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LECTURE 6 - 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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The true principle of representative government. ~ Error of classifying governments according to their external forms. ~ Montesquieu’s error with respect to the origin of the representative system. ~ Necessary correlation and simultaneous formation of society and government. ~ Rousseau’s mistaken hypothesis of the social contract. ~ The nature of rightful sovereignty. ~ Confused and contradictory ideas entertained on this subject. ~ Societies, as individuals, possess the right of being placed under laws of justice and reason. ~ Governments ought to be continually reminded of their obligation to inquire into and conform to these laws. ~ Classification of governments on this principle.
I propose to examine the political institutions of modern Europe in their early infancy, and to seek what they have in common with the representative system of government. My object will be to learn whether this form of government had then attained to any degree of development, or even existed only in germ; at what times, and in what places it first appeared, where and under what circumstances it prospered or failed. I have just examined the primitive institutions of the Anglo-Saxons. Before leaving our consideration of England, it might be well for me to compare these institutions with the essential type of representative government, in order to see how they agree and in what they differ. But this type is not yet in our possession. In order to find it I shall revert to the essential principle of representative government, to the original ideas out of which it springs; and I shall compare this idea with the fundamental idea that underlies Anglo-Saxon institutions.
The human mind is naturally led to judge of the nature of things, and to classify them according to their exterior forms; accordingly, governments have almost invariably been arranged according to distinctions which do not at all belong to their inherent character. Wherever none of those positive institutions have been immediately recognized which according to our present notions, represent and guarantee political liberty, it has been thought that no liberty could exist, and that power must be absolute. But in human affairs, various elements are mingled: nothing exists in a simple and pure state. As some traces of absolute power are to be found at the basis of free governments, so also some liberty has existed under governments to all appearance founded on absolutism. No form of society is completely devoid of reason and justice—for were all reason and justice to be withdrawn, society would perish. We may sometimes see governments of apparently the most opposite character produce the same effects. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, representative government raised England to the highest elevation of moral and material prosperity; and France, during that same period, increased in splendour, wealth, and enlightenment, under an absolute monarchy. I do not intend by this to insinuate the impression that forms of government are unimportant, and that all produce results of equal quality and value; I merely wish to hint that we should not appreciate them by only a few of their results, or by their exterior indications. In order fully to appreciate a government, we must penetrate into its essential and constituent principles. We shall then perceive that many governments which differ considerably in their forms, are referable to the same principles; and that others which appear to resemble one another in their forms, are in fundamental respects different. Wherever elections and assemblies have presented themselves to view, it has been thought that the elements of a representative system were to be found. Montesquieu, looking at representative government in England, endeavoured to trace it back to the old Germanic institutions. “This noble system,” he says, “originated in the woods.” Appearances deceived Montesquieu; he merely took into consideration the exterior characteristics of representative government, not its true principles and its true tendencies. That is a superficial and false method which classifies governments according to their exterior characteristics; making monarchy, government by one individual; aristocracy, government by several; democracy, government by the people, the sovereignty of all. This classification, which is based only upon one particular fact, and upon a certain material shape which power assumes, does not go to the heart of those questions, or rather of that question, by the solution of which the nature and tendency of governments is determined. This question is, “What is the source of the sovereign power, and what is its limit? Whence does it come, and where does it stop?” In the answer to this question is involved the real principle of government; for it is this principle whose influence, direct or indirect, latent or obvious, gives to societies their tendency and their fate.1
Where are we to look for this principle? Is it a mere conventional arrangement by man? Is its existence anterior to that of society?
The two facts—society and government—mutually imply one another; society without government is no more possible than government without society. The very idea of society necessarily implies that of rule, of universal law, that is to say, of government.
What then is the first social law? I hasten to pronounce it: it is justice, reason, a rule of which every man has the germ within his own breast. If man only yields to a superior force, he does not truly submit to the law; there is no society and no government. If in his dealings with his fellows, man obeys not only force, but also a law, then society and government exist. In the abnegation of force, and obedience to law, consists the fundamental principle of society and government. In the absence of these two conditions, neither society nor government can be properly said to exist.
