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Its Nature and the History 
of Its Growth 





Pone seram, cohibe. Sed quis cu^todiet ipsos Custodes? 
— Juvenal, VI, 347 

Respondendum : 

Nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem. frustra vigilat qui 

custodit earn. — Solomon 


Copyright 1945 by Les Editions du Cheval Aile, Geneva 
Copyright 1948 by The Viking Press, Inc. 

First published as a Beacon Paperback in 1962 by 
arrangement with The Viking Press, Inc. 

Printed in the United States of America 






1. The proximate cause. 2. The growth of war. 3. Kings in 
search of armies. 4. Power extended, war extended. 5. The 
men whom war takes. 6. Absolute Power is not dead. 7. The 
Minotaur masked. 8. The Minotaur unmasked. 9. Ubiquity of 
the Minotaur. 




J. The mystery of civil obedience. 2. The historical character 
of obedience. 3. Statics and dynamics of obedience. 4. Obedi- 
ence linked to credit. 


J. Divine sovereignty. 2. Popular sovereignty. 3. Democratic 
popular sovereignty. 4. A dynamic of Power. 5. How sover- 
eignty can control Power. 6. The theories of sovereignty con- 
sidered in their effects. 


1. The Nominalist conception of society. 2. The Realist con- 
ception of society. 3. Logical consequences of the Realist con- 
ception. 4. The division of labour and organicism. 5. Society, 
a living organism. 6. The problem of Power's extent in the 
organicist theory. 7. Water for Power's mill. 




1. The classical conception: political authority the child of 
paternal authority. 2. The Iroquois period: the negation of the 
patriarchate. 3. The Australian period: the magical authority. 
4. Frazer's theory: the sacrificial king. 5. The invisible govern- 
ment. 6. The rule of the magician-elders. 7. The conservative 
character of magical Power. 



1. Social consequences of the warlike spirit. 2. War gives birth 
to the patriarchate. 3. The warrior aristocracy is also a plutoc- 
racy. 4. The government. 5. The king. 6. The state or public 
thing. 7. Kingship becomes monarchy. 8. The public thing 
without state apparatus. 9. Ancient republics. 10. Govern- 
ment by folkways. 11. Monarchical heritage of the modern 

book m 


1. Power in its pure state. 2. Reconstruction of the phenome- 
non by synthesis. 3. Command as cause. 4. Command as it 
first looked. 5. Command for its sake. 6. Pure Power forswears 
itself. 7. Establishment of monarchy. 8. From parasitism to 
symbiosis. 9. Formation of the nation in the person of the 
king. 10. The City of Command. 11. Overthrow of Power. 
12. The two ways. 13. The natural evolution of every appa- 
ratus or rule. 14. The governmental ego. 15. The essential 
duality of Power. 16. Of the egoism of Power. 17. The noble 
forms of governmental egoism. 


I. Egoism is a necessary part of Power. 2. From egoism to 
idealism. 3. The egoistical stimulus of growth. 4. The social 
justifications for Power's growth. 5. Power as the repository of 
human hopes. 6. Thought and Power, the philosopher and the 


1. Is war alien to modern times? 2. A self-militarizing civiliza- 
tion. 3. The law of political rivalry. 4. Advance of Power, 
advance of war. Advance of war, advance of Power. 5. From 
the feudal army to the royal army. 6. War, midwife of abso- 
lute monarchy. 7. Powers in international rivalry. 8. Conscrip- 
tion. 9. The era of cannon fodder. 10. Total war. 

book rv 


2. Poiver's conflict with aristocracy and alliance with the com- 
mon people. 2. Is Power a social conservative or a social revo- 


lutionary? 3. The troughs in the statocratic waves. 4. Power 
and the cell of the clan. 5. Power and the baronial cell. 6. 
Power and the capitalist cell. 7. Zenith and dismemberment of 
the state. 8. The dynamism of politics. 


J. The feudal commonwealth. 2. Power asserts itself. 3. The 
place of the common man in the state. 4. Plebeian absolutism. 
5. The aristocratic reaction. 6. Bad tactics and suicide of the 
French aristocracy. 


1. Power restrained by beliefs. 2. The divine law. 3. The law's 
solemnity. 4. The law and the laws. 5. The two sources of 
law. 6. The law and custom. 7. The development of the legis- 
lative authority. 8. The rationalist crisis and the political con- 
sequences of Protagorism. 

book v 




1. Revolutions liquidate weakness and bring forth strength. 

2. Three revolutions. 3. Revolution and tyranny. 4. Identity of 
the democratic state with the monarchical state. 5. Continuity 
of Power. 6. Disparate character of the authority of the ancien 
regime. 7. Weakening of Power. Aristocratic coalition. 8. The 
Third Estate restored the monarchy without the king. 9. 
Napoleons prefect, the child of the Revolution. 10. The 
Revolution and individual rights. 11. Justice stands disarmed 
before Power. 12. The state and the Russian Revolution. 


1. On the fate of ideas. 2. The principle of liberty and the 
principle of law. 3. The sovereignty of the law results in 
parliamentary sovereignty. 4. The people, judge of the law. 
5. Law as the people's "good pleasure." 6. The appetite for 
the imperium. 7. Of parliamentary sovereignty. 8. From the 
sovereignty of the law to the sovereignty of the people. 


J. Sovereignty and liberty. 2. The idea of the whole advances. 

3. The attack on centrifugal tendencies. 4. The authoritarian 
tpirit in democracy. 5. The general interest and its monopoly. 


6. Self-defence of the interests. 7. Of the formation of Tower. 
8. Of parties. 9. Of the political machine. 10. From the citi- 
zen to the campaigner: the competition for Power takes mili- 
tary form. 11. Towards the plebiscitary regime. 12. The 
competition of "mechanized" parties ends in the dictatorship 
of one party. 13. The degradation of the regime is linked to 
the degradation of the idea of law. 




1. Limited Power. 2. Of internal checks. 3. Of makeweights. 
4. The makeweights crushed and law subordinated. 5. Un- 
limited Power is equally dangerous whatever its source and 
wherever it rests. 6. Thought swings back to limited Power. 
Lessons drawn from England. 7. The formal separation of 


1. Is laio a mere body of rules issued by authority? 2. Of un- 
limited legislative authority. 3. The mistake of the hedonist 
and the utilitarian. 4. Law above Power. 5. A period of ambu- 
latory law. 6. Remedies against laws. 7. When the judge 
checks the agent of Power. 8. Of the authority of the judge. 

9. Does the movement of ideas affect the fundamentals of 
law? 10. The way in tohich law becomes jungle. 


J. Of liberty. 2. The distant origins of liberty. 3. The system 
of liberty. 4. Liberty as a system based on class. 5. The free, 
the unfree, the half-free. 6. Incorporation and differential 
assimilation. 7. The advance of Caesarism. 8. The conditions 
of liberty. 9. The two possible directions of people's parties. 

10. The problem is still with us. 11. Of the historical forma- 
tion of national characteristics. 12. Why democracy eoctends 
Power's rights and weakens the individual's safeguards. 


J. The price of liberty. 2. Ruunt in servitutem. 3. Of the archi- 
tecture of society. 4. Power and social promotion. 5. The mid- 
dle class and liberty. 6. One level of liberty or several levels. 
7. A securitarian aristocracy. 8. Disappearance of the liber- 
tarian element. 9. The pactum subjectionis. 10. Social security 
and state omnipotence. 11. The social protectorate; its justifi- 
cation and purpose. 12. Theocracies and wars of religion. 



1 . The Liberal negation. 2. The "legalitarian" criticism. 3. The 
modern problem and its absurd solution. 4. The miracle of 
confidence. 5. Concepts of right conduct. 6. On the regulation 
of society. 7. New functions necessitate new constraining con- 
cepts. 8. Social authorities without ethical codes. 9. Conse- 
quences of a false conception of society. 10. From chaos to 
totalitarianism. 11. The fruits of individualist rationalism. 


NOTES 383 


Throughout this book, its title included, the word "Power," 
whenever it begins with the capital letter, denotes the central 
governmental authority in states or communities— V ensemble 
des elements gouvernementaux, as the author himself defines it. 

The notes which appear at the end of each chapter are the au- 
thor's. Those few which appear in the text are my own. These latter 
are in the main directed to informing the reader on matters with 
which Englishmen and Americans would tend naturally to be less 
well acquainted than Frenchmen. I have repressed the temptation 
to add greatly to their number. 

The introductory epigraph does not appear in the original but is 
inserted here with the author's warm approval. 

In an article entitled "Concerning Translation," which appeared 
in the Edinburgh Review for January 1927, Mr. Lewis May tells this 
story: "I remember saying to Anatole France that translation was an 
impossible thing. . . . He replied: 'Precisely, my friend; the recogni- 
tion of that truth is a necessary preliminary to success in the art.' " My 
"impossible" labours have been much cheered by this consideration. 
It has in any case been a privilege to have translated this great book. 

The absence of any reference to the important books of Ferrero 
and Russell on the same subject is due to the fact that they were 
not, unfortunately, available to the author when he was writing. 

J. F. H. 


In these ominous times, when the pressure of events makes 
calm thought difficult and when the apparent need of drastic 
measures makes hesitation, scepticism, criticism seem a form 
of petty treason, a book like M. de Jouvenel's may seem to need 
some justification. For it is a plea for hesitation and scepticism; it is 
an argument for not letting necessity, "the tyrant's plea," have all its 
own way. Or, rather, it is an argument for a repeated stocktaking, 
for the scrutiny of every new proposal for extending the power of 
the state or of any other power-monopolizing body. And so it can be 
made to seem an argument that will weaken the will to action of the 
government and the will to obedience of the governed. 

It is not that: M. de Jouvenel has too acute a sense of the world 
and age in which we live to ignore the necessities of that age. But 
his book is an argument— and a powerful argument— against leaps in 
the dark when they can be avoided, and an argument against the 
popular pretence that the darkness is in fact well lighted and the 
cliff merely a slight declivity. 

In this book our attention is called, first of all, to what is, at any 
rate, a striking coincidence: the power of the state has steadily in- 
creased and the power of the human race for deadly mischief has 
increased at the same time. Written as the book was before Hiro- 
shima, the most striking example of this parallel progress was not to 
the author's hand. But it is worth noting that when we regard with 
legitimate fear the potentialities of mischief inherent in modern sci- 
ence, we should continually remind ourselves that potentialities 
have only been actualized by the will of the state. It was not a spon- 
taneously acting group of "scientists" who made the atomic bomb. 
It was a group of employees of the government of the United States 
who made the bomb, and the most important of them were scien- 
tists. But the decision to make it was the decision of President 
Roosevelt, as the decision to use it was the decision of President 
Truman. To state this is not to impute wickedness to either states- 
man; it is merely to call attention to the fact that only the state is 
powerful enough to do damage on this scale— and that the state 
always means politicians, whether they be politicians in the White 


House or in the Kremlin. It is a dangerous and idle dream to think 
that the state can become rule by philosophers turned kings or sci- 
entists turned commissars. For if philosophers become kings or 
scientists commissars, they become politicians, and the powers given 
to the state are powers given to men who are rulers of states, men 
subject to all the limitations and temptations of their dangerous 
craft. Unless this is borne in mind, there will be a dangerous opti- 
mistic tendency to sweep aside doubts and fears as irrelevant, since, 
in the state that the projectors have in mind, power will be exer- 
cised by men of a wisdom and degree of moral virtue that we have 
not yet seen. It won't. It will be exercised by men who will be men 
first and rulers next and scientists or saints a long way after. It was 
an illusion of the framers of the early American constitutions that 
they could set up "a government of laws and not of men." All gov- 
ernments are governments of men, though the better of them have a 
high admixture of law too— that is, of effective limitations on the 
free action of the rulers. 

It is possible, of course, to believe that a new system or a new 
doctrine will alter these empirically established laws of politics. It 
is possible to believe that only some easily identifiable and eradi- 
cable flaw in the older systems makes the doubts and fears of M. de 
Jouvenel plausible. In a world without private property,* or with- 
out race prejudice, or without religion, or without rain on holidays, 
these depressing considerations will no longer apply. If you can be- 
lieve that, as the Duke of Wellington said, you can believe anything. 
But it may be worth while recalling the disillusionment of Lenin 
(whom no one has ever accused of romantic optimism). Yet in State 
and Revolution Lenin, on the eve of the seizure of power, saw in the 
apparatus of the state a mere transitory and soon to be evanescent 
phenomenon. He learned better, and could he return to Leningrad, 
thirty years later, he would see installed there a state power more 
formidable than any known to the Czars, not because the "Revolu- 
tion has been betrayed" but because, as M. de Jouvenel puts it, 
"Power changes its appearance but not its reality." Politics are about 
power; we cannot evade that truth or its consequences. We dream 
of a better world but it is in Utopia— that is, nowhere. 

It is in the popularity of the pursuit of Utopia that the aggrandiz- 

* Cf. Aristotle, Politics, 1263b: "None of these evils is due to the absence of 
property in common. They all arise from the wickedness of human nature." 


ers of state power find their most effective ally. Only an immensely 
powerful apparatus can do all that the preachers of panaceas prom- 
ise, so we accept the apparatus but find that we have not got the 
beneficial effects of the panacea, or have got them at a very high, 
perhaps ruinous, price. It is one of the many merits of this book that 
it insists on the price paid even for historical triumphs like the 
French Revolution. Perhaps the Revolution was the only way out of 
the dilemma in which the French state under the ancien regime had 
involved itself. M. de Jouvenel's highly critical account of the be- 
haviour of the French elites on the eve of the Revolution at any rate 
suggests that this was the case. But the price paid was terribly high. 
The Republic demanded sacrifices that no king had dared ask for, 
and these sacrifices were offered up. Perhaps the only way that the 
decadent Czardom could be replaced as the centre of Russian state 
authority was by the Bolshevik Revolution, but think of the price 
paid and still being paid for that achievement! If a religion or a 
general cause not identified with the nation-state asked for these 
sacrifices, we should be far more critical than we are. And even if 
we put at its highest the success of the modern state in doing what 
it promises to do, we have to notice that nothing is done free and 
that the price can be ruinous. 

Another lesson is the necessity for scrutinizing all claims to politi- 
cal infallibility and impeccability. 

"The right divine of kings to govern wrong" is a doctrine we can 
all laugh at today. But its defender did not deny that kings could 
govern wrong: that was their fault and their sin. But some modern 
deifiers of the state, democratic as well as totalitarian, preach and 
practise a doctrine of Divine Right far more uncritical than Filmer's. 
For their rulers, the Fiihrer or the Duce, the Party or the Sovereign 
People cannot do wrong, morally or intellectually. We are, most of 
us in the West, immunized against the doctrine of political infallibil- 
ity and impeccability when it comes to us in the discredited forms it 
took in Berlin and Rome or even in the more sophisticated form 
it takes in Moscow. But we are not immune from "democratic" argu- 
ments which state or imply that a majority can do no wrong, if it is 
our majority; that, if we are part of it, it cannot do anything disas- 
trously silly. It can and does. And M. de Jouvenel has rightly stressed 
the dangerous results of this illusion (whether Rousseau was its 
legitimate begetter or no matters little), for, of course, if the peo- 


pie is always right and the people is the state, then there can be no 
danger in surrendering into the hands of its mandatories complete, 
uncontrolled, and irrecoverable power. 

But, since the people is not always right, is capable of going 
wrong morally and prudentially, it would be dangerous to relax the 
vigilance that is the price of liberty simply because power is in the 
hands of "the people." And in any case, power will not be in the hands 
of the people, but in the hands of rulers. For they are rulers, how- 
ever chosen. "There is more in common between two deputies of 
whom one is a revolutionary and the other isn't, than between two 
revolutionaries of whom one is a deputy and the other isn't." And 
what Robert de Jouvenel wrote of the Third Republic is true of 
all commonwealths. Being a ruler is a trade. So we can apply to all 
types of ruler the judgment of Swift. "Arbitrary power is the natu- 
ral object of temptation to a prince, as wine or women to a young 
fellow, or a bribe to a judge, or vanity to a woman." For the best of 
motives, rulers will, like courts, try to add to their jurisdiction. 

How is this never-ending audacity to be, at any rate, limited? By 
making sure that effective power is not monopolized. Writing from 
a French point of view, M. de Jouvenel is conscious of the harm 
done to France by the withering away, in face of the power of the 
French state, of all intermediate organizations of power. We have 
been less tolerant of state greed, of state jealousy, and France serves 
rather as an example to teach us caution than as an exact parallel to 
our own situation. But it would be foolish to pretend that the power 
of the British state is not growing and growing at the expense of the 
independent bodies, which, in the past, have been such a source of 
varied strength. The Minotaur, as M. de Jouvenel calls the engrossing 
state, is permanently greedy. 

