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LECTURE I - François Guizot, The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe 
The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, trans. Andrew R. Scoble, Introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Simultaneous development of history and civilization. ~ Two errors in our method of considering the past; proud disdain, or superstitious admiration. ~ Historic impartiality the vocation of the present age. ~ Divisions of the history of the political institutions of Europe into four great epochs. ~ Representative government was the general and natural aim of these institutions. ~ Object of the course; inquiry into the origin of representative government in France, Spain, and England. ~ State of mind appropriate to this inquiry.
Such is the immensity of human affairs, that, so far from exhibiting superannuation and decay with the progress of time, they seem to gain new youth, and to gird themselves afresh at frequent intervals, in order to appear under aspects hitherto unknown. Not only does each age receive a vocation to devote itself especially to a particular region of inquiry; but the same studies are to each age as a mine but little explored, or as an unknown territory where objects for discovery present themselves at every step. In the study of history this truth is especially apparent. The facts about which history concerns itself neither gain nor lose anything by being handed down from age to age; whatever we have seen in these facts, and whatever we can see, has been contained in them ever since they were originally accomplished; but they never allow themselves to be fully apprehended, nor permit all their meaning to be thoroughly investigated; they have, so to speak, innumerable secrets, which slowly utter themselves after man has become prepared to recognise them. And as everything in man and around him changes, as the point of view from which he considers the facts of history, and the state of mind which he brings to the survey, continually vary, we may speak of the past as changing with the present; unperceived facts reveal themselves in ancient facts; other ideas, other feelings, are called up by the same names and the same narratives; and man thus learns that in the infinitude of space opened to his knowledge, everything remains constantly fresh and inexhaustible; in regard to his ever-active and ever-limited intelligence.
This combined view of the greatness of events and the feebleness of the human mind, never appears so startlingly distinct as upon the occurrence of those extraordinary crises, which, so to speak, entirely delocalize man, and transport him to a different sphere. Such revolutions, it is true, do not unfold themselves in an abrupt and sudden manner. They are conceived and nurtured in the womb of society long before they emerge to the light of day. But the moment arrives beyond which their full accomplishment cannot be delayed, and they then take possession of all that exists in society, transform it, and place everything in an entirely new position; so that if, after such a shock, man looks back upon the history of the past, he can scarcely recognise it. That which he sees, he had never seen before; what he saw once, no longer exists as he saw it; facts rise up before him with unknown faces, and speak to him in a strange language. He sets himself to the examination of them under the guidance of other principles of observation and appreciation. Whether he considers their causes, their nature, or their consequences, unknown prospects open before him on all sides. The actual spectacle remains the same; but it is viewed by another spectator occupying a different place—to his eyes all is changed.
What marvel is it, gentlemen, if, in this new state of things and of himself, man adopts, as the special objects of his study, questions and facts which connect themselves more immediately with the revolution which has just been accomplished,—if he directs his gaze precisely towards that quarter where the change has been most profound? The grand crises in the life of humanity are not all of the same nature; although they, sooner or later, influence the whole mass of society, they act upon it and approach it, in some respects, from different sides. Sometimes it is by religious ideas, sometimes by political ideas, sometimes by a simple discovery, or a mechanical invention, that the world is ruled and changed. The apparent metamorphosis which the past then undergoes is effected chiefly in that which corresponds to the essential character of the revolution that is actually going forward in the present. Let us imagine, if we can, the light in which the traditions and religious recollections of Paganism must have appeared to the Christians of the first centuries, and then we shall understand the new aspects under which old facts present themselves in those times of renovation, which Providence has invested with a peculiar importance and significance.
Such is, gentlemen, up to a certain point, the position in which we ourselves are placed with regard to that subject which is to come before us in the present course of lectures. It is from the midst of the new political order which has commenced in Europe in our own days that we are about to consider, I do not say naturally, but necessarily, the history of the political institutions of Europe from the foundation of modern states. To descend from this point of view is not in our power. Against our will, and without our knowledge, the ideas which have occupied the present will follow us wherever we go in the study of the past. Vainly should we attempt to escape from the lights which they cast thereupon; those lights will only diffuse themselves around on all sides with more confusion and less utility. We will then frankly accept a position which, in my opinion, is favourable, and certainly inevitable. We attempt today, and with good reason, to reconnect what we now are with what we formerly were; we feel the necessity of bringing our habits into association with intelligent feeling, to connect our institutions with our recollections, and, in fine, to gather together the links in that chain of time, which never allows itself to be entirely broken, however violent may be the assaults made upon it. In accordance with the same principles, and guided by the same spirit, we shall not refuse the aid which can be derived from modern ideas and institutions, in order to guide our apprehension and judgment while studying ancient institutions, since we neither can, nor would wish to be separated from our proper selves, any more than we would attempt or desire to isolate ourselves from our forefathers.1
This study, gentlemen, has been much neglected in our days; and when attempts have been made to revive it, it has been approached with such a strong preoccupation of mind, or with such a determined purpose, that the fruits of our labour have been damaged at the outset. Opinions which are partial and adopted before facts have been fairly examined, not only have the effect of vitiating the rectitude of judgment, but they moreover introduce a deplorable frivolity into researches which we may call material. As soon as the prejudiced mind has collected a few documents and proofs in support of its cherished notion, it is contented, and concludes its inquiry. On the one hand, it beholds in facts that which is not really contained in them; on the other hand, when it believes that the amount of information it already possesses will suffice, it does not seek further knowledge. Now, such has been the force of circumstances and passions among us, that they have disturbed even erudition itself. It has become a party weapon, an instrument of attack or defence; and facts themselves, inflexible and immutable facts, have been by turns invited or repulsed, perverted or mutilated, according to the interest or sentiment in favour of which they were summoned to appear.
