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chapter five: Further Thoughts on the Preceding Chapter - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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Further Thoughts on the Preceding Chapter
I have let myself get drawn into looking at a question which I confess interests me greatly, and although it breaks out of the precise limits of this work in some respects, I cannot refrain from adding a few further thoughts here on the drawbacks of the appointment of representative assemblies by a single body and on the advantages of the opposite system.
 Whatever discredit one heaps on intrigue, on efforts to captivate a fickle and emotional multitude, these things are a hundred times less corrupting than the circuitous endeavors one needs to win over a small number of men in power. Intrigue is dangerous in a senate, dangerous in an aristocratic parliament, but not in the context of the nation, whose nature it is to act from emotion. The misfortune of a republic is when there is no intrigue.9 Nothing vile is pleasing to the people as a whole. But powerful individuals are only too prone to enjoying the humility of prayers and the baseness of adulation. What has to be done to carry a large meeting has to be done in broad daylight, and modesty moderates public actions. But when people cringe before a few men whom they are imploring individually, they grovel in the shadows, and servility knows no limits. If election by the people sometimes entails culpable seduction, most often it demands honorable and useful means, kindness, benevolence, justice, and protection. When the election depends upon an electoral college, another route is mapped out. It is certainly not toward the countryman’s dwelling but toward the palace of the electoral college that the candidates direct their steps. They are dependent not on the people but on the government, and if dependence on inferiors makes citizens, dependence on superiors makes slaves. It is a sad education for the people’s mandatories which imposes on them an apprenticeship in dissimulation and hypocrisy, condemning them to humiliating supplication, to obsequious salutation, to adroitness, genuflection, and flattery, doubtless to prepare them for the unbending courage which has to check despotism and plead the cause of the weak against the strong. There are eras when anything at all resembling energy is feared, when gentleness, flexibility, and hidden gifts and private virtues are vaunted. Then are dreamed up modes of election best suited to reward these precious gifts. These, however, are eras of degradation. Let sweetness and flexibility find favor with courts, and let hidden talents declare themselves; let private virtues  find their reward in domestic happiness. The choice of the people belongs to men who command attention, who attract respect, who have acquired the right to esteem, confidence, and popular recognition. And these more energetic men will also be more moderate. People always take mediocrity as peaceful. It is peaceful only when it is locked up. When chance invests it with power, it is a thousand times more incalculable in its motion, more envious, more obstinate, more immoderate, and more convulsive than talent, even when emotions lead the latter astray. Education calms the emotions, softens egotism, and soothes vanity.
One of the greatest advantages of representative government is to establish frequent relations between the diverse classes of society. Sectional election requires on the part of the powerful classes sustained consideration for the lower classes. It forces wealth to conceal its arrogance, power to moderate its action by placing in the people’s votes a reward for justice and kindness and punishment for oppression. This advantage disappears when you entrust elections to the choice of a great electoral college.
Perhaps it will be objected that in granting political rights only to property owners, I am lessening this advantage of the representative system. But under modern social conditions there is no line of demarcation between small owners and nonowners such that the rich can win over the former by oppressing the latter. Nonproprietors, artisans in the small towns and villages, day laborers in the hamlets are all relations of small owners. They would make common cause against the oppressor. So to get the votes of those who have the vote, you will have to treat them all considerately.  This everyday device for happiness and harmony must not be lightly renounced, nor should we disdain this motive for benevolence, which may start as a mere calculation but soon becomes a habitual virtue.
