Front Page Titles (by Subject) LECTURE III.: OF POLITICAL LEGITIMACY—COEXISTENCE OF ALL THE SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT IN THE FIFTII CENTURY—ATTEMPTS TO REORGANIZE SOCIETY. - General History of Civilization in Europe
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LECTURE III.: OF POLITICAL LEGITIMACY—COEXISTENCE OF ALL THE SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT IN THE FIFTII CENTURY—ATTEMPTS TO REORGANIZE SOCIETY. - François Guizot, General History of Civilization in Europe 
General History of Civilization in Europe by François Pierre Guillaume Guizot, edited, with critical and supplementary notes, by George Wells Knight (New York: D Appleton and Co., 1896).
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OF POLITICAL LEGITIMACY—COEXISTENCE OF ALL THE SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT IN THE FIFTII CENTURY—ATTEMPTS TO REORGANIZE SOCIETY.
In my last lecture, I brought you to what may be called the porch to the history of modern civilization. I briefly placed before you the primary elements of European civilization, as found when, at the dissolution of the Roman empire, it was yet in its cradle. I endeavored to give you a preliminary sketch of their diversity, their continual struggles with each other, and to show you that no one of them succeeded in obtaining the mastery in our social system; at least such a mastery as would imply the complete subjugation or expulsion of the others. We have seen that these circumstances form the distinguishing character of European civilization. We will to-day begin the history of its childhood in what is commonly called the dark or middle age, the age of barbarism.
It is impossible for us not to be struck, at the first glance at this period, with a fact which seems quite contradictory to the statement we have just made. No sooner do we seek for information respecting the opinions that have been formed relative to the ancient condition of modern Europe, than we find that the various elements of our civilization, that is to say, monarchy, theocracy, aristocracy, and democracy, each would have us believe that, originally, European society belonged to it alone, and that it has only lost the power it then possessed by the usurpation of the other elements. Examine all that has been written, all that has been said on this subject, and you will find that every author who has attempted to build up a system which should represent or explain our origin, has asserted the exclusive predominance of one or other of these elements of European civilization.
First, there is the school of civilians, attached to the feudal system, among whom we may mention Boulainvilliers* as the most celebrated, who boldly asserts, that, at the downfall of the Roman empire, it was the conquering nation, forming afterwards the nobility, who alone possessed authority, or right, or power. Society, it is said, was their domain, of which kings and people have since despoiled them; and hence, the aristocratic organization is affirmed to have been in Europe the primitive and genuine form.
Next to this school we may place the advocates of monarchy, the Abbé Dubos,† for example, who maintains, on the other side, that it was to royalty that European society belonged. According to him, the German kings succeeded to all the rights of the Roman emperors; they were even invited in by the ancient nations, among others by the Gauls and Saxons; they alone possessed legitimate authority, and all the conquests of the aristocracy were only so many encroachments upon the power of the monarchs.
The liberals, republicans, or democrats, whichever you may choose to call them, form a third school. Consult the Abbé de Mably.‡ According to this school, the government by which society was ruled in the fifth century, was composed of free institutions; of assemblies of freemen, of the nation properly so called. Kings and nobles enriched themselves by the spoils of this primitive Liberty; it has fallen under their repeated attacks, but it reigned before them.
Another power, however, claimed the right of governing society, and upon much higher grounds than any of these. Monarchical, aristocratic, and popular pretensions were all of a worldly nature: the Church of Rome founded her pretensions upon her sacred mission and divine right. By her labors, Europe, she said, had attained the blessings of civilization and truth, and to her alone belonged the right to govern it.
Here, then, is a difficulty which meets us at the very outset. We have stated our belief that no one of the elements of European civilization obtained an exclusive mastery over it, in the whole course of its history; that they lived in a constant state of proximity, of amalgamation, of strife, and of compromise; yet here, at our very first step, we are met by the directly opposite opinion, that one or other of these elements, even in the very infancy of civilization, even in the very heart of barbarian Europe, took entire possession of society. And it is not in one country alone, it is in every nation of Europe, that the various principles of our civilization, under forms a little varied, at epochs a little apart, have displayed these irreconcilable pretensions. The historic schools which I have enumerated are met with everywhere.
This fact is important, not in itself, but because it reveals some other facts which make a great figure in our history. By this simultaneous advancement of claims the most opposed to the exclusive possession of power, in the first stage of modern Europe, two important facts are revealed: first, the principle, the idea of political legitimacy; an idea which has played a considerable part in the progress of European civilization. The second is the particular, the true character of the state of barbarian Europe during that period, which now more expressly demands attention.
It is my task, then, to explain these two facts; and to show you how they may be fairly deduced from the early struggle of the pretensions which I have just called to your notice.
Now what do these various elements of our civilization,—what do theocracy, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy aim at, when they each endeavor to make out that it alone was the first which held possession of European society? Is it any thing beyond the desire of each to establish its sole claim to legitimacy? For what is political legitimacy? Evidently nothing more than a right founded upon antiquity, upon duration, which is obvious from the simple fact, that priority of time is pleaded as the source of right, as proof of legitimate power. But, observe again, this claim is not peculiar to one system, to one element of our civilization, but is made alike by all. The political writers of the Continent have been in the habit, for some time past, of regarding legitimacy as belonging, exclusively, to the monarchical system. This is an error; legitimacy may be found in all the systems. It has already been shown that, of the various elements of our civilization, each wished to appropriate it to itself. But advance a few steps further into the history of Europe, and you will see social forms of government, the most opposed in principles, alike in possession of this legitimacy. The Italian and Swiss aristocracies and democracies, the little republic of San Marino,* as well as the most powerful monarchies, have considered themselves legitimate, and have been acknowledged as such; all founding their claim to this title upon the antiquity of their institutions; upon the historical priority and duration of their particular system of government.
