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LECTURE 18 - 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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Examination of the division of the legislative power into two Houses. ~ Diversity of ideas on this subject. ~ Fundamental principle of the philosophic school. ~ Source of its errors. ~ Characteristics of the historic school. ~ Cause of the division of the British Parliament into two Houses. ~ Derivation of this division from the fundamental principle of representative government. ~ Its practical merit.
In order to judge in itself of the division of the legislative power into two Chambers, and to estimate its merit, we must first detach it from certain particular and purely local characteristics, which are not essentially inherent in it; and which have associated it in England with causes which are not in all times and places to be met with. Not a few writers have fallen into grave errors, on this and many other questions, by neglecting to take this step at the outset. Some have formed their judgment of this institution entirely from a few of the causes which led to its establishment in England in the fourteenth century; and as, generally speaking, they did not approve either of these causes or their effects, and had a bad opinion of the social condition of which they formed part, they have condemned the institution itself, appearing to believe that it was derived solely from that social condition, and could not possibly be detached from it. Others, on the contrary, struck either with the general reasons which may be urged in favour of the institution, or with the good effects which it has produced in England and elsewhere, have adopted it exactly in that particular form in which it was introduced among our neighbours by their ancient social condition, asserting that all the characteristics which it there presents are essential to it, and even constitute it. Thus, the institution has sometimes been censured on account of particular facts which accompanied its establishment and combined to produce it, and sometimes these facts and their special consequences have been adopted as principles, simply because they were associated with an institution deemed intrinsically good. These two modes of judgment, both of which are equally erroneous, characterize the two schools, which may be called distinctively the philosophic school and the historic school. As this twofold method of considering political questions has warped them, sometimes in one sense and sometimes in another, it appears to me that it would be useful to offer some general observations on this subject, which may afterwards be applied to the particular question with which we are now occupied.
One idea reigns in the philosophic school—that of Right. Right is constantly taken both as its starting-point, and as its goal. But right itself requires to be investigated; before adopting it as a principle or pursuing it as an object, we must know what it is. To discover right, the philosophic school commonly confines itself to the individual. It takes hold of man, considers him isolatedly and in himself, as a rational and free being, and deduces from an examination of his nature that which it denominates his rights. Once in possession of these rights, they are advanced as a requirement of justice and reason, which ought to be applied to social facts as the sole rational and moral rule by which these facts should be judged, if judgment only be required—or instituted, if the object be to institute government.
The historic school is held in bondage by another idea—that of Fact. It does not, if possessed of any good sense, deny right: it even proposes right as its goal, but it never adopts it as its starting-point. Fact is the ground to which everything is brought; and as facts cannot be considered isolatedly, as they are all bound up together; and as the past itself is a fact with which the facts of the present are connected, it professes great respect for the past and admits right only so far as it is founded on anterior facts; or at least this school seeks to establish right, only by uniting it closely with these facts, and striving to deduce it from them. Such are the points of view, not exclusively, for that cannot be, but dominantly, of the two schools. How much is true, and how much erroneous in each? That is to say, what is there incomplete in both?
The philosophic school is correct in adopting Right not only as its end but also as its starting-point. It is right in maintaining that an institution is not good, simply because it exists or has existed, and that there are rational principles by which all institutions should be judged, and rights superior to all facts—rights which cannot be violated unless the facts which violate them are illegitimate, although real, and even powerful.
But though right in standing upon this foundation, which is its principal characteristic, the philosophic school is often mistaken when it attempts to go farther. We say that it is mistaken, philosophically speaking, and independently of all ideas of application and practical danger.
Its two chief errors, in my opinion, are these: I. Its researches after right are misdirected; and, II. It mistakes the conditions under which right can be realised.
It is not by considering man in isolation, in his single nature, and individually, that his rights may be discovered. The idea of right implies that of relation. Right can be declared only when relation is established. The fact of a connexion, of an approximation, in a word, of society, is implied in the very word right. Right originates with society. Not that society, at its origin, created right by an arbitrary convention. Just as truth exists before man becomes acquainted with it, so does right exist before it is realised in society. It is the legitimate and rational rule of society in every step of its development, and at every moment of its existence. Rules exist before their application; they would still exist even if they were never applied. Man does not make them. As a reasonable being, he is capable of discovering and understanding them. As a free being, he can either obey or violate them; but whether he be ignorant of them or knowingly violate them, their reality, so far as they are rules, that is to say, their rational and moral reality, is independent of him, superior and antecedent to his ignorance or his knowledge, to the respect or neglect with which he treats them. Laying down this principle then on the one side, that rule virtually exists before the relation or society to which it corresponds, and on the other side, that it is not manifested and declared until society is established, that is to say, that it can only be applied when society really exists, we inquire, What is this right and how can it be discovered?
