Joseph Marie, comte de Maistre, Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions (1809, 1847).

Joseph Marie, comte de Maistre (1753-1821)  



Joseph Marie, comte de Maistre, Essay on the Generative Principle of Political Constitutions (Boston: Little and Brown, 1847). Anonymous translator.

See also the facs. PDF as well as the 1814 [facs. PDF] and revised 1821 French editions [facs. PDF].

Note: The translator's notes have been removed becaued they were very numerous and inrerrupted the smooth flow of the argument in the text. We have also made no attempt to transcribe the Greek quotations. Footnotes are been placed inline.



Table of Contents

There are 67 numbered sections. We have made links to every tenth one to aid navigation.

Note by the Translator | Maistre's Preface

Essay | Section X | XX | XXX | XL | L | LX | FINIS







It has been frequently noticed as a uniform tendency of the sciences of the last period, to limit or exclude the Divine agency, in the several departments to which they relate. This tendency has been no less obvious in political, than in physical science. In the political theories of the last century, the origin of Civil Institutions has been uniformly traced to some social compact, or some other act, more or less deliberate, of merely human arrangement, to the exclusion of the Divine agency. It is this error, so repugnant to the religious spirit, though sanctioned by the highest names in modern political science, so fraught with pernicious consequences, though seemingly a [iv] harmless speculation, which it is the object of this Essay to expose. The great name of the Author is a sufficient pledge of the ability of the work. The extent and variety of learning displayed in it, the depth of its political reflections, the light cast by it upon very many associated topics of the greatest importance, the eloquence to which it rises in occasional passages, and the tone of moral earnestness by which the whole is pervaded, cannot fail to be acknowledged, even by those who may not be convinced by its arguments.

In transferring to our language, a work of such a nature, the Translator has felt bound to do what he could to represent the exact meaning of the Author with the utmost fidelity, even when it might be necessary, in so doing, to sacrifice something of beauty or harmony of style. He has added a few notes, always included in brackets, [v] designed to explain and illustrate such historical allusions, and other matters of the text, as might not, in themselves, be sufficiently intelligible.

The work is submitted to the candour of the thoughtful reader, in the hope that it may lead to a more just recognition of the Hand of God in the History of the World.

Boston, June 12, 1847.




Political Science, which is, perhaps, the most thorny of all sciences, by reason of the difficulty perpetually arising, of discerning what is stable or changeable in its elements, presents a very strange phenomenon, well calculated to make every wise man, called to the administration of states, to tremble; it is this, that whatever good sense perceives, at first view, in this science, as an evident truth, is almost always found, when experience has spoken, not only false, but pernicious.

To begin at the foundation. If we had never heard governments spoken of, and men were called upon to deliberate, for example, on hereditary or elective monarchy, we should justly regard one who should decide for the former, as a madman: the arguments against it appear [viii] so naturally to reason, that it is useless to repeat them. History, however, which is experimental politics, demonstrates, that an hereditary monarchy is the government which is the most stable, the happiest, and most natural to man; and an elective monarchy, on the contrary, is the worst form of government known.

With respect to population, commerce, prohibitive laws, and a thousand other important subjects, the most plausible theory is almost always found to be contradicted and annulled by experience. Let us cite a few examples.

What method must be adopted to render a state powerful? “It is necessary, first of all, to favour population by every possible means.” On the contrary, every law, tending directly to favour population, without regard to other considerations, is bad. It is even necessary, to endeavour to establish in the state a certain moral power, tending to diminish the number of marriages, and to render them less hasty. The proportion of births over deaths, as ascertained by tables, only proves, ordinarily, the number of the wretched. Etc., etc. [ix] French economists had sketched the demonstration of these truths: the excellent work of Malthus has completed it.

How shall scarcity and famine be prevented? “Nothing is more simple. It is necessary to prohibit the exportation of grains.” On the contrary, a premium must be allowed to those who export them. The example and authority of England have constrained us to swallow this paradox.

How shall exchange be maintained in favour of a particular country? “It is unquestionably necessary to prevent the specie from going out of it, and consequently to see to it, by severe prohibitory laws, that the state buys no more than it sells.” On the contrary, these means have never been employed without lowering the exchange, or, what amounts to the same thing, without augmenting the indebtedness of the nation; and never can the opposite course be taken without raising it, that is to say, without making it evident that the credit of the nation over its neighbours is increased. Etc., etc.


But the observation we are now considering recurs most frequently in that which is most substantial and fundamental in politics; I mean in the very constitution of empires. It is said that the German philosophers have invented the word Metapolitics to be to Politics, what Metaphysics is to Physics. This new term appears to be very happily invented to express the Metaphysics of Politics, for there is such a thing; and this science deserves the profound attention of observers.

An anonymous writer who has been much occupied with speculations of this nature, and who has endeavored to fathom the hidden foundations of the social edifice, believed himself to be in the right when, nearly twenty years ago, he advanced, as so many incontestable axioms, the following propositions, diametrically opposed to the theories of that time.


1. No constitution results from deliberation; the rights of the people are never written, or never except as simple declarations of pre-existing rights not written, of which nothing more can be said, than that they exist because they exist.

2. Human action in such cases is so far circumscribed, that the men who act are only circumstances.

3. The rights of the people, properly so called, proceed almost always from the concessions of sovereigns, and then it is possible to trace them historically; but the rights of the sovereign and of the aristocracy, [xii] have neither date nor known authors.

4. These concessions themselves have always been preceded by a state of things which rendered them necessary, and which did not depend upon the sovereign.

5. Although written laws are only the declarations of pre-existing rights, yet it does not follow that all these rights can be written.

6. The more is written, the weaker the [xiii] constitution. [The reason is obvious. Laws are only declarations of rights, and rights are only declared when they are attacked; so that the multiplicity of written constitutional laws, only evinces the number of shocks and the danger of destruction. The most vigorous and flourishing institution of profane antiquity was that of Lacedaemon, where nothing was written.]

7. No nation can give liberty to itself, if it has it not.[FN*: Machiavel is appealed to here in evidence. Un popolo uso a vivere sotto un principe, sc per qualche accidente diventa libero, con difficulté mantiene la libertà. Disc. sopr. Tito-Livio, lib. I, cap. xvi.] Human influence does not extend beyond the development of existing rights.


8. Lawgivers, strictly speaking, are extraordinary men, belonging perhaps only to the ancient world and to the youth of nations.


9. These lawgivers even, notwithstanding their wonderful power, have only collected the preexisting elements, and have always acted in the name of the Divinity.

10. Liberty, in a sense, is the gift of kings; for all nations were constituted free by kings.[FN*: This ought to be deeply considered in modern monarchies. As all legitimate and sacred immunities of this kind proceed rightfully from the sovereign, every thing that is extorted by force is smitten with anathema. To write a law, Demosthenes has very well said, is nothing; to make it to be willed is every thing. (Olynth. III.) But if this is true of the sovereign in respect of the people, what shall we say of a nation, that is to say, to employ the mildest term, of a club of heated theorists, who would propose a constilution to a legitimate sovereign, as we propose a capitulation to a besieged general? That would be indecent, absurd and, more than all, futile.]


11. There never has existed a free nation which had not, in its natural constitution, germs of liberty as old as itself; and no nation has ever successfully attempted to develope, by its fundamental written laws, other rights than those which existed in its natural constitution.

12. No assembly of men can give existence to a nation. An attempt of this kind ought even to be ranked among the most memorable acts of folly.[FN *: Machiavel is again cited here. E debbesi pigliare questo per una regola generale, che non mai,o di rado, occorre che alcuna repubblica o regno sia da principio ordinato bene, o al tutto di nuovo luori degli ordini vecchi riformato, se non è ordinato da uno; anzi è ne- cessario che uno solo sia quello che dia il modo, e dalla cui mente dipenda qualunque simile ordinazione. Disc, sopr. Tit. Liv., lib. I, cap. iv. ]


It does not appear that, since the year 1796, the date of the first edition of the work we quote,[FN*:Considerations sur la France, chap. iv.] there has anything passed in the world to induce the author to abandon his theory. We believe on the contrary, that it may be useful at this moment to develope the theory fully, and to trace it to its ultimate results; the most important of which is, doubtless, the one that is found announced in these terms, in the tenth chapter of the same work, viz.:

“Man cannot create a sovereign. At the utmost, he maybe the instrument in dethroning the sovereign, and delivering his kingdom to another sovereign already royal.. Moreover there never has existed a royal family to whom a plebeian origin could be assigned. If such a phenomenon should appear, it ivould create an era in the world. ”[FN1: Considerations sur la France, chap. X, §. III]



With respect to this proposition we may reflect, that the divine judgment has just now sanctioned it in a manner sufficiently solemn. But who knows whether the ignorant levity of our age will not seriously say, if he had willed it, he would still be in his place! just as is now repeated after two centuries; if Richard Cromwell had possessed the genius of his father, he would have fixed the protectorate in his family; which is precisely the same as to say, if this family had not ceased to reign, it woukd reign still.

It is written, By me kings reign.[FN*: Per me Reges regnant. Prov. viii. 15] This is not a phrase of the church, a metaphor of the preacher; it is a literal truth, simple and palpable. It is a law of the political world. God makes kings in the literal sense. He prepares royal races; maturing them under a cloud which conceals their origin. They appear at length crowned with glory and honour; they take their places; and this is the most certain sign of their legitimacy.


The truth is, that they arise as it were of themselves, without violence on the one part, and without marked deliberation on the other: it is a species of magnificent tranquillity, not easy to express. Legitimate usurpation would seem to me to be the most appropriate expression, (if not too bold,) to characterize these kinds of origins, which time hastens to consecrate.

Let no one, then, permit himself to be dazzled by the most splendid human appearances. Who has ever concentrated in himself more of them than the extraordinary personage whose fall still resounds throughout Europe? Has there ever been a sovereignty outwardly so well fortified, a greater consolidation of means, a man more powerful, more active, more formidable? For a long time we saw him trample under foot twenty nations silent and frozen with dread; and his power at length had struck certain roots which might have led even hope to despair. Yet he is fallen, and so low, that Pity while contemplating him, draws back for fear of being touched by him. We may observe, moreover, [xxi] in passing, that for a reason somewhat different, it has become equally difficult to speak of this man, and of his august rival who has rid the world of him. The one escapes insult, and the other praise. But to return.

In a work known only to a few persons at St. Petersburgh, the author wrote in the year 1810, “ If, when two parties encounter each other in a revolution, on one side precious victims are seen to fall, we may rest assured that this parly will triumph at last, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary."

The truth of this assertion has also just been verified in a manner the most striking, and the least expected. The moral order has its laws as well as the physical, and the investigation of these laws is altogether worthy of occupying the meditations of a true philosopher. After an entire age of criminal trifling, it is high time to recall to mind what we are, and to trace all knowledge back to its source. It is this that has induced the author of this little work to permit it to escape from the timid portfolio which has retained it [xxii] for five years. He permits the date of it to stand,[FN*: May, 1809.] and gives it to the world, word for word, just as it was written at that time. Friendship has called forth this publication, which perhaps is so much the worse for the author; for this good dame is, on certain occasions, as blind as her brother. Be this as it may, the mind which has dictated the work enjoys a privilege well understood; he may doubtless be mistaken sometimes on indifferent points; he may exaggerate, or speak too confidently; he may, in fine, offend against language or taste; and in this case, so much the better for the evil disposed, if perchance there be any such; but there will always be left to him the well founded hope of not displeasing any one, since he loves all the world; and, moreover, he will enjoy the perfect assurance of interesting a numerous and very estimable class of men, without the possibility of injuring a single person! —a confidence altogether tranquilizing.




I. One of the grand errors of an age, which professed them all, was, to believe that a political constitution could be written and created à priori; whilst reason and experience unite in establishing, that a constitution is a Divine work, and that that which is most funda- mental, and most essentially constitutional, in [26] the laws of a nation, is precisely what cannot be written.

