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FrRevol_701-750.indd 23 3/16/12 1:17 PM CHAPTER IX Can a Limited Monarchy Have Other Foundations Than That ofthe English Constitution? We find in Swift's Works a small tract entitled Polite Conversation, 1 which comprises all the commonplace ideas that enter into the discourse of the fashionable world. A witty man had a plan of making a similar essay on the political conversations of the present day. "The English constitution is suitable only to Englishmen; the French are not worthy of receiving good laws: people should be on their guard against theory and adhere to practice." What signifies it, some will say, that these phrases are tedious if they convey a true meaning? But it is their very falsehood that makes them tedious. Truth on certain topics never becomes common, however often repeated; for every man who pronounces it feels and expresses it in his own way; but the watchwords ofparty spirit are the undoubted signs of mediocrity. We may almost take for granted that a conversation beginning by these official sentences promises only a combination oftedium and sophistry. Laying aside, then, that frivolous language which aims at profundity, it seems to me that thinking men have not even yet discovered other principles ofmonarchical and constitutional liberty than those which are admitted in England. Democrats will say that there ought to be a king without a patrician body, or that there ought to be neither; but experience has demonstrated the impracticability ofsuch a system. Ofthe three powers, aristocrats dis1 . The full title of Swift's book is A Complete Collection ofGenteel and Ingenious Conversation According to the Most Polite Mode and Method Now Used at Court and in the Best Companies ofEngland (1738). )'23 FrRevol_701-750.indd 24 3/16/12 1:17 PM PART VI pute only that of the people: thus, when they pretend that the English constitution cannot be adapted to France, they merely say that there must be no representatives of the people; for it is certainly not a nobility or hereditary royalty which they dispute. It is thus evident that we cannot deviate from the English constitution without establishing a republic by eliminating hereditary succession; or a despotism by suppressing the commons : for ofthe three powers, it is impossible to take any one awaywithout producing one or other of these two extremes. After such a revolution as that of France, constitutional monarchy is the only peace, the only treaty ofWestphalia, ifwe may use the expression, which can be concluded between actual knowledge ofsociety and hereditary interests; between almost the whole nation and the privileged classes supported by the powers of Europe. The King of England enjoys a power more than sufficient for a man who wishes to do good; and I can hardly conceive how it is that religion does not inspire princes with scruples on the use ofunbounded authority: pride in this case gets the ascendancy over virtue. As to the commonplace argument ofthe impossibility ofbeing free in a Continental countrywhere a numerous standing army must be kept up, the same persons who are incessantly repeating it are ready to quote England for a contrary purpose, and to say that in that country a standing army is not at present dangerous to liberty. The diversity ofarguments of those who renounce every principle goes to an unheard-oflength: they avail themselves ofcircumstances when theory is against them; of theory, when circumstances demonstrate their errors: finally, they wheel round with a suppleness which cannot escape the broad light of discussion, but which may mislead the mind when it is not permitted either to silence or to answer sophists. Ifastanding army give greater power to the King of France than to the King of England , the ultra-royalists, according to their way of thinking, will enjoy that excess of strength, and the friends of liberty do not dread it if the representative government and its securities are established in France with sincerity and without exception. The existence of a Chamber of Peers necessarily reduces, it is true, the number ofnoble families: but will public interest suffer by this change? Would the families known in history complain of seeing associated in the peerage new men whom the sovereign J24 FrRevol_701-750.indd 25 3/16/12 1:17 PM cHAPTER I X. Other Foundations ofLimited Monarchy and public opinion might think worthy ofthat honor? Should the nobility, which has most to do to reconcile itself with the nation, be the most obstinately attached to...


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