Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII: Will Not the English Hereafter Lose Their Liberty? - Considerations on the Principal Events of the French Revolution (LF ed.)
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CHAPTER VIII: Will Not the English Hereafter Lose Their Liberty? - 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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Will Not the English Hereafter Lose Their Liberty?
Many enlightened persons who know to what a height the prosperity of the French nation would rise, were the political institutions of England established among them, are persuaded that the English are actuated by a previous jealousy and throw every obstacle in the way of their rivals obtaining the enjoyment of that liberty of which they know the advantages. In truth, I do not believe in such a feeling, at least on the part of the nation. It has pride enough to be convinced, and with reason, that for a long time still it will take the lead of all others; and were France to overtake and even surpass her in some respects, England would still preserve exclusive sources of power peculiar to her situation. As to the government, he who directs it, the Foreign Secretary, seems to have, as I have said, and as he himself has proved, such a contempt for liberty that I truly believe he would dispose of it at a cheap rate even to France; and yet the prohibition of export from England has been almost entirely confined to the principles of liberty, while we, on the other hand, would have wished that in this respect also the English had been pleased to impart to us the products of their industry.
The English government desires, at whatever sacrifice, to avoid a return of war; but it forgets that the most absolute kings of France never ceased to form hostile projects against England, and that a free constitution is a far better pledge for the stability of peace than the personal gratitude of princes. But what ought above all, in my opinion, to be represented to the English, even to those who are exclusively occupied with the interests of their country, is that if, for the sake of preventing the French from being factious or free, term it as you will, an English army must be kept up in the territory of France, the liberty of England becomes exposed by this convention so unworthy of her. A people does not accustom itself to violate national independence among its neighbors without losing some degrees of energy, some shades in the purity of doctrine when the point is to profess at home what is disavowed abroad. England partitioning Poland, England occupying Prussia in the style of Bonaparte would have less strength to resist the encroachments of its own government in the interior. An army on the Continent may involve her in new wars, and the state of her finances should make these wars an object of dread. To these considerations, which have already had a strong impact in Parliament at the time of the discussion of the property tax, we must add the most important of all, the imminent danger of the military spirit. The English, in doing injury to France, in carrying thither the poisoned arrows of Hercules, may, like Philoctetes, inflict a wound on themselves. They humiliate their rival, they trample her underfoot, but let them beware. The contagion threatens them; and if in compressing their enemies they should stifle the sacred fire of their own public spirit, the vengeance or the policy to which they abandon themselves would burst, like bad firearms, in their hands.
The enemies of the English constitution on the Continent are incessantly repeating that it will perish by the corruption of Parliament, and that ministerial influence will increase to such a point as to annihilate liberty: nothing of the kind is to be dreaded. The English Parliament always obeys national opinion, and that opinion cannot be corrupted in the sense attached to that expression, that is, be bribed. But that which is seductive for a whole nation is military glory; the pleasure which the youth find in a camp life, the ardent enjoyments procured to them by success in war are much more conformable to the taste of their age than the lasting benefits of liberty. A man must possess a degree of talent to rise in a civil career; but every vigorous arm can handle a saber, and the difficulty of distinguishing oneself in the military profession is by no means in proportion to the trouble necessary to think and become educated. The employments which in that career become numerous give government the means of holding in its dependence a very great number of families. The newly invented decorations offer to vanity recompenses which do not flow from the source of all fame, public opinion; finally, to keep up a considerable standing army is to sap the edifice of liberty in its foundation.
In a country where law reigns and where bravery founded on patriotic feelings is superior to all praise, in a country where the militia are worth as much as the regular troops, where, in a moment, the threat of a descent created not only an infantry but a cavalry equally fine and intrepid, why forge the instrument of despotism? All those political reasonings on the balance of Europe, those old systems which serve as a pretext to new usurpations, were they not known by the proud friends of English liberty when they would not permit the existence of a standing army, at least in such numbers as to make it a support to government? The spirit of subordination and of command together, that spirit necessary in an army, renders men incapable of knowing and respecting what is national in political powers. Already do we hear some English officers murmuring despotic phrases, although their accent and their language seem to yield with difficulty to the wilted words of servitude.
Lord Castlereagh said in the House of Commons that England could not rest contented with blue coats while all Europe was in arms. It is, however, the blue coats which have rendered the Continent tributary to England. It is because commerce and finances had liberty for their basis, that is, because the representatives of the nation lent their strength to government, that the lever which has poised the world could find its supporting point in an island less considerable than any of the countries to which she lent her aid. Make of this country a camp, and soon after a court, and you will see its misery and humiliation. But could the danger, which history points out in every page, not be foreseen, not be repelled by the first thinkers in Europe, whom the nature of the English government calls to take a part in public affairs? Military glory doubtless is the only seduction to be dreaded by energetic men; but as there is an energy far superior to that of the profession of arms, the love of liberty, and as this liberty inspires at once the highest degree of valor when our country is exposed and the greatest disdain for the military spirit when subordinate to a perfidious diplomacy; we ought to hope that the good sense of the English people and the intelligence of its representatives will save liberty from the only enemy against which it has to guard—continual war and that military spirit which war brings in its train.