If we leave modern Europe, and turn our attention to other times and to other countries, we shall everywhere find this same notion prevail respecting political legitimacy. It everywhere attaches itself to some portion of government; to some institution; to some form, or to some maxim. There is no country, no time, in which you may not discover some portion of the social system, some public authority, that has assumed, and been acknowledged to possess, this character of legitimacy, arising from antiquity, prescription, and duration.
Let us for a moment see what this legitimacy is? of what it is composed? what it requires? and how it found its way into European civilization?
You will find that all power—I say all, without distinction—owes its existence in the first place partly to force. I do not say that force alone has been, in all cases, the foundation of power, or that this, without any other title, could in every case have been established by force alone. Other claims undoubtedly are requisite. Certain powers become established in consequence of certain social expediencies, of certain relations with the state of society, with its customs or opinions. But it is impossible to close our eyes to the fact, that violence has sullied the birth of all the authorities in the world, whatever may have been their nature or their form.
This origin, however, no one will acknowledge. All authorities, whatever their nature, disclaim it. None of them will allow themselves to be considered as the offspring of force. Governments are warned by an invincible instinct that force is no title—that might is not right—and that, while they rest upon no other foundation than violence, they are entirely destitute of right. Hence, if we go back to some distant period, in which the various systems, the various powers, are found struggling one against the other, we shall hear them each exclaiming, “I existed before you; my claim is the oldest; my claim rests upon other grounds than force; society belonged to me before this state of violence, before this strife in which you now find me. I was legitimate; I have been opposed, and my rights have been torn from me.”
This fact alone proves that the idea of violence is not the foundation of political legitimacy,—that it rests upon some other basis. This disavowal of violence made by every system, proclaims, as plainly as facts can speak, that there is another legitimacy, the true foundation of all the others, the legitimacy of reason, of justice, of right. It is to this origin that they seek to link themselves. As they feel scandalized at the very idea of being the offspring of force, they pretend to be invested, by virtue of their antiquity, with a different title. The first characteristic, then, of political legitimacy, is to disclaim violence as the source of authority, and to associate it with a moral notion, a moral force—with the notion of justice, of right, of reason. This is the primary element from which the principle of political legitimacy has sprung forth. It has issued from it, aided by time, aided by prescription. Let us see how.
Violence presides at the birth of governments, at the birth of societies; but time rolls on. He changes the works of violence. He corrects them. He corrects them, simply because society endures, and because it is composed of men. Man bears within himself certain notions of order, of justice, of reason, with a certain desire to bring them into play—he wishes to see them predominate in the sphere in which he moves. For this he labors unceasingly; and if the social system in which he lives, continues, his labor is not in vain. Man naturally brings reason, morality, and legitimacy into the world in which he lives.
Independently of the labor of man, by a special law of Providence which it is impossible to mistake, a law analogous to that which rules the material world, there is a certain degree of order, of intelligence, of justice, indispensable to the duration of human society. From the simple fact of its duration we may argue, that a society is not completely irrational, savage, or iniquitous; that it is not altogether destitute of intelligence, truth, and justice, for without these, society cannot hold together. Again, as society develops itself, it becomes stronger, more powerful; if the social system is continually augmented by the increase of individuals who accept and approve its regulations, it is because the action of time gradually introduces into it more right, more intelligence, more justice; it is because a gradual approximation is made in its affairs to the principles of true legitimacy.
Thus forces itself into the world, and from the world into the mind of man, the notion of political legitimacy. Its foundation in the first place, at least to a certain extent, is moral legitimacy—is justice, intelligence, and truth; it next obtains the sanction of time, which gives reason to believe that affairs are conducted by reason, that the true legitimacy has been introduced. At the epoch which we are about to study, you will find violence and fraud hovering over the cradle of monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and even over the Church itself; you will see this violence and fraud everywhere gradually abated; and justice and truth taking their place in civilization. It is this introduction of justice and truth into our social system, that has nourished and gradually matured political legitimacy; and it is thus that it has taken firm root in modern civilization.*
All those then who have attempted at various times to set up this idea of legitimacy as the foundation of absolute power, have wrested it from its true origin. It has nothing to do with absolute power. It is under the name of justice and righteousness that it has made its way into the world and found footing. Neither is it exclusive. It belongs to no party in particular; it springs up in all systems where truth and justice prevail. Political legitimacy is as much attached to liberty as to power; to the rights of individuals as to the forms under which are exercised the public functions. As we go on we shall find it, as I said before, in systems the most opposed; in the feudal system; in the free cities of Flanders and Germany; in the republics of Italy, as well as in monarchy. It is a quality which appertains to all the divers elements of our civilization, and which it is necessary should be well understood before entering upon its history.
The second fact revealed to us by that simultaneous advancement of claims, of which I spoke at the beginning of this lecture, is the true character of what is called the period of barbarism. Each of the elements of European civilization pretends, that at this epoch Europe belonged to it alone; hence we may conclude that it really belonged to no one of them. When any particular kind of government prevails in the world, there is no difficulty in recognizing it. When we come to the tenth century, we acknowledge, without hesitation, the preponderance of feudalism. At the seventeenth we have no hesitation in asserting, that the monarchical principle prevails. If we turn our eyes to the free communities of Flanders, to the republics of Italy, we confess at once the predominance of democracy. Whenever, indeed, any one principle really bears sway in society, it cannot be mistaken.
