The relation of Liberalism to democracy
Rousseau's idea of the communal will
Rousseau and Hobbes
Rousseau as creator of the modern state reaction
The social contract and equality before the law
Rousseau's conception of right
Democracy and dictatorship
Rousseau's influence on the French Revolution
The Jacobins as will executors of the monarchy
The relation of Liberalism to democracy
Centralism. The "sun king" and the "sun nation." nationalism and democracy
The nation as the bearer of "the communal will." the new sovereign
Nationalism and the cult of the new state. The "national will." Napoleon as heir of the new state idea
The dream of the national omnipotence of the state
The changing of society
The citizen as soldier
The new dream of power
There is an essential difference between liberalism and democracy, based on two different conceptions of the relationship between man and society. Indeed, we have stated in advance that we have in view here solely the social and political trends of liberal and democratic thought, not the endeavours of the liberal and democratic parties, which frequently bear a relationship to their original ideals similar to that which the practical political efforts of the socialistic labor parties bear to socialism. Most of all, one must here beware of throwing liberalism into the same pot with the so-called "Manchester doctrines," as is frequently done.
The ancient wisdom of Protagoras, that man is the measure of all things, has weight for liberalism, also. On the basis of this doctrine it judges the social environment according as it furthers the natural development of the individual or is a hindrance to his personal freedom and Independence. Its conceptions of society are those of an organic process resulting from man's natural necessities and leading to free associations, which exist as long as they fulfil their purpose, and dissolve again when this purpose has become meaningless. The less this natural course of things is affected by forceful interference and mechanical regulation from outside, the freer and more frictionless will be all social procedure and the more fully can man enjoy the happiness of his personal freedom and independence.
From this point of view liberalism judged also the state and all forms of government. Its advocates believed, however, that government in certain matters cannot be entirely dispensed with. Yet they saw clearly that every form of government menaces man's freedom, hence they always endeavoured to guard the individual from the encroachments of governmental power and strove to confine this to the smallest possible field of activity. The administration of things always meant more to them than the government of men; hence, the state, for them, had a right to exist only as long as its functionaries strove merely to protect the personal safety of its citizens against forcible attacks. The state constitution of liberalism was, therefore, predominantly of a negative nature; the focal point of all the socialpolitical thought of its advocates was the largest possible degree of freedom for the individual.
In contradistinction to liberalism, the starting point of democracy was a collective conceptthe people, the community. But although this abstract concept on which the democratic ideal is founded could only lead to results disastrous to the independence of human personality, it was surrounded by the aureole of a fictitious concept of freedom, whose worth or unworth was yet to be proved. Rousseau, the real prophet of the modern democratic stateidea, in his Contrat social, had opposed "the sovereignty of the king" with "the sovereignty of the people." Thus the dominance of the people was for him the watchword of freedom against the tyranny of the old regime. This alone necessarily gave the democratic idea a great prestige; for no power is stronger than that which pretends to be founded on the principles of freedom.
Rousseau proceeded in his socialphilosophical speculations from the doctrine of the social contract, which he had taken over from the advocates of political radicalism in England; and it was this doctrine which gave his work the power to inflict such terrible wounds on royal absolutism in France. This is also the reason why there came to be current so many contradictory opinions concerning Rousseau and his teachings. Everyone knows to what a degree his ideas contributed to the overthrow of the old system and how strongly the men of the great revolution were influenced by his doctrines. But just because of that it is all too frequently overlooked that Rousseau was at the same time the apostle of a new political religion, whose consequences had just as disastrous effects on the freedom of men as had formerly the belief in the divine right of kings. In fact, Rousseau was one of the inventors of that new abstract state idea arising in Europe after the fetish worship of the state which found its expression in the personal and absolute monarch had reached its end.
Not unjustly Bakunin called Rousseau "the true creator of modern reaction." For was he not one of the spiritual fathers of that monstrous idea of an allruling, allinclusive, political providence which never loses sight of man and mercilessly stamps upon him the mark of its superior will? Rousseau and Hegel are -- each in his own way -- the two gatekeepers of modern state reaction, which is today, in fascism, preparing to climb to the highest pinnacle of its dominance. But the influence of the "citizen of Geneva" on the course of this development was by far the greater, for his works stirred public opinion in Europe more deeply than did Hegel's obscure symbolism.
Rousseau's ideal state is an artificial structure. Although he had learned from Montesquieu to explain the various state systems from the climatic environment of each people, he nevertheless followed in the footsteps of the alchemists of his time, who made every conceivable experiment with "the ignoble constituents of human nature" in the constant hope of some day pouring out from the crucible of their idle speculation the pure gold of the state founded on absolute reason. He was most positively convinced that it depended only on the right form of government or the best form of legislation to develop men into perfected beings. Thus he declares in his Confessions:
I found that politics was the first means for furthering morals; that, approach the matter as one may, the character of a people will always evolve according to the kind of government it has. In this respect, it seemed to me that the great question concerning the best form of the state can be reduced to this: how must the government be constituted to form a people into the most virtuous, the most enlightened, the wisest, in one word, the best, people in the fullest sense.
This idea is a characteristic starting point for democratic lines of thought in general, and is peculiarly indicative of Rousseau's mentality. Since democracy starts from a collective concept and values the individual accordingly, "man" became for its advocates an abstract being with whom they could continue to experiment until he should take on the desired mental norm and, as model citizen, be fitted to the forms of the state. Not without reason, Rousseau called the legislator "the mechanic who invents the machine." In fact there is about democracy something mechanical behind whose gearwheels man vanishes. But as democracy, even in Rousseau's sense, cannot function without man, it first stretches him on the bed of Procrustes that he may assume the mental pattern the state requires.