But it would also be foolish not to notice that the greed of the 
state finds justification in the failure of the intermediate bodies 
either to do well what they used to do well, or to find functions in 
the modern world to replace those which were once their justifica- 
tion. The brilliant analysis here of the decline in public utility of 
such French corporations as the parlements, the descent of the 
French legal leaders into being a merely selfish and largely parasitic 
body, ensures that M. de Jouvenel's readers will not be misled into 
thinking that the decline in independent sources of authority is due 
merely to state aggression. It may be due to the failure in adjust- 
ment of once useful bodies. Of course, we can all see, in 1949, the 


faults of the Parlement de Paris. It is a little harder to examine the 
possibility that Oxford and Cambridge, the Federation of British 
Industries, and the Trade Union Congress are the equivalent bodies 
in modern Britain and that they may be dying of their own faults as 
well as of the more or less deliberate aggression of the state! 

And lastly, M. de Jouvenel is too wise not to notice and to state 
that the acceptance of omnicompetent state authority is largely due 
to the fatigue and despair bred by endemic disorder. The French 
people accepted, even welcomed, Louis XIV, to put an end to civil 
war; it was internal peace at almost any price. We may be provoked 
into doing the same to put an end to the threat of another and more 
terrible war. It was after a nine years' war that it was possible to 
create the "Brave New World" of Mr. Huxley's fable. "The world 
will never be safe for democracy," wrote Chesterton after the First 
World War; "it is a dangerous trade." One of the reasons why it is 
dangerous is brilliantly set out here, and one of the duties of the 
good citizen who treasures liberty is to reflect on the problems so 
set out and developed in this book. 

D. W. Brogan 



1. The proximate cause. 2. The growth of war. 3. Kings in search 
of armies. 4. Power extended, war extended. 5. The men whom 
war takes. 6. Absolute Power is not dead. 7. The Minotaur 
masked. 8. The Minotaur unmasked. 9. Ubiquity of the Minotaur. 

The war through which we have lived has surpassed in sav 
agery and destructive force any yet seen by the Western 

This force has been generated by the unparalleled scale on which 
men and materials have been thrown in. Not only have armies been 
raised to the number of ten, of fifteen, of twenty millions of men, but 
also, behind the lines, whole populations have been conscribed that 
these armies might not lack the latest and deadliest weapons. Every 
inhabitant of a country with breath in him has served war's turn, and 
the non-essential tasks which sweeten life have come to be tolerated 
at all only so far as they have been thought necessary to sustain the 
spirit of the one vast instrument of war into which whole peoples 
have been forged. 1 * 

In this war everyone— workmen, peasants, and women alike— is in 
the fight, and in consequence everything, the factory, the harvest, 
even the dwelling-house, has turned target. As a result the enemy to 
be fought has been all flesh that is and all soil, and the bombing 
plane has striven to consummate the utter destruction of them all. 

The war would have counted fewer participants, it would have 
wrought a less frightful havoc, had not certain passions, fiercely and 
unanimously felt, so transformed men's natures that a total distortion 
of their normal modes of doing became possible. The task of stirring 
and sustaining these passions has been that of a munition of war 
without which the others must have proved ineffectual— propaganda. 
Savagery in act is sustained by savagery of feelings; this has been the 
work of propaganda. 

The most surprising feature of the spectacle which we now pre^ 
sent to ourselves is that we feel so little surprise at it. 

* The notes to which these numbers refer appear at the end of the book. 


That the entire populations of Great Britain and the United States, 
countries where there was no military conscription and the rights of 
the individual were held sacred, should have become merely so 
much "human potential," distributed and applied by Power as might 
best maximize the war effort, 2 is easily explained. Germany was em- 
ploying in her design of world conquest all her national resources, 
and there was no restraining her by other countries with only a part 
of theirs. That had been the mistake of France, 3 whose subsequent 
fate taught Great Britain and the United States their lesson. The 
former, indeed, went to the length of the conscription of women. 

In like manner, the enemy who, to render its bodies more docile, 
mobilizes the thoughts and feelings of men, must be copied by the 
other side, who will otherwise fight at a disadvantage. Thus it comes 
about that, just as duellists follow each other's thrusts and feints, 
nations at war copy each other's "total" methods. 

The total militarization of whole societies is, then, the work-in 
Germany the direct work, in other countries the- indirect— of Adolf 
Hitler. And the reason for this achievement of his was, in his own 
country, this— that nothing less than the whole of her resources was 
adequate to his will to power. 

There is no disputing this explanation, but it does not explain 
enough. Hider was not the first of Europe's would-be conquerors. 
How comes it that neither Napoleon, nor Frederick II, nor Charles 
XII, ever achieved the total mobilization of his entire people for 
war? Simply because they were unable to. And there have been 
other occasions in history when, with some formidable aggressor to 
repel, rulers would dearly have liked to dip deeply into the national 
resources; it will be enough to instance the emperors of the sixteenth 
century, who, even when the Turk was ravaging their lands, were 
never able, for all their wide domains, to raise armies which were 
more than moderate in size. 

Therefore, neither the aggressor's will nor the needs of his victims 
suffice of themselves to explain the vastness of the resources de- 
ployed in today's war. Rather the explanation must be sought in the 
controls, both spiritual and material, which modern governments 
have at their disposal. It is the power of these controls which has 
made possible, whether for purposes of attack or of defence, the total 
mobilization which we see. 



War is not necessarily, has not always been, what we see it today. 

In the time of Napoleon only the men of military age were taken— 
and not all of them, for as a general rule the Emperor would call up 
only half a class. All the rest of the population were left, apart from 
having to pay war taxes of moderate size, to lead their normal lives. 

In the time of Louis XIV less still was taken: conscription was un- 
known, and the private person lived outside the battle. 

We may say, then, that it is not an unavoidable result of an out- 
break of war that every member and every resource of society must 
be involved in it: may we also say that the circumstances of the out- 
break of which we are at once the spectators and the victims are due 
to chance? 

Assuredly not. And the proof is that if we arrange in chronological 
order the various wars which have for nearly a thousand years rav- 
aged our W T estern World, one thing must strike us forcibly: that with 
each one there has been a steady rise in the coefficient of society's 
participation in it, and that the total war of today is only the logical 
end of an uninterrupted advance towards it, of the increasing growth 
of war. 

For an explanation, then, of the evil which besets us we must look 
not to the actual events which we see, but to history. 

What is the continuously operative reason which has made ever 
wider the area of warfare? ( By "area of warfare" I mean, and shall 
mean throughout, the extent, whether more or less complete, to 
which the forces of society are sucked into it. ) 

The answer is given by the known facts. 


When we go back to the time— it was in fact the eleventh and 
twelfth centuries— in which the first modern states began to take 
shape, what at once strikes us is that, in times which have always 
been depicted as much given to war, the armies were very small and 
the campaigns very short. 

The king could count on the troops mustered for him by his vas- 
sals, but their obligation to serve him was for no more than forty 
days. He had on the spot some local militia, but these were troops 
of poor quality 4 and could hardly be relied on for more than two or 
three days' campaigning. 


How could he hope, with such an army, to undertake large-scale 
operations? For them he needed more disciplined, long-term troops, 
but troops of that kind had to be paid for. 

But how could the king pay for them when the only resources im- 
mediately available to him were the revenues of his private domains? 
No one would let him impose taxes on any account, 5 and his main 
source of additional revenue was the Church, which, assuming that 
it approved his projected campaign, might let him have a tenth of 
its revenues over several years. Even with this support, and even as 
late as the end of the thirteenth century, the hundred and fifty-three 
days which the "Crusade of Aragon" * lasted made it seem to con- 
temporaries a tremendous undertaking and caused considerable fi- 
nancial embarrassment to the monarchy. 

War in those days was always a small-scale affair— for the simple 
reason that Power was a small-scale affair and entirely lacked those 
two essential controls, the conscription of men and the imposition of 

But the struggle to magnify itself is of Power's essence, and the 
kings of other days were forever striving, at intervals which became 
ever shorter, to extract grants in aid, not only from the clergy, but 
from the nobility and commonalty as well. The period covered in 
England by the reigns of the first three Edwards, and in France from 
the reign of Philip the Fair to that of Philip of Valois,f saw a steady 
development of this tendency. The calculations made by Charles 
IV's \ advisers for a campaign in Gascony have come down to us: 
they were for 5,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot-soldiers, all hired and 
all under a five months' contract. Twelve years later we find yet an- 
other calculation for a four months' campaign in Flanders, this time 
for 10,000 horsemen and 40,000 foot-soldiers. 

To collect the necessary ways and means the king had to visit in 
succession all the principal centres of population in his realm and, 
having gathered the inhabitants together from highest to lowest, ex- 
pound his requirements and request their help. 6 

We find that the course of the Hundred Years' War— in reality a 

** The disastrous crusade against the King of Aragon was undertaken, at the 
prompting of the then Pope, by Philip III, "the Bold," who ruled France from 
1270 to 1285. 

f I.e., approximately, the last quarter of the thirteenth century and the first 
half to three-quarters of the fourteenth. 

| Charles IV, who ruled France from 1322 to 1328, was the last of the 
Capetian kings. The House of Valois succeeded. 


succession of short campaigns each of which had to be financed in 
turn— was continually marked by begging approaches of this kind. 
And in the English camp the same process went on; 7 here the king 
had relatively more authority, and was able to extract larger and 
more regular grants even though his country was much the poorer 
and less populous of the two. 8 

The various levies, like those needed for the ransoming of King John 
of France, had to continue over many years. Their permanence, even 
so, was never admitted, and before long the French and English 
peoples rose in almost simultaneous rebellion against them. 

Only at the war's end, when sacrifice had become second nature, 
was it possible to establish a levy permanently— the taille ( poll-tax ) , 
as it was called— for the purpose of maintaining an army on a perma- 
nent footing in the shape of the orderly companies. 

And now indeed Power had taken a big step forward. It need no 
longer go a-begging from popular assemblies in times of crisis: it 
was henceforward permanently endowed. Its next task, into which 
it would throw all its energies, would be to increase the endowment 


How to do it? How increase the share of the national wealth 
which Power takes and converts into strength? 

So long as it lasted, the monarchy never dared attempt the con- 
scription of men. It always hired its soldiers for cash. 

Now, its civil duties, which, by the way, it came to perform quite 
well, justified it in acquiring a legislative capacity— a thing unknown 
to the Middle Ages, but with possibilities of growth. This legislative 
capacity carried in its womb the right to impose taxes, though the 
period of gestation was to be a long one. 

The great crisis of the seventeenth century which saw the revolu- 
tions in England and in Naples— the latter a hardly remembered but 
highly instructive one!— and the rise of the Fronde as well, marked 
the clash between the three great Western monarchies trying to in- 
crease their taxes 9 and their peoples violently resisting their efforts.* 

* The revolt against Spanish rule in Naples occurred in 1647. Its immediate 
occasion was a tax on fruit and it started as a riot between the fruit venders 
and the customs officers. 

The Fronde was the name given ( meaning toy catapult and derived from the 
pelting of Mazarin's windows by the Paris mob) to certain French factions 
during the minority of Louis XIV which were hostile to the Court and the 


When Power had once safely rounded that cape, the results were 
clear to see: 200,000 men engaged in killing each other at Mal- 
plaquet against 50,000 at Marignan.* 

Louis XVI had 180,000 men-at-arms against Charles VII's (King 
of France, 1403-1461 ) 12,000. The King of Prussia of the time of 
Louis XVI had 195,000 and the Emperor 240,000. 

This growth frightened Montesquieu. 10 "And soon," he wrote pro- 
phetically, "having soldiers will result in having nothing but soldiers, 
and we shall become like the Tartars." And he went on with remark- 
able prescience: "All that is necessary for that to come about is that 
the new invention of militias set up in nearly the whole of Europe 
should become the normal rule and that their effectives should be 
pushed to as high a level as that which those of the regular forces 
have already attained." X1 

But to do that was quite beyond the power of the monarchy. Lou- 
vois f had created some territorial regiments to be drawn from their 
own districts and to give service— or that was the idea— nowhere else; 
when he tried to convert them into reserves for general service units 
he met with strong opposition. In Prussia, on the other hand, the 
same project, embodied in the rescript of 1733, fared better. But all 
the same, and to a much greater extent than the resulting increase of 
taxation, the peoples hated these first attempts at conscription, which 
constituted a major grievance against Power. 

To say that the monarchy did no more than increase the size of 
armies would be ridiculous. That it established internal order, that 
it protected the weak against the strong, that it raised the commu- 
nity's standard of life, that it conferred great benefits on industry, 
commerce, and agriculture— all that is well enough known. 

But, for the very reason that it had to make itself competent in 
the role of benefactor, it had to set up in concrete form a govern- 
mental machine— an executive, laws, a legislature— which may fairly 
be compared to a power house setting the governed in motion by 
means of ever more powerful controls. 

And it is by means of these controls, operated from this power 

Minister, Mazarin, and gave rise to a series of disturbances between 1648 and 
1654. The trouble started with a tax levied in the former year on the judicial 
officers of the Parlement of Paris. 

The Battle of Marignan was fought in 1515 between the French army 
under Francis I and the Swiss troops of Maximilian Sforza, Duke of Milan. 

f Louvois ( 1641-1691 ) was war minister of Louis XIV. As a war minister he 
ranks with Carnot, but has little else to commend him. 


house, that Power has become able, whenever war is actual or im- 
pending, to make such exactions from its people as were never con- 
ceived by a feudal monarch in his dreams. 

Therefore the extension of Power, which means its ability to con- 
trol ever more completely a nation's activities, is responsible for the 
extension of war. 


We have learned, and fairly enough, to link up the ideas of abso- 
lute monarchies, dynastic wars, and sacrifices laid on peoples. For, 
while it is not the case that all kings have been ambitious, yet, if one 
such there was, the extent of his authority enabled him to lay heavy 

When the people upset the Power of kings, it was, so they thought, 
of just these burdens that they were ridding themselves. It was the 
burdens of taxation and, above all, military conscription which they 
hated. That being so, it is not a little surprising to see these burdens 
grow heavier under an up-to-date regime, and most surprising of all 
to see conscription instituted, not by absolute monarchy, but as the 
result of its fall. 

Taine remarks that it was the present threat and past experience 
of invasion and its sufferings which won the people's consent to con- 

The people conceived of conscription as an accidental and temporary 
necessity. But it became permanent and established when, after victory 
and peace had been achieved, the people's Government kept it on. Thus, 
Napoleon kept it on in France after the Treaties of Luneville and Amiens, 
and the Prussian Government kept it on in Prussia after the Treaties of 
Paris and Vienna. 

As war has followed war, the burden of conscription has grown heavier. 
Like a slow contagion it has spread from State to State until now the 
whole of continental Europe is in its grip. There it holds court along with 
the friend of its youth, its twin brother, that comes always just before or 
after it— with universal suffrage; both of them brought to birth at about 
the same time, the one bringing in its train, more or less openly and com- 
pletely, the other, both of them the blind and terrible guides or masters of 
the future, the one placing in the hands of every adult person a voting 
paper, the other putting on his back a soldier's knapsack. The promise 
which they hold for the twentieth century of slaughter and bankruptcy, 
the exacerbation of hatred and suspicion between nations, the wastage of 
the work of men's hands, the perversion to base uses of the beneficent dis- 


coveries of science, the return to the low and debased shapes of primitive 
societies on the warpath, the retrograde movement towards a barbarous 
and instinctual egotism, towards the feelings, manners and morals of an- 
cient cities and savage tribes— all this we know too well! 12 

The event, however, surpassed even the imagination of Taine. At 
the end of the Napoleonic Wars there were 3,000,000 men in Europe 
under arms. The 1914-1918 war killed or mutilated five times as 
many. And in the 1939-1945 war there is no counting the men, and 
the women and children, engaged in the struggle— as long ago those 
on Ariovistus's chariots were counted. 

We are ending where the savages began. We have found again the 
lost arts of starving non-combatants, burning hovels, and leading 
away the vanquished into slavery. Barbarian invasions would be su- 
perfluous: we are our own Huns. 


How very strange! When their masters were kings, the peoples 
never stopped complaining at having to pay war. taxes. Then, when 
they have overthrown these masters and taken to taxing themselves, 
the currency in which they pay is not merely a part of their incomes 
but their very lives! 

How do we explain this amazing somersault? Has the rivalry of 
nations taken the place of that of dynasties? Is the popular will so 
warlike and expansionist that the ordinary citizen likes paying for 
wars and joining armed forces? So that we now bear with enthusiasm 
self-imposed sacrifices which are far heavier than those at which in 
other times we kicked? 