In accordance with this prevailing circumstance of our times, two opposite tendencies are observable in those opinions and writings which have passed a verdict on the ancient political institutions of Europe. On the one hand, we see minds so overpowered by the splendour of the new day which has dawned upon mankind, that they see in the generations which preceded, only darkness, disorder, and oppression,—objects either for their indignation or their contempt. Proud disdain of the past has taken possession of these minds,—a disdain which exalts itself into a system. This system has presented all the characteristics of settled impiety. Laws, sentiments, ideas, customs, everything pertaining to our forefathers, it has treated with coldness or scorn. It would seem as if reason, regard for justice, love of liberty, all that makes society dignified and secure, were a discovery of today, made by the generation which has last appeared. In thus renouncing its ancestors, this generation forgets that it will soon join them in the tomb, and that in its turn it will leave its inheritance to its children.
This pride, gentlemen, is not less contrary to the truth of things than fatal to the society which entertains it. Providence does not so unequally deal with the generations of men, as to impoverish some in order that the rest may be lavishly endowed at their expense. It is doubtless true, that virtue and glory are not shared in a uniform degree by different ages; but there is no age which does not possess some legitimate claim upon the respect of its descendants. There is not one which has not borne its part in the grand struggle between good and evil, truth and error, liberty and oppression. And not only has each age maintained this laborious struggle on its own account, but whatever advantage it has been able to gain, it has transmitted to its successors. The superior vantage-ground on which we were born, is a gift to us from our forefathers, who died upon the territory themselves had won by conquest. It is then a blind and culpable ingratitude which affects to despise the days which are gone. We reap the fruits of their labours and sacrifices—is it too much for us to hallow the memory of those labours, and to render a just recompense for those sacrifices?
If those men who affect, or who actually feel, this irreverent disdain or in difference for ancient times, were better acquainted with these times and their history, they would find themselves constrained to entertain a different opinion. When, in fact, we investigate the cause of this unnatural state of mind, only one explanation can be found. At the moment of grand social reforms, during epochs full of ambition and hope, when important changes are on all sides demanded and necessary, the authority of the past is the one obstacle which opposes itself to all tendency to innovation. The present time seems devoted to errors and abuses, and the wisdom of centuries is appealed to by one party in order to resist the future to which the aspirations of the other party are directed. Accordingly, a kind of blind hatred of the past takes possession of a great number of men. They regard it as making common cause with the enemies of present amelioration, and the weapons employed by these latter confirm this idea in their mind. Gentlemen, the notion is full of falsehood and misapprehension. It is not true that injustice and abuses alone can shelter themselves under the authority of antiquity, that they only are capable of appealing to precedent and experience. Truth, justice, and rectitude, are also graced by venerable titles; and at no period has man allowed them to be proscribed. Take in succession all the moral needs, all the legitimate interests of our society, arrange them in systematic order, and then traverse the history of our country;—you will find them constantly asserted and defended,—all epochs will afford you innumerable proofs of struggles endured, of victories won, of concessions obtained in this holy cause. It has been carried on with different issues, but in no time or place has it been abandoned. There is not a truth or a right which cannot bring forward, from any period of history, monuments to consecrate, and facts to vindicate it. Justice has not retired from the world, even when it finds there least support:—it has constantly sought and embraced, both with governments and in the midst of peoples, all opportunities for extending its dominion. It has struggled, protested, waited; and when it has had only glory to bestow upon those who have fought for it, it has bestowed that glory with a liberal hand.
Let us then, gentlemen, reassure ourselves with reference to the study of the past. It contains nothing which ought to alarm the friends of all that is good and true. It is into their hands, on the contrary, and in subservience to interests which are dear to them, that it will ever deposit the authority of antiquity and the lessons of experience.
