equally greedy of applause and of ready money. Thus has been formed in Paris and London a school of daily writers, who join to promptitude in labour all the piquancy of mind and elegance of style of the first masters in the art. It was thought that a country might have this advantage without renouncing that of the higher kinds of literature. Experience seems to show at this time that it is not so. Such high rewards have been given to facility, and to literature not requiring labour, as to discourage studious men, and thin their ranks. The public particularly, spoiled by the daily press, has by degrees abandoned all reading which requires application and patience. The booksellers of the two great nations which give an impulse to the mind of Europe, agree in saying that the public does not want books, and that they find no sale for the books they publish, except in the countries where they are prohibited.
In France and England, at least, the daily press makes us feel that they are masters in the art of fencing whom we see combating before us. But in those countries where few thinkers have employed their minds on any of the higher political questions, where writers as well as other citizens are ignorant of almost all the social sciences, when all at once the career of journals is opened to all those who can hold a pen, we are alarmed at the flood of commonplaces, of false ideas and of low passions, with which the public is inundated. To make any impression on this public by a book, there must be always, at least, a certain accumulation of knowledge, a certain fund of ideas, a certain quantity of talent, otherwise the book falls from the hands of the reader, or remains with the bookseller. But people subscribe to a newspaper without knowing what it will contain, they read it in a spirit of idleness between half asleep and waking, they lay it down without reflection, and without giving much credit to what it says: and yet the repetition, day after day, of the same assertions, the same dogmas, or the same calumnies, leaves a deeper impression on the mind than would perhaps have been produced by an opinion subjected to sober examination and serious study. If we run over those journals which have appeared at the period of the suppression of the censorship in revolutionized countries, we shall be alarmed at the ignorance, the prejudices, the virulent passions which are revealed in every line, we shall be ashamed at the degradation of letters caused by such pretenders; and if we reflect that the most distinguished pamphlets cannot compete with the most miserable newspapers, we shall feel that the influence they are allowed to exercise on the public mind, an influence which stifles true talent, would be destructive of all that progress of mind, of all that enlightened discussion, which springs from true liberty.
If only those nations which have made great progress in the spirit and habits of liberty can bear the daily war of uncensored journals, with still greater reason these nations only can admit of assemblies of the people to debate on politics as means of moral development, and of ripening opinion. Such a prerogative must he reserved particularly for those in which the love of the constitution and respect for the laws are universal, of those who feel that they have no need of violent contests to obtain any thing, of those who have as much fear of a revolution as the government itself could have. All these conditions are found united in England, and for this reason England has been able to allow the entire development of a democratic organ unknown in other monarchies. In England, whenever a great political question agitates the nation, a petition is addressed to the sheriff to call a county meeting, and if he refuses, the meeting generally takes place without his authority, in some public place. All the inhabitants, all men come freely, without any distinction, to this meeting; there have been as many as thirty thousand. A temporary platform is erected on a scaffolding or on a cart; a chairman takes his place, the orators succeed one another, and all the fundamental questions of social order are discussed with the most entire freedom of debate. The popular eloquence of Demosthenes, vehement, passionate, or animated and lively, but always suited to the intelligence of the multitude, is never heard in Europe except on these hustings; then the meeting approves or rejects by a majority, on a show of hands, the resolutions which have been presented, or signs a petition to one or other of the Houses of Parliament, after which it quietly separates. There exist also, particularly at times of political fermentation, debating societies, formed with the sole view of the members accustoming themselves to speak in public. Each one may, on paying a small sum of money, speak there, before an assembly formed by chance, on the most exciting subjects, on those which afford most occasion for the display of eloquence; and the police never interferes, and the authorities allow any thing to be done, provided the public peace is not interrupted. Those who now tell us that England was only an aristocracy, was till the reform in parliament governed by an aristocracy, certainly have not attended to this. Such franchises are the highest proof that can be given of the liberty of the English people; of a people independent of all aristocracies. No other nation could bear such an immediate popular action, which would be so soon changed into exasperation. In France, the clubs were in a state of permanent conspiracy; all public meetings, whenever there was any speaking, even at a tomb, even with the solemnities of grief, were always ready to degenerate into skirmishes. Any government which should have permitted a meeting of several thousand citizens, to deliberate in public and to agitate the most irritating political questions, would have been overthrown in that very hour. The constitutional spirit must make great progress in France, the people must learn to be proud of their constitution and of their laws, to feel that every attempt to overthrow them by violence would be a crime of high treason against themselves, before such free customs as those of the English can take footing.