When he gets a warning from the tax collector or a summons to 
barracks from the policeman, the recipient is far from seeing in the 
warning or in the travel voucher an exercise of his own will, how- 
ever much extolled and transfigured for him that will may be. Rather 
they are to him the dictates of a foreign power, of an impersonal 
master, now popularly called "they" but in other days known as "the 
evil spirits." " 'They' increase our taxes, 'they' mobilize us"— that is 
the language of the man in the street. So far as the ordinary man is 
concerned it is as if a successor to the vanished monarchy had 
brought to fruition the interrupted tasks of absolutism. 

In the past armies and taxes have been seen to grow with the 


growth of the royal Power, so that there was a correspondence be- 
tween the peak of taxation and military effectives, and the peak of 
absolutism: must we not say, then, when we see the curve of these 
two irrefutable indices, taxes and soldiers, still moving onwards and 
upwards and the same effects still monstrously expanding, that the 
same cause is at work, and that, though in another shape, Power has 
increased and is increasing? 

Viollet was conscious of this: "The modern State is just the king 
of other days bringing to a triumphal end his unremitting work." 13 

All that has happened is that the royal power house has been 
improved on: its controls, moral and material, have been made pro- 
gressively more efficient so as to drive ever deeper into society and to 
take from it in an ever tighter clutch its goods and men. 

All that has changed is that Power in its present swollen form has 
become a stake in a political contest. 

This Power [said Marx] with its vast bureaucratic and military organi- 
zation and its complicated and artificial mechanism, this frightful parasite 
which enmeshes as in a net the body of French society and obstructs all 
its pores, started at the time of absolute monarchy, when the feudal sys- 
tem, in whose overthrow it helped, was in decline. . . . The effect of over- 
throws of Power has been merely to improve the government machine, 
not to smash it. The political parties which in turn fought for Power con- 
ceived of the seizure of this vast edifice as the spoils of victory. 14 

From the twelfth to the eighteenth century governmental author- 
ity grew continuously. The process was understood by all who saw 
it happening; it stirred them to incessant protest and to violent reac- 

In later times its growth has continued at an accelerated pace, and 
its extension has brought a corresponding extension of war. And now 
we no longer understand the process, we no longer protest, we no 
longer react. This quiescence of ours is a new thing, for which Power 
has to thank the smoke-screen in which it has wrapped itself. For- 
merly it could be seen, manifest in the person of the king, who did 
not disclaim being the master he was, and in whom human passions 
were discernible. Now, masked in anonymity, it claims to have no 
existence of its own, and to be but the impersonal and passionless 
instrument of the general will. 

But that is clearly a fiction. 


By a fiction, or, as some would say, by an abstraction, it is claimed that 
the General Will, which in reality emanates from the persons invested 
with political power, emanates from a collective being, the Nation, of 
which the rulers are nothing more than the instruments; and the rulers 
are always anxious to drive this idea into the heads of their peoples. They 
well understand its usefulness to them in making their power or their 
tyranny acceptable. 15 

Today as always Power is in the hands of a group of men who 
control the power house. The so-called Power is this group, whose 
relationship with their fellow-men is that of the ruler with the ruled. 
All that has changed is that it has now been made easy for the ruled 
to change the personnel of the leading wielders of Power. Viewed 
from one angle, this weakens Power, because the wills which con- 
trol a society's life can, at the society's pleasure, be replaced by 
other wills, in which it feels more confidence. 

But, by opening the prospect of Power to all the ambitious talents, 
this arrangement makes the extension of Power much easier. Under 
the ancien regime, society's moving spirits, who had, as they knew, 
no chance of a share of Power, were quick to denounce its smallest 
encroachment. Now, on the other hand, when everyone is potentially 
a minister, no one is concerned to cut down an office to which he 
aspires one day himself, or to put sand in a machine which he means 
to use himself when his turn comes. 16 Hence it is that there is in the 
political circles of a modern society a wide complicity in the exten- 
sion of Power. 

The most striking example of this is offered by the socialists. Here 
is what their doctrine teaches them: 

The State is nothing but an instrument of oppression of one class by 
another— no less so in a democratic republic than in a monarchy. 17 

Through all the innumerable revolutions which have taken place in 
Europe since the end of the feudal system, this bureaucratic and military 
machine has developed, improved and strengthened. . . . Every revolu- 
tion of the past has done no more than improve the government machine, 
when its real task was to smite and smash it. 18 

But this does not prevent the socialists from viewing the growth 
of this "instrument of oppression" with much favour; their plan is 
not to "smash" it but to get hold of it. 19 Rightly denouncing war, as 
they do, they do not realize that there is a link between its mon- 
strous extension and the extension of Power. 


To no purpose was Proudhon's lifelong denunciation of the per- 
version of democracy into a mere competition for the imperiiim* 

This competition brought forth in time its inevitable fruits— a 
Power which was at once widespread and weak. But it is of Power's 
essence not to be weak. Circumstances arise which make the people 
themselves want to be led by a powerful will. Then comes the time 
when whoever has taken hold of Power, whether it be a man or a 
gang, can make fearless use of its controls. These users quickly dem- 
onstrate the crushing enormity of Power. They are thought to have 
built it, but they did not. They are only its bad tenants. 


The power house was there before them: they do no more than 
make use of it. The giant was already up and about: they do no 
more than furnish him with a terrible spirit. The claws and talons 
which he then makes felt grew in the season of democracy. It is he 
that mobilizes the population, but the principle of conscription was 
founded in a democratic time. He is the despoiler of wealth, but 
democracy provided him with the inquisitorial mechanism of taxa- 
tion which he uses. The tyrant would not derive legitimacy from the 
plebiscite if the general will had not already been proclaimed the 
sufficient source of authority. The weapon of party with which he 
consolidates himself is the offspring of the competition for Power. 
The way has been made straight for the conditioning of minds in 
childhood by the monopoly, whether more or less complete, of edu- 
cation. Opinion has been prepared for the seizure by the state of the 
means of production. Even the police regime, that most insupport- 
able attribute of tyranny, has grown in the shadow of democracy. 20 
The ancien regime hardly knew of such a thing. 21 

Democracy, then, in the centralizing, pattern-making, absolutist 
shape which we have given to it is, it is clear, the time of tyranny's 

By means of the air of apparent innocence which Power derives 
from it, Power has attained a vastness of which a war and a despot- 
ism such as Europe never saw before give us the measure. Had Hit- 
ler succeeded Maria Theresa on the throne, does anyone suppose 

* Imperium denotes here, as elsewhere, the sovereign authority, as distinct 
from the potestas of a subordinate office. Proudhon ( 1809-1865), French social- 
ist writer, was called by Morley "the trenchant genius of French Socialism in 
1840 and onwards." To the modern socialist die libertarian cast of his thought 
must seem odd. 


that it would have been possible for him to forge so many up-to-date 
weapons of tyranny? Is it not clear that he must have found them 
ready prepared? The more we think on these lines, the better we 
can appreciate the problem which faces our Western World. 

It is, alas, no longer possible for us to believe that by smashing 
Hitler and his regime we are striking at the root of the evil. Even 
while we do it, we are already making plans for after the war, which 
will make the state the arbiter of every individual destiny and will 
place, inevitably, in Power's hands means adequate to the vastness of 
its task. 

Can anyone doubt that a state which binds men to itself by every 
tie of need and feeling will be that much the better placed for de- 
voting them all one day to the dooms of war? The more departments 
of life that Power takes over, the greater will be its material re- 
sources for making war; the more clearly seen the services which it 
renders, the readier will be the answer to its summons. And will any- 
one be so bold as to guarantee that this vast mechanism of state will 
never fall into the hands of a glutton of empire? Is not the will to 
Power rooted deep in human nature, and have .not the outstanding 
qualities of leadership needed for the handling of a machine which 
goes ever from strength to strength often had for companion the lust 
of conquest? 


Now it suffices, as we have just seen and as the whole of history 
teaches us, for only one of the great powers of the future to produce a 
leader who will convert into sinews of war the powers taken for social 
advancement, and then all the others must follow suit. For the more 
complete the hold which the state gets on the resources of a nation, 
the higher, the more sudden, the more irresistible will be the wave 
in which an armed community can break on a pacific one. 

It follows that, in the very act of handing over more of ourselves 
to the state, no matter how benevolent a face it wears today, we may 
be fostering tomorrow's war and ensuring that it will be to the last 
one as the last one was to the wars of the Revolution. 

In saying this I am not setting up as an enemy of the growth of 
Power and of the distension of the state. I know well the hopes that 
men have of it, and how their trust in the Power which shall be 
warms itself at the fire of the sufferings which the Power that was 
inflicted on them. The desire of their hearts is social security. Their 


rulers, or those who hope to become their rulers, feel no doubt that 
science now enables them to condition the minds and the bodies of 
men, to fit each single person into his proper niche in society, and to 
ensure the happiness of all by the interlocking functions of each. 
This undertaking, which is not lacking in a certain grandeur, marks 
the culmination of the history of the West. 

If it seems to some of us that there is in this design rather too 
much confidence here and rather too much presumption there; that 
premature attempts to apply an inexact science may inflict a more 
than barbarian cruelty—witness the experimentation in breeding— 
that mistakes in the switching of vast trainloads of human beings 
cannot but bring catastrophe; that, to conclude, the pliability of the 
masses on the one hand and the authority of their leaders on the 
other forebode wars of which the last one was but a foretaste— what 
is the good of being Jeremiahs? 

In my view, none; and the purpose of my book is merely to ex- 
amine the reasons why, and the way in which, Power grows in 




1. The mystery of civil obedience. 2. The historical character of 
obedience. 3. Statics and dynamics of obedience. 4. Obedience 
linked to credit. 

A fter describing in his lost treatises on Constitutions the vari- 
f\ ous governmental structures of a large number of different 
1 \ societies, Aristotle, in the Politics, reduced them all to three 
basic types: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. The character- 
istics of these three types, in the various mixtures in which they were 
found in practice, accounted for all the forms of Power which had 
come under his observation. 

Ever since then political science, or what passes for such, has fol- 
lowed obediently in the footsteps of the master. The discussion of 
che different forms of Power is always with us because, there being 
in every society a centre of control, everyone is naturally interested 
in the questions of its powers, its organization, and its conduct. 

There is, however, another phenomenon that also deserves some 
consideration: the fact that over every human community there 
reigns a government at all. The differences between forms of gov- 
ernment in different societies and the changes of form within the 
same society are but the accidents, to borrow the terminology of 
philosophy, of the same essence. The essence is Power. And we may 
well break off from inquring into what is the best form of Power— 
from political ethics— to ask what is the essence of Power— to con- 
struct a political metaphysic. 

The problem may also be looked at from another angle, which 
permits of a simpler statement of it. At all times and in all places we 
are confronted with the phenomenon of civil obedience. An order 
issued by Power gets obeyed by the community at large. When 
Power addresses itself to a foreign state, the weight behind its words 
is in proportion to its own ability to make itself obeyed and win 
from that obedience the means of action. It all turns on that obedi- 
ence. Who knows the reasons for that obedience knows the inner 
nature of Power. 



Another point is that, as history shows, obedience has certain lim- 
its within which Power must keep, just as there is a limit to the 
amount of a society's resources which it can take for its own. These 
limits, as observation shows us, do not remain static throughout the 
history of a society. For example, the Capetian * Kings could not 
impose direct taxation, and the Bourbons could not exact military 

The fraction or quantum of a society's resources which Power can 
take for its own is theoretically measurable. Clearly it is strictly pro- 
portioned to the quantum of obedience. And these variations in the 
resources available to Power are the measure of its own extent. We 
are safe in saying that the more completely Power can control the 
actions of the members of society and turn their resources to its uses, 
the greater is Power's extent, f 

The study of the successive variations in its resources is to con- 
sider the history of Power by reference to its extent— a very different 
thing from the history usually written of it, by reference to its forms. 

These variations in the extent of Power, considered as a function 
of the age of a society, could be represented in the form of a graph. 
Will the curve run in capricious indentations, or will its general direc- 
tion be sufficiently defined to enable us to speak of Power being sub- 
ject to a law of development in the society in question? Taking the 
latter hypothesis to be true, and also taking the view that human his- 
tory, in so far as it has come down to us, is but the arrangement in 
their order of the successive histories of big societies or civilizations 
( into the formation of which smaller ones have gone ) , all carried for- 
ward on the same impulse, then we may easily conceive that the 
curves of Power in all these big societies will probably show a cer- 
tain similarity to each other and that to examine them may throw 
some light on the course taken by civilizations. 

The start of our inquiry will be an attempt to penetrate to the es- 

The Capetian dynasty ruled in France from 987 to 1328. 
f What the author has here in mind can be pictured as a mathematical rela- 
the resources at Power's disposal 

tionship: -= — i : : = Extent or Power, the numerator 

the resources inherent in society 

and the denominator both being variables by reference to time and circum- 
stance. The study of this relationship is the main purpose of the book. This 
mathematical view of the matter may help to clarify the author's meaning, but 
it must not be supposed that the fraction can at any given moment be accurately 
quantified, though the proportion of the national income taken in taxation and 
the proportion of the nation's manpower taken in conscription would always be 
serviceable indications. 


sence of Power. It may be that we shall not succeed in it, nor is suc- 
cess absolutely necessary to our purpose, for what we are really 
after is the relation, to put it broadly, of Power to society, the former 
being considered as a function of the latter. And these two we can 
regard, if we have to, as unknown variables of which nothing can be 
grasped but the relationship between them. But history, when all is 
said, cannot be reduced in this way to an affair of mathematics. 
And we must not neglect whatever aids our vision. 

The High School of our species, curiosity, requires the unusual for 
its awakening. Just as it took prodigies, eclipses, or comets, to start 
our distant ancestors inquiring into the structure of the universe, so 
in our time crises have been needed for the birth of an economic sci- 
ence, and thirty millions of unemployed for it to become wide- 
spread. If they happen every day, then the most surprising events do 
not act on our intelligences. Hence it is, no doubt, that so little 
thought has been given to the amazing faculty for obedience of 
groupings of men, whether numbering thousands or millions, which 
causes them to obey the rules and orders of a few. 

It needs only an order for the tumultuous flood of vehicles which 
throughout a vast country kept to the left to change sides and keep 
to the right. It needs only an order for an entire people to quit their 
fields, their workshops, and their offices, and flock to barracks. 

Discipline on such a scale as this [said Necker] must astound any man 
who is capable of reflection. This obedience on the part of a very large 
number to a very small one is a thing singular to observe and mysterious 
to think on. 1 

To Rousseau the spectacle of Power recalls "Archimedes sitting 
calmly on the shore and effortlessly launching a large ship." 2 

Anyone who has ever started a small society for some special ob- 
ject knows well the propensity of its members, even though they 
have entered of their own accord into a voluntary engagement for 
a purpose to which they attach importance, to leave the society in 
the lurch. We may, then, well feel surprise at the docility of men in 
their dealings with a large society. 

Someone says, "Come," and come we do. Someone says, "Go," and 
go we do. We give obedience to the tax-gatherer, to the policeman, 
and to the sergeant-major. As it is certain that it is not before them 


that we bow down, it must be before the men above them, even 
though, as often happens, we despise their characters and suspect 
their designs. 

What, then, is the nature of their authority over us? Is it because 
they have at their disposal the means of physical coercion and are 
stronger than ourselves that we yield to them? It is true that we go 
in fear of the compulsion which they can apply to us. But to apply 
it they must have the help of a veritable army of underlings. We 
have still to explain where they get this army and what secures them 
their fidelity: in that aspect Power appears to us in the guise of a 
small society commanding a larger. 

It is, however, far from being the case that Power has always had 
at its disposal a vast apparatus of coercion. Rome, for instance, as it 
was for many centuries, had no permanent officials; no standing 
army set foot inside its walls, and its magistrates had but a few lie- 
tors to do their will. The only force of which Power then disposed 
to restrain an individual member of the community was what it drew 
from the community as a whole. 

Would it, then, be true to say that Power owes its efficaciousness 
to feelings, not of fear, but of partnership? That a group of human 
beings has a collective mind, a national genius, and a general will? 
And that its government is the personification of the group, the 
public expression of its mind, the embodiment of its genius, and the 
promulgation of its will? So that the mystery of obedience dissolves 
beneath the fact that we are in reality only obeying ourselves? That 
has been the explanation favoured by our men of law; its vogue has 
been assisted both by the double meaning of the word "state" and 
by its conformity with certain usages of our day. The expression 
"state" comprises two very different meanings. First, it denotes any 
organized society with an autonomous government: in that sense we 
are all members of a state and we are the state. But the word also 
means the governmental machine in that society. In that sense the 
members of a state are those with a share of Power and they are the 
state. The proposition that the state, meaning thereby the govern- 
mental machine, rules a society is nothing more than a truism; but 
once inject surreptitiously its other meaning into the word "state," 
and the proposition becomes the quite unproven one that the society 
is ruling itself. 