Right, considered in itself, is the rule that each individual is morally bound to observe and respect in his relations with another individual; that is to say, the moral limit at which his lawful liberty is arrested and ceases in his action on that individual; or, in other words, the right of a man is the limit beyond which the will of another man cannot morally be exercised over him in the relation which unites them.
Nothing can be more certain than that every man in society has a right to expect that this limit will be maintained and respected as regards himself by other men and by society itself. This is the primitive and unalterable right which he possesses in virtue of the dignity of his nature. If the philosophic school had confined itself to laying down this principle, it would have been perfectly correct, and would have reminded society of the true moral rule. But it has attempted to go further: it has pretended to determine, beforehand and in a general way, the exact limit in every instance in which the will of individuals over each other, or of society over individuals, ceases to be legitimate. It has not contented itself with establishing right in principle, but has considered itself capable of enumerating all social rights a priori, and of reducing them to certain general formulae which should comprise them all, and might thus be applied to every relation to which society gives birth. By this it has been led to overlook many very positive rights, and to create many pretended rights which have no reality. If it be true, as we have laid it down, that right is the legitimate rule of a relation, it is plain that the relation must be known before the right which ought to govern it can be understood. Now social relations, whether between one man and another, or between one and several, are neither simple nor identical. They are infinitely multiplied, varied, and interwoven; and right changes with relation. An example will best explain our meaning. We will select the most simple and natural of social relations, that of the father to the child. Nobody will presume to assert that here no right exists, that is to say, that neither the father nor the child have any respective rights to be mutually observed, and that their will alone should arbitrarily regulate their reciprocal relations. In the outset, whilst the child is devoid of reason, his will has little or no right: the right belongs entirely to the will of the father, which even then is, doubtless, legitimate only so far as it is conformable to reason, but which is not and cannot be subordinate to that of the child, on which it is exercised and which it directs. In proportion as reason becomes developed in the child, the right of the father’s will becomes restricted; this right is always derived from the same principle, and ought to be exercised according to the same law; but it no longer extends to the same limit, but becomes changed and narrowed day by day with the progress of the intellectual and moral development of the child, up to the age when at length the child, having become a man, finds himself in a totally different relationship to his father—a relationship in which another right holds sway, that is to say, in which the paternal right is enclosed within entirely different limits, and is no longer exercised in the same way.
If, in the most simple of social relations, the right, though immutable in its principle, suffers so many vicissitudes in its application—if the limit at which it stops is so continually altered, according as this relation changes in nature and character—to a far greater extent will this be the case in all other social relations, which are infinitely more changeful and complicated. Every day old rights will perish; every day new ones will arise; that is to say, different applications will daily be made of the principle of right; and each occasion will vary at the limits at which the right ceases, either on one side or the other, in the innumerable relations which constitute society.
It is not, then, a simple matter to determine right, nor can it be done once for all, and according to certain general formulae. Either these formulae must be reduced to this dominant truth, that no will, whether that of man over man, of society over the individual, or of the individual over society, ought to be exercised contrary to justice and reason—or else these formulae are vain; that is to say, they confine themselves to expressing the principle of right, or try unsuccessfully to enumerate and regulate beforehand all its applications.
In this there consists the first error of the philosophic school, that, proud of having re-established the principle of right (a matter, certainly, of immense importance), it has thenceforth esteemed itself, by continuing the same process, in a condition to recognise and define all rights; that is to say, all applications of the principle to social relations; an attempt which is most dangerous because it is impossible. It is not granted to man thus to discern, beforehand and at a glance, the whole extent of the rational laws which ought to regulate the relations of men both among themselves and with society in general. Doubtless, in each of these relations and in all the vicissitudes which they undergo, there is a principle which is their legitimate rule, and which determines rights; and it is this principle which must be discovered. But it is in the relation itself, over which this principle should hold sway, that it is contained and may be discovered; it is intimately connected with the nature and object of this relation, and these are the first data that must be studied in order to arrive at a knowledge of the principle. The philosophic school almost constantly neglects this labour. Instead of applying itself to the discovery of the true rights which correspond to the various social relations, it arbitrarily constructs rights while pretending to deduce them from the general and primitive principle of right; an attempt the reverse of philosophical, for special rights are applications, not consequences logically deduced from this principle; which is perfectly exhibited in each particular case, but which does not contain within itself all the elements or all the data required for the discovery of the right in every case.
The second error of the philosophic school is that of mistaking the conditions under which right may be realised, that is to say, under which it may become associated with facts, so as to regulate them.