II. It has been often supposed to be an excellent piece of pleasantry upon Frenchmen, to ask them in what book the Salic law was written? But Jérôme Bignon answered, very apropos, and probably without knowing the full truth of what he said, that it was written in the hearts of Frenchmen. Let us suppose, in effect, that a law of so much importance existed only because it was written; it is certain that any authority whatsoever which may have written it, will have the right of annulling it; the law will not then have that character of sacredness and immutability which distinguishes laws truly constitutional. The essence of a fundamental law, is, that no one has the right to abolish it: now, how can it be above all, if any one has made it? The agreement of the people is [27] impossible; and even if it should be otherwise, a compact is not a law, and binds nobody, unless there is a superior authority by which it is guarantied. Locke endeavours to discover the characteristic feature of law in the expression of united wills; but has thus happened to hit upon the characteristic which exactly excludes the idea of law. In fact, united wills form the regulation, and not the law, which manifestly and necessarily supposes a superior will that makes itself to be obeyed.[FN*: “Man in the state of nature had only rights. On entering into society, I give up my private will in order to conform myself to law which is the general will. ” Le Spectateur Français, tom. I, p. 194, has justly ridiculed this definition; but he might have observed, further, that it belonged to the age, above all to Locke, who has opened this century in a manner so pernicious.] “In the system of Hobbes,” (the same that has had such currency in our day, under the pen of Locke,) “the force of civil laws reposes only upon a convention; but if there is no natural law which requires the execution of [28] laws that are made, of what use are they? Promises, engagements, oaths, are mere words: it is as easy to break this frivolous bond as to form it. Without the doctrine of a Divine Lawgiver, all moral obligation is chimerical. Power on one side, weakness on the other, constitutes the whole bond of human societies.” [FN*: Bergier, Traité historique et dogmatique de la Religion, in*8vo, tome III, chap, iv, §. xii, pp. 330, 331. (After Tertulliau, Apol. 45.)]

What a wise and profound theologian has here said on moral obligation, applies with equal truth to political or civil obligation. Law is not properly law, nor does it possess the true sanction of law, unless it emanates from a superior will; so that its essential character is, that it is not the will of all: otherwise laws, as we have just remarked, will be only regulations; and, as the author just cited further observes: “Those who have had the liberty of [29] making these conventions have not taken away from themselves the power of revoking them; and their descendants, who had no part in making them, are still less bound to observe them.” [FN*: Bergier, Traité historique et dogmatique de la Religion, in-8vo, tome III, chap, iv, §. xii, pp. 330, 331. (After Tertullian, Apol. 45.)] Hence it is that the good sense of antiquity, happily anterior to sophisms, has sought, on every side, the sanction of laws, in a power above man, either in recognizing that sovereignty comes from God, or in revering certain unwritten laws as proceeding from him.


III. The compilers of the Roman laws have placed, unpretendingly, in the first chapter of their collection, a very remarkable fragment of Greek jurisprudence. Among the laws which govern us, says this passage, some are written, others are unwritten. Nothing can be more simple or profound. Is there any Turkish law which expressly permits the sovereign to pass sentence of death upon a man immediately, without the decision of an intermediate tribunal? Are we acquainted with any written law, even religious, which prohibits the sovereigns of Christian Europe from doing this? [FN*: The Church prohibits her children, still more strongly than the civil laws, from being their own judges; and it is by its spirit that Christian kings abstain from doing this, even in cases of high treason, and that they deliver criminals into the hands of judges, that they may be punished according to laws and forms of justice. — (Pascal, Lettres Provinciales, Lettre xiv.) This passage is very important, and should be found elsewhere.] Yet the [31] Turk is no more surprised at seeing his master pass sentence of immediate death upon a man, than at seeing him go to the Mosque. He believes with all Asia, and even with all antiquity, that the right to inflict death immediately, is a legitimate appendage of the sovereignty. But our Princes would tremble at the bare idea of condemning a man to death; for, according to our view, this condemnation would be an atrocious murder. And yet, I doubt whether it would be possible to prohibit them from doing this by a fundamental written law, without producing greater evils than those we might wish to prevent.

IV. Ask Roman history what was precisely the power of the Senate: she is silent, at least as to the exact limits of that power. We see, [32] indeed, in general, that the power of the people and that of the Senate mutually balanced each other, and that the opposition was unceasing; we observe also that patriotism or weariness, weakness or violence, terminated these dangerous struggles: but we know no more about it.[FN*: I have often reflected upon this passage of Cicero: — Leges Livaei prcesertim uno versiculo senatus puncto temporis sublatce sunt. — (De Leg. II, 6.) By what right did the Senate take this liberty? and why did the People permit it to be done? It is surely not easy to answer; but at what can we be astonished in matters of this sort, since after all that has been written on history and Roman antiquities, it has been necessary in our day to write dissertations in order to know how the Senate recruited itself.] In looking upon these grand historical scenes, we are sometimes tempted to believe that affairs would have gone on much better, if there had been special laws defining these powers; but this would be a great errour: such laws, always being compromitted by unexpected cases and forced exceptions, would not have [33] lasted six months, or they would have overturned the Republic.

V. The English Constitution is an example nearer to us, and, therefore, more striking. Whoever examines it with attention, will see that it goes only in not going (if this play upon words is permissible.) It is maintained only by the exceptions. The habeas corpus, for example, has been so often and for so long time suspended, that it is doubted whether the exception has not become the rule. Suppose for a moment that the authors of this famous act had undertaken to fix the cases in which it should be suspended; they would ipso facto have annihilated it.

VI. At the sitting of the House of Commons, June 26, 1807, a lord cited the authority of a great statesman to show that the King had no right to dissolve Parliament during the [34] session; but this opinion was contradicted: Where is the law? Attempt to make a law, and to fix exclusively by writing the case where the King has this right, and you will produce a revolution. The King, said one of the members, has this right when the occasion is important; but what is an important occasion? Try to decide this too by writing.

VII. But, there is another fact still more singular. All the world remember the great question agitated, with so much earnestness, in [35] England, in the year 1806. The question was, whether the holding of a judicial employment, together with a place as member of the Privy Council, was or was not in accordance with the principles of the English Constitution? At the sitting of the same House of Commons, on the third of March, a member observed: England is governed by a body (the Privy Council) not known by Legislature.[FN1: "Thys country is governed by a body not known by Legislators."] Only, he added, it is connived at. [FN*: "Connived at". See London Chronicle of March 4, 1806. Observe that this word Legislature, includes the three powers; it follows, from this assertion, that even the King is ignorant of such a body as the Privy Council. Yet I believe that he at least has an inkling of it.]

There is, then, in this wise and justly famous England, a body, which governs, and in truth does everything, but which the Constitution does not recognize. Delolme has overlooked this feature, which I could corroborate by many others.


After this can any one talk to us about written constitutions and constitutional laws made à priori. We cannot conceive how a sensible man could imagine the possibility of such a chimera. If any one should undertake to make a law in England, in order to give a constitutional existence to the Privy Council, and subsequently to regulate and rigorously circumscribe its privileges and attributes, with the precautions necessary for limiting its influence and preventing its abuse, he would overturn the State.


The true English Constitution is that admirable, unique, and infallible public spirit, beyond all praise, which guides every thing, preserves every thing, saves every thing. That which is written is nothing.[FN*: The turbulent government of England, says Hume, ever fluctuating between privilege and prerogative, would afford a variety of precedents which might be pleaded on both sides. —(History of England, James I, chap, xlvii, a. d. 1621.) Hume, in thus speaking the truth, is not wanting in respect to his Country; he declares both what is, and ought to be.]


VIII. Towards the end of the last century, a great outcry was made against a Minister, who had conceived the project of introducing this same English Constitution (or what was called by that name) into a kingdom which was convulsed, and which demanded a constitution of some kind, with a sort of frenzy. [39] He was wrong, if you please, so far at least as one can be wrong when he acts in good faith; which here may well be presumed, and which I believe with all my heart. But who at that time had the right of condemning him? Vel duo, vel nemo. He did not declare that he desired to destroy any thing of his own accord; he merely wished, he said, to substitute one thing which appeared to him reasonable, for another which had ceased to be wanted, and which, for that very reason, no longer existed. And besides, if the principle is granted, (and it was in effect,) [40] that man can create a constitution, this Minister (who was certainly a man) had the same right to make his own as well as another, and more than another. Were the doctrines on this point doubted? Was it not believed, on all sides, that a constitution was the work of intelligence, like an ode or tragedy? Had not Thomas Paine declared, with a profoundness that charmed the Universities, that a constitution does not exist, so long as one cannot put it into his pocket? The eighteenth century, which distrusted itself in nothing, as a matter of course, hesitated at nothing; and I do not believe that it has produced a single tyro of any talent, who has not made three things on leaving college,—a system of education for youth, a Constitution, and a World. If, then, a man in the maturity of his age and talent, profoundly versed in economical science and in the philosophy of the time, had attempted only the second of these things, [41] should then have regarded him as exceedingly moderate; but I confess that he appears to me a real prodigy of wisdom and modesty, when I see him, substituting (at least as he believes) experience for foolish theories, ask respectfully of the English a constitution, instead of making one himself. You say, even this was not possible. I know it: but he did not, and how could he have known it? Name to me the man who had advanced this opinion.

IX. The more we examine the influence of human agency in the formation of political constitutions, the greater will be our conviction that it enters there only in a manner infinitely subordinate, or as a simple instrument; and I do not believe there remains the least doubt of the incontestable truth of the following propositions: —

1. That the fundamental principles of political constitutions exist before all written law.


2. That a constitutional law is, and can only be, the developement or sanction of an unwritten pre-existing right.

3. That which is most essential, most intrinsically constitutional, and truly fundamental, is never written, and could not be, without endangering the state.

4. That the weakness and fragility of a constitution are actually in direct proportion to the multiplicity of written constitutional articles. [FN*: This may serve for a commentary on the celebrated remark of Tacitus: Pessimœ Reipublicœ plurimœ Leges.]

X. We are deceived on this point by a sophism so natural, that it entirely escapes our attention. Because man acts, he thinks he acts alone; and because he has the consciousness of his liberty, he forgets his dependence. In the physical order, he listens to reason; for although he can, for example, plant an acorn, water it, etc., he is convinced that he [43] does not make the oaks, because he witnesses their growth and perfection without the aid of human power; and moreover, that he does not make the acorn: but in the social order, where he is present, and acts, he fully believes that he is really the sole author of all that is done by himself. This is, in a sense, as if the trowel should believe itself the architect. Man is a free, intelligent, and noble being: without doubt; but he is not less an instrument of God, according to a happy expression of Plutarch, in a beautiful passage which here introduces itself of its own accord:

We must not wonder, he says, if the most beautiful and greatest things in the world are done by the will and providence of God; seeing that in all the greatest and principal parts of the world there is a soul: for the organ and tool of the soul is the body, and the soul is the instrument of God. And as the body has of itself many movements, and as the greater [44] and more noble are derived from the soul, even so it is with the soul; some of its operations being self-moved, while in others it is directed, disciplined, and guided, by God, as it pleases Him; being itself the most beautiful organ and ingenious instrument possible: for it would be a strange thing indeed that the wind, the water, the clouds, and the rains, should be instruments of God, with which He nourishes and supports many creatures, and also destroys many others, and that He should never make use of living beings to perform any of His works. For it is far more reasonable that they, depending entirely on the power of God, should obey His direction, and accomplish all His will, than that the bow should obey the Scythians, the lyre and flute the Greeks. [FN*: Plutarch’s Banquet of the Seven Sages.]

No one could write better: and I do not believe that these beautiful reflections could be [45] more justly applied, than to the formation of political constitutions, where it may be said, with equal truth, that man does every thing, and does nothing.

XI. If there is any thing well known, it is the comparison of Cicero, on the subject of the Epicurean system, which proposed to build a world with atoms falling at random in space. I would rather believe, says the great Orator, that letters, thrown into the air, would, on falling, arrange themselves in such a manner as to form a poem. A thousand voices have repeated and commended this thought; yet, so far as I know, it has not occurred to any person to give it the completeness which it wants. Let us suppose that printed characters, scattered plentifully in the air, should, on coming to the ground form the Athalie of Racine; what would be the inference? That an intelligence had directed the fall and the arrangement of [46] the characters. Good sense will never conclude otherwise.

