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Comte_de_Maistre

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CHAPTER II. MONARCHY

It can be said in general that all men are born for monarchy. This form of government is the most ancient and the most universal.... Monarchical government is so natural that, without realizing it, men identify it with sovereignty. They seem tacitly to agree that, wherever there is no king, there is no real sovereign....

This is particularly striking in everything that has been said on both sides of the question that formed the subject of the first book of this work. The adversaries of divine origin always hold a grudge against kings and talk only of kings. They do not want to accept that the authority of kings comes from God: but it is not a question of royalty in particular but of sovereignty in general. Yes, all sovereignty derives from God; whatever form it takes, it is not the work of man. It is one, absolute and inviolable of its nature. Why, then, lay the blame on royalty, as though the inconveniences which are relied on to attack this system are not the same in any form of government? Once again, it is because royalty is the natural government and because in common discourse men confuse it with sovereignty by disregarding other governments, just as they neglect the exception when enunciating the general rule....

Man must always be brought back to history, which is the first and indeed the only teacher in politics. Whoever says that man is born for liberty is speaking nonsense. If a being of a superior order undertook the natural history of man, surely he would seek his directions in the history of facts. When he knew what man is and has always been, what he does and has always done, he would write; and doubtless he would reject as foolish the notion that man is not what he should be and that his condition is contrary to the laws of creation. The very expression of this proposition is sufficient to refute it.

History is experimental politics; and just as, in the physical sciences, a hundred books of speculative theories disappear before a single experiment, in the same way in political science no theory can be allowed if it is not the more or less probable corollary of well-attested facts. If the question is asked, "What is the most natural government to man," history will reply, It is monarchy.

This government no doubt has its drawbacks, like every other, but all the declamations that fill the books of the day on these kinds of abuses can only rouse pity for their authors. It is pride and not reason which gives rise to them. Once it is rigorously established that nations are not made for the same government, that each nation has that which is best for it, above all that "liberty is not open to every nation, and that the more we ponder on this principle laid down by Montesquieu, the more apparent its truth appears,"[Ibid., Book iii, Chap. viii.] we can no longer understand what the diatribes against the vices of monarchical government are about. If their aim is to make the unfortunate people who are destined to bear the disadvantages feel them more sharply, it is a most barbaric pastime; if their aim is to urge men to revolt against a government made for them, it is a crime beyond description.

But the subjects of monarchies are by no means reduced to taking refuge from despair in philosophic meditations; they have something better to do, which is to gain full knowledge of the excellence of their government and to learn not to envy others....

Let us go on to examine the principal characteristics of monarchical government....

Monarchy is a centralized aristocracy. At all times and in all places, aristocracy dominates. Whatever form is given to governments, birth and wealth always take the first rank, and nowhere is their rule more harsh than where it is not founded on the law. But in a monarchy the king is the center of this aristocracy: the latter, here as elsewhere, still rules, but it rules in the name of the king, or, if you like, the king is guided by the understanding of the aristocracy....

Avoiding all exaggeration, it is certain that the government of a single man is that in which the vices of the sovereign have the least effect upon the governed.

A very remarkable truth was spoken recently at the opening of the republican Lycee in Paris. "In absolute governments, the faults of the ruler can scarcely ruin everything at the same time, because his single will cannot do everything; but a republican government is obliged to be essentially reasonable and just, because the general will, once it goes astray, carries everything with it."[Speech given at the opening of the republican Lycee, December 31, 1794, by M. de la Harpe (Journal de Paris, 1795, No. 1l4, p. 461).]

This observation is most just: it is far from true that the will of the king does everything in a monarchy. It is supposed to do everything, and that is the great advantage of this government: but, in fact, its utility is almost wholly in centralizing advice and knowledge. Religion, laws, customs, opinion, class, and corporate privileges restrict the sovereign and prevent him from abusing his power; it is striking that kings have even been much more often accused of lacking will than of overexerting it. It is always the king's council that rules. But the pyramidal aristocracy that administers the state in monarchies has particular characteristics which deserve our attention.

