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V: The Age of Revolution - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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The Age of Revolution
Introduction to the History of the Age of Revolution
(I) [November 6, 1867.] The time at which this course of lectures is given modifies it each time, for it is unlike any other course. It concerns itself with the beginning of that which is still active and will continue to be so, with that world age whose further development we do not know as yet. At this very moment events are being shaped, and on the horizon, in the near or distant future, there is a great European war as a consequence of everything that has gone before.
That is why in this case objectivity of presentation is even more dubious than usual. And yet the man who presents this age must give a general account from his vantage point.
The lack of judgment which contents itself with assigning to each individual moment of the revolution its relative raison d’être as an evolutionary stage is shallow and inadequate. For, in the first place, not everything is necessary by any means, but many things are accidental and personal doings, and secondly, the worst judgment is easily substituted for the supposed absence of judgment, namely, the approval of the fait accompli, the succès.
Above all, the revolution has had results which now completely shape us and constitute an integral part of our feeling for justice and our conscience—things, therefore, that we can no longer separate from ourselves.
All previous situations involved states in which the nobility and clergy were organized as class forces only here and there, to be sure, but enjoyed the greatest personal privileges, tax immunity, exclusive eligibility for higher offices, and great real property which was tied up in estates subject to mortmain and entail—states in which industry was exploited by the government and frequently bureaucratized in the most senseless manner, in which state religions with exclusive rights at best tolerated those holding different beliefs, and a show of unity of faith was preserved as far as possible.
On the other hand, these were the results of the revolution:
Complete equality before the law, including more or less equal eligibility for offices, taxation, and inheritance.
Complete or almost complete disposability of real property, with mortmain and entail greatly reduced.
Freedom of industry, theoretical conviction of the harmfulness of any state interference; enormous increase of the science of economics; the necessity of industry’s counsel for the state; enormous increase of material civilization, bound up with rapid exploitation of the earth’s surface.
Equality of religions, no longer merely of the Christian creeds, through the creation of tolerant states with a paid clergy, and state indifference; further, a tendency toward separation of church and state, with complete dominion of the latter over the former.
Beginnings of absolute political equality; the examples of America and Switzerland as more developed democracies; universal suffrage in several places; also, general standardization.
However, it is doubtful whether the world has on the average become happier for all this. The two components of happiness are the conditions themselves and the degree of satisfaction with them.
The chief phenomenon of our days is the sense of the provisional. In addition to the uncertainty of each individual’s fate we are confronted with a colossal problem of existence whose elements must be viewed separately and as new consequences and tendencies arisen from the revolution. These are the following:
THE NEW CONCEPT OF THE STATE
This is not the philosophical concept (Hegel!) which would pass the state off as the realization of morality on earth, something that is not the business of the state but of society, whereas the state is, after all, only a protective shield. Rather, it is here a question of the new concept of the extent of the state’s power.
In the preceding century, sultanic despotism had reigned to the extent that it was able to prevail against privilege. In the crevices there nested all sorts of special existences.
Then came the revolution and unfettered, first, all ideals and aspirations, then all passion and selfishness. It inherited and practiced a despotism which will serve as a model for all despotisms for all eternity. Another essential feature of it was the secularization of the church. Part of this general process was a lawless centralization which had arisen in a time of “danger to the fatherland.” This centralization has existed in complete form even in the monarchies only since the revolution, having been created partly for purposes of defense, partly as an imitation.
The concept of equality is a two-edged one here. It turns into the abdication of the individual, because the more universal any possession is, the fewer individual defenders it finds. Once people have become accustomed to the state as the sole guardian of rights and public welfare, even the will to decentralization no longer helps. Governments no longer entrust their provinces, cities, and other individual forces with any real matters of power, but turn over to them only those trials and tribulations which the governments absolutely can no longer cope with—something that the smaller units hardly desire. In general, despite all the talk about freedom, peoples and governments demand unlimited state power internally.
The Revolution left France in a condition for which at first a cure was sought in world conquest; then, after a deep humiliation, the country was filled with nothing but demands and accusations. Coupled with the complete extinction of the awareness of constitutional and international law, this condition pressed toward periodic revolutions, in consequence of which Europe is again imperiled, up to the sudden shift of 1870. But the others have also learned how to threaten, and governments and peoples agree on the necessity of being powerful toward the outside.
The consequences of this international situation are an immeasurable increase of militarism (since Frederick the Great there have been huge standing armies, usable at home as well as abroad) and also a colossal increase in state debts, which is in striking contrast with the general mania for money-making and the desire for high living. What is perpetrated thereby is then called cabinet and dynastic despotism, but soon also acquires the name of great national necessity.
To what extent are the dynasties still in control, to what extent only the managers and messenger boys of mass movements? They devour or drive out their own kind, their cousins and other relatives, as soon as the moment impels them to! And dispossessed sovereigns then trade their claims for sums of money or pensions. The feeling of divine right has deserted the governments—and how should the belief in it still be present in the feelings of the people! Belief in invisible, immemorial foundations of existence, politico-religious mysticism is gone. The dynasties will come to an end, if only because only special talents will be needed. Would adopting heirs help? Our sympathy for the elective empires of past times is foolish, while all Europe is drifting toward something similar, whether it be special personalities or adoptions or something else, when people will not even be able to vote any longer!
In the end the people believe that if the state power were completely in their hands they could fashion a new existence with it.
But in between occurs long, voluntary servitude under individual leaders and usurpers; people no longer believe in principles, but from time to time they do believe in saviors. A new possibility of long despotism over weary people presents itself again and again.
RELATIONSHIP TO THE NATIONALITIES
The Revolution and its wars first summoned the French, then other nationalities as well, to activity in love and hatred, stirring them out of dismemberment and separate territorial life or at least to keener national consciousness, if the nation was already united.
Reflective thought might reply that common nationality by descent and language was something long since outmoded. The French Enlightenment and later the French Revolution talked very big about “humanity,” and there was also a refined “cosmopolitanism.” Or it might reply that culture, which was European, and the community of experiences, interests, and aspirations were a stronger bond, and that not nationality, but a healthy state was the homeland and lord of the emotions.
However, in unhealthy situations botched by parliaments one falls back on his descent and language as a saving solution of the intolerable, until one finally gets his way, without his being better off for it than before.
Then, too, where power already exists, nationality is used as a further means of agglomeration. (Or a revolutionary party uses the desire for reuniting the nationality as chicanery, like the Italian irredentists.) Princes and peoples are agreed on this. Resistance is hated. Foreign elements already under one’s power are crushed. The imminent eradication of the German element in the Baltic provinces is a popular notion in Russia.
Since the revolution, and despite the interim of thirty-three years, people have become accustomed to every conceivable change in their boundaries.
The crusades and the Reformation are well known as earlier eras in which an intellectual atmosphere dominated an entire people, not just particular classes. But the revolution exerts such a dominance in a far different sense; since the revolution this control has been permanent, and in this there has been a European solidarity. Here the fluctuations are enormous, and they are the more contagious the greater the increase in the rapidity of all communication and in the homogeneity of European culture and the daily press. The latter is by far the predominant—indeed, almost the only—reading matter of entire classes and countries. The great experience of 1789 was that public opinion forms and transforms the world—once the traditional powers were too weak to prevent it and once they started to make deals with individual currents in the stream of public opinion.
In all matters of high significance, division into parties and the corresponding double theory now run through all European peoples. Public opinion, i.e., the passion of entire peoples, is indeed irresistible.
But the real success of the press today lies more in the leveling of views than in its immediate effect. What is recommended and demanded most loudly and most generally is often the last thing to happen. For, at times the press screams so loudly for the very reason that people are no longer listening. Some of the opponents may be people who do not read newspapers anyway. Then there is the public opinion fabricated by those in control and by small parties, a venal press, and the like. The rulers, on the whole, are much less uneasy, let the boldest remarks pass because they are ineffective, and completely forgo censorship in the old style, although they do reserve sudden indirect action. (Since then they have again become much more uneasy. After all, public opinion can descend to the street overnight and turn into an uproar.) Meanwhile, the rulers have discovered the true counterpoise of the press:
BUSINESS AND COMMUNICATION
As soon as the great wars were over, the example of England caught on. Since 1815 a progressive industrialization of the world has been taking place, beside which the great landholdings recede completely. Machine labor has far outdistanced all older techniques; capital is accumulated for the building of factories, human masses for their operation; at the same time credit is enormously expanded. Machines are also used in large-scale farming. The railroads, steamships, and telegraphy place themselves in the service of communication. All goods can travel far; a European adjustment comes about; all local character of production ceases where it is not a question of immediate consumption of the products of the area concerned. Added to this are, finally, commerce, speculation, and, later, gain from stocks and securities. Money becomes and remains the great measure of things, poverty the greatest vice. Money is the successor to birth, but it is more equitable than the latter, because it does not remain long with incompetent heirs.
Intellect and culture are appreciated, to be sure. But literature has unfortunately become an industry as well in most cases. Alongside it, the literature of the eighteenth century appears all to be written with the heart’s blood. Today very few things are still produced out of inner necessity. The raison d’être of the vast majority of creations is the honorarium or the hope for a position. The most famous writer is the one most likely to turn manufacturer. As for scholarship, popularizing for payment overtops even the tremendous amount of research.
Hurry and worry are spoiling life. Through universal competition everything is forced to the greatest speed and struggle for minimal differences.
But at the same time, through the influence of big cities, there arises the mania for getting rich quick, l’amour du million, because this simply is the measure of existence. A naive concession to this may be noticed everywhere. “Respectable living” is jacked up to the point where it is hard to afford; at least the semblance of wealth is required. Cheating of all kinds is inseparable from these phenomena and conditions.
In any time of crisis a lot of card houses collapse. But those who are unable to establish themselves and get rich, as in 1849–1853, lament pitifully [since then the crash of 1873 and its consequences]. If those times had continued, the most terrible crises would now be here because of mere cheating and overproduction; for experience teaches us that people do not restrain themselves. [This subsequently happened in 1871–1872 and was punished in 1873.]
And all this takes place while fermentation from below penetrates over and over again, something that is currently, e.g., terrorizing all of propertied England (and since then other countries as well); while people have no scruples whatever about changes of any kind, something to which the French Revolution has accustomed mankind, particularly the malcontents. At the same time there is utter uncertainty as to the legal limits of majority decisions, while the darkest clouds move up. The great continental war which must destroy all weaker state structures would in any case entail the influx of the great social problem which would appear all by itself with the cessation of industry and credit. [This has happened, but quite differently from what we expected; France went through it with the Commune of 1871; elsewhere the illness remains in the body as a creeping one.]
