The Psychology of Revolution
Part 5 out of 6
the sympathy of Frenchmen for the revolutionary Government.
Never was rule more cordially hated and despised than that of the
Assemblies. By its revolts as well as by its repeated votes a
great part of the nation displayed the horror with which it
regarded the system.
This last point, the aversion of France for the revolutionary
regime, so long misunderstood, has been well displayed by
recent historians. The author of the last book published on the
Revolution, M. Madelin, has well summarised their opinion in the
``As early as 1793 a party by no means numerous had seized upon
France, the Revolution, and the Republic. Now, three-quarters of
France longed for the Revolution to be checked, or rather
delivered from its odious exploiters; but these held the unhappy
country by a thousand means. . . . As the Terror was essential
to them if they were to rule, they struck at whomsoever seemed at
any given moment to be opposed to the Terror, were they the best
servants of the Revolution.''
Up to the end of the Directory the government was exercised by
Jacobins, who merely desired to retain, along with the supreme
power, the riches they had accumulated by murder and pillage, and
were ready to surrender France to any one who would guarantee
them free possession of these. That they negotiated the coup
d'etat of Brumaire with Napoleon was simply to the fact that
they had not been able to realise their wishes with regard to
But how explain the fact that a Government so tyrannical and so
dishonoured was able to survive for so many years?
It was not merely because the revolutionary religion still
survived in men's minds, nor because it was forced on them by
means of persecution and bloodshed, but especially, as I have
already stated, on account of the great interest which a large
portion of the population had in maintaining it.
This point is fundamental. If the Revolution had remained a
theoretical religion, it would probably have been of short
duration. But the belief which had just been founded very
quickly emerged from the domain of pure theory.
The Revolution did not confine itself to despoiling the monarchy,
the nobility, and the clergy of their powers of government. In
throwing into the hands of the bourgeoisie and the large
numbers of peasantry the wealth and the employments of the old
privileged classes it had at the same stroke turned them into
obstinate supporters of the revolutionary system. All those who
had acquired the property of which the nobles and clergy had been
despoiled had obtained lands and chateaux at low prices, and
were terrified lest the restoration of the monarchy should force
them to make general restitution.
It was largely for these reasons that a Government which, at any
normal period, would never have been endured, was able to survive
until a master should re-establish order, while promising to
maintain not only the moral but also the material conquests of
the Revolution. Bonaparte realised these anxieties, and was
promptly and enthusiastically welcomed. Material conquests which
were still contestable and theoretical principles which were
still fragile were by him incorporated in institutions and the
laws. It is an error to say that the Revolution terminated with
his advent. Far from destroying it, he ratified and consolidated
THE RESTORATION OF ORDER. THE CONSULAR REPUBLIC
1. How the Work of the Revolution was Confirmed by the
The history of the Consulate is as rich as the preceding period
in psychological material. In the first place it shows us that
the work of a powerful individual is superior to that of a
collectivity. Bonaparte immediately replaced the bloody anarchy
in which the Republic had for ten years been writhing by a period
of order. That which none of the four Assemblies of the
Revolution had been able to realise, despite the most violent
oppression, a single man accomplished in a very short space of
His authority immediately put an end to all the Parisian
insurrections and the attempts at monarchical resistance, and re-
established the moral unity of France, so profoundly divided by
intense hatreds. Bonaparte replaced an unorganised collective
despotism by a perfectly organised individual despotism.
Everyone gained thereby, for his tyranny was infinitely less
heavy than that which had been endured for ten long years. We
must suppose, moreover, that it was unwelcome to very few, as it
was very soon accepted with immense enthusiasm.
We know better to-day than to repeat with the old historians that
Bonaparte overthrew the Republic. On the contrary, he retained
of it all that could be retained, and never would have been
retained without him, by establishing all the practicable work of
the Revolution--the abolition of privileges, equality before the
law, &c.--in institutions and codes of law. The Consular
Government continued, moreover, to call itself the Republic.
It is infinitely probable that without the Consulate a
monarchical restoration would have terminated the Directory, and
would have wiped out the greater part of the work of the
Revolution. Let us suppose Bonaparte erased from history. No
one, I think, will imagine that the Directory could have survived
the universal weariness of its rule. It would certainly have
been overturned by the royalist conspiracies which were breaking
out daily, and Louis XVIII. would probably have ascended the
throne. Certainly he was to mount it sixteen years later, but
during this interval Bonaparte gave such force to the principles
of the Revolution, by establishing them in laws and customs, that
the restored sovereign dared not touch them, nor restore the
property of the returned emigres.
Matters would have been very different had Louis XVIII.
immediately followed the Directory. He would have brought with
him all the absolutism of the ancien regime, and fresh
revolutions would have been necessary to abolish it. We know
that a mere attempt to return to the past overthrew Charles X.
It would be a little ingenuous to complain of the tyranny
of Bonaparte. Under the ancien regime Frenchmen had
supported every species of tyranny, and the Republic had created
a despotism even heavier than that of the monarchy. Despotism
was then a normal condition, which aroused no protest save when
it was accompanied by disorder.
A constant law of the psychology of crowds shows them as creating
anarchy, and then seeking the master who will enable them to
emerge therefrom. Bonaparte was this master.
2. The Reorganisation of France by the Consulate.
Upon assuming power Bonaparte undertook a colossal task. All was
in ruins; all was to be rebuilt. On the morrow of the coup of
Brumaire he drafted, almost single-handed, the Constitution
destined to give him the absolute power which was to enable him
to reorganise the country and to prevail over the factions. In a
month it was completed.
This Constitution, known as that of the year VIII., survived,
with slight modifications, until the end of his reign. The
executive power was the attribute of three Consuls, two of whom
possessed a consultative voice only. The first Consul,
Bonaparte, was therefore sole master of France. He appointed
ministers, councillors of state, ambassadors, magistrates, and
other officials, and decided upon peace or war. The legislative
power was his also, since only he could initiate the laws, which
were subsequently submitted to three Assemblies--the Council of
State, the Tribunate, and the Legislative Corps. A fourth
Assembly, the Senate, acted effectually as the guardian of
Despotic as he was and became, Bonaparte always called the other
Consuls about him before proceeding with the most trivial
measure. The Legislative Corps did not exercise much influence
during his reign, but he signed no decrees of any kind without
first discussing them with the Council of State. This Council,
composed of the most enlightened and learned men of France,
prepared laws, which were then presented to the Legislative
Corps, which could criticise them very freely, since voting was
secret. Presided over by Bonaparte, the Council of State was a
kind of sovereign tribunal, judging even the actions of
 Napoleon naturally often overruled the Council of State, but
by no means always did so. In one instance, reported in the
Memorial de Sainte-Helene, he was the only one of his own
opinion, and accepted that of the majority in the following
terms: ``Gentlemen, matters are decided here by majority, and
being alone, I must give way; but I declare that in my conscience
I yield only to form. You have reduced me to silence, but in no
way convinced me.''
Another day the Emperor, interrupted three times in the
expression of his opinion, addressed himself to the speaker who
had just interrupted him: ``Sir, I have not yet finished; I beg
you to allow me to continue. After all, it seems to me that
every one has a perfect right to express his opinion here.''
``The Emperor, contrary to the accepted opinion, was so far from
absolute, and so easy with his Council of State, that he often
resumed a discussion, or even annulled a decision, because one of
the members of the Council had since, in private, given him fresh
reasons, or had urged that the Emperor's personal opinion had
influenced the majority.''
The new master had great confidence in this Council, as it was
composed more particularly of eminent jurists, each of whom dealt
with his own speciality. He was too good a psychologist not to
entertain the greatest suspicion of large and incompetent
assemblies of popular origin, whose disastrous results had been
obvious to him during the whole of the Revolution.
Wishing to govern for the people, but never with its assistance,
Bonaparte accorded it no part in the government, reserving to it
only the right of voting, once for all, for or against the
adoption of the new Constitution. He only in rare instances had
recourse to universal suffrage. The members of the Legislative
Corps recruited themselves, and were not elected by the people.
In creating a Constitution intended solely to fortify his own
power, the First Consul had no illusion that it would serve to
restore the country. Consequently, while he was drafting it he
also undertook the enormous task of the administrative, judicial,
and financial reorganisation of France. The various powers were
centralised in Paris. Each department was directed by a prefect,
assisted by a consul-general; the arrondissement by a sub-
prefect, assisted by a council; the commune by a mayor, assisted
by a municipal council. All were appointed by the ministers, and
not by election, as under the Republic.
This system, which created the omnipotent State and a powerful
centralisation, was retained by all subsequent Governments and is
preserved to-day. Centralisation being, in spite of its
drawbacks, the only means of avoiding local tyrannies in a
country profoundly divided within itself, has always been
This organisation, based on a profound knowledge of the soul of
the French people, immediately restored that tranquillity and
order which had for so long been unknown.
To complete the mental pacification of the country, the political
exiles were recalled and the churches restored to the faithful.
Continuing to rebuild the social edifice, Bonaparte busied
himself also with the drafting of a code, the greater part of
which consisted of customs borrowed from the ancien regime.