XII. Let us now consider some one political constitution, that of England, for example. It certainly was not made à priori. Her Statesmen never assembled themselves together and said, Let us create three powers, balancing them in such a manner, etc. No one of them ever thought of such a thing. The Constitution is the work of circumstances, and the number of these is infinite. Roman laws, ecclesiastical laws, feudal laws; Saxon, Norman, and Danish customs; the privileges, prejudices, and claims of all orders; wars, revolts, revolutions, the Conquest, Crusades; virtues of every kind, and all vices; knowledge of every sort, and all errors and passions; —all these elements, in short, acting together, and forming, by their admixture and reciprocal action, combinations multiplied by myriads of [47] millions, have produced at length, after many centuries, the most complex unity, and happy equilibrium of political powers that the world has ever seen. [FN*: Tacitus believed this form of government would never be other than an ideal theory or transient experiment. “The best of all governments,” says he, (after Cicero as we, know,) [esse optime constituam rempublicam, quœ. ex tribus generibus illis, regali, optimo, et populari, sit modice confusa,] “would be that which should result from the mixture of three powers, balancing each other; but this government can never exist, or if it should exhibit itself, would never endure. ” (Ann. iv, 33.) English good sense, however, can make it last a much longer time than could be imagined, by subordinating continually, but more or less, the theory, or what are called the principles, to the lessons of experience and moderation: which would be impossible, if the principles were written.]


XIII. Now since these elements, thus projected into space, have arranged themselves in such beautiful order, without a single man, among the innumerable multitude who have acted in this vast field, having ever known what he had done relatively to the whole, nor foreseen what would happen, it follows, inevitably, that these elements were guided in their fall by an infallible hand, superior to man. The greatest folly, perhaps, in an age of follies, was in believing that fundamental laws could be written à priori, whilst they are evidently the work of a power above man; and whilst the very committing them to* writing, long after, is the most certain sign of their nullity.


XIV. It is very remarkable, that God, having condescended to speak to men, has Himself unfolded these truths, in the two revelations which, through His abounding goodness He has given to us. A very able man, who has made, in my opinion, a kind of epoch in our age, by reason of the desperate conflict which he exhibits in his writings, between the most frightful prejudices of the age, of sect, of habit, etc., and the purest intentions, the most virtuous emotions, and the most valuable knowledge; —this able man, I say, has decided, “that a teaching coming immediately from God, or given only by His direction, ought primarily to certify to men the existence of this Being.” [50] The opposite of this is the truth; for the primary character of this instruction is not to reveal directly the existence or the attributes of God, but to suppose the whole already known, without our understanding why or in what manner. Thus, it says not, There is, or you shall believe in only one God, eternal, almighty, etc. It says, (and it is its first word,) under a form purely narrative, In the beginning, God created, etc., which supposes that the dogma is known before the writing.

XV. Let us pass on to Christianity, the greatest of all imaginable institutions, since it is wholly Divine, made for all men and every age: we shall find it subjected to the general law. Its Divine Author was certainly able to write Himself, or to cause His doctrines to be written; yet He did neither one nor the other, at least in a legislative form. The New Testament, porterior to the death of the Law-giver, [51] and even the establishment of His religion, exhibits a narration of admonitions, moral precepts, exhortations, commands, threats, etc.; hut in no wise a collection of dogmas expressed in an imperative form. The Evangelists, in describing that last supper where God loved us even unto the end, had there a good opportunity of commanding our belief by writing; they guard themselves, however, from declaring or ordaining any thing. We read, indeed, in their admirable history, Go, teach! but not at all, teach this or that. If doctrine appears under the pen of the sacred historian, he simply expresses it as a thing already known.[FN*: It is very remarkable, that even the Evangelists did not take the pen until a late period, and principally to contradict the false histories published in their times. The canonical epistles originated in accidental causes. Scripture never entered into the primitive plan of the founders. Mill, though protestant, has expressly recognized this. (Proleg. in Nov. Test. Græc. p. I, No. 65.) And Hobbes had already made the same observation in England. (Hobbes's Tripos in three discourses. Disc. The III, p. 265, in 8o.]


The symbols, which appeared afterwards, are professions of faith for its own recognition, [53] or for contradicting the errors of the moment. In them, we read, we believe; never, you shall [54] believe. We recite them individually; we chant them in the temples, on the lyre and [55] organ,[FN*: In chordis et organi, Ps. cl., 4.] as true prayers, because they are formulas of submission, of confidence, and of [56] faith, addressed to God, and not ordinances addressed to men. I should he glad to see the Confession of Augsburgh, or the Thirty-nine Articles, set to music; this would be diverting.[FN*: Reason can only speak; it is love which chants; therefore we chant our symbols; for faith is only a belief, through love: she resides not merely in the understanding, she penetrates further and takes root in the will. A philosophical theologian has said, with much truth and ingenuity, “There is a difference between believing, and judging what it is necessary to believe.” Aliud est credere, aliud judi- care esse credendum. Leon. Lessii Opuscula, Lugd. 1651, in fol., pag. 556, col. 2. (De predestinatione.)]

The first symbols are far from containing the announcement of all our dogmas; on the contrary, Christians then would have regarded the announcement of them all as a great sin. The same is true of the Holy Scriptures: there never was an idea more shallow than that of seeking in them for the totality of the Christian doctrines; there is not a line in these writings which declares, or even allows us to discover, the design of making from them a code or [57] dogmatic declaration of all the articles of faith.

XYI. More than this: if a people possess one of these codes of belief we may be sure of three things:

1. That the religion of this people is false.

2. That it has written its religious code in a paroxysm of fever.

3. That this code will be ridiculed in a little while among this very nation, and that it will possess neither power nor durability. Such are, for example, those famous articles, which are signed by more than read, and read by more than believe them.[FN*: See Gibbon’s Memoirs [by Milman, Chap. III. Ed. 1840.] Not only is this catalogue of dogmas counted for nothing, or next to nothing, in the country which gave them birth; but furthermore, it is manifest, [58] even to a foreign eye, that the illustrious possessors of this sheet of paper are greatly embarrassed with it. In fact, they wish themselves well rid of it, because the national mind, enlightened by time, has grown weary of it; and besides it recalls to them an un- happy origin: but the constitution is written.

XVII. The English doubtless, would never have asked for the Great Charter, had not the privileges of the nation been violated; nor would they have asked for it, if these privileges had not existed before the Charter. What is true of the State, in. this respect, is also true of the Church: if Christianity had never been attacked, there never would have been any writings to settle the dogmas; nor would the dogmas have been settled by writing, had they not pre-existed in their natural state, which is the oral.

The real authors of the Council of Trent were the two grand innovators of the sixteenth [59] century.[FN*: The same observation might be made on going back to the times of Arius. The Church has never sought to write her dogmas, she has always been forced to do it.] Their disciples having become more calm, have since proposed to us to expunge this fundamental law, because it contains some hard words for them; and they have endeavoured to tempt us, by indicating to us the possibility of a reunion, on that condition, which would make us accomplices instead of rendering us friends; but this demand is neither theological nor philosophical. They themselves formerly introduced into religious language those words which now weary them. Let us desire that they should now learn to pronounce them. Faith, if a sophistical opposition had never forced her to write, would be a thousand times more angelic: she weeps over these decisions which revolt [60] extorted from her, and which were always evils, since they all suppose doubt or aggression, and could only arise in the midst of the most dangerous commotions. The state of war raised these venerable ramparts around the truth: they undoubtedly protected her, but at the same time concealed her: they rendered her unassailable; but by that very means less accessible. Ah! this is not what she craves, she who would embrace the whole human race in her arms.

XVIII. I have spoken of Christianity as a system of belief; I will now consider it as a sovereignty, in its most numerous association. There it is monarchical, as all the world know; and this is as it should be, since monarchy becomes, by the very nature of things, the more necessary, in proportion as the association becomes more numerous. We do not forget that an observation from an impure [61] mouth has met with approval in our day, affirming that France was geographically monarchical. It would be difficult indeed to express this incontestable truth in a manner more happy. But if the extent of France repels the very idea of every other form of government, much more this sovereignty, which, by the essential nature of its constitution, will always have subjects on every part of the globe, requires that it should be only monarchical; and experience is found on this point in perfect accordance with theory. This admitted, who would not believe that such a monarchy would be found more strictly defined and circumscribed than all others, in the prerogative of its chief? It is however altogether otherwise. Read the innumerable volumes conceived and brought forth by foreign war, and even by a species of civil war which has its advantages as well as inconveniences, you will see on every side that facts only are [62] cited; and it is a very remarkable thing especially, that the supreme tribunal should constantly allow dispute upon the question which presents itself to every mind as the most fundamental of the constitution, without ever having wished to determine it by a formal law; and thus it should be, if I am not greatly deceived, by reason of the very fundamental importance of the question.[FN*: I know not whether Englishmen have remarked that the most learned and ardent defender of the sovereignty which is here referred to, entitles one of his chapters thus: A mixed monarchy tempered by aristocracy and democracy is better than a pure monarchy. (Bellarminus, de summo. Pontif. cap. III.) Not bad for a fanatic! ] Some men without authority, and rash through weakness, attempted to decide it in 1682, in spite of a great man; and it was one of the greatest acts of folly which has ever been committed in the world. Its monument which remains to us, is doubtless to be condemned in every respect; but it is especially so from one feature [63] which has not been considered, although it invites assault from enlightened criticism more than every other. The famous Declaration dared to decide, by writing, without even apparent necessity, (which carried the fault to excess, ) a question which ought ever to he left to a certain practical wisdom, enlightened by the universal conscience. This is the only point of view which at all coincides with the design of this work; but it is altogether worthy of the meditations of every just mind and upright heart.


XIX. These ideas (taken in their general sense) were not unknown to the ancient [65] philosophers: they keenly felt the impotency, I had almost said the nothingness, of writing, in great institutions; but no one of them has seen this truth more clearly, or expressed it more happily, than Plato, whom we always find the first upon the track of all great truths. According to him, “the man who is wholly [66] indebted to writing for his instruction, will only possess the appearance of wisdom. [FN1: JoÇùaocpoi ysyovorsç terri oocpwv. —Plat, in Phoedr. Opp. tom. x, Edit. Bipont, p. 881.] The word, he adds, is to writing, what the man is to his portrait. The productions of the pencil present themselves to our eyes as living things; but if we interrogate them, they maintain a dignified silence. [FN2: Sifiveôç nùw (fiyà. —Ibid. p. 382.] It is the same with writing, which knows not what to say to one man, nor what to conceal from another. If you attack it or insult it without a cause, it cannot defend itself; for its author is never present to sustain it.[FN3: Tov TiaTQoç àti durai florj&ov. —Ibid. p. 382] So that he who imagines himself capable of establishing, clearly and permanently, one single doctrine, by writing alone, is a great blockhead. [FN4: ThtlXijg av evij-dsiaç yipei. —Ibid. p. 382. Word for word, he is surfeited with folly. Let every body, in our country, take care that this species of plethora does not become endemic.] If he really possessed the true [67] germs of truth, he would not indulge the thought, that with a little black liquid and a pen [FN1: Ev l 'San uiXavi âiù xaAauov. —Plat, in Phoedr. Opp. tom. x, Edit. Bipont. p. 384.] he could cause them to germinate in the world, defend them from the inclemency of the season, and communicate to them the necessary efficacy. As for the man who undertakes to write laws or civil constitutions,[FN2: Nùuovç TtOelg, avyyoau^a noX'ixixbv yçûcpwv.— Ibid. p. 386.] and who fancies that, because he has written them, he is able to give them adequate evidence and stability, whoever he may be, a private man or legislator, [FN3: Idla >/ drrftoola. —Ibid.] he disgraces himself, whether we say it or not; [FN4: Eirt tiç (prjolv, tire u> r —Ibid] for he has proved thereby that he is equally ignorant of the nature of inspiration and delirium, right and wrong, good and evil. Now, this ignorance is a reproach, though the entire mass of the vulgar should unite in its praise.” [FN5: Orx f xcptt'ysi T>1 utj ovx ItcovbISlOtov tivai, ov$i av 6 nàç ojftog avro tnaiviotj -— Ibid. p. 386, 387.]


XX. After having heard the wisdom of the Gentiles, it will not be useless to listen further to Christian Philosophy.

“It were indeed desirable for us,” says one of the most eloquent of the Greek fathers, “never to have required the aid of the written word, hut to have had the Divine precepts written only in our hearts, by grace, as they are written with ink in our books; but since we have lost this grace by our own fault, let us then, as it is necessary, seize a plank instead of the vessel, without however forgetting the pre-eminence of the first state. God never revealed any thing in writing to the elect of the Old Testament: He always spoke to them directly, because He saw the purity of their hearts; but the Hebrew people having fallen into the very abyss of wickedness, books and laws became necessary. The same proceeding is repeated under the empire of the New Revelation; for Christ did not leave a single writing [69] to his Apostles. Instead of books, he promised to them the Holy Spirit: It is He, saith our Lord to them, who shall teach you what you shall speak. But because, in process of time, sinful men rebelled against the faith and against morality, it was necessary to have recourse to books.” [FN*: St. Chrysost. Horn, in Matth. I, i.]