Just as Hobbes gave the absolute state a power embodied in the person of the monarch, against whom no right of the individual could exist, so Rousseau invented a phantom on which he conferred the same absolute rights. The "Leviathan" which he envisioned derived its fullness of power from a collective concept, the socalled "common will"the volonte general. But Rousseau's common will was by no means that will of all which is formed by adding each individual will to the will of all others, by this means reaching an abstract concept of the social will. No. Rousseau's common will is the immediate result of the "social contract" from which, according to his concept of political society, the state has emerged. Hence, the common will is always right, is always infallible, since its activity in all instances has the general good as a presumption.
Rousseau's idea springs from a religious fancy having its root in the concept of a political providence which, being endowed with the gifts of allwisdom and complete perfection, can consequently never depart from the right way. Every personal protest against the rule of such a providence amounts to political blasphemy. Men may err in the interpretation of the common will; for, according to Rousseau, "the people can never be bribed, but may often be misled!" The common will itself, however, remains unaffected by any false interpretations; it floats like the spirit of God over the waters of public opinion; and while this may stray from time to time into strange paths, it will always find its way back again to the centre of social equilibrium, as the misguided Jews to Jehovah. Starting from this speculative concept, Rousseau rejects every separate association within the state, because by such association the clear recognition of the common will is blurred.
The Jacobins, following in his footsteps, therefore threatened with death the first attempts of the French workers to associate themselves into trade guilds, and declared that the National Convention could tolerate no ;'state within the state" because by such associations the pure expression of the common will would be disturbed. Today Bolshevism in Russia, fascism in Germany and Italy, enforce the same doctrine and suppress all inconvenient separate associations, transforming those which they permit to exist into organs of the state.
Thus there grew from the idea of the common will a new tyranny, whose chains were more enduring because they were decorated with the false gold of an imaginary freedom, the freedom of Rousseau, which was just as meaningless and shadowy as was the famous concept of the common will. Rousseau became the creator of new idols to which man sacrificed liberty and life with the same devotion as once to the fallen gods of a vanished time. In view of the unlimited completeness of the power of a fictitious common will, any independence of thought became a crime; all reason, as with Luther, "the whore of the devil." For Rousseau, the state became also the creator and preserver of all morality, against which no other ethical concept could maintain itself. It was but a repetition of the same age-old bloody tragedy: God everything, man nothing!
There is much insincerity and glamorous shamfight in Rousseau's doctrine for which the explanation is perhaps found only in the man's shocking narrowness of mind and morbid mistrust. How much mischievous histication and hypocrisy is concealed in the words: "In order that the Social Contract may be no empty formula it tacitly impies that obtigation which alone can give force to all the others: namely, that anyone who aegses obedience to the general will is to be forced to it by the whole body. This merely means that he is to be compelled to be free." 1
"That he is to be compelled to be free!" -- the freedom of the state power's straitjacket! Could there be a worse parody of libertarian feeling than this? And the man whose sick brain bred such a monstrosity is even today praised as an apostle of freedom! But after all, Rousseau's concept is only the result of thoroughly doctrinaire thinking, which sacrifices every living thing to the mechanics of a theory, and whose representatives, with the obsessed determination of madmen, ride roughshod over human destinies as unconcernedly as if they were bursting bubbles. For real man, Rousseau had as little understanding as Hegel. His man was the artificial product of the retort, the homunculus of a political alchemist, responsive to all the demands the common will had prepared for him. He was master neither of his own life nor of his own thought. He felt, thought, acted, with the mechanical precision of a machine put in motion by a set of fixed ideas. If he lived at all, it was only by the grace of a political providence, so long as it found no offence in his personal existence.
For the social contract served the purposes of the contractors. Who wills the end wills also the means, and these means are inseparable from some danger, indeed, even from some loss. He who wishes to preserve his life at the expense of others must also be willing to sacrifice it for them when that becomes necessary. The citizen of a state is therefore no longer the judge concerning the danger to which he must expose himself at the demand of the law, and when the prince (state) says to him, "Thy death is necessary for the state," he must die, since it is only upon this condition that he has thus far lived in security, and his life is no longer merely a gift of nature, but is a conditional grant from the state. 2
What Rousseau calls freedom is the freedom to do that which the state, the guardian of the common will, prescribes for the citizen. It is the tuning of all human feeling to one note, the rejection of the rich diversity of life, the mechanical fitting of all effort to a designated pattern. To achieve this is the high task of the legislator, who with Rousseau plays the part of a political high priest, a part vouchsafed to him by the sanctity of his calling. It is his duty to correct nature, to transform man into a peculiar political creature no longer having anything in common with his original status.
He who possesses the courage to give a people institutions must be ready, as it were, to change human nature, to transform every individual, who by himself is a complete and separate whole, into a part of a greater whole from which this individual in a certain sense receives his life and character; to change the constitution of man in order to strengthen it, and to substitute for the corporeal and independent existence which we all have received from nature a merely partial and moral existence. In short, he must take from man his native individual powers and equip him with others foreign to his nature, which he cannot understand or use without the assistance of others. The more completely these natural powers are annihilated and destroyed and the greater and more enduring are the ones acquired, the more secure and the more perfect is also the constitution. 3
These words not only reveal the whole misanthropic character of this doctrine, but bring out more sharply the unbridgeable antithesis between the original doctrines of liberalism and the democracy of Rousseau and his successors. Liberalism, which emanates from the individual and sees in the organic development of all man's natural capacities and powers the essence of freedom, strives for a condition that does not hinder this natural course but leaves to the individual in greatest possible measure his individual life. To this thought Rousseau opposed the equality principle of democracy, which proclaims the equality of all citizens before the law. And since he quite correctly saw in the manifold and diverse factors in human nature a danger to the smooth functioning of his political machine, he strove to supplant man's natural being by an artificial substitute which was to endow the citizen with the capacity of functioning in rhythm with the machine.