All other monarchies, which in the career of liberty are much behind France, cannot think of permitting assemblies which even in France would be so dangerous. None of them have given their people the right to be content, to be proud of their constitution; none of them have accustomed them to look upon violence with horror. On the contrary, concessions have been probably wrested from their monarchs by fear; the temptation to demand others in the same way would be too powerful; the habit of thinking that the people and authority are in a state of warfare, is too strongly rooted for the two armies to be ranged in order of battle opposite to one another without imminent danger. But the manners of the free nations of Switzerland are much nearer those of England. There also may be seen societies especially formed for political discussion. In each city are permanent associations, known under the name of circles, which almost always represent a certain opinion, and which, in moments of fermentation, have frequently acted on the public. There are meetings of bodies, of militia, of persons inhabiting the same quarter of the town, where sometimes many thousand persons are assembled, to whom are freely addressed speeches on the questions of the day; and these assemblies are like the landsgemeinde in which the sovereign people of the small cantons deliberate. But in Switzerland, as in England, the country belongs to each citizen, and he would look upon the attempt to do violence to her as a personal insult.
We may also learn, by the example of Switzerland, that in small states, completely free, it is by popular assemblies that public opinion must be formed, and not by the daily press. When the censorship of the press was abolished in Switzerland, it was thought by the example of large states, that journals would very soon be seen to burst forth, which would rapidly circulate progressive ideas among the people, which would bring within the reach of all the result of the studies of the most profound thinkers, as the Federalist had done in America and the Courrier de Provence in France, at the beginning of the revolutions of these two countries. No one recollected that the really superior men in Switzerland had means of acting more immediately on their fellow citizens, and that they would prefer speaking to writing; that they, on the contrary, the direction of whose studies, or perhaps the slowness of whose minds, kept them in their closets, would wish, if they wrote, to address a more numerous public than could be addressed by the journal of a canton; that thus, all men who had some reputation, would refuse to write in the newspapers of a small country, or would withdraw from it after a short experiment. All these superior men presented themselves in the popular assemblies, and there, in the midst of their fellow citizens who knew them, who heard them, who esteemed them, they regained the rank which ought to be assigned to them from their knowledge, their intellect, their talents, and their virtues; whilst the journals of the cantons fell into the hands of the lowest of those who are capable of writing. By the shameless extravagance of the greater part of these journals it might be thought that the Swiss nation is fallen into the intoxication of revolutions, whilst its popular assemblies afford a proof that it is wise, serious, and attached to the laws. In fact, the influence of every individual can never be equal; but in popular assemblies the aristocracy of talent is soon seen to distinguish itself amidst the crowd, whilst in the journals of small states, journals which contend with one another only for some subscribers in ale-houses, it is soon seen that the pen is abandoned to the aristocracy of ignorance, invective, and presumption.
Lastly, the most eminent of the privileges claimed by free nations is that of causing the affairs of state to be discussed by their official- representatives, so as to enlighten and mature opinion, and make public reason declare its decisions. All the nations of Europe formerly enjoyed this privilege; thus traces of it may be found in countries which are now crushed beneath despotism; but national representation has lost its importance, sometimes by being lowered to the rank of provincial representation, sometimes by restricting the assembly to too small a number of deputies, sometimes by excluding, through the jealousy of the people, the privileged orders from the representation.