The dispute, then, that has arisen among the various systems which hold a part in European civilization, respecting which bore chief sway at its origin, proves that they all existed there together, without any one of them having prevailed so generally as to give to society its form or its name.
This is, indeed, the character of the dark age: it was a chaos of all the elements; the childhood of all the systems; a universal jumble, in which even strife itself was neither permanent nor systematic. By an examination of the social system of this period under its various forms, I could show you that in no part of them is there to be found anything like a general principle, anything like stability. I shall, however, confine myself to two essential particulars—the state of persons, the state of institutions. This will be sufficient to give a general picture of society.
We find at this time four classes of persons: 1. Freemen, that is to say, men who, depending upon no superior, upon no patron, held their property and life in full liberty, without being fettered by any obligation towards another individual. 2. The Luedes, Fideles, Antrustions, etc., who were connected at first by the relationship of companion and chief, and afterwards by that of vassal and lord, towards another individual to whom they owed fealty and service, in consequence of a grant of lands, or some other gifts.* 3. Freedmen. 4. Slaves.
But were these various classes fixed? Were men once placed in a certain rank bound to it? Were the relations, in which the different classes stood towards each other, regular or permanent? Not at all. Freemen were continually changing their condition, and becoming vassals to nobles, in consideration of some gift which these might have to bestow; while others were falling into the class of slaves or serfs. Vassals were continually struggling to shake off the yoke of patronage, to regain their independence, to return to the class of freemen. Every part of society was in motion. There was a continual passing and repassing from one class to the other. No man continued long in the same rank; no rank continued long the same.
Property was in much the same state. I need scarcely tell you, that possessions were distinguished into allodial, or entirely free, and beneficiary or such as were held by tenure, with certain obligations to be discharged towards a superior.* Some writers attempt to trace out a regular and established system with respect to the latter class of proprietors, and lay it down as a rule that benefices were at first bestowed for a determinate number of years; that they were afterwards granted for life; and finally, at a later period, became hereditary. The attempt is vain. Lands were held in all these various ways at the same time, and in the same places. Benefices for a term of years, benefices for life, hereditary benefices, are found in the same period; even the same lands, within a few years, passed through these different states.† There was nothing more settled, nothing more general, in the state of lands than in the state of persons. Everything shows the difficulties of the transition from the wandering life to the settled life; from the simple personal relations which existed among the barbarians as invading migratory hordes, to the mixed relations of persons and property. During this transition all was confused, local, and disordered.
In institutions we observe the same unfixedness, the same chaos. We find here three different systems at once before us:—First, Monarchy; second, Aristocracy, or the proprietorship of men and lands, as lord and vassal; and, third, Free institutions, or assemblies of free men deliberating in common. No one of these systems entirely prevailed. Free institutions existed; but the men who should have formed part of these assemblies seldom troubled themselves to attend them. Baronial jurisdiction was not more regularly exercised. Monarchy, the most simple institution, the most easy to determine, here had no fixed character; at one time it was elective, at another hereditary—here the son succeeded to his father, there the election was confined to a family; in another place it was open to all, purely elective, and the choice fell on a distant relation, or perhaps a stranger. In none of these systems can we discover anything fixed; all the institutions, as well as the social conditions, dwelt together, continually confounded, continually changing.
The same unsettledness existed with regard to states; they were created, suppressed, united, and divided; no governments, no frontiers, no nations; a general jumble of situations, principles, events, races, languages; such was barbarian Europe.
Let us now fix the limits of this extraordinary period. Its origin is strongly defined; it began with the fall of the Roman empire. But where did it close? To settle this question, we must find out the cause of this state of society; we must see what were the causes of barbarism.
I think I can point out two:—one material, arising from exterior circumstances, from the course of events; the other, moral, arising from the mind, from the intellects of man.
The material, or outward cause, was the continuance of invasion; for it must not be supposed that the invasions of the barbarian hordes stopped all at once in the fifth century. Do not believe that because the Roman empire was fallen, and kingdoms of barbarians founded upon its ruins, that the movement of nations was over. There are plenty of facts to prove that this was not the case, and that this movement lasted a long time after the destruction of the empire.
If we look to the Franks, or French, we shall find even the first race of kings continually carrying on wars beyond the Rhine. We see Clotaire, Dagobert, making expedition after expedition into Germany, and engaged in a constant struggle with the Thuringians, the Danes, and the Saxons who occupied the right bank of that river. And why was this but because these nations wished to cross the Rhine and get a share in the spoils of the empire? How came it to pass that the Franks, established in Gaul, and principally the Eastern, or Austrasian Franks, much about the same time, threw themselves in such large bodies upon Switzerland, and invaded Italy by crossing the Alps? It was because they were pushed forward by new populations from the northeast. These invasions were not mere pillaging inroads, they were not expeditions undertaken for the purpose of plunder, they were the result of necessity. The people, disturbed in their own settlements, pressed forward to better their fortune and find new abodes elsewhere. A new German nation entered upon the arena, and founded the powerful kingdom of the Lombards in Italy. In Gaul, or France, the Merovingian dynasty gave way to the Carlovingian; a change which is now generally acknowledged to have been, properly speaking, a new irruption of Franks into Gaul—a movement of nations, which substituted the Eastern Franks for the Western. Under the second race of kings, we find Charlemagne playing the same part against the Saxons, which the Merovingian princes played against the Thuringians: he carried on an unceasing war against the nations beyond the Rhine, who were precipitated upon the west by the Wiltzians, the Swabians, the Bohemians, and the various tribes of Slavonians, who trod on the heels of the German race. Throughout the northeast emigrations were going on and changing the face of affairs.