It was, as has been said, a sort of transition or compromise
between the old law and the new.
Considering the enormous task accomplished by the First Consul in
so short a time, we realise that he had need, before all, of a
Constitution according him absolute power. If all the measures
by which he restored France had been submitted to assemblies of
attorneys, he could never have extricated the country from the
disorder into which it had fallen.
The Constitution of the year VIII. obviously transformed the
Republic into a monarchy at least as absolute as the ``Divine
right'' monarchy of Louis XIV. Being the only Constitution
adapted to the needs of the moment, it represented a
3. Psychological Elements which determined the Success of the
Work of the Consulate.
All the external forces which act upon men--economic, historical,
geographical, &c.--may be finally translated into psychological
forces. These psychological forces a ruler must understand in
order to govern. The Revolutionary Assemblies were completely
ignorant of them; Bonaparte knew how to employ them.
The various Assemblies, the Convention notably, were composed of
conflicting parties. Napoleon understood that to dominate them
he must not belong to any one of these parties. Very well aware
that the value of a country is disseminated among the superior
intelligences of the various parties, he tried to utilise them
all. His agents of government--ministers, priests, magistrates,
&c.--were taken indifferently from among the Liberals, Royalists,
Jacobites, &c., having regard only to their capacities.
While accepting the assistance of men of the ancien regime,
Bonaparte took care to make it understood that he intended to
maintain the fundamental principles of the Revolution.
Nevertheless many Royalists rallied round the new Government.
One of the most remarkable feats of the Consulate, from the
psychological point of view, was the restoration of religious
peace. France was far more divided by religious disagreement
than by political differences. The systematic destruction of a
portion of the Vendee had almost completely terminated the
struggle by force of arms, but without pacifying men's minds. As
only one man, and he the head of Christianity, could assist in
this pacification, Bonaparte did not hesitate to treat with him.
His concordat was the work of a real psychologist, who knew that
moral forces do not use violence, and the great danger of
persecuting such. While conciliating the clergy he contrived to
place them under his own domination. The bishops were to
be appointed and remunerated by the State, so that he would still
The religious policy of Napoleon had a bearing which escapes our
modern Jacobins. Blinded by their narrow fanaticism, they do not
understand that to detach the Church from the Government is to
create a state within the State, so that they are liable to find
themselves opposed by a formidable caste, directed by a master
outside France, and necessarily hostile to France. To give one's
enemies a liberty they did not possess is extremely dangerous.
Never would Napoleon, nor any of the sovereigns who preceded him,
have consented to make the clergy independent of the State, as
they have become to-day.
The difficulties of Bonaparte the First Consul were far greater
than those he had to surmount after his coronation. Only a
profound knowledge of men enabled him to triumph over them. The
future master was far from being the master as yet. Many
departments were still in insurrection. Brigandage persisted,
and the Midi was ravaged by the struggles of partisans.
Bonaparte, as Consul, had to conciliate and handle Talleyrand,
Fouche, and a number of generals who thought themselves his
equal. Even his brothers conspired against his power. Napoleon,
as Emperor, had no hostile party to face, but as Consul he
had to combat all the parties and to hold the balance equal among
them. This must indeed have been a difficult task, since during
the last century very few Governments have succeeded in
The success of such an undertaking demanded an extremely subtle
mixture of finesse, firmness, and diplomacy. Not feeling
himself powerful enough as yet, Bonaparte the Consul made a rule,
according to his own expression, ``of governing men as the
greater number wish to be governed.'' As Emperor he often
managed to govern them according to his own ideal.
We have travelled a long way since the time when historians, in
their singular blindness, and great poets, who possessed more
talent than psychology, would hold forth in indignant accents
against the coup d'etat of Brumaire. What profound
illusions underlay the assertion that ``France lay fair in
Messidor's great sun''! And other illusions no less profound
underlay such verdicts as that of Victor Hugo concerning this
period. We have seen that the ``Crime of Brumaire'' had as an
enthusiastic accomplice, not only the Government itself but the
whole of France, which it delivered from anarchy.
One may wonder how intelligent men could so misjudge a period of
history which is nevertheless so clear. It was doubtless because
they saw events through their own convictions, and we know what
transformations the truth may suffer for the man who is
imprisoned in the valleys of belief. The most luminous facts are
obscured, and the history of events is the history of his dreams.
The psychologist who desires to understand the period which we
have so briefly sketched can only do so if, being attached to no
party, he stands clear of the passions which are the soul of
parties. He will never dream of recriminating a past which was
dictated by such imperious necessities. Certainly Napoleon has
cost France dear: his epic was terminated by two invasions, and
there was yet to be a third, whose consequences are felt
even to-day, when the prestige which he exerted even from the
tomb set upon the throne the inheritor of his name.
All these events are narrowly connected in their origin. They
represent the price of that capital phenomenon in the evolution
of a people, a change of ideal. Man can never make the attempt
to break suddenly with his ancestors without profoundly affecting
the course of his own history.
POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN TRADITIONS AND
REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES DURING THE LAST CENTURY
1. The Psychological Causes of the continued Revolutionary
Movements to which France has been subject.
In examining, in a subsequent chapter, the evolution of
revolutionary ideas during the last century, we shall see that
during more than fifty years they very slowly spread through the
various strata of society.
During the whole of this period the great majority of the people
and the bourgeoisie rejected them, and their diffusion was
effected only by a very limited number of apostles. But their
influence, thanks principally to the faults of Governments, was
sufficient to provoke several revolutions. We shall examine
these briefly when we have examined the psychological influences
which gave them birth.
The history of our political upheavals during the last century is
enough to prove, even if we did not yet realise the fact, that
men are governed by their mentalities far more than by the
institutions which their rulers endeavour to force upon them.
The successive revolutions which France has suffered have been
the consequences of struggles between two portions of the
nation whose mentalities are different. One is religious and
monarchical and is dominated by long ancestral influences; the
other is subjected to the same influences, but gives them a
From the commencement of the Revolution the struggle between
contrary mentalities was plainly manifested. We have seen that
in spite of the most frightful repression insurrections and
conspiracies lasted until the end of the Directory. They proved
that the traditions of the past had left profound roots in the
popular soul. At a certain moment sixty departments were in
revolt against the new Government, and were only repressed by
repeated massacres on a vast scale.
To establish some sort of compromise between the ancien
regime and the new ideals was the most difficult of the
problems which Bonaparte had to resolve. He had to discover
institutions which would suit the two mentalities into which
France was divided. He succeeded, as we have seen, by
conciliatory measures, and also by dressing very ancient things
in new names.
His reign was one of those rare periods of French history during
which the mental unity of France was complete.
This unity could not outlive him. On the morrow of his fall all
the old parties reappeared, and have survived until the present
day. Some attach themselves to traditional influences; others
violently reject them.
If this long conflict had been between believers and the
indifferent, it could not have lasted, for indifference is
always tolerant; but the struggle was really between two
different beliefs. The lay Church very soon assumed a religious
aspect, and its pretended rationalism has become, especially in
recent years, a barely attenuated form of the narrowest clerical
spirit. Now, we have shown that no conciliation is possible
between dissimilar religious beliefs. The clericals when in
power could not therefore show themselves more tolerant towards
freethinkers than these latter are to-day toward the clericals.
These divisions, determined by differences of belief, were
complicated by the addition of the political conceptions derived
from those beliefs.
Many simple souls have for long believed that the real history of
France began with the year I. of the Republic. This rudimentary
conception is at last dying out. Even the most rigid
revolutionaries renounce it, and are quite willing to
recognise that the past was something better than an epoch of
black barbarism dominated by low superstitions.
 We may judge of the recent evolution of ideas upon this
point by the following passage from a speech by M. Jaures,
delivered in the Chamber of Deputies: ``The greatness of to-day
is built of the efforts of past centuries. France is not
contained in a day nor in an epoch, but in the succession of all
days, all periods, all her twilights and all her dawns.''
The religious origin of most of the political beliefs held in
France inspires their adepts with an inextinguishable hatred
which always strikes foreigners with amazement.
``Nothing is more obvious, nothing is more certain,'' writes Mr.
Barret-Wendell, in his book on France, ``than this fact: that not
only have the royalists, revolutionaries, and Bonapartists
always been mortally opposed to one another, but that, owing to
the passionate ardour of the French character, they have always
entertained a profound intellectual horror for one another. Men
who believe themselves in possession of the truth cannot refrain
from affirming that those who do not think with them are
instruments of error.
``Each party will gravely inform you that the advocates of the
adverse cause are afflicted by a dense stupidity or are
consciously dishonest. Yet when you meet these latter, who will
say exactly the same things as their detractors, you cannot but
recognise, in all good faith, that they are neither stupid nor
This reciprocal execration of the believers of each party has
always facilitated the overthrow of Governments and ministers in
France. The parties in the minority will never refuse to ally
themselves against the triumphant party. We know that a great
number of revolutionary Socialists have been elected to the
present Chamber only by the aid of the monarchists, who are still
as unintelligent as they were at the time of the Revolution.