Each of the nations of Europe had, in the middle ages, its chambers, its states, its diets, its cortes, or its parliaments; but great monarchs have united under their sceptre many different nations, and even when they did not suppress their diets, to assemble them separately sufficed to reduce them to the rank of provincial diets. These provincial assemblies have without doubt rendered immense services. Before the revolution, it was easy to discover those provinces of France which had states, such as Languedoc, Provence, Brittany, Dauphiny, by the superiority of their administration; as men born in these provinces were acknowledged to have more public spirit and knowledge of business. The Germans also probably owe the progress they have made in the science of administration to the habits contracted in their provincial states. But such assemblies could not carry their views beyond their province; they dared not even have an opinion on peace, war, or alliances. Nevertheless the prosperity, the existence even of a nation, is connected with its exterior policy. Of what use is it to a nation to guard the interior mechanism of its administration, if its collective force is afterwards employed in the oppression of other nations with which it sympathizes ? Monarchs have openly enough contracted an alliance to circumscribe more and more the rights of nations, under pretence of defending their own prerogatives; it would be absurd for free nations to give their strength without examination to the service of such an alliance. The first right, as it is the first interest of a nation, is to cause its opinion to be heard, as to the way in which it is made to act on those without. Let each one then, on every occasion on which it can make itself heard, claim, as necessary to its existence, as a right which it cannot abandon, the convoking of an assembly which represents the whole of a monarchy subject to the same sovereign.
The number of deputies of which an assembly is composed determines its character and its capacity for deliberation. We have seen in our times, authors of constitutions attach themselves to a numerical proportion between the represented and the representatives, without any relation to the intelligence of the former. Such a nation ought to have a representative for every thirty thousand souls, such another one for every fifty thousand. These legislators ought rather to have employed themselves in discovering of what number an assembly should be composed, in order that its deliberations may be sound. They would have seen that whenever an assembly consists of so small a number as to occupy itself about the individuals which compose it, and not about the public; whenever, for example, it consists of less than two hundred members, it is much more accessible to personal intrigues, to the seductions of the court, to the influences of money and vanity; it is much more exposed to the chattering of inferior men, who would be intimidated before the public, but who feel at their ease in a committee; lastly, it has much less feeling of its dignity and of its importance in the state. On the other hand, when an assembly is too numerous, when it exceeds six or eight hundred members, it can only be addressed from a tribunal; then the debate is restricted to those who have a stentorian voice, and an assurance not to be shaken by tumult. These are not always the most to be recommended. Besides, to address a crowd, they require eloquence more than a talent for discussion, and they seek to excite the passions rather than to convince the reason.
In countries where the monarch is almost all-powerful, all orders, if they dared express their will, would alike range themselves in opposition. It was seen in the ancient States General of France; the nobility, even the clergy, were not less liberal than the deputies of the people, often they were more so. So in England the aristocracy remained in possession of great power, because the aristocracy had been at the head of the people in all contests for liberty; in presence of the throne the small have need to be supported by the great; without them they would be too easily intimidated or seduced, and all national representation which voluntarily deprives itself of the eminent men who would have directed it, is not long in being reduced to silence. Charles the Fifth knew very well what he was doing, when in 1548, having gained the victory over the comuneros, it was not the procurators of the cities whom he removed from the Cortes, but the deputies of the great, and of the prelates, who alone dared to oppose him. Thenceforward, the national assemblies of Spain, divided into provincial ones, reduced in number, in dignity, in energy, have no longer dared to defend any of their liberties.
What nations who are progressively raising themselves to liberty ought to demand from their sovereigns, what they have a right to obtain is, that the national representatioxi should be the great council of the nation; the council which sooner or later must know everything, must express its opinion on everything. Not that the executive power may not need entire independence for the success of its operations either within or without. The minister ought to have the power of refusing to the great council of the nation the knowledge of a transaction not terminated, when he declares that he requires secrecy; but he can in no case declare that a national affair is not among the functions of the representatives of the people, and refuse them the knowledge of it for ever. Nations, after all, cannot reckon upon any other security but this national inspection, this publicity. It has been established as a principle that another power ought to rest with them, serving as defensive arms; that to the deputies of the people should exclusively belong the right to grant and continue imposts. There is no doubt that this right originally belonged to all diets, but it is also the right which sovereigns will least willingly yield to them, and of which they will show themselves most jealous. If it is not possible to induce them to restore it, there is no reason to be immeasurably affected at this, for this prerogative is more apparent than real. The deputies feel themselves, in fact, that the refusal of subsidies would overturn the fortune of the state, and precipitate it into a revolution. Thus, since the Parliament of England, and the Chambers of France, have been really associated in the government, they have never made use of such an extreme measure. In preceding ages, the States General, and the Parliament in effect, refused subsidies, but it was often through a sordid economy, through an entire ignorance of the necessities of the state. Now, as the machine must, nevertheless, go on, each of these refusals was followed by the crown raising money in some irregular way, by some concussion which equally endangered public peace and private fortunes.