This unjust contempt for ancient institutions, however, this wild attempt to dissever the present from its connexion with former ages and to begin society afresh, thus delivering it up to all the dangers of a position in which it is deprived of its roots and cast upon the protection of a wisdom which is yet in its infancy, is not an error of which we have been the first to give an example. In one of those ephemeral parliaments which attempted to maintain its existence under the yoke of Cromwell, it was seriously proposed to deliver up to the flames all the archives in the Tower of London, and thus to annihilate the monuments of the existence of England in former ages. These infatuated men wished to abolish the past, flattering themselves that they would then obtain an absolute control over the future. Their design was rejected, and their hope foiled; and very soon England, regaining, with new liberties, respect for all its recollections of the past, entered upon that career of development and prosperity which it has continued up to our times.
Side by side with this infatuation which has induced men, otherwise enlightened, to neglect the study of the ancient institutions of Europe, or only to regard their history with a hasty and supercilious glance, we have seen another infatuation arise, perhaps still more unreasonable and arrogant. Here, as elsewhere, impiety has been the herald of superstition. The past, so despised, so neglected by the one party, has become to the other an object of idolatrous veneration. The former desire that society, mutilating its own being, should disown its former life; the latter would have it return to its cradle, in order to remain there immovable and powerless. And as those lords of the future would in their own wild fancy create out of it, so far as regards government and social order, the most brilliant Utopias, so these, on the other hand, find their Utopia in their dreams of the past. The work might appear more difficult; the field open to the imagination may seem less open, and facts might be expected sometimes to press inconveniently against the conclusions sought. But what will not a preoccupied mind overcome? Plato and Harrington, giving to their thoughts the widest range, had constructed their ideal of a republic; and we, with still more confidence, have constructed our ideal of feudalism, of absolute power, and even of barbarism. Fully organized societies, adorned with freedom and morality, have been conceived and fashioned at leisure, in order thence to be transported into past ages. After having attempted to resolve, according to principles opposed to modern tendencies, the great problem of the harmony between liberty and power, between order and progress, we have required that ancient facts should receive these theories and adapt themselves to them. And since, in the vast number of facts, some are to be found which lend themselves with docility and readiness to the purposes which they are required to serve, the discoverers of this pretended antiquity have not lacked either quotations or proofs which might seem to give it an ascertained and definite existence in the past. Thus, France, after having spent more than five centuries in its struggles to escape from the feudal system, has all at once discovered that it was wrong in liberating itself from this system, for that in this state it possessed true happiness and freedom; and history, which believed itself to be chargeable with so many evils, iniquities, and convulsions, is surprised to learn that it only hands down to us recollections of two or three golden ages.
There is no necessity for me, gentlemen, to offer any very serious opposition to this fantastic and superstitious adoration of the past. It would hardly have merited even a passing allusion, were it not connected with systems and tendencies in which all society is interested. It is one of the collateral circumstances of the grand struggle which has never ceased to agitate the world. The interests and ideas which have successively taken possession of society have always wished to render it stationary in the position which has given it over to their rule; and when it has escaped from them, it has ever, in so doing, had to withstand those seductive images and influences which these interests have called to their aid. There is no fear that the world will allow itself to be thus ensnared—progress is the law of its nature; hope, and not regret, is the spring of its movement—the future alone possesses an attractive virtue. Peoples who have emerged from slavery have always endeavoured by laws to prevent enfranchised man from again falling into servitude. Providence has not been less careful with regard to humanity; and the chains which have not sufficed to confine it, are still less able to resume the grasp which they have lost. But the efforts of a retrograde system have often perverted the study of ancient times. The Emperor Julian saw in the popular fables of Greece a philosophy capable of satisfying those moral necessities which Christianity had come to satisfy, and he demanded that men should see and honour in the history of decayed paganism that which only existed in his dreams. The same demands have been made with as little reason on behalf of the ancient political institutions of Europe. Justice, and justice alone, is due to that which no longer exists, as well as to that which still remains. Respect for the past means neither approbation nor silence for that which is false, culpable, or dangerous. The past deserves no gratitude or consideration from us, except on account of the truth which it has known, and the good which it has aimed at or accomplished. Time has not been endowed with the unhallowed office of consecrating evil or error; on the contrary, it unmasks and consumes them. To spare them because they are ancient, is not to respect the past, but it is to outrage truth, which is older than the world itself.