Our religious and political differences do not constitute the
only cause of dissension in France. They are held by men
possessing that particular mentality which I have already
described under the name of the revolutionary mentality. We have
seen that each period always presents a certain number of
individuals ready to revolt against the established order of
things, whatever that may be, even though it may realise all
The intolerance of the parties in France, and their desire to
seize upon power, are further favoured by the conviction, so
prevalent under the Revolution, that societies can be remade by
means of laws. The modern State, whatever its leader, has
inherited in the eyes of the multitudes and their leaders the
mystic power attributed to the ancient kings, when these latter
were regarded as an incarnation of the Divine will. Not only the
people is inspired by this confidence in the power of Government;
all our legislators entertain it also.
 After the publication of an article of mine concerning
legislative illusions, I received from one of our most eminent
politicians, M. Boudenot the senator, a letter from which I
extract the following passage: ``Twenty years passed in the
Chamber and the Senate have shown me how right you are. How many
times I have heard my colleagues say: `The Government ought to
prevent this, order that,' &c. What would you have? there are
fourteen centuries of monarchical atavism in our blood.''
Legislating always, politicians never realise that as
institutions are effects, and not causes, they have no virtue in
themselves. Heirs to the great revolutionary illusion, they do
not see that man is created by a past whose foundations we are
powerless to reshape.
The conflict between the principles dividing France, which has
lasted more than a century, will doubtless continue for a long
time yet, and no one can foresee what fresh upheavals it may
engender. No doubt if before our era the Athenians could have
divined that their social dissensions would have led to the
enslavement of Greece, they would have renounced them; but how
could they have foreseen as much? M. Guiraud justly writes: ``A
generation of men very rarely realises the task which it
is accomplishing. It is preparing for the future; but this
future is often the contrary of what it wishes.''
2. Summary of a Century's Revolutionary Movement in France.
The psychological causes of the revolutionary movements which
France has seen during the past century having been explained, it
will now suffice to present a summary picture of these successive
The sovereigns in coalition having defeated Napoleon, they
reduced France to her former limits, and placed Louis XVIII., the
only possible sovereign, on the throne.
By a special charter the new king accepted the position of a
constitutional monarch under a representative system of
government. He recognised all the conquests of the Revolution:
the civil Code, equality before the law, liberty of worship,
irrevocability of the sale of national property, &c. The right
of suffrage, however, was limited to those paying a certain
amount in taxes.
This liberal Constitution was opposed by the ultra-royalists.
Returned emigres, they wanted the restitution of the national
property, and the re-establishment of their ancient privileges.
Fearing that such a reaction might cause a new revolution, Louis
XVIII. was reduced to dissolving the Chamber. The election
having returned moderate deputies, he was able to continue to
govern with the same principles, understanding very well that any
attempt to govern the French by the ancien regime would be
enough to provoke a general rebellion.
Unfortunately, his death, in 1824, placed Charles X., formerly
Comte d'Artois, on the throne. Extremely narrow, incapable of
understanding the new world which surrounded him, and boasting
that he had not modified his ideas since 1789, he prepared a
series of reactionary laws--a law by which an indemnity of forty
millions sterling was to be paid to emigres; a law of sacrilege;
and laws establishing the rights of primogeniture, the
preponderance of the clergy, &c.
The majority of the deputies showing themselves daily more
opposed to his projects, in 1830 he enacted Ordinances dissolving
the Chamber, suppressing the liberty of the Press, and preparing
for the restoration of the ancien regime.
The effect was immediate. This autocratic action provoked a
coalition of the leaders of all parties. Republicans,
Bonapartists, Liberals, Royalists--all united in order to raise
the Parisian populace. Four days after the publication of the
Ordinances the insurgents were masters of the capital, and
Charles X. fled to England.
The leaders of the movement--Thiers, Casimir-Perier, La Fayette,
&c.--summoned to Paris Louis-Philippe, of whose existence the
people were scarcely aware, and declared him king of the French.
Between the indifference of the people and the hostility of the
nobles, who had remained faithful to the legitimate dynasty, the
new king relied chiefly upon the bourgeoisie. An electoral law
having reduced the electors to less than 200,000, this class
played an exclusive part in the government.
The situation of the sovereign was not easy. He had to struggle
simultaneously against the legitimist supporters of Henry
V. the grandson of Charles X., and the Bonapartists, who
recognised as their head Louis-Napoleon, the Emperor's nephew,
and finally against the republicans.
By means of their secret societies, analogous to the clubs of the
Revolution, the latter provoked numerous riots at various
intervals between 1830 and 1840, but these were easily repressed.
The clericals and legitimists, on their side, did not cease their
intrigues. The Duchess de Berry, the mother of Henry V., tried
in vain to raise the Vendee. As to the clergy, their demands
finally made them so intolerable that an insurrection broke out,
in the course of which the palace of the archbishop of Paris was
The republicans as a party were not very dangerous, as the
Chamber sided with the king in the struggle against them. The
minister Guizot, who advocated a strong central power, declared
that two things were indispensable to government--``reason and
cannon.'' The famous statesman was surely somewhat deluded as to
the necessity or efficacy of reason.
Despite this strong central power, which in reality was not
strong, the republicans, and above all the Socialists, continued
to agitate. One of the most influential, Louis Blanc, claimed
that it was the duty of the Government to procure work for every
citizen. The Catholic party, led by Lacordaire and Montalembert,
united with the Socialists--as to-day in Belgium--to oppose the
A campaign in favour of electoral reform ended in 1848 in a fresh
riot, which unexpectedly overthrew Louis-Philippe.
His fall was far less justifiable than that of Charles X. There
was little with which he could be reproached. Doubtless he was
suspicious of universal suffrage, but the French Revolution had
more than once been quite suspicious of it. Louis-Philippe not
being, like the Directory, an absolute ruler, could not, as the
latter had done, annul unfavourable elections.
A provisional Government was installed in the Hotel de Ville,
to replace the fallen monarchy. It proclaimed the Republic,
established universal suffrage, and decreed that the people
should proceed to the election of a National Assembly of nine
From the first days of its existence the new Government found
itself the victim of socialistic manoeuvres and riots.
The psychological phenomena observed during the first Revolution
were now to be witnessed again. Clubs were formed, whose leaders
sent the people from time to time against the Assembly, for
reasons which were generally quite devoid of common sense--for
example, to force the Government to support an insurrection in
In the hope of satisfying the Socialists, every day more noisy
and exigent, the Assembly organised national workshops, in which
the workers were occupied in various forms of labour. In these
100,000 men cost the State more than L40,000 weekly. Their
claim to receive pay without working for it forced the Assembly
to close the workshops.
This measure was the origin of a formidable insurrection, 50,000
workers revolting. The Assembly, terrified, confided all
the executive powers to General Cavaignac. There was a four-days
battle with the insurgents, during which three generals and the
Archbishop of Paris were killed; 3,000 prisoners were deported by
the Assembly to Algeria, and revolutionary Socialism was
annihilated for a space of fifty years.
These events brought Government stock down from 116 to 50 francs.
Business was at a standstill. The peasants, who thought
themselves threatened by the Socialists, and the bourgeois,
whose taxes the Assembly had increased by half, turned against
the Republic, and when Louis-Napoleon promised to re-establish
order he found himself welcomed with enthusiasm. A candidate for
the position of President of the Republic, who according to the
new Constitution must be elected by the whole body of citizens,
he was chosen by 5,500,000 votes.
Very soon at odds with the Chamber, the prince decided on a coup
d'etat. The Assembly was dissolved; 30,000 persons were
arrested, 10,000 deported, and a hundred deputies were exiled.
This coup d'etat, although summary, was very favourably
received, for when submitted to a plebiscite it received
7,500,000 votes out of 8,000,000.
On the 2nd of November, 1852, Napoleon had himself named Emperor
by an even greater majority: The horror which the generality of
Frenchmen felt for demagogues and Socialists had restored the
In the first part of its existence it constituted an absolute
Government, and during the latter half a liberal Government.
After eighteen years of rule the Emperor was overthrown by the
revolution of the 4th of September, 1870, after the capitulation
Since that time revolutionary movements have been rare; the only
one of importance was the revolution of March, 1871, which
resulted in the burning of many of the monuments of Paris and the
execution of about 20,000 insurgents.
After the war of 1870 the electors, who, amid so many disasters,
did not know which way to turn, sent a great number of Orleanist
and legitimist deputies to the Constituent Assembly. Unable to
agree upon the establishment of a monarchy, they appointed M.
Thiers President of the Republic, later replacing him by Marshal
MacMahon. In 1876 the new elections, like all those that have
followed, sent a majority of republicans to the Chamber.
The various assemblies which have succeeded to this have always
been divided into numerous parties, which have provoked
innumerable changes of ministry.
However, thanks to the equilibrium resulting from this division
of parties, we have for forty years enjoyed comparative quiet.
Four Presidents of the Republic have been overthrown without
revolution, and the riots that have occurred, such as those of
Champagne and the Midi, have not had serious consequences.
A great popular movement, in 1888, did nearly overthrow the
Republic for the benefit of General Boulanger, but it has
survived and triumphed over the attacks of all parties.