What a contempt for knowledge, what impatience of the restraints of law, what a desire of power do we not see in all those that have long led the life of camps! Such men find as much difficulty in submitting to liberty as the nation in submitting to arbitrary rule; and in a free country, it is necessary that as far as possible every man should be a soldier, but that no one should be so exclusively. English liberty having nothing to dread but a military spirit, Parliament, it seems to me, should on that account take into its serious consideration the situation of France; it ought to do so likewise from that universal feeling of justice which is to be expected from the most enlightened assembly in Europe. Its own interest commands it, it is necessary to restore the spirit of liberty, naturally weakened by the reaction caused by the French Revolution; it is necessary to prevent the pretensions of vanity in the Continental style which have found their way into certain families. The English nation in all its extent is the aristocracy of the rest of the world by its knowledge and virtues. What would a few puerile disputes on genealogy be beside this intellectual pre-eminence? Finally, it is necessary to put an end to that contempt for nations on which the policy of the day is founded. That contempt, artfully spread abroad, might, like religious incredulity, attack the foundation of the finest of creeds in the very country where its temple has been consecrated.
Parliamentary reform, the emancipation of the Catholics, the situation of Ireland, all the different questions which can still be debated in the English Parliament will be resolved in conformity to the national interest and do not threaten the state with any danger. Parliamentary reform may be accomplished gradually by giving annually some additional members to towns that have lately become populous, and by suppressing, with indemnities, the rights of certain boroughs which have now scarcely any voters.1 But property has such a sway in England that the partisans of disorder would never be chosen representatives of the people, were a parliamentary reform in all its extent to be accomplished in a single day. Men of talent without fortune might perhaps thus lose the possibility of being returned, as the great proprietors of either party would no longer have seats to give to those who do not have the property necessary to get elected in counties and towns. The emancipation of the Irish Catholics is demanded by the spirit of universal toleration which ought to govern the world; yet those who oppose it do not reject this or that worship; but they dread the influence of a foreign sovereign, the Pope, in a country where the rights of citizens should take priority of everything. It is a question which the interest of the country will decide,2 because the liberty of the press and of public debate allows no ignorance to prevail in England in what concerns the interior of the country. Not a fault would be committed were foreign affairs equally well understood in that assembly. It is of serious importance to England that the condition of Ireland should be different from what it has hitherto been; a greater share of happiness and consequently of knowledge ought to be diffused there. The union with England ought to procure to the Irish people the blessings of the constitution; and so long as the English government insists on the necessity of arbitrary acts for suspending the law it has by no means accomplished its task, and Ireland cannot be sincerely identified with a country which does not impart to it all its rights. Finally, the administration of Ireland is a bad example for the English, a bad school for their statesmen; and were England to subsist long between Ireland and France in the present state of things, she would find it difficult to avoid suffering from the perverse influence which her government exercises habitually on the one and at the present moment on the other.
A people can confer happiness on the man who serves them only by the satisfaction of his conscience; they cannot inspire attachment to any but the friends of justice, to hearts disposed to sacrifice their interest to their duty. Many and many a heart is there of this nature in England; there are, in these reserved characters, hidden treasures to be discerned only by sympathy, but which show themselves with force as soon as the occasion calls them forth: it is on these that the maintenance of liberty reposes. All the aberrations of France have not thrown the English into opposite extremes; and although, at this moment, the diplomatic conduct of their government be highly reprehensible, Parliament lets no session pass without improving some old law, framing new ones, discussing questions of jurisprudence, agriculture, or political economy, with an intelligence always on the increase; in short, making daily improvements, while people in other countries would gladly turn into ridicule that progress without which society would have no object that could be rationally explained.
But will English liberty escape that operation of time which has devoured everything on earth? Human foresight is not capable of penetrating into the remote future; yet we see, in history, republics overturned by conquering empires or destroying themselves by their own conquests; we see the nations of the North taking possession of countries in the South because these countries fell into decay, and also because the necessity of civilization carried a part of the inhabitants of Europe with violence toward her Southern regions. Everywhere we have seen nations perish from want of public spirit, from want of knowledge, and, above all, in consequence of the prejudices which, by subjecting the most numerous part of a people to a state of slavery, servitude, or any other injustice, rendered it foreign to the country which it alone could defend. But in the actual state of social order in England, after the duration, for a century, of institutions which have formed the most religious, most moral, and most enlightened nation of which Europe can boast, I should be unable to conceive in what way the prosperity of a country, that is, its liberty, could ever be threatened. At the very moment when the English government leans toward the doctrine of despotism, although it was a despot with whom it contended; at the very moment when legitimacy, violated in a formal manner by the Revolution of 1688, is held up by the English government as the only principle necessary to social order; in this moment of temporary deviation, one already perceives that by degrees the vessel of the state will regain its balance: for of all storms, that which prejudice can excite is the most easily calmed in the country of so many great men, in the center of so much knowledge.
[1. ] The famous Reform Bill of 1831–32 brought much-needed change to an electoral system that did not accurately reflect England’s new political, social, and economic conditions.
[2. ] The Catholic Relief Act was passed a decade later, in 1829. The act reduced or removed many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics that had been previously introduced and allowed Catholics to hold many high-ranking governmental, administrative, and judicial offices as well as to serve in Parliament.