In the south, a movement of the same nature took place. While the German and Slavonian tribes pressed along the Rhine and Danube, the Saracens began to ravage and conquer the various coasts of the Mediterranean.
The invasion of the Saracens, however, had a character peculiarly its own. In them the spirit of conquest was united with the spirit of proselytism; the sword was drawn as well for the promulgation of a faith as the acquisition of territory. There is a vast difference between their invasion and that of the Germans. In the Christian world spiritual force and temporal force were quite distinct. The zeal for the propagation of a faith and the lust of conquest are not inmates of the same bosom.* The Germans, after their conversion, preserved the same manners, the same sentiments, the same tastes, as before; they were still guided by passions and interests of a worldly nature. They had become Christians, but not missionaries. The Saracens, on the contrary, were both conquerors and missionaries. The power of the Koran and of the sword was in the same hands. And it was this peculiarity which, I think, gave to Mohammedan civilization the wretched character which it bears. It was in this union of the temporal and spiritual powers, and the confusion which it created between moral authority and physical force, that that tyranny was born which seems inherent in their civilization. This I believe to be the principal cause of that stationary state into which it has everywhere fallen. This effect, however, did not show itself upon the first rise of Mohammedanism; the union, on the contrary, of military ardor and religious zeal, gave to the Saracen invasion a prodigious power. Its ideas and moral passions had at once a brilliancy and splendor altogether wanting in the Germanic invasions; it displayed itself with more energy and enthusiasm, and had a correspondent effect upon the minds and passions of men.
Such was the situation of Europe from the fifth to the ninth century. Pressed on the south by the Mohammedans, and on the north by the Germans and Slavonians, it could not be otherwise than that the reaction of this double invasion should keep the interior of Europe in a state of continual ferment. Populations were incessantly displaced, crowded one upon another; there was no regularity, nothing permanent or fixed. Some differences undoubtedly prevailed between the various nations. The chaos was more general in Germany than in the other parts of Europe. Here was the focus of movement. France was more agitated than Italy. But nowhere could society become settled and regulated; barbarism everywhere continued, and from the same cause that introduced it.*
Thus much for the material cause depending upon the course of events; let us now look to the moral cause, founded on the intellectual condition of man, which, it must be acknowledged, was not less powerful.
For, certainly, after all is said and done, whatever may be the course of external affairs, it is man himself who makes our world. It is according to the ideas, the sentiments, the moral and intellectual dispositions of man himself, that the world is regulated, and marches onward. It is upon the intellectual state of man that the visible form of society depends.
Now let us consider for a moment what is required to enable men to form themselves into a society somewhat durable, somewhat regular? It is evidently necessary, in the first place, that they should have a certain number of ideas sufficiently enlarged to settle upon the terms by which this society should be formed; to apply themselves to its wants, to its relations. In the second place, it is necessary that these ideas should be common to the greater part of the members of the society; and finally, that they should put some constraint upon their own inclinations and actions.
It is clear that where men possess no ideas extending beyond their own existence, where their intellectual horizon is bounded in self, if they are still delivered up to their own passions, and their own wills,—if they have not among them a certain number of notions and sentiments common to them all, round which they may all rally, it is clear that they cannot form a society: without this each individual will be a principle of agitation and dissolution in the social system of which he forms a part.
Wherever individualism reigns nearly absolute, wherever man considers but himself, wherever his ideas extend not beyond himself, wherever he only yields obedience to his own passions, there society—that is to say, society in any degree extended or permanent—becomes almost impossible. Now this was just the moral state of the conquerors of Europe at the epoch which engages our attention. I remarked, in the last lecture, that we owe to the Germans the powerful sentiment of personal liberty, of human individualism. Now, in a state of extreme rudeness and ignorance, this sentiment is mere selfishness, in all its brutality, with all its unsociability. Such was its character from the fifth to the eighth century, among the Germans. They cared for nothing beyond their own interest, for nothing beyond the gratification of their own passions, their own inclinations; how, then, could they accommodate themselves, in any tolerable degree, to the social condition? The attempt was made to bring them into it; they endeavored of themselves to enter into it; but an act of improvidence, a burst of passion, a lack of intelligence, soon threw them back to their old position. At every instant we see attempts made to form man into a social state, and at every instant we see them overthrown by the failings of man, by the absence of the moral conditions necessary to its existence.*
Such were the two causes which kept our forefathers in a state of barbarism; so long as these continued, so long barbarism endured. Let us see if we can discover when and from what causes it at last ceased.
Europe labored to emerge from this state. It is contrary to the nature of man, even when sunk into it by his own fault, to wish to remain in it. However rude, however ignorant, however selfish, however headstrong, there is yet in him a still small voice, an instinct, which tells him he was made for something better;—that he has another and higher destiny. In the midst of confusion and disorder, he is haunted and tormented by a taste for order and improvement. The claims of justice, of prudence, of development, disturb him, even under the yoke of the most brutish egotism. He feels himself impelled to improve the material world, society, and himself; he labors to do this, without attempting to account to himself for the want which urges him to the task. The barbarians aspired to civilization, while they were yet incapable of it—nay, more—while they even detested it whenever its laws restrained their selfish desires.
There still remained, too, a considerable number of wrecks and fragments of Roman civilization. The name of the empire, the remembrance of that great and glorious society still dwelt in the memory of many, and especially among the senators of cities, bishops, priests, and all those who could trace their origin to the Roman world.