Various reasons contribute to the maintenance of the present
Republic. In the first place, of the conflicting factions
none is strong enough to crush the rest. In the second place,
the head of the State being purely decorative, and possessing no
power, it is impossible to attribute to him the evils from which
the country may suffer, and to feel sure that matters would be
different were he overthrown. Finally, as the supreme power is
distributed among thousands of hands, responsibilities are so
disseminated that it would be difficult to know where to begin.
A tyrant can be overthrown, but what can be done against a host
of little anonymous tyrannies?
If we wished to sum up in a word the great transformations which
have been effected in France by a century of riots and
revolutions, we might say that individual tyranny, which was weak
and therefore easily overthrown, has been replaced by collective
tyrannies, which are very strong and difficult to destroy. To a
people avid of equality and habituated to hold its Governments
responsible for every event individual tyranny seemed
insupportable, while a collective tyranny is readily endured,
although generally much more severe.
The extension of the tyranny of the State has therefore been the
final result of all our revolutions, and the common
characteristic of all systems of government which we have known
in France. This form of tyranny may be regarded as a racial
ideal, since successive upheavals of France have only fortified
it. Statism is the real political system of the Latin peoples,
and the only system that receives all suffrages. The other forms
of government--republic, monarchy, empire--represent empty
labels, powerless shadows.
THE RECENT EVOLUTION OF THE REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES
THE PROGRESS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEFS SINCE THE REVOLUTION
1. Gradual Propagation of Democratic Ideas after the Revolution.
Ideas which are firmly established, incrusted, as it were, in
men's minds, continue to act for several generations. Those
which resulted from the French Revolution were, like others,
subject to this law.
Although the life of the Revolution as a Government was short,
the influence of its principles was, on the contrary, very long-
lived. Becoming a form of religious belief, they profoundly
modified the orientation of the sentiments and ideas of several
Despite a few intervals, the French Revolution has continued up
to the present, and still survives. The role of Napoleon
was not confined to overturning the world, changing the map of
Europe, and remaking the exploits of Alexander. The new rights
of the people, created by the Revolution and established by its
institutions, have exercised a profound influence. The military
work of the conqueror was soon dissolved, but the revolutionary
principles which he contributed to propagate have survived him.
The various restorations which followed the Empire caused men at
first to become somewhat forgetful of the principles of the
Revolution. For fifty years this propagation was far from rapid.
One might almost have supposed that the people had forgotten
them. Only a small number of theorists maintained their
influence. Heirs to the ``simplicist'' spirit of the Jacobins,
believing, like them, that societies can be remade from top to
bottom by the laws, and persuaded that the Empire had only
interrupted the task of revolution, they wished to resume it.
While waiting until they could recommence, they attempted to
spread the principles of the Revolution by means of their
writings. Faithful imitators of the men of the Revolution, they
never stopped to ask if their schemes for reform were in
conformity with human nature. They too were erecting a
chimerical society for an ideal man, and were persuaded that the
application of their dreams would regenerate the human species.
Deprived of all constructive power, the theorists of all the ages
have always been very ready to destroy. Napoleon at St. Helena
stated that ``if there existed a monarchy of granite the
idealists and theorists would manage to reduce it to powder.''
Among the galaxy of dreamers such as Saint-Simon, Fourier, Pierre
Leroux, Louis Blanc, Quinet, &c., we find that only Auguste Comte
understood that a transformation of manners and ideas must
precede political reorganisation.
Far from favouring the diffusion of democratic ideas, the
projects of reform of the theorists of this period merely impeded
their progress. Communistic Socialism, which several of
them professed would restore the Revolution, finally alarmed the
bourgeoisie and even the working-classes. We have already seen
that the fear of their ideas was one of the principal causes of
the restoration of the Empire.
If none of the chimerical lucubrations of the writers of the
first half of the nineteenth century deserve to be discussed, it
is none the less interesting to examine them in order to observe
the part played by religious and moral ideas which to-day are
regarded with contempt. Persuaded that a new society could not,
any more than the societies of old, be built up without religious
and moral beliefs, the reformers were always endeavouring to
found such beliefs.
But on what could they be based? Evidently on reason. By means
of reason men create complicated machines: why not therefore a
religion and a morality, things which are apparently so simple?
Not one of them suspected the fact that no religious or moral
belief ever had rational logic as its basis. Auguste Comte saw
no more clearly. We know that he founded a so-called positivist
religion, which still has a few followers. Scientists were to
form a clergy directed by a new Pope, who was to replace the
All these conceptions--political, religious, or moral--had, I
repeat, no other results for a long time than to turn the
multitude away from democratic principles.
If these principles did finally become widespread, it was not on
account of the theorists, but because new conditions of life had
arisen. Thanks to the discoveries of science, industry developed
and led to the erection of immense factories. Economic
necessities increasingly dominated the wills of Governments and
the people and finally created a favourable soil for the
extension of Socialism, and above all of Syndicalism, the modern
forms of democratic ideas.
2. The Unequal Influence of the Three Fundamental Principles of
The heritage of the Revolution is summed up in its entirety in
the one phrase--Liberty, equality, and Fraternity. The
principle of equality, as we have seen, has exerted a powerful
influence, but the two others did not share its lot.
Although the sense of these terms seems clear enough, they were
comprehended in very different fashions according to men and
times. We know that the various interpretation of the same words
by persons of different mentality has been one of the most
frequent causes of the conflicts of history.
To the member of the Convention liberty signified merely the
exercise of its unlimited despotism. To a young modern
``intellectual'' the same word means a general release from
everything irksome: tradition, law, superiority, &c. To the
modern Jacobin liberty consists especially in the right to
persecute his adversaries.
Although political orators still occasionally mention liberty in
their speeches, they have generally ceased to evoke fraternity.
It is the conflict of the different classes and not their
alliance that they teach to-day. Never did a more profound
hatred divide the various strata of society and the political
parties which lead them.
But while liberty has become very doubtful and fraternity has
completely vanished, the principle of equality has grown
unchecked. It has been supreme in all the political upheavals of
which France has been the stage during the last century, and has
reached such a development that our political and social life,
our laws, manners, and customs are at least in theory based on
this principle. It constitutes the real legacy of the
Revolution. The craving for equality, not only before the law,
but in position and fortune, is the very pivot of the last
product of democracy: Socialism. This craving is so powerful
that it is spreading in all directions, although in contradiction
with all biological and economic laws. It is a new phase of the
interrupted struggle of the sentiments against reason, in which
reason so rarely triumphs.
2. The Democracy of the ``Intellectuals'' and Popular Democracy.
All ideas that have hitherto caused an upheaval of the world of
men have been subject to two laws: they evolve slowly, and they
completely change their sense according to the mentalities in
which they find reception.
A doctrine may be compared to a living being. It subsists only
by process of transformation. The books are necessarily silent
upon these variations, so that the phase of things which they
establish belongs only to the past. They do not reflect the
image of the living, but of the dead. The written statement of a
doctrine often represents the most negligible side of that
I have shown in another work how institutions, arts, and
languages are modified in passing from one people to another, and
how the laws of these transformations differ from the truth as
stated in books. I allude to this matter now merely to show why,
in examining the subject of democratic ideas, we occupy ourselves
so little with the text of doctrines, and seek only for the
psychological elements of which they constitute the vestment, and
the reactions which they provoke in the various categories of men
who have accepted them.
Modified rapidly by men of different mentalities, the original
theory is soon no more than a label which denotes something quite
Applicable to religious beliefs, these principles are equally so
to political beliefs. When a man speaks of democracy, for
example, must we inquire what this word means to various peoples,
and also whether in the same people there is not a great
difference between the democracy of the ``intellectuals'' and
In confining ourselves now to the consideration of this latter
point we shall readily perceive that the democratic ideas to be
found in books and journals are purely the theories of literary
people, of which the people know nothing, and by the application
of which they would have nothing to gain. Although the working-
man possesses the theoretical right of passing the barriers which
separate him from the upper classes by a whole series of
competitions and examinations, his chance of reaching them is in
reality extremely slight.
The democracy of the lettered classes has no other object than to
set up a selection which shall recruit the directing classes
exclusively from themselves. I should have nothing to say
against this if the selection were real. It would then
constitute the application of the maxim of Napoleon: ``The true
method of government is to employ the aristocracy, but under the
forms of democracy.''
Unhappily the democracy of the ``intellectuals'' would simply
lead to the substitution of the Divine right of kings by the
Divine right of a petty oligarchy, which is too often narrow and
tyrannical. Liberty cannot be created by replacing a tyranny.
Popular democracy by no means aims at manufacturing rulers.
Dominated entirely by the spirit of equality and the desire to
ameliorate the lot of the workers, it rejects the idea of
fraternity, and exhibits no anxiety in respect of liberty. No
government is conceivable to popular democracy except in the form
of an autocracy. We see this, not only in history, which shows
us that since the Revolution all despotic Governments have been
vigorously acclaimed, but also in the autocratic fashion in which
the workers' trades unions are conducted.
