In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

FrRevol_701-750.indd 30 3/16/12 1:17 PM CHAPTER X Ofthe Influence ofArbitrary Power on the Spirit and Character ofa Nation. Frederic II, Maria Theresa, and Catherine II inspired so just an admiration by their talents for governing that it is very natural, in the countries where their memory still lives and their system is strictly followed, that the public should feel, less than in France, the necessity ofa representative government. On the other hand, the regent and Louis XV gave in the last century the saddest example ofall the misfortunes, ofall the degradations attached to arbitrary power. We repeat then that we have here only France in view; and she must not suffer herself, after twenty-seven years of revolution , to be deprived of the advantages she has reaped and be made to bear the double dishonor of being conquered at home and abroad. The partisans of arbitrary power quote the reigns of Augustus in ancient history, of Elizabeth and of Louis XIV in modern times, as a proof that absolute monarchy can at least be favorable to the progress ofliterature . Literature in the time ofAugustus was little more than a liberal art, foreign to political interests. Under Elizabeth, religious reform stimulated the mind to every kind ofdevelopment; and the government was the more favorable to it as its strength lay in the very establishment of that reform. The literary progress of France under Louis XIV was caused, as we have already mentioned in the beginning ofthis work, by the display ofintellect called forth by the civil wars. That progress led to the literature of the eighteenth century; and so far is it from being right to attribute to the government of Louis XIV the masterpieces of human intellect that appeared in that age, we must rather consider them almost all as attacks on that government. Despotism, then, if it well understands its interest, will not encourage literature, for literature leads men to think, and thought JJO FrRevol_701-750.indd 31 3/16/12 1:17 PM CHAPTER X. Influence ofArbitrary Power passes sentence on despotism. Bonaparte directed the public mind toward military success; he was perfectly right according to his object: there are but two kinds ofauxiliaries for absolute power, the priests and the soldiers. But are there not, it is said, enlightened despotisms, moderate despotisms? None of these epithets, by which people flatter themselves they will produce an illusion in regard to the word to which they are appended, can mislead men of good sense. In a country like France, you must destroy knowledge if you wish the principles of liberty not to revive. During the reign of Bonaparte and subsequently, a third method has been adopted: it was to make the press instrumental to the oppression of liberty by permitting the use ofit only to certain writers enjoined to comment on every error with the more assurance that it was forbidden to reply to them. This is consecrating the art ofwriting to the destruction of thought, and publicity itself to darkness; but deception of this kind cannot long continue. When government wishes to command without law, its support must be sought in force, not in arguments; for though it be forbidden to refute them, the palpable falsehood ofthese arguments suggests a wish to combat them; and to silence men effectually, the best plan is not to speak to them. It would certainly be unjust not to acknowledge that various sovereigns in possession ofarbitrary power have known how to use it with discretion; but is it on a chance that the lot of nations should be staked? I shall here quote an expression ofthe Emperor Alexander which seems to me worthy of being consecrated. I had the honor of seeing him at Petersburg at the most remarkable moment ofhis life, when the French were advancing on Moscow, and when, by refusing the peace which Bonaparte offered as soon as he thought himself the victor, Alexander triumphed over his enemy more dextrously than his generals did afterward. "You are not ignorant," said the Emperor of Russia to me, "that the Russian peasants are slaves. I do what I can to improve their situation gradually in my dominions; but I meet elsewhere with obstacles which the tranquillity of the empire enjoins me to treat with caution." "Sire," I answered, "I know that Russia is at present happy, although she has no other constitution than the personal character of your Majesty." "Even if the compliment you pay me...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.