XXI. The whole truth is found united in these two authorities. They show the profound imbecility (it is certainly permissible to speak like Plato, who never loses his temper,) the profound imbecility, I say, of those poor men who imagine that lawgivers are men,[FN*: Among a multitude of admirable passages with which the Psalms of David sparkle, I distinguish the following: “Constitue Domine legislatorem super eos, ut sciant Genies quoniam homines sunt; that is to say,—Appoint, 0 Lord, a lawgiver over them, that the nations may know themselves to be but men. It is a beautiful sentence.] that [71] laws are a piece of paper, and that nations may be constituted with ink. They show, on the contrary, that scripture is invariably a sign of weakness, ignorance, or danger; that in proportion as an institution is perfect, it writes less; so that what is truly divine, has nothing at all written for its establishment; in order to make us feel that all written law is only a necessary evil, engendered by infirmity or human malice; and that it is of no authority whatever, unless it has received a previous, unwritten sanction.

XXII. We cannot but lament here over the fundamental fallacy of a system which has so unhappily divided Europe. The partizans of this system have said, We believe only in the Word of God. What abuse of words! what a strange and melancholy ignorance of Divine [72] things! We alone believe in the Word, whilst our dear enemies are obstinately resolved to believe only in scripture; as if God could or would change the nature of things of which He is the Author, and impart to scripture the life and efficacy which it has not! The Holy Scripture — is it not then a writing? Has it not been traced with a pen and a little black liquid? Does it know what it is needful to say to one man, and what to withhold from another? [FN*: Vide page 66, et suiv.] Did not Leibnitz and his maid servant read in it the same words? Can this Scripture be any thing else than the image of the Word? And though infinitely venerable in this respect, if we should interrogate it, must it not keep a divine silence? [FN2: Ztuvàiç nùvv oiyy. —Plat, in Phaedr. Opp. tom. x. Edit, Bipont. p. 382.] If it should be attacked or insulted, can it defend itself in the absence of its Author? Glory to the truth! If the Word, eternally living, does [73] not quicken the scripture, it will never become the word, that is to say, the life. Let others invoke then, as much as they please, the silent word; we will smile peacefully at this false god; always expecting, with a tender impatience the moment when its partisans, undeceived, will throw themselves into our arms, opened to embrace them for three centuries past.

XXIII. Every right mind will convince itself on this point, by a little reflection upon an axiom equally striking by its importance and by its universality. It is this, THAT NOTHING GREAT HAS GREAT BEGINNINGS. There will not be found in the history of all ages a single exception to this law. Crescit occulto velut arbor œvo, is the immortal device of every great institution; and hence it is, that every false institution writes much, because it feels its weakness, and seeks support. From the truth just expressed, follows the unalterable [74] consequence, that no institution, truly great and real, could be founded on a written law, since the men themselves, the successive instruments of its establishment, know not what it will become, and since insensible growth is the true sign of durability, in every possible order of things. A remarkable example of this kind, may be found in the power of the sovereign Pontiffs, which I do not intend to consider here in a dogmatic way. A multitude of able writers, since the sixteenth century, have employed a prodigious amount of learning, in order to establish, by going back to the cradle of Christianity, that the Bishops of Rome were not, in the first centuries, what they afterwards became; thus supposing, as a point conceded, that every thing which is not found in primitive times, is an abuse. Now I say, without the least spirit of contention, and without the design of offending any body, they manifest in this as much [75] philosophy and true knowledge, as they would do in seeking, in an infant in swaddling clothes, the true dimensions of a full-grown man. The sovereignty, of which I am speaking at this moment, was born like others, and has grown like others. It is lamentable to see excellent minds taking such immense pains, to prove by infancy that manhood is an abuse; whilst any institution whatever, adult at birth, would be the grossest of absurdities, a true logical contradiction. If the enlightened and generous enemies of this power (and there are undoubtedly many of this class) will examine the question in this point of view, as I affectionately pray them to do, I do not doubt that all these objections, drawn from antiquity, will disappear as a light mist from before their eyes.

Concerning abuses, I ought not to employ myself here. I will say, however, since I have already had occasion to refer to them, [76] that there is much to abate the declamatory invectives which the last century has compelled us to read on this great subject. A time will come, when the Popes, against whom the most clamour has been made, such as Gregory VII, for example, will be regarded, in every country, as the friends, guardians, and saviours of the human race,—as the true constitutive genuises of Europe.


No person will doubt it, when learned Frenchmen shall be Christians, and when learned Englishmen shall be Catholics; — which will yet come to pass.

XXIV. But by what penetrating word can we at this moment make ourselves heard, by an age infatuated with Scripture, and at variance with the Word, to such a degree, as to believe that men can create constitutions, languages, and even sovereignties? — by an age, for which all realities are dreams, and dreams realities; which sees not even what is passing before its eyes; which feasts itself upon books, and asks for the equivocal lessons of Thucydides or Livy, altogether shutting their eyes to the truth which beams in the gazettes of the times?


If the desires of a mere mortal were worthy of obtaining of Divine Providence one of those memorable decrees which constitute the grand epochs of history, I would ask Him to inspire some powerful nation, which had grievously offended Him, with the proud thought of constituting itself politically, beginning at the foundations. And if, notwithstanding my unworthiness, the primitive familiarity of one of the Patriarchs were permitted to me, I would say, “Grant to this people every thing! Give to her genius, knowledge, riches, consideration, especially an unbounded confidence in herself, and that temper, at once pliant and enterprising, which nothing can embarrass, nothing intimidate. Extinguish her old government; take away from her memory; destroy her affections; spread terror around her; blind or paralyze her enemies; give victory charge to watch at once over all her frontiers, so that none [79] of her neighbours could meddle in her affairs, or disturb her in her operations. Let this nation be illustrious in science, rich in philosophy, intoxicated with human power, free from all prejudice, from every tie, and from all superior influence; bestow upon her every thing she shall desire, lest at some time she might say, this was wanting, or that restrained me: let her, in short, act freely with this immensity of means, that at length she may become, under Thy inexorable protection, an eternal lesson to the human race.”

XXV. We cannot, it is true, expect a combination of circumstances which would constitute literally a miracle; but events of the same order, though less remarkable, have manifested themselves here and there in history, even in the history of our days; and, though they may not possess, for the purpose [80] of example, that ideal force which I desired just now, they contain not less of memorable instruction.

We have been witnesses, within the last twenty-five years, of a solemn attempt made for the regeneration of a great nation mortally sick. It was the first experiment in the great work, and the preface, if I may be allowed to express myself thus, of the frightful book which we have been since called upon to read. Every precaution was taken. The wise men of the country believed it their duty to consult the modern divinity, in her foreign sanctuary. They wrote to Delphi, and two famous pontiffs answered in due form.[FN*: Rousseau and Mably.] The oracles which they pronounced, on this occasion, were not, as in olden times, light leaves, the sport of the breezes; they were bound:

... Quidque hæc sapientia possit,
Tunc patuit. ..


It is but just, however, to acknowledge, that in whatever the nation was indebted merely to its own good sense, there were many things which excite our admiration at this day. Every qualification was, doubtless, united on the head of the wise and august person called to take the reins of government; the chief men interested in maintaining the ancient laws, voluntarily made a noble sacrifice to the public; and in order to fortify the supreme authority, they lent themselves to change an epithet of the sovereignty.—Alas! all human wisdom was at fault, and all ended in death.


XXVI. But, it will be said, we know the causes which prevented the success of [83] that enterprise. How then? Do you wish that God should send angels under human [84] guises commissioned to destroy a constitution? It will always be necessary to employ second [85] causes; this or that, what does it signify? Every instrument is good in the hands of the great Artificer; but such is the blindness of men, that if, to-morrow, some constitution-monger should come to organize a people, and to give them a constitution made with a little black liquid, the multitude would again hasten to believe in the miracle announced. It would be said, again, nothing is wanting; all is foreseen, all is written; whilst, precisely because all could be foreseen, discussed, and written, it would be demonstrated, that the constitution is a nullity, and presents to the eye merely an ephemeral appearance.


XXVII. I believe I have read, somewhere, that there are few sovereignties in a condition to vindicate the legitimacy of their origin. Admitting the reasonableness of the assertion, there will not result from it the least stain to the successors of a chief, whose acts might be liable to some objections; the cloud, which might conceal from view, more or less, the origin of his authority, would be only a [87] disadvantage, — a necessary consequence of a law of the moral world. If it were otherwise, it would follow, that the sovereign could not reign legitimately, except by virtue of a deliberation of all the people, that is to say, by the grace of the people; which will never happen: for there is nothing so true, as that which was said by the author of the Considerations on France,[FN1: Chap. IX, p. 136] —that the people will always accept their masters, and will never choose them. It is necessary that the origin of sovereignty should manifest itself from beyond the sphere of human power; so that men, who may appear to have a direct hand in it, may be, nevertheless, only the circumstances. As to legitimacy, if it should seem in its origin to be obscure, God explains Himself, by His prime-minister in the department of this world, —Time. It is true, nevertheless, that certain contemporary signs are not to be mistaken, when we are in a condition to [88] observe them; but the details, on this point, belong to another work


XXVIII. Every thing brings us back to the general rule, — man cannot create a [90] constitution; and no legitimate constitution can be written. The collection of fundamental [91] laws, which must essentially constitute a civil or religious society, never has been written, [92] and never will be, à priori. It is only when society finds itself already constituted, without being able to say how, that it is possible to make known, or explain, in writing, certain special articles; but in almost every case these declarations or explanations are the [93] effect or cause of very great evils, and always cost the people more than they are worth.

XXIX. To this general rule, that no constitution can be made or written, à priori, we know of but one single exception; that is, the legislation of Moses. This alone was cast, so to speak, like a statue, and written out, even to its minutest details, by a wonderful man, who said, FIAT! without his work ever having need of being corrected, improved, or in any way modified, by himself or others. This, alone, has set time at defiance, because it owed nothing to time, and expected nothing from it; this alone has lived fifteen hundred years; and even after eighteen new centuries have passed over it, since the great anathema which smote it on the fated day, we see it, enjoying, if I may say so, a second life, binding still, by I know not what mysterious bond, which has no human name, the different [94] families of a people, which remain dispersed without being disunited. So that, like attraction, and by the same power, it acts at a distance, and makes one whole, of many parts widely separated from each other. Thus, this legislation lies evidently, for every intelligent conscience, beyond the circle traced around human power; and this magnificent exception to a general law, which has only yielded once, and yielded only to its Author, alone demonstrates the Divine mission of the great Hebrew Lawgiver, much better than the entire work of that English Prelate, who, with the strongest powers of mind, and an immense erudition, has nevertheless had the misfortune to support a great truth by a miserable fallacy.