This uncanny idea, aiming not merely at the complete destruction of the personality but really including also the complete abjuration of all true humanity, became the first assumption of a new reason of state, which found its moral justification in the concept of the communal will. Everything living congeals into a dead scheme; all organic function is replaced by the routine of the machine; political technique devours all individual lifejust as the technique of modern economics devours the soul of the producer. The most frightful fact is that we are not here dealing with the unforeseen results of a doctrine whose effects the inventor himself could not anticipate. With Rousseau everything happened consciously and with inherent logical sequence. He speaks about these things with the assurance of a mathematician. The natural man existed for him only until the conclusion of the social contract. With that his time was fulfilled. What has developed since then is but the product of society become the statethe political man. "The natural man is a whole in himself; he is the numerical unit, the absolute whole, which has relation y ship only to itself and to its equals. Man, the citizen, is only a partial unit, whose worth lies in its relation to the whole which constitutes the social body ". 4
It is one of the most curious phenomena that the same man who professed to despise culture and preached the "return to nature," the man s who for reasons of sentiment declined to accept the thought structure of the Encyclopaedists and whose writings released among his contemporaries such a deep longing for the simple natural lifeit is curious that this same man, as a state theoretician, violated human nature far more cruelly than the cruelest despot and staked everything on making it yield itself to the technique of the law.
It might be objected that liberalism likewise rests on a fictitious assumption, since it is difficult to reconcile personal freedom with the existing economic system. Without doubt the present inequality of economic interests and the resulting class conflicts in society are a continued danger to the freedom of the individual and lead inevitably to a steadily increasing enslavement of the working masses. However, the same is also true for the famous "equality before the law," on which democracy is based. Quite apart from the fact that the possessing classes have always found ways and means to corrupt the administration of justice and make it subservient to their ends, it is the rich and the privileged who make the laws today in all lands. But this is not the point: if liberalism fails to function practically in an economic system based on monopoly and class distinction, it is not because it has been mistaken in the correctness of its fundamental point of view, but because the undisturbed natural development of human personality is impossible in a system which has its root in the shameless exploitation of the great mass of the members of society. One cannot be free either politically or personally so long as one is in the economic servitude of another and cannot escape from this condition. This was recognised long ago by men like Godwin, Warren, Proudhon, Bakunin, and many others who subsequently reached the conviction that the dominion of man over man will not disappear until there is an end of the exploitation of man by man.
An "ideal state," however, such as Rousseau strove to achieve, would never make men free, even if they enjoyed the largest possible degree of equality of economic conditions. One creates no freedom by seeking to take from man his natural characteristics and to replace these by foreign; ones in order that he may function as the automaton of the common will. From the equality of the barracks no breath of freedom will ever blow. Rousseau's errorif one can, indeed, speak of errorlies in the starting point of his social theory. His idea of a fictitious common will was the Moloch which swallowed men.
While the political liberalism of Locke and Montesquieu strove for a separation of the functions of the state in order to limit the power of government and to protect the citizen from encroachment, Rousseau, on principle, rejected this idea and scoffed at philosophers who, considering the sovereignty of the state, "cannot divide it in principle, but wish to divide it in relation to its object." The Jacobins, consequently, acted quite in accordance with his views when they abolished the partition of powers laid down in the constitution and transferred to the Convention, besides the legislative, also the judicial function, thus facilitating the transition to the dictatorship of Robespierre and his adherents.
Likewise, the attitude of liberalism toward "the native and inalienable rights of men," as Locke states them and as they later on found expression in "the declaration of human rights," differs fundamentally from Rousseau's democratic concept. To the advocates of liberalism these rights constituted a separate sphere which no government could invade; it was the realm of man, which was to be protected from any regimentation by the state. Thus, they emphasised that there existed something apart from the state, and that this other was the most valuable and permanent part of life.
Quite different was Rousseau's position and that of the democratic movement in Europe founded on his doctrine, except as it was softened by ideal liberal viewsespecially in Spain and among the South German democrats of 184849. Even Rousseau spoke of "man's natural rights"; but in his view these rights had their root entirely in the state, and were prescribed for man by government. "One admits that by the social contract one gives up only that part of his power, his fortune and his freedom which the community needs, but one must also admit that only the sovereign can determine the necessity of the part to be yielded." 5
Hence, according to Rousseau, natural right is by no means a domain of man which lies outside the state's sphere of function; but rather this right exists only in the measure that the state finds it unobjectionable, and its limits are at all times subject to revision by the head of the state. Consequently, a personal right does not really exist. Whatever of private freedom the individual possesses he has, so to speak, as a loan from the state, which can at any time be renounced as void and withdrawn. It does not mean much when Rousseau tries to sweeten this bitter pill for the good citizen by stating:
All services which the citizen can render to the state he owes to it as soon as the state demands them On the other hand, the sovereign cannot load the citizen with chains useless to the community. Indeed, the sovereign cannot even desire this, for according to the laws of reason, just as according to the laws of nature, nothing happens without a cause.