It has long been said that two powers, right and might, truth and error, good and evil, dispute the mastery of the world. What is not so often said, though it is no less true, is this—they dispute for it because they simultaneously possess it, because they co-exist in it everywhere at the same time. These two powers, so opposite in their nature, are never separated; in fact, they meet and mingle everywhere, forming by their co-existence and conflict that sort of impure and troubled unity which is the condition of man on earth; and which is reproduced in society as well as in individuals. All mundane facts bear this character: there are none that are completely devoid of truth, justice, and goodness; none that are wholly and purely right, good, or true. The simultaneous presence, and at the same time the struggle, of might and right, forms the primitive and dominant fact which is reproduced in all other facts.
The philosophical school habitually loses sight of this intimate and inevitable amalgamation of might and right in all that exists and takes place upon the earth. Because these two powers are hostile, it thinks them separate. When it recognises some great violation of right in an institution, a power, or a social relation, it concludes that right is utterly absent from it; and imagines, at the same time, that if it can succeed in laying hold of this fact, and shaping and regulating it according to its own will, it will secure the undisputed sway of right in that fact. Hence the contempt, one might almost say the hatred, with which it judges and treats facts. Hence also, the violence with which it pretends to impose upon them those rules and forms which constitute right in its eyes: what regard is due to that which is only the work of might? what sacrifices are not due to that which will be the triumph of right and reason? and the firmer the minds and the more energetic the characters of these reasoners, the more will they be ruled and the further misguided by this method of viewing human things. Facts past and present do not deserve so much disdain, nor do future ones merit so much confidence. We do not here adopt the views of the sceptics, nor would we regard all facts as equally good or bad, and equally invested with or destitute of reason and right. Nothing can be more contrary to our opinion. We firmly believe in the reality and legitimacy of right, in its struggle against might, and in the utility as well as the moral obligation of sustaining right in this eternal but progressive combat. We only ask that, in this struggle, nothing may be forgotten, and nothing confounded; and that indiscriminate attacks may not be made. We ask that because a fact may contain many illegitimate elements, it is not therefore to be supposed a priori to contain nothing besides, for such is not the case. Right exists everywhere more or less, and everywhere right ought to be respected. There is also more or less falsity and incompleteness in the speculative idea which we form to ourselves of right, and there will be unjust force and violence employed in the strife in which this idea is made to prevail, and in the new facts which will result from its triumph. This is not saying that the combat ought to be suspended, or that the triumph ought not to be pursued. It is only necessary truthfully to recognise the condition of human things, and never to lose sight of it, whether the question be one of judgment or of action.
This is what the philosophic school can rarely consent to do. Taking right for the point at which it sets out, and also that at which it aims, it forgets that facts subsist between these two extremes—actual and existing facts, independent data; a condition which of imperative necessity must be submitted to, when the extension of right is sought after, since these facts are the very matters to which right must be applied. This school begins by neglecting one of the fundamental elements of the problem which it has to solve; it falls into reverie, and constructs imaginary facts, whilst it ought to be operating on real facts. And when compelled to quit hypotheses, and deal with realities, it becomes irritated at the obstacles which it meets, and unreasonably condemns the facts which throw them in its way. Thus, through having desired impossibilities, it is led to forget a part of that which is actually true. Society at every period swerves more or less from the general type of right; that is to say, the facts which constitute its material and moral condition are more or less regulated according to right, and also become in a greater or less degree susceptible of receiving a more absolute form, a more perfect rule, and of continually assimilating more closely to reason and truth; and this it is which must be absolutely studied and understood before passing a judgment on these facts, or endeavouring to effect their change and improvement. Perfection is the aim of human nature and of human society; perfection is the law of their existence, but imperfection is its condition. The philosophic school does not accept this condition; and is thus misled in its endeavours towards attaining perfection, and even in its own idea of the perfection to which it aspires.
The historic school possesses other characteristics, and falls into different errors. With the utmost respect for facts, it easily allows itself to be induced to attribute to them merits to which they are not entitled; to see more reason and justice, that is to say, more right, in them than they really contain, and to resist even the slightest bold attempt to judge and regulate them according to principles more conformable to general reason. It is even inclined to deny these principles, to maintain that there is no rational and invariable type of right that man can take for a guide in his efforts or his opinions: an error of great magnitude, and sufficient to place this school, philosophically considered, in a subordinate rank. What then is perfection, if there is no ideal perfection to be aimed at? What is the progress of real rights, if there is no rational right to comprehend them all? What is the human mind, if it is incapable of penetrating far beyond actual realities in its knowledge of this rational right? and how can it judge of them except by comparing them with this sublime type, which it never holds in full possession, but which it cannot deny without abnegating itself, and losing every fixed rule and guiding thread? Doubtless, facts command respect, because they are a condition, a necessity; and they deserve it, because they always contain a certain measure of right. But the judgment ought never to be enslaved by them, nor should it attribute absolute legitimacy to reality. Is it so difficult, then, to perceive that evil is evil even when it is powerful and inevitable? The historic school constantly endeavours to evade this confession. It tries to explain every institution, and to abstain from giving judgment upon them, as if explanation and judgment were not two distinct acts, which possess no right over one another. It never suffers the institution of a comparison between the real state of any society and the rational state of society in general; as if the real, or even the possible, were the limit of reason; as if, when judging, reason should be deposed, because when applied it is compelled to undergo conditions and to yield to obstacles which it cannot conquer. The historic school would be perfectly right if it confined itself to the careful study of facts, bringing to light that portion of right which they contain, and searching out the degree of perfection which they are capable of receiving, and if it restricted itself to maintaining that it is not easy to distinguish real rights, unjust to condemn facts en masse, and impossible and dangerous to neglect them altogether. But when it undertakes to legitimise facts by facts; when it refuses to apply the invariable law of justice and rational right to all, it abandons every principle, falls into a sort of absurd and shameful fatalism, and disinherits man and society of that which is most pure in their nature, most legitimate in their pretensions, and most noble in their aspirations.