Here things depend on how well our generation can stand the test. Times of terror and profoundest misery may come. We should like to know on which wave in the ocean we are floating, but we ourselves are the wave.
However, mankind is as yet not destined for downfall, and Nature is creating as graciously as ever.
However, if in misfortune there is to be some fortune as well, it can only be a spiritual one, facing backward to the rescue of the culture of earlier times, facing forward to the serene and unwearied representation of the spirit in a time which could otherwise be given up entirely to things mundane.
(III)* [November 6, 1871.] In regard to the name of this course it may be remarked that actually everything up to our day is fundamentally nothing but an age of revolution, and perhaps we are, relatively speaking, only at the beginning or in the second act. For those three apparently calm decades from 1815 to 1848 have turned out to be a mere entracte in the great drama. But this seems about to become one movement which is antithetical to all the known past of our globe.
To be sure, in those three decades in which we were born and grew up it was possible to believe that the revolution was something completed, which therefore might be described objectively. People also believed—and the high point of these illusions was the spirit of 1830— that they possessed the bridge between the old and the new in the form of the constitutional monarchy. A few “achievements” spread more and more homogeneously throughout Europe, albeit in part only as something sought after, and were regarded as “benefits” of the French Revolution. These were: equality before the law, equality of taxes and division of inheritance, equal eligibility for offices; disposability of real property, reduction of mortmain and entail, as well as a more productive cultivation of the soil, with a quicker exhaustion to a certain extent; freedom of industry, dominance by business and communications; fixed capital overtaken by liquid capital and itself made liquid; equal rights of denominations, something that has become inevitable especially in quite mixed states; in places, state domination of the church, also a tendency toward separation of the two; a great influence of public opinion on all events; widespread currents of public opinion transcending anything national; the modern press.
At that time appeared those books, well written even though not classic, which tried to present a general view of the years 1789 to 1815, as of a completed age—not impartial, to be sure, but trying to be fair and quietly convincing.
Now, however, we know that the very same tempest which has shaken humanity since 1789 bears us onward, too. We can asseverate our impartiality in good faith and yet unconsciously be caught up in extreme partiality.
But in any case, the period 1789 to 1815, with its preliminaries dating from the middle of the eighteenth century (the Enlightenment, the beginnings of reform by governments), constitutes a kind of self-contained whole for practical consideration, with at least the facts and their causes passably well established.
If one wanted to proceed strictly, history itself, from its beginnings, would be only a very dubious source of pure knowledge, because even to its earliest reports sympathies and antipathies of the present can attach themselves every time. Even with ancient Greek and Roman history, with Egypt and Assyria, one can completely lapse into partisanship and interweave jabs at the present.
But let us nevertheless venture the academic presentation of that first period of our present revolutionary world age. A good scholarly justification for this would lie in the facts that so many figures and events of that time have had a typical significance for subsequent developments and that the ritual and imitation of the first French Revolution are an element of the present movement and thus necessary for its understanding, if only historically.
(II) [November 1, 1869.] First we encounter the period of reform from above, with its enlightened rulers and ministers. At that time a public opinion is coming into being, guided by an important literature and poetry, partly negative, partly imaginatively positive, which proceeded from the premise of the goodness of human nature. It is a public opinion which, for the time being, still expects everything to come from above. But a great external event, the liberation of the North American colonies from England, appears as the general prototype of all emancipation. At the same time the important constitutional fights in England itself work in this direction.
But the great despotic reformers are at the same time revolutionaries, to the extent that they are annexers and conquerors; thus Frederick II, Joseph II, and Catherine II. The first great example of the confiscation of an entire country and people is Poland.
Then, on the occasion of a profound financial upheaval, the French crown calls on the already fermenting nation for counsel. All ideals and desires explode in the cahiers which are unique of their kind. This is still the time of visionary hopes, which afterwards returned only for brief moments, and this mood also radiates over Europe.
In the Assembly itself there is a quick turning against the king. Immediately all organs of the old state structure dissolve themselves; anarchie spontanée sets in. Any agreement between the old concept of power with its methods and the new attempt at a people’s government, an agreement from which the establishment of general happiness is demanded and expected, becomes utterly impossible. Human rights are the great moving force which speaks not only for France, but for the world. The two camps must be regarded not as two contending legal parties, but only as two phenomena.
Now there appears the rift in the alleged goodness of human nature. Its engineers are J. P. Marat and suspicion, which was at first directed against the king and the royalists (émigrés), then against all who are not unqualified members of one’s own party. The most dangerous elements of Paris assume the helm of the Revolution. Paris becomes fatally significant, much more so than Rome at the time of the Civil Wars. Rage acts out of fright. The Parisian spirit takes the leadership in the existing state of anarchy; Paris prescribes not only action, but thought as well.
The September massacres may be regarded as the real beginning of the Terror. The foreign war started and waged by France is countered by the Prussian campaign directed at the Champagne and by the subsequent Wars of the Coalition, which keep alive the feeling on which the government of terror subsists. Meanwhile, at home, the government carries out its executions against federalism. The Terror turns from the royalists to the comrades, as it turned in the Spanish Inquisition from the Jews and Moors to the Spaniards.
The Revolution now passes through the characteristic phases with a regularity and rapidity unmatched by any other revolution. It presents by far the most complete picture of a revolution in a very cultured period with all the illustrations one could wish for from the arts and literature.
And since foreign invasion is staved off with relative ease, due to the most vehement internal dissension among the Coalition, France has time during all the Terror to grow a new skin; after Thermidor it is plain to see.
There is a new society, a lot of new property owners who desire no class privileges whatever, in fact, hardly any political rights, and would only be embarrassed by any sort of association; a lot of released manpower is available. All these elements desire only peace and security. The concept of property has outlasted all other principles and values. The difference is that, for the most part, it is in new hands.
The Directory tries to keep the surviving participants of the Revolution in power and honor, without the principles of the Revolution in which hardly anyone believes any longer. Financially it makes shift by founding and plundering so-called daughter republics, and, politically, by reverting to terror in any straits. But in the meantime militarism grows, too. However, since the generals are no longer beheaded, but allowed to become ever more famous and powerful, Napoleon seizes power on the 18th Brumaire.
His is the most instructive type of Caesarism. He is, at the same time, the savior of the new French society and a world conqueror. People would have settled for a much lesser man.
Internally a complete taming takes place. Fourteen years of mute obedience follow; the government and the legislation become national. This Napoleonic state has a great significance as a model for other European states. The Revolution had centralized almost exclusively by destruction. This state added order and a purposeful organism.
Abroad, Napoleon is a terrorist, of the school of 1793–1794. And yet he may be the foremost general of all time. With utter moral unscrupulousness he has at his command the greatest military ability.
It is his mission to trample the peoples down for the time being, but at the same time to awaken in them all their future strength, in part by using and training them, in part by enraging them.
The peace with England, which has scarcely been concluded, he breaks after one year; he gains ground in Italy, Switzerland, and Holland.
He sets up his empire, and, after threatening England, he wages war against the Third Coalition which he encounters for the first time at Austerlitz. Then comes the move against Prussia, which has unhappily remained neutral, and against Russia; the great chapters in this conflict are Jena, Eylau, Friedland, and Tilsit. But henceforth England remains the chief adversary; Napoleon plans a stand-up battle, but after Trafalgar he has to content himself with an indirect one.
It is impossible for Napoleon to pause in this course. The peaceful submission of other states no longer suffices him, because, as long as there is an England, they could still come under its influence; hence the Spanish war. The latter is used by Austria to break away; for this Austria is again crushed, although this time with more difficulty.
The tragedy of Napoleon lies in the fact that the politician carries on in such a way that the military commander can no longer keep pace. Napoleon is incapable of making out of those conquered anything but subjects or vassals, of somehow gaining them as allies through reconciliation. By this he provokes a profound inner revolt of the peoples, who thereby really get to know themselves for the first time and put up with the greatest inner transformations, as, e.g., Prussia after 1808.
The goal which is apparently beckoning from near at hand becomes the overthrow of England, with which he fights for power in such a way that his sphere and the English one are two worlds completely apart. Once he can force Russia to let French customs officers officiate in St. Petersburg, England must give way.
Making his way over the snarling peoples of Europe, with overtaxed resources, he undertakes the Russian campaign and finally there follows the colossal three-year judgment. Its main significance is the fact that a new order of states is brought about, not, perhaps, through the sudden death of Napoleon and an agreement among the governments, but amidst the very greatest national excitement of the peoples, especially in Germany, Russia, Spain, and England. In this way peoples which have been aroused by the French Revolution and the Wars of Liberation never again go to sleep, despite all their need for rest, and henceforth have a different standard for their whole existence and will never be satisfied with the said new political order.
From this there follows as a main consequence the spirit of eternal revision. Napoleon himself had temporarily held this spirit in check: “J’ai conjuré le terrible esprit de nouveauté qui parcourait le monde” [I have mastered the terrible spirit of novelty which was running loose in the world].
(IV) [November 6, 1871.] During the following three relatively peaceful decades the great new storms are clearly getting ready, in accordance with the most profound principle of the revolution, one which differentiates it from all earlier such events: eternal revision, or, rather, revolution.
The decisive new thing that has come into the world through the French Revolution is the permission and the will to change things, with public welfare as the goal. This new thing manifests itself in the equality which here places the decision for change in the hands of universal, or at least very extensive, suffrage. From this there results a change in all forms as soon as a new content makes itself felt.
Therefore state power has since then been present either only qualifiedly, constantly endangered by the desire for revision, or as a despotic reaction with a breaking down of political forms.
Power is theoretically nowhere a hereditary jus quaesitum [sought-after right] any more. Hence, if the moment does require its existence, it is produced temporarily through a coup d’état.
Universal suffrage is the logical antithesis to divine right and the old authority. The revolution proclaimed it and falsified it almost from the beginning. Its limits are indefinite. Created for elections, it can be extended to all matters of state and finally any desired sphere of existence. In the end one would arrive at the communal will of a beehive or an ant heap.