What we have here is, clearly, a piece of unconscious self- 
deception. The reason why it is not too flagrant for concealment is 


that in the society of our day the governmental machine is, or should 
be in principle, the expression of society, a mere conduit, in other 
words, by means of which society rules itself. Even if we choose to 
assume what in fact remains to be seen— that that is now the true 
position, it is clear that it has not been, always and everywhere, the 
true position in the past, but that authority has at times been exer- 
cised by Powers which were quite distinct entities from society— and 
yet received obedience. 

Therefore the rule of Power over society is not the work of force 
alone, because it is met with even where the force available is very 
small, nor is it the work of partnership alone, because it is met with 
even where society has absolutely no part in Power. 

It may be urged that there are really two Powers which are dif- 
ferent in kind; that one is the Power of a small number of men over 
the mass, as in a monarchy or aristocracy, and that Power of this 
kind maintains itself by force alone; and that the other is the Power 
of the mass over itself, and that Power of this kind maintains itself 
by partnership alone. 

If that were so, we should expect to find that in monarchical and 
aristocratic regimes the apparatus of coercion was at its zenith, be- 
cause there was no other driving power, and that in modern democ- 
racies it was at its nadir, because the demands made by them on 
their citizens are all the decisions of the citizens themselves. Whereas 
what we in fact find is the very opposite, and that there goes with 
the movement away from monarchy to democracy an amazing de- 
velopment of the apparatus of coercion. No absolute monarch ever 
had at his disposal a police force comparable to those of modern 
democracies. It is, therefore, a gross mistake to speak of two Powers 
differing in kind, each of which receives obedience through the play 
of one feeling only. Logical analyses of this kind misconceive the 
complexity of the problem. 


Obedience is, in truth, the outcome of various and very different 
feelings which have, as it were, the effect of seating Power on a mul- 
tiple throne: 

Power exists, it has been said, only through the concurrence of all the 
properties which go to form its essence; it draws its inner strength and 
the material succour which it receives, both from the continuously help- 
ing hand of habit and also from the imagination; it must possess both a 


reasonable authority and a magical influence; it must operate like nature 
herself, both by visible means and by hidden influence. 3 

This is a useful formula, so long as it is not regarded as a sys- 
tematic and exhaustive catalogue. It stresses the ascendancy of the 
irrational factors— and it is far from being the case that obedience is 
mainly due either to a weighing of the risks of disobedience or to a 
conscious identification by the subject of his will with that of his 
governors. The essential reason for obedience is that it has become 
a habit of the species. 

We find Power at the birth of social life, just as we find a father 
at the birth of physical life. This simile has constantly given rise in 
the past to comparisons between them, and will no doubt, even in 
the teeth of the most conclusive objections, continue to give rise to 

Power is for us a fact of nature. From the earliest days of recorded 
history it has always presided over human destinies. And so its 
authority in our own time finds support in us from feelings drawn 
from very ancient times, feelings which it has with each successive 
change of form successively inspired. 

The continuity of human development has been such that most, if not 
all, of the great institutions which still form the framework of civilized 
Society have their roots in savagery, and have been handed down to us in 
these later days through countless generations, assuming new outward 
forms in the process of transmission, but remaining in their inmost core 
substantially unchanged. 4 

All societies, even those which seem to us the least developed, go 
back into a past of several thousand years, and the authorities which 
ruled them in former times did not disappear without bequeathing 
to their successors their prestige, nor without leaving in men's minds 
imprints which are cumulative in their effect. The succession of gov- 
ernments which, in the course of centuries, rule the same society 
may be looked on as one underlying government which takes on con- 
tinuous accretions. And for that reason Power is something which 
the historian, rather than the logician, comprehends. So that we may 
unhesitatingly disregard the various systematic approaches which 
claim to gather all its diverse attributes into a single principle, and 
to make of that principle both the foundation of all the rights exer- 
cised by Power's titularies and the explanation of all the obligations 
which they impose on others. 


Sometimes this single principle is the "Divine Will" of which the 
titularies are the vicars on earth; sometimes it is the "general will" 
of which they are the mandatories; sometimes again it is the national 
genius of which they are the incarnation, or the collective conscience 
which they interpret, or the finalization of society of which they are 
the agents. 

Clearly we cannot make of any one of the aforesaid principles the 
only begetter of Power, if there ever was a Power in being which 
lacked the backing of the particular principle. But we know that 
Powers have existed in periods in which it would have been non- 
sense to talk of "national genius"; other Powers there were which 
there was no general will to sustain— far from it. The one system- 
atic approach which can be made to fulfil the fundamental condition 
of explaining every Power whatsoever is that by way of "the Divine 
Will"; when St. Paul said, "There is no Power but of God: the 
Powers that be are ordained of God," even Nero's, he provided the- 
ologians with the explanation of Power which includes its every 

All other metaphysical explanations of Power are useless for the 
purpose, if indeed they can be called metaphysics at all. For we 
leave the region of true metaphysics when analysis is more or less 
completely submerged by ethics— when the question asked is, not 
"What must Power be to exist?" but "What must Power be to be 

Should we, then, ignore these theories? Certainly not, for these 
ideal representations of Power have given currency in society to be- 
liefs which play a vital part in actual Power's development. 

We may study the movements of celestial bodies without concern- 
ing ourselves with astronomers' concepts which, though they were 
once believed, do not correspond to the reality; this is so because the 
movements themselves are unaffected by our beliefs about them. 
But the position is quite different when it comes to the ideas con- 
ceived at different times of Power; for government, being a human, 
and not a natural, phenomenon, is deeply influenced by the ideas 
men have of it. And it is true to say that Power expands under cover 
of the beliefs entertained about it. 

With this in mind, let us take up again our musings on obedience. 
The proximate cause of obedience is, as we have seen, habit. But let 


command once step outside its usual limits and habit ceases to be a 
full explanation of obedience. When it is command's will to impose 
on men obligations in excess of those to which they have been 
broken in, it no longer gets the benefit of the automatic reactions 
which time has implanted in the commanded. To bring into being 
the enlarged effect, which is in this case an accretion of obedience, 
there must be an enlarged cause. At this point habit is not enough: 
there must be recourse to reason. Both logic and history lead to this 
conclusion, that it is in times when Power is stretching its limbs that 
discussion takes place of its inner nature and of the elements inher- 
ent in it which bring it obedience; and this is so whether its growth 
is in the end helped or hindered by the process of discussion. The 
opportunism which is thus seen to characterize the various theories 
of Power is but one more proof of the inability of such theories to 
provide a complete explanation of the phenomenon. 

Whenever a period of discussion arrives, reason has never failed 
to follow the same two paths, which correspond to the theoretical and 
the practical sides of the human intellect. On the side of theory it 
has sought to justify obedience as such: on the side of practice it 
has opened the door to beliefs, whether in efficient or final causes 
matters not, which make an increase of obedience possible. Power, 
in other words, must be obeyed, whether in virtue of its nature or 
of its aims. 

The arguments from its nature are based on the rise of theories of 
sovereignty. The efficient cause of obedience, run these theories, is 
to be found in a prerogative exercised by Power in virtue of a cer- 
tain Ma\estas, of which it is either the possessor or the incarnation 
or the representative. This prerogative belongs to it on the one nec- 
essary and sufficient condition that it is legitimate— in virtue, in other 
words, of its origin. 

The arguments from its aims are based on the rise of theories as 
to the purpose of government. The final cause of obedience, run 
these theories, lies in the end of Power, and that end is the Common 
Good, however the term is interpreted. Power has earned the sub- 
ject's submissiveness when it seeks and gets the Common Good: no 
other justification for it is required. 

This simple classification includes all the standard theories of 
Power. In general, no doubt, Powers lay claim to both the efficient 
cause and the final cause at one and the same time, but it will tend 


to much greater clarity to consider successively the attributes first 
of the one and then of the other. 

But, before going into any detail, let us stop to see whether we 
cannot, in the light of this general survey, form even now some ap- 
proximate idea of Power. We have found in it, through all its out- 
ward manifestations, the mysterious quality of its continuing essence, 
and this quality confers on it an irrational influence which cannot be 
brought to the bar of logical reason. Reason discerns in it three set- 
tled qualities: force, legitimacy, beneficence. But try to isolate these 
qualities, and, as with some chemical bodies, they steal away into 
thin air. And this they do because they exist, not absolutely, but 
only in the minds of men. What for practical purposes exists is 
human belief in the legitimacy of Power, hope of its beneficence, 
consciousness of its strength. But, quite clearly, it wins its title to be 
legitimate only by conforming to what is in the general view the 
legitimate form of Power; it wins its title to be beneficent only by 
making its ends conform to those which men in general esteem; 
lastly, its only strength i c , a!: any rate in most cases, the strength 
which men think it their duty to lend to it. 

It thus appears that obedience is largely compounded of creed, 
credence, and credit. 

Force alone can establish Power, habit alone can keep it in being, 
but to expand it must have credit— a thing which, even in its earlier 
life, it finds useful and has generally received in practice. As a de- 
scription of Power, rather than as a definition, we may now call it a 
standing corporation, which is obeyed from habit, has the means of 
physical compulsion, and is kept in being partly by the view taken 
of its strength, partly by the faith that it rules as of right ( in other 
words, its legitimacy), and partly by the hope of its beneficence. 

The role played by credit in the advancement of Power's strength 
needed underlining, so as to explain why the theories which stir the 
imagination concerning it are so valuable to it. Whether they induce 
greater respect for an abstract sovereignty, or whether they arouse 
more devotion to an abstract Common Good, they greatly aid Power 
and open up to it new pastures. 

A remarkable feature of this process is that these abstract systems 
of thought can still be of use to Power even when they do not grant 


it this sovereignty and do not admit its role of agent for this Com- 
mon Good: they have done what is needed when they have im- 
planted in the mind these two conceptions. Rousseau, for instance, 
though a great believer in sovereignty, was for refusing it to Power 
and setting it up against it. Or again, socialism, having conjured up 
an exceedingly attractive vision of a Common Good, was for giving 

Power no share in the task of realizing it: so far from that, it was for 


putting the state to death. But these negations make no difference to 
Power; such is its position in society that it, and it only, can make 
itself master of this hallowed sovereignty— that there is no other 
agency which can materialize the fascinations of this Common 

We now know what is the right angle from which to examine the 
theories of Power. The one feature of them which is of vital impor- 
tance to our inquiry is their practical assistance to Power. 


1. Divine sovereignty. 2. Popular sovereignty. 3. Democratic popu- 
lar sovereignty. 4. A dynamic of Power. 5. How sovereignty can 
control Power. 6. The tlieories of sovereignty considered in their 

The theories which have, in the course of time, had the 
most vogue in Western society and exercised there the most 
influence are those which explain and justify political author- 
ity by its efficient cause. These thories are those of sovereignty. 

Obedience, it is said, becomes a duty because of the undeniable 
existence "of an ultimate right of command in Society," called sov- 
ereignty, a right which extends "to controlling the actions of Soci- 
ety's members with, in the background, power to coerce them, a 
right to which all private individuals have to submit without possi- 
bility of resistance." 1 

Power makes use of this right even though in the general view it 
does not belong to it. It is denied that this absolute and unbounded 
right, transcending all private rights, can possibly belong to one 
man or to one group of men. Only to the most august incumbent, to 


God, or to society as a whole, will we commit, with no thought of 
bargaining reserve, the entire conduct of our lives. 

As we shall see, theories like those of Divine Right and Popular 
Sovereignty, which pass for opposites, stem in reality from the same 
trunk, the idea of sovereignty— the idea, that is, that somewhere 
there is a right to which all other rights must yield. It is not hard to 
discover behind this juridical concept a metaphysical one. A supreme 
Will, it runs, rules and disposes human societies, a Will which, be- 
ing naturally good, it would be wrong to resist: this Will is either 
the "Divine Will" or the "general will." 

Power in being must be the emanation of this supreme sovereign, 
be it God or society; it must be the incarnation of this will. And its 
legitimacy is proportionate to its satisfaction of these conditions. 
Whether as delegate or mandatory, it can then exercise the right to 
rule. It is at this point that the two theories, in addition to their 
divergent conceptions as to the nature of the sovereign, become 
much differentiated. As to how, for instance, and to whom, and, 
above all, to what extent the right to rule is given. Who will watch 
over its exercise and in what manner, so that the mandatory does 
not fail the purpose of the sovereign? When can it be said, and by 
what signs can it be known, that Power, by betraying its trust, has 
lost its legitimacy, and, having now become no more than an ob- 
servable fact, can no longer claim a right transcendent? 

We must for the time leave these important details aside. Our 
present concern is with the psychological influence of these doc- 
trines, and the way in which they have affected human beliefs in 
regard to Power and, through them, man's attitude of mind towards 
it; that in its turn has determined Power's extent. Have they acted 
on Power as a discipline, by forcing it to own allegiance to a benefi- 
cent being? Or have they canalized its stream, by creating checks 
which can bind it to keep faith? Or have they limited it, by restrict- 
ing the share of sovereign right allowed it? 

Many writers on theories of sovereignty have worked out one or 
the other of these restrictive devices. But in the end every single 
such theory has, sooner or later, lost its original purpose, and come 
to act merely as a springboard to Power, by providing it with the 
powerful aid of an invisible sovereign with whom it could in time 
successfully identify itself. The theory of a divine sovereignty led to 
absolute monarchy; the theory of a popular sovereignty led at first 
to parliamentary supremacy, and finally to plebiscitary absolutism. 


The idea that Power is of God buttressed, so it is said, a monarchy 
that was both arbitrary and unlimited right through the Dark Ages. 
This grossly inaccurate conception of the Middle Ages is deeply 
embedded in the unlettered, whom it serves as a convenient starting- 
point from which to unroll the history of a political evolution to the 
winning-post, which is liberty. 

There is not a word of truth in all this. Let us remember, without 
at the moment stressing it, that Power in medieval times was shared 
(with the Curia Regis*), limited (by other authorities which were, 
in their own sphere, autonomous), and that, above all, it was not 
sovereign. 2 The distinguishing characteristics of a Power which is 
sovereign are: its possession of a legislative authority; its capacity 
to alter as it pleases its subjects' rules of behaviour, while recasting 
at its own convenience the rules which determine its own; and, 
while it legislates for others, to be itself above the laws, legibus 
solutus, absolute. Now Power in medieval times w r as very different: 
it was tied down, not only in theory but in practice, by the Lex 
Terrae (the customs of the country), which was thought of as a 
thing immutable. And when the English Barons uttered their 
Nolumus leges Angliae mutari f they were only giving vent to the 
general feeling of the time. 3 

In fact, so far from having been a cause of greatness in Power, the 
conception of divine sovereignty was for many centuries the com- 
panion of its weakness. No doubt some fine phrases can be brought 
up. James I of England said to the heir to his throne: "God has made 
of you a little god, to sit on your throne and rule men." 4 Louis XIV's 
instructions to the Dauphin were in very similar terms: "He who 
gave the world kings wished that they should be honoured as His 
representatives, by reserving to Himself alone the right to judge 
their actions. He who is born a subject must obey without complain- 
ing: that is God's will." 5 Even Bossuet, when preaching at the 
Louvre, apostrophized his royal house as follows: "You are gods 
even though you are mortal, and your authority is immortal." 6 

It is beyond question that if God, the Father and protector of 
human society, has Himself designated certain men to govern it, 

* The Curia Regis was in the early years of Norman England the feudal 
assembly of the tenants-in-chief. It is the germ from which the higher Courts, 
the Privy Council, and the Cabinet have sprung. 

t "We object to changes in the laws of England." 


has called them His anointed, has made them His regents, and has 
armed them with a sword for the administration of justice— Bossuet 
again— then the king, strong in such a majesty, can be for his sub- 
jects nothing less than their absolute master. But phrases of this 
sort, in this acceptation of them, are only met with in the seven- 
teenth century; in relation to the medieval theory of divine sover- 
eignty they are the greatest heterodoxy. And here we come across 
a striking instance of the perversion of a theory of Power to the 
advantage of Power in being— a perversion which is, as we have 
already said and as will appear later, a very general phenomenon. 