To sum up, the philosophic school possesses the merit of everywhere acknowledging the principle of right, and adopting it as the unchangeable rule of its judgment on facts. Its errors consist in its knowledge of facts being slight, imperfect, and precipitate; and in not allowing to facts the power which is inseparable from them, and the degree of legitimacy which they always contain. The historic school is better acquainted with facts, appreciates their causes and consequences more equitably, effects a more faithful analysis of their elements, and arrives at a more exact knowledge of particular rights as well as at a more just estimate of practicable reforms. But it is deficient in general and fixed principles: its judgment sfluctuate according to chance; and accordingly it almost always hesitates to come to a conclusion, and never succeeds in satisfying the mind, which the philosophic school, on the contrary, always impresses strongly, at the risk of leading it astray.
We have insisted on the distinctive characters and opposite errors of these two schools, because we meet with them unceasingly when investigating how institutions and social facts have been appreciated and understood. Of this we have given an example by indicating the two points of view under which the division of the legislative power into two Chambers has been commonly considered. The historic school approves and recommends it; but it often founds its reasons on illegitimate facts, and adheres too absolutely to the forms which this institution has assumed in the past, while it refrains from attaching itself to any rigorous and rational principle. The philosophic school has long maintained, and many of its disciples still believe, that this is an accidental and arbitrary institution, which is not founded on reason and the very nature of things.
Let us now consider this institution in itself, after having disentangled it from that which, in England, has related merely to its actual origin, and to the local circumstances in the midst of which it took its rise.
It is beyond doubt that the immense inequality of wealth and credit—in a word, of power and social importance, which existed between the great barons and the other political classes of the nation, whether freeholders or burgesses, was in England the sole cause of the institution of the House of Peers. No political combination or idea of public right had anything to do with its formation. The personal importance of a certain number of individuals, in this case, created their right. Political order is necessarily the expression, the reflection, of social order. In this stage of civilisation especially, power is indisputably conveyed from society into the government. There was a House of Peers because there were men who, bearing no comparison with others, could not remain confounded with them, exercising only the same rights, and possessing no greater amount of authority.
To the same cause must be ascribed several of the leading characteristics of the House of Peers; the hereditary transmission of social importance, wealth, and power (the result of the feudal system as regards property), carried with it the inheritance of political importance. This is proved by the fact, that originally the sole hereditary peers were the barons by feudal tenure. Hereditary right did not originally belong to the barons by writ; although individually summoned to the Upper House, they exercised, when sitting there, the same rights. The judicial functions of the House of Peers also had the same source. At first they belonged to the general assembly of the direct vassals of the king. When the greater number of these vassals ceased to attend that assembly, the great barons who alone attended, continued to exercise nearly all its functions, and especially its judicial authority. Of this they continued to hold possession when the knights re-entered Parliament by means of election. Thus, a right, which originally devolved upon the general assembly of the political nation, became concentrated in the new House of Peers, at least in every case unaffected by the new jurisdictions instituted by the king. On examining in all its details the political part now performed in England by the House of Peers, it will be found that a great number of its attributes are only the results of ancient facts, that they are not inherent in the institution itself, but solely derived from the social position of the great barons; and at the same time it will be perceived that all these facts are connected with the general and primitive fact of the great inequality then subsisting between the great barons and the citizens.
