Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER V.: HOW CENTRALIZATION CREPT IN AMONG THE OLD AUTHORITIES, AND SUPPLANTED WITHOUT DESTROYING THEM. - The Old Regime and the Revolution
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CHAPTER V.: HOW CENTRALIZATION CREPT IN AMONG THE OLD AUTHORITIES, AND SUPPLANTED WITHOUT DESTROYING THEM. - 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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HOW CENTRALIZATION CREPT IN AMONG THE OLD AUTHORITIES, AND SUPPLANTED WITHOUT DESTROYING THEM.
LET us briefly recapitulate the points established in the three preceding chapters.
A single body, placed in the centre of the kingdom, administering government throughout the country; a single minister managing nearly all the business of the interior; a single agent directing the details in each province; no secondary administrative bodies, or authorities competent to act without permission: special tribunals to hear cases in which government is concerned, and shield its agents. What is this but the same centralization with which we are acquainted? As compared with ours, its forms are less sharply marked, its mode of action less regular, its existence less tranquil; but the system is the same. Nothing has been added, nothing taken away from the old plan; when the surrounding edifices were pulled down, it stood precisely as we see it.
Frequent imitations of the institutions I have just described have since made their appearance in various places,y but they were then peculiar to France. We shall see presently how great an influence they exercised over the French Revolution and its sequel.
But how did these modern institutions find place among the ruins of the old feudal society?
By patient, adroit, persevering labor, rather than by violent arbitrary effort. At the outbreak of the Revolution, the old administrative system of France was still standing, but a new system had been built up inside it.
There is no reason for believing that this difficult exploit was the fruit of a deep scheme laid by the old government. On the contrary, it appears to have been accomplished almost unconsciously, instinct teaching the government and its various agents to acquire as much control as possible. The old officials were left in possession of their titles and their honors, but stripped of their power. They were led, not driven out of their domain. The idleness of one, the selfishness of another, the vices of all, were skillfully turned to account. No attempt was made to convert them, but one and all were quietly replaced by the intendant, whose name had never even been heard at the time they were born.
The only obstacle in the way of the change was in the judiciary department; but there, as elsewhere, the government had contrived to seize the substance, leaving its rivals the outward show of power. It did not exclude the Parliaments from administrative business, but it gradually absorbed their duties till there was nothing for them to do.z On some few rare occasions, as, for example, in times of scarcity, when popular excitements tempted the ambition of magistrates, it allowed the Parliaments to exercise administrative authority for a brief interval, and let them make a noise which has often found an echo in history; but it soon silently resumed its functions, and discreetly assumed sole control of men and things.
A close study of the struggles of the Parliaments against the power of the king will lead to the discovery that they were invariably on political issues, and never on points of administration. Quarrels usually began on the creation of new taxes—that is to say, the belligerents contended for legislative authority, to which neither had any claim, and not for administrative power.
This becomes more apparent as we approach the revolutionary era. As the people’s feelings become inflamed, the Parliament mixes more in politics; and simultaneously, the central government and its agents, with skill enhanced by experience, usurp more administrative power. The Parliament grows daily less like an administration, and more like a tribune.
Day after day, the central government conquers new fields of action into which these bodies can not follow it. Novelties arise, pregnant with cases for which no precedents can be found in parliamentary routine: society, in a fever of activity, creates new demands, which the government alone can satisfy, and each of which swells its authority; for the sphere of all other administrative bodies is defined and fixed; that of the government alone is movable, and spreads with the extension of civilization.
Impending revolution unsettles the mind of the French, and suggests a host of new ideas which the central government alone can realize: it is developed before it perishes. Like every thing else, it is brought to perfection, as is singularly proved by its archives. There is no resemblance between the comptroller-general and the intendant of 1780 and the like officials in 1740: the system has been transformed. The agents are the same, but their spirit is different. Time, while it extends and exercises the power of the government, imparts to it new skill and regularity. Its latest usurpations are marked by unusual forbearance; it rules more imperatively, but it is far less oppressive.
This great institution of the monarchy was thrown down by the first blow of the Revolution: it was raised anew in 1800. It is not true that the principles of government which were then adopted were those of 1789, as so many persons have asserted; they were those of the old monarchy, which were restored, and have remained in force ever since.
If it be asked how this portion of the old regime could be bodily transplanted into and incorporated with the new social system, I reply that centralization was not abolished by the Revolution, because it was, in fact, its preliminary and precursor; and I may add, that when a nation abolishes aristocracy, centralization follows as a matter of course. It is much harder to prevent its establishment than to hasten it. Every thing tends toward unity of power, and it requires no small contrivance to maintain divisions of authority.
It was natural, then, that the democratic Revolution, while it destroyed so many of the institutions of the old regime, should retain this one. Nor was centralization so out of place in the social order created by the Revolution that it could not easily be mistaken for one of its fruits.
[Note y, page 79.]how the administrative centralization of the old regime can be best judged in canada.
[Note z, page 80.]an example, chosen at haphazard, of the general regulations which the council of state was in the habit of making for the whole of france, and by which it created special misdemeanors of which the government courts had sole cognizance.