Front Page Titles (by Subject) 98.: THE PROSPECTS OF FRANCE EXAMINER, 10 APR., 1831, PP. 225-6 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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98.: THE PROSPECTS OF FRANCE EXAMINER, 10 APR., 1831, PP. 225-6 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE PROSPECTS OF FRANCE
Though similar in title to the series “Prospects of France” (beginning with No. 44), this article is distinct from it. Mill was concerned now to defend the Revolution of 1830 from accusations that it had not lived up to the expectations of its supporters (a problem that was to recur in Britain after the Reform Act of 1832). The article, the first in the “Political Examiner,” is headed as title. Unlike the earlier series of articles, which were all signed “S—.”, this is unsigned. Described in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘The Prospects of France,’ in the Examiner of 10th April 1831” (MacMinn, p. 15), the item is listed as “Prospects of France” and enclosed in square brackets in the Somerville College set; though not within the square brackets, the epigraph is here included.
the situation of france at present is extremely critical, and it is of the utmost importance that it should be rightly understood.
It is not to be denied that, up to this moment, the Revolution of 1830 has brought forth none but bitter fruits;—the ruin of hundreds of opulent families; thousands of industrious workmen thrown out of employment; perpetual apprehension of internal tumults or foreign war; the most grievous disappointments; the most violent political dissensions; and, finally, a Government not more democratic in its constitution—not more popular in its spirit—and, by the necessity of its false position, not less oppressive and anti-national in its acts, than that of Charles X. Seeing this, the enemies of free institutions throughout Europe insultingly exclaim, “What has France gained by her Revolution?” and men look grave, and dilate on the fresh example now afforded of the miseries inevitably attendant even on the most legitimate and best-conducted popular insurrections.
To all this, the answer is, that the circumstances of France and the character of the French nation are grievously mistaken, if it is imagined that the people of France made their Revolution under the conception that it was a thing to gain by. There is no country, probably, in the world, where the evils of a popular convulsion are more highly estimated, or more nervously dreaded, than in France. Can it be otherwise, after the events of the last forty years? It is well known that evils with which we are only acquainted through description, and by means of general terms, scarcely ever affect our imagination with the same proportionate force with which they influence our reason. There are, probably, very few persons in Great Britain who are not convinced that a convulsion in our own country, with its enormous masses of indigent intelligence, and its utter absence of individual sympathies binding together the high and the low, would be a far more terrible catastrophe than a Revolution in France. There are few of us, moreover, who are not convinced in our understandings, that such an event is upon the cards; and yet, so little is the thought, or its attendant emotions, familiar to us—so little are we used to contemplate a Revolution at home as in the category of possible phenomena—that our reason only, not our imagination, believes in the possibility; and we eat, drink, and sleep, with our accustomed regularity, and perform all the round of daily occupations with our wonted tranquillity, knowing and saying all the while, that we are on the brink of an abyss. But such is by no means the case in France. There, even in the midst of that exemplary populace, the “people of property” lock up their strong boxes at every knocking at the door, and hear the roar of anarchy and devastation in every breeze. “The burnt child dreads the fire,” is an every-day truth; but there is an Italian proverb still more accurately suited to their case—“The scalded dog fears cold water.”
L’ordre public in France is a talismanic expression,2 which has power not only to raise, but to charm down the most potent spirits. And it is as much in the interest of one as the other of the two rival idols, Order and Liberty, that the hommes du mouvement3 protest against the “lame and impotent conclusion”4 which the Stationaries are desirous of putting to the Revolution of July.
The Stationaries had nothing to do with the Revolution of July. Not one name of note in their ranks was allowed by its owner to be compromised until the struggle was over. The same terror which now rouses them, then paralysed them. They disliked the late Government—they disliked the Ordinances5 —but they dreaded the people, and the leaders of the people, far more. The Revolution was the work exclusively of the hommes du mouvement; of those with whom the Government which has emanated from the Revolution is at open war. And why of them, and them alone? Not because they were what is absurdly called Revolutionists; as if there were, or ever had been, since the first institution of Governments, any human being who was a Revolutionist. No; but because they alone united a wish for good government, with courage to brave the necessary dangers of the struggle for it; because all the professed Liberals, them alone excepted, were either too lukewarm in their patriotism to be inclined to make any sacrifice for obtaining or preserving free institutions, or else had the misfortune to labour under a panic terror of democracy, which made them tremble at the idea of calling forth the mass of the population to contend against the common enemy. The same lukewarmness, or the same timidity, renders the same men the upholders and instigators of the present Government in its deplorable system of statu quo. Under their guidance, the Government has made an enemy of every man in France, who either stirred, or would have dared to stir, a finger or a foot to place that Government where it is.