As this inequality really existed, and could not fail to re-appear in the government, it was very fortunate for England that it assumed the form of the House of Peers. Inequality is never more oppressive and fatal than when displayed solely for its own advantage, and in an individual interest. This is the invariable result when the upper ranks are dispersed over the country, and are brought into contact with, and into the presence of, their inferiors alone. If, instead of uniting in the House of Peers to exercise, as members of that assembly, the power they possessed over society, the great barons had each remained on his own estates, their superiority and power would have weighed heavily on all their vassals and farmers, and social emancipation would have been very much retarded. Every baron would then have had to do with his inferiors alone. In the House of Peers, on the contrary, he had to deal with his equals; and to obtain influence in that assembly, and effect his will, he was obliged to have recourse to discussion, to the advancement of public reasons, and to constitute himself the exponent of some interest superior to his own personal interest, and of opinions around which it would be possible for men to unite together. Thus men, who, had they remained isolated on their domains, would have acted only upon inferiors and for their own interest, were constrained, when they had met together, to act upon their equals, and for the interests of the masses, whose support alone could increase their power in the frequent struggles which this new situation imposed upon them. Thus by the single fact of its concentration, the high feudal aristocracy insensibly changed its character. Each of its members possessed rights originally derived entirely from his own power, which he came to the House of Peers to exercise solely for his own interest; but when once brought together into each other’s presence, all these individual interests experienced the necessity of seeking new means of obtaining credit and authority elsewhere than in themselves. Personal powers were constrained to sink themselves into a public power. An assembly composed of individual superiorities, jealous only to preserve and increase their power, became gradually converted into a national institution, compelled to adapt itself, in many points, to the interest of all. As I have elsewhere had occasion to say, one of the greatest vices of the feudal system was to localise sovereignty, and to bring it everywhere, so to speak, to the door of those over whom it was exercised. The formation of the House of Peers weakened this evil in England, and thus, at least in a political point of view, struck a deadly blow at feudalism.
Further, the great barons thus formed into a body, had the power and duty of defending in common their rights and liberties against the royal power; and their resistance, instead of consisting in a series of isolated wars, as was the case in France, immediately assumed the character of a collective and truly political resistance, founded on certain general principles of right and liberty. Now there is something contagious in these principles and their language, which very soon extends them beyond the limits within which they are at first enclosed. Right calls forth right, liberty engenders liberty. The demands and resistance of the great barons provoked similar demands and resistance in other classes of the nation. Without the concentration of the high aristocracy in the House of Peers, the House of Commons would probably have never been formed. From all these factsflows this consequence, that when great inequality actually exists in society between different classes of citizens, it is not only natural but useful to the progress of justice and liberty, that the superior class should be collected and concentrated into a great public power, in which individual superiorities become placed on a more elevated level than that of personal interest; they learn to treat with their equals, to meet with opposition, and to furnish an example of the defence of liberties and rights; while by exposing themselves in some sort to the view of the whole nation, they experience by this fact alone the necessity of adapting themselves, to a certain extent, to its opinions, sentiments, and interests.
But, it may be said, a social inequality of sufficient magnitude to occasion the formation of such a power, is neither a universal fact, nor one in itself good and desirable; and under this point of view the House of Peers, as it is constituted in England, was simply a remedy for an evil. There can be no doubt that the accumulation of land, wealth, and positive power which belonged to the great barons, and the securing of all these social advantages, were the result of violence, and as contrary to the internal tendency as to the rational principles of society in general. If then the division of the legislative power into two Chambers is derived only from such causes, it might in certain cases be inevitable and even beneficial; but where these causes are not met with, nothing would recommend it, or ought to make its necessity a matter of regret. The equitable and natural distribution of social advantages, their rapid circulation, the free competition of rights and powers—this is the object, as it is the rational law of the social condition. An institution which, in itself and by its nature, is opposed to this object and derogates from this law, contains nothing which ought to lead to its adoption when not imposed by necessity.
Is this the case with regard to the division of the legislative power into two Chambers, setting aside those particular characteristics which, in the English House of Peers, are derived solely from local and accidental facts, and cannot be referred to rational causes of universal validity?
Before considering this question in its relation to the fundamental principle of representative government, some observations are necessary.