If I am not mistaken, gentlemen, we are at this time in an especially favourable position for avoiding both of the general errors which I have just described. Perhaps few persons think so; but impartiality, which is the duty of all times, is, in my opinion, the mission of ours—not that cold and unprofitable impartiality which is the off spring of in difference, but that energetic and fruitful impartiality which is inspired by the vision and admiration of truth. That equal and universal justice, which is now the deepest want of society, is also the ruling idea which is ever foremost in position and influence, wherever the spirit of man is found. Blind prejudices, insincere declamation, are no longer any more acceptable in the world of literature, than are iniquity and violence in the world of politics. They may still have some power to agitate society, but they are not permitted either to satisfy or to govern it. The particular state of our own country strengthens this disposition, or, if you please, this general tendency, of the European mind. We have not lived in that state of repose in which objects appear continually under almost the same aspects, in which the present is so changeless and regular as to present to man’s view an horizon that seldom varies, in which old and powerful conventionalisms govern thought as well as life, in which opinions are well nigh habits, and soon become prejudices—we have been cast not only into new tracks, but these are continually interrupted and diversified. All theories, all practices, are displayed in union or in rivalry before our eyes. Facts of all kinds have appeared to us under a multitude of aspects. Human nature has been urged impetuously onwards, and laid bare, so to speak, in all the elements of which it is constituted. Affairs and men have all passed from system to system, from combination to combination; and the observer, while himself continually changing his point of view, has been the witness of a spectacle which changed as often as he. Such times, gentlemen, offer but little tranquillity, and prepare tremendous difficulties for those which shall follow them. But they certainly give to minds capable of sustaining their pressure, an independent disposition, and an extended survey, which do not belong to more serene and fortunate periods. The large number, and the unsettled character of the facts which appear before us, widen the range of our ideas; the diversity of trials which all things undergo within so short an interval, teach us to judge them with impartiality; human nature reveals itself in its simplicity, as well as in its wealth. Experience hastens to fulfil its course, and, in some sort, hoards its treasures; in the short space of one life, man sees, experiences, and attempts that which might have sufficed to fill several centuries. This advantage is sufficiently costly, gentlemen, to act at least as an inducement to our reaping it. It does not become us to entertain narrow views and obstinate prejudices; to petrify the form of our judgments by foregone conclusions; in fine, to ignore that diffusion of truth, which has been attested by so many vissicitudes, and which imposes on us the duty of seeking it everywhere, and rendering it homage wherever we meet it, if we would have its sanction to our thoughts, and its aid to our utterance.
In this spirit, gentlemen, we shall attempt to consider the ancient political institutions of Europe, and to sketch their history. While for this purpose we appropriate such lights as our age can furnish, we shall endeavour to carry with us none of the passions which divide it. We shall not approach past times under the guidance of such impressions belonging to the present, as those whose influence we have just deplored; we shall not address to them those questions which, by their very nature, dictate the answers which they shall receive. I have too much regard for those who listen to me, and for the truth after which I, in common with them, am seeking, to suppose that history can in any sense consent to suppress that which it has asserted, or to utter what is not affirmed by the voice of truth. We must interrogate it freely, and then leave it to full independence.
This study, gentlemen, requires a centre to which it may stand in relation—we must find for so large a number of facts, a bond which may unite and harmonize them. This bond exists in the facts themselves—nothing can be less doubtful. Unity and consecutiveness are not lacking in the moral world, as they are not in the physical. The moral world has, like the system of celestial bodies, its laws and activity; only the secret according to which it acts is more profound, and the human mind has more difficulty in discovering it. We have entered upon this inquiry so late, that events already accomplished may serve us as guides. We have no need to ask of some philosophical hypothesis, itself perhaps uncertain and incomplete, what, in the order of political development, has been the tendency of European civilization. A system which evidently, from a general view of the subject, adheres continually to the same principles, starts from the same necessities, and tends to the same results, manifests or proclaims its presence throughout the whole of Europe. Almost everywhere the representative form of government is demanded, allowed, or established. This fact is, assuredly, neither an accident, nor the symptom of a transient madness. It has certainly its roots in the past political career of the nations, as it has its motives in their present condition. And if, warned by this, we turn our attention to the past, we shall everywhere meet with attempts, more or less successful, either made with a conscious regard to this system so as to produce it naturally, or striving to attain it by the subjugation of contrary forces. England, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany and Sweden, supply us with numerous illustrations of this. If we look to one quarter we shall see these attempts after they have lasted for some time, and assumed an historical consistency; in another, they have hardly commenced before they issue in failure; in a third, they end in a kind of federation of the governments themselves. Their forms are as diverse as their fortunes. England alone continues these struggles without intermission, and enters at last into full enjoyment of their realization. But everywhere they take their place in history, and influence the destinies of nations. And when at last, no longer finding even the shadow of a representative government on the Continent of Europe, and beholding it only in the parliament of Great Britain, a man of genius inquires into its origin, he says that “this noble system was first found in the woods of Germany,” from whence the ancestors of the whole of Europe have all equally proceeded.2
In this opinion, as will be afterwards seen, I do not agree with Montesquieu; but it is evident, both from ancient facts and from those which we ourselves have witnessed, that the representative form of government has, so to speak, constantly hovered over Europe, ever since the founding of modern states. Its reappearance at so many times and in so many places, is not to be accounted for by the charm of any theory, or the power of any conspiracy. In the endeavour after it, men have often ignored its principles and mistaken its nature, but it has existed in European society as the basis of all its deepest wants and most enduring tendencies; sovereigns have invoked its aid in their hours of difficulty, and nations have ever returned to it during those intervals of prosperity and repose in which the march of civilization has been accelerated. Its most undeveloped efforts have left behind them indelible mementos. Indeed, ever since the birth of modern societies, their condition has been such, that in their institution, in their aspirations, and in the course of their history, the representative form of government, while hardly realized as such by the mind, has constantly loomed more or less distinctly in the distance, as the port at which they must at length arrive, in spite of the storms which scatter them, and the obstacles which confront and oppose their entrance.
