Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I: Are Frenchmen Made to Be Free? - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER I: Are Frenchmen Made to Be Free? - 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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Are Frenchmen Made to Be Free?
Frenchmen are not made to be free, says a certain party composed of Frenchmen who want to do the honors of the nation in such a way as to represent it as the most miserable of all human associations. What indeed is more miserable than to be incapable either of respect for justice, or of love for our country, or of energy of soul; virtues of which the whole, of which any one singly, is sufficient to render a nation worthy of liberty? Foreigners do not fail to lay hold of these expressions, and to glorify themselves as if they were of a nobler race than the French. This ridiculous assertion, however, means only one thing, that it suits certain privileged persons to be acknowledged as alone fitted to govern France with wisdom, and that the rest of the nation should be regarded as factious.
We shall examine, under a more philosophic and impartial point of view, what is meant by a “people made to be free.” I would simply answer: it is a people who wish to be free; for I do not believe that history affords one example of the will of a whole nation not being accomplished. The institutions of a country, whenever they are below the degree of knowledge diffused throughout it, tend necessarily to raise themselves to the same level. Now, since the latter years of Louis XIV down to the French Revolution, spirit and energy have belonged to individuals, while government has been on the decline. But it will be said that the French, during the Revolution, incessantly wandered between follies and crimes. If it was so, this must be attributed, I cannot too often repeat, to their former political institutions; for it was they that had formed the nation; and if they were of a nature to enlighten only one class of men and deprave the mass, they were certainly good for nothing. But the sophistry of the enemies of human reason lies in their requiring that a people should possess the virtues of liberty before they obtain liberty; while it cannot acquire these virtues till after having enjoyed liberty, since the effect cannot precede the cause. The first quality of a nation that begins to be weary of exclusive and arbitrary governments is energy. Other virtues can be only the gradual result of institutions which have lasted long enough to form a public spirit.
There have been countries, like ancient Egypt, in which religion, being identified with policy, left a passive and stationary character on the manners and habits of men. But, in general, nations are seen to improve or to retrograde according to the nature of their government. Rome has not changed her climate, and yet, from the Romans to the Italians of our days, we can run through the whole scale of the modifications which men undergo by diversity of government. Doubtless, that which constitutes the dignity of a people is to know how to give itself a suitable government; but this work may encounter great obstacles, and one of the greatest certainly is the coalition of the old states of Europe to prevent the progress of new ideas. We must then make an impartial estimate of its difficulties and its efforts before deciding that a nation is not made to be free, which at bottom is a phrase devoid of meaning; for, can there exist men to whom security, emulation, the peaceable application of their industry, and the untroubled enjoyment of the fruits of their labor are not suitable? And if a nation was condemned by a curse of Heaven never to practice either justice or public morality, why should one part of this nation account itself exempt from the curse pronounced on the race? If all are equally incapable of virtue, what part shall oblige the other to possess it?
During twenty-five years, it will still be said, there has been no government founded by the Revolution which has not shown itself mad or wicked. Be it so; but the nation has been incessantly agitated by civil troubles, and all nations in that situation resemble each other. There exist in mankind dispositions which always reappear when the same circumstances call them forth. But if there is not an era of the Revolution in which crime has not borne its part, neither is there one in which great virtues have not been displayed. The love of country, the desire of securing independence at whatever cost, have been constantly manifested by the patriotic party; and if Bonaparte had not enervated public spirit by introducing a thirst for money and for honors, we would have seen miracles performed by the intrepid and persevering character of some of the men of the Revolution. Even the enemies of new institutions, the Vendeans, have exhibited the character which makes men free. They will rally under liberty when liberty shall be offered them in its true features. A keen resolution and an ardent spirit exist, and will always exist, in France. There are powerful souls among those who desire liberty; there are such among the young men who are coming forward, some exempt from the prejudices of their fathers, others innocent of their crimes. When all is seen, when all is known of the history of a revolution; when the most active interests excite the most violent passions, it seems to contemporaries that nothing equal to this has stained the face of the earth. But when we recall the wars of religion in France and the troubles of England, we perceive, in a different form, the same party spirit and the same crimes produced by the same passions.
It seems to me impossible to separate the necessity of the improvement of society from the desire of improving oneself; and, to make use of the title of Bossuet’s work,1 in a different sense from that which he gives to it, policy is sacred because it contains all the motives which actuate men in a mass and bring them closer or further from virtue.
We cannot, however, conceal that people have as yet acquired in France only few ideas of justice. They do not imagine that an enemy can have a right to the protection of the laws when he is conquered. But in a country where favor and want of favor have so long disposed of everything, how should people know what principles are? The reign of courts has permitted the French to display only military virtues; a very limited class were occupied in the management of civil affairs; and the mass of the nation having nothing to do, learned nothing and did not at all exercise itself in political virtues. One of the wonders of English liberty is the number of men who occupy themselves with the interests of each town, of each province, and whose mind and character are formed by the occupations and the duties of citizens. In France, intrigue was the only field for exercising oneself, and a long time is necessary to enable us to forget that unhappy science.
The love of money, of titles, in short of all the enjoyments and all the vanities of society, re-appeared under the reign of Bonaparte: these form the train of despotism. In the frenzy of democracy, corruption at least was of no avail; and, even under Bonaparte, several warriors have remained worthy, by their disinterestedness, of the respect which foreigners have for their courage.
Without resuming here the unhappy history of our disasters, let us say it boldly, there are, in the French nation, energy, patience under misfortune, audacity in enterprise, in one word strength; and its aberrations will always be to be dreaded until free institutions convert a part of this strength into virtue. Certain commonplace ideas put in circulation are often what most mislead the good sense of the public, because the majority of men receive them for truths. There is so little merit in finding them that one is induced to think that reason alone can make them be adopted by so many persons. But in party times the same interests inspire the same discourses, without their acquiring more truth when a hundred times repeated.
The French, it is said, are frivolous, the English serious; the French are quick, the English grave; the former, therefore, must be governed despotically, and the latter enjoy liberty. It is certain that if the English were still contending for this liberty, people would find in them a thousand defects that would stand in its way; but the fact among them refutes the argument. In our France troubles are apparent, while the motives of these troubles can be comprehended only by reflecting minds. The French are frivolous because they have been doomed to a kind of government which could be supported only by encouraging frivolity; and as to quickness, the French possess it much more in the spirit than in the character. There exists among the English an impetuosity of a much more violent nature, and their history exemplifies it in a multitude of cases. Who could have believed, two centuries ago, that a regular government could ever have been established among these factious islanders? The uniform opinion at that time on the Continent was that they were incapable of it. They have deposed, killed, overturned more kings, more princes, and more governments than the rest of Europe together; and yet they have at last obtained the most noble, the most brilliant, and most religious order of society that exists in the Old World. Every country, every people, every man are fit for liberty by their different qualities; all attain or will attain it in their own way.
But before endeavoring to describe the admirable monument of the moral greatness of man presented to us by England, let us cast a glance on some periods of her history similar in all respects to that of the French Revolution. People may perhaps become reconciled with the French on seeing in them the English of yesterday.
[1. ] The full title of Bossuet’s book is Politics Drawn from Holy Scripture.