It is by no means true, that similar inequalities to those which produced the preponderance of the great barons in England, and a permanent classification of society in conformity to these facts, are natural conditions of the social state. Providence does not always sell her benefits at so high a price to the human race, and has not rested the very existence of society on this denomination, this immovable constitution of privilege. Reason must believe, and facts prove, that society can not only subsist, but is even better off in another condition; in a condition in which the principle of free competition exercises more dominion, and where the different social classes are more nearly allied. It is certain, however, that there exist in society two tendencies, equally legitimate in their principle, and equally salutary in their effects, although in permanent opposition to each other. The one is the tendency to the production of inequality, the other, the tendency to maintain or restore equality between individuals. Both are natural and indestructible: this is a fact which requires no proof, the aspect of the world displays it everywhere; and if we look within, we shall perceive it in ourselves. Who does not desire, in some respect or another, to raise himself above his equals? and who would not also wish, in some particular, to bring down his superiors to an equality with himself? These two tendencies, considered in their principle, are equally legitimate: the one is attached to the right of the natural superiorities which exist in the moral as well as in the physical order of the universe; the other, to the right of every man to that justice which desires that no arbitrary force should deprive him of any of the social advantages which he possesses, or might acquire, unaided and without injury to his fellows. To prevent natural superiorities from displaying themselves, and exercising the power that belongs to them, is to create a violent inequality, and to mutilate the human race in its noblest parts. To enslave men in regard to those rights which are common to all, by reason of the similitude of their nature, to unequal laws imposed or maintained by force, is to insult human nature and to forget its imperishable dignity. In fine, these two tendencies are equally salutary in their effects: without the one, society would be inert and lifeless; without the other, might alone would dominate, and right would for ever be suppressed. In considering them as respects that which is legitimate and moral in each, let us ask what is this tendency to inequality but the desire to elevate ourselves, to extend our influence, and to bring to light and effect the triumph of that portion of moral power which is naturally placed by the will of God the Creator, in each particular individual? and is it not this impulse which constitutes the life and determines the progress of the human race? On the other hand, what is this tendency to equality except resistance to force, to capricious arbitrary wills, and the desire to yield obedience only to justice and true law? Doubtless, in both these tendencies, the bad as well as the the good parts of our nature display themselves: there is a taint of insolence in the desire of self-elevation, and of envy in the passion for equality. Injustice and violence may be employed either to abase superiors or to surpass equals; but in that conflict of good and evil, which is everywhere the condition of man, it is not the less true that the two tendencies of which I am speaking constitute the very principle of social life, the twofold cause which makes the human race advance in the career of improvement, which leads it back when it wanders astray, and urges it forward when perverse powers or wills seek to arrest its course.
The tendency to inequality is then a fact inevitable in itself, legitimate in its principle, and salutary in its effects, if it is restrained by the law of competition, that is to say, beneath the condition of a permanent and free struggle with the tendency to equality, which, in the order of Providence, appears to be the fact by which it is destined to be balanced. In every country there will always arise and exist a certain number of great individual superiorities, who will seek an analogous place in government to that which they occupy in society. They ought not to obtain it for their personal interest, nor to extend it beyond what comports with the public interest, nor should they retain it longer than they possess the title in virtue of which they assumed it, that is to say, their actual importance, nor should they preserve this title by means violative of the principle of free competition, and the maintenance of the rights which are common to all. All this is indubitable, but, this being allowed, there will still remain the necessity of introducing and concentrating among the superior powers all the great superiorities of the country, in order to engage them in the transaction of public affairs, and in the defence of the general interests.
This, as we have seen, is the sole object of the representative system: its precise purpose is to discover and concentrate the natural and real superiorities of the country, in order to apply them to its government. Now, is it good in itself, and in conformity with the fundamental principle of this system, to apply only one method of seeking out these superiorities, and to gather them all into a single voting urn? that is to say, must they be united in one single assembly, formed upon the same conditions, after the same tests, and by the same mode? We now reach the pith of the question.
The principle of the representative system is the destruction of all sovereignty of permanent right, that is to say, of all absolute power upon earth. The question of what is now called omnipotence has at all times been agitated. If by this is understood an actually definitive power, in the terms of established laws, such a power always exists in society, under a multitude of names and forms: for wherever there is a matter to be decided and completed, there must be a power to decide and complete it. Thus, in the family, the father exercises the power of definitively determining, in certain particulars, the conduct and destiny of his children; in a well regulated municipality, the municipal council definitively enacts the local budget; in civil trials, certain tribunals give final judgment upon cases submitted to their decision; and in the political system, electoral omnipotence belongs to the electors. Definitive power is thus disseminated through the social state, and is necessarily met with everywhere. Does this imply that a power ought somewhere to exist, which possesses omnipotence by right, that is to say, which has the right to do anything it pleases? That would be absolute power; and it is the formal design of the representative system, as well as the object of all its institutions, to provide against the existence of such a power, and to take care that every power shall be submitted to certain trials, meet with obstacles, undergo opposition, and, in fine, be deprived of sway until it has either proved its legitimacy, or given reason for presuming it.
There is not, then, and there cannot be, any omnipotence by right, that is to say, any power which should be allowed to say: “that is good and just because I have so decided it”; and every effort of political science, every institution, ought to tend to the prevention of such a power being anywhere formed; and should provide that the actual omnipotence which exists under so many names in society, should everywhere meet with restraints and obstacles enough to prevent its conversion into an omnipotence by right.
Until the summit of society is reached, and while those powers only are constituted, above which other permanent powers will be placed for the purpose of controlling them, and with power to enforce their authority, this end appears easy to attain.