The complaint is that wealth is concentrated in the capital and the countryside drained by the continual taxation it bears, which never returns to it. Popular election pushes owners back to the properties from which they distance themselves. When they could not care less about popular suffrage, their reckoning is confined to getting out of their property the greatest possible revenue. Popular election suggests they adopt a nobler reckoning, much more useful to those who live under their domination. Without popular election they need only credit, and this need groups them together around the central government. Under election by the people they have to be popular. Bringing them back toward the source of their popularity, it roots their political existence in their possessions. The benefits of feudalism have sometimes been praised for keeping the lord in the midst of his vassels and sharing out the opulence equally between all the parts of the territory. Popular election has the same desirable effect without entailing the same abuses. People constantly talk of encouraging agriculture and honoring work. They try awarding prizes, capriciously doled out, and medals which public opinion wrangles over. It would be simpler to give the farming classes a degree of importance. But this importance cannot be created by decree or edict. Its basis must be grounded in the interests all hopes have in its being recognized and all ambitions in treating it carefully. In replacing artificial devices, which they try out and change, with respect for the principles of freedom, governments would attain more swiftly and surely the purpose they must have in mind. In letting men enjoy the rights which belong to them, you free them from having to have recourse to uncertain resources and complex improvisations with no durable effect, because their stability depends not on the nature of things but on the arrangements of a few individuals. In sum, only sectional election by the people can invest national representation with real force, and give it deep roots in public opinion. You will never surmount or render silent the feeling which cries out to us that the man we  have not elected is not our representative. And should calumny pursue him, or government menace him personally, against these attacks will he know to whom to run? To whom will he say: I have faithfully fulfilled the mission with which you entrusted me; I am persecuted for having protected you? Where will he find a voice which recognizes his own and which replies to him? What fraction of the people will believe itself bound up with him in his courage and danger? The whole nation? But the whole nation is nothing. Can a nation spread across an immense territory manifest a view or experience a spontaneous impulse? Only in always speaking of the entire nation, in destroying all fractions, in intercepting all communication between them and those who defend them, in recognizing their mandatories as mere representatives of an abstract being, who never has positive existence, only thus does despotism become impregnable in its lair. When assemblies which call themselves representative are not selected by the people, they are helpless before the executive power. If they put up some resistance to it, it demands to know by what right. What is your authority? How can you be the representatives of the people? Did they appoint you? If public opinion disapproves a law or protests against some arbitrary act, then the government cries: what are these seditious claims? Has not the national representative chamber discussed, deliberated, consented? Or perhaps, has its silence not sanctioned things? Only the legitimate institutions of the nation can express its sovereign will. The executive power is protected from all blame, since the people’s delegates approve it. Thus by turns the unfortunate nation and its so-called mandatories are treated like a game. Thus the semblance of representation never constitutes any barriers, but serves as an apologia for all excesses. It would be an error, as M. Necker observes, to believe that the part given to the people in the election of lawmakers has no purpose save ensuring further the suitability of those chosen.10 Six hundred fifty men drawn by lot from the rich and cultivated class which supplies the membership of the English House of Commons would form in my view a body as enlightened as the one which results today from the British elections. All the advantages we have just described, however, would vanish. There would be no more consideration for inferiors,  no more inviolable credentials for opposing the government, and no more of this salutary movement spreading life, strength, and health through all the parts of the body politic. Citizens are interested in their institutions only when they are called to participate in them with their votes. Now, this interest is indispensable in the formation of a public spirit, that power without which no freedom lasts, that guarantee against all the perils, always invoked in certain countries without its ever being created. Public spirit, based on popular election, has sustained Great Britain, in the midst of the most expensive and desperate war. It is through popular election that press freedom, under very easily offended ministers, has survived every crisis. Without popular election, a country’s citizens never have this sense of their importance which makes them see the glory and freedom of their country as the most important part of their individual patrimony. I know that lately some among us have conceived many prejudices against popular elections. Nevertheless, until our times all experience testifies in their favor. The people of Athens, free in their choice, says Xenophon, whom one would never suspect of overfondness for democracy and its storms, have never asked for positions touching on their city’s safety or honor to be given to men unworthy to fill them.11 Livy shows us the outcomes of the Roman Comitia, proving always that the spirit of the people was different depending on whether they were demanding the right to control the high positions in the Republic or whether, the combat over, the victory won, they were pronouncing calmly, according to conscience and reason. Despite the efforts of their tribunes and the interests of their class, their choices were constantly directed toward the most virtuous and the most  illustrious.12 Since 1688 the elections in England have brought no one into the House of Commons save enlightened property owners. One could scarcely cite a man of distinguished political talent whom that election has not honored, when he has sought it. The profound peace of America, the firm moderation she has deployed in difficult circumstances, the speeches and acts of Jefferson, the choice of such a man by representatives elected by the people, constitute a justification of its franchise which nothing can weaken, because it cannot be attributed to inaccurate or exaggerated accounts. If, in the history of the ten years which have just passed by, certain facts seem unfavorable to popular election, special causes explain this. First of all, we have never really had popular election. From the introduction of representation in our political institutions, the intervention of the people has been feared. Electoral colleges have been created, and these have distorted the effects of the election. Popular governments would be the triumph of mediocrity, were it not for a sort of moral electricity with which nature has endowed men, as though to ensure the dominance of genius. The larger the assemblies are, the more powerful is this electricity, and since, when it is a question of election, it is useful that this electricity directs the choices, the assemblies charged with the appointment of the people’s representatives must be as numerous as is compatible with good order. In England, the candidates harangue the electors who surround them from the height of a rostrum, in the middle of a public place or an open space full of people. In our electoral colleges, numbers were restricted and proceedings severe. A rigorous silence was prescribed, and no question was put such as