XXX. But, since every constitution is divine in its principle, it follows, that man can do nothing in this way, unless he reposes [95] himself upon God, whose instrument he then becomes.[FN*: We may even generalize the assertion, and pronounce, without exception, that no institution, whatever, can endure, if it is not founded on religion.] Now, this is a truth, to which the whole human race in a body have ever rendered the most signal testimony. Examine history, which is experimental politics, and we shall there invariably find the cradle of nations surrounded by priests, and the Divinity constantly invoked to the aid of human weakness.[FN2: Plato, in an admirable fragment, wholly Mosaic, speaks of a primitive time, when God had confided the establishment and the administration of empires, not to men, but to genii; then he adds, in speaking of the difficulty of creating durable constitutions, the truth is, that if God does not preside at the establishment of a city, and it should have only a human beginning, it could not escape the greatest evils. We must endeavour, then, by every imaginable means, to imitate the primitive regimen; and trusting ourselves in that which is immortal in man, we ought to found houses as well as states, by holding sacred as law the will of the (supreme) intelligence. If a state (whatever may be its form) is founded on vice, and governed by a people who trample justice under foot, there remains for it no means of safety (0>? x "on owTtjQiaç pyj/avi,). Plat, de Leg., tom. VIII., edit. Bip. pag. 180,181.] Fable, much more true than ancient [96] history, for eyes prepared, comes in to strengthen the demonstration. It is always an oracle, which founds cities; it is always an oracle, which announces the Divine protection, and successes of the heroic founder. Kings, especially, the chiefs of rising empires, are constantly designated, and, as it were, marked, by Heaven, in some extraordinary manner.[FN*: Great use has been made in controversy of the famous rule of Richard de Saint-Victor: Quod semper, quod ubique y quod ab omnibus. But this rule is general, and can, I think, be expressed thus: all belief constantly universal is true; and whenever, in separating from a belief some certain articles peculiar to different vations y there remains something common to all, that residuum is a truth.] How many thoughtless men have ridiculed the Saint-Ampoule, [holy oil,] without ever dreaming that the Saint-Ampoule is a hieroglyph, and that it is only necessary to understand it.[FN2: Every religion, by the very nature of things, puts forth a mythology, which resembles itself. That of the Christian religion is, for this reason, always chaste, always useful, and often sublime, while (by a peculiar privilege) it is not possible to confound it with the religion itself. So that no Christian myth can do harm, and often it merits the whole attention of the observer.]


XXXI. The coronation of kings belongs to the same principle. Never was there a ceremony, or, to speak more correctly, a profession of faith, more significant and more respectable. The finger of the Pontiff has always touched the brow of the rising sovereignty. The numerous writers who have seen in these august rites only ambitious views, and even an express conspiracy of superstition and tyranny, have spoken against the truth, and most of them, even against their own consciences. This subject merits a thorough examination. Sometimes, sovereigns have sought the coronation, and sometimes, the coronation has sought the sovereign. Others have rejected the coronation, as being a [98] sign of dependence. We are acquainted with a sufficient number of facts, to enable us to form a correct judgement; but it would be necessary to distinguish carefully the men, the times, the nations, and the forms of worship. It is sufficient, here, to insist on the general and perpetual opinion, which invokes the Divine power at the constitution of empires.

XXXII. The most famous nations of antiquity, especially the most serious and wise, such as the Egyptians, Etruscans, Lacedaemonians, and Romans, had precisely the most religious constitutions; and the duration of empires has always been proportioned to the degree of influence which the religious principle had acquired in the political constitution: the cities and nations most addicted to Divine worship, have always been the most [99] durable, and the most wise; as the most religious ages have also ever been most distinguished for genius. [FN*: Xenophon, Memor. Socr. I, IV, 16. ]

XXXIII. Never have nations been civilized, except by religion. No other known instrument has power over savage man. Without recurring to antiquity, which is very decisive on this point, we see a sensible proof of it in America. For three centuries, we have been there with our laws, our arts, our sciences, our civilization, our commerce, and our luxuries; what have we gained over the savage state? Nothing. We destroy these unfortunate beings, with sword and brandy; we drive them gradually into the interior of [100] the wilderness, until, at last, they disappear entirely, victims of our vices as well as cruel superiority.

XXXIV. Has any philosopher ever thought of forsaking his country and its pleasures, to go into the forests of America in pursuit of savages, for the purpose of exciting in them disgust at the vices of barbarism, and giving them a moral system? [FN*: Condorcet has promised us, it is true, that philosophers should take upon themselves, without intermission, the civilization and welfare of barbarous nations.—( Esquisse d'un Tableau historique des progrès de l'esprit humain. In-8o., p. 335.) We wait for them to begin.] They have indeed done better; they have composed fine hooks to prove that the savage is man in his natural state, and that we could desire nothing better than to resemble him. Condorcet has said, [101] the missionaries have carried into Asia and America nothing but shameful superstitions. [FN*: Esquisse d’un Tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain. In-8o, p. 335.] [102] Rousseau has said, with an extravagance of folly truly inconceivable, that the missionaries appeared to him scarcely more wise than the conquerors. [FN*: Lettre à l’archevêque de Paris.] In fine, their Corypheus has had the face to cast the grossest ridicule (but what had he to lose? ) on those pacific conquerors whom antiquity would have deified.[FN4: Well! my friends, why do you not remain in your country? You would not have found more devils, but you would have found altogether as much folly. —Voltaire, Essai sur les Mœurs et l’Esprit, etc., introd. De la Magie. Seek elsewhere for more nonsense, more indecency, more bad taste; you will not find it. It is however this book, of which very few chapters are exempt from similar passages, it is this showy gewgaw, that modern enthusiasts have not hesitated to call, a monument of the human mind: without doubt, like the chapel of Versailles, and the pictures of Boucher.]

XXXV. It is they, however, it is the missionaries, who have accomplished this wonder, so much above human power, or even [103] the human will. They, alone, have traversed the vast continent of America, from one extremity to the other, in order to create there men. They, alone, have done what the civil power had not even dared to imagine. But nothing of this kind equals the missions of Paraguay: it is there we have seen, in a manner the most marked, the authority and exclusive power of religion for the civilization of man. This prodigy has been celebrated, but not sufficiently: the spirit of the eighteenth century, and another spirit its accomplice, have possessed the power of stifling, in part, the voice of justice, and even that of admiration. At some future day, perhaps, (for we do hope that these great and generous labours will be resumed,) in the heart of an opulent city, founded on some old savannah, the father of these missionaries will have a statue. One may read on the pedestal:



Whose envoys have traversed the earth,
to pluck men from misery,
from bruiishness, and ferocity,
by teaching them agriculture, by giving them laws,
by teaching them the knowledge and service of God;
thus taming the hapless savage


of which they never had need,
but by mild persuasion, and moral songs,


insomuch that they were thought to be angels.[FN*: Osiris, reigning in Egypt, raised the Egyptians speedily from a needy, miserable, and savage life, ôi/ teaching them to sow and plant; by giving them laws; by instructing them to honour and revere the gods: and afterwards going through all the world, he reclaimed it, also, without employing for this purpose any force of arms, but conciliating and gaining the greater part of the people by mild persuasions and remonstrances, couched in songs and in every kind of music ( nti-doi xal A<jya/ just’ to’dt'jg nûarjç xai puaixfjç). The Greeks were of opinion that Osiris was Bacchus himself. — Plutarque, d'Isis et d'Osiris, edit, de Yascosan, tom. Ill, p. 287, in-8o. Edit. Henr. Steph., tom. I, p. 634, in-8o. There has been found lately, on an island in the Penobscot river, a colony of savages, who still chant a great number of pious and instructive canticles in Indian to the music of the Church, with a precision that would hardly be found in the best constituted choirs; one of the most beautiful airs in the Church in Boston came from these Indians, (who had learned it of their masters forty years before,) although from that time these unfortunate beings had enjoyed no kind of instruction. Mercure de France, 5 juillet 1806, No. 259, p. 29 et suiv. Father Salvaterra, (a beautiful name for a missionary! ) justly called the Apostle of California, visited savages more intractable than any of whom we have ever had knowledge, without other arms than a lute upon which he played in a superior manner. He began to chant: In voi credo o Dio mio! etc. Men and women collected in circles around him, and listened in silence. Muratori said, in speaking of this wonderful man, Pare favola quclla d'Orfeo; ma chi sa che non sia succeduto in simil caso? The missionaries, alone, have understood and demonstrated the truth of that fable. We see, too, that they had discovered the kind of music worthy of being associated with these grand creations. “Send us,” they wrote to their friends in Europe, “send us the airs of the great masters of Italy, per essere armoniosissimi, senza tanti imbrogli di violini obbligati, etc.,” —Muratori, Cristianesimo felice, etc. Venezia, 1752,in-8o, chap. XII, p. 284.


XXXVI. Now when we consider that that legislating Order, which ruled in Paraguay by [106] the simple influence of virtue and talent, without deviating from the most humble submission towards the legitimate authority, even the most misguided; that this order, I say, at the same time was braving in our prisons, in our hospitals, in our lazarettos, the most hideous and repulsive forms of misery, disease, and despair; that these men, who ran, at the first call, to lie upon straw by the side of indigence, had no outlandish airs in the most polished circles; that they ascended the scaflold to speak the last words to the victims of human justice, and, from these scenes of horror, threw themselves into pulpits to thunder before kings; [FN*: Loquebar in testimoniis tuis in conspeciu Regum; et non confundebar. Ps. cxvm, 46. This is the inscription placed under the portrait of Bourdaloue, and which many of his colleagues have merited.] that they held the pencil in China, the telescope in our observatories, [107] the lyre of Orpheus in the midst of savages, and that they elevated the entire age of Louis XIV; when, in short, we consider that a detestable coalition of perverse ministers, raving magistrates, and despicable sectaries, have been able, in our day, to destroy this admirable institution, and to applaud themselves for the deed, we think we see that madman, who placed his foot exultingly upon a watch, exclaiming, I will stop your noise. But what do I say? A madman is not responsible.


XXXVII. I have felt it proper to dwell principally on the formation of Empires, as [109] being the most important object; but all human institutions are subjected to the same rule, and all are equally null or dangerous, [110] unless they repose on the foundation of all existence. This principle being incontestable, what shall we think of a generation, which has cast all to the winds, even to the foundations of the social edifice, by rendering education purely scientific? It was impossible to be deceived in a manner more dreadful; for every system of education that does not rest upon religion, as its basis, will fall in a trice, or will only diffuse poison through the state; religion being, as Bacon has well said, the aromatic which prevents science from becoming corrupt.


XXXVIII. The question is frequently asked: why there is a school of theology attached to every University? The answer is easy: It is, that the Universities may subsist, and that the instruction may not become corrupt. Originally, the Universities were only schools of theology, to which other faculties were joined, as subjects around their Queen. The edifice of public instruction, placed on such a foundation, has continued even to our day. Those who have subverted it among themselves, will repent it, in vain, for a long time to come. To burn a city, there is needed only a child or a madman; but to rebuild it, architects, materials, workmen, money, and especially time, will be required.

XXXIX. Those who are content to corrupt ancient institutions, while at the same time preserving the exterior forms, have done [112] as much evil to the human race. Already the influence of modern Universities on manners and the national mind, over a considerable portion of the continent of Europe, is perfectly well known.[FN*: I will not allow myself to publish notions which are peculiar to me, however precious they may be; but I believe that it is lawful for every one to reprint what has been printed, and make a German speak on Germany. A man whom no person will accuse of being infatuated with old ideas, thus expresses himself on the Universities of his Country. “All our German Universities, even the best, have need of great reform, in respect to morals. The best, even, are a gulf where innocence, health, and the future well being of a multitude of young people are irretrievably lost; and from whence go out beings ruined in body and soul, more burdensome than useful to society, etc. Would that these pages might be a preservative for young people! Would that they might read over the gate of our Universities: Young man! it is here that many of thy equals have lost happiness with innocence. ”—M. Campe, Recueil de Voyages pour l’instruction de la jeunesse, in-12, tome II, p. 129.] The English Universities have preserved, in this respect, more reputation than the others, perhaps for the reason that the English know better how to be silent, or to [113] praise themselves at the right moment: perhaps, also, because the public spirit, which has an extraordinary power in that Country, has been able to defend, better than elsewhere, these venerable schools from the general anathema. However, they must succumb, and from the bad heart of Gibbon, we have obtained certain strange disclosures on this point.[FN*: See his Memoirs, where, after having made some singular revelations on the Universities of his Country, he says, in particular, on that of Oxford, she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her for a mother. I do not doubt that this tender mother, sensible as she ought to be, to such a declaration, may have ordained a magnificent epitaph for him: Lubens merito. Sir William Jones, in his letter to M. Anquetil, goes to the other extreme; but this extreme does him honour.] In short, not to go out of generalities, if we do not return to the old maxims, if education is not restored into the hands of priests, and if science is not every where placed in the second rank, the evils which await us are incalculable: we shall become [114] brutalized by science, and this is the lowest degree of brutality.

