Front Page Titles (by Subject) 126.: On Mirabeau - Judgments on History and Historians
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126.: On Mirabeau - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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(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!].