All political freedom before universal suffrage is specifically different from that after it. Even in England it was confined to a limited number of voters. Only political freedom after universal suffrage, based on the theory of equality, possesses or arrogates to itself the authority for eternal revision. Only since then have constitutions constantly been in question and the form of state been subject to constant change.
Equality and participation in the government through universal suffrage have become equivalent ideas (until, perhaps, one day some despotism will show us that there can be equality before it as well).
The driving force in all this is a great optimistic will which has suffused the times since the middle of the eighteenth century. The premise is the goodness of human nature, which, however, is a mixture of good and evil. That optimistic will hopes that changes will bring about an increasing and definitive well-being and in every crisis believes it to be quite close at hand, like a mountain height in a warm, dry wind. One nation, class, level of culture after another has been gripped by it and has believed that once what was desirable for it was achieved, the world could stand still for a while. People did not suspect that their own desiring gave all others, present and future, a right to want things also. People were too ready to forget how far Rousseau had already set the goal with his talk about the “genre humain” which could be made uniformly happy through a return to simple, ideal conditions. But the overwhelming majority of the desires are material in nature, no matter how they may disguise themselves as ideal, for by far the greatest number of people have no other conception of happiness. Yet material desires are in themselves absolutely insatiable, and even if they were continually gratified, then they would be all the more insatiable.
Idealistic minds, to be sure, let their desires and fantasies batten upon a radiant vision of the future in which the spiritual would be reconciled with the material, religion, thought, and life would be one, there would be no dichotomy between duty and inclination, and an epicurean life and morality would be compatible—and all this in the highest sense, with everything being all knowledge and yet simultaneously all beautifully figured. Actually, to date only culture has increased, while human goodness has not, and happiness has certainly not. For happiness depends on two things: the conditions themselves and the degree of satisfaction with them.
It is conceivable that a shifting of that optimism to pessimism may take place, such as already happened at the end of antiquity, and there are isolated indications of this; but the “whether” and the “how soon” remain in doubt.
Schopenhauer adds his voice to the political pro and con and speaks of the misery of this world, which had better not exist at all.
And Darwin’s theory of the struggle for existence in Nature is now applied more and more to human life and history as well. That struggle has always been present, but with the slowness of political, national, and industrial life it has been far less perceptible; now, however, it is terribly alive and is accelerated by national wars and deadly industrial competition.
It is also possible that by this blind will to change (which prevalent optimism superficially terms “progress,” as well as culture, civilization, enlightenment, development, morality, and other things) there is intended something permanent (that is, relatively so), that something stronger and higher is exerting some will in and with us. Some future time, historically surveying this our century of crisis as a whole, may then realize this, while at the same time it may be as blind about its own life and actions as we are about ours.
(It is a moot question how long our planet may still tolerate organic life and how soon its solidification, the exhaustion of carbonic acid and of water, will be coupled with the disappearance of tellurian mankind.)
Our task, in lieu of all wishing, is to free ourselves as much as possible from foolish joys and fears and to apply ourselves above all to the understanding of historical development. To be sure, as stated above, the age of revolution makes this objective understanding the most difficult for us. As soon as we become aware of our position, we find ourselves on a more or less defective ship which is drifting along on one wave among millions. But one could also say that we ourselves are, in part, this wave.
But with some effort a serious interest may be taken.
These are epochs, countries, groups, movements, and individuals in which some specific spirit and a force and passion applied to it manifest themselves eloquently and by turns as instructive and as tempestuously moving. Out of the jumble and confusion we shall win a spiritual possession; in it we want to find not woe, but wealth.
The age of revolution is particularly most instructive, in contrast to everything older and earlier, on account of the rich mutability of things, the multiformity of modern life as compared to earlier life, the strong change in the pulse beat, and, finally, through the great notoriety of everything connected with it.
From this alone we know (certainly not by our own merits) much more about the general life of humanity than did the greatest minds of a hundred years ago. While their ancestors did not undergo much more than wars, the last three generations have experienced an infinitely greater variety of things, namely, the formulation of new principles for existence, numerous new state formations, rapid changes in all mores, culture, and literature. As a shaking up of life, the age of the Reformation and colonization, for example, is a trifle compared to ours. We even have a knowledge of earlier times which is very different from that of our forefathers, because the age of revolution has opened up to us an appreciation of historical driving forces where our ancestors knew only acting individuals. We now see in the history of all epochs to a much larger extent great waves of necessity and regard the individuals as mere tools.
The two greatest changes are the new significance of nationalities and the new concept of the state in connection with new social programs.
The French, as well as all other nationalities, through both resistance and contagion, became much more conscious of their own selves than they had previously been; especially those whose states were dismembered yearned for an end of their isolated territorial existence and for a communal existence and unfolding of their strength. With such prospects Napoleon I tantalized the Poles and Italians, and they believed him beyond his death. There developed the ideal of a national will which might be able to assert itself outside the country as well as in relation to one’s own ruler. To be sure, in this context belong also the subsequent national wars and their character; militarism is their consequence.
THE STATE IN THE NEWER SENSE
The state is to be coterminous with this nationality, i.e., expand until it encompasses all who speak the same language. Nationality is to serve it as a further means of agglomeration, or vice versa. Foreign elements already within the state are crushed; externally the nationalistic state can never be too powerful or can hardly be powerful enough.
But this applies also internally, and here political and social interests write the most extensive programs for the state, with scarcely compatible contents. On the political side these postulates are made: the greatest freedom of all action and movement, universal voting and decision-making; the national will (no matter how it is determined) is to be the master, the ad hoc organs will turn up; all institutions are to be kept provisional and flexible. The origin of this political program is the theory of revolution, not its practice.
On the social side an all-powerful state is postulated throughout. For it is not expected and hoped for that society will of itself realize the desires concerned, which is the way it really ought to be; that is why these tasks are passed on to the state, which has the necessary means of coercion or will create them on behalf of a pretended universal benefit and thus needs an unprecedented wealth of power. The careerists, however, want to take this omnipotent state in hand and guide it. The origin or, rather, the basis of this social program lies in Caesarism.
The French Revolution was social from its very beginning in 1789. In the rural regions the transfer of property was immediately the driving force without which the peasants would not have participated. Moreover, the persecution or destruction of those property owners who had hitherto been at the same time the holders of official power were also effective here. Added to this was the freedom to postulate all sorts of things, as though the world were a tabula rasa (clean slate) and everything could be enforced through well-devised institutions. Those tendencies were represented theoretically by Saint-Just who, as a consistent follower of Rousseau, wanted to leave only swords and plowshares, and, finally, by Babeuf tagging along behind.
The period after 1815 then took up that development and carried it on. Only now, through the peace, were revealed the consequences of a released colossal real property and an industry hitherto really shackled and only relatively free. With England as the model the age of absolute, ruthless acquisition and communication began (Goethe to Zelter: wealth and speed); modern industry came into being. Beside the national wars there appears national competition which is equally murderous, as well as fights along national strata and class lines—beginning with largescale wheat growing by machines, continuing with the crowding out of household industry and handicraft by large industry and the factory system, mainly producing for mass consumption, then for everything. (Hellwald, Machines and Misery, p. 783. n.b. This is true not merely of transitional periods.)
In the most striking contrast with political equality are misery and physiological deterioration (brain formation). To be sure, misery constitutes “a component of every phase of civilization,” but formerly it was not concentrated and yet politically without a voice. Now it makes a noise; it simply wants to be misery no longer, and we are, after all, in the age of eternal revision.
It is under such circumstances that, alongside all the other proclaimed equalities, the only kind of inequality—but the most sensitive of all—is supposed to maintain itself, namely, the inequality of property—and this precisely when it is most strongly on the increase and the entire middle class obviously on the decline.
Thus socialism with its series of systems appears. It strives to gain control of the state, and at the same time the state tries its hand at social experiments.
As factors intensifying the danger there are the dissolution of the smaller units of living, unrestricted settlement and business establishment, as well as overpopulation—and all this with increasing demands made by the state.
Fortunately our consideration of history is not concerned with the future, unlike certain philosophers, e.g., Herr von Hartmann with his two kinds of prophecies. Soothsaying is dead, to be sure, but it is a fact that our time in general provokes calculations and constructions about the future.
One prophecy (Hartmann, Philosophy of the Unconscious, pp. 348, 351 f.) speaks of the breaking up of the world into republics which together will form a republic of states with common legal protection.
In social respects, Hartmann foresees free association, with uniform organization of production and worldwide marketing, by which the riches of the earth would also grow in much faster progression than now, provided (!) that it is not paralyzed or outdistanced here, too, by the increase in the population. (So here even philosophers can see no connection.) The final goal would be for everyone to lead a comfortable life, one worthy of a human being, with a work schedule allowing sufficient leisure for intellectual improvement. (But then who is to load garbage and perform similar chores?) Materially, man would then have the possibility of finally fulfilling his positive, real mission.
Hartmann’s other prophecy (op. cit., p. 337, esp. 341 f.) is as follows. After colossal self-praise of philosophy and philosophers and other pretty speeches there follows (in connection with Darwin) a vision of the future which may harmonize with the above as best it may (p. 343: this is also where he admits that his perspective is horrible from the eudemonic standpoint). It is the struggle for existence. This, he says, takes place among men according to natural laws as inexorable for men as for animals and plants, i.e., eradication of the inferior races of mankind, of the savages as remnants of arrested developmental stages. To be sure, the faster the whole earth is occupied by the most highly developed races, the whites, the more quickly the fight among the various tribes within the races will break out; because these are far more evenly matched, this fight will be much more terrible, bitter, and prolonged, but all the more beneficial to the progressive “development” of the species (yes indeed! into depraved devils!). According to Hartmann, the form of the struggle does not matter, whether it be war or another form of competition, squeezing dry by commerce, or other methods. Thus the earth will become increasingly the exclusive prize of the most highly developed peoples, which will become ever more civilized. Of course, even within these peoples further development will be able to come about only through a grandiose struggle for existence. (And what about the above-mentioned comfortable life, one worthy of a human being?)
We shall do without such historical decorative endpieces. Instead, we have a request to make of fate—a request for a feeling of duty for what lies before us each time, submission to the inevitable, and, when the great problems of existence confront us, a clear, unambiguous statement of these; finally, a request for as much sunshine in the life of an individual as is necessary to keep him alert for the fulfillment of his duty and his contemplation of the world.