This profound distinction between the democracy of the lettered
classes and popular democracy is far more obvious to the workers
than to the intellectuals. In their mentalities there is nothing
in common; the two classes do not speak the same language. The
syndicalists emphatically assert to-day that no alliance could
possibly exist between them and the politicians of the
bourgeoisie. This assertion is strictly true.
It was always so, and this, no doubt, is why popular
democracy, from Plato's to our own times, has never been defended
by the great thinkers.
This fact has greatly struck Emile Faguet. ``Almost all the
thinkers of the nineteenth century,'' he says, ``were not
democrats. When I was writing my Politiques et moralistes du
XIXe siecle this was my despair. I could not find one who had
been a democrat; yet I was extremely anxious to find one so that
I could give the democratic doctrine as formulated by him.''
The eminent writer might certainly have found plenty of
professional politicians, but these latter rarely belong to the
category of thinkers.
2. Natural Inequalities and Democratic Equalisation.
The difficulty of reconciling democratic equalisation with
natural inequalities constitutes one of the most difficult
problems of the present hour. We know what are the desires of
democracy. Let us see what Nature replies to these demands.
The democratic ideas which have so often shaken the world from
the heroic ages of Greece to modern times are always clashing
with natural inequalities. Some observers have held, with
Helvetius, that the inequality between men is created by
As a matter of fact, Nature does not know such a thing as
equality. She distributes unevenly genius, beauty, health,
vigour, intelligence, and all the qualities which confer on their
possessors a superiority over their fellows.
No theory can alter these discrepancies, so that democratic
doctrines will remain confined to words until the laws of
heredity consent to unify the capacities of men.
Can we suppose that societies will ever succeed in establishing
artificially the equality refused by Nature?
A few theorists have believed for a long time that education
might effect a general levelling. Many years of experience have
shown the depth of this illusion.
It would not, however, be impossible for a triumphant Socialism
to establish equality for a time by rigorously eliminating all
superior individuals. One can easily foresee what would become
of a people that had suppressed its best individuals while
surrounded by other nations progressing by means of their best
Not only does Nature not know equality, but since the beginning
of the ages she has always realised progress by means of
successive differentiations--that is to say, by increasing
inequalities. These alone could raise the obscure cell of the
early geological periods to the superior beings whose inventions
were to change the face of the earth.
The same phenomenon is to be observed in societies. The forms of
democracy which select the better elements of the popular classes
finally result in the creation of an intellectual aristocracy, a
result the contrary of the dream of the pure theorists, to beat
down the superior elements of society to the level of the
On the side of natural law, which is hostile to theories of
equality, are the conditions of modern progress. Science and
industry demand more and more considerable intellectual
efforts, so that mental inequalities and the differences of
social condition which spring from them cannot but become
We therefore observe this striking phenomenon: as laws and
institutions seek to level individuals the progress of
civilisation tends still further to differentiate them. From the
peasant to the feudal baron the intellectual difference was not
great, but from the working-man to the engineer it is immense and
is increasing daily.
Capacity being the principal factor of progress, the capable of
each class rise while the mediocre remain stationary or sink.
What could laws do in the face of such inevitable necessities?
In vain do the incapable pretend that, representing number, they
also represent force. Deprived of the superior brains by whose
researches all workers profit, they would speedily sink into
poverty and anarchy.
The capital role of the elect in modern civilisation seems
too obvious to need pointing out. In the case of civilised
nations and barbarian peoples, which contain similar averages of
mediocrities, the superiority of the former arises solely from
the superior minds which they contain. The United States have
understood this so thoroughly that they forbid the immigration of
Chinese workers, whose capacity is identical with that of
American workers, and who, working for lower wages, tend to
create a formidable competition with the latter. Despite these
evidences we see the antagonism between the multitude and the
elect increasing day by day. At no period were the elect more
necessary, yet never were they supported with such difficulty.
One of the most solid foundations of Socialism is an intense
hatred of the elect. Its adepts always forget that scientific,
artistic, and industrial progress, which creates the strength of
a country and the prosperity of millions of workers, is due
solely to a small number of superior brains.
If the worker makes three times as much to-day as he did a
hundred years ago, and enjoys commodities then unknown to great
nobles, he owes it entirely to the elect.
Suppose that by some miracle Socialism had been universally
accepted a century ago. Risk, speculation, initiative--in a
word, all the stimulants of human activity--being suppressed, no
progress would have been possible, and the worker would have
remained as poor as he was. Men would merely have established
that equality in poverty desired by the jealousy and envy of a
host of mediocre minds. Humanity will never renounce the
progress of civilisation to satisfy so low an ideal.
THE RESULTS OF DEMOCRATIC EVOLUTION
1. The Influence upon Social Evolution of Theories of no
We have seen that natural laws do not agree with the aspirations
of democracy. We know, also, that such a statement has never
affected doctrines already in men's minds. The man led by a
belief never troubles about its real value.
The philosopher who studies a belief must obviously discuss its
rational content, but he is more concerned with its influences
upon the general mind.
Applied to the interpretation of all the great beliefs of
history, the importance of this distinction is at once evident.
Jupiter, Moloch, Vishnu, Allah, and so many other divinities,
were, no doubt, from the rational point of view, mere illusions,
yet their effect upon the life of the peoples has been
The same distinction is applicable to the beliefs which prevailed
during the Middle Ages. Equally illusory, they nevertheless
exercised as profound an influence as if they had corresponded
If any one doubts this, let him compare the domination of the
Roman Empire and that of the Church of Rome. The first was
perfectly real and tangible, and implied no illusion. The
second, while its foundations were entirely chimerical, was fully
as powerful. Thanks to it, during the long night of the Middle
Ages, semi-barbarous peoples acquired those social bonds and
restraints and that national soul without which there is no
The power possessed by the Church proves, again, that the power
of certain illusions is sufficiently great to create, at least
momentarily, sentiments as contrary to the interests of the
individual as they are to that of society--such as the love of
the monastic life, the desire for martyrdom, the crusades, the
religious wars, &c.
The application to democratic and socialistic ideas of the
preceding considerations shows that it matters little that these
ideas have no defensible basis. They impress and influence men's
minds, and that is sufficient. Their results may be disastrous
in the extreme, but we cannot prevent them.
The apostles of the new doctrines are quite wrong in taking so
much trouble to find a rational basis for their aspirations.
They would be far more convincing were they to confine themselves
to making affirmations and awakening hopes. Their real strength
resides in the religious mentality which is inherent in the heart
of man, and which during the ages has only changed its object.
Later on we shall consider from a philosophical point of view
various consequences of the democratic evolution whose course we
see accelerating. We may say in respect of the Church in the
Middle Ages that it had the power of profoundly influencing the
mentality of men. Examining certain results of the
democratic doctrines, we shall see that the power of these is no
less than that of the Church.
2. The Jacobin Spirit and the Mentality created by Democratic
Existing generations have inherited, not only the revolutionary
principles but also the special mentality which achieves their
Describing this mentality when we were examining the Jacobin
spirit, we saw that it always endeavours to impose by force
illusions which it regards as the truth. The Jacobin spirit has
finally become so general in France and in other Latin countries
that it has affected all political parties, even the most
conservative. The bourgeoisie is strongly affected by it, and
the people still more so.
This increase of the Jacobin spirit has resulted in the fact that
political conceptions, institutions, and laws tend to impose
themselves by force. Syndicalism, peaceful enough in other
countries, immediately assumed in France an uncompromising and
anarchical aspect, which betrayed itself in the shape of riots,
sabotage, and incendiarism.
Not to be repressed by timid Governments, the Jacobin spirit
produces melancholy ravages in minds of mediocre capacity. At a
recent congress of railway men a third of the delegates voted
approval of sabotage, and one of the secretaries of the
Congress began his speech by saying: ``I send all saboteurs my
fraternal greeting and all my admiration.''
This general mentality engenders an increasing anarchy. That
France is not in a permanent state of anarchy is, as I have
already remarked, due to the fact that the parties by which she
is divided produce something like equilibrium. They are animated
by a mortal hatred for one another, but none of them is strong
enough to enslave its rivals.
This Jacobin intolerance is spreading to such an extent that the
rulers themselves employ without scruple the most revolutionary
tactics with regard to their enemies, violently persecuting any
party that offers the least resistance, and even despoiling it of
its property. Our rulers to-day behave as the ancient conquerors
used; the vanquished have nothing to hope from the victors.
Far from being peculiar to the lower orders, intolerance is
equally prominent among the ruling classes. Michelet remarked
long ago that the violence of the cultivated classes is often
greater than that of the people. It is true that they do not
break the street lamps, but they are ready enough to cause heads
to be broken. The worst violence of the revolution was the work
of cultivated bourgeoisie--professors, lawyers, &c., possessors
of that classical education which is supposed to soften the
manners. It has not done so in these days, any more than it did
of old. One can make sure of this by reading the advanced
journals, whose contributors and editors are recruited chiefly
from among the professors of the University.