This necessary coexistence of society and government shows the absurdity of the hypothesis of the social contract. Rousseau presents us with the picture of men already united together into a society, but without rule, and exerting themselves to create one; as if society did not itself presuppose the existence of a rule to which it was indebted for its existence. If there is no rule, there is no society; there are only individuals united and kept together by force. This hypothesis then, of a primitive contract, as the only legitimate source of social law, rests upon an assumption that is necessarily false and impossible.
The opposite hypothesis, which places the origin of society in the family and in the right of the father over his children, is less objectionable, but it is incomplete. There is, certainly, a form of society among parents and their rising offspring; but it is a society in some sort unilateral, and of which one of the parties has not any true consciousness. Society, whether in the family or out of the family, is only complete when all its members, those who command as well as those who obey, recognize, more or less vaguely, a certain superior rule, which is neither the arbitrary caprice of will, nor the effect of force alone. The idea of society, therefore, implies necessarily another idea, that of government; and the idea of government contains in it two others, the idea of a collection of individuals, and that of a rule which is applicable to them,—a rule which constitutes the right of the government itself; a rule which the individuals who submit to it have not themselves created, and to which they are morally bound to submit. No government ever totally disregarded this supreme rule, none ever proclaimed force or caprice as the only law of society. In seeking the principle of government, we have found the principle of social right to be the primary source of all legitimate sovereignty. In this law of laws, in this rule of all government, resides the principle of government.
Two important questions now present themselves. How is the law formed, and how is it applied? In this lies the distinctive character of the various forms of government; in this they differ.
Even until modern times, the belief has prevailed that the primitive and absolute right of law-making, that is, the right of sovereignty, resides in some portion of society, whether this right be vested in a single man, in several, or in all;—an opinion which has been constantly contradicted by facts, and which cannot bear the test of reason. The right of determining and enforcing a rule, is the right to absolute power; that force which possesses this right inherently, possesses absolute power, that is to say, the right of tyranny. Take the three great forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, and see if a case can be found in which the right of sovereignty was held by one, by several or by all, in which tyranny did not necessarily arise. Facts have been logically correct,—they have inferred from the principle its necessary consequence.
Such, however, is the force of truth, that this error could not reign alone and absolutely. At the very time when men appeared to believe, and did theoretically believe, that the primitive and absolute power of giving law belonged to some one, whether monarch, senate, or people, at the same time they struggled against that principle. At all times men have endeavoured to limit the power which they regarded as perfectly legitimate. Never has a force, although invested with the right of sovereignty, been allowed to develop that right to its full extent. The janissaries in Turkey sometimes served, sometimes abrogated, the absolute power of the Sultan. In democracies, where the right of sovereignty is vested in popular assemblies, efforts have been continually made to oppose conditions, obstacles, and limits to that sovereignty. Always, in all governments which are absolute in principle, some kind of protest has been made against the principle. Whence comes this universal protest? We might, looking merely at the surface of things, be tempted to say that it is only a struggle of powers. This has existed without doubt, but another and a grander element has existed along with it; there is an instinctive sense of justice and reason dwelling in every human spirit. Tyranny has been opposed, whether it were the tyranny of individuals or of multitudes, not only by a consciousness of power, but by a sentiment of right. It is this consciousness of justice and right, that is to say, of a rule independent of human will—a consciousness often obscure but always powerful—which, sooner or later, rouses and assists men to resist all tyranny, whatever may be its name and form. The voice of humanity, then, has proclaimed that the right of sovereignty vested in men, whether in one, in many, or in all, is an iniquitous lie.
If, then, the right of sovereignty cannot be vested in any one man, or collection of men, where does it reside, and what is the principle on which it rests?