Among the barbarians themselves, or their barbarian ancestors, many had witnessed the greatness of the Roman empire; they had served in its armies; they had conquered it. The image, the name of Roman civilization dazzled them; they felt a desire to imitate it; to bring it back again, to preserve some portion of it. This was another cause which ought to have forced them out of the state of barbarism, which I have described.
A third cause, and one which readily presents itself to every one was the Christian church. The Christian church was a regularly constituted society, having its maxims, its rules, its discipline, together with an ardent desire to extend its influence, to conquer its conquerors. Among the Christians of this period, in the Catholic clergy, there were men of profound and varied learning; men who had thought deeply, who were versed in ethics and politics; who had formed definite opinions and vigorous notions, upon all subjects; who felt a praiseworthy zeal to propagate information, and to advance the cause of learning. No society ever made greater efforts than the Christian church did from the fifth to the tenth century, to influence the world around it, and to assimilate it to itself. When its history shall become the particular object of our examination, we shall more clearly see what it attempted—it attacked, in a manner, barbarism at every point, in order to civilize it and rule over it.
Finally, a fourth cause of the progress of civilization, a cause which it is impossible strictly to appreciate, but which is not therefore the less real, was the appearance of great men. To say why a great man appears on the stage at a certain epoch, or what of his own individual development he imparts to the world at large, is beyond our power; it is the secret of Providence; but the fact is still certain. There are men to whom the spectacle of society, in a state of anarchy or immobility, is revolting and almost unbearable; it occasions them an intellectual shudder, as a thing that should not be; they feel an unconquerable desire to change it; to restore order; to introduce something general, regular, and permanent, into the world which is placed before them. Tremendous power! often tyrannical, committing a thousand iniquities, a thousand errors, for human weakness accompanies it. Glorious and salutary power! nevertheless, for it gives to humanity, and by the hand of man, a new and powerful impulse.
These various causes, these various powers working together, led to several attempts, between the fifth and ninth centuries, to draw European society from the barbarous state into which it had fallen.
The first of these was the compilation of the barbarian laws; an attempt which, though it effected but little, we cannot pass over, because it was made by the barbarians themselves. Between the sixth and eighth centuries, the laws of nearly all the barbarous nations (which, however, were nothing more than the rude customs by which they had been regulated, before their invasion of the Roman empire) were reduced to writing. Of these there are enumerated the codes of the Burgundians, the Salii, and Ripuarian Franks, the Visigoths, the Lombards, the Saxons, the Frisians, the Bavarians, the Germans, and some others. This was evidently a commencement of civilization—an attempt to bring society under the authority of general and fixed principles. Much, however, could not be expected from it. It published the laws of a society which no longer existed; the laws of the social system of the barbarians before their establishment in the Roman territory—before they had changed their wandering life for a settled one; before the nomad warriors became lost in the landed proprietors. It is true, that here and there may be found an article respecting the lands conquered by the barbarians, or respecting their relations with the ancient inhabitants of the country; some few bold attempts were made to regulate the new circumstances in which they were placed. But the far greater part of these laws were taken up with their ancient life, their ancient condition in Germany; were totally inapplicable to the new state of society, and had but a small share in its advancement.
In Italy and the south of Gaul, another attempt of a different character was made about this time. In these places Roman society had not been so completely rooted out as elsewhere; in the cities, especially, there still remained something of order and civil life; and in these civilization seemed to make a stand. If we look, for example, at the kingdom of the Ostrogoths in Italy under Theodoric we shall see, even under the dominion of a barbarous nation and king, the municipal form taking breath, as it were, and exercising a considerable influence upon the general tide of events. Here Roman manners had modified the Gothic, and brought them in a great degree to assume a likeness to their own. The same thing took place in the south of Gaul. At the opening of the sixth century, Alaric, a Visigothic king of Toulouse, caused a collection of the Roman laws to be made, and published under the name of Breviarum Aniani, a code for his Roman subjects.*
In Spain, a different power, that of the Church, endeavored to restore the work of civilization. Instead of the ancient German assemblies of warriors, the assembly that had most influence in Spain was the Council of Toledo; and in this council the bishops bore sway, although it was attended by the higher order of the laity. Open the laws of the Visigoths, and you will discover that it is not a code compiled by barbarians, but bears convincing marks of having been drawn up by the philosophers of the age—by the clergy. It abounds in general views, in theories, and in theories, indeed, altogether foreign to barbarian manners. Thus, for example, we know that the legislation of the barbarians was a personal legislation; that is to say, the same law only applied to one particular race of men. The Romans were judged by the old Roman laws, the Franks were judged by the Salian or Ripuarian code; in short, each people had its separate laws, though united under the same government, and dwelling together in the same territory. This is what is called personal legislation, in contradistinction to real legislation, which is founded upon territory. Now this is exactly the case with the legislation of the Visigoths; it is not personal, but territorial. All the inhabitants of Spain, Romans, Visigoths, or what not, were compelled to yield obedience to one law. Read a little further, and you will meet with still more striking traces of philosophy. Among the barbarians a fixed price was put upon man, according to his rank in society—the life of the barbarian, the Roman, the freeman, and vassal, were not valued at the same amount—there was a graduated scale of prices. But the principle that all men’s lives are of equal worth in the eyes of the law, was established by the code of the Visigoths. The same superiority is observable in their judicial proceedings:—instead of the ordeal, the oath of compurgators, or trial by battle, you will find the proofs established by witnesses, and a rational examination made of the fact, such as might take place in a civilized society. In short, the code of the Visigoths bore throughout evident marks of learning, system, and polity. In it we trace the hand of the same clergy that acted in the Council of Toledo, and which exercised so large and beneficial an influence upon the government of the country.*
In Spain, then, up to the time of the great invasion of the Saracens, it was the hierarchy which made the greatest efforts to advance civilization.