Their books are as violent as their articles, and one wonders how
such favourites of fortune can have secreted such stores of
One would find it hard to credit them did they assure us that
they were consumed by an intense passion for altruism. One
might more readily admit that apart from a narrow religious
mentality the hope of being remarked by the mighty ones of the
day, or of creating a profitable popularity, is the only
possible explanation of the violence recommended in their
I have already, in one of my preceding works, cited some passages
from a book written by a professor at the College of France, in
which the author incites the people to seize upon the riches of
the bourgeoisie, whom he furiously abuses, and have arrived at
the conclusion that a new revolution would readily find among the
authors of such books the Marats, Robespierres, and Carriers whom
it might require.
The Jacobin religion--above all in its Socialist form--has all
the power of the ancient faiths over feeble minds Blinded by
their faith, they believe that reason is their guide, but are
really actuated solely by their passions and their dreams.
The evolution of democratic ideas has thus produced not only the
political results already mentioned, but also a considerable
effect upon the mentality of modern men.
If the ancient dogmas have long ago exhausted their power, the
theories of democracy are far from having lost theirs, and we see
their consequences increasing daily. One of the chief results
has been the general hatred of superiority.
This hatred of whatever passes the average in social fortune or
intelligence is to-day general in all classes, from the working-
classes to the upper strata of the bourgeoisie. The results
are envy, detraction, and a love of attack, of raillery, of
persecution, and a habit of attributing all actions to low
motives, of refusing to believe in probity, disinterestedness,
Conversation, among the people as among the most cultivated
Frenchmen, is stamped with the craze for abasing and abusing
everything and everyone. Even the greatest of the dead do not
escape this tendency. Never were so many books written to
depreciate the merit of famous men, men who were formerly
regarded as the most precious patrimony of their country.
Envy and hatred seem from all time to have been inseparable from
democratic theories, but the spread of these sentiments has never
been so great as to-day. It strikes all observers.
``There is a low demagogic instinct,'' writes M. Bourdeau,
``without any moral inspiration, which dreams of pulling humanity
down to the lowest level, and for which any superiority, even of
culture, is an offence to society. . . it is the sentiment of
ignoble equality which animated the Jacobin butchers when they
struck off the head of a Lavoisier or a Chenier.
This hatred of superiority, the most prominent element in the
modern progress of Socialism, is not the only characteristic of
the new spirit created by democratic ideas.
Other consequences, although indirect, are not less profound.
Such, for example, are the progress of ``statism,'' the
diminution of the power of the bourgeoisie, the increasing
activity of financiers, the conflict of the classes, the
vanishing of the old social constraints, and the degradation
All these effects are displayed in a general insubordination and
anarchy. The son revolts against the father, the employee
against his patron, the soldier against his officers.
Discontent, hatred, and envy reign throughout.
A social movement which continues is necessarily like a machine
in movement which accelerates its motion. We shall therefore
find that the results of this mentality will become yet more
important. It is betrayed from time to time by incidents whose
gravity is daily increasing--railway strikes, postmen's strikes,
explosions on board ironclads, &c. A propos of the destruction
of the Liberte, which cost more than two million pounds and
slew two hundred men in the space of a minute, an ex-Minister of
Marine, M. de Lanessan, expresses himself as follows:--
''The evil that is gnawing at our fleet is the same as that which
is devouring our army, our public administrations, our
parliamentary system, our governmental system, and the whole
fabric of our society. This evil is anarchy--that is to say,
such a disorder of minds and things that nothing is done as
reason would dictate, and no one behaves as his professional or
moral duty should require him to behave.''
On the subject of the catastrophe of the Liberte, which
followed that of the Iena, M. Felix Roussel said, in a
speech delivered as president of the municipal council of
``The causes of the evil are not peculiar to our day. The evil
is more general, and bears a triple name: irresponsibility,
indiscipline, and anarchy.''
These quotations, which state facts with which everyone is
familiar, show that the staunchest upholders of the republican
system themselves recognise the progress of social
disorganisation. Everyone sees it, while he is conscious of
his own impotence to change anything. It results, in fact, from
mental influences whose power is greater than that of our wills.
 This disorder is the same in all the Government departments
Interesting examples will be found in a report of M. Dausset to
the Municipal Council:--
``The service of the public highways, which ought above all to be
noted for its rapid execution, is, on the contrary, the very type
of red-tape, bureaucratic, and ink-slinging administration,
possessing men and money and wasting both in tasks which are
often useless, for lack of order, initiative, and method--in a
word, of organisation.
Speaking then of the directors of departments, each of whom works
as he pleases, and after his own fashion, he adds:--
``These important persons completely ignore one another; they
prepare and execute their plans without knowing anything of what
their neighbours are doing; there is no one above them to group
and co-ordinate their work.'' This is why a road is often torn
up, repaired, and then torn up again a few days later, because
the departments dealing with the supply of water, gas,
electricity, and the sewers are mutually jealous, and never
attempt to work together. This anarchy and indiscipline
naturally cost enormous sums of money, and a private firm which
operated in this manner would soon find itself bankrupt.
3. Universal Suffrage and its Representatives.
Among the dogmas of democracy perhaps the most fundamental of all
and the most attractive is that of universal suffrage. It gives
the masses the idea of equality, since for a moment at least rich
and poor, learned and ignorant, are equal before the electoral
urn. The minister elbows the least of his servants, and during
this brief moment the power of one is as great as the others.
All Governments, including that of the Revolution, have feared
universal suffrage. At a first glance, indeed, the objections
which suggests themselves are numerous. The idea that the
multitude could usefully choose the men capable of governing,
that individuals of indifferent morality, feeble knowledge, and
narrow minds should possess, by the sole fact of number, a
certain talent for judging the candidate proposed for its
selection is surely a shocking one.
From a rational point of view the suffrage of numbers is to a
certain extent justified if we think with Pascal.
``Plurality is the best way, because it is visible and has
strength to make itself obeyed; it is, however, the advice of the
As universal suffrage cannot in our times be replaced by any
other institution, we must accept it and try to adapt it. It is
accordingly useless to protest against it or to repeat with the
queen Marie Caroline, at the time of her struggle with Napoleon:
``Nothing is more dreadful than to govern men in this enlightened
century, when every cobbler reasons and criticises the
To tell the truth, the objections are not always as great as they
appear. The laws of the psychology of crowds being admitted, it
is very doubtful whether a limited suffrage would give a much
better choice of men than that obtained by universal suffrage.
These same psychological laws also show us that so-called
universal suffrage is in reality a pure fiction. The crowd, save
in very rare cases, has no opinion but that of its leaders.
Universal suffrage really represents the most limited of
There justly resides its real danger. Universal suffrage is made
dangerous by the fact that the leaders who are its masters are
the creatures of little local committees analogous to the clubs
of the Revolution. The leader who canvasses for a mandate is
chosen by them.
Once nominated, he exercises an absolute local power, on
condition of satisfying the interests of his committees. Before
this necessity the general interest of the country disappears
almost totally from the mind of the elected representative.
Naturally the committees, having need of docile servants, do not
choose for this task individuals gifted with a lofty intelligence
nor, above all, with a very high morality. They must have men
without character, without social position, and always docile.
By reason of these necessities the servility of the deputy in
respect of these little groups which patronise him, and without
which he would be no one, is absolute. He will speak and vote
just as his committee tells him. His political ideal may be
expressed in a few words: it is to obey, that he may retain his
Sometimes, rarely indeed, and only when by name or position or
wealth he has a great prestige, a superior character may impose
himself upon the popular vote by overcoming the tyranny of the
impudent minorities which constitute the local committees.
Democratic countries like France are only apparently governed by
universal suffrage. For this reason is it that so many measures
are passed which do not interest the people and which the people
never demanded. Such were the purchase of the Western railways,
the laws respecting congregations, &c. These absurd
manifestations merely translated the demands of fanatical local
committees, and were imposed upon deputies whom they had chosen.
We may judge of the influence of these committees when we see
moderate deputies forced to patronise the anarchical
destroyers of arsenals, to ally themselves with anti-militarists,
and, in a word, to obey the most atrocious demands in order to
ensure re-election. The will of the lowest elements of democracy
has thus created among the elected representatives manners and a
morality which we can but recognise are of the lowest. The
politician is the man in public employment, and as Nietzsche
``Where public employment begins there begins also the clamour of
the great comedians and the buzzing of venomous flies. . . . The
comedian always believes in that which makes him obtain his best
effects, in that which impels the people to believe in him. To-
morrow he will have a new faith, and the day after to-morrow yet
another. . . . All that is great has its being far from public
employment and glory.''
4. The Craving for Reforms.
The craze for reforms imposed suddenly by means of decrees is one
of the most disastrous conceptions of the Jacobin spirit, one of
the formidable legacies left by the Revolution. It is among the
principal factors of all the incessant political upheavals of the
last century in France.
One of the psychological causes of this intense thirst for
reforms arises from the difficulty of determining the real causes
of the evils complained of. The need of explanation creates
fictitious causes of the simplest nature. Therefore the remedies
also appear simple.
For forty years we have incessantly been passing reforms, each of
which is a little revolution in itself. In spite of all these,
or rather because of them, the French have evolved almost
as little as any race in Europe.