The Period of Reform from Above
Absolutism, which had formerly lived primarily for the enjoyment of its power and its goals of greed, basing itself on divine right, begins to concern itself, as sultanism, with public benefit, or at least pretends to do so, partly in the spirit of great causes, partly as the benevolent father. For this it needs and demands another increase of its power over the privileged classes, including the church, and regional differences and special privileges.
Public opinion had already been set in motion by a French-European, partly negative, partly imaginatively positive literature and poetry and had as its basis equality or at least uniformity. In this it aided absolutism to the extent that it, too, considered that state as the best-ordered in which the privileged classes were allowed mere advantages and had as little corporate power left as possible, where there was the smallest possible number of differences. Poland and Sweden, kingdoms ruled by the nobility, were regarded as the most unhappy countries. According to this view England constituted an exception. At the same time, public opinion increasingly espoused the “Enlightenment” in general, i.e., the abstracting of all primeval and invisible foundations of existence.
The reform had on its side unqualified centralization; the Enlightenment included enmity to everything traditional. The enlightened, i.e., absolutist, state strove for complete inner unity and complete availability of all forces; public opinion strove for the breaking down of all barriers.
Socially, the upper classes were still in high favor everywhere, and only they were eligible for the higher offices in the state and partly in the (Catholic) church as well, but inwardly they were no longer sure of their special privileges and were already strongly affected by the new developments.
If the state now no longer derived its authorization to omnipotence from divine right, but from the concept of public benefit, it inevitably had to run the risk of passing from the hands of the dynasties into other hands. It just did not know yet how close this moment was. Everyone believed himself capable of governing in the spirit of public benefit.
This double origin of the modern state from the complete centralization of power and the Enlightenment has since then been constantly apparent. Thus the political tradition in France is woven together out of the Revolution and Napoleonic despotism.
In keeping with this general state of affairs, Frederick II’s instruction to the General Directory of 1778 reads: “Our interest is identical with that of the people.” In Frederick the Great’s view a prince had long been “le premier serviteur de l’État” [the chief servant of the state] (Testament of 1752?). To be sure, during his regime the “public benefit” is replaced by the concentration of all forces on war and readiness for war, as well as his inevitable and permanent dictatorship. Only a very small part of his nobility were true aristocrats, the overwhelming majority being Junkers.
Absolutism in the North
Gustavus III’s task was to save the country through the overthrow of an oligarchy very similar to the one from which Charles XI in 1681 took the usurped crown lands and rights. Gustavus’ coup d’état was a genuine royal revolution in the name of the whole country against an insolently encroaching part.
In Denmark, on the other hand, there was royal rule in abundance, but a bureaucracy of kinsmen participated in the rule without outside support (here there were no parties of the Caps and Hats, as in Sweden), merely as a matter of custom. The arrogant, vain Struensee, a real professor, strikes into this nest of abuses in the name of Enlightenment and progress and then has to move forward step by step until he is heard panting and is overthrown. His entire story is only of pathological interest, as evidence of the prevailing fever of progress as being equal to rulership in a debased spirit. The monarchy remained about the same after him as it had been before him.
On the North American Revolutionary War
(I) Once the Americans truly believed that America existed for their sake and belonged to them, it did not even take the doctrine of “no taxation without representation” to bring about their revolt as soon as they were strong enough. Actually, however, the moving spirits wanted to break away from England, and the tax business was only the most welcome pretext.
A very characteristic thing was the prolonged preservation of the semblance of legality in the rebellion.
There was a striking disparity between the great personal freedom and political rights of the Americans and their commercial tutelage and exploitation up to that time.
Only one thought is impossible and inconceivable in that period: that England should have given these colonies their freedom without being admonished, on its own initiative. After all, only a short time previously it had triumphantly had new territory in America transferred to it. Too, England might have had to defend these areas at a later time if some other sea power wanted to establish itself there, e.g., the same France that later sided with the colonies.
And so the most powerful politicians and political economists of the world of that time simply had to pay dearly for experience, too.
To be sure, without foreign aid the Americans would initially have been defeated, but hardly for long. And then, the very fact that they found and accepted such foreign aid is a characteristic of people such as they were.
The originally so divergent backgrounds and political and social difference, as well as the non-English, Dutch, and refugee elements, had already been largely smoothed out.
(II) Without French aid and the European naval war North America would certainly have been subjugated. Thereupon the whole political and economic life of England would have had to be oriented toward the permanent suppression of America. England would have become a sort of military state. However, the French Revolution, which would have come anyway, probably would have induced America to rebel again, but presumably so soon that England would have had to take a stand long before 1793 and join the Coalition. Anyway, in England itself the military state would have had to defend itself against a revolution. The America (United States) of 1783 had only one and a half times the population of New York today. It surely had no inkling of its future reciprocal relations with Europe, although people must have known immediately that the successful revolt had a moral meaning for Europe generally. And this state had inscribed into its founding documents the “pursuit of happiness” as an aim of the life of peoples.
Here there exist a state structure and an economic life which are able to keep completely aloof from the contemporary continental zeal for change and so-called reform through their own great political strength and the ability of individuals.
No Montesquieu and no Rousseau could do the slightest harm to the English, and even the influence of the French Revolution was completely rejected at home. After great victorious battles England passed over into the nineteenth century the way it had been before, as the most glorious among all opponents of the Revolution and of France. It goes through its internal crises without outside countries being able to interfere through disturbance or invasion, let alone permanent conquest. Its public opinion rises above the fluctuations and reactions of the Continent’s. Everything is settled on the island.
England had entered modern times, from 1763 on, with high splendor (Peace of Paris) and in general had been almost persistently on the ascendant since the War of the Spanish Succession.
Its upper class possessed in the highest measure the two capacities which the French nobility lacked: through its two parties it was able to govern the kingdom, and at the same time it ran its counties as regards justice, administration, and military command, all without pay.
On Small States
[Regarding German conditions.] Petty princes and counts were especially numerous in the Westphalian, Upper Rhenish, and Franconian areas, and particularly in Swabia, all with little courts and a complete administration in miniature. If they had only contented themselves with being country Junkers! Instead of this there prevailed courtly and military dilettantism. Reforms almost never penetrated there. Contemporaneously with the reformers of the larger states there existed here little Nimrods and peasant baiters, surrounded by adventurers and indulging their mania for governing. The small states all exist only as long as no stronger man lets another stronger man have them.
The small state has meaning and life only if it is a republic, a genuine one, and changes and preserves only as much as is commensurate with its active strength.
On the Dissolution of the Jesuit Order
A curious thing is the anonymity of the entire order in its decline. Did not a single Jesuit once more appear as a personality to face powerful personalities like Pombal and others? In this last hour of the order one misses at least a book which might have made a plea for the order from the viewpoint of power and expediency. [Later addition: Such a book would have availed nothing.] To be sure, there were no later “revelations” either.
The Intellectual Situation Prior to 1789
An essentially materialistic explanation of the world, an equally irreligious doctrine of man’s nature, a hatred for Christianity (and not just for its external embodiment of power, the Catholic church) combine with a growing criticism and scorn of the particular French state system, with the ideal of the constitutional state, with new views of national economy, and cross and coincide in part with a doctrine of the goodness of human nature in its supposed natural state, with the drive toward a radical change in mores as well as in the state. All this, in all its phases, is conveyed by an irresistible literature which beyond France sweeps Europe away.
There is a general susceptibility to contagion. The need for emotion has been aroused and exists, with compassion and a feeling of virtue being especially required for it. It becomes the fashion to trace the psyche of one’s fellow men; the great document of this is Lavater’s work on physiognomy.
The need for emotion in the direction of visionary enthusiasm and enlightenment is exploited in Europe outside of France by secret societies, in France itself by miracle-workers and charlatans.
A general victorious and reassuring feeling predominates, one which is fed by the great travels, nature descriptions, and discoveries in the natural sciences.
German and French Intellectual Development in the Eighteenth Century
The French mind takes cognizance of things almost only ad probandum [for the sake of arguing], any more, in order to derive some proof of the reprehensibility of everything up to then.
The German mind, on the other hand, exists ad narrandum [for the sake of reporting], i.e., it has an infinity of things to report from within as well as from the world viewed through new eyes. It has a decided capacity for becoming absorbed in itself and in the world.
Conclusive evidence of this is supplied by the treatment of music in the two countries at that time. Since it has nothing to do with the probare, the sole activity of the contemporary French mind, it plays a small role in France, Grétry and Méhul notwithstanding. In poetry, too, no really great work is possible in France because of this tendentiousness.
The German spirit, by contrast, is positive, rich, multifarious, exploring itself in all directions and enjoying its treasures, oriented toward understanding and intellectual happiness.
Nowhere among its greatest representatives is there a trace of the general dissatisfaction or of the scornful tone with which France flies in the face of everything past and present. Individual feelings predominate, but where the general does appear, it is patriotism of the enthusiastic rather than the embittered variety. Instead of bitterness there prevails here buoyant enthusiasm in a great variety of endeavors.
On Rousseau and His Utopia
(I) Rousseau’s utopia had already spread widely from the educated circles down to the semi-educated. This utopia was composed of, and sustained by, the following premises. Human nature was assumed to be good once the barriers were taken down; in connection with this, virtuous feelings, compassion, and the like were extolled and the praises of primitive man were sung at the expense of civilized man; arguments or actions were advanced transcending individual nations, in the name of mankind; the assumption was made of an original contract into which things could be put at will (the more cautious spoke of a tacitly made contract); then, from the “social contract” there were derived liberty and equality, the latter assuming that all men should possess something, but none too much; finally, the volonté de tous [will of all] and the volonté générale [general will] were to be balanced, without its being stated who was to determine the latter.
The French were familiarized with the idea of a leap into the uncertain; the general need for emotion played its part here.
(II) It is strange that Rousseau makes no use of the real, concrete life and sorrows of the French common man whom he must have known so well, but remains a theorist, a utopian. Was this perhaps done so as not to scare away his only possible readership at the time? The new views had ample time over a period of two generations to gain acceptance.
(III) J.-J. Rousseau remained a plebeian. His warmth of heart was only apparent. The Confessions are characterized by an effect of astonishment, a melancholy-rebellious tone, an unnerving dreaminess, and virtuous feelings rather than virtue; there is something un-French about them.
The Political Situation in France Before the Revolution
The pressure on the lowliest was the greatest; it made life barely livable. The manorial and clerical pressures hardly counted compared to the pressure exerted by the state. The peasants were in secret ferment.