In France, the attempt was made by another power. It was the work of great men, and above all of Charlemagne. Examine his reign under its different aspects; and you will see that the darling object of his life was to civilize the nations he governed. Let us regard him first as a warrior. He was always in the field; from the south to the northeast, from the Ebro to the Elbe and Weser. Perhaps you imagine that these expeditions were the effect of choice, and sprung from a pure love of conquest? No such thing. I will not assert that he pursued any very regular system, or that there was much diplomacy or strategy in his plans; but what he did sprang from necessity, and a desire to repress barbarism. From the beginning to the end of his reign he was occupied in staying the progress of a double invasion—that of the Mohammedans in the south, and that of the Germanic and Slavonic tribes in the north. This is what gave the reign of Charlemagne its military cast. I have already said that his expeditions against the Saxons were undertaken for the same purpose. If we pass on from his wars to his government, we shall find the case much the same: his leading object was to introduce order and unity in every part of his extensive dominions. I have not said kingdom or state, because these words are too precise in their signification, and call up ideas which bear but little relation to the society of which Charlemagne stood at the head. Thus much, however, seems certain, that when he found himself master of this vast territory, it mortified and grieved him to see all within it so precarious and unsettled—to see anarchy and brutality everywhere prevailing,—and it was the first wish of his heart to better this wretched condition of society. He endeavored to do this at first by his missi regii, whom he sent into every part of his dominions to find out and correct abuses; to amend the maladministration of justice, and to render him an account of all that was wrong; and afterwards by the general assemblies or parliaments as they have been called of the Champ de Mars, which he held more regularly than any of his predecessors. These assemblies he made nearly every considerable person in his dominions to attend. They were not assemblies formed for the preservation of the liberty of the subject, there was nothing in them bearing any likeness to the deliberations of our own days. But Charlemagne found them a means by which he could become well informed of facts and circumstances, and by which he could introduce some regulation, some unity, into the restless and disorganized populations he had to govern.
In whatever point of view, indeed, we regard the reign of Charlemagne, we always find its leading characteristic to be a desire to overcome barbarism, and to advance civilization. We see this conspicuously in his foundation of schools, in his collecting of libraries, in his gathering about him the learned of all countries; in the favor he showed towards the influence of the Church, for everything, in a word, which seemed likely to operate beneficially upon society in general, or the individual man.
An attempt of the same nature was made very soon afterwards in England, by Alfred the Great.
These are some of the means which were in operation, from the fifth to the ninth century, in various parts of Europe, which seemed likely to put an end to barbarism.
None of them succeeded. Charlemagne was unable to establish his great empire, and the system of government by which he wished to rule it. The Church succeeded no better in its attempt in Spain to found a system of theocracy. And though in Italy and the south of France, Roman civilization made several attempts to raise its head, it was not till a later period, till towards the end of the tenth century, that it in reality acquired any vigor. Up to this time, every effort to put an end to barbarism failed: they supposed men more advanced than they in reality were. They all desired, under various forms, to establish a society more extensive, or better regulated, than the spirit of the age was prepared for. The attempts, however, were not lost to mankind. At the commencement of the tenth century, there was no longer any visible appearance of the great empire of Charlemagne, nor of the glorious councils of Toledo, but barbarism was drawing nigh its end. Two great results were obtained:
1. The movement of the invading hordes had been stopped both in the north and in the south. Upon the dismemberment of the empire of Charlemagne, the states, which became formed upon the right bank of the Rhine, opposed an effectual barrier to the tribes which advanced from the east. The Danes and Normans are an incontestable proof of this. Up to this time, if we except the Saxon attacks upon England, the invasions of the German tribes by sea had not been very considerable: but in the course of the ninth century they became constant and general. And this happened, because invasions by land had become exceedingly difficult; society had acquired, on this side, frontiers more fixed and secure; and that portion of the wandering nations, which could not be pressed back, were at least turned from their ancient course, and compelled to proceed by sea. Great as undoubtedly was the misery occasioned to the west of Europe by the incursions of these pirates and marauders, they still were much less hurtful than the invasions by land, and disturbed much less generally the newly-forming society. In the south, the case was much the same. The Arabs had settled in Spain, and the struggle between them and the Christians still continued; but this occasioned no new emigration of nations. Bands of Saracens still, from time to time, infested the coasts of the Mediterranean, but the great career of Islamism was arrested.