The same idea, that Power is of God, has, in the course of more 
than fifteen centuries, been used by its prophets for a great variety 
of purposes. St. Paul, 7 it is clear, was anxious to combat in the 
Christian community at Rome its tendencies to civil disobedience, 
which would, he feared, not only precipitate persecutions but also 
divert the community's activities from their true purpose, which was 
the winning of souls. Gregory the Great,* 8 writing at a time when 
the West was a military anarchy, the East a prey to political insta- 
bility, and the Roman way of life in imminent danger of destruction, 
felt under the necessity of shoring up Power. The canonists of the 
ninth century 9 strove to prop up the toppling imperial authority 
after the Church had, in the general interest, re-established it. As 
many periods and as many requirements, so many meanings. But 
it is not the case that the doctrine of Divine Law was dominant at 
any time before the Middle Ages: it was ideas derived from Roman 
law which formed the intellectual climate of those days. And if we 
take up the theory of divine sovereignty in the time of its blossom- 
ing, that is to say from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, what 
do we find? That people are repeating St. Paul's formula, "all Power 
is of God," but less with a view to inducing subjects to obey Power 
than to inducing Power to obey— God. So far from the Church 
wishing to confer on princes a divine supremacy by calling them 
the representatives or the ministers of God, her concern was the 
very opposite: to make them conscious that, since they held their 
authority only as a trust, it was their duty to make use of it in 
accordance with the intention and will of the Master from whom 
they had received it. It was not a question of her authorizing the 
prince to make whatever law he pleased, but rather of bending 
Power's will to a divine law which was its overriding master. 

" Gregory the Great, Pope from 590 to 604. The first monk to become a Pope. 


The consecrated king of the Middle Ages was a Power as tied 
down and as little arbitrary as we can conceive. He was simulta- 
neously constrained by standing human law, i.e., custom, and by the 
Divine Law, and could hardly trust his own reading of his duty about 
anything. The court of peers was there to compel his respect for 
custom, and the Church took care that he continued as the assidu- 
ous viceregent of the heavenly king, whose instructions in their 
every point he must obey. 

In the act of crowning him the Church warned him: "Through 
this crown, you become a sharer in our ministry," as Archbishops 
said to French kings of the thirteenth century at the time of their 
consecration; "as in the spiritual sphere we are the shepherds of 
souls, so in the temporal you must show yourself the true servant 
of God. . . ." This solemn charge she incessantly reiterated to kings. 
Yves de Chartres, for instance, wrote in these terms to Henry I of 
England after his accession: "Never forget it, Prince: you are the 
servant of the servants of God and not their master; you are the 
protector and not the owner of your people." 10 Lastly we may 
observe that, if he proved himself an unprofitable servant, she had 
it in her power to lay sanctions on him which were found so for- 
midable that they brought the Emperor Henry IV to fall on his 
knees before Gregory VII in the snow of Canossa. 

Such, in the very heyday of its strength, was the theory of divine 
sovereignty; so little favourable was it to the exercise of a boundless 
authority that emperors and kings, seeking Power's enlargement, 
could not but clash with it. Sometimes, to escape the Church's 
yoke, we see them advance the plea that, since their authority is 
immediately held from God, it is not for man to supervise their use 
of it ( this argument rests mainly on the Bible and St. Paul's Epistle 
to the Romans); but more often, and to more purpose, they have 
recourse to the tradition of the Roman jurists which ascribes sover- 
eignty not to God, but— to the people! 

It is for this reason that Marsilius of Padua— an adventurer who 
was pushing the claims of the then uncrowned Emperor, Louis of 
Bavaria— and manv other champions of Power besides, supplanted 
the postulate of divine sovereignty with that of popular sovereignty: 
"The supreme legislator of the human race," he asserts, "is none 
other than the Totality of mankind, to whom the sanctions of Law 
fall to be applied. . . ." n The reliance of Power on this idea to 
render itself absolute is very significant. 12 


The idea would in time emancipate Power from the control of the 
Church. But there had first to be a revolution in religious ideas 
before Power, after arguing from the people's brief against God, 
could take up that of God against the people— a piece of tergiversa- 
tion which was a necessary step in the build-up of absolutism. 

The revolution needed was the crisis caused in European society 
by the Reformation, and the violent pleadings of Luther and his suc- 
cessors for a temporal Power which should be freed from papal tute- 
lage and so enabled to adopt and legalize the reformers' doctrines. 
Such was the gift brought by the doctors of the Reformation to the 
reformed princes. The Hohenzollern who, in his capacity of Grand 
Master of the Order of Teutonic Knights, was then ruling Prussia, 
acting on Luther's advice, declared himself the owner of the estates 
which he held as administrator; the princes, breaking with the 
Church of Rome, took the opportunity of converting into a freehold 
the right of sovereignty, which had, until then, only been accorded 
to them as a limited mandate. Divine right, which had in the past 
been on the debit side of Power's account, was becoming an asset. 
Nor did that happen in those countries only which had adopted the 
Reformation, but in the others as well, for the Church, being now 
reduced to soliciting the support of the princes, was in no position 
to lay on them its time-honoured ban. 13 There lies the explanation 
of the "divine right of kings," as we see it in the seventeenth cen- 
tury; it is a fragment taken from the context of a doctrine which had 
made of kings the representatives of God as regards their subjects, 
only to subject them at the same time to the law of God and to the 
control of the Church. 


So far from its being the case that theology gives absolutism any 
justification for itself, we find the Stuart and Bourbon kings, at the 
time that they were raising their claims, having the political treatises 
of Jesuit doctors burnt by the common hangman. 14 These doctors 
not only prayed in aid the supremacy of the Pontiff: "The Pope 
can depose kings and put others in their place, as he has done 
already," 15 but also constructed a theory of authority which shelved 
completely the idea of a direct mandate entrusted to kings by the 
heavenly Sovereign. 

In their view, while it is true that Power is of God, it was not true 
that God had selected the beneficiary. Power is an emanation of His 


will because He has given man a social nature, 16 and has, therefore, 
caused him to live in a community: of this community civil govern- 
ment is a necessary feature. 17 But He has not Himself organized this 
government. That is the business of the people of this community, 
who must, for reasons of practical necessity, bestow it on some 
person or persons. These holders of Power manage something which 
is of God, and are therefore subjected to His law. But, in addition, 
it is the community which has entrusted them with this something, 
and on conditions laid down by itself. That makes them accountable 
to the community. 

It is for the will of the people [says Bellarmin] to set up a king, consuls 
or other magistrates. And if good cause comes, the people may exchange 
monarchy for aristocracy or democracy, and vice versa; history tells us 
that it happened so at Rome. 18 

It is easy to imagine with what fury a man of James I's arrogance 
read statements like these: it was then that he wrote his "Apology 

for the oath of allegiance." Suarez's refutation * of it, written to the 


order of Pope Paul V, was publicly burnt in front of St. Paul's in 

James I had claimed that, confronted by an unjust royal com- 
mand, "the people may do no other than flee unresistingly from the 
anger of its king; its tears and sighs are the only answer to him 
allowed it, and it may summon none but God to its aid." To this 
Bellarmin replied, "No people ever delegated its authority without 
reservation, by which it may in appropriate cases resume it in act." 19 

According to this Jesuit doctrine, it is the community which, by 
the act of forming itself, establishes Power. The city-state or repub- 
lic is formed of 

a species of political union, which could not have taken shape without a 
sort ot convention, expressed or implied, by which families and individ- 
uals subject themselves to a superior authority or social administrator, the 
aforesaid convention being the condition on which the community exists. 20 

In this formula of his, Suarez has anticipated the theory of the 
social contract. Society is fonned and Power established by the will 
and consent of the multitude. To the extent that the people invests 
its rulers with the right to rule them, there is a pactum siibjectionis. 21 
The object of this reconstruction was, it is clear, to bar Power's road 

* The title of this treatise (1613) was Defensio catholicae fidei contra 
anglicanae sectae errores. 


to absolutism. But it was soon distorted, as we shall see, in such a 
way that it served to justify absolutism. How was it possible to do 
that? Merely by taking away from the three following expressions 
the first one— God the author of Power, the people who confer 
Power, the rulers who receive it and exercise it. It is affirmed, after 
this abstraction, that Power belongs to society in full fee simple and 
is then conferred by it alone on its rulers. That is the theory of 
popular sovereignty. 

It may be objected that, more surely than any other, this theory 
bars the road to absolutism. That, as we shall see, is the great 

The medieval champions of Power conducted their case clumsily 
enough. Marsilius of Padua,* for instance, after postulating that the 
"supreme legislator" was the "totality of mankind," goes on to the 
proposition that this authority has been conferred on the Roman 
people; and he reaches this triumphant conclusion: "Finally, if the 
Roman people has conferred legislative power on its prince, then 
there is no escaping the conclusion that this power belongs to the 
prince of the Romans"— to, in other words, Marsilius's client, Louis 
of Bavaria. The argument makes no attempt to conceal its lack of 
disinterestedness. The point of it is, as any child could see, that the 
multitude has been endowed with this majestic authority merely 
that it may pass it on, stage by stage, to a despot. In course of time, 
however, the selfsame dialectic will find more plausible guise in 
which to present itself. 

Here, for instance, is Hobbes, who, right in the middle of the 
seventeenth century, which was the heyday of the divine right of 
kings, wanted to undertake the defence of absolute monarchy. 
Notice how he avoids using the Biblical arguments which will be 
the stock-in-trade of Bishop Filmer a generation later— only to go 
down before the arrows of Locke. 

Hobbes does not infer the unlimited right of Power from the 
sovereignty of God: he infers it from the sovereignty of the People. 
He assumes that men were, in the natural state, free, but he defines 
this primitive freedom, in terms more appropriate to a doctor than 

* Marsilius of Padua (1270-1342), Italian medieval scholar, publisher in 
1324 in conjunction with Jean de Jan dun of a famous controversial work, the 
Defensor Pacis. The purpose of this work was to sustain Louis of Bavaria, 
King of the Romans, in his struggle with Pope John XXII, and its purport 
to prove the supremacy of the Empire, its independence of the Holy See, and 
the emptiness of the prerogatives "usurped" by the sovereign pontiffs. 


to a jurist, as the absence of every external compulsion. This freedom 
of action continues to the point at which it comes up against some- 
one else's freedom, when the conflict is resolved according to the 
forces at the disposal of each. "Each individual," as Spinoza put it, 
"has a sovereign right over whatever is in his power; in other words, 
the right of each extends to the precise limit of the power which 
each has." 22 There is, therefore, no other effective right than that 
of tigers to eat men. 

Some way out of this "state of nature," where each takes what he 
can and holds as best he can what he has taken, had to be found. 23 
For this wild sort of liberty made both security and civilization 
equally impossible. Had not men, therefore, to come to the point of 
making a mutual surrender of their rights for the sake of peace and 
order? Hobbes goes to the length of giving the formula on which 
the social pact was concluded: 

I surrender my right to rule myself to this man or to this assembly on 
condition that you make a like surrender of yours. In this way the multi- 
tude has become a single person which goes by the name of a city or a 
republic. Such is the origin of this Leviathan or terrestrial deity, to whom 
we owe all peace and all safety. 24 

The man or assembly on whom the hitherto unlimited individual 
rights have now been unreservedly conferred is the possessor of an 
unlimited collective right. Thenceforward, the English philosopher 

Each subject having been made, by the establishment of the Republic, 
the author of all the actions and judgments of the sovereign established, 
the sovereign, whatever he does, does no wrong to any of his subjects, 
and can never be accused of injustice by any of them. For, acting as he 
does only on a mandate, what right could those who have given him this 
mandate have to complain of him? 

By this establishment of the Republic, each individual is the author of 
whatever the sovereign does: consequently, anyone who claims that the 
sovereign is wronging him is objecting to acts of which he is himself the 
author, and has only himself to accuse. 25 

Surely this is all very extravagant. But Spinoza, though in less 
striking language, afBrms no less the unlimited right of Power: 

Whether the supreme Power belongs to one man, or is shared among 
several, or is common to all, it is certain that to whoever has it belongs 
also the sovereign right of giving any order he pleases— the subject is 


bound to an absolute obedience as long as the king, or the nobles, or the 
people, retain the sovereign power which the conveyance of rights has 
conferred on them. 

He too asserts: "The sovereign, to whom all is of right allowed, cannot 
violate the rights of the subjects." 26 

Here then we have two illustrious philosophers inferring the most 
complete despotism from the principle of popular sovereignty. Who- 
ever has the sovereign power can do whatever he likes, and the 
subject who is wronged must regard himself as the actual author 
of the unjust act. "We are bound to execute to the limit whatever 
orders the sovereign gives us, even though they should be the silliest 
imaginable," pontificates Spinoza. 27 

How different is the language held by St. Augustine: ". . . but, 
inasmuch as we believe in God and have been summoned to His 
kingdom, we have been subjected to no man who should seek to 
destroy the gift of eternal life which God has given us." 28 

What a contrast is here between a Power which is held to the ex- 
ecution of the divine law and one which, after subsuming every in- 
dividual right, has become a law to itself! 


Given that there was at first a state of nature in which men were 
bound by no laws, and rights (so called) were no more than the 
measure of each man's strength, and on the hypothesis that they 
formed a society by commissioning a sovereign to establish order 
among them, then it follows that this sovereign received from them 
all their own rights, and that in consequence the individual has 
none in reserve wherewith to oppose him. 

Spinoza has put the point very clearly: 

Everyone has had, whether by an express or an implied agreement, to 
confer on the sovereign their entire stock of means of self-preservation— in 
other words, all their natural right. Had they wished to keep back for 
themselves any part of this right, they must at the same time have taken 
defensive measures for their own safety; as they have not done that and 
must, had they done it, have divided and in the end destroyed all rule, 
they have in fact subjected themselves to the will, however it operates, of 
the sovereign power. 

To this it was no answer to suppose, as Locke did, that all individual 
rights were not put in the common stock and that some were kept 


back by the contracting parties. This hypothesis, though destined 
to bear fruit politically, holds no water logically. Rousseau will be 
found at a later date pouring scorn on Locke's reasoning: the aliena- 
tion of individual rights is made unreservedly 

and none of the partners can henceforward claim back anything; for, if 
there were still any rights in private hands, then, as there would be no 
superior in common to pronounce between them and the public right, the 
result would be that each man, finding himself his own judge in some- 
thing, would soon claim to be it in everything. 29 

"Will it perhaps seem to someone," asks a troubled Spinoza, "that 
by this principle we are making men slaves?" His answer is that 
what makes a man a slave is not obedience but obedience in the 
interest of a master. If the orders given are in the interests of the 
man who obeys, then he is not a slave but a subject. 

But this raises the problem of how to ensure that the sovereign 
never considers the interest of the ruler but only the interest of the 
ruled. The solution of confronting him with an overseer, a "defender 
of the people," is ruled out in advance, because, he is himself the 
people, and the individual has no rights left to him wherewith to 
arm against the whole any check or counter-weight. Hobbes admits 
that "the state of subjects who are exposed to all the irregular 
passions of the man or men who own such an unlimited authority, 
may be one of great misery." 30 

The people's only hope is in the personal excellence of the man 
or men whom they obey. Who is it to be? 

In Hobbes' view, men had bound themselves by their original 
contract to obey either a monarch or an assembly— his own marked 
preference was for a monarch. In Spinoza's view, they had bound 
themselves to obey either a king, or a nobility, or a people, and he 
stressed the advantages of the last of these solutions. In Rousseau's 
view, no choice was conceivable: men could bind themselves to 
obey nothing but their totality. Whereas Hobbes made his man 
concluding the social pact say, "I surrender my right to rule myself 
to this man or to these men," Rousseau, when drafting a constitution 
for the Corsicans, made each contracting party say, ". . . with my 
body, my goods, my will and my entire strength I join myself to the 
Corsican nation, to whom I now belong in fee simple, I and my 

Once there is postulated a right of command which has no limits 


and against which the private person has no rights— and that is the 
logical result of the hypothesis of the social pact— then it is much 
less terrible to conceive of this right as belonging collectively to all 
than as belonging to one man only or to a few. 

Rousseau, like his predecessors, held that what constitutes sover- 
eignty is the surrender without reservation of individual rights; 
these then go to form a collective right, the sovereign's, which is 
absolute. On this point all the theories of popular sovereignty are in 
agreement. In Hobbes' view, however, a surrender of rights pre- 
supposed someone, whether a man or an assembly, to whom to 
surrender them: the will of this someone, in whom is vested the 
collective right, would thereafter pass for, and stand legally as, the 
will of all. Spinoza, and others too, conceded that the collective 
right might be vested in the will either of one man, or of several 
men, or of a majority. Hence the three traditional forms of govern- 
ment: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. According to this line 
of thought the originating act by which a society and a sovereignty 
were created set up ipso facto the government which is the sovereign. 
And to many thinkers of note it seemed unthinkable that, once the 
fundamental hypothesis was accepted, any other course of events 
was possible. 31 

In Rousseau's view, however, the process has two stages: first, 
individuals turn themselves into a people; next, they give them- 
selves a government. The result is that, whereas in previous systems 
the people gave the collective right (the sovereignty) in the act of 
creating it, in his they create it without giving it— in fact they never 
part with it. Rousseau allowed in principle all the three forms of 
government and considered democracy appropriate to small states, 
aristocracy appropriate to those of moderate size, and monarchy 
appropriate to large ones. 32 


In any case, the government is not the sovereign. Rousseau calls 
the government the prince or the magistrate, names which may 
signify a collection of men: thus a senate may be the prince, and in 
a perfect democracy the people itself is the magistrate. It is true 
that this prince or magistrate is the ruler. Rut his title to rule is not 
sovereign, does not derive from that limitless imperinm which is the 
essence of sovereignty— all he does is to exercise such powers as 
have been conferred on him. 