The budget was greatly overloaded. In addition to the expenses of bureaucracy, of debt and interest, of the tax rents and what they involved, of the army with its enormous officers’ budget, and of foreign affairs, the court and all that went with it was an especially great expense, notably the enormously endowed aristocratic court society and the pensions involved; this waste was still on the increase. It was as though the kings wanted to keep not only their relatives but every one of their retinue tremendously wealthy and had to compensate them quite disproportionately for every loss—and all this in the face of an increasing deficit. And yet this high nobility was utterly powerless politically and unaccustomed to any real contact with the people. It gave itself up to salon life and its amenities and isolating effect.
The Third Estate had already gained so many privileges that it wanted the moon and was getting impatient. It was not satisfied with easy elevation to the nobility and the many offices open to it. Since 1614 it had been without any political contact with the nobility; in its municipal offices it was frequently abused; it was devoid of any old municipal spirit. A bourgeois was received by the nobility socially if he had talent or fame (the gens de lettres, men of letters), or if he helped to amuse people or to play host to them if he was wealthy. In business the Third Estate pushed ahead and it was acquiring wealth as well as being already greatly affected by the leveling culture.
All classes were still strictly separated from one another, to be sure, even the city dwellers from the peasants, but there was more integration in culture and customs than elsewhere, and the theory, supported by the reading of the time, was essentially leveling.
In this, the influence and absorptive power of Paris was of basic significance.
All this confronted the government which was still completely caught up in the spirit of arbitrariness, even though it now had moderated its use of the lettres de cachet [warrants of arrest] and in general was modéré et faible [moderate and weak] and exerted a will to action and progress. Through its absolutely centralistic behavior it prepared the Revolution (cf. Tocqueville’s statements).
The Destiny of the French Revolution
What fated this Revolution was that according to old tradition the crown considered itself entitled to use any means, especially deception, for which, however, it had little talent; for instance, it would surely have taken back any pledged word, on the ground that it had been extorted from it, as soon as it could have done so. In the face of this, the revolutionaries presented a constitutionality that was entirely new, so that of necessity everything seemed like treason to them. The crown could not possibly submit or adjust itself quickly to this new morality. Besides, there was the feverish and furious attitude of the opponents from the beginning, the aspect of revenge on the existing king and nobility for a thousand years of injustice. The Revolution was unconditional in its demands. The crown, those who had been privileged up to that time, and presently all propertied and educated people no longer knew with whom they were dealing and how far Paris would go as the mistress of all conceivable assemblies.
(I) Mirabeau’s studies and writings were many-sided. He had a talent for always seeing in his own case the general case and France. His knowledge of foreign countries—England, Holland, Prussia—was unmatched by any contemporary Frenchman’s. Even though his genius and his gift for ascendancy were great and he was in his full maturity at that time, one nevertheless must despair of his success if one becomes acquainted with the cancer which gnawed away at the insides of the French Revolution from the outset. Misunderstood by the court at the beginning of the crisis, Mirabeau even had to participate in the disintegration.
(II) Mirabeau’s program was such that it was almost impossible for it to succeed; at any rate, it presupposed an unparalleled capacity for hope and boldness. This explains his early moments of utter discouragement. For the program to succeed the court would have had to entrust itself completely to this apparent member of the opposition, while the Revolution, which still had ahead of it such an immeasurable amount of fuel to consume, would have had to be blind enough to let itself be beguiled by Mirabeau. If Mirabeau had not demanded action at any price, he would have been left without hope for any success. It is a fate characteristic of those times that the most highly gifted man shocked those whom he wanted to save with his notoriety so long and so profoundly that they waited till it was too late.
In 1790 Mirabeau made enormous concessions, especially in all clerical matters, just to remain on top. (Cf., among others, Taine, La Révolution, p. 235, Note—on clerical marriages, etc.)
He is the most interesting Frenchman of his time. Lafayette and Company look like a bunch of blockheads beside him, but he could no longer be of help after the anarchie spontanée set in in the summer of 1789.
Even if, for example, Louis XVI had on July 11 chosen Mirabeau as his minister in place of Necker, and the Assembly had eagerly accepted him, Mirabeau would no longer have been capable of creating that quiet and order which would have been required to refashion all institutions of the state. The quick decay had already progressed too far, and Mirabeau could no longer have prevented Paris from sharing in the government; to escape it was his advice even later. For the time being he could not have changed the fact that the Assembly voted under sharp external pressure and also that its decisions remained ineffective in the face of the actual organic disintegration.
Mirabeau wanted to save the monarchy, which in the beginning kept repulsing him, however. At the end of June, 1789, he said to Lamarck that it was not his fault “si on le forçait, pour sa sûreté personelle, à se faire le chef du parti populaire” [if they forced him for his own safety to make himself the head of the people’s party]. He had to be popular, he said, if only to benefit the monarchy—but also for his own sake. (And in time he had to join in the shouting, just to retain any influence at all.) A good thing about him was the fact that he never sided with the Orleanist party. In the midst of his actions he always realized that he was aiding in the rush toward the abyss. The 5th and 6th of October filled him with the greatest consternation.
Mirabeau’s view of the French is expressed in a letter to Sieyès, dated June 11, 1790: “Notre nation de singes à larynx de perroquets!” [Our nation of apes with parrots’ voices!].
The new egalitarian state hated everything about the clergy: that it was a corporation and thus immune to the general pulverization; that it was opposed to equality (which at that time was abolishing the old provinces and their classes, the parliaments, and all guilds and associations); that its vows of obedience were in contradiction to the rights of man; that it had independent superiors and was completely pervaded by the principle of authority, in religion as well as in life as a whole. The philosophes regarded Christianity as an error and Catholicism as a plague.
The Legislative Assembly abolished the communal properties, then all corporations, including the charitable and educational ones, and the National Convention, quite logically, did likewise with all academies and literary associations; then it also confiscated all properties of the hospitals and other charitable institutions.
The tithe, whose abolition was of advantage chiefly to larger property owners, had actually amounted to one seventh of the net yield.
The confiscation of the four billion immovable estates positively caused the greatest damage, because it gave rise to the belief that there was no bottom to this barrel. For religious worship, charity (hospitals and the like), and schools—matters that had hitherto been taken care of by the clergy—almost nothing was spent. Now the political communities were supposed to take care of this sort of thing. Everything went into the maw of the assignats. The pensions to the deprived clerics and corporations were scarcely paid after 1790.
The Legislative Assembly and the Clubs
Any assembly, inasmuch as it has to preserve forms and recognize principles and is inwardly heterogeneous because it is elected by an entire country, must necessarily bow to ruthless club bosses who seem to represent the matter at issue much more directly, because they are representatives of the most violent forces, i.e., the movement itself which is still progressing; besides, they are quite unscrupulous as to general means of pressure and have the organized services of the rioters of a big city.
Despite all this one must concede to these club leaders a high degree of that ruling spirit which is not worried about the bottomless and purely temporary character of its creations (which last only as long as the Terror).
To be sure, they were favored by the fact that (through the club’s will) they were able to rule because there was no longer any other government. Their counterparts function down to every village; and it is open to argument whether it can still be called governing when every matter is quickly and subjectively settled through the imposition of terror on entire cities by a certain number of individuals.
Against such forces the Assembly will, with the tide rising, come off badly, because, for one thing, the former’s personnel is renewed and always suited to the moment, whereas the Assembly was chosen at a much less advanced moment. The misery of such an Assembly lies in the fact that it must give in constantly in order to keep the appearance of still being at the head of the movement.
The club leaders, on the other hand—Camille Desmoulins saw in the clubs “l’aristocratie du poumon” [the aristocracy of the lungs]—only needed to give themselves up to the spirit of the rising passion to be certain of acting correctly for the moment. The way in which they gained control of the Paris sections in the summer of 1792 was fundamentally an obvious one. They frightened them into silence, as they did with the Assembly on a large scale, until nobody but their own men could stand it there any longer.
In time the terrorists gained important experience and style in their task of producing power through terror at any cost.
The Terror here was substantially tantamount to controlling the Assembly by the negative forces of Paris.
The significant fact is that the latter were able to unite with an identical mode of action in specific things, a homogeneous procedure. To be sure, this was the only thing they could do and had to do, but others might not have been able to unite and would thus have collapsed right at the start.
An infamous thing is the attitude of Jacobin historiography toward Louis XVI who wanted only to be rescued, and not even that unconditionally. The Jacobin historians are an echo of the Jacobins of that time who had an interest in painting Louis as guilty and dangerous, making murderous threats against him in the papers, and passing off the handful of royalist rowdies for an army of chevaliers du poignard [knights of the dagger]. Louis had already been obliged to bring the request for war before the Assembly. On May 25 they took away his Garde Constitutionelle.
On the 10th of August, 1792
A great deal still depended on the personal conduct of the king. If he had had the expected sanguine courage and furnished an example of defiance of death, he would have found a great many more defenders, or those he did find would have been better able to help him. If he had only inspired the still loyal National Guard through word and deed and given the Swiss precise orders instead of having them defend the Tuileries only when he was no longer inside! But why risk everything for a sovereign who will risk nothing himself? Barbaroux, too, thinks the king could still have won. If there had been even a little of Henry IV in him (apart from his bonhomie), if he had mounted a horse, he could have turned the blow planned against him to his advantage.
Napoleon was in Paris as a captain of artillery on the 20th of June, the 10th of August, and then also during the September massacres.
On the September Massacres
(I) The main connecting force was Marat’s thirst for blood and the need to cover depredations and irregularities by a great deed of terror and by exerting the greatest possible influence on the Convention elections.
When some saw that something horrible was about to happen, they joined in and put themselves at the head, so that it would not happen without them. Thus Danton placed himself beside Marat.
Only those who participated now could have hopes of continuing in control once terror had been grafted onto the Revolution.
Paris has three dates of this kind: 1418, 1572, and 1792, not counting 1357–1358 and 1381–1382.
However, the murdering of numerous common criminals and accused indicates that this time, except for a number of aristocrats, Swiss officers, and the insermentés [the unsworn]—those to whom Danton made the cross at the edge—no specific vengeance was sought, but bloodshed per se, in order to give the Revolution its true temper. On the other hand, that moral indignation was not involved here is borne out by the fact that prisons were opened and rogues were released, so that for a week nobody was safe from robbery in the streets. Both things were done so as to have prison space available for new victims.