might agitate minds or subjugate, for an instant, individual ambition or local egoism. Now, uneducated men are fair only when they are carried along. They are carried along only when, brought together in a crowd, they act and react on each other almost boisterously. You cannot attract the attention of several thousand citizens without great wealth or far-reaching reputation. In a gathering of two or three hundred, a few domestic connections can seize a majority. To be selected by the people, you need supporters beyond their purview and the positive advantages this brings. To be chosen  by a few electors, it is enough to have no enemies. The advantage lies entirely with negative qualities, and luck even favors the untalented. As regards many issues, the national representatives in France have been less advanced than public opinion. I am not speaking of party questions. During civil turmoil, education has no effect on these. I am speaking of matters of political economy. It is just that our electoral assemblies, with the obstacles they put in the way of all personal influence and their encouragement of calumny, made election a lottery with the dice often falling on mediocre or unknown men. In this first respect, we cannot judge popular election in France because it has simply not existed. Secondly, for election to be popular, it must be essentially free, which it never was at any point during the Revolution. Who is not aware that the first moves of an institution may be accompanied by troubles alien to it? The overthrow of what has been, the passions stirred in opposite directions, all these things are ordinarily contemporary with great political changes among peoples of advanced civilization, but derive in no way from the principles or nature of what one wishes to establish. To decide against popular election on the basis of the happenings of the French Revolution, is to judge national assemblies by comparison with Cromwell’s Parliament or royalty by comparison with Charles VI’s demented reign. Finally, during the ascendancy of our assemblies, no constitution placed real limits on legislative power. Now, when legislative power is quite limitless, when the nation’s representatives think themselves invested with boundless sovereignty, when no counterweight exists to their decrees either in executive or judiciary power, the tyranny of those elected by the people is as disastrous as any other, whatever name it bears. The absolute, unlimited sovereignty of the people was transferred by the nation, or as is usual, at least in its name, by those who dominated it, to representative assemblies. These exercised an unparalleled despotism. This had to be, as we have sufficiently demonstrated earlier.  The constitution13 which first put an end to this period of despotism and madness still did not sufficiently limit the legislative power. It established no counterweight to its excesses. It did not enshrine either the indispensable veto of the executive power or the equally indispensable possibility of the dissolution of the representative assemblies. It did not even guarantee, as do some American constitutions, the most sacred rights of individuals against the encroachments of legislators.14
It is hardly surprising that the legislative power has continued to do harm. People have laid the blame on popular election. This was a profound mistake. It was absolutely not the mode of appointment of the legislators which needed blaming but the nature of their power. The fault was not in the choices made by those represented but in the unchecked powers of their representatives. The ill would not have been less had the mandatories of the nation appointed themselves or had they been appointed by a corporate body however constituted. There was no counterweight, no suppression, no check to their will, decorated though it was with the name of the law. That was the source of the ill. When legislative authority covers everything, it can do only ill, no matter how it is appointed. If you restrict it to things in its jurisdiction, if it is asked to pronounce only on punishments for crimes in the future, on what proportion of individual property must be assigned to public use, on the means of defense to be directed against foreign enemies; if, far from being able to conspire against freedom, its only power is to guarantee and defend it, do not fear to leave to the people the choice of holders of that tutelary power. It will do only good things. For it to do so, however, it must emanate from its true source. The representatives of the nation, proud of their national mission, must place their hope and find their reward only in the votes of those they represent. I will close this digression with two considerations all the more important in their touching on power as much as freedom. The appointment of representative assemblies by an electoral college creates an authority which is neither that of the government nor of the people. And if that authority develops a feeling of hatred for the government, it is in vain that the latter may be surrounded with public affection,  in vain that it deserves it. The people who do not have right of election can change nothing in the makeup of the assemblies which speak in their name. It would be in vain too if the government had the right to dissolve them. Dissolution is nothing without popular election, for there is no longer any recourse to the wishes of the people. If the electoral college agrees with the government, the nation will be faced, without being able to make itself heard, with the removal of its most faithful mandatories, the true representatives of its will. If the electoral college is hostile to the government, it will be in vain that the people surround the latter with their love and confidence. Government and nation will see seditious representatives reelected, without any constitutionally legitimate opposition possible, whom the unanimous disavowal of their constituents will not be able to deprive of their position as their deputies. A remarkable era in the annals of the British Parliament brings out the importance of this consideration. In 1783 the English king dismissed his ministers. Almost the entire Parliament belonged to their party. The English people thought differently. The king having appealed to the people in this, via a dissolution of the House of Commons, an immense majority gave its support to the new government. Now, suppose popular election replaced by the authority of an electoral college, if the majority of that college had leaned toward a party which had neither the assent of the governors nor the governed, this party would have had control of affairs, despite the unanimous manifestation of the national will. So true is it that you do not increase the real and legitimate force of government by attacking the people’s rights and that it is impossible to create a stable organization if you budge from the principles on which freedom rests. If it were claimed that with a bit of skill or lots of force the government will always dominate the electoral body, I would reply first of all that this hypothesis of a representative assembly which is only the instrument of one or a few men is a terrible one. It would be a thousand times better to have no assemblies at all. Oppression is never so terrible in the name of one man as when it borrows the appearances of freedom. One man would never dare to wish on his own what he orders his agents to will, when they call themselves  organs of an independent authority. Think of the Senate of Tiberius or Henry VIII’s Parliament. But I would next say that a disorderly agency can react against the hand which employs it. A government which makes use of an assembly which it dominates always courts the risk of seeing it suddenly turn against it. The most enslaved corporate bodies are also the most violent when some unforeseen event occurs which breaks their fetters. They wish to break the opprobrium of their long servitude. The same senators who had voted public holidays to celebrate the death of Agrippina and to congratulate Nero for the murder of his mother condemned him to be beaten with rods and thrown in the Tiber.