Only, when once the idea of an absolute sovereignty has even 
been conceived and its existence asserted to rest in the body of 
society, great is the temptation, and great also are the opportunities, 
for the ruling body to seize it. Although Rousseau was, in our opin- 
ion, quite wrong in supposing that so overpowering a right existed 
at all, his theory has the merit of accounting for the growth of 
Power, and brings into play a political dynamic. Rousseau saw very 
clearly that the agents of Power form a corps, 33 that this corps 
houses a corps mind, 34 and that its aim is to usurp sovereignty: 

The more they redouble their efforts, the more the constitution changes; 
and, in the absence of any other corps mind to resist the prince's [Power's] 
and thus bring it into equilibrium, the time must come sooner or later 
when the prince [Power] ends by oppressing the sovereign [the people] 
and thereby breaks the Social Contract. This is the inherent and inevitable 
weakness which, from the day that the body politic is born, tends cease- 
lessly to destroy it, even as old age and death destroy at last the physical 
body. 35 

This theory of Power marks a great advance on those so far exam- 
ined by us. The others explained Power by the possession of an 
unlimited right of command, whether that right emanated from God 
or from the social totality. But none of them gave any clue to the 
reason why, as one Power succeeded another or one period in the 
life of the same Power succeeded another, the area over which 
command and obedience operated should show such variations. 

In Rousseau's powerful reconstruction, on the other hand, we do 
find an attempt at explanation. If Power's extent varies from one 
society to another, the reason is that the body social, in which alone 
sovereignty resides, has made larger or smaller grants of its exercise. 
Above all, if the same Power's extent varies in the course of that 
Power's life, the reason is that it tends unceasingly to usurp sover- 
eignty and can, in the measure of its success, dispose of the people 
and their resources more completely and more uninhibitedly. The 
result is that, the greater the element of usurpation in a govern- 
ment, so much the wider is the range of its authority. 

What, however, is not explained is the source from which Power 
draws the strength necessary to effect this usurpation. For, if it owes 
its strength to the mass of the people and to the fact that it is the 
incarnation of the general will, then it must, with its every deviation 
from that general will, lose strength, and its authority must tend to 


disappear to the extent to which it separates itself from the popular 
desire. Rousseau's view was that government, by a natural slant, 
tends to move from many men to few or from democracy to aristoc- 
racy—he instances the case of Venice— and in the end to monarchy, 
regarded by him as the final form of society; and monarchy, by 
becoming despotic, causes in the end the death of the body social. 
But there is nothing in history to show that such a serial movement 
is inevitable. Nor is any light thrown on the question from what 
source one man gets strength enough to have executed a will which 
is cut off ever more completely from the general will. 

The weakness of the theory lies in its heterogeneity. It has the 
merit of treating Power as a separate entity— a body which house* 
strength— but it still thinks of sovereignty, in the medieval manner, 
as a right. In this mix-up Power's strength remains quite unex' 
plained, and there is no clue to the social forces which are able to 
moderate or check it. 

All the same, what an advance this is on the earlier theories! And, 
on the essential points, what foresight! 


The theory of popular sovereignty, as Rousseau left it, offers a 
rather striking parallel to the medieval theory of divine sovereignty. 
Both allow a right of command which, though it is unlimited, is not 
inherent in the governors. The right belongs to a superior power— 
whether it be God or the people— which cannot by its nature exer- 
cise the right itself. Therefore they have to confer a mandate on a 
Power which can exercise it. Both state more or less explicitly that 
the mandatories will be tied by rules: in other words, Power's 
behaviour is subject to either the Divine Will or the general will. 

But will these mandatories necessarily be faithful to their trust? 
Or will they tend to usurp the command which they at present 
exercise only by delegation? Will they remember at all points the 
end for which they have been established, which is the common 
good, and the condition to which they have been subjected, which 
is the execution of the law, whether God's or the people's? 36 Will 
they, in short, keep their hands off the sovereignty? They will not; 
and they will in the end give themselves out as resuming in their 
own persons the Divine Will or the general will, as the case may 
be; Louis XIV, for instance, claimed the rights of God, and Napoleon 
those of the people. 37 


Is there any way of stopping this, except by the exercise of control 
by the sovereign over the Power? The sovereign's nature, unfortu- 
nately, makes it as impossible for him to control as to govern. Hence 
came the idea of having a body which would keep watch in the 
name of the sovereign over the actual Power, prescribe as occasion 
demanded the rules by which it must act, and, in case of need, 
pronounce the forfeiture of its functions and make provision for a 

Under the system of divine sovereignty this body could only be 
the Church. 38 Under the system of popular sovereignty it will be 
Parliament. As a result of this, however, sovereignty becomes a 
house divided, and the Powers in human exercise show two faces. 
These are either a temporal Power and a spiritual Power exercising 
a temporal jurisdiction, or, in the other case, an executive and a 
legislature. The whole metaphysic of sovereignty leads to this 
division— and yet abominates it. Empiricists may find in it a safe- 
guard for liberty, but it must surely be an offence to all who believe 
in a sovereignty which is in essence one and indivisible. As though 
sovereignty could be shared between two sets of agents! If two wills 
clash, both cannot be the divine or popular, as the case may be. 
It follows that of the two bodies one only can be the true reflex 
of the sovereign; the will opposing is, in that case, a rebel will to be 
subdued. These results follow logically if the basis of Power is one 
will which must be obeyed. One of the bodies, therefore, had to 
win. At the close of the Middle Ages the winner was the monarchy. 

In modern times it is either the executive or the legislature, 
according to which stands closer to the sovereign people. 39 The 
chief executive does so when, as in the case of Louis Napoleon or 
Roosevelt, there is direct election of him by the people; the parlia- 
ment does so when, as in the France of the Third Republic, the 
chief executive is at a distance from the source of authority. 

So far as the controllers of Power are concerned, one of two things 
results: either they are finally eliminated, or else, acting in the name 
of the sovereign, they subdue his agents and usurp the sovereignty. 
In this connection it is worth noting that Rousseau, while cutting 
down as far as was possible the authority of the rulers, had a deep 
distrust for "representatives," who were, in his time, greatly relied 
on for keeping Power within the bounds of its office. He saw no 
other "method of preventing usurpations of government" than that 
of holding periodic popular assemblies, to pronounce on the use 


which had been made of Power and to decide whether it would not 
be a good thing to change the form and the personnel of the govern- 
ment. As he fully admitted that his method was quite impracticable, 
the obstinacy with which he urged it can only be ascribed to the 
invincible repugnance which the method of control at that time 
operating in England inspired in him— the method of parliamentary 
control, which Montesquieu had praised to the skies. So distasteful 
to him is the very idea that he inveighs against it with a sort of 

Sovereignty cannot be represented. . . . Therefore the deputies of the 
people are not and cannot be its representatives. . . . This new-fangled 
idea of representatives comes down to us from feudal government, from 
that iniquitous and ridiculous form of government which made degener- 
ates of the human species and caused the name of man to stink in the 
nostrils. 40 

His attack is against the representative system as it was operating 
in the very country of which Montesquieu had made a model of 

The English think they are free but they are quite wrong; they are only 
free when Parliamentary elections come round; once the members have 
been elected, they are slaves and things of naught. They deserve to lose 
Liberty by reason of the use which they make of their brief intervals of 
Liberty. 41 

Why all this spleen? With a sovereignty on this great scale, 
Rousseau felt that, once the possibility of the sovereign being repre- 
sented was admitted, it would be impossible to stop the representa- 
tive laying claim to the sovereignty. 42 And indeed every tyranny 
which has since appeared has justified its aggressions on individual 
rights by its usurped claim to represent the people. More especially, 
he foresaw what seems to have escaped Montesquieu, that the 
authority of Parliament, though for the time being it would grow 
at the expense of the executive and so act as a brake on Power, 
would come in the end first to dominate the executive and then to 
fuse it with itself, thus reconstituting a Power which could lay claim 
to sovereignty. 


If we now take a bird's-eye view of the theories whose natures we 
have just examined, we note that all of them tend to render subjects 


obedient by revealing to them a transcendent principle behind the 
Power they see; this principle, whether God or the people, is armed 
with an absolute authority. At the same time they all tend also to 
subordinate Power in effect to this principle, whichever it is. There- 
fore their disciplinary effect is twofold: they discipline the subject, 
they also discipline Power. 

By disciplining the subject they reinforce the Power in being. But 
by straitly tying this Power down, they compensate for this reinforce- 
ment—always provided that they can find some practical method of 
keeping the Power down. That is the difficulty. The more unlimited 
the conception of the sovereign authority which there is danger of 
Power's usurping, and the greater the consequent danger to society 
if Power usurps it, the more important become the practical methods 
employed to keep Power in leading-strings. 

But the sovereign cannot make the whole of his presence felt to 
keep his regents to their duty. Therefore he needs a controlling 
body; this body, whether its place is above the government or at its 
side, will in time try to seize it, thus joining in one the two capacities 
of regent and overseer and thereby securing for itself unlimited 
authority of command. 

This danger leads to a multiplication of precautions; the Power 
and its controller are, by a division of functions or a rapid succes- 
sion of office-holders, crumbled up into small pieces— a cause of 
weakness and disorder in the administration of society's business. 
Then, inevitably, the disorder and weakness, becoming at length 
intolerable, bring together again the crumbled pieces of sovereignty 
—and there is Power, armed now with a despotic authority. 

The wider the conception held, in the time when monopoly of it 
seemed a vain imagining, of the right of sovereignty, the harsher 
will be the despotism. If the view is that a community's laws admit 
of no modification whatever, the laws will contain the despot. Or 
if the view is that something of these laws, corresponding to the 
ordinances of God, is immutable, that part at least will remain fast. 

And now we begin to see that popular sovereignty may give birth 
to a more formidable despotism than divine sovereignty. For a 
tyrant, whether he be one or many, who has, by hypothesis, success- 
fully usurped one or the other sovereignty, cannot avail himself of 
the Divine Will, which shows itself to men under the forms of a Law 
Eternal, to command whatever he pleases. Whereas the popular will 
has no natural stability but is changeable; so far from being tied to 


a law, its voice may be heard in laws which change and succeed 
each other. So that a usurping Power has, in such a case, more 
elbow-room; it enjoys more liberty, and its liberty is the name of 
arbitrary power. 


J. The Nominalist conception of society. 2. The Realist conception 
of society. 3. Logical consequences of the Realist conception. 4. 
The division of labour and organicism. 5. Society, a living or- 
ganism. 6. The problem of Powers extent in the organicist theory. 
7. Water for Towers mill. 

The explanation of and justification for civil obedience is, 
according to the theories of sovereignty, the right of com- 
mand which Power derives from its origin, whether divine 
or popular. 

But has not Power an end as well? Must it not tend to the com- 
mon good— vague and variable of content as the phrase is, its un- 
certain meaning corresponding to the indefinite nature of human 
aspiration? And can it happen that a Power, though legitimate 
enough in origin, governs in a way which is so flatly opposed to the 
common good that obedience to it may be called in question? 
Theologians have often debated this problem and have evolved from 
their debates the idea of the end. Some have argued that even an 
unjust Power must be obeyed; but most of them, and all the highest 
authorities among them, have held the contrary view that a govern- 
ment with an unjust end could not be legitimated by its origin. 
And particularly St. Thomas seems to attach more importance to the 
end of Power than to its origin: revolt against an authority which is 
not aiming at the common good ceases to be seditious. 1 

The idea of the end, after having played in medieval Catholic 
thought the part of a corrective to the idea of sovereignty (the 
obedience due to a Power by reason of its legitimacy could, that is 
to say, be disclaimed if the Power stopped aiming at the common 
good ) , 2 suffered eclipse in the theories of popular sovereignty. Not, 
to be sure, that people stopped saying that the function of Power 


was to achieve the general advantage: no one ever wen* as far as 
that. But the hypothesis was made that a Power which was the 
legitimate emanation of society would for that very reason never 
cease to seek the social good, because "the General Will is always 
righteous and always aims at the public advantage." 3 

In the nineteenth century, but not before, the idea of the end 
reappears, but its influence then is quite different from that which 
it exercised in the Middle Ages. In those days it had, in effect, 
served as an obstacle to the development of Power. But in the nine- 
teenth century it will be seen furthering its development. This 
reversal is related to an entirely new way of picturing society, which 
is now regarded not as an aggregate of individuals with common 
legal principles, but as a developing organism. We must pause to 
examine this intellectual revolution, because it is from it that the 
new theories of the final cause derive their importance and their 


The explanation of, and to a large extent the corrective for, the 
theories of sovereignty are to be found in the conception of society 
which was in vogue at the time of their foundation. 

Before the nineteenth century it never occurred to any Western 
thinker to suppose that there was, in any collection of men subject 
to a common political direction, anything with a real existence 
except individuals. That had been the point of view of the Romans. 
They looked on the Roman people as an assemblage of human 
beings: not, it is true, just any assemblage, but one which was held 
together by ties of law to the end of a common advantage. 4 

They never imagined that this assemblage could be the parent 
of a "person" who was distinct from the persons making it up. 
Where we now say "France," with the sensation of talking about a 
real person, they used to say, according to the date of the speaker, 
either "the people and commons of Rome," or "the Senate and 
people of Rome," signifying, by this essentially descriptive appella- 
tion, that what they saw in their mind's eye was not a person, Rome, 
but rather the physical reality of a collection of individuals belong- 
ing to a group. What the word "people," in its wider acceptation, 
evoked for them was something entirely concrete, namely the Roman 
citizens gathered in conclave; they had no need of a word equiva- 
lent to our "nation" because the adding up of individuals resulted, 


as they saw it, only in an arithmetical total, and not in a quite 
different sort of creature. They had just as little need of the word 
'state," because they were not conscious of a thing transcendent, 
living above and beyond themselves, but only of certain interests 
which they had in common and which made up the res publico.. 

In this conception, which Rome bequeathed to the Middle Ages, 
the only reality is men. The medieval theologians and the philoso- 
phers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were at one in 
proclaiming that men preceded any and every society. They estab- 
lished society only when, either because of the corruption of then- 
nature (the theologians) or by reason of the savagery of their 
instincts (Hobbes), they found it necessary to do so. But this 
society of theirs is still an artificial body— Rousseau says so ex- 
pressly, 5 and even Hobbes, though he had put as a frontispiece to 
ane of his works a picture of a giant outlined in a composite of 
human shapes, seems never to have supposed that Leviathan lived 
a life of his own. He has no will, but the will of a man or of an 
assembly passes for his will. 

This purely nominalist conception of society renders intelligible 
the notion of sovereignty. Society consists only of associated men, 
whose disassociation is always possible. An authoritarian, like 
Hobbes, and a libertarian, like Rousseau, are at one in this. The 
former sees in disassociation a disaster which must be prevented 
with the utmost rigour, 6 the latter a last resource for oppressed 

But, given that society is but an artificial assemblage of naturally 
independent men, think of the effort needed to bring their separate 
behaviours into line and force them to admit a common authority! 
The mystery of the foundation of society requires a divine interven- 
tion for its explanation or, at the very least, a first solemn convention 
of the entire people. Think too of the prestige needed to maintain 
day by day the cohesion of the whole! There must have been some 
title to compel respect and one which could not for its purpose be 
too exalted— in short, sovereignty, whether or not it is agreed to 
confer it at once on Power. 

Certain it is that, when independent persons agree to regulate 
their intercourse and appoint commissioners to the task of regula- 
tion, the perpetuity of the tie and the strict execution of the obliga- 
tions entered into can be assured only by the ascription of the 
utmost majesty possible to those whose continuous duty it will be 


to bring back straying wills to the common path. In our own time 
we have seen a social contract concluded between persons in the 
state of nature— bellum omnium contra omnes. Those persons were 
the powerful nations of the world, and that contract was the League 
of Nations. And this artificial body became disassociated for the 
absence in it of any Power which a right transcendent had so 
buttressed that the rights of the component nations could not op- 
pose it. 

In just the same way a Rugby team, if I may take a more famil- 
iar illustration, must have an arbitral authority for thirty embattled 
giants to obey the solitary referee's whistle. 