The slowness of our actual evolution may be seen if we compare
the principal elements of our social life--commerce, industry,
&c.--with those of other nations. The progress of other
nations--of the Germans especially--then appears enormous, while
our own has been very slow.
Our administrative, industrial, and commercial organisation is
considerably out of date, and is no longer equal to our new
needs. Our industry is not prospering; our marine is declining.
Even in our own colonies we cannot compete with foreign
countries, despite the enormous pecuniary subventions accorded by
the State. M. Cruppi, an ex-Minister of Commerce, has insisted
on this melancholy decline in a recent book. Falling into the
usual errors, he believed it easy to remedy this inferiority by
All politicians share the same opinion, which is why we progress
so slowly. Each party is persuaded that by means of reforms all
evils could be remedied. This conviction results in struggles
such as have made France the most divided country in the world
and the most subject to anarchy.
No one yet seems to understand that individuals and their
methods, not regulations, make the value of a people. The
efficacious reforms are not the revolutionary reforms but the
trifling ameliorations of every day accumulated in course of
time. The great social changes, like the great geological
changes, are effected by the daily addition of minute causes.
The economic history of Germany during the last forty
years proves in a striking manner the truth of this law.
Many important events which seem to depend more or less on
hazard--as battles, for example--are themselves subject to this
law of the accumulation of small causes. No doubt the decisive
struggle is sometimes terminated in a day or less, but many
minute efforts, slowly accumulated, are essential to victory. We
had a painful experience of this in 1870, and the Russians have
learned it more recently. Barely half an hour did Admiral Togo
need to annihilate the Russian fleet, at the battle of Tsushima,
which finally decided the fate of Japan, but thousands of little
factors, small and remote, determined that success. Causes not
less numerous engendered the defeat of the Russians--a
bureaucracy as complicated as ours, and as irresponsible;
lamentable material, although paid for by its weight in gold; a
system of graft at every degree of the social hierarchy, and
general indifference to the interests of the country.
Unhappily the progress in little things which by their total make
up the greatness of a nation is rarely apparent, produces no
impression on the public, and cannot serve the interests of
politicians at elections. These latter care nothing for such
matters, and permit the accumulation, in the countries subject to
their influence, of the little successive disorganisations which
finally result in great downfalls.
5. Social Distinctions in Democracies and Democratic Ideas in
When men were divided into castes and differentiated chiefly by
birth, social distinctions were generally accepted as the
consequences of an unavoidable natural law.
As soon as the old social divisions were destroyed the
distinctions of the classes appeared artificial, and for that
reason ceased to be tolerated.
The necessity of equality being theoretical, we have seen among
democratic peoples the rapid development of artificial
inequalities, permitting their possessors to make for themselves
a plainly visible supremacy. Never was the thirst for titles and
decorations so general as to-day.
In really democratic countries, such as the United States, titles
and decorations do not exert much influence, and fortune alone
creates distinctions. It is only by exception that we see
wealthy young American girls allying themselves to the old names
of the European aristocracy. They are then instinctively
employing the only means which will permit a young race to
acquire a past that will establish its moral framework.
But in a general fashion the aristocracy that we see springing up
in America is by no means founded on titles and decorations.
Purely financial, it does not provoke much jealousy, because
every one hopes one day to form part of it.
When, in his book on democracy in America, Toqueville spoke of
the general aspiration towards equality he did not realise that
the prophesied equality would end in the classification of men
founded exclusively on the number of dollars possessed by them.
No other exists in the United States, and it will doubtless one
day be the same in Europe.
At present we cannot possibly regard France as a democratic
country save on paper, and here we feel the necessity, already
referred to, of examining the various ideas which in different
countries are expressed by the word ``democracy.''
Of truly democratic nations we can practically mention only
England and the United States. There, democracy occurs in
different forms, but the same principles are observed--notably, a
perfect toleration of all opinions. Religious persecutions are
unknown. Real superiority easily reveals itself in the various
professions which any one can enter at any age if he possesses
the necessary capacity. There is no barrier to individual
In such countries men believe themselves equal because all have
the idea that they are free to attain the same position. The
workman knows he can become foreman, and then engineer. Forced
to begin on the lower rungs of the ladder instead of high up the
scale, as in France, the engineer does not regard himself as made
of different stuff to the rest of mankind. It is the same in all
professions. This is why the class hatred, so intense in Europe,
is so little developed in England and America.
In France the democracy is practically non-existent save in
speeches. A system of competitions and examinations, which must
be worked through in youth, firmly closes the door upon the
liberal professions, and creates inimical and separate classes.
The Latin democracies are therefore purely theoretical. The
absolutism of the State has replaced monarchical absolutism, but
it is no less severe. The aristocracy of fortune has replaced
that of birth, and its privileges are no less considerable.
Monarchies and democracies differ far more in form than in
substance. It is only the variable mentality of men that varies
their effects. All the discussions as to various systems of
government are really of no interest, for these have no special
virtue of themselves. Their value will always depend on that of
the people governed. A people effects great and rapid progress
when it discovers that it is the sum of the personal efforts of
each individual and not the system of government that determines
the rank of a nation in the world.
THE NEW FORMS OF DEMOCRATIC BELIEF
1. The Conflict between Capital and Labour.
While our legislators are reforming and legislating at hazard,
the natural evolution of the world is slowly pursuing its course.
New interests arise, the economic competition between nation and
nation increases in severity, the working-classes are bestirring
themselves, and on all sides we see the birth of formidable
problems which the harangues of the politicians will never
Among these new problems one of the most complicated will be the
problem of the conflict between labour and capital. It is
becoming acute even in such a country of tradition as England.
Workingmen are ceasing to respect the collective contracts which
formerly constituted their charter, strikes are declared for
insignificant motives, and unemployment and pauperism are
attaining disquieting proportions.
In America these strikes would finally have affected all
industries but that the very excess of the evil created a remedy.
During the last ten years the industrial leaders have organised
great employers' federations, which have become powerful enough
to force the workers to submit to arbitration.
The labour question is complicated in France by the
intervention of numerous foreign workers, which the stagnation of
our population has rendered necessary. This stagnation will
also make it difficult for France to contend with her rivals,
whose soil will soon no longer be able to nourish its
inhabitants, who, following one of the oldest laws of history,
will necessarily invade the less densely peopled countries.
 Population of the Great Powers:--
Russia ... ... 28,000,000 129,000,000
Germany ... ... 28,000,000 57,000,000
Austria ... ... 18,000,000 44,000,000
England ... ... 12,000,000 40,000,000
France ... ... 26,000,000 39,000,000
These conflicts between the workers and employers of the same
nation will be rendered still more acute by the increasing
economic struggle between the Asiatics, whose needs are small,
and who can therefore produce manufactured articles at very low
prices, and the Europeans, whose needs are many. For twenty-five
years I have laid stress upon this point. General Hamilton, ex-
military attache to the Japanese army, who foresaw the
Japanese victories long before the outbreak of hostilities,
writes as follows in an essay translated by General Langlois:--
``The Chinaman, such as I have seen him in Manchuria, is capable
of destroying the present type of worker of the white races. He
will drive him off the face of the earth. The Socialists, who
preach equality to the labourer, are far from thinking what would
be the practical result of carrying out their theories. Is it,
then, the destiny of the white races to disappear in the long
run? In my humble opinion this destiny depends upon one
single factor: Shall we or shall we not have the good sense to
close our ears to speeches which present war and preparation for
war as a useless evil?
``I believe the workers must choose. Given the present
constitution of the world, they must cultivate in their children
the military ideal, and accept gracefully the cost and trouble
which militarism entails, or they will be let in for a cruel
struggle for life with a rival worker of whose success there is
not the slightest doubt. There is only one means of refusing
Asiatics the right to emigrate, to lower wages by competition,
and to live in our midst, and that is the sword. If Americans
and Europeans forget that their privileged position is held only
by force of arms, Asia will soon have taken her revenge.''
We know that in America the invasion of Chinese and Japanese,
owing to the competition between them and the workers of white
race, has become a national calamity. In Europe the invasion is
commencing, but has not as yet gone far. But already Chinese
emigrants have formed important colonies in certain centres--
London, Cardiff, Liverpool, &c. They have provoked several riots
by working for low wages. Their appearance has always lowered
But these problems belong to the future, and those of the present
are so disquieting that it is useless at the moment to occupy
ourselves with others.
2. The Evolution of the Working-Classes and the Syndicalist
The most important democratic problem of the day will perhaps
result from the recent development of the working-class
engendered by the Syndicalist or Trades Union movement.
The aggregation of similar interests known as Syndicalism has
rapidly assumed such enormous developments in all countries that
it may be called world-wide. Certain corporations have budgets
comparable to those of small States. Some German leagues have
been cited as having saved over three millions sterling in
The extension of the labour movement in all countries shows that
it is not, like Socialism, a dream of Utopian theorists, but the
result of economic necessities. In its aim, its means of action,
and its tendencies, Syndicalism presents no kinship with
Socialism. Having sufficiently explained it in my Political
Psychology, it will suffice here to recall in a few words the
difference between the two doctrines.