In his interior life—in his dealings with himself, if I may be allowed the expression, as well as in his exterior life, and in his dealings with his fellows—the man who feels himself free and capable of action, has ever a glimpse of a natural law by which his action is regulated. He recognises a something which is not his own will, and which must regulate his will. He feels himself bound by reason or morality to do certain things; he sees, or he feels that there are certain things which he ought or ought not to do. This something is the law which is superior to man, and made for him—the divine law. The true law of man is not the work of man; he receives, but does not create it; even when he submits to it, it is not his own—it is beyond and above him.
Man does not always submit; in the exercise of his free will and imperfect nature, he does not invariably obey this law. He is influenced by other principles of action than this, and although he perceives that the motives which impel him are vicious, nevertheless he often yields to them. But whether he obey or not, the supreme law for man is always existent—in his wildest dreams he recognises it, as placed above him.
We see, then, the individual always in presence of a law,—one which he did not create, but which asserts its claim over him, and never abandons him. If he enters into society with his fellows, or finds himself thus associated, what other rule than this will he possess? Should human society involve an abdication of human nature? No; man in society must and does remain essentially the same as in his individual capacity; and as society is nothing but a collection of individuals, the supreme law of society must be the same as that which exercises a rightful control over individuals themselves.
Here, then, have we discovered the true law of society—the law of government—it is the same law as that which binds individuals. And as, for an individual, the true law is often obscure, and as the individual, even when he knows it thoroughly, does not always follow it implicitly; in the same manner with regard to government, whatever it may be, its true law—which must ever reach it through the medium of the human mind, which is ever biassed by passion and limited by frailty—is neither at all times apprehended nor always obeyed. It is then impossible to attribute to one man or to several the possession of an inherent right to sovereignty, since this would be to suppose that their ideas and inclinations were in all cases correspondent to the dictates of justice and of reason—a supposition which the radical imperfection of our nature will not allow us for a moment to admit.
It is, however, owing to the same imperfection that men have accepted, or rather created for themselves, idols and tyrants. A law ready made for them has appeared more convenient than that laborious and unremitting search after reason and justice which they felt themselves obliged to undertake by the imperious voice of that conscience which they could not entirely silence. Nevertheless, men have never been able entirely to deceive their conscience, or to stifle its utterances. Conscience defeats all the arrangements of human ignorance or in difference, and forces men to fight for themselves despite their own unwillingness. Never, in fact, have men fully accepted the sovereignty, the right of which they have admitted; and the impossibility of their thus consenting to it, plainly indicates the superhuman principle which sovereignty involves. In this principle we must seek for the true distinction between governments.
The classification which I am about to present is not, then, one that is merely arbitrary and factitious; it does not concern the exterior forms, but the essential nature of governments. I distinguish two kinds. First, there are those which attribute sovereignty as a right belonging exclusively to individuals, whether one, many, or all those composing a society; and these are, in principle, the founders of despotism, although facts always protest more or less strongly against the principle; and absolute obedience on the one hand, and absolute power on the other, never exist in full vigour. The second class of governments is founded on the truth that sovereignty belongs as a right to no individual whatever, since the perfect and continued apprehension, the fixed and inviolable application of justice and of reason, do not belong to our imperfect nature.
Representative government rests upon this truth. I do not say that it has been founded upon the full reflective acknowledgment of the principle in the form in which I have stated it. Governments do not, any more than great poems, form themselves on an a priori model, and in accordance with defined precepts. What I affirm is, that representative government does not attribute sovereignty as inherently residing in any person,—that all its powers are directed to the discovery and faithful fulfilment of that rule which ought ever to govern their action, and that the right of sovereignty is only recognised on the condition that it should be continually justified.