A worse sophistry -- inherently insincere, as is apparent at the first glance -- designed to endow self-evident despotism with the halo of freedom can hardly be conceived. That according to the law of reason nothing happens without a cause is very comforting; but it is most unfortunate that it is not the citizen, but the head of the state, who determines this cause. When Robespierre delivered crowds of victims to the executioner for treatment he surely did not do so to give the good patriots practical instruction concerning the invention of Dr. Guillotine. Another cause animated him. He had as the goal of all statecraft the ideal structure of "the citizen of Geneva" in view. And since republican virtue did not spring up of itself among the lighthearted Parisians, he tried to help it on with Master Sanson's knife. If virtue will not appear voluntarily, one must hasten it by terror. The lawyer of Arras, therefore, had a motive worthy of his goal, and to reach this goal he took from man, in obedience to the mandate of the common will, the first and most important right," which includes all othersthe right to live.
Rousseau, who revered Calvin as a great statesman and who retained so much of his doctrinaire spirit, in the construction of his "social contract" undoubtedly had in view his native city, Geneva. Only in a small community of the type of the Swiss canton was it possible for the people to vote for all the laws in original assemblies and to regard the administration merely as the executive organ of the state. Rousseau recognised very clearly that a form of government such as he desired was not practical tor larger states. He even intended to follow The Social Contract with another work which was to deal with this question, but he never got to it. In his work, Considerations sur le governement de Pologne, he therefore admits delegates as representatives of the popular will, but he assigns to them only the role of functionaries in purely technical matters. Apart from the common will they can make effective no separate expression of their own will. Besides, he strove to mitigate the evils of representation by frequent changes of the representative body.
When Rousseau, in his discussions of the representative system, which contained many good ideas, mentions with approval the republican communities of antiquity, one must by no means infer from this that the ancient democracy was related to his own views. Even the civil law of the Romans recognised a whole series of personal liberties untouched by the guardianship Of the state. In the Greek cityrepublics, moreover, such a splendour of divinity, so also the lawgiver appears to the simple citizen in the aureole of a terrestrial providence which presides over the fate of all.
This belief is fatal not only to the common man of the people, but also to the chosen herald of the "common will." The very part which he has been given to play causes him to become constantly more estranged from actual life. As his whole thought and action are set on unison in all social matters, the dead gearwork of the machine, obedient to every pressure of the lever, gradually becomes for him the symbol of all perfection, behind which real life with its endless variety completely disappears. For this reason he feels every independent movement, every impulse emanating from the people themselves, as an antagonistic force dangerous to his artificially drawn circle. When this uncontrollable power which transcends all calculations of the statesman will not listen to reason, or even refuses to yield due obedience to the lawgiver, it must be silenced by force. This is done in the name of the "higher interests," which are always in question when something happens outside the range of bureaucratic habits. One feels oneself the chosen guardian of these higher interests, the living incarnation of that metaphysical common will, which has its uncanny existence in Rousseau's brain. In trying to harmonise all manifestations of social life with the tune of the machine, the lawgiver gradually becomes a machine. The man Robespierre once spoke great words against the institution of capital punishment; the dictator Robespierre made the guillotine "the altar of the fatherland," made it a means of purification of patriot virtue.
In reality the men of the Convention were not the inventors of political centralisation. They only continued after their fashion what the monarchy had left to them as an heirloom and developed to the utmost the tendency toward national unification. The French monarchy had since the time of Philip the Fair left no means untried for removing opposing forces in order to establish the political unity of the country under the banner of absolute monarchy. In doing this the supporters of royal power were not particular as to ways and means; treason, murder, forgery of documents, and other crimes were quite acceptable for them, if they promised success. The reigns of Charles V, Charles VII, Louis XI, Francis I, Henry II, are the most prominent milestones in the development of unlimited monarchy, which, after the preliminary labors of Mazarin and Richelieu, shone in fullest glory under Louis XIV.
This splendour of the "Sun King" filled all lands. An army of venal sycophants, poetasters, artists, living by the favour of the court, had as their special task to cause the fame of the megalomaniac despot to glow with brightest colours. French was spoken in all courts. All strove to be intellectually brilliant according to Parisian fashion and imitated French court manners and ceremonies. The most unimportant little despot in Europe was consumed by the sole aim of imitating Versailles, at least in miniature. Small wonder that a ruler entirely unaffected by any inferiority complex considered himself a demigod and was intoxicated by his own magnificence. But this blind devotion to the king's person gradually intoxicated the whole "nation," which venerated itself in the person of the king. As Gobineau significantly remarks:
France became in its own eyes the Sun Nation. The universe became a planetary system in which France, at least in its own opinion, had the first place. With other peoples it could have nothing in common except to shed light on them at its pleasure, for it was quite convinced that all were groping in the fog of densest darkness. France, however, was France, and as, in its view, all the rest of the world daily sank into a joyless distance, it gradually satisfied itself more and more with veritable Chinese ideas. Its vanity became a Chinese Great Wall. 6
The men of the Convention, therefore, not only took over the idea of political centralisation from the monarchy, but the cult which they carried on by means of the nation likewise had there its beginning. It is true, however, that in the age of Louis XIV the nation was considered to consist only of the privileged classes, the nobility, the clergy, the prosperous citizens; the great masses of the peasants and the city workers did not count.
It is related that Bonaparte, a few days before the coup d'etat had a talk with the Abbe Sieyesthen one of the five members of the Directory and on this occasion flung these words at the clever theologian who had weathered successfully all the storms of the revolution: "I have created the Great Nation!" Whereupon Sieyes smilingly replied: "Yes, because we had first created the Nation." The clever Abbe was right, and spoke with greater authority than Bonaparte. The nation had first to be born, or, as Sieyes so significantly said, to be created, before it could become great.