In every country and under every possible government, the great officers always belong to the aristocracy, that is, to nobility and wealth, most often united. In saying that this must be so, Aristotle put forward a political axiom which simple good sense and the experience of the whole of history cannot allow us to doubt. This privilege of aristocracy is really a natural law.

Now, it is one of the greatest advantages of monarchical government that in it the aristocracy loses, as much as the nature of things allows, all those features offensive to the lower classes. It is important to understand the reasons for this.

1. This kind of aristocracy is legal; it is an integral part of government, everyone knows this, and it does not waken in anyone's mind the idea of usurpation and injustice. In republics, on the other hand, the distinction between persons exists as much as in monarchies, but it is harder and more offensive because it is not the work of the law and because popular opinion regards it as a continual rebellion against the principle of equality admitted by the constitution....

2. Once the influence of a hereditary aristocracy becomes inevitable (and the experience of every age leaves no doubt on this point), the best course to deprive this influence of the elements that rub against the pride of the lower classes is to remove all insurmountable barriers between the families within the state and to allow none of them to be humiliated by a distinction that they can never enjoy.

Now this is precisely the case in a monarchy resting on good laws. There is no family that the merit of its head cannot raise from the second to the first rank....

3. And this order of things appears still more perfect when it is remembered that the aristocracy of birth and office, already softened by the right belonging to every family to enjoy the same distinctions in its turn, is stripped of everything possibly offensive to the lower orders by the universal supremacy of the monarch, before whom no citizen is more powerful than another; the man in the street, who is insignificant when he measures himself against a great lord, measures the lord against the sovereign, and the title of subject which brings both of them under the same power and the same justice is a kind of equality that stills the inevitable pangs of self-esteem....

In the government of several, sovereignty is by no means A UNITY; and although the parts making it up form A UNITY, it is far from the case that they make the same impression on the mind. The human imagination does not grasp a unity that is only a metaphysical abstraction; on the contrary, it delights in separating each element of the general unity, and the subject has less respect for a sovereignty whose separate parts are not sufficiently above him. It follows that, in these kinds of government, sovereignty has not the same intensity or, in consequence, the same moral force....

Let us abandon all prejudice and party spirit, renounce exaggerated ideas and all the theoretical dreams fostered by the French fever, and European good sense will agree on the following propositions:

1. The king is sovereign; no one can share sovereignty with him, and all powers emanate from him.

z. His person is inviolable; no one has the right to depose or judge him.

3. He has not the right to condemn to death, or even impose any corporal punishment. The power that punishes derives from him, and that is sufficient.

4. If he imposes exile or imprisonment in cases in which reason of state prevents a judicial hearing, he should not be too secretive or act too much without the advice of an enlightened council.

5. The king cannot judge in civil cases; only the judges, in the name of the sovereign, can pronounce on property and contracts.

6. Subjects have the right, by means of certain differently composed bodies, councils, or assemblies, to denounce abuses to him and legally to communicate to him their grievances and their very humble remonstrances.

It is in these sacred laws, the more truly constitutional since they are written only in men's hearts, and more particularly in the paternal relationship between prince and subjects, that can be found the true character of European monarchy.

Whatever the intense and blind pride of the eighteenth century says about it, this is all we need. These elements, combined in different ways, produce all sorts of nuances in monarchical government. It can be seen, for example, that the men charged with carrying to the foot of the throne the representations and grievances of subjects can form bodies or assemblies; that the members who compose these assemblies or bodies can vary in number, in rank, in the nature and extent of their powers; that the method of election, the frequency and length of sessions, and so on, alter the number of these combinations: facies non omnibus una; but always you will find the same general character: that is, chosen men carrying legally to the father the complaints and the views of the family: nec diversa tamen....

