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LECTURE 8 - 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 forms of a government are related to its principle, but are swayed by circumstances, and vary according to different degrees of civilization. ~ What are the forms essential to a representative government? 1st. ~ Division of powers; why absolutely essential to the principle of representative government; 2nd. ~ Election; 3rd. ~ Publicity.
The forms of a government are immediately related to its principle: the principle determines the forms, the forms reveal the principle. It does not therefore follow that the forms correspond exactly to the principle, nor that the principle can only realize itself under a peculiar form. As the principle itself is never alone nor omnipotent in its influence upon the facts, forms are necessarily diverse and mingled. In proportion as the action of any principle extends itself, the form which is truly correspondent to it is developed; but, in the course of this work, the principle embodies itself in the different forms which correspond to the condition of those facts which, in their aggregate, constitute society, and determine the position which it occupies in the scale of civilization.
The same principle can then be contained, and act under different forms. If the forms are the best that can be supplied for the principle, considering the existing state of society, and if, although they do not fully correspond to its nature, they insure the constant and regular progress of its action, there is no blame that can be charged upon them; each epoch, each state of society only allows of a certain development of the principle upon which its government rests. What is the measure of development possible to each epoch, and what is the form which corresponds to it in the present, which will secure for the future a more extended development, and which will bring with it new forms? This is the whole extent of the question—I mean, the question concerning the present, the only one with which political activity has to deal.
Nevertheless there are certain forms of government which are the general conditions of the presence and action of particular principles. Wherever the principle exists, it necessarily produces these forms; where they are wanting the principle does not exist or will soon cease to exist; its action and progress imperatively demand them: so far as they gain consistency at any place, the principle which they suppose is latently present and tends to become predominant.
What are the essential forms of the principle of representative government? By what external indications may we recognize the presence of this principle in a government? What conditions are required in order that it may act and develop itself?
We may, if I mistake not, reduce to three the conditions necessary, and the forms essential, to the representative system; all three are perhaps not equally necessary; their simultaneous existence is not perhaps indispensable in order to indicate the existence and secure the development of the principle from which they are derived. We may, however, justly consider them as fundamental. These forms are: 1st. The division of powers; 2nd. Election; 3rd. Publicity.
We have seen that no really existing power can be a rightful power; except in so far as it acts according to reason and truth, the only legitimate rule of action, the only source of right.
No existing power can fully know and constantly regard the guidance of reason and truth according to which it is bound to regulate its action. No actual power then is, or can be, in itself, a power by inherent right. In other words, as no existing power can be found that is infallible, there is none that may retain its existence on the tenure of absolute right.
Such is, however, the condition of human things that they need, as a last appeal, the intervention of a power which may declare the law to be the rule of government, and which shall impose it and cause it to be respected. In all the relations which the social state admits and to which it gives birth, from domestic order to political order, the presence of a power which may give and maintain the rule of action, is a necessary condition of the very existence of society.1
We see then the dilemma in which society is placed. No actual power can vindicate a claim to become an absolute power; hence the necessity, in order to meet particular emergencies, of a power that is definite, that is to say, actually absolute.
The problem of government is—how to give society a guarantee that the power, which is in operation absolute, to which all social relations must necessarily be referred, shall be but the image, the expression, the organ of that power which is rightfully absolute and alone legitimate, and which is never to be found localized in this world? This is also, as we have seen, the problem which the representative system formally proposes to itself, since all its arrangements assume the existence of this problem and are framed with a purpose to resolve it.
To make actual power, as far as possible, identical with rightful power, by imposing upon it the abiding necessity of seeking for reason, truth, and justice—the sources of right; by investing it with practical power only when it has proved, that is to say, given a presumption of, its success in this search; and by compelling it ever to renew and confirm this presumption under penalty of losing power if it is unable to do so, this is the course of the representative system—this is the end at which it aims and according to which it directs, in their relations and their movement, all the resources which it brings into action.
In order to attain this end, it is indispensable that the existing power should not be simple, that is to say, that it should not be suffered to con fine itself to one single instrument. As no force can possess in itself fully the right to authority, if there is one which possesses an absolute power, not only will it abuse this power, but it will very soon claim it as an inherent right. Alone it will become despotic, and in order to sustain its despotism it will call itself legitimately sovereign; and perhaps will end by believing and establishing the fiction. Such is the corrupting effect of despotism, that it destroys sooner or later, both in those who exercise it and in those who submit to it, even the feeling of its il-legitimacy. Whoever is solitary in his sovereignty has only one step in order to become accredited as infallible. Alexander was right in wishing that he should be recognized as a god; he deduced a consequence that strictly followed from the fulness of the power which he possessed: and they also are right, who, attributing sovereignty to the multitude, take for their maxim, Vox populi, vox Dei. Everywhere where sovereignty rests with a single power, whatever may be the nature of that power, there is a danger that sovereignty will immediately be claimed as a right.