XL. Not only does it not belong to man to create institutions, but it does not appear that his power, unassisted, extends even to change for the better institutions already established. If there is anything evident for man, it is the existence in the universe of two opposing forces, which are in continual conflict. There is nothing good, that evil does [115] not sully or alter; there is no evil, that goodness does not repress and attack, by impelling continually all existence towards a more perfect state.[FN*: A Greek would have said: JTçôç InavoQ&waiv. We might say, towards restitution en entier,—an expression which philosophy can very well borrow from jurisprudence, and which will enjoy, under this new acceptation, a wonderful fitness. As to the opposition and the balancing of the two forces, it is sufficient to open our eyes. Good is set against evil, and life against death.... Consider all the works of the Most-High. Two and two, and one against another. —Eccles. xxxiii. 15. We may say, in passing, it is thence that arises the rule of the beau-idéal. Nothing in nature being what it ought to be, the true artist,—he who can say, est Deus in nobis, —has the mysterious power of discerning traits the least altered, and of assembling them, in order to form a whole which only exists in his understanding.] These two forces are every where present: we behold them equally in the vegetation of plants, in the generation of animals, in the formation of languages, and of empires, (two things inseparable,) etc. Human power extends only perhaps to removing or combatting the evil, in order to [116] disengage the good, and restore to it the power of developing itself according to its nature. The celebrated Zanotti has said, It is difficult to alter things for the better.[FN*: Difficile est mutare in melius. Zanotti, cited in the Transunto della R. Accademia di Torino. 1788—89, in-8o, p. 6.] This thought contains much sound sense, under the guise of extreme simplicity. It accords perfectly with another thought of Origen, which is alone worth a volume. Nothing, says he, can be changed for the better among men, without God.[FN2: AQEEl: or, if we would express this thought in a manner more laconic, and disengaged of all grammatical licence, without God, nothing better. —Otig. adv. Cels. 1. 26. ed. Ruoei. Paris. 1733. In-fol., tom. p. I. 345.] All men have a consciousness of this truth, without being in a state to explain it to themselves. Hence that instinctive aversion, in every good mind, to innovations.


The word reform, in itself, and previous to all examination, will be always suspected by [118] wisdom, and the experience of every age justifies this sort of instinct. We know too well what has been the fruit of the most beautiful speculations of this kind.[FN*: Nihil motum ex antiquo probabile est. —Tit.-Liv. xxxiv, 53.]

XLI. To apply these general maxims to a particular case, it is from the single consideration of the extreme danger of innovations founded upon simple human theories, that, [119] without believing myself to be in a state to have a decided opinion, in the way of reasoning, upon the great question of parliamentary reform, which has agitated minds in England so powerfully, and for so long a time, I still find myself constrained to believe, that this idea is pernicious, and that if the English yield themselves too readily to it, they will have occasion to repent. But, say the [120] partizans of reform, (for it is the grand argument,) the abuses are striking and incontestable: now can a formal abuse, a defect, be constitutional? Yes, undoubtedly, it can be; for every political constitution has its essential faults, which belong to its nature, and which it is impossible to separate from it; and, that which should make all reformers tremble, is that these faults may be changed by circumstances; so that in showing that they are new, we cannot prove that they are not necessary.[FN*: It is necessary, says one, to recur to the fundamental and primitive laws of the state, which an unjust custom has abolished; and it is a game to lose all. Nothing will be just in this balance. Yet the people lend a ready ear to these discourses. —Pascal, Pensées, prem. part., art. vi. Paris, Renouard, 1803, p. 121, 122. No one could speak better; but, see what man is! The author of this observation, and his hideous sect, have not ceased playing this infallible game to lose all; and indeed the game has perfectly succeeded. Voltaire, besides, has spoken on this point like Pascal: “It is a very vain idea, says he, a very ungrateful labour, to desire to trace back every thing to ancient usage, etc.” — Essai sur les Mœurs et l’Esprit, etc., Chap. 85. Hear him afterwards speak of the Popes, you will see how he remembers his maxim.] What prudent man, then, will not [121] shudder in putting his hand to the work? Social harmony, like musical concord, is subject to the law of temperament in the general key. Adjust the fifths accurately, and the octaves will jar, and conversely. The dissonance being then inevitable, instead of excluding it, which is impossible, it must be qualified by distribution. Thus, on both sides, imperfection is an element of possible perfection. In this proposition there is only the form of a paradox. But, it will perhaps still be said, where is the rule by which you may distinguish the accidental defect, from that which belongs to the nature of things, and which it is impossible to exclude? — Men to whom nature has given only ears, ask questions of this kind; and those who have an ear shrug their shoulders.


XLII. When it is a question of abuses in political institutions, it is necessary to take great care to judge of them only by their constant effects, and never by any of their causes, of whatever kind, which signify nothing;[FN*: At least, with regard to the merit of the institution; for, under other points of view, it may be very important to employ one’s self with them.] still less by certain collateral inconveniences (if I may so express myself ) which men of limited views readily lay hold of, and are thus prevented from seeing the whole together. Indeed, the cause, according to the hypothesis which seems to be proved, not having any logical relation to the effect; and the inconveniences of an institution, good in itself, being only, as I have just said, an inevitable dissonance in the general key; how can we judge of institutions by their causes and inconveniences? — Voltaire, who spoke of every thing, during an age, without having so much as penetrated [123] below the surface,[FN*: Dante said to Virgil, in doing him, I must avow it, too much honour: Maestro di color che sanno [Master of those who know]. Parini, although he had his head absolutely turned, has, however, had the courage to say to Voltaire, in parodying Dante: Sei Maestro. di coloro che credon di sapere (II Mattino,) [Master of those who think they know]. The saying is very just.] has reasoned very humorously on the sale of the offices of the magistracy which occurred in France; and no instance, perhaps, could be more apposite to make us sensible of the truth of the theory which I am setting forth. That this sale is an abuse, says he, is proved by the fact, that it originated in another abuse. [FN2: Précis du siècle de Louis XV, chap. 42.] Voltaire does not mistake here as every man is liable to mistake. He shamefully mistakes. It is a total eclipse of common sense. Everything which springs from an abuse, an abuse! On the contrary; one of the most general and evident laws of this power, at once secret and striking, which acts and makes itself to be felt on every side, is, that the [124] remedy of an abuse springs from an abuse, and that the evil, having reached a certain point, destroys itself, as it ought to do; for evil, which is only a negation, has, for measure of dimension and duration, that of the being to which it is joined, and which it destroys. It exists as an ulcer, which can only terminate in self-destruction. But then a new reality will necessarily occupy the place of that which has disappeared; for nature abhors a vacuum, and the Good.. .. But I diverge too far from Voltaire.

XLIII. The error of this great writer proceeds from the fact, that, divided between twenty sciences, as he himself somewhere confesses, and constantly occupied in communicating instruction to the world, he rarely gave himself time to think. “A dissipated and voluptuous court, reduced to the greatest want by its foolish expenses, devises the sale of the offices of the [125] magistracy, and thus creates” (what it never could have done freely, and with a knowledge of the cause,) “it creates,” I say, “a rich magistracy, irremovable and independent; so that the infinite power playing in the world [FN*: Ludens in orbe terrarum.—Prov. viii, 31.] makes use of corruption for creating incorruptible tribunals” (as far as human weakness permits). There is nothing, indeed, so plausible to the eye of a true philosopher; nothing more conformable to great analogies, and to that incontestable law, which wills that the most important institutions should be the result not of deliberation, but of circumstances. Here [126] is the problem almost solved when it is stated, as is the case with all problems. Could such a country as France be better judged than by hereditary magistrates? If it is decided in the affirmative, which I suppose, it will be necessary for me at once to propose a second problem which is this: the magistracy being necessarily hereditary, is there, in order to constitute it at first, and afterwards to recruit it, a mode more advantageous than that which fills the coffers of the sovereign with millions at the lowest price, and which assures, at the same time, the opulence, independence, and even the nobility (of a certain sort) of the supreme judges? If we only consider venality as a means to the right of inheritance, every just mind is impressed with this, which is the true point of view. This is not the place to enter [127] fully into this question; but enough has been said to prove that Voltaire has not so much as perceived it.

XLIV. Let us now suppose a man like him at the head of affairs, uniting, by a happy agreement, frivolousness, incapacity, and rashness: he will not fail to act in accordance with his foolish theories of laws and of abuses. He will borrow at six and two thirds per cent, to reimburse his nominal incumbents, creditors at two per cent.: he will prepare minds by a multitude of paid writings, which will insult the magistracy and destroy public confidence in it. Soon Patronage, a thousand times more foolish [128] than Chance, will open the long list of his blunders: the distinguished man, no longer perceiving in the right of inheritance a counterpoise to oppressive labours, jvill withdraw himself, never to return; and the great tribunals will be abandoned to adventurers without name, without fortune, and without consideration; instead of that venerable magistracy, in which virtue and science had become as hereditary as its dignities, —that true priesthood, which foreign nations might envy France, up to the moment when False Philosophy, having excluded Wisdom from all the places to which she was accustomed to resort, terminated such splendid achievements by driving her away from her own territory.

XLV. Such is the natural picture of most reforms; for, not only creation belongs not to man, hut reformation even, belongs to him only in a secondary way, and with a multitude of terrible restrictions. Starting from [129] these incontrovertible principles, each man can judge of the institutions of his country with a perfect certainty; he can especially appreciate all those Creators, those Lawgivers, those Restorers of nations, so dear to the eighteenth century, and whom posterity will regard with pity, perhaps even with horror. Card castles have been built in Europe and out of Europe. The details would be odious; but certainly we are not wanting in respect to any person in simply entreating men to consider and judge by the event, if they absolutely refuse every other kind of instruction. Man in relation with his Creator is sublime, and his action is creative: on the contrary, so soon as he separates himself from God, and acts alone, he does not cease to be powerful, for this is a privilege of his nature; but his action is negative, and tends only to destroy.

XLVI. There is not in the history of all ages a single fact which contradicts these maxims. [130] No human institution can endure unless supported by the Hand which supports all; that is to say, if it is not especially consecrated to Him at its origin. The more it is penetrated with the Divine principle, the more durable it will be. How strange is the blindness of men in our age! They boast of their knowledge, and are ignorant of everything, since they are ignorant of themselves. They know not what they are, nor what they can do. An invincible pride bears them on continually to overthrow every thing which they have not made; and in order to work out new creations, they separate themselves from the source of all existence. Jean-Jacques Roussseau has, however, very well said, Little, vain man, show me thy power, and I will show thee thy weakness. It might be said, with as much truth and more profit, Little, vain man, confess to me thy weakness, and I will show thee thy strength. Indeed, as soon as man has acknowledged his [131] nothingness, he has taken a great step; for he is very near seeking a support with which he can do all things. It is precisely the opposite to this, that has characterized the age which has just terminated. (Alas! it has only ended in our almanacks. ) Examine all its enterprises, all its institutions, whatsoever, you will find it constantly intent upon separating them from the Divinity. Man has believed himself an independent being, and he has professed a true practical atheism, more dangerous, perhaps, and more culpable, than that of theory.


XLVII. Withdrawn, by his vain sciences, from the single science which truly concerns [133] him, has man believed himself endowed with power to create, whilst he does not so much as possess that of giving names. He has believed,—he who has not the power of producing a single insect or a sprig of moss,“that he was the immediate author of Sovereignty, the most important, the most sacred, the most fundamental thing in the moral and political world; [FN*: The principle, that all legitimate power springs from the people, is noble and specious in itself, yet is belied by all history and experience. Hume’s Hist, of Eng. Charles I, chap. Lix, vol. VII, p. 131: Dove’s Edit., London, 1822.] and that such a family, for example, [134] reigns, because such a people wills it; while there are numerous and incontestable proofs, that every sovereign family reigns because it is chosen by a superior power. If he does not see these proofs, it is because he shuts his eyes, or looks too closely. He has believed, that it was himself who invented languages; while, again, it belongs to him only to see that every human language is learned and never invented, and that no imaginable hypothesis, within the circle of human power, can explain, [135] with the least appearance of probability, either the formation or the diversity of languages. He has believed that he could constitute nations; that is to say, in other terms, that he could create that national unity, by virtue of which one nation is not another. Finally, he has believed that, since he had the power of creating institutions, he had, with greater reason, that of borrowing them from other nations, and transferring them to his own country, all complete to his hand, with the name which they bore among the people from whom they were taken, in order, like those people, to enjoy them with the same advantages. The French papers have furnished me with a singular example on this point.