How many faults power has committed! And how steadfastly it ignores the means of conserving itself! Man is insatiable for power; he is infinite in his desires and, always discontented with what he has, loves only what he has not. People complain of the despotism of princes; they ought to complain of the despotism of man. We are all born despots, from the most absolute monarch of Asia to the infant who smothers a bird with its hand for the pleasure of seeing that there exists in the world a being weaker than itself. There is not a man who does not abuse power, and experience shows that the most abominable despots, if they manage to seize the scepter, are precisely those who rant against despotism. But the Author of nature has set bounds to the abuse of power: He has willed that it destroys itself once it goes beyond its natural limits. Everywhere He has written this law; in the physical as in the moral world, it surrounds us and makes itself constantly heard. Look at this gun: up to a certain point, the longer you make it, the more effective it will be; but once you go at all beyond this limit, its effectiveness will be reduced. Look at this telescope; up to a certain point, the bigger you make it, the more powerful it will be; but go beyond that, and invincible nature will turn all your efforts to perfect the instrument against you. This is a crude image of power. To conserve itself, it must restrain itself, and it must always keep away from that point at which its most extreme effort leads to its own death.

Certainly I do not like popular assemblies any more than the next man; but French folly ought not to turn us aside from the truth and wisdom of the happy mean. If there is any indisputable maxim, it is that, in all mutinies, insurrections, and revolutions the people always start by being right and always end by being wrong. It is not true that every nation should have its national assembly in the French sense; it is not true that every individual is eligible for the national council; it is not even true that everyone can be an elector without any distinction of rank or fortune; it is not true that this council should be colegislative; finally it is not true that it ought to be composed the same way in different countries. But because these exaggerated claims are false, does it follow that no one has the right to speak for the common good in the name of the community and that we are prevented from acting wisely because the French have acted so foolishly? I do not understand this conclusion....

CHAPTER IV. DEMOCRACY

Pure democracy does not exist any more than absolute despotism. "If you use the strict meaning of the term," says Rousseau admirably, "a true democracy has never existed and will never exist. It is against the natural order for the majority to govern and the minority to be governed."[Social Contract, Book iii, Chap. iv.]

The idea of a whole people being sovereign and legislative is so contrary to good sense that the Greek political writers, who should know a little about liberty, never talked about democracy as a legitimate government, at least when they meant to express themselves exactly. Aristotle especially defines democracy as the excess of the republic, just as despotism is file excess of monarchy.

If there is no such thing as a democracy, properly speaking, the same can be said of a perfect despotism, which is equally a hypothetical model. "It is wrong to think that there has ever been a single authority despotic in every respect; there has never been nor will there ever be such a system. The widest power is still bounded by some limits."[Montesquieu, Grandeur et decadence des Romains, Chap. xxii.]

But nothing stops us, in order to clarify our ideas, from considering these two forms of government as two theoretical extremes which every possible government resembles to a greater or lesser degree.

In this strict sense, I believe I can define democracy as an association of men without sovereignty. "When the whole people," says Rousseau, "decides for the whole people, it considers only itself.... Then the matter on which a decision is made is general, like the will which makes it; it is this act that I call a LAW."[Social Contract, Book ii, Chap. vi.]

What Rousseau calls eminently law is precisely what is incapable of bearing the name....

As a nation, like an individual, cannot possess coercive power over itself, it is clear that, if a democracy in its theoretical purity were to exist, there would be no sovereignty within this state: for it is impossible to understand by this word anything other than a repressive power that acts on the subject and that is external to him. It follows that this word subject, which is a relative term, is alien to republics, because there is no sovereign, properly speaking, in a republic and because there cannot be a subject without a sovereign, just as there cannot be a son without a father.

Even in aristocratic governments, in which sovereignty is much more palpable than in democracies, the word subject is nevertheless avoided, and other, less rigid, terms, which involve no exaggeration, are found.

In every country there are voluntary associations of men who have united for some self-interested or charitable purpose. These men have voluntarily submitted themselves to certain rules which they observe as long as they find it advantageous. They even submit themselves to certain punishments imposed when they have broken the regulations of the association. But these regulations have no authority other than the will itself of those who have drawn them up, and, when there are dissidents, there is no coercive force among them to restrain these dissidents.

A just idea of a true democracy can be gained by magnifying the idea of such corporations. The ordinances emanating from a people constituted in such a way would be rules, and not laws. Law is so little the will of all that the more it is the will of all, the less it is law: so that it would cease to be law if it was the work of all those who ought to obey it, without exception.