We do not then, gentlemen, make an arbitrary choice, but one perfectly natural and necessary, when we make the representative form of government the central idea and aim of our history of the political institutions of Europe. To regard them from this point of view will not only give to our study of them the highest interest, but will enable us rightly to enter into the facts themselves, and truly to appreciate them. We shall then make this form of government the principal object of our consideration. We shall seek it wherever it has been thought to be discernible, wherever it has attempted to gain for itself a footing, wherever it has fully established itself. We shall inquire if it has in reality existed at times and in places where we have been accustomed to look for its germs. Whenever we find any indications of it, however crude and imperfect they may be, we shall inquire how it has been produced, what has been the extent of its power, and what influences have stifled it and arrested its progress. Arriving at last at the country where it has never ceased to consolidate and extend itself, from the thirteenth century to our own times, we shall remain there in order to follow it in its march, to unravel its vicissitudes, to watch the development of the principles and institutions with which it is associated, penetrating into their nature and observing their action—to study, in a word, the history of the representative system in that country where it really possesses a history which identifies itself with that of the people and their government.
Before undertaking this laborious task, it will be necessary for me, gentlemen, to exhibit before you, in a few words, the chief phases of the political condition of Europe, and the series of the principal systems of institutions through which it has passed. This anticipatory classification,—which is but a general survey of facts which will afterwards reappear before you and bring their own evidence with them,—is necessary, not only in order to clear the way before us in our study, but also to indicate the particular institutions and times which the point of view we have chosen for ourselves especially calls us to consider.
The history of the political institutions of Europe divides itself into four general epochs, during which society has been governed according to modes and forms essentially distinct.
The tribes of Germany, in establishing themselves on the Roman soil, carried thither with them their liberty, but none of those institutions by which its exercise is regulated and its permanence guaranteed. Individuals were free—a free society, however, was not constituted. I will say further, that a society was not then existent. It was only after the conquest, and in consequence of their territorial establishment, that a society really began to be formed either among the conquerors and the conquered, or among the victors themselves. The work was long and difficult. The positions in which they were placed were complicated and precarious, their forces scattered and irregular, the human mind little capable of extensive combinations and foresight. Different systems of institutions, or rather different tendencies, appeared and contended with each other. Individuals, for whom liberty then meant only personal independence and isolation, struggled to preserve it. Those who were strong succeeded in obtaining it, and became powerful; those who were weak lost it and fell under the yoke of the powerful. The kings, at first only the chiefs of warrior bands, and then the first of the great territorial proprietors, attempted to confirm and extend their power; but simultaneously with them an aristocracy was formed, by the local success of scattered forces and the concentration of properties, which did not allow royalty to establish itself with any vigour or to exert any wide-spread influence. The ancient liberty of the forest, the earliest attempts at monarchical system, the nascent elements of the feudal regime,—such were the powers which were then struggling for pre-eminence in society. No general political order could establish itself in the midst of this conflict. It lasted till the eleventh century. Then the feudal system had become predominant. The primitive independence and wild equality of individuals had either become merged into a condition of servitude, or had submitted to the hierarchical subordination of feudalism. All central power, whether of kings or of ancient national assemblies, had well nigh disappeared; liberty existed co-ordinately with power; the sovereignty was scattered. This is the first epoch.*
The second epoch is that of the feudal system. Three essential characteristics belong to it; 1st. The reduction of the mass of the people to slavery or a condition bordering thereon: 2nd. The hierarchical and federative organization of the feudal aristocracy, extending in its application both to persons and lands: 3rd. The almost entire dissolution of the sovereignty, which then devolved on every feudal proprietor capable of exercising and defending it; from whence resulted the feebleness of the royal power and the destruction of monarchical unity, which disappeared almost as completely as national unity. This system prevailed until the thirteenth century.
Then commenced a new epoch. The feudal lord, already possessed of royal power, aspired after royal dignity. A portion of the inhabitants of the territory, having regained somewhat of the power they had lost, longed to become free. The feudal aristocracy was attacked on the one hand by the enfranchisement of the townsmen and tenants, on the other hand by the extension of the royal power. Sovereignty tended to concentration, liberty to diffusion; national unity began to shape itself at the same time as monarchical unity appeared. This was at once indicated and promoted by attempts after a representative form of government, which were made and renewed during nearly three centuries, wherever the feudal system fell into decay, or the monarchical system prevailed. But soon sovereigns also began almost everywhere to distrust it in their turn. They could not behold with in difference that sovereignty, which after having been long diffused had been regained and concentrated by their efforts, now again divided at its very centre. Besides, the people were deficient alike in such strength and knowledge as would enable them to continue, on the one hand, against the feudal system, a struggle which had not yet ceased, and to sustain, on the other hand, a new struggle against the central power. It was evident that the times were not fully matured; that society, which had not thoroughly emerged from that condition of servitude which had been the successor of social chaos, was neither so firmly consolidated nor so mentally disciplined as to be able to secure at once order by the equitable administration of power, and liberty by the safeguards of large and influential public institutions. The efforts after representative government became more occasional and feeble, and at length disappeared. One country alone guarded and defended it, and advanced from one struggle to another, till it succeeded. In other places, the purely monarchical system prevailed. This result was accomplished in the sixteenth century.