It is significant that it was Sieyes who at the beginning of the revolution gave the concept of the nation its modern meaning. In his essay, What Is the Third Estate? he raised and answered three questions of paramount importance: "What is the third estate? Everything. What has it been up to now in the political order of things?Nothing. What will it become? Something." But in order that the third estate might become something entirely new, suitable political conditions had first to be created in France. The bourgeoisie could become dominant only if the socalled "Estates General" was replaced by a national assembly based on a constitution. Hence the political unification of the nation was the first demand of the beginning revolution looking toward the dissolution of the Estates. The third estate felt itself ready, and Laclos declared in the Deliberations, to which the Duke of Orleans had only lent his name: "The Third Estate; that is the nation!"
In his essay Sieyes has described the nation as a "community of united individuals subject to the same law and represented by the same legislative body." But, influenced by the ideas of Rousseau, he extended the meaning of this purely technical definition and made the nation the original basis of all political and social institutions. Thus the nation became the actual embodiment of the common will in Rousseau's sense: "Her will is always lawful, for she is herself the embodiment of the law."
From this concept all other conclusions followed quite obviously. If the nation was the embodiment of the common will, then it had to be in its very nature one and indivisible. In this case, however, the national representative assembly had also to be one and indivisible, for it alone had the sacred task of interpreting the nation's will and making it intelligible to the citizens. Against the nation all separate efforts of the estates were futile; nothing could endure beside it, not even the separate organization of the church. Thus Mirabeau declared in the Assembly a few days after the memorable night of August 4th:
No national law has instituted the clergy as a permanent body in the state. No law has deprived the nation of the right to investigate whether the servants of religion should form a political corporation existing of itself and capable of acquiring and possessing. Could simple citizens by giving their possessions to the clergy and the clergy by receiving them give them the right to constitute themselves a separate order within the state? Could they rob the nation of the right to dissolve it? All the members of the clergy are merely officials of the state. The service of the clergy is a public function, just as the official and the soldier, so also the priest, is a servant of the nation.
Not without reason had the king's brother, the Comte d'Artois, with the rest of the royal princes, in his Memoirs presentes au Roi, etc., protested against the new role which had been assigned to the nation and warned the king that his approval of such ideas would inevitably lead to the destruction of the monarchy and the church, and of all privileges. Indeed, the practical consequences of this new concept were too plain to be misunderstood. If the nation as representative of the communal will stood above all and everything, then the king was nothing more than the highest official of the national state and the time was past, once and for all, when a "most Christian king" could say with Louis XIV: "The nation constitutes in France no corporation; it exists exclusively in the person of the king."
The court recognised very clearly the danger that hung over it and aroused itself to make some threatening gestures; but it was already too late. On the 16th of June, 1789, the representatives of the third estate, who had been joined by the lower clergy, on the motion of Abbe Sieyes declared themselves to be the National Assembly, with the argument that they constituted 96 percent of the nation anyhow, and that the other 4 percent were at any time free to join them. The storming of the Bastille and the march to Versailles soon gave this declaration the necessary revolutionary emphasis. With that the die was cast. An old faith was buried, giving place to a new. The "sovereignty of the king" had to strike its flag before the "sovereignty of the nation." The modern state was lifted from the baptismal font and anointed with the democratic oilfitted to achieve the importance assigned to it in the history of the modern era in Europe.
The situation was still not fully clarified, however, for in the National Assembly itself there was an influential section which recognised Mirabeau as its leader and with him advocated a socalled "kingdom of the people." These sought to rescue as much of the royal sovereignty as was possible under the circumstances. This became especially noticeable in the discussions concerning the formulation of "human and civil rights," where the disciples of Montesquieu and Rousseau stood often in sharp opposition. If the former could record a success when a majority of the Assembly declared for the representative system and the partition of powers, then the adherents of Rousseau had their success when the third article in the Declaration announced: "The principle of all sovereignty rests by its very nature in the nation. No corporation and no individual can exercise an authority which does not openly emanate from it."
It was true that the great masses of the people had little understanding of these differences of opinion in the bosom of the National Assembly; just as they have always been indifferent to the details of political theories ant programs. In this instance as in most, events themselves, especially the ever more apparent treachery of the court, contributed much more to the final solution of the question than the dry dogmatism of Rousseau's disciples. Anyway, the slogan, "the sovereignty of the nation" was short and impressive. Particularly, it brought the contrast between the new order of things and the old into the foreground of all discussion in revolutionary times a matter of great importance. After the royal family's unsuccessful attempt at flight, the internal situation became increasingly acute, until finally the storming of the Tuileries put an end to all half measures and the people's representatives entered seriously upon the discussion of the abolition of royalty. Manuel stated the whole problem in one sentence "It is not enough to have declared the dominance of the one and only true sovereign, the nation. We must also free it from the rivalry of the false sovereign, the king." And the Abbe Gregoire supported him, describing the dynasty as "generations living on human flesh," and declaring: "The friends of freedom must finally be given full security. We must destroy this talisman whose magic power can still darken the minds of many men. I demand the abolition of royalty by a solemn law."
The grim Abbe was not wrong; as a theologian he knew how intimately religion and politics are united. Of course the old talisman had to be broken in order that the simpleminded should no longer be led into temptation. But this could be done only by transferring its magic influence to another idol better fitted to man's need of faith and likely in its practical effects to prove stronger than the dying "divine right" of kings.