I know that people want to frighten souls with exaggerated pictures of the tumults of popular elections. More than once a witness of the apparent disorders which accompany contested elections in England, I have seen how unreliable the descriptions made of them are. Unquestionably, I have seen elections accompanied by uproar, brawls, violent disputes, insults often of the grossest sort, everything which characterizes the class which physical labor deprives of any culture or elegance, any refined occupation. But election did not bear any less on men of notable talent or wealth. And once this operation was over, everything returned to the customary order. Artisans and workmen, recently obstinate and turbulent, became hardworking, docile, even respectful again. Satisfied with having exercised their rights, they complied all the more readily with social superiorities and conventions, in that they were aware, behaving thus, that they were obeying only the independent calculation of rational interest. The morning after an election there was never the least trace of last night’s disturbances. The people resumed their work, but they had become convinced of their political importance, and public awareness had received the necessary shaking to bring it alive again. Elections are like almost everything else relating to public order. It is by dint of troublesome precautionary measures that people effect them and nurture them. In France our spectacles and fairs are ringed with guards and bayonets. You might well think three French citizens incapable of meeting without two soldiers to separate them.  In England twenty thousand men assemble. Not a single soldier appears among them. The security of each one is entrusted to the reason and interest of each. The crowd, feeling itself the depositary of public order and individual security, guards this duty scrupulously. I will go further. Everything which people invent about the English elections could be proved without my changing my opinion. I would tell myself that for the sense of freedom to penetrate the heart of the nation, it is perhaps necessary sometimes that freedom clothe itself in forms, popular, stormy, boisterous ones, within its understanding. I would rather see a few unforeseen accidents as a result of this, than see the nation becoming indifferent and discouraged because of the absence of these forms. When the nation takes no interest in its rights, power will break out of its confines. Then it undertakes insane wars and allows itself to engage in illegal vexation. And if your counterargument concerns a few individual misfortunes, a few men dead through suffocation by the crowd or in unexpected brawls, I will ask you whether those who are deported to far, distant shores do not perish, or those whom a worthless whim send beyond the seas on murderous expeditions, or those who are locked up in prisons. If these things are prevented only by freely elected representation, anyone who reflects will willingly run the very improbable risk of some fatal mischance to obtain that unique safeguard against the suspicions of tyranny and the madness of ambition.
[10. ]Jacques Necker, Dernières vues de politique et de finance, offerte à la nation française, s.l., an X, 1802, p. 4: “It would be a mistake to reckon that by this political disposition one had had in view only to make more sure of the suitability of the chosen.”
[11. ]Constant is inspired directly by Montesquieu here: “It never happened,” says Xenophon, “that the lower class ever demanded elected officers who might compromise their safety or glory.” De l’esprit des lois, Livre II, Ch. 2, éd. cit., p. 533. It is amusing to observe that Gaëtano Filangieri uses the same quotation, and without giving his source, in La science de la législation, Paris, Cuchet, 1786, t. I, pp. 191–192. Constant, who also knew this work, could just as easily have found this example from Xenophon in Filangieri. This shows once again how far Montesquieu was read and used. Thanks to a reference supplied by Montesquieu, one can go back to Xenophon, La république des Athéniens I, 3. Compare Xenophon, Anabase, Banquet, Economique, De la chasse, République des Lacédémoniens, République des Athéniens, new translation with observations and notes by Pierre Chambry, Paris, Garnier, 1954, p. 510.
[12. ]The Titus Livy example seems to come from Montesquieu too, De l’esprit des lois, Livre II, Ch. 2 (éd. cit., p. 533).
[13. ]That of 5 fructidor an III (22 August 1795).
[F. [Refers to page 329.]]Montesquieu, Esprit des lois, II, 2.
[G. [Refers to page 335.]]The members of the legislature of New Jersey make an oath not to vote against laws which assure periodic elections, trial by jury, freedom of conscience, and that of the press. Those of South Carolina take the same oath and moreover one promising not to enact any retroactive law nor to establish any noble titles.