The fourth epoch has lasted from that time to our own days. It is chiefly marked in England by the progress of the representative system; on the Continent, by the development of the purely monarchical system, with which are associated local privileges, judicial institutions which exercise a powerful influence on political order, and some remnants of those assemblies which, in epochs anterior to the present, appeared under a more general form, but which now con fine themselves to certain provinces, and are almost exclusively occupied with administrative functions. Under this system, though political liberty is no longer met with, barbarism and feudalism finally disappear before absolute power; interior order, the reconciliation of different classes, civil justice, public resources and information, make rapid progress; nations become enlightened and prosperous, and their prosperity, material as well as moral, excites in them juster apprehensions of, and more earnest longings for, that representative system which they had sought in times when they possessed neither the knowledge nor the power requisite for its exercise and preservation.
This short epitome of facts has already indicated to you, gentlemen, the epochs towards which our studies will be principally directed. The objects of our search are the political institutions of various peoples. The representative system is that around which our researches will centre. Wherever, then, we do not meet with those general institutions, under the empire of which people unite themselves, and which demand the manifestation of general society in its government—wherever we perceive no trace of the representative system, and no direct effort to produce it—there we shall not linger. All forms and conditions of society present rich and curious subjects for observation; but in this inexhaustible series of facts we must choose only those which have a strict relation to one another, and a direct interest for us. The second and the fourth epochs therefore, that is to say, feudalism and absolute power, will occupy us but little. We shall only speak of them so far as a consideration of them is necessary to connect and explain the periods which will more directly claim our attention. I purpose to study with you the first and the third epochs, and the fourth, so far as it relates to England. The first epoch, which shows us the German people establishing themselves on Roman soil—the struggle of their primitive institutions, or rather of their customs and habits, against the natural results of their new position—in fine, the throes attending the earliest formation of modern nations—has especial claims on our notice. I believe that, so far as regards political institutions, this time possessed nothing which deserves the name; but all the elements were there, in existence and commotion, as in the chaos which precedes creation. It is for us to watch this process, under which governments and peoples came into being. It is for us to ascertain whether, as has been asserted, public liberty and the representative system were actually there, whence some symptoms announced that they might one day emerge. When, in the third epoch, we see the feudal system being dissolved—when we watch the first movements towards a representative government appear at the same time with the efforts of a central power which aims at becoming general and organized—we shall recognize here, without difficulty, a subject which immediately belongs to us. We shall seek to learn what societies were then aroused, and by what means they have sought for trustworthy institutions, which might guarantee the continuance at once of order and of liberty. And when we have seen their hopes deceived by the calamities of the times, when we have detected in the vices of the social state, far more than in the influence of any disorderly or perverse desires, the causes of the ill-success of these magnanimous attempts, we shall be brought by our subject into the very midst of that people, then treated more leniently by fortune, which has paid dearly for free institutions, but which has guarded them to the last when they perished everywhere else, and which, while preserving and developing them for itself, has offered to other nations, if not a model, yet certainly an example.3
It would be a small matter for us, gentlemen, thus to limit the field of our inquiries so far as epochs are concerned, if we did not also assign some boundaries in respect to place. The inquiry would be too large and protracted were we to follow the course of political institutions throughout the whole of Europe, according to the plan I have just indicated. Moreover, the diversity of events and conditions has been so great in Europe, that, notwithstanding certain general characteristics and certain philosophical results which the facts everywhere present, they very often resist all the attempts we may make to bring them under any uniform guiding principle. In vain do we strive to collect them together under the same horizon, or to force them into the same channel; ever do they release themselves from our grasp in order to assume elsewhere the place assigned to them by truth. We should therefore be compelled either to limit ourselves to generalities yielding but little instruction to those who have not sounded all their depths, or else continually to interrupt the course of our inquiry, in order to rove from one people to another with an attention which would be continually distracted and soon wearied. It will be more profitable for us to take a narrower range. England, France, and Spain, will supply us with abundant materials for our undertaking. In these countries we shall study political institutions under the different phases and in the various epochs which I have just exhibited before you. There we shall find that these epochs are more clearly defined, and that the chief facts which characterize them appear under more complete and simple forms. In France and Spain, moreover, the general attempts after a representative government, made in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries, assumed a more definite shape. We are therefore dissuaded by a variety of considerations from carrying our steps beyond these limits. Our researches will thereby gain both in interest and in solidity.