Once more the scepter was to be secured for the Commune of Paris through the Terror, and, if possible, permanently. Since they were and remained a small minority and knew it, they had to stick together.
What is desired is murder per se, which from now on is to become the temper of the Revolution.
(II) Regarding the elections to the Convention: The Commune of Paris wants the new Assembly to be elected in its spirit and to have a Paris complexion.
The disclaimers of premeditation (Villiaumé, Louis Blanc) do not realize the inner barbarism they betray in exculpating the secret committee and accusing Paris as such, and in forcibly welding together the murders with the defense of the fatherland. Paris had to do these things, so that Marat, Robespierre, Billaud, Danton, Manuel, and others may come off passably well. The September massacres inspire the Revolution with the murderous temperament.
The September massacres simply mark the beginning of the Terror, i.e., the general aplatissement [crushing], and no matter how political things may appear at times in the Convention, actually the fear of the Commune and its henchmen is always there.
The September days, just like the 31st of May later, are another Parisization of the Revolution. Paris brings the Terror into the Revolution, first of all in order to produce elections of this complexion in the entire country.
The main effect was in the direction of the evil development of the Revolution. The guilty ones had to destroy those (the Girondists) who made accusations against them because of it.
Before and After the Dissolution of the Convention
[January 3, 1868.—January 4, 1870.—January 4, 1876.] With the current unprecedented increase in militarism and industrial crises another look back to the origins of the Revolution is indicated, especially in view of the uncertainty of all rights and existences in face of the power of threatening governments from above and mass ferment from below. Our task is not to prophesy, but to show the harmonies from the beginning of the Revolution on. We want to know on which wave of the great storm-tossed sea we are drifting.
The Revolution was prepared by an enormous literary movement which, optimistic about the future, questioned everything, and by a situation of property and power in France which was in more or less conscious disharmony with this movement. Besides this was the premise of the goodness of the human heart and people as such.
The financial distress of the moment exerted pressure for the Estates General, and the cahiers acted as a great sheaf for the fire. Instead of constitutional ideas, for which they had relied on the Estates General, they demanded the rights of man and substituted the concept of “man” for that of “Frenchman.” The magnitude of the idea caught on, and thus we make the acquaintance of the “political” man of Europe as of 1868. Then, too, many abolitions and equalizations were demanded.
Since the Estates General could not become an assembly of humanity as yet, they became, for the time being, a National Assembly. Their great moment was the 20th of June, on which day the Third Estate took an oath on the Tennis Court to give the country a constitution. But in those days tumultuous Paris took the helm of the Revolution, and the National Assembly was in a royalist mood as early as the 23rd of June. Upon the coup d’état on the 11th of June there followed the storming of the Bastille on July 14th, the first major action of the Parisians. In the provinces the old state came crashing down; the cities suffered from a shortage of wheat; in the country the castles were burned. The 4th of August put the seal on it, when the nobles renounced all feudal rights and the clergy gave up the tithe. While Paris and the provinces were preparing the realm of violence for decades to come, the National Assembly occupied itself with the rights of man; even Mirabeau’s requests had not been able to prevent this. Then the constitution was deliberated in a spirit of mistrust of the legal power to be set up and with a limited right of veto for the king. This took place while illegal force merrily throve in Paris and elsewhere, the National Guard barely maintained external order, and artificial bread-prices and jobs were supposed to help the situation.
Finally, on the 5th and 6th of October, the king and the Assembly were taken to Paris as prisoners. People wanted to take revenge on the current representatives of everything past, far beyond its mere abolition. The new départements were now introduced and the elections from below were carried through. Actually the impotence of the government was replaced by the superior power of a homogeneous club mentality. Next the church properties were gobbled up, which is customary in all modern crises, and soon the new ecclesiastical constitution came into force. This brought about a collision of the Revolution with the age-old sacramental foundations of existence which had been riveted fast in the Middle Ages. The nobility was abolished; the army disintegrated because aristocratic officers became an impossibility, while a general hostility to foreign countries became increasingly apparent. The new France made constant threats and in the main tried to spread the Revolution. The Civil Constitution of the Clergy revealed the decided incompatibility of the king with the Revolution; hence his attempted flight and his subsequent treatment as a hostage while they openly sought to overthrow royalty.
The other countries, which had become reactionary but were most disinclined to go to war, were wantonly provoked. The émigrés had to serve as bogy men. A universal rage against them sprang up, stimulated by their foolish acts. Like the Assemblies generally, the Legislative Assembly and the Gironde were used up quickly and purposely. The Gironde wanted to eliminate the crown by war, while Narbonne wanted to save it by war and military dictatorship. In those days Dumouriez was the first to represent the view of the natural boundaries of France.
Meanwhile, internal conditions grew worse. There were rumblings in the South; Avignon fell prey to a reign of terror; there was strife because of the continued decline of the assignats; the problem of the clergy kept unrest alive; club rule expanded. On April 20, 1792, war was declared on Austria, and fighting began in Belgium and Savoy. In the interior the battle increased in fierceness. Louis protested against the banishment of the réfractaires [intractables] and the summoning of the fédérés [federates]. Danton, who wanted only loot out of the Revolution, and the Cordeliers destroyed the Girondists’ support through the test day of June 20th. This meant that Paris once more took control of things. It won over the arriving fédérés who were completely wrested away from the Girondists; and thus in this witches’ caldron France was made Parisian over and over again. In the Assembly there began, in connection with the war situation, those debates which finally declared the country to be in danger. In the midst of this fearsome ferment there came the Duke of Brunswick’s manifestoes with their calamitous effect. The demand for a third assembly was raised.
During the night of the 9th of August the new Paris Commune was formed out of the Paris sections. A corollary of this is the storming of the Tuileries and the imprisoning of Louis. All this the Legislative Assembly watched inactively and decreed a new Assembly, the National Convention. It had been intended to serve merely as a drop curtain.
Would the National Convention now fare much better? It never did govern as a true national representation, but only as an organ of forces outside it.
After it had judged the king, Paris wrested its real political component, the Girondists, away from it; the remainder degenerates into mutual execration of the extreme parties.
The Revolution as a whole kept sacred none of the legal forms it created. This is its worst legacy: the authority to improve things by constantly changing the forms—indeed, by the mere desire to get different individuals to the top.
Its driving force for the time being was still volcanic, determined by the mob of Paris, by lust for loot, and other passions of leaders and parties for the enormous properties that had become liquid, and also by the peasants, who were afraid that the real owners might return.
Meanwhile, in the fight against the European Coalition, there rose anew from the bottom those armies and generals who soon had to pass over from defense to rule of the country. Because in the meantime the political minds had guillotined one another.
A frightful exhaustion had come over the nation which nevertheless was still there and grew into a strange new condition: without respect, but without will power, the way modern nations often are now.
Militarism was pushed to the highest point by Napoleon, and an artificial will was put into the nation’s soul.
And when, after his overthrow, the economic-industrial forces which had become available only through the Revolution were unfettered and Europe, following England, turned into the general industrial mill, there arose the fourth estate, whose inner ferment has had a hand in determining everything since the 1840’s. It and militarism from above are now the two clamps of the vise. There is a profound distrust of all forms and, along with it, a readiness for any change, while industries chase one another from country to country to the point of dead exhaustion for the sake of minimal differences in production prices and tariffs. (And things have certainly not improved since 1868.)
On the Trial of Louis XVI
[Based in part on Edgar Quinet’s La Révolution, I, 425 ff.] Like Charles I, Louis was engaged in the crime of laesa revolutio [treason against the Revolution]. And like Charles, Louis had also grown up with the idea of a different law according to which he was infallible and not accountable; this was the only law of which he was conscious. Therefore he was punished according to a law that was alien to him.
The trial was highly characteristic as a measure of the revolutionary quality of the parties. The Girondists proved that they were not the truest personification of the Revolution. Only the most violent could be this, at a time when audacity was identical with power.
When was it that Billaud-Varenne proposed taking the king across the border “under sufficient escort”? And would there still have been sufficient escort? At any rate, it would have had to take place long before December 26, 1792.
No dynasty has ever been overthrown through the execution of one king. The decapitated return,with the aid of vast sympathy, in the shape of their successors.
The monarch was beheaded by the Jacobins; but the monarchy slipped away from them, and the rest of Europe felt more revulsion than fear. The consequence was an endless, irreconcilable struggle, to wage which “on se redonna un maître” [they gave themselves another master].
A Louis XVI roaming about abroad would have been a hundred times less dangerous than the beheaded Louis with the martyrdom of his family. The perpetrators are supposed to have assumed that no versatilité [fickleness] need be feared among the people, that it had broken with royalty forever. (No, worthy Quinet, they did not imagine that.)
The Napoleonic Count Sieyès and the Duke of Otranto must be counted among the small majority which decided in favor of unconditional death.
Louis’ death was inevitable, because alive and in a French prison he could always have been used by a more moderate party or by reaction; his death really was part of the complete rule of the Jacobins.
If he said on the scaffold, “Je pardonne à mes ennemis” [I forgive my enemies], he was the last one to speak thus; later ones usually died avec les passions et les fureurs de la terre [with the passion and violence of this world].
The next consequence was war with England, Spain, and Holland. Finally there arose a new royalism and the longing for some master.
For the time being, to be sure, the alternative was victory or downfall. The enemies sharpened their methods with their hatred, and the French did likewise.
What would have happened if the plebiscite had pardoned Louis? He would probably have been murdered in the Temple. Those who dared the September massacres would have forced this murder through as well.
The spiritual survival of the monarchy is comparable to the sensation in an amputated limb.
The parties, which were now wrangling over power rather than principles, each gave themselves up to a special savage suspicion; each charges the other with monarchist ideas and conspiracy against the republic. And force and tyranny were indeed elements in all of them. No one seriously believed the republic to be established, and this drove them to frenzy and despair, so that all compassion ceased.
Girondists and Jacobins
Earlier presentations of the French Revolution have followed more closely the history of the great state assemblies, the Constituent Assembly, the Legislative Assembly, and the National Convention.
But since Taine we have known that through the rapid decay of the old state, starting in 1789, the country had in large measure escaped any central direction and that the social revolution had everywhere followed the political one. But the major part of the nation, the losers as well as the winners, wanted to retain monarchy.