Judicial power, municipal power, and every second class power may be definitive without much danger, because if they are abused in a manner likely to become fatal, the legislative or executive power will be there to repress them. But we must necessarily come at last to the supreme power, to that power which superintends all others, and is not itself ruled or restrained by any visible and constituted power. Shall the right of omnipotence appertain to this? Certainly not, whatever may be its form or name. It will, however, be always prone to aspire to it, and able to usurp it, for in the political system it possesses omnipotence, and of this it cannot be deprived; for in reference to general interests, as well as to local and private interests, a definitive power is a necessity.
Here then, all the foresight of the politician ought to be displayed: he will need all his art and all his efforts, to prevent actual omnipotence from asserting its inherent rightfulness, and general definitive power from becoming absolute power.
This result is endeavoured to be secured by a variety of means: I. by recognising the individual rights of citizens—the effect of which is to superintend, control, and limit this central supreme power, and constantly to subject it to the law of reason and justice to which it ought to be subordinated; this is the object of the jury, of the liberty of the press, and of publicity of all kinds: II. by constituting, in a distinct and independent way, the principal powers of the second class, such as the judicial and municipal powers; on such a plan that these being themselves repressed and restrained when necessary by the central power, may restrain and repress it in their turn if it should attempt to become absolute: III. by organising the central power itself in such a manner as to make it very difficult for it to usurp rightful omnipotence, and to provide that it shall meet with such oppositions and obstacles within itself as will not admit of its attaining actual omnipotence except under laborious conditions, the accomplishment of which gives ground to presume that it does in effect act in accordance with reason and justice; that is to say, that it possesses legitimacy.
This last description of means is the only one connected with the question that now occupies our attention. The division of the legislative power into two Chambers has precisely this object. It is directed against the easy acquisition of actual omnipotence at the summit of the social system, and consequently against the transformation of actual omnipotence into rightful omnipotence. It is therefore conformable to the fundamental principle of the representative system, and is a necessary consequence of it.
Why is it undesirable that the legislative and executive powers, that is to say, the entire supreme power, should reside either in one man or in a single assembly? why does tyranny always spring from these two forms of government? Because it is in the nature of things, that a power which has no equal should think itself rightfully sovereign, and should very soon become absolute. It has happened thus in democracies, aristocracies, and monarchies; wherever actually sovereign power has been conferred upon a single man, or a single body of men, that man, or that body, has assumed to be rightfully sovereign; and more or less frequently, and with greater or less violence, it has exercised despotism.
The art of politics, the secret of liberty is, then, to provide equals for every power for which it cannot provide superiors. This is the principle which ought to preside in the organisation of the central government: for on these terms only can the establishment of despotism at the centre of the State be prevented.
Now if the legislative power is entrusted to a single assembly, and the executive power to one man, or if the legislative power is divided between one assembly and the executive power, is it possible for each of these powers to possess sufficient force and consistence to admit of the necessary equality between them, that is to say, to secure that neither shall become the sole and undisputed sovereign power? Such an example has never been witnessed: where-ever the central power has been thus constituted, a struggle has arisen, which has resulted, according to the times, either in the annihilation of the executive power by the legislative assembly, or of the legislative assembly by the executive power. Some countries have been governed by a single assembly, others by several assemblies, of which some have been aristocratic and others democratic; while all have contested with each other for the sovereignty. These various forms of government have given rise either to tyranny or to continued commotions, and have nevertheless endured. But a government in which the legislative assembly and the executive power have remained distinct, preserving their personality and their independence, and reciprocally limiting each other, is a phenomenon without example, either in antiquity or in modern times. One of these powers has always speedily succumbed, or been soon reduced to a state of subordination and dependence equivalent to nonentity, at least as regarded the essential purposes for which it was instituted.
This could not fail to be the case. Equality is impossible between powers which are completely dissimilar, either in their nature, or in their means of obtaining power or credit. The dominion of one person, that is to say, the pure monarchical form of government, derives its springs and means of action from certain dispositions of human nature, and certain conditions of society. The full and exclusive rule of a single assembly derives the same from other dispositions and other social circumstances; according as one or other class of these circumstances predominate, kings have abolished assemblies, and assemblies have overthrown kings. But the co-existence of these two systems of government, when confronted with each other and acting in direct opposition, is impossible. They do not then act as a restraint upon each other, but they wage a war of extermination: such an event has accordingly never been met with except in revolutionary times: it may possibly have been an unavoidable condition of such epochs; but then it has always involved one or other of these forms of despotism: it has never become the basis of a free and regular government.
When it is once admitted that the division of the central power is indispensable, in order to prevent all usurpation of rightful omnipotence, or, at least, to render such usurpation infrequent and difficult, it necessarily follows that this division ought to be effected in such a way that the resulting powers shall be capable of regular co-existence, that is to say, of mutually restraining, limiting, and compelling each other to seek in common for that reason, truth, and justice, which ought to regulate their will and preside over their actions. It is essential that neither of these powers should elevate itself so much above the others as to be able to throw off their yoke; for the excellence of the system consists precisely in their mutual dependence, and in the efforts which it imposes on them to secure unanimity. Now there can be no mutual dependence, except between powers which are invested with a certain degree of independence, and with strength enough to maintain it.