But a purely voluntary state of association exists no more than does a pure democracy. One only starts from this theoretical power in order to understand; and it is in this sense that one can claim that sovereignty is born the moment when the sovereign begins not to be the whole people and that it grows stronger to the degree that it becomes less the whole people.

The spirit of voluntary association is the constitutive principle of republics, and has necessarily a prime cause; it is divine, and no one can produce it. The degree to which it is mixed in sovereignty, the common base of all governments, determines the physiognomy of non-monarchical governments.

The observer, and particularly the foreign observer who lives in a republican country, can distinguish very well the effects of these two principles. Sometimes he feels sovereignty and sometimes the communal spirit that serves as a supplement to it. Public power acts less, and above all is less apparent, than in monarchies, seeming to mistrust itself. A certain collective feeling, which is easier to feel than to define, dispenses sovereignty from acting in a host of circumstances in which it would intervene elsewhere. A thousand small things come about of their own accord, and order and agreement show themselves on all sides for no apparent reason. Communal property is respected even by the poor, and everything, even the general propriety, gives the observer food for thought.

A republican nation being thus less governed than any other, it can be seen that the acts of sovereignty must be supplemented by public spirit, so that the less a nation has wisdom to see the good and virtue to follow it of itself, the less fitted it is for a republic.

The advantages and disadvantages of this kind of government are quickly discovered. At its best, it eclipses all others, and the marvels it works seduce even the calmest and most judicious of observers. But, in the first place, it is suitable only for very small nations, for there is no need to demonstrate that the formation and maintenance of the spirit of association becomes more difficult as the number of associates grows.

In the second place, justice has not that calm and smooth action that we ordinarily see in monarchies. In democracies, justice is sometimes weak and sometimes impassioned. It is said that, under these governments, no head can resist the sword of the law. This means that, the punishment of an illustrious criminal or accused person being a real joy for the plebs who by this console themselves for the inevitable superiority of the aristocracy, public opinion strongly favors this kind of sentence; but if the criminal is obscure, or in general if the crime wounds neither the pride nor the immediate interests of the majority of individuals, this same opinion resists the action of justice and paralyzes it.

In a monarchy, the aristocracy is only a prolongation of royal authority, and thus partakes to a certain degree in the inviolability of the monarch. This immunity (always very much below that of the sovereign) is graduated so that it is held by fewer persons as it grows in extent.

In a monarchy, immunity, differently graduated, belongs to the minority, in a democracy to the majority. In the first case it shocks the plebs; in the second it pleases them. I believe it to be good in both cases, that is to say, I believe it to be a necessary element in both governments, which comes to the same thing, for what constitutes a government is always good, at least in an absolute sense.

But it is another matter when one government is compared to another. It is then a question of weighing the benefits and inconveniences to humanity of different social systems.

It is from this point of view that I believe monarchy to be superior to democracy in the administration of justice; and I am talking not only of criminal but also of civil justice. The same weakness can be observed in the one as in the other.

The magistrate is not sufficiently above the citizen; he has the air of an arbitrator rather than of a judge; and, forced to act cautiously even when he speaks in the name of the law, it is obvious that he does not believe in his own power. His strength lies only in the adherence of his equals, because there is either no sovereign or it is not strong enough....

In general, justice is always weak in democracies when it acts alone, and always cruel or irresponsible when it relies on the people.

Some political writers have maintained that one of the advantages of republican government was the ability the people possess to confide the exercise of its authority only to men worthy of it. No one, they claim, can choose better than the people: where their interests are concerned, nothing can seduce them, and merit alone decides them.

I fancy that this idea is largely delusory. Democracy could not last a moment if it was not tempered by aristocracy, and above all by hereditary aristocracy, which is perhaps more indispensable to this government than to monarchy. In a republic, the right to vote gives neither prestige nor power. When Rousseau tells us, in the introduction to the Social Contract, that, in his quality as a citizen of a free state, he is personally sovereign, even the most benevolent reader is inclined to laugh. Men count for something in a republic only to the degree that birth, marriage, and high talents give them influence; the simple citizen counts for nothing....

