Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER X: Of the Influence of Society on Political Affairs in France. - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER X: Of the Influence of Society on Political Affairs in France. - 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 Influence of Society on Political Affairs in France.
Amidst the difficulties which the government had to overcome in 1814, we must place in the first rank the influence which the conversation of the saloons exercised on the fate of France. Bonaparte had resuscitated the old habits of a court and had joined to them, besides, all the faults of the less refined classes. The result was that a thirst of power and the vanity that it inspires had assumed characteristics still more strong and violent among the Bonapartists than among the emigrants. So long as there is no liberty in a country, everyone aims at getting favor, because the hope of obtaining a place is the only vivifying principle which animates society. The continual variations in the mode of expressing oneself, the confused style of political writings, whose mental restrictions and flexible explanations lend themselves to any interpretation; bows made and bows refused; sallies of passion and effusions of condescension, have no other object than to obtain favor, further favor, and still additional favor. It follows that people suffer quite enough by not getting it, because it is only by means of it that they obtain the tokens of kindness in the human countenance. One must possess great loftiness of soul and steadiness of opinion to dispense with it; for even your friends make you feel the value of exclusive power by the eagerness of their attention to those who possess it.
In England the adherents of the Opposition are often better received in society than those of the court; in France, before inviting a person to dinner, you ask if he be in the good graces of ministers; and in a time of famine, it might be even well to refuse bread to those who happen to be out of favor at court.
The Bonapartists had enjoyed the homage of society during their reign in the same way as the royalist party that succeeded them, and nothing hurt them so much as to occupy only the second place in the very saloons where they were so lately pre-eminent. The men of the old government had, besides, that advantage over them which is conferred by grace and the habit of good manners of former days. There consequently subsisted a perpetual jealousy between the old and the new men of title; and, among the latter, stronger passions were awakened by every little circumstance to which the various pretensions gave birth.
The King had not, however, re-established the conditions required under the old government to be admitted at court; he received, with a politeness perfectly well measured, all those who were presented to him; but though places were too often given to those who had served Bonaparte, nothing was more difficult than to appease those vanities that had become easily alarmed. Even in society it was wished that the two parties should mingle together, and each, apparently at least, complied. The most moderate in their party were still the royalists who had returned with the King, and who had not quitted him during his entire exile: the Count of Blacas, the Duke of Grammont, the Duke of Castries, the Count of Vaudreuil, etc. Since their conscience bore witness that they had acted in the most honorable and disinterested manner, according to their opinion, their minds were calm and benevolent. But those whose virtuous indignation against the party of the usurper was the most difficult to repress were the nobles or their adherents who had solicited places to the same usurper during his power, and who separated themselves from him very abruptly on the day of his fall. The enthusiasm for legitimacy of such a chamberlain of Madame Mère or of such a lady-in-waiting of Madame Sœur knew no bounds; and we whom Bonaparte had proscribed during the whole course of his reign, we examined ourselves to know whether we had not been his favorites at times when a certain delicacy of mind obliged us to defend him against the invectives of those whom he had loaded with favors.
We very often perceive a kind of tempered arrogance in the aristocrats, but the Bonapartists had certainly still more of it during the days of their power; and at least the aristocrats then adhered to their ordinary weapons: a constrained air, ceremonious politeness, conversations in a low tone of voice; in short, all that the perceptive eyes can observe but that proud characters disdain. It was easy to guess that the ultraroyalists forced themselves to treat the opposing party decently; but it cost them still more to show them to the friends of liberty than to the generals of Bonaparte; and the latter obtained from them attentions which obedient subjects always owe, in conformity with their system, to the agents of royal authority, whoever they may be.
The defenders of liberal ideas, equally adverse to the partisans of the old and new despotism, might have complained of seeing the flatterers of Bonaparte preferred to them; those men who offered no other guarantee to their new master but the sudden desertion of the old. But of what importance to them were the miserable disputes of society? It is possible, however, that such motives may have excited the resentment of a certain class of persons, at least as strongly as the most essential interests. But was this a reason for replunging the world in misery by the recall of Bonaparte and, at the same time, setting at stake the independence and liberty of the country?