However, the Legislative Assembly and its chief orators, the Girondists, press toward the republic out of abstract hatred and declare war on foreign countries, mainly in order to topple the crown—from April 20 to August 10, 1792.
And only now, particularly between the 2nd and the 4th of September, does it begin to surprise the Girondists that right beside them there has come into being a far superior new power, one that mocks at their enthusiasm, a true power: the will of Paris clubs in their connection and close correspondence with the club members in the provinces. Its components are the sections and the Commune of Paris, the hired thugs, the Jacobins and Cordeliers, and, as a bureau d’enregistrement [registry], the Convention under the pressure of the tribunes, as well as the local clubs in all of France.
This force deprives the Girondists particularly of the exploitation of the foreign war as an instrument of internal rule; it forces them to vote in favor of the king’s death; it simply outdoes them in everything that looks bold and wicked, and brilliantly masters the now recognized terror, after the Girondists, too, had formerly threatened with the sanctity of the people’s wrath.
With the extremely faulty conduct of the war and the intentional disorganization of the army these Jacobins are able to appear as the saviors of France from foreign countries, especially since the people do not know how deeply disunited the cabinets of the Coalition and their conduct of the war really are. And the Jacobins do govern internally, albeit dreadfully, i.e., the old resources of existence are consumed, the assignats run into the billions, the actual and potential adversaries of each class are driven out or imprisoned.
This sort of thing does not last long, but it does last needlessly long enough to extinguish the light of the beaux diseurs et gens à procédés [fine talkers and people with programs]. But the Girondists still do their deadly enemies the favor of participating, until the end of May, 1793, in a lot of decisions devised for their own perdition.
The Omnipotence of Utterly Unscrupulous Parties
[Concerning the Jacobins and Their Army.] A party which is not afraid of letting culture, business, and welfare go to ruin completely can be omnipotent for a while.
How a Government Becomes Exceedingly Strong
[Concerning the Period of the Committee of Public Safety and the Terror.] A government which abandons business prosperity together with all the culture connected with it can be exceedingly strong and unconstrained.
(I) In those days people wanted to be neither communists nor socialists, but new owners of stolen goods.
(II) Of course, people were as far away from communism as could be, if only because the peasants wanted above all to preserve their new “property.” Nothing but individual property is involved, but there is a total change in the distribution of it.
(III) In any case, it is not a question of communism and socialism, but only of new individual property which has been won by depredation or is to be created, regardless of whether Robespierre and Company realized this.
The Innermost Core of the Revolution
In his book on the Revolution (Vol. 2, The Jacobin Conquest, p. 69, note), Taine discusses the social views of the terrorists. Antonelle thought that in order to consolidate the Revolution there was needed “égalité approximative des propriétés” [approximate equality of property] and for this it was necessary “supprimer un tiers de la population” [to suppress one third of the population]. The fanatics, according to Taine, were all of this opinion; Jean-Bon Saint-André even speaks of over one half. Guffroy even wanted to leave France only five million inhabitants.
Here the new France is clearly revealed. Not communism or socialism is intended, which would only lead to an average general misery and equality of enjoyment (whereas equality of rights is desired, with the secret reservation of becoming master over the others), but people want only new private property, approximately equal, but available in plenty. And so that this elite may be well off, great masses have to die. It is the modern French gracious living as a goal.
Rousseau’s Concept of Music and the Destruction of Churches
J.-J. Rousseau said about music that all contrapuntal combinations, particularly fugues, were only sottises difficiles [difficult nonsense] which hurt the ears and could not be justified rationally, remnants of barbarism and corrupt taste, just as the portals of our Gothic churches deserve to be preserved only to the shame of their patient builders.
From this to the destruction of churches was not a big step.
(I) What makes Robespierre’s figure so insufferable is his utter impotence in trying to seize the dictatorship; he presumably took this impotence for virtuousness. To be sure, he can no longer see anyone above him or beside him without feeling an envious destructive rage. But he does not even himself desire to rule because he has no positive program and his agrarian project is not even meant seriously.
(II) Camille Desmoulins wrote (around the autumn of 1793): “On a dit qu’en tout pays absolu c’ était un grand moyen pour réussir que d’être médiocre. Je vois que cela peut être υrai des pays républicains.” [It has been said that in every absolutist country a great way to be successful was to be mediocre. I see that this can be true of republican countries.] (This would fit Robespierre and also apply strikingly to certain republics.)
(III) Periods which face the alternative between anarchy and some government, no matter how wretched and violent it may be, do choose the latter.
Before the 9th Thermidor (July 27, 1794)
Under the pretext of defense of the fatherland the Revolution had rushed out enormously far beyond any reasonable goal, to the point of projected eradication of all individuals with a close connection with earlier conditions and a complete transfer of property. The Convention had long been only an appendage.
The Revolution had become a big business matted together out of many deeds of violence, a business in which the directors and stockholders sought to give one another the air and the smallest possible number strove to remain the masters, while their guarantee would have lain in the greatest possible number of participants.
The fallacy prevalent then as well as in subsequent Jacobin historiography is that the Revolution as a concrete-abstract thing must be “spared,” or represented historically, en bloc, otherwise reaction would be promoted.
At that time, inherent in this fallacy was the desire to go along with the most violent and most active faction, for to stand still might be tantamount to downfall, because the capable part of the nation had been offended to its very fiber.
At the same time, however, mutual destruction kept decreasing the number of participants, and now Robespierre rises to make vague threats against all who are left. There follows the 9th Thermidor, and subsequently the saving at any price of the compromised personalities through the sham continuation of the Revolution, until a conqueror took it on his shoulders, saved the citoyens further effort, and sent some of the worst ones packing.
It is impossible to say how things would have gone without the guillotine, with the mere exiling of the adversaries, and without the arrest of the 200,000 to 300,000 suspects and the universal fright, especially with regard to the great change in property which would hardly have taken place the way it did if all the former owners had lived on abroad.
But with the Terror things went about as badly for the freedom and future of France as they could have gone. (For, they had the people of 1789 and not the Terror to thank [hm?] for the emancipation of agriculture.)
In the last days before Thermidor, while there were fifty to seventy executions each day, conditions in the committees and the Convention must have been utterly unbearable. Robespierre had made more or less indefinite threats in every direction, which made possible the incredible alliance against him between people like Collot, Billaud, and the Dantonists, and men like Durand de Maillane, Boissy d’Anglas, Champeaux, and others.
He was really lost when on the 8th Thermidor in the Convention he was told “Nommez ceux que vous accusez” [Name those whom you are accusing], and would name no one.
On the Mutual Destruction of the Revolutionary Factions
If those people had had even the faintest notion of real governing and a little true ruling spirit, they would not have treated one another the way they did. But their background was that of gens de lettres and lawyers, their ambition was to orate and to write, their most rabid desire to be right exclusively, because their literary or legal backgrounds had taught them nothing different.
Terrorism is essentially the rage of literati in its last stage, at least in the cases of Robespierre, St. Just, and others.
On the 18th Fructidor (September 4, 1797)
The Terror had proved useless; exile would have sufficed for the French. The absurdity of the tragic guillotining in the cities, the terrible suppression of the federalists and the Vendée in the provinces and the destruction of the best republican minds finally produced the 9th Thermidor, the overthrow of Robespierre, and the reaction which threatened to swing to royalism. So the men of the Convention were condemned to remain on top and go on ruling if they wanted to live. Thus they forced themselves upon the new Directory Constitution of 1795, and two-thirds of them had to be taken into the Council of Five Hundred and the Council of Ancients. However, the counter-revolution was in some way imminent if those whose lives would be threatened by it were not left in power. A nice Convention which had successively worn all colors and now wanted to live on notwithstanding! And later, when the Parisians refused to acquiesce, there followed the 13th Vendémiaire and the first military victory in the field of politics under the command of Bonaparte.
Thus the regicides continued to rule, arbitrarily and with proscriptions, with military campaigns designed for money-making, the furtherance of political credit, and the maintenance of internal power, and with utter assignat bankruptcy, total transfer of property, and universal insecurity.
Then it had to happen that of all the generals one became the chief object of the nation’s imagination—Bonaparte, who was just about to conclude his Italian campaign of 1796–1797. Should people have foreseen the future dictator? But they really did want an overlord, i.e., the dead-tired nation, including the revolutionary faction, was completely disillusioned. The nation with its vast number of new property owners, who had bought church and émigré lands and discharged their debts and rents by paying in assignats at face value, wanted, on the whole, not Louis XVIII by any means, nor Louis Philippe nor a Spanish infante, but any government to safeguard peace and the enjoyment of property.
If the Directory could accomplish this, it would be all right with the nation for a long time; otherwise it did veer toward rule by one individual. People were not royalist, but gradually, and in part unconsciously, became monarchist. The only apprehension was that for the time being the Bourbon royalists would exploit the situation in favor of Louis XVIII.
Participation in the new elections for the councils and officials was slack. Thus the royalists would be able to secure for men of their persuasion sudden possession of the majority of offices or gradual possession, if people did not pay attention. The regicides, who were splashing about violently and uncertainly—they had to try d’être pris au sérieux [to be taken seriously]—were concerned over the new elections. For, as soon as the constitution was permitted to function in earnest, the result was bound to destroy them. The press was already substantially royalist; many émigrés had returned home; the Club de Clichy had a royalist orientation. And in the new elections of 1797 it actually happened that the majority in the Council of Five Hundred consisted of royalists in a narrow or wider sense; in Paris and in the councils there was violent ferment in the period from May to September, 1797.
But besides those who had hitherto ruled in Paris someone else had worries: the victor of Italy who at that time was traveling among the magnificent villas around Milan. The 18th Fructidor, the 4th of September, 1797, was the wretched rescue by the soldiers of a republic which was no longer protected by the people, in favor of a man who still had to wait and was very quick to find out how little thanks people wanted to give him. On the day of the ratification of the Treaty of Campo Formio, which he had concluded rapidly so that the Directory would not make it, the Directory appointed him head of an Army of England, in order to get him away from the Italian army.
Bonaparte and the 18th Fructidor
There necessarily was a new Vendémiaire in the offing, if the Thermidorians, the regicides (and henchmen!) were not to face a harsh reckoning. They would have liked to avoid the coup d’état if they could have done so. Treilhard’s statement to Dumas, addressed to the Clichyites, moderates, and royalists, is characteristic for the situation: “Just declare that in January, 1793, you would have voted in favor of Louis’ death!” For them it really was not merely a matter of ruling, but of life itself.