In the fight against absolutism the doctrine of the "common will" which found its expression in the "sovereignty of the people" proved a weapon of powerful revolutionary import. For that very reason we all too often forget that the great revolution introduced a new phase of religio-political dependence whose spiritual roots have by no means dried up. By surrounding the abstract concepts of the "Fatherland" and the "Nation" with a mystical aureole it created a new faith which could again work wonders. The old regime was no longer capable of miracles, for the atmosphere of the divine will which once surrounded it had lost its attraction and could no longer set the heart aglow with religious fervour.
The politically organised nation, however, was a new god whose magic powers were still unspent. Over his temple shone the promise-filled words, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," arousing in men the belief that the coming order was to bring them salvation. To this divinity France sacrificed the blood of her sons, her economic interests, her all. This new faith resounding in the souls of her citizens filled them with an enthusiasm which worked greater wonders than the best strategy of her generals.
The religious character of this powerful movement, under whose onset the old Europe fell in ruins, showed its full force only when royalty was totally abolished and the "sovereignty of the nation" no longer had a rival which looked back to the old traditions. The French historian, Mathiez, has demonstrated the details of this new cult impressively and has shown how in many of its manifestations it leans on Catholicism. 7
In an address of one of the Jacobin clubs to the mother society in Paris occurs the statement: "The Frenchman has no other divinity but the nation, the fatherland!" The fatherland, however, was "the new king with seven hundred and fortynine heads," as Proudhon called itthe new state, which served the nation as makeshift. For Jacobinism the state became the new national Providence, hence its fanatical zeal for the "one and indivisible Republic." For it would not do for others to dabble in the trade of the new Providence. Declared Danton, in September, I793, from the rostrum of the Convention:
They say that there are persons among us who are striving to dismember France. Let us eliminate these inharmonious ideas by proclaiming the death penalty for their originators. France must be an indivisible whole. There must be unity of representation. The citizens of Marseilles wish to grasp the hands of the citizens of Dunkirk. I demand the death penalty for those who would destroy the unity of France, and I move the Convention that we declare as the foundation of government unity of representation and administration.
Legislation, army, public education, press, clubs, assembliesall must serve to perfect the spiritual drill of the citizens, to make every brain conform to the new political religion. No exception was made of any movement, not even that of the Girondists, who had been reviled as federalists simply because their opponents knew such an accusation would arouse the patriots most violently against them. The Girondists had contributed to the deification of the nation no less than the men of the Mountain; had not one of their bestknown leaders, Isnard, given expression to this sentiment?"The French have become the elect people of the earth. Let us be concerned that their attitude shall justify their new destiny!" There was already in the minds of the representatives of "la grande nation" a premonition of Napoleon's victories.
A new priesthood had put in its appearancethe modern popular assembly. To it had been assigned the task of transmitting the "will of the nation" to the people, just as the earlier priests had transmitted to them "the will of God." Undoubtedly the revolution had swept away a rotten social order with an iron broom and given the people of Europe many glimpses of light for the future; but in the political field its results were, in spite of all revolutionary phraseology, entirely reactionary. It had strengthened the power idea anew, infused new life into prostrate authority, and chained man's will to freedom to a new religious dogma, against which it was sure to break its young wings.
The absolutism of royalty had fallen; but only to give place to a new absolutism even more implacable than the "divine right" of monarchy. The absolute principle of monarchy lay outside the citizen's sphere of activity, and was supported solely by the "grace of God," to whose will it allegedly gave expression. The absolute principle of the nation, however, made the least of mortals a cobearer of the common will, even while it denied him the right to interpret this according to his own understanding. Imbued by this thought every citizen from now on forged his own link in the chain of dependence which formerly some other had forged for him. The sovereignty of the nation steered everyone into the same path, absorbed every individual consideration, and replaced personal freedom by equality before the law.
Not without reason were Moses' tables of the law set up in the Convention as a symbol of the national will. Not without reason there hung upon the walls of the Assembly the fasces and ax of the lictors as the emblem of the One and Indivisible Republic. Thus was the man sacrificed to the citizen, individual reason to the alleged will of the nation. When the leading men of the revolution, animated by Rousseau's spirit, strove to destroy all natural associations in which the needs and impulses of men sought expression, they destroyed the root of all true association, transformed the people into the mob, and introduced that fateful process of social uprooting which was later speeded up and sharpened by the growing development of capitalistic economy.
Just as the "will of God" has always been the will of the priests who transmitted it and interpreted it to the people, so the "will of the nation" could be only the will of those who happened to have the reigns of public power in their hands and were, consequently, in a position to transmit and interpret the "common will" in their own way. This phenomenon need not necessarily be traced to inherent hypocrisy. Much more reasonably can we in this instance speak of "deceived deceivers"; for the more deeply the enunciators of the national will are convinced of the sacredness of their mission, the more disastrous are the results springing from their inherent honesty. There is deep significance in Sorel's remark: "Robespierre took his part seriously, but his part was an artificial one."
In the name of the nation the Convention outlawed the Girondists and sent their leaders to the scaffold; in the name of the nation Robespierre with Danton's help removed the Hebertists and the so-called "enrages" in the name of the nation Robespierre and SaintJust made the Dantonists "sneeze into the sack"; in the name of the nation the men of Thermidor removed Robespierre and his adherents; in the name of the nation Bonaparte made himself Emperor of the French.
Vergniaud maintained that the revolution was "a Saturn who swallowed his own children." This could be said with much more reason of the mystical principle of the sovereignty of the nation, whose priests constantly brought new sacrifices to it. In fact, the nation became a Moloch which could never be satisfied. Just as with all gods, here, too, religious veneration led to its inevitable result: the nation all, man nothing!