In times of peace, the people allow themselves to be led by their rulers: then they are wise because they act little; they choose well because the choice is made for them. When they are content with the power they derive from the constitution and, without venturing to make use of this power, rely on the understanding and wisdom of the aristocracy, when on the other side the rulers, sufficiently restrained by the fear of being deprived of the exercise of power, use it with a wisdom which justifies confidence, this is when republics shine. But when respect on the one side and fear on the other disappear, the state slides quickly toward ruin....

However, I do not want to claim that monarchical government is any less open to mistakes in its choice of men; but the eternal declamation on the errors of blind patronage are much less well founded than is commonly imagined. In the first place, if it is pride that complains, kings always choose badly, for there is not a malcontent who does not prefer himself without question to the most happy choice. Moreover, too often kings are accused when it is the people who should be accused. In periods of general degeneracy, men complain that merit does not succeed; but where is it then, this ignored merit? They are obliged to point it out before accusing the government. During the last two French reigns, it is true that very mediocre men have been vested with high responsibilities; but to which men of merit were they preferred? Now that the most complete revolution the world has seen has broken all the chains which could bind the talents captive, where are they? You might perhaps find them, but they will be joined to profound immorality; but it is the sensible spirit of self-preservation of states that has barred talents of this kind from high offices. Moreover, as the Scriptures put it, there is a certain cleverness that works only for ill. This is the talent that has devastated France for five years. If you look carefully, you will find no or very little real political talent among even the most prominent men who have appeared on this bloody and tearful stage. They have been very good at doing evil; this is the only praise that can be bestowed on them. Happily the most famous of them have been writers; and, when all passions have been buried in the grave, posterity will discover from their indiscreet pages that the most monstrous errors dominated these pride-ridden men and that the previous government which rejected, curbed, and punished them was, without knowing it, fighting for its own life.

It is therefore because France was degenerating, because she was deficient in talents, that the kings seemed to welcome too much the mediocrity brought forward by intrigue. There is a very gross error, into which we nevertheless fall every day without realizing it. Although we recognize the hidden hand which guides all things, yet so important does the action of secondary causes seem to us that we fairly commonly reason as if this hand did not exist. When we contemplate the play of intrigue around thrones, words like chance, good luck, bad luck, fortune naturally present themselves, and we say them a little too quickly without perceiving that they make no sense.

Without doubt, man is free; he can make mistakes, but not sufficiently to derange general plans. We are all bound to the throne of God by a pliant chain which reconciles the self-propulsion of free agents with divine supremacy. Unquestionably, a certain king might in a certain age prevent a real talent from occupying a position made for it, and this unfortunate capacity can be more or less extensive. But, in general, there is a secret power that carries each individual to his place; otherwise the state could not continue. We recognize in a plant some unknown power, some single form-giving force which creates and conserves, which moves unwaveringly toward its end, which appropriates what is useful to it and rejects that which would harm it, which carries even to the last fibril of the last leaf the sap that it needs, and fights with all its might against the diseases of the vegetable world. This force is still more obvious and more wonderful in the animal kingdom. How blind we are! How can we deny that the body politic has also its law, its soul, its form-giving force, and believe that everything is dependent on the whims of human ignorance? If the moral mechanism of states were revealed to us, we would be freed of a host of errors: we would see, for instance, that the man who appears to us to be fitted for a certain position is a disease which the life force pushes to the surface, while we deplore the misfortune that stops him from invading the sources of life. We are misled every day by the words talent and genius; often these qualities are absent where we think we see them, and often also they belong to dangerous men....

To hear these defenders of democracy talk, one would think that the people deliberate like a committee of wise men, whereas in truth judicial murders, foolhardy undertakings, wild choices, and above all foolish and disastrous wars are eminently the prerogatives of this form of government.

But who has ever said worse of democracy than Rousseau, for he declares point-blank that it is made only for a society of Gods.[Ibid., Book iii, Chap. iv.] It remains to be seen how a government which is made only for gods can yet be proposed to men as the only legitimate government, for if this is not the meaning of the social contract, the social contract has no meaning.

But this is not all: "How many things," he says, "difficult to bring together are required by this government. First, a very small state, in which the people can easily assemble, and where each citizen can easily know all the others; second, great simplicity of manners to prevent a multiplicity of problems and difficult discussions; then a high degree of equality in rank and fortune without which equality in rights and authority would not last for long; finally, little or no luxury."[Ibid.]