A division of the actual sovereignty is then a natural consequence of the principle, that a right to sovereignty does not belong to any person. It is necessary that there should be several powers, equal in extent and supplementary to each other in the exercise of actual sovereignty, in order that no one of them may be led to arrogate to itself the sovereignty of inherent right. The feeling of their reciprocal interdependence can alone prevent them from regarding themselves as entirely irresponsible.
Further: it is only in this way that the ruling power can be constrained to perpetuate its search for reason, truth, and justice; that is, for the rule which should govern its action, in order that it may become legitimate. The words of Pascal apply not only to the formation of power, they extend also to its exercise. Here are beings, individual or collective, who are called upon to perform the functions of sovereignty in common, each one under the supervision of his fellows. Do they possess among them, or by the fact of their existence, the right to power? No: they must seek it, they must on every opportunity manifest the truth which they proclaim as law. Isolated and distinct, they are only a multitude; when, after having deliberated and laboured, they find a ground of agreement in a common idea, from whence can proceed one will, then alone will the true unity, which resides in reason, be evolved; then there will be a presumption that the ruling power knows accurately and is well disposed to that legitimate rule which alone confers rightful power. If this work were not enforced, if this laborious and common search for the true law were not the necessary result of the reciprocal independence of the several powers, the end of government would not be attained. All the relations of the four great political powers which constitute, with us, the government (that is, the king, the two houses of parliament, and the electors) are intended to compel them to act in harmony, that is to say, to reduce themselves to unity.
The introduction of an elective, that is, a moveable element, into government, is as necessary as a division of forces to prevent the sovereignty from degenerating in the hands of those who exercise it into a full and permanent sovereignty of inherent right. It is therefore the necessary result of a representative government, and one of its principal characteristics. Accordingly we see that actual governments which have aimed at becoming absolute, have always endeavoured to destroy the elective principle. Venice gave a memorable illustration of this tendency, when, in 1319, it conferred an hereditary right on the grand council.* In the first age of governments, at the same time that we see power come from above, that is to say, acquire for itself by its superiority, of whatever kind that may be, either ability, riches, or courage—we see it also obliged to make its title recognised by those who can judge it. Election is the mode of this recognition—it is to be found in the infancy of all governments; but it is generally abolished after a time. It is when it reappears with sufficient energy to influence powerfully the administration of society, that a representative government is rising into being.
Theoretically, publicity is perhaps the most essential characteristic of a representative government. We have seen that it has for its object to call upon all individuals who possess rights, as well as those who exercise powers, to seek reason and justice, the source and rule of legitimate sovereignty. In publicity consists the bond between a society and its government. Looking, however, at facts, we find that of the elements essential to a representative government, this is the last which is introduced and gains a firm footing. Its history is analogous to that of the elective principle. The Champs de Mars and Mai were held in the open air: many persons were present at them who took no part in the deliberation. The assembly of the Lombards at Pavia took place circumstante immensa multitudine.2 It is probable that the same publicity attended also the Wittenagemot of the Saxons. When absolute or aristocratic government prevails, publicity disappears. When representative government begins to be formed by election, publicity does not at first enter into its constitution. In England, the House of Commons was for a long time a secret assembly; the first step towards publicity was to cause its acts, addresses and resolutions, to be printed. This step was taken by the Long Parliament under Charles I. Under Charles II. its proceedings again became secret; some individuals demanded, but in vain, the publication of the acts passed by the House,—the demand was resisted as dangerous. It was not till the eighteenth century that visitors were allowed to be present at the sittings of the English Parliament: this is not now granted as a right, and the demand of a single member who appeals to the ancient law, is sufficient to clear the gallery. Publicity has not then been invariably attached to a representative government; but it flows naturally from its principles—it is accordingly won almost necessarily, and may now be regarded as one of its most essential features. This result is owing to the press, which has rendered publicity easy without resorting to tumultuous meetings.
We have found the fundamental principle and the exterior and essential characteristics of a representative government; we have learnt what it is that constitutes it and distinguishes it from other government: we may now pass to its history. We shall take care to admit its existence only where we recognise the presence or the approach of its true principles; and we shall be convinced that its progress has ever been identical with the development of these principles.
[1. ]As in the case of other nineteenth-century liberals, Guizot emphasized constitutionalism, the division of powers, elections, and publicity, which is another way of saying that Guizot’s liberalism was fundamentally opposed to any form of absolute power. In his view, the only legitimate sources of right were reason, truth, and justice. The division of powers—i.e., the existence of several powers supplementary to each other in the exercise of actual sovereignty—was a natural consequence of the principle that no power or individual can be granted an inherent right to sovereignty (sovereignty of right). For more details, see HORG, pp. 68–69, 328–29.
[* ] This event is clearly and minutely related by Daru, in his “ Histoire de Venise. ” (Vol. i. pp. 449–464.)
[2. ]With a vast crowd surrounding.