Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XIV: Of the Suppression of Titles of Nobility. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER XIV: Of the Suppression of Titles of Nobility. - Germaine de Staël, Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.) 
Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution, newly revised translation of the 1818 English edition, edited, with an introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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Of the Suppression of Titles of Nobility.
The clergy are perhaps still the less unpopular of the two privileged orders in France; for equality being the moving principle of the Revolution, the nation felt itself less hurt by the prejudices of the priests than by the claims of the nobles. Yet we cannot too often repeat that nothing is more unfortunate than the political influence of ecclesiastics in a country, while hereditary magistracy, of which the recollections of birth constitute a part, is an indispensable element in every limited monarchy. But the hatred of the people toward nobles having burst forth in the earliest days of the Revolution, the minority of the nobility in the Constituent Assembly wished to destroy this germ of enmity, and to form a complete union with the nation. One evening then, in a moment of heat, a member proposed the abolition of all titles.1 No nobleman, of those who had joined the popular party, could refuse to support this without showing ridiculous vanity; yet it would have been very desirable that the former titles should not have been suppressed without being replaced by a peerage, and by the distinctions which emanate from it. A great English writer2 has said, with truth, that “whenever there exists in a country any principle of life whatever, a legislature ought to take advantage of it.” In fact, since nothing is so difficult as to create, it is generally found necessary to engraft one institution on another.
The Constituent Assembly treated France like a colony in which there was no “past”;3 but wherever “a past” has existed, it is impossible to prevent it from having influence. The French nation was tired of the second order of nobility, but it had, and always will have, respect for the families distinguished in history. It was this feeling which ought to have been used in establishing an upper house, and endeavoring by degrees to consign to disuse all those denominations of Counts and Marquisses which, when they are connected neither with recollection of the past nor with political employments, sound more like nicknames than titles.
One of the most singular propositions of this day was that of renouncing the names of estates, which many families had borne for ages, and obliging them to resume their patronymic appellations. In this way the Montmorencies would have been called Bouchard; La Fayette, Mottié; Mirabeau, Riquetti. This would have been stripping France of her history; and no man, howsoever democratic, either would or ought to renounce in this manner the memory of his ancestors. The day after this decree was passed, the newspaper writers printed in their accounts of the meeting Riquetti the elder instead of Comte de Mirabeau: he went up in a rage to the reporters who were taking notes of the debates in the Assembly, and said to them, “You have by your Riquetti puzzled Europe for three days.” This effusion encouraged everyone to resume the name borne by his father; a course that could not be prevented without resorting to an inquisition quite contrary to the principles of the Assembly, for we should always remember that it never made use of the expedients of despotism to establish liberty.
M. Necker, alone among the members of council, proposed to the King to refuse his sanction to the decree which put an end to nobility without establishing a patrician body in its stead; and his opinion not having been adopted, he had the courage to publish it. The King had determined on sanctioning indiscriminately all the decrees of the Assembly: his plan was to be considered by others, after the 6th of October, as being in a state of captivity; and it was only in compliance with his religious scruples that he did not in the sequel affix his name to the decrees which proscribed those of the priests who continued to acknowledge the power of the Pope.
M. Necker, on the other hand, wished the King to use his prerogative sincerely and steadily; he pointed out to him that if he should one day recover all his power, he would still have the power to declare that he had been in a state of imprisonment since his arrival at Paris; but that if he should not recover it, he was losing the respect of, and above all his influence with, the nation, by not making use of his veto to stop the inconsiderate decrees of the Assembly; decrees of which that body often repented when the fever of popularity was moderated. The important object for the French nation, as for every nation in the world, is that merit, talent, and services should be the means of rising to the first employments of the state. But to aim at organizing France on the principles of abstract equality4 was to deprive the country of that source of emulation so congenial to the French character that Napoléon, who applied it in his own way, found it a most effectual instrument of his arbitrary sway. The report published by M. Necker in the summer of 1790, at the time of the suppression of titles, was closed by the following reflections.
In following all the marks of distinction in their smallest details, we, perhaps, run the risk of misleading the people as to the true meaning of this word “equality,” which can never signify, in a civilized nation, and in a society already established, equality of rank or property. Diversity in situation and employment, difference in fortune, education, emulation, industry; differing levels of ability and knowledge, all the disparities that are productive of movement in the social body, necessarily involve an outward inequality; and the only object of the legislator is, in imitation of nature, to point them all toward a happiness that may be equal, though different in its forms and development.
Everything is united, everything is linked together in the vast extent of social combinations; and those kinds of superiority which, to the first glance of a philosophic eye, appear an abuse, are essentially useful in affording protection to the different laws of subordination; to those laws which it is so necessary to defend, and which might be attacked so powerfully if habit and imagination should ever cease to afford them support.5
I shall have occasion in the sequel to remark that in the different works published by M. Necker during the course of twenty years, he invariably predicted the events which afterward occurred: so much penetration was there in his sagacity. The reign of Jacobinism was principally caused by the wild intoxication of a certain kind of equality; it appears to me that M. Necker described this danger when he wrote the remarks which I have just quoted.
[1. ] On June 19, 1790.
[2. ] That writer is Burke.
[3. ] For a similar critique, see Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, especially 124–26: “You had all these advantages in your antient states; but you chose to act as if you had never been moulded into civil society, and had everything to begin anew. You began ill because you began by despising everything that belonged to you. You set up your trade without a capital.” (Reflections on the Revolution in France, 124)
[4. ] In The Old Régime and the Revolution, Tocqueville also highlighted the passion for equality (or the hatred of inequality) as the main element of the Revolution: “While the passion for freedom constantly changes its appearance, shrinks, grows, strengthens, and weakens according to events, the passion for equality is always the same, always attached to the same purpose with the same obstinate and often blind ardor, ready to sacrifice everything to those who permit it to satisfy itself” (246).
[5. ] From Opinion de M. Necker sur le décret de l’Assemblée Nationale concernant les titres les noms, les armoires (Paris, 1790); also see Egret, Necker, ministre du roi, 422–26.