XLVIII. Some years ago, the French people took it into their heads to establish, at Paris, certain courses, which were gravely called, in some writings of the day, Olympic [136] Games. The reasoning of those who invented or revived this beautiful name, was not complicated. Men raced, they said, on foot and on horse, by the banks of the Alpheus; and they race on foot and on horse, by the banks of the Seine: then it is the same thing. Nothing can be more simple; but, without asking them why they did not call these games Parisian, instead of Olympic, I shall proceed to make other observations. In order to institute Olympic games, the Oracles were consulted: gods and heroes participated in them; they were never commenced without the offering of sacrifices, and the performance of other religious ceremonies; they were regarded as the great Comitia of Greece, and nothing was more august. But did the Parisians, before establishing their courses revived from the Greeks, go to Rome ad limina apostolorum, to consult the Pope? Before jumping the breakneck, for the amusement of tradesmen, did [137] they celebrate High-Mass? With what great political considerations did they associate these courses? What were the names of the Insti- tutors? —But enough: the most ordinary common sense feels instantly the nothingness, and even the ridiculousness, of this imitation.

XLIX. Yet, in a Journal conducted by men of intelligence, whose only fault or misfortune was in professing modern doctrines, somebody wrote, a few years since, on the subject of these courses, the following passage, dictated by the most amusing enthusiasm:

I predict it: the Olympic games of the French will one day attract all Europe to the Champ-de-Mars. What frigid souls have those, and little susceptible of emotion, who see here only the course! For myself, I behold a pageant, such as the world has never witnessed since those of Elis, where Greece was a [138] spectacle to Greece, No, the Roman circus, the tournaments of our ancient chivalry, did not approach it.[FN*: Décade Philosophique, Octobre 1797, No. I, p. 31. (1809.) This passage, brought near by its dates, has the double merit of being eminently amusing, and suggestive of thought. We see in it, with what ideas these children amused themselves at that time, and what they knew of that which man ought to know before all. Since that time, a new order of things has sufficiently refuted these fine conceits; and if all Europe is at this day attracted to Paris, it certainly is not to see there the Olympic games. (1814.)]

And for myself, I believe, indeed, I know, that no human institution can endure, if it has not a religious basis, and, besides, (I entreat the most undivided attention to this,) if it bears not a name taken from the national language, originating itself without any anterior and public deliberation.


L. The theory of names is still an object of great importance. Names are in no wise arbitrary, as so many men have affirmed, who had lost their names. God calls Himself, I am; and every creature calls itself, I am that. The name of a spiritual being is necessarily relative to its action, which is its distinctive quality; hence it happens, that among the Ancients, the highest honour for a Divinity, was polyonomy, that is to say, having a plurality of names, indicative of that of functions or extent of power. Ancient Mythology exhibits to us Diana, while an infant, asking this power from Jupiter; and in the verses attributed to Orpheus, she is greeted under the name of Démon polyonyme (Genius of many names).[FN*: See note on the seven verses of the hymn of Diana, by Callimachus, (Edit, of Spanheim; ) and Lanzi’s Saggio di letteratura etrusca, etc., in-8o, tom. II, p. 241, note. The hymns of Homer are in reality only a collection of epithets; which belong to the same principle of polyonomy.] [140] This is substantially the same as to say, that God alone has the right of conferring a name. Indeed, He has named all things, since He has created all things. He has given names to the stars,[FN*: Isaias, XL, 26.] and to spirits, and of these last names, Holy Scripture utters only three of them, but these three names are all relative to the destination of these ministers. It is the same with men, whom God himself has thought proper to name, and whom Holy Scripture has made us acquainted with, in a sufficiently great number: the name always relates to the function.[FN1: Let us remember the greatest name divinely and directly given to man. The reason of the name was given, in this case, with the name; and the name expresses precisely the destination, or what amounts to the same thing, the power.] Has He not said, that in His future kingdom, He would give to them who overcome, a new name,[FN2: Apoc. III, 12.] expressive of their exploits? and have men, made in the image of God, discovered a [141] more impressive mode of rewarding conquerors, than that of conferring upon them a new name, the most honourable of all, in the judgment of men, that of the nations vanquished? [FN3: This observation has been made by the anonymous, but well known, author of the German book, entitled, Die Siegsgeschichte der Christlichen Religion, in einer gemeinnützigen Erklarung der Offenbarung Johannis, in-8o. Nuremberg, 1799, p. 89. There is nothing to be said against this page.] As often as man is reputed to have altered his course of life, and received a new character, he very commonly receives a new name. This is seen in Baptism, in Confirmation, in the enlistment of soldiers, on entering a religious Order, at the manumission of slaves, etc.; in a word, the name of every being expresses what it is, and in this matter there is nothing arbitrary. The common expression, he has a name, he has no name, is very just and very significant; no man being able to be ranked among those called to assemblies, and who have [142] a name,[FN*: Num. XVI, 2.] unless his family is marked by a sign which distinguishes it from others.

LI. It is with nations as with individuals; there are some which have no name. Herodotus observes, that the Thracians would be the most powerful people in the world, if they were united: but, he adds, this union is impossible, for they all have a different name.[FN2: Herod. Terpsic. V, 3.] It is an excellent observation. There are also some modern people, who have no name, and there are others, who have many; but polyonomy is as unfortunate for nations, as it has been thought honourable for the genii.

LII. Names having then nothing arbitrary, and originating, like all other things, more or less immediately in God, it must not be believed that man has the right of naming, without restriction, even those things of which he has some right to regard himself as the author, and of imposing on them names according to the idea which he forms of them. God has reserved to Himself, in this respect, a species of immediate jurisdiction which it is impossible to misunderstand.[FN1: Orig. Adv. Cels. I. 18, 24, p. 341, et in Exhort, ad. martyr., No. 46, et in not. edit. Rucei, in-fol., tom. I, p. 305, 341.] O my dear Hermogenes! the imposition of names is a great affair, which cannot belong to a bad man, nor even to an ordinary man. ... This right belongs only to a creator of names (onomat-urgos), that is to say, as it appears, to the lawgiver alone; but the rarest of all human creatures is a lawgiver. [FN2: Plato, in Crat. Opp., tom. Ill, p. 244.]

LIII. However, man loves nothing so much as to give names. He does this, for example, when he applies expressive epithets [144] to things, a talent for which the great writer is distinguished, especially the great poet. The happy application of an epithet dignifies a substantive, which becomes illustrious under this new sign.[FN1: “So that, as Dionysius of Halicarnassus has observed, if the epithet is distinctive and natural, (olxtia xal 7tQo(T(pvi]g,) it weighs in the discourse as much as a name.” (On the Poetry of Homer, chap. 6.) It may even be said, in a certain sense, that it is of more value, since it has the merit of creation, without having the fault of neologism.] Examples may be found in every language; but, to confine myself to that of a people who have themselves so great a name, since they have given their own name to franchise, or rather franchise has received its name from them, what literary man is ignorant of the greedy Acheron, the attentive coursers, the shameless bed, the timid supplications, the silvered trembling, the rapid destroyer, the pale flatterers, etc.? [FN2: I do not remember any illustrious epithet from Voltaire, it is, perhaps, on my part, a pure defect of memory.] Man will never forget his primitive rights: it may be [145] said, even, in a certain sense, that he will always exercise them; but how much has his degradation curtailed them! The following law is as true as God who made it:

Man is prohibited from giving great names to things of which he is the author, and which he thinks great; but if he has proceeded legitimately, the vulgar name of the thing will be rendered illustrious by it, and become great.

LIV. The rule is the same, whether it concerns material or political creations. There is nothing better known in Greek history, for example, than the word Ceramicus: Athens possessed nothing more magnificent. A long time after she had lost her great men, and her political existence, Atticus being at Athens, wrote with a flourish to his illustrious, friend, finding myself the other day, in the Ceramicus, etc., and Cicero replied to him playfully. [FN1: [ While I was in my Tusculanum. ] This is in return or that of yours,—While I was in the Ceramicus, etc. Cic. ad Att. I, 10.] What however does this word, [146] so celebrated, signify? Tuilerie [tile-kiln].[FN*: With a certain latitude which still includes the idea of Pottery.] There is nothing more vulgar; but the ashes of heroes, mingled with the earth, have consecrated it, and the earth has consecrated the name. It is singular enough, that, at so great a distance of times and places, this same word Tuileries, famous, formerly, as the name of a place of burial, has been dignified anew, under the name of a palace. The power which came to inhabit the Tuileries, did not undertake to give to them some imposing name which might have a certain proportion to itself. If it had committed this fault, there was no reason that, the following day, this place should not have been inhabited by pick-pockets and courtesans.

LV. One other reason which has its value, though it be drawn from a lower source, [147] should also induce us to distrust every pompous name imposed à priori. It is, that the conscience of man, almost always admonishing him of the imperfection of the work which he has just produced, his revolted pride, which cannot itself be mistaken, seeks at least to deceive others, by inventing an honourable name which supposes precisely the contrary merit; so that this name, instead of really attesting the excellence of the work, is a clear acknowledgement of the vice which characterizes it. The eighteenth century, so rich in every thing which can be imagined as false and ridiculous, has furnished a multitude of curious examples on this point, in the titles of books, epigraphs, inscriptions, and other things of this sort. Thus, for example, if you read at the head of one of the principal works of this age,

Tantum series juncturaque pollet:
Tantum de medio sumptis accedit honoris;


efface the presumptuous epigraph, and boldly substitute, before having even opened the book, and without the least fear of doing injustice,

Rudis indigestaque moles;
Non bene junctarum discordia semina rerum.

Indeed, chaos is the image of this book, and the epigraph eminently expresses what is, in the highest degree, wanting in the work. If you read at the head of another book, Histoire Philosophique et Politique, you may know, before having read the history announced under this title, that it is neither philosophical nor political; and you will know, besides, after having read it, that it is the work of a phrenetic. Does any man dare to write under his own portrait, Vitam impendere vero? do [149] not hesitate to lay a wager, without information, that it is the portrait of a liar, and he himself will avow it to you some day, when he may. take a fancy to speak the truth. Can any one read under another portrait, Postgenitis hie earns erit, nunc carus amicis, without recollecting immediately that verse so happily borrowed from the original itself, to represent him in a manner a little different, I had adorers, but not one friend? And indeed, there never perhaps existed a man, in the literary class, less fitted to feel friendship, and less worthy of inspiring it. Works and enterprises of another kind afford matter for the same observation. Thus, for example, if [150] music, among a celebrated nation, all at once, becomes an affair of state; if the spirit of the age, blind on all points, bestows upon this art a false importance and a false protection, very different from what it needs; if, in fine, a temple is erected to music under the antique and high sounding name of Odeon; it is an infallible proof, that the art is on the decline; and no one ought to be surprised at hearing, in that country, a celebrated critic avow, soon after, in a style sufficiently vigorous, that nothing prevents one from writing on the pediment of the temple, A Room to let.[FN*: “The same pieces, executed at the Odeon, are far from producing in me the same sensation which I experienced at the old Théâtre de Musique, where I heard them with transport. Our artists have lost the tradition of this master-piece (the Stabat of Pergolèse); it is written for them in a foreign language; they say its notes, without comprehending its spirit; their execution is cold, void of soul, of sentiment, and of expression. The Orchestra itself plays mechanically, and with a feebleness which destroys the effect.... Ancient music (which?) is the rival of the highest poetry; ours is only the rival of the warbling of birds. Let modern virtuosos cease then from dishonouring sublime compositions.; let them play no more (especially) à Pergolèse; it is too hard for them.”—Journ. de l’Empire, 28 mars 1812.]