What secures the finances of constitutional monarchies from dilapidations, is the public and searching discussion of the receipts and expenses of the state; it is the right granted to the deputies of the nation to know everything, to examine everything, and to require an account of everything. No minister would dare to produce to an assembly of national deputies, at least if it is sufficiently numerous to inspire respect, a list of pensions through favour, of treasures lavished on mistresses, of establishments for illegitimate sons, of luxurious buildings raised to satisfy the caprice of the prince. No minister would dare to announce at the same time the laying on of new taxes to cover these prodigalities, even should the Chamber not have the right to refuse these new taxes. In like manner, no minister would dare to lay before the assembly, unjust, violent, atrocious laws, and discuss them with it, and hear the expression of its repugnance, even though the assembly should have no right to suspend them. No minister would dare to communicate to such an assembly an alliance with national enemies, to justify a war against liberty, even if this assembly could not oppose a veto. At this very day, even at the gates of France, as well as in Russia, the monarch may be seen overturning the decisious of the tribunals, and from recommendations to favour causing what has been already decided to be rejudged, interrupting prescriptiona , or forbidding the prosecution of a debt. This execrable abuse of despotism would become impossible, if the national deputies could always take cognizance of them, even though they had no authority to put an end to them.
Thus, we repeat, the great national liberty, the great means by which the mason of the nation may acquire power, the great step in progress to be demanded from kings and obtained from them, is public discussion on all the interests of the state. It is this public discussion which suffices to awaken opinion, to enlighten and mature it; and when it at last takes the character of reason, it will suffice to make it pronounce decrees of which princes themselves will acknowledge the sovereignty. It is not without reason that monarchs fear publicity, for from sovereigns it makes them descend to the rank of public functionaries. For this very reason the demands which it is hoped to obtain from them must be moderate, must be reduced to what are strictly necessary for the security of liberty, and all those must be renounced, for a time at least, which excites their defiance or their repugnance. Let it be remembered that a numerous assembly is already a great guarantee of publicity; no man would have the assurance to reveal before two hundred persons, turpitudes in the finances, or from favouritism, which, by giving them an interest in so doing, he might make ten or twenty members receive favourably. Even supposing the conscience of the deputies to be equally weak in the great and small assembly, it is, nevertheless, fortified in the former by the public eye, it is seduced in the second by the insinuations of accomplices. The publicity made sure by such an assembly will be rendered still more efficacious, if it is composed of members elected by bodies already constituted, by municipalities which have themselves a political existence, and who are themselves employed in affairs of state.
However, this is not all; the opinions and deliberations of the national deputies must reach the nation, interest it in its own affairs, enlighten it, so that the deputies may be supported by the nation. It is here that it is difficult to conciliate the jealousies of power with the exigencies of liberty. We have supposed a mouarch still jealous of liberty, and a nation yet ill prepared for it: we have supposed that it is not yet able to bear being directed by daily journals, free from censorship, and we ought to understand that power will fear the exaggerated flights of a deputy, as much as those of a newspaper editor. It will not have the former speak from the tribune to the people, rather than to his colleagues: it is not the presence of a few inquisitive persons in the galleries which is formidable to power, or which gives any great guarantee to the people. This personal publicity has really no importance, except as giving access to the writers for the press, and subjecting them at the same time to the control of witnesses, who partake it with them. We can understand that a distrustful government will not permit these journalists to give an account of the sittings of the assembly without censorship. On the other hand, it would be deceiving the nation and insulting her rights, to disguise from her the language and the opinions of her representatives. Her interest, her liberty, her dignity, require that she should be informed, not only of the will of the majority, but of the motives of the minority in opposing this will. It is not, however, necessary that she should know the opinion of every individual; thus, perhaps, the Chamber and the Prince would find a security suited to the progressive state which we are supposing, in a prerogative granted not only to the majority, but also to the minority, to publish in the journals a report free from all censorship, provided it were sanctioned and signed by a proportion of the members of the Chamber, which might be fixed at a sixth, a fifth, or a quarter.