This interest, gentlemen, I must say at the outset, is not that merely which attaches itself to human affairs, which are ever attractive to man, however trivial may be the attention which he bestows upon them. The study of the ancient political institutions of Europe demands serious and assiduous effort. I am here to share this with you, not to undertake it for you. I shall be frequently obliged to enter into details, which may appear dry at first, but which are important because of the results to which they lead. I shall not content myself with merely presenting before you these results as a general expression of facts; I shall feel called upon to put you in possession of the facts themselves. The truths which they contain must be seen by yourselves to proceed naturally from them, and must not be allowed a final lodgment in your minds except as they are fortified by such evidence as can establish them. Gentlemen, it is to be borne in mind that truth, wheresoever we may seek it, is not easy of access. We must dig deep for it, as for precious metals, before we find it; we must not shrink from the difficulties, nor from the long duration of the enterprise. It only surrenders itself to resolute and patient endeavour. And not only on behalf of our peculiar study do I urge upon you that you should never allow yourselves to be baffed by the fatigue attendant upon some portions of the work;—a more elevated motive, a more comprehensive claim, gives you this advice. Thrasea, when dying, said to his son-in-law, Helvidius Priscus, “Observe, young man: thou art living in times when it is well that the spirit should become fortified by such a scene as this; and learn how a brave man can die.” Thankful should we be to Heaven that such lessons as these are not now required by us, and that the future does not demand such hard discipline in order that we may be prepared to meet it. But the free institutions which we are called upon to receive and maintain—these demand of us, from our earliest youth, those habits of laborious and patient application which will constitute our fittest preparation. They require that we should, among our first lessons, learn not to shrink either from the pain, or from the length and arduousness of duty. If our destiny is to be sublime, our studies must be severe. Liberty is not a treasure which can be acquired or defended by those who set a disproportionate value on personal ease and gratification; and if ever man attains it after having toiled for it under the influence merely of luxurious or impatient feelings, it denies to him those honours and advantages which he expected to gain from its possession. It was the error of the preceding age that, while it aimed at urging the minds of men into a wider and more active career, it yet fostered the impression that all was then to become easy, that study would be transformed into amusement, and that obstacles were removed from the first steps of a life that was to issue in something great and impressive. The effeminate weakness of such sentiments were relics of the feebleness of times when liberty did not exist. We who live in the present day, know that freedom requires from the man who would enjoy it a sterner exercise of his powers. We know that it allows neither indolence of soul nor fickleness of mind, and that those generations which devote their youth to laborious study can alone secure liberty for their manhood. You will find, gentlemen, as you watch the development of the political institutions of Europe, that the experience of all ages confirms this of our own. You will not find that those grand designs that have been formed for the promotion of truth, justice, and progress, have ever emanated from the abode of sloth, of frivolity, and antipathy to all that demands labour and patience. As you trace back such enterprises to their source, you will always find there, serious aspect and grave determination, existing, so to speak, in their early life. Only by men formed in this mould have public laws and liberties been defended. They have, according as the wants of their age impelled them, resisted disorder or oppression. In the gravity of their own life and thoughts they have found a true measure of their own dignity, and, in their own, of the dignity of humanity. And, gentlemen, do not doubt, in following their example, of achieving also their success. You will soon become convinced that, in spite of the tests to which it has been exposed, our age is not among the most unrestrained that have existed. You will see that patriotism, a respect for law and order, a reverence for all that is just and sacred, have often been purchased at a far heavier price, and have called for severer self-denial. You will find that there is as much feebleness as ingratitude in the disposition that is intimidated and discouraged by the sight of obstacles which still present themselves, when obstacles of a far more formidable character have not wearied the resolution of noble men of former times. And thus, while early exercising your minds in all those habits which will prepare man for the duties of an exalted destiny, you will meet with nothing that will not continually deepen your attachment to your age and to your country.4
So far as I myself am concerned, may I be allowed, gentlemen, in entering with you today upon the study of the ancient political institutions of Europe, to congratulate myself on being able to approach the subject with the liberty that is suitable to it. It was in works of a similar character that I commenced my intellectual life. But at that time the public exposition of such facts and of the ideas related to them, was hardly permitted. Power had arrived at that condition in which it fears equally any representation of the oppression of peoples, and of their efforts to obtain liberty; as if it must necessarily meet in these two series of historical reminiscences at once the condemnation of its past acts, and the prediction of its future perils. We are no longer in this deplorable position; the institutions which France has received from its sovereign have liberated at once the present and the past. Such is the moral strength possessed by a legitimate and constitutional monarchy, that it trembles neither at the recitals of history nor at the criticisms of reason. It is based upon truth—and truth is consequently neither hostile nor dangerous to it. Wherever all the wants of society are recognised, and all its rights give each other mutual sanction and support, facts present only lessons of utility, and no longer hint at unwelcome allusions. The volume of