Despite the greatest inner excitement, Napoleon had sufficient self- control to realize that this time the fruit was not yet ripe for plucking (this is what he said to Miot at Montebello). Perhaps, too, he had an immediate desire for a campaign in distant, exotic places. He was young and for the time being had to follow his specific talent as a general.
Although he deeply despised the Directory, for the moment he saw himself as its necessary ally. For what he loathed more than anything else was the royalist movement whose victory would have brought a lot of unpredictable people, circumstances, and privileges onto the scene. Waiting for the courts of Vienna and Turin was certainly also very repugnant to him.
The degree of his indignation may be gauged by the methods he employed in the Italian headquarters: the club system and his series of addresses to his soldiers. He would surely not have resorted to that except in an extreme situation. It certainly did not take the Portefeuille d’Entraigues to teach him how matters stood with royalism. Rather, he must have known at first hand from Paris, and perhaps he fabricated the Portefeuille in part.
If Hoche had saved the Directory, i.e., staged the coup d’état for it, Napoleon could probably have put up with it. In fact, he might have preferred this. Later, when the Directory was on the point of being overthrown on Brumaire, he could have said: “It was not I who saved you then.” But considering the dissension between Hoche and the Directory, he had to send his Augereau. Thus the 18th Brumaire or September 4th, 1797, took place.
Immediately afterwards, Napoleon, who had remained just far enough behind the scenes, evinced great independence of the Directors and obviously enjoyed the odium which the pursuit of their victory netted them. He himself later became the peacemaker of Campo Formio.
To him the Fructidor was highly valuable because it dealt a mortal blow to the Constitution of l’an III (the Year III) and the directorial government. He was now able to leave them to their further coups d’état and symptoms of mismanagement, and even to derive, for the time being, financial advantage from their further predatory wars (against Switzerland, Rome, and other states). Then, while he was in Egypt, the Second Coalition was formed.
To appear as a rescuer now was an undertaking which promised direct control.
How Aristocracies and Princes Succumb
Aristocracies abdicate, but do not flee, as princes do.
On the Invasion of Switzerland by the French
After Paris one had to have Peter Ochs, because La Harpe was not capable of sketching the new constitution by himself. Ochs, who went to Paris only a few days after Napoleon had passed through, must have received suggestions from Napoleon in Basel.
The only explanation for the behavior of the more gifted “levelers,”* provided that one does not want to call it wholly depraved, is this: From the spirit of the century they had worked up a veritable indignation at everything varied and different and yet had no hopes that any substantial change would ever emanate from Switzerland. This at least is the explanation for those who themselves belonged to the ruling classes. Ochs is guiltier by far than La Harpe who at least was a hardened refugee.
What is the source of the hymn to the variety of Switzerland which Hormayr reprints in Volume 2 of his History? Is it not from Johannes von Müller’s History of Switzerland, Prefaces? To what extent is our hectic, industrially efficient nineteenth century, which everywhere insists on simplification, capable of making a judgment?
The most terrible guilt of Ochs and La Harpe is expressed in the fact that subsequently they forced their way into the Swiss Directory instead of hiding their faces from the people.
Nevertheless, Switzerland would hardly have escaped the fate of becoming a battleground of the Second Coalition (1799).
(I believe less and less that Switzerland was considered at the Treaty of Campo Formio. Both signatories had all the greater interest in avoiding any mention of Switzerland as the matter surely was on the tip of their tongues. Thugut certainly foresaw, and Napoleon certainly already desired, what happened soon afterwards. But both were interested in having a respite and shuffling the cards anew, and for the time being Napoleon wanted to shine among the French as a peacemaker.)
An astonishing thing is the crudity of the French republic at that time. In order to steal forty millions, the Treaty of Campo Formio is actually jettisoned.
Old Bern and Why It Is Hated
Ever since the Swiss contingents moved out as the French approached Bern on March 4, 1798, because Bern was as good as lost, part of modern Switzerland has had a bad conscience about old Bern and hates it all the more. Here there are no parties, but only people who put up a defense and people who did not. All constitutional talk is nothing compared to one spark of that temperament which at least defends itself against bands of robbers.
On the 18th Brumaire (November 9, 1799) and the Consulate
Actual military rule had of necessity arisen from the preceding exertion of force, through terrorism at home and wars abroad.
Napoleon’s rule was at that time the least humiliating of all imaginable regimes. It really seemed as though France were rushing into the arms of a guardian angel. Napoleon had the great good fortune of soon being able to cap it with the Marengo campaign.
It is futile to shed any tears over the Constitution of the Year III and the persons involved. They are in part the residuum of 1793, artificially maintained against the continually onrushing genuine majority by the coups d’état of Vendémiaire, 1795, Fructidor, 1797, and Floréal, 1798.
And France wanted to be no longer dependent upon deliberating assemblies; it had had enough of them. People urgently desired concrete, permanent results of the Revolution rather than its prolongation by parliaments and clubs.
Even without any Brumaire the Constitution of the Year III was long since doomed and could have continued to lead a semblance of an existence only through the customary violent measures.
Property (i.e., the beginning world epoch of industry and communication) issues a call for order, and particularly the property arisen from national estates calls for a complete cessation of all further movement.
The great problem was the monarchy without the Bourbons. In the final analysis, even Orléans was too much of a Bourbon. From all Bourbons people at bottom feared less the restoration of the burdensome past than the necessity of adopting a false position toward them after all that had happened. They had been insulted too terribly. People might have been ashamed before them and thus had to continue being emotionally brutal toward them (Enghien).
Given the wretchedness of public affairs, there was absolutely no other possibility of forestalling the restoration of the house of Bourbon but by elevating a quite different ruler who soon would have to adopt royal prerogatives.
(I) Any attempt to give a picture of Napoleon’s true being from contemporary sources which have recently become available (Jung, Bonaparte and His Times; the Memoirs of Madame de Rémusat; the Notebooks of Metternich) must necessarily produce one-sided results. The great and unique things about him are not made manifest here—the combination of an unparalleled magical will power with an enormous, all-mobile intelligence, both directed at the production of power and continual struggle, and finally at the entire world outside of France.
(II) Napoleon had a sixth sense in all military matters and a seventh for everything serving for the production of power.
His deadly enemy, like that of all such people, was impatience; it brought his later career great disaster.
Napoleon I and His Russian Campaign
The whole world was dreadfully disarranged, to the point of an unprecedented state of violence. But this is what Napoleon wished to complete and then leave to his son. Everything was to be so firmly established that even the son’s mediocrity would not have done any harm. In this there was at work a giant egoism, devoid of any moral scruples as soon as goals were at stake. The absolute sense of power was the decisive thing, accompanied, to be sure, by a tremendous personality, but still degenerating into a gambler’s passion. The furies of the sense of power were imagination and impatience, but not madness, certainly not Roman imperial madness, which arises from hedonism and fear of conspirators. Within the scope of his great, false goals Napoleon acts not only rationally, but with genius, to the extent that the false ends do not rub off on the means. His intelligence and energy were not on the decline; in the campaigns of 1813 to 1815 he often appears in his full stature. Nevertheless, there were moments of weakness. But the false political goal quite frequently and in decisive situations brings perdition to the field commander, and in the Russian campaign this is the case from A to Z. He feared adverse effects on the rest of Europe if he did not capture Moscow, but rather took up winter quarters in Vilna, Vitebsk, or Smolensk. And even when he had Moscow, nine-tenths of which was burned, it became his undoing all the more because he wanted to preserve the semblance of possession for as long as possible.
The Russian campaign is the most foolish thing that Napoleon decided upon in his passion and then carried out with the most colossal intellectual and material resources. Even if one grants him his mission to rule over all of Europe, he should not have done this. To be sure, Thiers believes that if Napoleon had persistently continued the Spanish war and the Continental system instead of the Russian campaign, he would have subdued England and thus disarmed Europe, too. That way he would have gained time as well as the sense to make at the peak of his power the sacrifices necessary to make his regime bearable and therefore permanent as well.
But it was precisely in the Spanish war that the crime was avenged. Napoleon had a distaste for this war; it no longer was a pleasant subject for his imagination. He could not get quite stubborn about such matters; he did not want to go there himself again after his brief visit in 1808–1809. Besides, what others have, or are supposed to have, already spoiled has no attraction for people such as Napoleon who like to undertake new things but not to straighten out something that has been botched. His sense of military artistry rebelled against this.
Of course, employment and financing for the army could have been found in Spain just as well as in Russia. The marshals and the common soldiers would certainly have liked to stay at home, and the remaining, ambitious components of the army were not even a secondary cause of the Russian campaign. At any rate, this sort of thing was amply counterbalanced by the fact that every war aroused the hopes of the dissidents at home and with Napoleon’s life put everything in doubt.
The most plausible idea may be that Napoleon was plagued by the idée fixe that after his possible early death Alexander would be at the head of a coalition against the French power. However, Napoleon could have frustrated this in another way, by humane and even friendly treatment and consolation of Prussia, Austria, and Sweden.
It is an entirely vain question what he would have done with Russia if he had succeeded to the extent of occupying Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other places, and perhaps forcing Alexander to flee to Kazan or Astrakhan. For Alexander was much safer with flight than surrender. To be sure, Napoleon misjudged him as well as the Russians.
He believed that he had all princes in his net, because they were afraid of the democratic inclinations of their peoples (which was the case in Austria); but he would not hear of these peoples’ despair and rage which were directed against him and which had to sweep along the princes, depending on the circumstances. In general, he no longer put up with any alternative proposals to his plans.
This book is set in Palatino, designed by Hermann Zapf in 1948. Like all of Hermann Zapf’s many typefaces, Palatino combines beauty, legibility, and distinction without eccentricity. Palatino is an old-style face, intended as a commercial display type, yet it is equally successful in book work.
Printed on paper that is acid-free and meets the requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, z39.48-1992. (archival)
Book design by Sandra Strother Hudson,
Composition by Impressions Book and Journal Services, Inc.,
Printed and bound by Worzalla Publishing Co.,
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
[* ]Misnumbering of sections in the original. (Translator’s note.)
[* ]Manuscript reading [Yenken] uncertain in original. Meaning suggested by German editor. (Translator’s note.)