Everything appertaining to the nation took on a sacred character. In the smallest villages altars were erected to the fatherland and sacrifices were offered. The holidays of the patriots came to have the character of religious feasts. There were hymns, prayers, sacred symbols, solemn processions, patriotic relics, shrines of pilgrimage all to proclaim the glory of the fatherland. From now on the "glory of the nation" was spoken of as formerly the "glory of God." One deputy solemnly called the Declaration of the Rights of Man the "catechism of the nation." The Contrat Social of Rousseau became the "Bible of Liberty." Enthusiastic believers compared the Mountain of the Convention with Mount Sinai, on which Moses received the sacred tablets of the law. The Marseillaise became the Te Deum of the new religion. An intoxication of belief had overspread the land. Every critical consideration was submerged in the flood of feeling.
On November 5, 1793, Marie Joseph Chenier, brother of the unhappy poet, Andre Chenier, said to the assembled Convention:
If you have freed yourselves from all prejudices to prove yourselves the more worthy of the French nation, whose representatives you are, then you know how on the ruins of the dethroned superstitions can be founded the one natural religion, having neither sects nor mysteries. Her preachers are our legislators, her priests our executive officers of the state. In the temple of this religion humanity will offer incense only on the altar of our country, the mother of us all and our divinity.
In the sultry atmosphere of this new faith modern nationalism was born, and became the religion of the democratic state. And the more deeply the citizen venerated his own nation, the wider became the abyss which separated it from all other nations, the more contemptuously he looked upon all who were not so fortunate as to be of the elect. It is only a step from the "nation" to the "Great Nation" and that not alone in France.
The new religion had not only its own ritual, its inviolable dogmas, its holymission, but also the terrible orthodoxy characteristic of all dogmatism, which will permit no opinion but the one opinion to find voice; for the will of the nation is the revelation of God, intolerant of all doubt. He who dares to doubt for all that, and to pursue considerations contrary to the expression of the national will, is a social leper and must be weeded out from the communion of the faithful. Saintlust proclaimed gloomily before the Convention:
One dare not hope that things will improve so long as one foe of Freedom breathes. Not only the traitors, but also the lukewarm and the indifferent, everyone who takes no part in the republic and moves no finger for it. After the French people has announced its will everything which is contrary to its will stands outside the sovereignty of the nation; and who stands outside the sovereign is his enemy.
The young fanatic who had such a strong influence on Robespierre did not leave open to doubt what he meant by this enmity"One must rule those with iron whom one cannot rule with justice." But one could not rule with justice over men who could see the nation's will otherwise than as Robespierre and the Jacobins explained it. Hence, one must needs resort to iron. The sharp logic of the guillotine could hardly be justified more explicitly.
This fanatic logic of SaintJust was but the inevitable result of his absolute faith in his point of view. Every absolutism is based on fixed norms, and must for that reason act as the sworn enemy of any social development which opens new outlooks on life and calls new forms of the community into being. Behind every absolutist idea grins the mask of the inquisitor and the judge of heretics.
The sovereignty of the nation means tyranny as surely as does the sovereignty of God or that of the king. If formerly opposition to the sacred person of the monarch was the most abominable of all crimes, so now any opposition to the sacred majesty of the nation became the sin against the Holy Ghost of the common will. In both instances, the hangman was the executive instrument of a despotic power which felt called upon to guard the dead dogma. Before its soulless cruelty every creative thought had to founder, every human feeling bleed to death.
Robespierre, of whom Condorcet maintains that he had "neither a thought in his brain nor a feeling in his heart," was the man of the dead formula. In place of a soul he had his "principles." Preferably, he would have founded the whole republic on the single formula of virtue. But this virtue did not have root in the personal righteousness of the people; it was a bloodless phantom hovering over men like the spirit of God hovering over creation. Nothing is more cruel and heartless than virtue, and most cruel and heartless is that abstract virtue which is not founded upon a living need, but has its roots in "principles" and must be continually protected by chemical means from becoming motheaten.
Although Jacobinism had overthrown monarchy, it became fanatically enamoured of the monarchic idea, which it strengthened greatly by anchoring it to the political theology of Rousseau. Rousseau's doctrine culminated in the complete merging of man in "the higher necessity" of a metaphysical idea. Jacobinism had undertaken the task of transmuting this monstrous doctrine into life and quite logically had reached the dictatorship of the guillotine; which in turn smoothed the way for the saber dictatorship of General Bonaparte who, on his part, risked everything in order to develop this new state idea to its highest perfection. Man a machinenot in the sense of La Mettrie, but as the end product of a political religion which undertook to shape everything human according to the same pattern, and in the name of equality raised conformity to a principle.
Napoleon, the laughing heir of the great revolution, who had taken over from the Jacobins the mandevouring machine of the centralised state and the doctrine of the will of the nation, attempted to develop the state institutions into a flawless system in which accident should have no place. What he needed was not men, but chessmen, who would obey every turn of his whim and unconditionally submit to that "higher necessity", whose executive instruments they felt themselves to be. Men in the ordinary sense were not useable for this; only citizens, parts of the machine, members of the state. "Thought is the ruler's chief enemy", Napoleon once said, and this was no chance figure of speech; he understood the truth of the words in their deepest meaning. What he needed was not men who would think, but men who have their thinking done for them, men who offer themselves up when "destiny" speaks.