But what better is to be looked for, when it is assumed as the fundamental principle of politics, that government exists, not to protect men’s persons and property, and to forward their advancement in civilization, but to uphold a hereditary monarchy; and that to this end all progressive and gradual extension of popular rights is to be avoided, lest in the end it should prove to be a step towards republicanism? Louis Philippe cannot forget that those who desire that the present narrow oligarchy of electors should be widened, are headed by men who believe that a constitutional monarchy, though desirable for France at present, and for a long time to come, is at the best no more than a means of transition, to educate the people for a republic. It is in vain that these very leaders—when they were strong and he was weak—when they might have assumed the government, instead of resigning it to him—magnanimously sacrificed their private and speculative opinions, and consented to accept such a monarchical constitution as should be compatible with the progressive improvement which had been the aim of their whole lives. Louis Philippe, like other kings, made his option in favour of those who were attached to monarchy as an end, not a means, or who were ready to attach themselves to any established government; and, by a natural consequence, his throne is now surrounded almost exclusively by the hired supporters of every government which would pay them—the timid supporters of every government as long as it will stand—and some whose virtue, having never before been assailed by any powerful seductions, wore a goodly appearance, but who have surrendered the citadel at the first summons—have eaten up their words—have broken with their friends and with their principles, and proclaimed themselves in the face of Europe guilty of tergiversation so shameless, as might surprise and grieve their bitterest enemy.
The aversion of the new oligarchy to improvement, is not confined to constitutional changes. If we are truly informed, they do not seek to disguise, either in public or in private, the coldness with which they look upon all aspirations for benefitting mankind on a large scale, or for the further advancement of civilization; but especially for improving the condition of the most numerous and poorest class—a class which, according to them, is as well off as nature and the constitution of society permit it to be, and has no business to be dissatisfied while their property is secure, and they have the disposal of the taxes. Every one, moreover, who reads their parliamentary debates, must perceive that personality and intemperance in discussion are nearly confined to the moderates, who have been most justly, as well as cleverly, called des hommes furieux de modération.6 Their opponents have far too much good sense and magnanimity to retaliate; and whoever wishes for examples of that kind of oratory, in which both what is said, and the manner of saying it, indicates the greatest and the truest moderation, should read the speeches of MM. Mauguin and Odilon Barrot, in the recent debate on the Patriotic Associations.7
It is unfortunate in a thousand ways for all Europe, that the question of peace and war should have come at this moment to complicate the difficulties of the present position of France, to place the popular party, in the estimation of many who would otherwise have sympathized with them, manifestly in the wrong, and to expose all that has been gained, and all that might hereafter have been gained, to new and countless hazards.8 The defeat of France would stop the march of civilization for another half century: successful she could not be, in less than three or four campaigns; in that time, the ignominy of invasion, and the inevitable horrors of war and devastation, would again rouse the national antipathies which a peace of unusual length has so greatly mitigated; while, instead of soldier-citizens, five hundred thousand military ruffians, demoralized and brutalized like those of Napoleon, might once more overspread Europe, and after enslaving foreign countries under the forms of liberty, might return prepared to be the tools of any new usurper in inflicting still worse slavery upon their own.
We must be just, however, to what is called (incorrectly) the war party in France. They do not advocate a crusade for liberty, or a war of propagandism. They know well that the improvement of a nation is not advanced, but retarded, by popular institutions imposed upon it by foreign force. It is not in the power of any one to affirm, with probability, that a nation would be benefitted by a constitutional government, until it puts forth its strength and seizes one; for, whatever be the forms of a government—unless it be vigorously upheld by a preponderance of the physical and intellectual strength of the nation itself, sufficient to overmatch all domestic attempts at its overthrow, it must, as the condition of its existence, be carried on, substantially, in the spirit and with the machinery of a despotism. The so-called war party have not the folly to think of quixotizing through all Europe, giving liberty to nations by the sword. But they say that when a nation has put itself in motion—when it has shown itself eager for liberal institutions, and ripe for them, by subverting all domestic opposition, vanquishing the strength of an established Government, and giving itself, by its own strength, without foreign aid, a constitution more favourable to the progress of civilization,—that then no one ought to be permitted to rush down upon it with the overpowering strength of another nation not equally advanced, not equally prepared for an improvement in its government, and overwhelm a united people by superiority of brute force. They say that non-intervention by one nation in the affairs of another should be laid down by France as an inflexible rule, which she should herself observe, and of which she should enforce the observance on all other Governments. And this, they assert, is the true interest of France herself; and it is in this view mainly, we may say solely, that they contend for it.