Pascal has said, “Plurality which does not reduce itself to unity, is confusion. Unity which is not the result of plurality, is tyranny.” This is the happiest expression and the most exact definition of representative government. The plurality is society; the unity is truth, is the united force of the laws of justice and reason, which ought to govern society. If society remains in the condition of plurality, if isolated wills do not combine under the guidance of common rules, if they do not all equally recognise justice and reason, if they do not reduce themselves to unity, there is no society, there is only confusion. And the unity which does not arise from plurality, which has been violently imposed upon it by one or many, whatever may be their number, in virtue of a prerogative which they appropriate as their exclusive possession, is a false and arbitrary unity; it is tyranny. The aim of representative government is to oppose a barrier at once to tyranny and to confusion, and to bring plurality to unity by presenting itself for its recognition and acceptance.2
Let us now see, in the central fact of this method of government, by what means it arrives at its end, and under what forms its principle is developed.
Representative government, wherever it has existed or does exist, is composed of different elements of power, equal among themselves, although one of them, the monarchical or the democratic, ordinarily retains certain peculiar rights. The number and form of these powers are not necessarily determinate or equal; in France, at the present time, there are three, the royal power, the House of Peers, and the Chamber of Deputies. These three powers emanate from different sources, and result from different social necessities. Neither of them, isolated from the rest, possesses a right of sovereignty: it is required of them that they seek the legitimate rule in common, and they are supposed to possess it only when they have found it in a united deliberation, before or after action. Society owes submission to this rule, thus discovered; but as these powers are not all fixed and immutable, so the sovereignty of right does not reside constantly among them. The elective principle, which is by its very nature changeful, can alter its idea and purpose, and exercise upon the other powers an influence that is periodically variable. If the different powers do not agree, they reduce themselves immediately to inaction. The sovereignty which exists in its own right then seems to hesitate to show itself, and government remains in suspense. In order to extricate it from this state, the right has been reserved to royalty of creating peers, and of dissolving the Chamber of Deputies. The powers then proceed afresh to seek for the true law, a work in which they ought not to rest until they have found it. Thus, no power is judged to possess fully the legitimate rule, which is rightfully the principle of sovereignty. The electors themselves are not its absolute interpreters, any more than are the peers, the deputies, or the king. The electors do not say at the outset to their deputies, “Such is our will: let that be the law.” They enjoin upon them nothing precise; they simply confer upon them the mission of examining and deciding according to their reason. They must necessarily trust in the enlightenment of those whom they elect; election is a trial imposed on those who aspire to political power, and a sovereign but limited right exercised by those who confer political power upon such of the claimants as they may select.
From the political powers thus attributed to certain classes, let us now pass to the political rights which are vaguely distributed in the nation. These rights are among the essential conditions of representative government. The publicity of the debates in the deliberative assemblies imposes upon these powers the necessity of commending themselves to that sense of reason and justice which belongs to all, in order that every citizen may be convinced that their inquiries have been made with fidelity and intelligence, and that, knowing wherein they are deficient, he may himself have the opportunity, if he has the capacity, to indicate the remedy. Liberty opens up a career for this inquiry. In this way, every citizen may aid in the discovery of the true law. Thus does a representative government impel the whole body of society—those who exercise power, and those who possess rights—to enter upon a common search after reason and justice; it invites the multitude to reduce itself to unity, and it brings forth unity from the midst of plurality. The public powers—royalty, the deliberative houses, the electors—are bound and incessantly made to return to this work, by the essential nature of their relations, and by the laws of their action. Private citizens even can cooperate, by virtue of the publicity of the debates, and the liberty of the press.3
I might pursue this idea, and show that all the institutions which are regarded as inherent in representative government, even those which have not been regarded as assisting in the search for those general rules which ought to preside in the conduct of government, are derived from the same principle, and tend to the same result. The publicity of judicial proceedings, and those who compose the jury, for example, supply a guarantee for the legitimate application of the law to particular cases. But our present concern is especially to determine the principle of those essential combinations by which a representative government is constituted; they all proceed evidently from this fact, that no individual is fully acquainted with and invariably consents to that reason, truth and justice, which can alone confer the right of sovereignty, and which ought to be the rule of sovereignty as actually exercised. They compel all powers to seek for this rule, and give to all citizens the right of assisting in this research, by taking cognizance of the mode in which the powers proceed to it, and in declaring themselves what they conceive to be the dictates of justice and of truth. In other words, to sum up what I have said, representative government rests in reality upon the following series of ideas. All power which exists as a fact, must, in order to become a right, act according to reason, justice, and truth, the sole sources of right. No man, and no body of men, can know and perform fully all that is required by reason, justice, and truth; but they have the faculty to discover it, and can be brought more and more to conform to it in their conduct. All the combinations of the political machine then ought to tend, on the one hand, to extract whatever of reason, justice, or truth, exists in society, in order to apply it to the practical requirements of government; and, on the other hand, to promote the progress of society in reason, justice, and truth, and constantly to embody this progress of society in the actual structure of the government.