Napoleon dreamed of a state in which, above all, there existed no distinction between the civil and the military power: the whole nation an army, every citizen a soldier. Industry, agriculture, administration, were only conceived as parts of this mighty state body which, divided into regiments and commanded by officers, would obey the slightest pressure of the imperial will without friction, without resistance. The transmutation of the "Great Nation" into a gigantic unit in which the independent activity of the individual no longer had room; which worked with the exactness of a machine and, throbbing with the dead rhythm of its own motion, unfeelingly obeyed the will of him who had set it in motionthis was Napoleon's political aim. And with iron persistency he pursued it and tried to give it life. Quite obsessed by this delusion, he strove to exclude every possibility which might lead to the formation of an independent opinion. Hence, his bitter fight against the press and all other means of expressing public thought. He said: "The printing press is an arsenal which must not be made available to the generality. Books must only be printed by persons who possess the confidence of the government."
In the brain of this terrible man everything was transformed into figures; only numbers decide; statistics become the foundation of the new statecraft. The emperor demanded of his counsellors not only an, exact statement and record of all material and technical resources of the whole country, he also demanded that "statistics of morals" should be kept, in order that he might at all times be informed of the most fl secret agitations among his subjects. And Fouche, that uncanny, spectre-like snooper, who saw with a thousand eyes and heard with a thousand ears, whose soul was just as icy as that of his master, became the statistician of "public morals," which he registered by police methods, being quite well aware that his own movements also were watched by unknown spies and recorded in a separate register.
That Napoleon could never quite attain the last aim of his internal policy, that all his apparatus of government was wrecked again and again on men, was probably the bitterest pang of his powerloving soul, the great tragedy of his monstrous life, which even at St. Helena still burned within him. But the mad idea he pursued did not die with him It is even today the basis of the will to power, which appears wherever the love of men has died and sacrifices pulsating life to the shadowy, pale, phantom forms of tyrannical lust. For all power is loveless, is inhuman in the nature of its being. It changes the hearts of the powerful into wolfdens of hate and cold contempt for humanity, chokes all human emotion and causes the despot to see his fellow man only as an abstract number to be used in calculating the execution of his plans.
Napoleon hated freedom on principle, as does every tyrant who has become clearly aware of the nature of power. But he also knew the price he had to pay for this, knew very well that to master mankind he must smother the man hidden in himself. It is significant that he says of himself: I love power as an artist, as a violinist loves his violin. I love it in order to coax from it tones, melodies, harmonies." It is significant that this same man, who almost as a child was already evolving in his brain plans for power, uttered in early youth the ominous words: "I find that love is detrimental to society and to the personal happiness of man. If the gods were to free the world from love, it would be the greatest of blessings.
This feeling never left him, and when in later years he looked back on the separate phases of his life, there remained for him only this comfortless knowledge:
There are only two levers which move men, fear and selfinterest. Lone is a stupid illusion, be assured of it. Friendship is an empty word. I love no one, not even my brothers possibly Joseph a little, from habit and because he is older than I. And I love Duroc; but why? Because his character pleases me. He is earnest and resolute, and I believe the fellow has never shed a tear. I, for my part, know that I have no true friends.
How empty this heart must have been which through all the years pursued a phantom and was animated by only one desireto rule. To this madness he sacrificed the bodies and souls of men after having first attempted to make their spirits fit into the dead mechanism of a political machine. But at last it was made clear to him that the age of the automatons had not yet arrived. Only a man whose soul was a desert could say: "A man like me cares nothing for the lives of millions of men."
Napoleon asserted that he despised men and his uncritical admirers have rated this almost as a merit. He may in individual cases have found justification enough for it; for it is by no means the men of highest worth who crowd around the powerful. But if the matter is pursued more deeply one gets the impression that his demonstratively displayed contempt of men is to a large part pretence, intended to impress his contemporaries and posterity with the brilliance of his own achievements. For this apparent misanthrope was a firstclass actor to whom the judgment of posterity was not a matter of indifference, who left no means untried to influence the opinion of future generations, who did not even shrink from the falsification of well-known facts in order to achieve this end.
It was not inner disgust which separated him from men, but his unfathomable egotism, which knew no scruples nor shrank from any lies, from any villainy, any dishonournot from the meanest of crimesin order to make himself dominant. Emerson rightly remarks: "Bonaparte was in a quite unusual degree devoid of every highhearted emotion.... He did not even possess the merit of common truthfulness and honesty." And in another place in his essay on Napoleon he says: "His whole existence was an experiment under the best possible conditions to show of what intellect divorced from conscience is capable." Only as issuing from the disconsolate inner state of a man in whom his own greed for glory had utterly destroyed all social feeling are these words of Napoleon understandable: "The savage, like the civilised man, needs a lord and master, a sorcerer who keeps his fancy in check, subjects him to strict discipline, chains him, prevents his biting at the wrong time, clubs him, leads him to the chase. Obedience is his destiny; he deserves nothing better and has no rights."
But this heartless cynic, who in his youth had intoxicated himself with the Contrat Social, recognised to the uttermost the whole disastrous significance of this new religion on which in the last analysis his rule was founded. Thus, in one of those unguarded moments of complete truthfulness so rare with him, he allowed himself to be enticed into the statement: "Your Rousseau is a madman who has led us to this condition!" And on another occasion, somewhat pensively, "The future will show whether it had not been better for the world's peace if neither Rousseau nor I had ever lived."
- 1Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, or, The Principles of State Right. Bk 1, Chap. VII.
- 2The Social Contract. Bk. 11, Chap. V.
- 3The Social Contract. Book 11, Chap. Vll.
- 4Rousseau, Emile. First Book.
- 5The Social Contract. Bk. 11, Chap. IV.
- 6From a manuscript uncompleted at his death. German translation by Rudolf Schlosser in "Frankreichs Schicksal im Jahre 1870." S. 34 Reclam-Verlag.
- 7A. Mathiez; "Les Origines des Cultes Revolutionaires," Paris, 1904.