LVI. But, as I have said, all this is only an observation of the second order; let us return to the general principle, that man has not, or has no longer, the right of naming things (at least in the times referred to). Let one give great attention to this, that the most venerable names, in all languages, have a vulgar origin. The name never bears any proportion to the thing; the thing always dignifies the name. It is necessary that the name germinate, so to speak; otherwise the name is false. What does the word throne signify, in its origin? seat or even stool. What does sceptre signify? a staff to lean upon.[FN*: In the second book of the Iliad, Ulysses desires to prevent the Greeks from basely renouncing their enterprise. If he meets, in the midst of tumult excited by malcontents, a king or a noble, he addresses him in mild words to persuade him; but if he finds under his hand a man of the people, (Shilov ard(ju) (a remarkable gallicism,) he bangs him with heavy blows of the sceptre. —Iliad. II, 198, 199. It was formerly considered a crime in Socrates, to have made himself master of the verses which Ulysses pronounced on this occasion, and for having cited them in order to prove to the people, that they knew nothing, and that they were nothing.— Xenophon, Memor. Socr. I. II, 20. Pindar can also be cited for the history of the sceptre, in the place where he relates to us the anecdote of the ancient King of Rhodes, who killed his brother-in-law on the spot, by striking him, in a moment of vivacity and without malice, with a sceptre which was found unfortunately to have been made of too hard wood. —Olymp. VII. v. 49—55. A fine lesson for making sceptres lighter! ] But the [152] staff of Kings was soon distinguished from all others, and this name under its new signification, [153] has subsisted for three thousand years. What is there more illustrious in literature, and more humble in its origin, than the word tragedy? and the almost odious name of drapeau, raised and ennobled by the lance of warriors, what fortune has it not had in our language? A multitude of other names might be mentioned, confirming more or less the same principle, such as these, for example, Senate, Dictator, Consul, Emperor, Church, Cardinal, Marshall, etc. We will conclude with those of Constable and Chancellor, applied to two eminent dignities of modern times: [154] the first signifies, in its origin, merely the master of the stable,[FN1: Constable is only a gallic contraction of Comes stabuli; the companion, or the minister of the prince for the department of the stables.] and the second, the man who stands behind a railing (that he might not be overwhelmed by the multitude of suppliants).

LVII. There are then two infallible rules for judging all human creations, of whatever [155] kind they may be, the basis and the name; and these two rules well understood, relieve all odious application. If the basis is purely human, the edifice cannot stand; and the more men there shall be, who engage in it, the more deliberation, learning, and writing especially, they shall have employed about it, in fine, the more human means, of every kind, the more frail will the institution be. It is principally by this rule, that we must judge of whatever has been attempted by sovereigns or assemblies of men, for the civilization, institution or regeneration of nations.

LVIII. On the contrary, the more divine the institution is in its basis, the more durable it will be. It is well even to observe, for greater clearness, that the religious principle is, [156] in its own essence, creative and conservative in two ways. In the first place, as it acts with greater power than any other principle upon the human mind, it draws from it prodigious efforts. Thus, for example, if a man be persuaded by his religious dogmas, that it is of great advantage for him, that after his death his body be preserved in all possible integrity, safe from the approach of any inconsiderate or profane hand; this man, I say, after having exhausted the art of embalming, will finish by constructing the Egyptian Pyramids. In the second place, the religious principle already so strong by what it does, is again infinitely more so by what it prevents, in consequence of the veneration with which it invests every thing which it takes under its protection. If a simple pebble is consecrated, there is all at once a reason for its escaping from hands which might pervert or desecrate it. The earth is covered with proofs of this truth. [157] The Etruscan vases, for example, preserved by the religion of tombs, have come down to us, notwithstanding their fragility, in greater numbers, than the monuments of marble and of bronze of the same epoch. [FN*: Mercure de France, 17 juin 1809, No. 413, page 679.] Would you then preserve every thing, dedicate every thing.

LIX. The second rule, that of names, is not, I think, less clear, nor less decisive, than the first. If the name is imposed by an assembly; if it is established by previous deliberation, so that it precedes the thing; if the name is pompous; [FN1: Thus, for example, if a man, other than a sovereign, should call himself legislator, it is a certain proof that he is not one; and if an assembly should venture to call itself legislative, not only is it a proof that it is not so, but it is a proof that it has lost its wits, and that, in a little while, it will be abandoned to the scorn of the universe.] if it has a grammatical proportion to the object which it is to represent; in fine, if it is taken from a foreign language, especially an ancient language; all [158] the characteristics of nullity are found united, and we may he sure that the name and the thing will disappear in a very little while. The contrary suppositions reveal the legitimacy, and consequently, the permanancy of the institution. We must take good heed not to pass over this subject lightly. A true philosopher should never lose sight of language, the true barometer, whose variations announce infallibly good and bad times. To confine myself to the subject which I am now treating, it is certain that the unlimited introduction of foreign words, applied especially to national institutions of every kind, is one of the most infallible signs of the moral degradation of a people.

LX. If the formation of all empires, the progress of civilization, and the unanimous agreement of all history and tradition do not suffice still to convince us, the death of empires will complete the demonstration commenced [159] by their birth. As it is the religious principle which has created every thing, so it is the absence of this same principle which has destroyed every thing. The sect of Epicurus, which might be called ancient incredulity, corrupted at first, and soon after destroyed every government which was so unfortunate as to give it admission. Every where Lucretius announced Cesar.

But all past experience disappears before the frightful example afforded by the last century. Still intoxicated with its fumes, men are very far from being, at least in general, sufficiently composed to contemplate this example in its true light, and especially to draw from it the necessary conclusions. It is then very important to direct our whole atttention to this terrible scene.

LXI. There have always been some forms of religion in the world, and there have [160] been wicked men who have opposed them: impiety also has always been regarded as a crime; for, as there cannot be a false religion without some mixture of the true, so there cannot be any impiety which does not oppose some divine truth more or less disfigured; but real impiety can only exist in the bosom of the true religion; and, by a necessary consequence, impiety has never produced in past times, the evils which it has committed in our day; for its guilt is always in proportion to the light by which it is surrounded. It is by this rule that we must judge the eighteenth century; for it is under this point of view that it is unlike every other. We commonly hear it said, that all ages resemble each other, and that men are ever the same; but we must be careful not to believe in these general maxims which indolence or levity have invented to save themselves the trouble of reflection. All ages, on the contrary, and all nations, manifest a [161] peculiar and distinctive character which must be attentively considered. Undoubtedly vice has always existed in the world; but it may differ in quantity, in nature, in its ruling quality and in intensity.[FN*: It is necessary also to have regard to the mixture of virtues, the proportion of which vary infinitely. When one has pointed out the same kind of excesses at different times and places, he thinks himself entitled to conclude magisterially that men have always been the same. There is no sophism more gross or more common.] Now, though impious men have always existed, there never was, before the eighteenth century, in the heart of Christianity, an insurrection against God; never especially had there been seen, before this, a sacrilegious conspiracy of all the faculties against their Author: now, this has been witnessed in our day. The vaudeville has blasphemed as well as the tragedy, and romance as well as history and natural philosophy. Men of this age have prostituted genius to irréligion, and according to the admirable [162] expression of the dying St. Louis, they have WAGED WAR AGAINST GOD WITH HlS GIFTS.[FN*: Joinville, dans la collection des Mémoires relatifs à l’Histoire de France, In-8o, tom. II, p. 160.] Ancient impiety never gives itself trouble; sometimes it reasons; ordinarily it jests, but always without asperity. Lucretius even never comes to insult; and though his sombre and melancholic temperament might lead him to look upon the dark side of things, even when he accuses religion of having produced great evils, he does it with perfect sang-froid. The ancient religions were not considered of sufficient importance for contemporaneous incredulity to quarrel with them.

LXII. When the good tidings were first published to the world, the attack became more violent: nevertheless its enemies always observed a certain moderation. They showed themselves in history only at great intervals, [163] and constantly isolated. There never was a union or formal league among them; they never abandoned themselves to the rage of which we have been witnesses. Bayle even, the father of modern incredulity, was wholly unlike his successors. In his most censurable deviations, we do not find in him any great desire for proselyting, still less the tone of irritation or the spirit of party: he denies less than he doubts; he speaks on both sides; oftentimes he is more eloquent for the good cause than the bad. [FN1: See, for example, with what power of logic he has combatted materialism in the article Leucippe of his Dictionary.]

LXIII. It was then only in the first part of the eighteenth century, that impiety became really a power. We see it at first extending itself on every side with inconceivable activity. From the palace to the cabin, it insinuates itself every where, and infests every thing; [164] it has invisible ways, a concealed but infallible action, so that the most attentive observer, witness of the effect, is not always able to discover the means. By an inconceivable delusion, it gains the affections of those even of whom it is the most mortal enemy; and the authority which it is on the point of immolating, thoughtlessly embraces it before receiving the blow. Soon a simple system becomes a formal association, which, by a rapid gradation, changes into a confederacy, and at length into a grand conspiracy which covers Europe.

LXIV. Then that character of impiety which belongs only to the eighteenth century, manifests itself for the first time. It is no longer the cold tone of indifference, or at most the jnalignant irony of scepticism; it is a mortal hatred; it is the tone of anger, and often of rage. The writers of that period, at least the most distinguished of them, no [165] longer treat Christianity as an immaterial human error; they pursue it as a capital enemy; they oppose it to the last extreme; it is a war to the death: and, what would seem incredible, if we had not sad proofs of it before our eyes, is, that many of those men, who call themselves philosophers, advanced from hatred of Christianity to personal hatred of its Divine Author. They hated Him as really as one hates a living enemy. Two men especially, who will forever he covered with anathemas by posterity, distinguished themselves by this form of flagitiousness which would appear to be above the power of the most depraved human nature.


LXV. However entire Europe having been civilized by Christianity, and its ministers [167] having obtained high political consideration in every country, the civil and religious institutions were blended, and, as it were, amalgamated in a surprising manner; so that it might be said of all the states in Europe, with more or less of truth, what Gibbon has said of France, that this kingdom was made by the Bishops. It was then inevitable that the [168] philosophy of the age should unhesitatingly hate the social institutions, from which it was [169] impossible to separate the religious principle. This has taken place: every government, and all the establishments of Europe, were offensive to it, because they were Christian; and in proportion as they were Christian, an inquietude of opinion, an universal dissatisfaction, seized all minds. In France, especially, the philosophic rage knew no bounds; soon a single formidable voice, forming itself from many voices united, is heard to cry, in the midst of guilty Europe,

LXVI. “Depart from us! [FN*: Dixerunt Deo; Recede a nobis! Scientiam viarum tuarum, nolumus. Job XXI, 14.] Shall we then [170] forever tremble before the priests, and receive from them such instruction as it pleases them to give us? Truth, throughout Europe, is concealed by the fumes of the censer; it is high time that she come out of this noxious cloud. We shall speak no more of Thee to our children; it is for them to know, when they shall arrive at manhood, whether there is such a Being as Thyself, and what Thou art, and what Thou requirest of them. Every thing which now exists, displeases us, because Thy name is written upon every thing that exists. We wish to destroy all, and to reconstruct the whole without Thee. Leave our councils, leave our schools, leave our houses: we would act alone: Reason suffices for us. Depart from us! ”

How has God punished this execrable madness? He has punished it, as He created the light, by a single word. He spake, Let it be done! —and the political world has crumbled.


See, accordingly, how the two kinds of demonstration are united, to force conviction upon the least discerning. On the one hand, the religious principle presides at all political creations; and on the other, every thing disappears, as soon as this is withdrawn.

LXVII. Europe is guilty, for having closed her eyes against these great truths; and it is because she is guilty, that she suffers. Yet she still repels the light, and acknowledges not the arm which gives the blow. Few men, indeed, among this material generation, are in a condition to know the date, nature, and enormity, of certain crimes, committed by individuals, by nations, and by sovereignties; still less to comprehend the kind of expiation which these crimes demand, and the adorable prodigy which compels Evil to purify, with its own hands, the place which the eternal Architect has already measured by the eye for [172] His marvellous constructions. The men of this age have taken their side. They are sworn to set their eyes always bowing down to the earth. [FN*: Oculos suos statuerunt declinare in terram. —Ps. XVI, II] But it would be useless, perhaps even dangerous, to go into further details: it is enjoined upon us to profess the truth in love. [FN2: JXtjStvuvTtç h aryi7r*,.—Ephes. IV, 15. The expression cannot be translated. The Vulgate, loving better, with reason, to speak justly, than to speak Latin, has said, Facientes veritatem in charitate.] It is necessary, besides, on certain occasions, to profess it only with respect; and, notwithstanding every imaginable precaution, the step would be slippery, even for the most calm and best minded writer. The world, moreover, comprises always an innumerable multitude of men, so perverse, so profoundly corrupt, that if they should bring themselves to suspect the truth of certain things, their wickedness would be redoubled, and they would render themselves, so to speak, as [173] guilty as the rebel angels. Ah! rather than this, let their brutishness become greater still, if it be possible, to the end that they may not become as guilty as even men can be. Blindness is without doubt a terrible chastisement; sometimes, however, we may see love in it: this is all that it can be useful to say at this time.