To return, then, we demand for every nation which is not free, but which aspires at becoming so, extended municipal rights, complete publicity in the tribunals of justice, the organization of the citizens into a national guard, the abolition of all preliminary censorship on books, and the discussion of all the interests of the state, in a national assembly sufficiently numerous. We believe that every absolute monarch in Europe might, and ought to grant his people these securities, for his own interest, if he would calm increasing fermentation, regain the affections of his subjects, and avoid the chance of revolutions. We believe, also, that every nation, which is entering the career of liberty, ought to be content with these privileges, that she ought to know that it is her interest to pass through the slow and progressive education of constitutional government, and that it is much better for the citizens to gather the fruit of the tree which is flourishing in the midst of them, than to tear it up in the hope of replacing it by one of better quality.
Such an organization will be, however, only the beginning of liberty. The nations which have already advanced, will advance again. France has much progress to make before she really obtains all the development of liberty which another nation under our eyes has attained to, under the monarchical form; this other nation has much progress to make before she attains that ideal of perfection to which she aspires, without changing the form of her constitution. There are reforms, and numerous reforms, to be accomplished in both countries in order that the political action of their citizens may always develop more and more their understanding, their moral character, and their patriotism. But already, at this day, it may be said that in France, as well as in England, whenever progress is really sanctioned by national reason, whenever it is adopted by the calm will of the people, it becomes law, and it is thus that the nation really exercises her sovereignty.
Let us cast a single glance on the anomalies among the English which strike the nations of the continent, and make them think that England is governed by her aristocracy, or on the discussions which at this day agitate England herself, and which announce her future progress. The right of primogeniture is still in England the national law for the transmission of real property; we believe this law to be bad as regards morals and political economy; but we know that it is sanctioned by the reflections and by the affections of the English nation, no more infallible than any other; its maintenance is an act of the national will, and consequently a proof of liberty. So, in our eyes, the organization of the Anglican church is an abuse; her opulence, her political power, the form of promotion which she has adopted, are dangerous for the state, dangerous for the peace of conscience. In our eyes the corporations which governed the towns were corrupt, educational institutions required numerous reforms; England had abused her victories in Ireland, and her government there was unjust and tyrannical; lastly, the economical organizations of England rest upon bases which appear to us continually more threatening. But let us not forget that the whole of England, England, not by counting votes, but by weighing and estimating wills, has willed to be what she is at this day. By establishing it, by maintaining it, she has given a proof of liberty; she will afford an equal proof of it, when after profound conviction she shall have changed what now exists. She will give a proof of it without a revolution, without abolishing her ancient constitution and giving herself a new one; without displacing the sovereignty which now is, and always has been, only the expression of her will At this time England is experiencing a violent fermentation, a symptom of this change, and many passions are irritated at its being resisted. Nevertheless, exactly because the nation is free, whatever exists in her has a right to defend its existence, whatever exists has a right to make itself heard before it yields. The nation has imposed on herself the obligation of reflecting before willing, reflecting even for a long time, and the peerage forces her to fulfil this obligation; but let us trust the English nation, and her long experience; Then she wills maturely, when she wills after having weighed every reason, and all rights, whatever she determines on will be the law of England.
[a]Extracted from Etudes sur les Sciences Sociales, vol. i p. 329.
[a]Sir James Mækintosh's. Journals, vol. i pp. 500, 526.
[a]Prescription, the law which in some countries makes a debt null after a certain period; to interrupt it is arbitrarily to allow the debt still to be prosecuted.