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FrRevol_001-050.indd 17 3/16/12 1:01 PM ++++++ PART I ++++++ CHAPTER I General Reflections. The Revolution of France is one of the grand eras ofsocial order. Those who consider it as the result ofaccidental causes have reflected neither on the past nor on the future; they have mistaken the actors for the drama; and, in seeking a solution agreeable to their prejudices, have attributed to the men of the day that which had been in a course of preparation for ages.1 It would have sufficed, however, to cast a glance on the critical periods ofhistory, to be convinced, that they were all unavoidable when they were connected in any degree with the development of ideas; and that, after a struggle and misfortunes, more or less prolonged, the triumph ofknowledge has always been favorable to the greatness and the amelioration of mankind. My ambition shall be to speak of the age in which we have lived, as if it were already remote. It will belong to the enlightened part of mankind -to those who, in thought, can render themselves contemporary with future ages-to judge if I have been able to attain the complete impartiality at which I have aimed. In this chapter I shall confine myself to some general remarks on the political progress of European civilization, restricting myself, however, 1. Many historical writings published during the Bourbon Restoration had a covert political agenda that must be placed in the larger context of that epoch. Madame de Stael's point that the French Revolution had been long in the making was developed a decade later by Guizot in his influential History ofCiviliration in Europe (1828). Z J FrRevol_001-050.indd 18 3/16/12 1:01 PM PART I to its connection with the Revolution of France; for it is to this subject, in itselfsufficiently extensive, that this work is devoted. The two nations of antiquity, whose literature and history still form the principal portion of our intellectual treasure, were indebted for their astonishing superiority entirely to the enjoyment of a free country. But slavery existed among them, and, consequently, those rights and those motives to emulation, which ought to be common to all men, were the exclusive lot of a few. The Greek and Roman nations disappeared from the world in consequence of what was barbarous, that is, of what was unjust, in their institutions. The vast regions ofAsia are lost in despotism; and, for centuries past, whatever has remained there ofcivilization is stationary . Thus, then, the great historical revolution, whose results admit of application to the present state of modern nations, begins from the invasion by the northern tribes; for the public law of most countries in Europe is still founded on the law of conquest. Nevertheless, that circle of men, who alone were allowed to consider themselves as such, was increased under the feudal system. The condition of the serfs was less hard than that of slaves; there were several methods of escaping from it, and from that time various classes have begun to emancipate themselves by degrees from the fate of the vanquished. It is to the gradual increase of this circle ofsociety that our attention ought to be turned. The absolute government of one is the worst form of political combinations . Aristocracy is better, for in it several at least are ofimportance; and the moral dignity ofman is recovered in the relation ofthe great lords with their chief. Social order, which admits all our fellow creatures to equality before the law, as before God, is as much in harmony with the Christian religion as with true liberty: both the one and the other, in different spheres, should follow the same principles. Since the nations oftheNorth and ofGermany overthrew the Western Empire, the laws introduced by them have undergone a variety of modifications; for time, as Bacon says, is the greatest of innovators. It would be very difficult to fix with precision the dates of the successive changes; for, in tracing the leading facts, we find that one eventencroaches on another. I think, however, that our attention may be fixed on four z8 FrRevol_001-050.indd 19 3/16/12 1:01 PM cHAPTER I • General Reflections eras, in which these changes, previously announced, became particularly conspicuous. The first political period was that in which the nobles, that is to say the conquerors, considered themselves as co-partners in the royal power of their chief, while the nation was divided among the different...


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