history can now be spread out before us; and wherever we find the coincidence of legitimacy and constitutional order, we shall behold the prosperity both of governments and of peoples—the dignity of power ennobled and sustained by the dignity of obedience. In all positions, and however great may be the interval which separates them, we shall see man rendering honour to man; we shall see authority and liberty mutually regarding one another with that consideration and respect which can alone unite them in lasting connexion and guarantee their continued harmony. Let us congratulate ourselves, gentlemen, that we are living at a time in which this tutelary alliance has become a necessity—in which force without justice could only be an ephemeral power. The times to which we shall direct our attention experienced a harder lot; they more than once beheld despotism root itself deeply in its position, and at the same time saw injustice assert its claim to a lasting rule. We, gentlemen, who have seen so many and diversified forms of oppression—we have seen them all fall into decay. Neither their most furious violence, nor their most imposing lustre, have sufficed to preserve them from the corruption that is inherent in their nature; and we have at length entered upon an order of things which admits neither the oppression of force which usurps power, nor that of anarchy which destroys it. Let us, gentlemen, reap all the advantages connected with such an order:—let us show our respect for the distinguished author of this Charter by approving ourselves worthy of receiving, and capable of employing, the noble institutions which he has founded. Our gratitude can offer no purer homage.5
[1. ]A few words about Guizot’s historical method are in order here. In Guizot’s view, historical investigations must combine respect for the past and the desire to contribute to the progress of society. Not surprisingly, his historical writings had a strong political agenda, as illustrated by the following statement: “Ever since the birth of modern societies, their condition has been such, that in their institution, in their aspirations, and in the course of their history, the representative form of government . . . has constantly loomed more or less distinctly in the distance, as the port at which they must at length arrive, in spite of the storms which scatter them, and the obstacles which confront and oppose their entrance” (The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, p. 12; all pages refer to the present edition, henceforth abbreviated as HORG). Guizot looked for a juste milieu, a middle ground between those who harbored only “proud disdain of the past” (ibid., p. 6) and those who remained mired in the past without being able to understand and adapt to the present (ibid., p. 8). To this effect, he criticized those who wanted to “dissever the present from its connection with former ages and to begin society afresh” (ibid., p. 7). Another important characteristic of Guizot’s historical method was the alliance of philosophy and history, the constant passing from the examination of circumstances to that of ideas, from the exposition of facts to the commentary of doctrines. He believed that, in order to apprehend correctly the character and consequences of facts, one must reduce them to general patterns and ideas. For more details, also see HORG, pp. 224-25. The same method underlies Guizot’s History of Civilization in Europe, ed. Larry Siedentop (London: Penguin, 1997), pp. 65-66, 201-202 (henceforth abbreviated as HCE).
[2. ]For more details, see Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Book II; Book XIV, 3; Book XVIII, 23; Book XXX, 19. Unlike Montesquieu, Guizot did not claim that representative institutions could be found “in the woods of Germany.” He pointed out that no general political order existed during the first ten centuries because of the incessant conflict between various political powers.
[* ] On this see Guizot’s History of Civilization in France. Lectures vii and viii.
[3. ]For more details, also see HORG, pp. 221–22. In HCE Guizot also referred to four epochs: the barbarian epoch; the feudal age; the age in which the first attempts at representative government were made; and, finally, the age marked by the progress of representative system in England and the development of absolute monarchy on the Continent.
[4. ]This is an excellent summary of Guizot’s political vision. He believed that the mission of his (post-revolutionary) generation was to establish free representative institutions by reconciling freedom and order. This task required a long apprenticeship of liberty, a stern exercise of power, and “habits of laborious and patient application” (HORG, p. 17). Worth noting is Guizot’s emphasis on the arduousness of duty, self-denial (Kant’s influence is obvious in this regard!), laborious study, and determination. In Guizot’s view, the just political agenda was dictated by national (as opposed to factional) interests and had to follow both reason and the public interest. For more details, see Guizot, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de mon temps, Vol. I (Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, 1870), pp. 158–66, 193–205.
[5. ]Worth noting is the relation between the social and the political order, a theme that looms large in Guizot’s writings, most notably in connection with his theory of democracy as social condition. Against those who argued that representative government was a dangerous modern institution, Guizot claimed that it had deep roots in the past and represented the only political regime that was suitable to the new spirit of the age. “Almost everywhere,” he wrote, “the representative form of government is demanded, allowed, or established. This fact . . . has certainly its roots in the past political career of the nations, as it has its motives in their present condition” (HORG, p. 11). In other words, in France, the establishment of representative government was demanded by the new social condition that was characterized by a new configuration of mores, laws, class structure, property relations, and economic interests. For more details on the doctrinaires’ theory of democracy as état social (social condition), see Charles de Rémusat, “L’esprit de réaction: Royer-Collard et Tocqueville” (“The Spirit of Reaction: Royer-Collard and Tocqueville”), Revue des deux mondes, October 15, 1861, pp. 777–813; Aurelian Craiutu, “Tocqueville and the Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires,” History of Political Thought, Vol. XX, No. 3, Autumn 1999, pp. 456–93.