In the first years of the Revolution, much may have been suffered from the terrorism of society, if it can be so called; and the aristocracy made a dextrous use of its established respectability to declare such or such an opinion out of the pale of good company. This first-rate company exerted, in former days, an extensive jurisdiction; some were afraid of being banished from it; others wished to be received into it; and the great lords and the great ladies of the old regime were beset with the most active pretensions for their favor. But nothing similar existed under the Restoration; Bonaparte, by imitating courts in a coarse manner, had dissipated their illusions; fifteen years of military despotism change everything in the customs of a country. The young nobles partook of the spirit of the army; they still retained the good manners which their parents had inculcated; but they possessed no real instruction. Women feel nowhere a necessity for being superior to men; and only a few gave themselves that trouble. There remained in Paris a very small number of amiable people of the old regime; for old persons had, for the most part, sunk under long misfortunes or were soured by inveterate resentments. The conversation of new men was necessarily more interesting: they had performed an active part; they took the lead of events while their adversaries could scarcely be dragged on in their train. Foreigners sought more eagerly those who had made themselves known during the Revolution; and in this respect, at least, the self-love of the latter must have been satisfied. Moreover, the old empire of good company in France consisted in the difficult conditions which were required to form a part of it, and in the liberty of conversation amidst a very select society: these two great advantages could no longer be found.
The mixture of ranks and parties had led to the adoption of the English fashion of large companies, which prevents any choice among the persons invited and consequently diminishes much the value of the invitation. The fear inspired by the imperial government had destroyed every habit of independence in conversation; the French under that government had almost all acquired a diplomatic reserve, so that social intercourse was confined to insignificant phrases which in no way reminded us of the daring spirit of France. There was certainly nothing to fear in 1814, under Louis XVIII; but the habit of reserve was acquired; and besides, the courtiers chose that it should be the fashion not to talk of politics nor treat of any serious subject: they hoped by this conduct to lead the nation back to frivolity, and consequently to submission; but the only result they obtained was that of rendering conversation insipid and depriving themselves of every means of knowing the real opinion of individuals.
Yet this society, little attractive as it was, proved a singular object of jealousy to a great number of Bonaparte’s courtiers; and with their vigorous hands they would willingly, like Samson, have overthrown the edifice in order to make a ruin of the hall where they were not admitted to the banquet. Generals rendered illustrious by conquest wished to be made chamberlains, and their wives ladies in waiting: a singular ambition for a warrior who calls himself the defender of liberty! What, then, is this liberty? Is it only the national property, military rank, and civil employments? Does it consist in the wealth and power of a few men rather than of others? Or are we charged with the noble mission of introducing into France a sentiment of justice, a sentiment of dignity in all classes, fixed principles, and respect for knowledge and personal merit?
It would, notwithstanding, have been better policy to have given these generals places as chamberlains, since such was their wish; but the conquerors of Europe would really have found the life of a courtier embarrassing; and they might well have allowed the King to live within his palace with those to whom he had been habituated during his long years of exile. In England, who cares whether such or such a man is in the King’s household? Those who follow this pursuit do not in general mix in public business; and we have never heard that Fox or Pitt wanted to pass their time in such a manner. It was Napoléon alone who could put into the heads of the soldiers of the republic all these fancies of citizen-gentlemen which made them necessarily dependent on the favor of courts. What would Dugommier, Hoche, Goubert, Dampierre, and so many others who fell for the independence of their country have said if, in recompense of their victories, they had been offered a place in the household of a prince, whoever he might be? But the men formed by Bonaparte have all the passions of the Revolution and all the vanities of the old regime. There was but one means of obtaining the sacrifice of these petty things—that of substituting in their stead great national interests.
Finally, the etiquette of courts in all its rigor can hardly be reestablished in a country where those habits are lost. If Bonaparte had not mingled with all these things the life of camps, he would have been insupportable. Henri IV lived familiarly with all the distinguished persons of his time; and Louis XI himself used to sup with the citizens and to invite them to his table. The Emperor of Russia, the Archdukes of Austria, the princes of the house of Prussia, those of England, in short, all the sovereigns of Europe live, in some respects, like private individuals. In France, on the contrary, the princes of the Royal Family scarcely ever go out of the circle of the court. Etiquette, as it existed formerly, is completely in contradiction to the manners and opinion of the age; it has the double inconveniency of giving occasion to ridicule, and yet of exciting envy.1 No person wants to be excluded from anything in France, not even from those distinctions which are laughed at; and since there is as yet no open and public road to the service of the state, disputes are agitated on every question to which the civil code of court introductions can give rise. They hate each other for opinions on which life may depend; but they hate each other still more on account of all those combinations of self-love which two reigns and two orders of nobility have called forth and multiplied. The French have become so difficult to satisfy, from the infinite increase in the pretensions of all classes, that a representative constitution is as necessary to deliver government from the numberless claims of individuals as it is to preserve individuals from what is arbitrary in government.
[1. ] A similar point was made by Tocqueville in Democracy in America.