The division of the central power, or of the actual sovereignty, between the executive power and two legislative assemblies is, therefore, strictly derived from the fundamental principle of the representative system; or rather it is the sole constitutional form which fully corresponds to this principle, and guarantees its maintenance, since this is the only form which, by providing equals for powers which admit of no superiors, prevents them all from claiming and usurping rightful sovereignty, that is to say, absolute power.
Why has this truth been so frequently forgotten? why has this constitutional form been so often repudiated by men who, nevertheless, desired to establish representative government?—Because they have forgotten the principle of this form of government. At the very moment when they were directing their efforts against absolute power, they have imagined that it legitimately existed somewhere; and they have attributed it to society itself—to the entire people. They have thus proved wanting in consistency and courage in their opposition to absolute power; and either have not known, or have not dared, to pursue it wherever it might be found; to leave it no refuge; to denounce and banish it under every possible name and form. Thus, admitting the existence of one sole sovereign, naturally and eternally legitimate, they have also been obliged to admit an undivided representation of this undivided sovereign. The sovereignty of the people, thus understood, necessarily carries with it the unity of the legislative power: and when tyranny has sprung from it, when the lessons of experience have led men to seek other combinations, when it has been considered right to divide the legislative assembly, it has been done with the assertion, that such a step was contrary to the principle of representative government, but necessary: that principles cannot rigorously be followed, and that it is necessary to believe in the theory, but not to practise it. Such language is an insult to truth, for truth never contains evil; and when evil does appear anywhere, it arises not from truth but from error. If the consequences of a principle are fatal, it is not because the principle, though in itself true, is not applicable, but because it really is not true. It has been said by the advocates of divine right: There is only one God; there ought therefore to be only one king; and all power belongs to him because he is the representative of God. The advocates of the sovereignty of the people say: There is only one people; there ought therefore to be only one legislative assembly, for that represents the people. The error is the same in both cases, and in each instance it leads equally to despotism. There is only one God, that is certain: but God exists nowhere upon the earth, for neither is any man nor is the entire people God, nor do any perfectly know his law, or constantly desire it. No actual power, then, ought to be undivided, for the unity of actual power supposes a plenitude of rightful power which nobody possesses or can possess.
Far, then, from the division of legislative power being a derogation from the principles of political liberty, it is, on the contrary, in perfect harmony with these principles, and is specially directed against the establishment of absolute power.
Having thus established the principle, it would be easy to consider it in practice, and to demonstrate its good effects. It would be easy to prove that it is indispensible for realising the responsibility of the executive power; for curbing inordinate ambition, and turning every kind of superiority to the profit of the State; for preventing fundamental institutions, the public rights of citizens, and all the higher branches of legislation, from being treated as simple measures of government, and made subject to the instability of political experience: but these considerations would lead me too far; I wished to establish this constitutional form in principle, because it is owing to the want of such foundations that it has long been regarded with mistrust and doubt by many enlightened men. Its utility is never disputed; its good results are acknowledged; but men are generally ignorant how it can be made to agree with the general principles of a free government; and it has been found, not without reason, that these principles would be weakened by any derogation from them. In times when the human race is subject to regenerative influences, empiricism is never the ruling spirit: man then requires some rational and rigorous principles which may furnish a solution to every difficulty; and he mistrusts experience when he finds her counsels at variance with those primitive axioms which his reason has firmly adopted. This is our natural disposition: let us not lament it, it characterises all great epochs; it is then only necessary rigidly to examine principles themselves, and to grant dominion to those ideas only which truly deserve it.
A second question remains for consideration: it is, to ascertain how the division of the legislative power into two houses ought to be effected, and what should be the mode of formation, what the attributes and the relations of the two assemblies. This, at least to a great degree, is a question of circumstance, the solution of which is almost entirely dependent upon the state of society, its internal constitution, and the manner in which wealth, influence, and intelligence, are distributed; this is sufficiently indicated by what I have said about the causes that led to the formation of the House of Peers in England. It is evident, for example, that those countries in which there was no such inequality as then existed between the different classes of society, would be ill adapted for a division of the legislative power based upon the same ideas, presenting the same characteristics, and entailing the same consequences. Perhaps the only general idea which can be laid down beforehand upon this subject is, that the two assemblies should not proceed from the same source, and be constituted in the same manner; in a word, that they should not be exactly alike. The object of their separation would then be defeated, for their similitude would destroy the mutual independence which is the condition of their utility.