[1. ]Guizot’s critique of Montesquieu’s classification of governments must be understood in relation to his theory of the sovereignty of reason. For Guizot, the key issue was not who exercises power, but the source and limitations of the sovereign power; he also argued that it would be a mistake to concentrate on the exterior characteristics of representative government. The upshot of his view is that no individual or group can ever be granted the possession of an inherent right to sovereignty. Hence, Guizot proposed a new classification of governments depending on whether they attribute sovereignty as a right to individuals or to reason, truth, and justice. Only those forms of government that recognize the sovereignty of reason, truth, and justice can be said to be legitimate. For more details on the new classification proposed by Guizot, see HORG, pp. 52, 64–65. In Guizot’s view, representative government was predicated on the assumption that sovereignty does not reside in any person, and that all powers must be directed to the fulfillment of the precepts of reason, truth, and justice.
[2. ]This is another important passage in which Guizot discusses the goal of representative government; in his view, representative institutions must create social unity, preserve liberty, and raise a barrier to tyranny (absolute power) and anarchy. Borrowing a famous aphorism from Pascal, Guizot argues that representative government should be seen as a means of bringing multiplicity to unity and preventing the formation of a fallacious unity (which is not a genuine expression of multiplicity). Moreover, the very principle of representative government is “the destruction of all sovereignty of permanent right” (HORG, p. 371). In Guizot’s view, publicity plays a key role in helping representative institutions to draw forth from the bosom of society the “veritable and legitimate aristocracy” in order to constitute the government of society. Writes Guizot: “This end is only attained by the triumph of the true majority—the minority being constantly listened to with respect. If the majority is displaced by artifice, there is falsity. If the minority is removed from the struggle beforehand, there is oppression. In either case representative government is corrupted” (ibid., p. 348). For more details, see ibid., pp. 54, 57, 345–48, 371–72.
[3. ]In Guizot’s view, publicity is the cornerstone of representative government because it creates new bonds between society and government. Publicity requires and calls upon all individuals who possess rights to enter upon a common search for reason, truth, and justice. Liberty of the press and the openness of debates in deliberative assemblies are instrumental in limiting political power and preventing the usurpation of the sovereignty of right. It is publicity that places the executive and legislative powers under the control of the citizens, while freedom of the press prompts them to seek reason, truth, and justice in common. Guizot argues that because of publicity and freedom of the press, power is no longer opaque for society, as more transparency and new forms of communication are created between government and society. As to the relation between publicity and elections, Guizot believed that publicity cannot be a substitute for elections and that, without publicity, there can be no true elections. “Où la publicité manque,” he wrote, “il peuty avoir des élections, des assemblées, des délibérations; mais les peuples n’y croient pas et ils ont raison. . . . La publicité seule corrige, en grande partie, les fâcheux effets d’une mauvaise machine politique” (Guizot, “Des garanties légales de la liberté de la presse” [On Legal Guarantees for Freedom of the Press], Archives Philosophiques, Politique, et Littéraires, Vol. V, Paris: 1818, pp. 186–87). For more details on publicity, see Guizot, HORG, pp. 62–63, 69–70, and Aurelian Craiutu, The Difficult Apprenticeship of Liberty: Reflections on the Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, Lexington Books, forthcoming).