2. In the interior of Europe we begin at this time to see the wandering life decline; populations became fixed; estates and landed possessions became settled; the relations between man and man no longer varied from day to day under the influence of force or chance. The interior and moral condition of man himself began to undergo a change; his ideas, his sentiments, began, like his life, to assume a more fixed character. He began to feel an attachment to the place in which he dwelt; to the connections and associations which he there formed; to those domains which he now calculated upon leaving to his children; to that dwelling which hereafter became his castle; to that miserable assemblage of serfs and slaves, which was one day to become a village. Little societies everywhere began to be formed; little states to be cut out according to the measure, if I may so say, of the capacities and prudence of men. There, societies gradually became connected by a tie, the origin of which is to be found in the manners of the German barbarians: the tie of a confederation which would not destroy individual freedom. On one side we find every considerable proprietor settling himself in his domains, surrounded only by his family and retainers; on the other, a certain graduated subordination of services and rights existing among all these military proprietors scattered over the land. Here we have the feudal system oozing at last out of the bosom of barbarism. Of the various elements of our civilizations, it was natural enough that the Germanic element should first prevail. It was already in possession of power; it had conquered Europe: from it European civilization was to receive its first form—its first social organization.*
The character of this form—the character of feudalism, and the influence it has exercised upon European civilization—will be the object of my next lecture; while in the very bosom of this system, in its meridian, we shall, at every step, meet with the other elements of our own social system, monarchy, the Church, and the communities or free cities. We shall feel pre-assured that these were not destined to fall under this feudal form, to which they adapted themselves while struggling against it; and that we may look forward to the hour when victory will declare itself for them in their turn.†
[* ] Henri de Boulainvilliers (1658-1722), an eminent French historical writer.
[† ] Jean Baptiste Dubos (1670-1742), a prominent student of politics and law, and an historical writer.
[‡ ] Gabriel Bonnot de Mably (1709-1785), a French historian.
[* ] The oldest and smallest independent republic in the world; situated in eastern central Italy. Area thirty-three square miles; population about eight thousand. It dates from the fourth century.
[* ] By political legitimacy is meant the right of a government to exist and to exercise the powers which it undertakes to wield. What constitutes the true source of legitimate government is a matter of contention. The prevalent American theory, for example, is, for America at least, that all government, to be legitimate, must be founded on the consent of the governed, either expressed or implied. The longer a government continues in existence, the greater the presumption of its legitimacy, no matter what may have been the actual circumstances of its establishment. Those governments which have been clearly established by force, or have been founded on a political revolution, have subsequently justified their lawfulness not by the manner of their establishment, but on the acquiescence of the governed in the acts of authority, and on their recognition as lawful by other governments.
[* ] These terms are applied to those who, under the custom of the comitatus, already described, attached themselves to another person to whom, by virtue of their oath of attachment, they owed certain services. According to Secretan (Essai sur la Féodalité), antrustion was the name given to members of the king’s comitatus, while fideles and leudes were terms applied to members of the comitatus of a nobleman. It must be remembered that the author is here attempting to describe the society of a period five centuries in length, and his descriptions are of necessity not exactly applicable to the entire period, for society and institutions were constantly changing.
[* ] Allodial proprietors held their lands in absolute ownership, subject to no control by a superior. The term benefice was applied to lands granted to another, to be used and enjoyed by the grantee on condition of performing certain specified services for the one granting the land. The term appears first to have come into frequent use after the Carlovingian dynasty was established over the Franks (752).
[† ] The formal beginning of the right of inheritance as applied to benefices is usually traced to an edict of Charles the Bald in 877. It is too much to affirm, as the author does, that there was nothing like regularity in the terms for which benefices were granted. In the earliest period they were almost certainly not hereditary; in the later period they were rarely for a limited term of years. Researches made since M. Guizot wrote have overthrown several statements in this and the following chapter.
[* ] The student will no doubt easily recall periods in mediæval history concerning which these statements seem hardly exact.
[* ] The following chronological indications may assist in recalling a more distinct view of the invasions, conquests, and revolutions of this stormy period:
The death of Charlemagne and the breaking up of his vast system likewise opened the barriers of the empire to the incursions of the Saracens, the Northmen, the Slavonians, and the Hungarians: it was not until the close of the tenth century that the barbarian invasions can be said to have definitely ceased.
[* ] It must not be forgotten that “the Germans, at the time of their emergence from their original seats and their occupation of the Roman lands, were not mere wandering groups of freebooters, but well-organized nations, with a very distinct sense of political organization” (Emerton). The earlier writers have misrepresented the Germans in this regard, and even the statements and implications of the author are not entirely reconcilable with modern views.
One great fact of mediæval history was, however, that the dominant people, the Germans, were not at the beginning of the era sufficiently civilized to appreciate, take up, and carry forward the political and social ideas which Roman civilization had produced. During the dark ages civilization was waiting while the German peoples fitted themselves to carry forward the work. Time was needed for this, and until that time had elapsed the state of Europe was not far removed from barbarism.
[* ] Most of these codes were written out, within a century of the conquest of the Roman empire, in the Latin language. They cover civil and criminal law, and, in general, the relations of man to man. Like the Roman codes which undoubtedly inspired them, they contain little new legislation, but bring together the customs and usages and edicts which up to that time had been unwritten. The legal system which they embody was not that “of a society which no longer existed,” for many of the German legal ideas found in these codes influenced the social and legal order of Europe almost till modern times. Of these codes the Salic and the Visigothic are among the most mportant. They have all been published with annotations by German scholars during the past half century. A good brief sketch is given in Emerton’s Introduction to the Middle Ages, chap. viii, where a bibliography is also given. See also the Encyclopædia Britannica, vol. xxi, article “Salic Law and Other Barbarian Laws.”
The later laws and proclamations of the Frankish kings were known as capitularies, and are of the highest importance in tracing the legal development of the Frankish government and customs. They have been published in Pertz, Monumenta Germanica, and elsewhere. An excellent analysis of their contents is given in Guizot’s History of Civilization in France, Lectures XXI and XXV.
Among the peculiarities by which most of these laws are distinguished from modern legislation, the most striking is perhaps the fact that all offences were punished with fines, This is significant of the barbarian sentiment of individuality, of personal independence. The barbarian will not suffer his life or liberty to be affected by his actions.