The existence, they say, in France, of a government founded on popular will, and established on the ruins of legitimacy and divine right, must necessarily give an impulse to the democratic spirit throughout Europe, by which, if not restrained, the thrones of all absolute monarchs will be every year more and more undermined, and, in no long period, certainly overthrown. The reason and the instinct of those monarchs will therefore join in indicating to them as the sole chance of saving their existence as despots, to extinguish the spirit of liberalism in France. The consequent struggle, the French are aware, will be an arduous and a perilous one: but those, at least, who are called the war-party, believe it to be as inevitable as was the still more terrific struggle in 1792. In this contest they would have for their natural allies the people of every country in Europe which aspires to free institutions. But what, they ask, will be our situation, if we allow all to whom we might appeal in the hour of need to be crushed, one after another, not by their own governments, but by the armies of foreign despots; who will then have no enemy but us, and who, after keeping us for an indefinite period in perpetual agitation, and a state of habitual preparation for war, implying most of the evils of actual war, without its advantages, will seize the first favourable moment for pouring their troops across our frontiers, and reducing us to the necessity of fighting for our very existence at our own doors, and on our own soil? It is therefore that Lafayette, and the numerous body whose opinions he represents, contend for the enforcement, by arms, if necessary, of the principle of non-intervention.9
And if France had been a united nation, headed by a government which could trust the people, which the people trusted, and which was able and dared to call forth the national enthusiasm, this would have been the true policy of France, and its almost infallible result would have been not war but peace. When France declared that the entry of foreign troops into Belgium would be considered a declaration of war, all Europe applauded, and the Cabinets reluctantly acquiesced. Yet France was then almost without an army, and many of her frontier fortresses were in a state almost incapable of defence. But the imposing unanimity which reigned in the July revolution, struck terror into the Powers, and they feared to stir. It is Louis Philippe, and his Chambers, that have marred this glorious position. It is they who, by placing themselves in a state of hostility against the spirit of the nation, have destroyed the préstiges of its power, and impressed the despotic governments with the gratifying assurance that it has too much upon its hands at home to be formidable abroad. This being the melancholy fact, the attempt to enforce non-intervention against Austria in the case of the Papal states would probably lead to war; and the co-operation of such a spiritless people as that of Romagna, in case of future hostilities, is so little worth, that it would be unwise in France to accelerate such a calamity in order to save them. Her policy now is to throw her shield over Belgium and Switzerland;10 leave events in other countries to take their course; and, if war is coming, wait till it comes.
[1 ]William Cowper (1731-1800), The Task: A Poem in Six Books (London: Johnson, 1785), pp. 190-1 (V, 187-92).
[2 ]See, e.g., Louis Philippe, Proclamation du roi (15 Aug.), Moniteur, 1830, p. 907.
[3 ]There had developed in France two groups, commonly referred to as “les hommes du mouvement” and “les hommes de la résistance”; the former wished for more democratizing reforms including, for many, the establishment of a republic, and the latter were for consolidating the present situation. Both, in Mill’s view, were acting in the name of law and order.
[4 ]William Shakespeare, Othello, II, i, 161; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 1213.
[5 ]See No. 44.
[6 ]Lafayette, Speech on the Events of 14 Feb. (20 Feb.), Moniteur, 1831, p. 358.
[7 ]For Mauguin’s speech of 29 Mar., see ibid., pp. 659-60; for Odilon Barrot’s of 30 Mar., see ibid., pp. 669-70. In those uncertain times, many had joined extra-governmental associations for the protection of France from disorder and foreign intervention. On 19 Mar., the Government had ordered office holders to resign from l’Association Nationale, one of the most important, and was attempting to dissolve them all on the grounds that they were no longer necessary and were usurping the Government’s responsibilities.
[8 ]The popular party in France were belligerently demanding that France send troops to protect both Belgium against the Dutch and the East European powers, and the Italian states against the Austrians.
[9 ]See, e.g., Lafayette’s Speech on External Affairs (28 Jan.), Moniteur, 1831, pp. 193-4.
[10 ]In the spreading enthusiasm of 1830, several Swiss cantons had elected reformist governments, and liberals and radicals alike were campaigning for a federal state, which they thought would be more progressive than the existing federation of states.