Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II.: THAT THE FUNDAMENTAL AND FINAL OBJECT OF THE REVOLUTION WAS NOT, AS SOME HAVE SUPPOSED, TO DESTROY RELIGIOUS AND TO WEAKEN POLITICAL AUTHORITY. - The Old Regime and the Revolution
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CHAPTER II.: THAT THE FUNDAMENTAL AND FINAL OBJECT OF THE REVOLUTION WAS NOT, AS SOME HAVE SUPPOSED, TO DESTROY RELIGIOUS AND TO WEAKEN POLITICAL AUTHORITY. - Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the Revolution 
The Old Regime and the Revolution, trans John Bonner (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1856).
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THAT THE FUNDAMENTAL AND FINAL OBJECT OF THE REVOLUTION WAS NOT, AS SOME HAVE SUPPOSED, TO DESTROY RELIGIOUS AND TO WEAKEN POLITICAL AUTHORITY.
ONE of the first measures of the French Revolution was an attack upon the Church. Of all the passions to which that Revolution gave birth, that of irreligion was the first kindled, as it was the last extinguished. Even when the first enthusiasm of liberty had worn off, and peace had been purchased by the sacrifice of freedom, hostility to religion survived. Napoleon subdued the liberal spirit of the Revolution, but he could not conquer its anti-Christian tendencies. Even in the times in which we live, men have fancied they were redeeming their servility to the most slender officials of the state by their insolence to God, and have renounced all that was free, noble, and exalted in the doctrines of the Revolution, in the belief that they were still faithful to its spirit so long as they were infidels.
Yet nothing is easier than to satisfy one’s self that the anti-religious war was a mere incident of the great Revolution; a striking, but fleeting expression of its physiognomy; a temporary result of ideas, and passions, and accidents which preceded it—any thing but its own proper fruit.
It is generally understood—and justly so—that the philosophy of the eighteenth century was one of the chief causes of the Revolution; and it is not to be denied that that philosophy was deeply irreligious; but it was twofold, and the two divisions are widely distinct.
One division or system contained all the new or revived opinions with reference to the conditions of society, and the principles of civil and political law. Such were, for example, the doctrines of the natural equality of man, and the consequent abolition of all caste, class, or professional privileges, popular sovereignty, the paramount authority of the social body, the uniformity of rules . . . . . These doctrines are not only the causes of the French Revolution; they are, so to speak, its substance; they constitute the most fundamental, the most durable, the truest portion of its work.
The other system was widely different. Its leaders attacked the Church with absolute fury. They assailed its clergy, its hierarchy, its institutions, its doctrines; to overthrow these, they tried to tear up Christianity by the roots. But this portion of the philosophy of the eighteenth century derived its origin from objects which the Revolution destroyed: it naturally disappeared with its cause, and was, so to speak, buried in its triumph. I purpose returning to this great topic herafter, and will add but one word here in order to explain myself more fully. Christianity was hated by these philosophers less as a religious doctrine than as a political institution; not because the priests assumed to regulate the concerns of the other world, but because they were landlords, seigniors, tithe-holders, administrators in this; not because the Church could not find a place in the new society which was being established, but because she then occupied the place of honor, privilege, and might in the society which was to be overthrown.
See how time has confirmed this view, and is still confirming it under our own eyes! Simultaneously with the consolidation of the political work of the Revolution, its religious work has been undone. The more thoroughly the political institutions it assailed have been destroyed; the more completely the powers, influences, and classes which were peculiarly obnoxious to it have been conquered, and have ceased in their ruin to be objects of hatred; in fine, the more the clergy have held themselves aloof from the institutions which formerly fell by their side, the higher has the power of the Church risen, and the deeper has it taken root in men’s minds.
This phenomenon is not peculiar to France; every Christian Church in Europe has gained ground since the French Revolution.
Nothing can be more erroneous than to suppose that democracy is naturally hostile to religion. Neither Christianity nor even Catholicism involves any contradiction to the democratic principle; both are, in some respects, decidedly favorable to it. All experience, indeed, shows that the religious instinct has invariably taken deepest root in the popular heart. All the religions which have disappeared found a last refuge there. Strange, indeed, it would be if the tendency of institutions based on the predominance of the popular will and popular passions were necessarily and absolutely to impel the human mind toward impiety.
All that I have said of religious I may repeat with additional emphasis in regard to political authority.
When the Revolution overthrew simultaneously all the institutions and all the usages which had governed society and restrained mankind within bounds, it was, perhaps, only natural to suppose that its result would be the destruction, not of one particular frame of society, but of all social order; not of this or that government, but of all public authority. There was a degree of plausibility in assuming that it aimed essentially at anarchy; yet I will venture to say that this also was an illusion.
Less than a year after the Revolution had begun, Mirabeau wrote secretly to the king, “Compare the present state of things with the old regime, and console yourself and take hope. A part—the greater part of the acts of the national assembly are decidedly favorable to a monarchical government. Is it nothing to have got rid of Parliament, separate states, the clerical body, the privileged classes, and the nobility? Richelieu would have liked the idea of forming but one class of citizens; so level a surface assists the exercise of power. A series of absolute reigns would have done less for royal authority than this one year of Revolution.” He understood the Revolution like a man who was competent to lead it.
The French Revolution did not aim merely at a change in an old government; it designed to abolish the old form of society. It was bound to assail all forms of established authority together; to destroy acknowledged influences; to efface traditions; to substitute new manners and usages for the old ones; in a word, to sweep out of men’s minds all the notions which had hitherto commanded respect and obedience. Hence its singular anarchical aspect.
But a close inspection brings to light from under the ruins an immense central power, which has gathered together and grasped all the several particles of authority and influence formerly scattered among a host of secondary powers, orders, classes, professions, families, and individuals, sown broadcast, so to speak, over the whole social body. No such power had been seen in the world since the fall of the Roman empire. This new power was created by the Revolution, or, rather, it grew spontaneously out of the ruins the Revolution made. If the governments it created were fragile, they were still far stronger than any that had preceded them, and their very fragility, as will be shown hereafter, sprang from the same cause as their strength.
It was the simple, regular, grand form of this central power which Mirabeau discerned through the dust of the crumbling institutions of olden time. The masses did not see it, great as it was. Time gradually disclosed it to all; and now, princes can see nothing else. Admiration and envy of its work fill the mind, not only of the sovereigns it created, but of those who were strangers or inimical to its progress. All are busy destroying immunities, abolishing privileges throughout their dominions; mingling ranks, leveling, substituting hired officials in the room of an aristocracy, a uniform set of laws in the place of local franchises, a single strong government instead of a system of diversified authorities. Their industry in this revolutionary work is unceasing; when they meet an obstacle, they will sometimes even borrow a hint or a maxim from the Revolution. They have been noticed inciting the poor against the rich, the commoner against the noble, the peasant against his lord. The French Revolution was both their scourge and their tutor.