[* ] The code of the Visigoths, as sanctioned by the Council of Toledo in 633, was only a revision and amendment of the code of Alaric, published in 506.
[* ] Theories as to the origin of the feudal system have been radically reconstructed since these lectures were written. While there is not yet complete agreement upon all points, it is no longer maintained by the most careful investigators that the feudal system was entirely due to the Germanic element, and “was the offspring of German society.” The forms of feudalism were essentially Roman, the spirit German. See note at the end of Lecture IV.
[† ] In this lecture the author had in mind the entire period from the fifth to the tenth century, and his statements are based on the general character and import of the whole time. In order to an appreciation of the discussion it is essential that the events of this chaotic period be well known. The chronological suggestions already given will serve as a help to those familiar with the general outlines. The student will find excellent sketches of the period in Duruy’s History of the Middle Ages, and in Emerton’s Introduction to the Middle Ages. For the reign of Charlemagne, consult Eginhard’s Life of Charlemagne, and Mombert, History of Charles the Great.
The important factor in Europe during this period was the Frankish kingdom. Of all the Germanic kingdoms set up during the era of the invasions and wanderings it alone developed such stability and approach to unity as made it markedly influential in both that and later periods. Established on a firmer basis by Clovis, it absorbed the Alemanni (496) and the Visigothic kingdom in Gaul (507). Clovis himself was baptized into the orthodox Catholic faith in 496, and thereby brought the kingdom into friendly relations with the pope, between whom and the other Teutonic kingdoms there was discord, owing to their adherence to Arianism, a theological heresy of this period. The Franks with far less difficulty than the other Teutons seemed able to combine the three elements, Roman, barbarian, Christian, the fusion of which has in large measure produced modern civilization. At the death of Clovis, in 511, the Frankish kingdom was a decently ordered barbarian state. Under his successors family quarrels weakened the kingdom, but in 530 Thuringia, in 534 Burgundy, and a little later certain territory east of the Rhine, was annexed. The kingdom was several times divided among sons of the rulers, but in 613 was reunited under Lothaire II, and during the reign of his son, Dagobert I (628-638), the Merovingian family attained its highest power. During all of this period there had been a division, now openly indicated by separate rulers, now nominal, between the eastern part (Austrasia) and the western part (Neustria) of the kingdom. Austrasia was more Teutonic, less centralized; Neustria more centralized and more Roman.
Under the weak successors of Dagobert the real power in each branch of the kingdom was wielded by the chief officer of state, the mayor of the palace. In 687 the Austrasian mayor of the palace, Pippin of Heristal, leading the nobles of his country, overcame the king and mayor of the palace of Neustria and became the real dictator of the entire kingdom. His victory was in one sense the ascendancy of the Teutonic over the Roman ideas in the kingdom. The office of the mayor of the palace continued in Pippin’s family until in 752 the last of the Merovingian kings was set aside and Pippin the Short was crowned by the pope king of the Franks, thus establishing the Carlovingian dynasty.
Under the weak Merovingian rulers the Frankish nobles had assumed a virtual independence, and the Carlovingian mayors of the palace had striven to rebuild the central power thus weakened. The alliance between Pippin the Short and the pope gave the new Frankish ruler the moral support of the papal authority.
In 768, Charlemagne, the greatest of the Carlovingians, came to the throne. Two motives seem to have guided his acts: (1) to strengthen the central government of the kingdom, and (2) to revive the Roman empire by consolidating Christian Europe into a single government. His conquests in Germany and Italy, his coronation in 800 as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, were the carrying out of this idea. Though his statesmanship was broad and his acts were wise, his attempt did not suit the conditions of Germanic Europe, nor did his effort at a strong central government accord with the growing independence of the landed nobility throughout the continent. With his death it became evident that only the personal force and statesmanship of a strong ruler could make headway against these disintegrating tendencies. His immediate successors were unequal to the task, and though the name of the empire continued, it was unable to maintain the position established for it by Charlemagne. The family quarrels between his descendants, sons of Louis the Pious, culminated in the treaty of Verdun in 843, by which Lothaire, with the title of emperor, received Italy and a strip along the Rhine to the North Sea, Louis the German received the territory from the Rhine to the Elbe, and Charles the Bold received France west of the strip given to Lothaire. This was the beginning of modern France as a separate kingdom, the throne of which was held by the Carlovingians till 987, when Hugh Capet, Duke of France, one of the feudal nobility, took the throne and founded the dynasty that ruled France till the present century. At this time France was hardly more than a group of separate sovereign states, under the nominal suzerainty of the king. Germany also soon became split into several large districts, each under the control of a practically independent duke, while in Italy the government rapidly disintegrated after the treaty of Verdun, already mentioned.
Thus, in the course of two centuries after Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire had so declined that, except under Otho I (962) and a few of his successors, it represented an idea rather than a fact. At the same time lines of cleavage, linguistic and governmental, were becoming apparent, substantially those marking the later nationalities of the Germans, the French, and the Italians. A turbulent, chaotic state was again prevalent over Europe, but it was not the rude, barbarous chaos of the fifth century. Some advance had been made; but the Teutonic peoples were not yet by the tenth century fully ready for the restraint of orderly government, which meant, as they felt, a lessening of that individual liberty which was so strong a trait in the German life. The feudal system was first to have its course before political order should overcome unrestrained personal independence.
An appreciative brief study of the real significance of Charlemagne’s reign and the first centuries of the Holy Roman Empire is contained in Adams’s Civilization during the Middle Ages, pp. 137-193. Of very great value is also Bryce’s Holy Roman Empire.