Given the abstract problem of making and maintaining an asso- 
ciation between independent elements; given the conception that 
the nature of these elements underwent no substantial change by 
their adherence to the social pact; given the belief that nonconform- 
ity and secession were always possible courses— it will be seen that 
a majestic sort of sovereignty, which could cloak its weak and naked 
magistrates with its own dignity, was indispensable. Seen in the 
picture of its own postulates, the idea is not only logical but has a 
certain grandeur. 

Given, however, that society is a natural and necessary fact, that 
it is materially and morally impossible for a man to withdraw from 
it, and that factors quite other than the measure of force in laws 
and state compel his social conformity, then the support for Power 
which the theory of sovereignty gives becomes excessive and dan- 

The dangers adduced by it remain partly concealed so long as 
minds retain the imprint of the basic hypothesis which brought 
sovereignty to birth, namely that men are tlie reality and society a 
convention. This opinion does carry with it the idea that human 
personality is an absolute value to which society stands only in the 
relation of a means. This is the source of Declarations of the Rights 
of Man, rights against which the right of sovereignty itself breaks 
in vain; this defeat of sovereignty must seem logically absurd if it is 
remembered that its right is, by definition, absolute, but it will seem 
the most natural thing in the world if it is remembered that the 
body politic is an artificial thing, sovereignty just a prestige with 
which it is armed with a view to a certain end, and that all these 
shadows are as dust against the reality of the human being. We may 
say then that, so long as social philosophy continued individualist 


and nominalist, the notion of sovereignty could do little harm; its 
ravages began as soon as this philosophy started to decay. 

From this point, we may note in passing, the double acceptation 
of the word "democracy" begins; in the sense of individualist social 
philosophy it is the rule of the Rights of Man; in a political philos- 
ophy divorced from social individualism it is the absolutism of a 
government which draws its title from the masses. 


Thought is less independent than is supposed, and philosophers 
more indebted than they admit to fashionable idols and popular 
parlance. Before metaphysics could affirm the reality of society, the 
latter had first to take the shape of a being which bore the name of 

This was an outcome, perhaps its most important, of the French 
Revolution. When the Legislative Assembly had plunged France 
into a military escapade which the monarchy would never have 
risked, it soon appeared that her Power's resources were insufficient 
for opposing the rest of Europe, and it became necessary to require 
the almost total participation of her people in the war; this was an 
unprecedented demand. In whose name to make it? In that of a dis- 
credited king? Emphatically no. It must be in the name of the 
nation: the patriotism which had for a thousand years taken the 
form of attachment to a person naturally inclined men's minds to 
attach to the nation the character and aspect of a person whose 
lineaments were promptly fixed by a thousand pencils. 

Not to recognize the psychological disturbance and metamorpho- 
sis set in train by the Revolution is to linger in misconception of the 
whole of subsequent European history, including the history of 
thought. In former times, as after Malplaquet, Frenchmen ranged 
themselves about the king; it was a case of individuals bringing 
succour to a loved and respected chief. But now it is the nation 
in which, as members of a whole, they range themselves. This con- 
ception of a whole, leading a life of its own which is superior to 
that of its parts, was in all probability always below the surface. 
But the process of its crystallization was to be sudden. 

It was not that the throne was overthrown, but that the whole, the 
nation-person, mounted it. Its life was as that of the king it suc- 
ceeded, but it had one great advantage over him: for subjects are, 
in regard to a king— who is seen to be a person different from them- 


selves— naturally careful to secure their rights. Whereas the nation is 
not a person different: it is the subject himself, and yet it is more 
than he— it is a hypostatized We. Nor does it make any difference 
to this revolution in ideas that in sober fact Power remains much 
more like its old self than is generally thought, and, in any case, 
quite distinct from the actual people it rules. 

For what matters are beliefs. And the belief which then gained 
credit in France and later spread over Europe was that the nation- 
person has an existence and is the natural repository of Power. The 
French armies sowed the seed of this faith all over Europe, as much 
and more by the disillusionments which they occasioned as by the 
effect of the gospel which they brought in their train. Those who, 
like Fichte, had been at first the most enthusiastic in their welcome, 
turned in the end the most impassioned preachers of opponent na- 

At the time that German national feeling had taken wing Hegel 
formulated the first coherent doctrine of the new phenomenon and 
awarded the nation a certificate of philosophical being. His doctrine, 
if contrasted with Rousseau's, emphasizes the extent of the change 
which has come over the concept of society. What Rousseau calls 
"civil society" corresponds to society as thought of up to the Revolu- 
tion. In it the individual members are what matter, and the greatest 
care is due to their particular ends and interests. But, to safeguard 
these individuals against both danger from without and the poten- 
tial injury which they may do each other, institutions are necessary. 
Order and Power to guarantee it are demanded by the interest of the 
individual himself. Yet with whatever efficaciousness it is thought 
needful to endow this order and with whatever range this Power, 
theirs is a morally subordinate position, for they have been estab- 
lished only with a view to enabling individuals to pursue their indi- 
vidual ends. Hegel's idea of "State," on the other hand, corresponds 
to the new conception of society. Just as a man does not regard the 
family as a mere convenience, but joins to it his own ego and accepts 
life on terms of being a member of this unit, so do there come to him 
the conception of being a member of the nation, the recognition that 
he is bound to share in a collective life, the conscious integration of 
his activity with the general activity, the sensation of pleasure in the 
society's accomplishments— in short, he makes the society an end. 



Such, in as simple language as possible, is Hegel's conception/ 
The closeness of its correspondence to an evolution of political feel- 
ings is clear to see; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries people 
will be found thinking of society as Hegel did without ever having 
heard of him, for the reason that, in this field, his work was merely 
to endow with form a belief which had always lurked more or less 
consciously in many minds. 

This novel conception of society had momentous consequences. 
The idea of the common good now gets a completely different con- 
tent from its former one. It is no longer a question simply of helping 
each individual to realize his own private good— which is clear-cut 
enough— but of achieving a social good of a much less definite char- 
acter. The idea of an end in Power takes on an importance quite dif- 
ferent from that given it in the Middle Ages. The end was then jus- 
tice, "jus suum cuique tribuere," to ensure that each obtained his 
due. But what was the due? That which an immovable law-custom 
acknowledged to be his. Hence it resulted that the idea of an end or 
final cause could not be used to extend the area of Power. But all is 
changed when the rights that belong to individuals, their subjective 
rights, give place to an ever more exalted morality which must needs 
be realized in society. By reason of this end, there is no extension of 
itself which Power, as the agent of this realization, cannot justify. 
From that time on, then, as we can easily see, place is made for the- 
ories of the final cause of Power which Power finds exceedingly ad- 
vantageous to itself. It has only, for example, to make the vague 
concept of social justice its end. 

And Power itself— how does this new idea affect it? There is now 
a collective being, which is of far greater importance than individ- 
uals: clearly, then, the right transcendent of sovereignty belongs to 
none other. It is the sovereignty of the nation which is, as has often 
been stressed, 8 a very different thing from the sovereignty of the 
people. In the latter— Rousseau said it— "the Sovereign is only the 
individuals who go to the making of him." 9 But in the former, so- 
ciety fulfils itself as a whole only to the extent that partakers of it 
know themselves for members and see in it their end; from which it 
follows logically that those only who have attained to this knowl- 
edge are steering society towards its fulfilment. In them is all guid- 


ance and leadership; the general will coincides with their will only; 
theirs is the general will. 

It is Hegel's claim to have clarified in this way an idea which, as 
found in Rousseau, is, it must be admitted, somewhat confused. For 
the Genevan philosopher, after telling us that "the General Will is 
righteous and tends always to the public advantage," 10 remembered 
too well the many unjust or disastrous decisions taken by the Athe- 
nian people not to add: "It does not follow that the people's delib- 
erations are always on the same level of rectitude," and even further: 
"There is often a big difference between the Will of All and the Gen- 
eral Will; it is the latter which looks only to the public interest." All 
this is meaningless unless the prescriptions, "is righteous and tends 
always to the public advantage" and "looks only to the public inter- 
est," are taken as the attributes of an ideal will. That is Hegel's point: 
general will is that which tends to the end in view (conceived no 
longer as that which private interests have in common but as the 
realization of the higher collective life ) . The motive force of society 
is the general will, which does all that needs to be done, whether or 
not the individuals who lack consciousness of the end are assenting 

It is now, in short, a question of inducing in the body social a new 
efflorescence, the vision of which is possessed by its conscious mem- 
bers only. These latter form "the universal class" in distinction to all 
the rest, who remain the prisoners of their own particularisms. 

It is, then, the business of the conscious part to do for the whole 
the necessary willing. That, for Hegel, does not mean that the part 
is free to choose for the whole whatever future it pleases. So far 
from that, it would be truer to say that its recognition of what the 
whole should be both now and in the future is what makes it the 
conscious part. In using hothouse methods to force the whole to be 
what it should be it acts merely as an accoucheur and, even if it uses 
force, does the whole no violence. 

It is easy to see how valuable this theory may prove to a group of 
men who, claiming to be the conscious part, claim also to know the 
end in view, in the assured conviction that it is their will alone which 
marches with "the rational Will for its sake and for its fruits" of 
which Hegel speaks. The Prussian administration, for instance, then 
in the full tide of development, found in Hegelianism the justifica- 
tion both for what it was doing and for its authoritarian methods of 
doing it. The Beamtenstaat (bureaucracy), the Power of expert offi- 


cialdom, is sure that its will represents no arbitrary caprice but a 
knowledge of what should be. In the result it both can and must 
shove the people into such ways of acting and thinking as will best 
realize the end which reason has permitted these experts to envisage. 

The vision of what should be, thus envisaged in a group, casts this 
group for a leading part. In Marx's scientific socialism there is no 
doubt as to what the proletariat should be. Therefore the proletariat, 
being the conscious part, may speak and will in the name of the 
whole; its duty is to give the inert mass consciousness of the build- 
ing of a proletarian whole. At a later stage the proletariat, when it 
has come to know itself, disappears as a class and becomes the social 

Again, and in the same way, the Fascist party, being the conscious 
part of the nation, does the nation's willing and wills it to be what it 
should be. 

All these doctrines, which sanction in practice the right of a mi- 
nority, calling itself conscious, to direct a majority, spring directly 
from Hegelianism. It is, moreover, far from being the case that the 
systems with an obviously Hegelian pedigree are the only children of 
the conception of a social whole. This conception, as was said earlier, 
was widespread in the thought of the post-revolutionary period: it 
is not, therefore, surprising to find modern politics impregnated with 
it. Whereas in earlier centuries the actual people could be repre- 
sented only in its multiple aspects ( by the States-General ) or not at 
all (according to Rousseau), the whole can now find expression in 
those who know, or claim to know, what must be its becoming, and 
who are for that reason, or claim to be, in a position to express the 
objective will. It will be either an oligarchy of elected persons or 
popular groupings speaking in the name of the Nation with an abso- 
lute assurance. It will be, whatever its group or party, the sole repos- 
itory of truth. And opposition parties, with a different conception of 
the end, will also aspire to direct the whole without hindrance. 

To sum up: the sensation of a common national emotion has caused 
society to be looked on as a whole. Not as yet a realized whole, be- 
cause many of the individuals in a society do not yet behave as the 
members of a whole, from not knowing that they are members rather 
than individuals. This whole, however, fulfils itself as such to the 
extent that its conscious members lead the rest on to behave and 
think in the way that is required to enable the whole to fulfil itself 
as such. And for that reason the conscious members both can and 


must push and pull the unconscious. Hegel does not seem to have 
wanted to construct an authoritarian theory. But his theory is known 
by its fruits. 


Meanwhile, the middle of the nineteenth century found attention 
as much riveted on industrial progress and the social changes result- 
ing therefrom as, in the beginning of the century, it was riveted on 
the phenomenon of nationalism. 

This stupendous change, which had proceeded at a breakneck 
speed almost since the time of The Social Contract, had, almost in 
the act of taking wing, received its interpretation from Adam Smith. 
The author of The Wealth of Nations— sl work whose fame has not 
been dimmed by time— explained the influence of the division of 
labour on a society's productivity. Soon the idea was widespread 
that the further the lengths to which the individuals in a community 
push the specialization of their particular activities, the greater will 
be the production of that community— or, as Bentham put it, the 
more means of happiness will they create. 

The idea has won all hearts by reason of the twofold movement 
which it brings to light, though, to be sure, the two paths join in the 
end. Hegel turned it to good account: recalling that Plato in his Re- 
public had rigorously stressed the importance of the citizens remain- 
ing undifferentiated and had seen in that the essential condition of 
social unity, Hegel asserted that the characteristic of the modern 
state was, contrariwise, to allow a process of differentiation, by which 
an ever growing diversity could be ranged within an ever richer 
unity. 11 

This anticipated what Durkheim says in our time; he sets off the 
"mechanical" solidarity of a primitive society, in which the indi- 
viduals are held together by their similarity, against the "organic" 
solidarity of a mature society, the members of which have, just by 
reason of their being differentiated, become necessary to each other. 12 

Auguste Comte, who distinguished very clearly the material and 
the moral effects of the phenomenon, gave this concept of the divi- 
sion of labour its first introduction to political thought. In the mate- 
rial order, as he admitted, human activities, by becoming differen- 
tiated, tend to their more effective interplay between themselves. 13 
And he is not convinced that the process of adjusting all these dif- 
ferences is as automatic as it was made out to be by the liberal 


economists, whose laissez faire he condemns, and conceives it to be 
the duty of the public authority to take a hand in facilitating this 
adjustment. But, and this above all, the process, as he notices, in- 
duces a moral differentiation which calls for remedy. It is the busi- 
ness of Power 

to restrain in adequate measure and to forestall as far as possible this fatal 
tendency towards that fundamental cleavage of sentiments and interests 
which results inevitably from the very principle of human development, 
and which, if it were allowed to follow its natural course unchecked, 
would end inevitably by blocking social advance. 1 * 

But the astounding career of the concept of the division of labour 
did not end here. It is now to overrun biology, and thereafter to 
return, by way of Spencer, to the field of political thought, its con- 
tent enriched and its impetus heightened. 

Biology made a decisive advance when it came to see every living 
organism as a structure of cells; these cells show, it is true, an almost 
infinite diversity as between one organism and another, and even 
within the same organism; and the higher the form of life, the 
greater is the variety of cells which make it up. The loan from politi- 
cal economy of the concept of division of labour then brought forth 
the idea that all these cells had, by a process of functional differen- 
tiation, evolved from a primitive cell which was relatively simple. 
And the successive stages in the perfection of organisms corre- 
sponded to stages in the progress of the "natural" division of labour. 
So that in the end organisms came to be regarded as higher and 
higher forms of one and the same process— that of cellular coopera- 
tion by way of division of labour— or else as "societies of cells" of an 
ever growing complexity. 

Here we have one of the most fruitful ideas which the history of 
thought has to show us. And, though modern science no longer 
accepts it in its original form, its appearance, as we know, shook 
existing ideas, over which it established an absolute predominance, 
and brought new ones to birth, notably in the field of political sci- 

If biology saw organisms as societies, how in its turn could politi- 
cal thought have failed to see societies as organisms? 

Almost simultaneously with the publication of the Origin of Spe- 
cies ( November 1859 ) , Herbert Spencer published in the Westmin- 
ster Review (January 1860) a reverberating article entitled "The 


Social Organism." There he sets out 15 the resemblances between hu- 
man societies and cellular organisms. Both of them, commencing as 
small aggregations, insensibly augment in mass: some of them even- 
tually reaching ten thousand times what they originally were. While 
at first so simple in structure as to be considered structureless, both 
assume, in the course of their growth, a continually increasing com- 
plexity of structure. Though in their early, undeveloped states there 
exists in them scarcely any mutual dependence of parts, their parts 
gradually acquire a mutual dependence which becomes at last so 
great that the activity and life of each part is made possible only by 
the activity and life of the rest. The life of a society, as of an organ- 
ism, is independent of the lives of any of its component units, who 
are severally born, grow, work, reproduce, and die, while the whole 
body survives, increasing in mass, in completeness of structure, and 
in functional activity. 

This view had at once an enormous vogue. It provided the latter- 
day conviction of belonging to the whole with a more intelligible 
explanation than that of Hegelian idealism. And after all, how often 
in the course of centuries has the body politic been compared to a 
physical body! No scientific truth finds readier admission than one 
which serves to justify a metaphor to which we are used. 


The truth is that there has never been a time— the case of Me- 
nenius Agrippa * shows it— when in discussions on society analogies 
have not been drawn from man's physical body. 