Socialism would obtain possession of all industries, and have
them managed by the State, which would distribute the products
equally between the citizens. Syndicalism, on the other hand,
would entirely eliminate the action of the State, and divide
society into small professional groups which would be
Although despised by the Syndicalists and violently attacked by
them, the Socialists are trying to ignore the conflict, but it is
rapidly becoming too obvious to be concealed. The political
influence which the Socialists still possess will soon escape
If Syndicalism is everywhere increasing at the expense of
Socialism, it is, I repeat, because this corporative movement,
although a renewal of the past, synthetises certain needs
born of the specialisation of modern industry.
We see its manifestations under a great variety of circumstances.
In France its success has not as yet been as great as elsewhere.
Having taken the revolutionary form already mentioned, it has
fallen, at least for the time being, into the hands of the
anarchists, who care as little for Syndicalism as for any sort of
organisation, and are simply using the new doctrine in an attempt
to destroy modern society. Socialists, Syndicalists, and
anarchists, although directed by entirely different conceptions,
are thus collaborating in the same eventual aim--the violent
suppression of the ruling classes and the pillage of their
The Syndicalist doctrine does not in any way derive from the
principles of Revolution. On many points it is entirely in
contradiction with the Revolution. Syndicalism represents rather
a return to certain forms of collective organisation similar to
the guilds or corporations proscribed by the Revolution. It thus
constitutes one of those federations which the Revolution
condemned. It entirely rejects the State centralisation which
the Revolution established.
Syndicalism cares nothing for the democratic principles of
liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Syndicalists demand of
their members an absolute discipline which eliminates all
Not being as yet strong enough to exercise mutual tyranny, the
syndicates so far profess sentiments in respect of one another
which might by a stretch be called fraternal. But as soon as
they are sufficiently powerful, when their contrary interests
will necessarily enter into conflict, as during the Syndicalist
period of the old Italian republics--Florence and Siena, for
example--the present fraternity will speedily be forgotten, and
equality will be replaced by the despotism of the most powerful.
Such a future seems near at hand. The new power is increasing
very rapidly, and finds the Governments powerless before it, able
to defend themselves only by yielding to every demand--an odious
policy, which may serve for the moment, but which heavily
compromises the future.
It was, however, to this poor recourse that the English
Government recently resorted in its struggle against the Miners'
Union, which threatened to suspend the industrial life of
England. The Union demanded a minimum wage for its members, but
they were not bound to furnish a minimum of work.
Although such a demand was inadmissible, the Government agreed to
propose to Parliament a law to sanction such a measure. We may
profitably read the weighty words pronounced by Mr. Balfour
before the House of Commons:--
``The country has never in its so long and varied history had to
face a danger of this nature and this importance.
``We are confronted with the strange and sinister spectacle of a
mere organisation threatening to paralyse--and paralysing in a
large measure--the commerce and manufactures of a community which
lives by commerce and manufacture.
``The power possessed by the miners is in the present state of
the law almost unlimited. Have we ever seen the like of it? Did
ever feudal baron exert a comparable tyranny? Was there
ever an American trust which served the rights which it holds
from the law with such contempt of the general interest? The
very degree of perfection to which we have brought our laws, our
social organisation, the mutual relation between the various
professions and industries, exposes us more than our predecessors
in ruder ages to the grave peril which at present threatens
society. . . . We are witnesses at the present moment of the
first manifestation of the power of elements which, if we are not
heedful, will submerge the whole of society. . . . The attitude
of the Government in yielding to the injunction of the miners
gives some appearance of reality to the victory of those who are
pitting themselves against society.''
3. Why certain modern Democratic Governments are gradually
being transformed into Governments by Administrative Castes.
Anarchy and the social conflicts resulting from democratic ideas
are to-day impelling some Governments towards an unforeseen
course of evolution which will end by leaving them only a nominal
power. This development, of which I shall briefly denote the
effects, is effected spontaneously under the stress of those
imperious necessities which are still the chief controlling power
The Governments of democratic countries to-day consist of the
representatives elected by universal suffrage. They vote laws,
and appoint and dismiss ministers chosen from themselves, and
provisionally entrusted with the executive power. These
ministers are naturally often replaced, since a vote will do
it. Those who follow them, belonging to a different
party, will govern according to different principles.
It might at first seem that a country thus pulled to and fro by
various influences could have no continuity or stability. But in
spite of all these conditions of instability a democratic
Government like that of France works with fair regularity. How
explain such a phenomenon?
Its interpretation, which is very simple, results from the fact
that the ministers who have the appearance of governing really
govern the country only to a very limited extent. Strictly
limited and circumscribed, their power is exercised principally
in speeches which are hardly noticed and in a few inorganic
But behind the superficial authority of ministers, without force
or duration, the playthings of every demand of the politician, an
anonymous power is secretly at work whose might is continually
increasing the administrations. Possessing traditions, a
hierarchy, and continuity, they are a power against which, as the
ministers quickly realise, they are incapable of struggling.
Responsibility is so divided in the administrative machine that a
minister may never find himself opposed by any person of
importance. His momentary impulses are checked by a network of
regulations, customs, and decrees, which are continually quoted
to him, and which he knows so little that he dare not infringe
 The impotence of ministers in their own departments has been
well described by one of them, M. Cruppi, in a recent book. The
most ardent wishes of the minister being immediately paralysed by
his department, he promptly ceases to struggle against it.
This diminution of the power of democratic Governments can
only develop. One of the most constant laws of history is that
of which I have already spoken: Immediately any one class
becomes preponderant--nobles, clergy, army, or the people--it
speedily tends to enslave others. Such were the Roman armies,
which finally appointed and overthrew the emperors; such were the
clergy, against whom the kings of old could hardly struggle; such
were the States General, which at the moment of Revolution
speedily absorbed all the powers of government, and supplanted
The caste of functionaries is destined to furnish a fresh proof
of the truth of this law. Preponderant already, they are
beginning to speak loudly, to make threats, and even to indulge
in strikes, such as that of the postmen, which was quickly
followed by that of the Government railway employees. The
administrative power thus forms a little State within the State,
and if its present rate of revolution continues it will soon
constitute the only power in the State. Under a Socialist
Government there would be no other power. All our revolutions
would then have resulted in stripping the king of his powers and
his throne in order to bestow them upon the irresponsible,
anonymous and despotic class of Government clerks.
To foresee the issue of all the conflicts which threaten to cloud
the future is impossible. We must steer clear of pessimism as of
optimism; all we can say is that necessity will always finally
bring things to an equilibrium. The world pursues its way
without bothering itself with our speeches, and sooner or later
we manage to adapt ourselves to the variations of our
environment. The difficulty is to do so without too much
friction, and above all to resist the chimerical conceptions of
dreamers. Always powerless to re-organise the world, they have
often contrived to upset it.
Athens, Rome, Florence, and many other cities which formerly
shone in history, were victims of these terrible theorists. The
results of their influence has always been the same--anarchy,
dictatorship, and decadence.
But such lessons will not affect the numerous Catilines of the
present day. They do not yet see that the movements unchained by
their ambitions threaten to submerge them. All these Utopians
have awakened impossible hopes in the mind of the crowd, excited
their appetites, and sapped the dykes which have been slowly
erected during the centuries to restrain them.
The struggle of the blind multitudes against the elect is one of
the continuous facts of history, and the triumph of popular
sovereignties without counterpoise has already marked the end of
more than one civilisation. The elect create, the plebs
destroys. As soon as the first lose their hold the latter begins
its precious work.
The great civilisations have only prospered by dominating their
lower elements. It is not only in Greece that anarchy,
dictatorship, invasion, and, finally, the loss of independence
has resulted from the despotism of a democracy. Individual
tyranny is always born of collective tyranny. It ended the first
cycle of the greatness of Rome; the Barbarians achieved the
The principal revolutions of history have been studied in this
volume. But we have dealt more especially with the most
important of all--that which for more than twenty years
overwhelmed all Europe, and whose echoes are still to be heard.
The French Revolution is an inexhaustible mine of psychological
documents. No period of the life of humanity has presented such
a mass of experience, accumulated in so short a time.
On each page of this great drama we have found numerous
applications of the principles expounded in my various works,
concerning the transitory mentality of crowds and the permanent
soul of the peoples, the action of beliefs, the influence of
mystic, affective, and collective elements, and the conflict
between the various forms of logic.
The Revolutionary Assemblies illustrate all the known laws of the
psychology of crowds. Impulsive and timid, they are dominated by
a small number of leaders, and usually act in a sense contrary to
the wishes of their individual members.
The Royalist Constituent Assembly destroyed an ancient monarchy;
the humanitarian Legislative Assembly allowed the massacres of
September. The same pacific body led France into the most
There were similar contradictions during the Convention. The
immense majority of its members abhorred violence. Sentimental
philosophers, they exalted equality, fraternity, and liberty, yet
ended by exerting the most terrible despotism.
The same contradictions were visible during the Directory.
Extremely moderate in their intentions at the outset, the
Assemblies were continually effecting bloodthirsty coups
d'etat. They wished to re-establish religious peace, and
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