At this point, I shall consider only the first of these conditions. If democracy is suitable only for very small states, how can this form of government be put forward as the only legitimate form of government and as, so to speak, a formula capable of resolving all political problems?...

I do not know why Rousseau was willing to admit that democracy involves some small disadvantages, but he had a very simple way of justifying it, which is to judge it only by its theoretical perfection and to regard its disadvantages as small and insignificant anomalies which do not deserve careful attention.

"The general will," he says, "is always right and always tends to the public utility, but the deliberations of the people have not always the same rightness.... The people are never corrupted, but they are often misled, and it is only then that they appear to will what is evil."[Ibid., Book ii, Chap. iii.] Drink, Socrates, drink; and console yourself with these distinctions: the good people of Athens only appear to will what is evil....

CHAPTER V. THE BEST SPECIES OF GOVERNMENT

Rousseau saw quite correctly that no one should ask what is the best form of government in general, since none is suitable for every nation. Each nation has its own, as it has its own language and character, and this government is the best for it. The consequence of which is obviously that all theories of social contract are pipedreams.... Since none of the varying circumstances depend on men, it follows that the consent of the people plays no part in the formation of governments.... The question is not to know what is the best form of government but which nation is best governed according to the principles of its government....

CHAPTER VI. CONTINUATION OF THE SAME SUBJECT

The best government for each nation is that which, in the territory occupied by this nation, is capable of producing the greatest possible sum of happiness and strength, for the greatest possible number of men, during the longest possible time. I venture to believe that the justice of this definition cannot be denied and that it is by following it that comparison between states from the point of view of their governments becomes possible. In fact, although it is impossible to ask What is the best form of government? nothing stops us asking, Which nation is relatively the most numerous, the strongest, and the happiest, over the greatest period of time, through the influence of the government suitable to it?

What peculiarity of mind prevents us from using in the study of politics the same methods of reasoning and the same general hypotheses which guide us in the study of other sciences?

In physical research, if there is a problem of estimating a variable force, we take the average quantity. In astronomy in particular we always talk of average distance and average time. To judge the merit of a government, the same method should be used.

Any government is a variable force that produces effects as variable as itself, within certain limits. To judge it, it should not be examined at a given moment, but over the whole of its existence. Then to judge the French monarchy properly, a sum of the virtues and vices of all the French kings should be made, and divided by sixty-six: the result is an average king; and the same is true of other monarchies.

Democracy has one brilliant moment, but it is a moment and it must pay dearly for it. The great days of Athens might, I agree, inspire desires in the subject of a monarchy, languishing in such and such a period under an inept or wicked king. Nevertheless, we would be greatly mistaken if we claimed to establish the superiority of democracy over monarchy by comparing moment for moment, because, in this way of judging, we neglect among other things the consideration of duration, which is a necessary element of these sorts of calculation.

In general, all democratic governments are only transitory meteors, whose brilliance excludes duration....

In discussing the different kinds of government, the general happiness is not sufficiently considered, although it should be our sole criterion. We should have the courage to face a glaring truth which would cool our enthusiasm for free constitutions a little; this is that, in every republic over a certain size, what is called liberty is only the total sacrifice of a great number of men for the independence and pride of a small number....

Properly speaking, all governments are monarchies which differ only in whether the monarch is for life or for a term of years, hereditary or elective, individual or corporate; or, if you will (for it is the same idea in other terms), all governments are aristocratic, composed of a greater or smaller number of rulers, from democracy, in which this aristocracy is composed of as many men as the nature of things permits, to monarchy, in which the aristocracy, inevitable under every government, is headed by a single man topping the pyramid and which undoubtedly constitutes the most natural government for man.

But of all monarchies, the hardest, most despotic, and most intolerable is King People. Again history testifies to the great truth that the liberty of the minority is founded only on the slavery of the masses and that republics have never been anything but multimember sovereigns, whose despotism, always harder and more capricious than that of kings, increases in intensity as the number of subjects grows....

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