St. Thomas wrote: 

Any group would break up of which there was none to take good care. 
And in the same way the body of man, like that of any other animal, 
would fall to pieces were there not within it a directing force seeking the 
common good of all its members. 16 ... As between the members, it is, 
whether it be the heart or the head, a ruling chief. In every mass of men 
there must in the same way be a principle of direction. 17 

The analogy had on occasion been pushed to great lengths. Forset, 
the Englishman, writing in 1606, 18 compared natural and political 

* Menenius Agrippa, Roman patrician and statesman, Consul 503 b.c. On the 
occasion of the first secession of the people to the Sacred Mount he was one 
of the commissioners empowered to treat with the seceders, and recited to them 
the fable of the belly and the members. 


bodies organ by organ, and Hobbes, it is said, picked up from him 
many of his ideas. This I doubt, for Hobbes seems to me to have 
given Leviathan only a shadowy existence, which was but the reflex 
of the only real life— that of the men composing him. What is cer- 
tain, however, is that metaphor is always a dangerous servant; on its 
first appearance it aims but to give a modest illustration to an argu- 
ment, but in the end it is the master and dominates it. 

Rouvray 19 and even Rousseau 20 both reason from the structure 
of the natural body to explain that— which they know to be artifi- 
cial—of the community. In Rousseau's case, moreover, the power of 
metaphor over the mind employing it is very apparent. 

The progress of the natural sciences has since invalidated all anal- 
ogies, supported as they were by physiological examples, drawn from 
the human body; the examples were in any case quite irrelevant, 
firstly because they were based on a wholly erroneous picture of the 
organism and the organs taken for the purposes of comparison; and 
secondly, and above all, because any comparison of a society in 
being with an organism must be with an organism which is much 
lower in the scale of evolution than man and far less advanced in the 
twofold process of differentiation and integration. 

In other words, if societies are living beings— if they form, as 
Durkheim unhesitatingly suggests, a "social series" on top of the 
animal series— then the beings of this new series can only be at a 
stage of their own development which places them far behind even 
the lowest mammifers. 

As set out by Spencer, the hypothesis seemed to reconcile an intel- 
lectual propensity of long standing with recent discoveries in the 
field of science: from this it received a great encouragement. More- 
over, by giving an impulsion and a meaning to ethnological re- 
searches, it proved itself a fertilizing stream: do not primitive socie- 
ties, in their various stages of evolution, give testimony as to the 
successive stages through which we ourselves must have passed? We 
shall return to this point of view and see what should be thought 
of it. 

What concerns us here, however, are the political conclusions to 
which the "organicist" system leads. We find ourselves once more 
watching the flight of a boomerang: a doctrine formulated with a 
view to restricting Power becomes almost at once an explanation of 
and justification for Power's extension. 


Spencer was a Victorian Whig, whose creed throughout his literary 
life was the abridgment of Power's sphere of action. He owed 
much— far more than he was ever willing to admit— to Auguste 
Comte, but he was exasperated by the conclusions which the latter 
drew from the process of social differentiation. 

Comte had said: 

The degree of intensity of the regulating function, so far from dimin- 
ishing with the advance of man's evolution, becomes, on the contrary, 
more and more indispensable . . . each day, as a necessary result of the 
vast subdivision in operation of human Labour, each of us, in many re- 
spects, automatically rests the very continuance of his own life on a crowd 
of unknown agents, who could, either by folly or malignity, often seri- 
ously affect masses of people . . . the various particular functions in the 
social economy, being naturally bound up with an increasing Whole, must 
all tend by degrees to become subject in the end to the general direction 
of the furthest flung agency in the entire system— an agency marked as to 
character by the incessant action of the Whole on the parts. 21 

Spencer takes him to task for this forecast: 

M. Comte's ideal of Society is one in which government is developed 
to the greatest extent— in which functional activities are far more under 
public regulation than now— in which hierarchical organization with un- 
questioned authority shall guide everything— in which the individual life 
shall be subordinated in the greatest degree to the social life. 

And he opposes to it his own thesis: 

That form of Society towards which we are progressing, I hold to be 
one in which government will be reduced to the smallest amount pos- 
sible, and freedom increased to the greatest amount possible— one in 
which human nature will have become so moulded by social discipline 
into fitness for the social state, that it will need little external restraint, 
but will be self -restrained— one in which the citizen will tolerate no inter- 
ference with his freedom, save that which maintains the equal freedom 
of others— one in which the spontaneous co-operation which has devel- 
oped our industrial system, and is now developing it with increasing 
rapidity, will produce agencies for the discharge of nearly all social func- 
tions, and will leave to the primary governmental agency nothing beyond 
the function of maintaining those conditions to free action, which make 
such spontaneous co-operation possible— one in which individual life will 
thus be pushed to the greatest extent consistent with social life; and in 
which social life will have no other end than to maintain the completest 
sphere for individual life. 22 


In this controversy the problem of Power's extent is frankly posed. 
Comte and Spencer agree in seeing in Power a product of evolution, 
an organ— for Spencer a biological organ, for Comte a figurative— 
whose final cause or end is the coordination of social diversity and 
the union of the parts. 

Is it correct that, as society evolves and the organ of government 
adapts itself to its end, the latter must direct with increasing rigour 
and in greater detail the actions of the members of society? Or is the 
contrary true— must it loosen its grip, find fewer occasions for inter- 
vening, and abate its exactions? 

His preconceptions led Spencer to deduce from his organicist 
hypothesis the conclusion, already latent in his mind, of Power's 
diminution. He deduced it the more eagerly when, after observing 
in his youth a drop in the curve of Power, he saw it in his maturity 
start to climb again— a movement which in his old age caused him 
great disquiet. 23 The coincidence of this ascent with the develop- 
ment of democratic institutions furnished sufficient proof that Power 
is not abated by installing the people as sovereign. Spencer had 
thought to show that such an abatement was in the natural order of 
evolution and progress. 

For that purpose he made use of the antithesis of military to in- 
dustrial societies made by Saint-Simon; * he translated into physio- 
logical terms the contrast drawn between them. True it is, he said, 
that, for the purpose of its external activity of warring against other 
societies, the social organism effects an ever more total mobilization 
of itself, collects its forces with an ever greater intensity, and achieves 
these results by way of a centralization and a growth of Power. But 
its internal activity, on the other hand, which develops by means of 
the diversification of functions and the ever more effective adapta- 
tion to one another of parts which subdivide and particularize them- 
selves ever further, does not require one central regulator; it de- 
velops on the contrary a number of regulative organs of its own, 
which are separate from the governmental organ (such as the 
markets in raw materials or securities, bankers' clearing houses, trade 
unions, and associations of all kinds ) . And this thesis was supported 

* Saint-Simon, Comte de (1760-1825), the founder of French socialism. In 
opposition to the feudal and military system, which had been re-established 
with the restoration of Louis XVIII, he advocated an arrangement by whict 
the industrial chiefs should control society. 


by detailed arguments borrowed from physiology, in which he 
harked back to the same duality— the same concentration on the one 
hand and the same ordered dispersion on the other. 

But this vision of society as an organism which he did so much to 
accredit was to be turned against himself. 

Huxley, the biologist, could immediately make objection: 

If the resemblances between the body physiological and the body politic 
are any indication, not only of what the latter is, and how it has become 
what it is, but of what it ought to be, and what it is tending to become, I 
cannot but think that the real force of the analogy is totally opposed to 
the negative view of State function. 24 

It is not for us to determine whether Spencer's or Huxley's inter- 
pretation of "the political tendencies of the physiological organism" 
was the more correct. What matters is to note that the full adoption 
of the organicist viewpoint has militated exclusively on the side of 
justifying and explaining the unlimited growth of the functions and 
apparatus of government. 25 

Lastly, Durkheim, in a work which created in time a school 26 and 
is an amalgam of Hegelianism and organicism, laid down that the 
scale and functions of the governmental organ had necessarily to 
grow with the development of societies, 27 and that the strength of au- 
thority was bound to increase by reason of the pressure of feelings 
shared in common. 28 At a later date he was to go further and claim 
that even the religious feelings were only the feelings of belonging to 
society— the obscure premonitions that we are working out a being 
which is our superior. And in the end he was to assert that, under 
the names of gods or God, the real object of our adoration has never 
been other than society. 29 

We have now passed in review four abstract conceptions— four 
families of theories, so to speak, of Power. 

Two of them, the theories of sovereignty, explain and justify 
Power by a right which it derives from the sovereign, whether God 
or the people, and which it may exercise by reason of its legitimacy 
or due origin. The other two, to which we have given the name of 
organic theories, explain and justify Power by its function or its end, 
which is to assure the moral and material cohesion of society. 

In the first two, Power appears as a centre of command in the 


midst of a multitude, in the third as a crystallizing fire, or perhaps 
as a zone of light from which enlightenment spreads, and, lastly, in 
the fourth as an organ within an organism. 

In those of sovereignty the right of command is seen as absolute; 
in the organic the function of command is seen as growing. 

Different as they are, there is not one of them from which the 
justification for an absolute form of Power cannot be, and at some 
time or another has not been, derived. 

The two first, however, because they are founded on a Nominalist 
view of society and on the recognition of the individual as the only 
reality, are somewhat allergic to the complete absorption of man: 
they allow the idea of subjective rights. Lastly, the first of them all, 
by implying an immutable divine law, implies also an objective 
right, the observance of which is imperatively ordained. In the more 
recent theories, on the other hand, the only objective right there can 
be is that which society forges and can modify at will, and the only 
subjective rights are those which it deigns to grant. 

It looks, then, as if the various theories, viewed historically, 
broaden down in such a way that they become more and more ad- 
vantageous to Power. A more easily observable phenomenon in each 
theory is its own evolution. Though in origin their purpose may be 
to place obstacles in Power's path, yet in the end they serve it, 
whereas the opposite tendency, of a theory advantageous in origin 
to Power becoming its enemy, is quite unknown. 

The conclusion is, then, that Power possesses some mysterious 
force of attraction by which it can quickly bring to heel even the 
intellectual systems conceived to hurt it. There we see one of Power's 
attributes. Something it is which endures, something which can pro- 
duce both physical and moral effects. Can we yet say that we under- 
stand its nature? We cannot. 

Away then with these fine theories which have taught us nothing 
of the essential, and on to the uncovering of Power. Let us try, first 
of all, to be in at its birth, or at least to intercept it at as near a point 
as we can to its distant beginnings. 



The continuity of human development has been such that most, if not 
all, of the great institutions which still form the framework of civilized 
Society have their roots in savagery, and have been handed down to us 
in these later days through countless generations, assuming new outward 
forms in the process of transmission, but remaining in their inmost core 
substantially unchanged. 

Frazer, The Early History of Kingship. 


The classical conception: political authority the child of paternal 
authority. 2. The Iroquois period: the negation of tlie patriarchate. 
S. The Australian period: the magical authority. 4. Frazers the- 
ory: the sacrificial king. 5. The invisible government. 6. The rule 
of the magician-elders. 7. The conservative cliaracter of magical 

To understand the nature of Power, let us learn first how it 
was born, what it at first looked like, and by what means it 
got itself obeyed. This approach is, intellectually, a natural 
one, especially for the modern intelligence, which has been shaped 
by evolutionist thought. 

But the undertaking, once begun, is seen to be full of difficulties. 
The historian makes but a late appearance, in a society which is al- 
ready highly developed: Thucydides is contemporary with Pericles, 
Livy with Augustus. The confidence due to him, so long as he deals 
with periods near his own and for which a whole variety of docu- 
ments is available, is on a diminishing scale with every step he takes 
back to the city's founding. For those earlier periods his sources can 
be but oral traditions; these have, from generation to generation, 
suffered distortion, and his own version is that which suits his time. 
Thus it was with the myths of Romulus or Theseus. Eighteenth- 
century criticism, with its narrowly rationalist outlook, took them 
for poetical falsehoods; at the end of the nineteenth century, on the 
other hand, they were put under the microscope, and philology was 
brought in to help in elaborating ingenious interpretations of them— 
interpretations often fantastic and always dubious. 

Can archaeology help us? It has done an amazing work! It has 
unearthed buried cities and breathed life into forgotten civiliza- 
tions. 1 By its help, millenaries, which for our ancestors contained 
nothing but Biblical characters, have been peopled with powerful 
monarchs; and the blank spaces in the map around the country of 
the Israelites have been filled in with mighty empires. 

But what the pick has revealed to us have been the blooms of 



civilizations which were like our own, stemming like ours from a 
millenary development. 2 The gradually deciphered inscriptions are 
the codes and records of adult governments. 3 And if below the layers 
of debris which attest wealth and power we dig to traces of a more 
primitive life, or if we turn the soil— Europe's is a poor one for the 
purpose— for indications of our own beginnings, what we find are 
clues only as to the way men lived and not as to how they were 

We are left with one last resource— the ethnologist. 

Herodotus and Tacitus attest the fact that in all ages the civilized 
have been curious about the uncivilized. But, while enjoying the 
thrill of tall tales, it did not occur to them that they might be re- 
ceiving in the process enlightenment about their own origins. They 
regarded travel stories as so many romances, the miraculous quality 
of which might be legitimately enhanced by the introduction of 
headless men and other bogies. 

The Jesuit Father Lafitau was perhaps the first man to bethink 
himself of looking for traces of the way we have travelled in the 
customs and practices of savages; light, he thought, could be thrown 
on the process of social evolution by comparing what he had ob- 
served of the Iroquois Indians with what the Greeks had reported 
of the oldest folkways which had come down to them by tradition. 4 

It was only long after that the idea grew that primitive societies 
are in some degree retarded witnesses of our own processes of evolu- 
tion. The first step was to recognize that all living organisms were 
related to each other and that the various species stemmed from a 
common trunk. This opinion, popularized as it had been by Darwin's 
book, 5 was then boldly applied to social organisms; search was made 
for the common trunk— the simplest type of primitive society 6 — 
from which the various civilized societies developed, and the vari- 
ous savage societies were seen as so many stages on the road of a 
development along which every society known to history had passed. 

In the first flush of Darwinian enthusiasm no one doubted that the 
evolution of the clan into the parliamentary democracy could be 
traced as surely as the evolution of the ape into the man in a lounge 
suit. The discoveries and hypotheses of Lewis H. Morgan 7 caused 
Engels to draw his pen; with it he told all in a treatise entitled The 
Origin of the Family, Property and the State. 

It is the fate of every science that, in the wake of the wonderful 
perspectives opened up by the earlier discoveries, the multitude of 


researches complicates and confuses the landscape. The daring and 
authoritative reconstructions of Durkheim are now derelict. It is no 
longer treated as proved that there was only one primitive society; 
now, on the contrary, it is readily admitted that different groups of 
men have from the beginning presented different characteristics, 
which, as the case might be, either caused them to develop differently 
or prevented them from developing at all. The vogue of fifty years 
ago, of looking in Australia for the very archetype of a backward 
community and finding there the explanation of our religious feel- 
ings, has gone by the board. But such a flow of reason and research 
has not receded without leaving on the beach a considerable mass 
of materials. Let us see what we can pick up there. 

The first authority to enter our lives is the paternal. Must it not 
also be the first in the life of society? From antiquity down to the 
middle of the nineteenth century all authorities have agreed in see- 
ing the family as the first society— as the primary cell from which 
the social structure afterwards grew, and paternal authority as the 
first form of command and stay of all the others. 

"The family is the natural society," said Aristotle, and cites in 
support some of the earliest writers: "In it, said Charondes, all eat 
from the same bread; all of them, said Epimedes of Crete, seek 
warmth at the same hearth." 8 "The most ancient of all societies, 
and the only natural one, is the family," asserts Rousseau, 9 and 
Bonald too: "Society was in the beginning family and then State." 10 

Everyone thought that society was an aggregation of families: 

The primary partnership made up of several households for the satisfac- 
tion of not mere daily needs is the village. The village according to the 
most natural account seems to be a colony from a household, formed of 
those whom some people speak of as fellow-sucklings, sons and sons' 
sons. 11 

Over this assemblage, there is, again according to Aristotle, a nat- 
ural ruler, "for every household is under the royal rule of its eldest 

From this expanded family we arrive at the political society, 
which is reached by the same process of generation; for families, 
like men, reproduce themselves, until there is reached a "family of 
families," over which the natural ruler is a sort of "father of fathers." 


Bishop Filmer in his PatriarcJia 12 availed himself of this meta- 
phor: Does not the Old Testament tell us that the children of Jacob 
lived together and made up a people? And while families grew into 
nations the patriarchs took the form of kings. The other and quite 
opposite supposition is that the heads of the various patriarchal 
families met on a footing of equality and formed an association 
voluntarily. As Vico puts it: 

In the heroic state of Society, the fathers were the absolute monarchs 
of their families. These monarchs, who were as between themselves natu- 
rally equal, made up the ruling assemblies and came, by a sort of instinc- 
tive feeling of self-preservation, to unite together their separate interests 
and link them to the hamlet which they called their country. 13 

According to which of these two hypotheses is adopted, the con- 
clusion is reached that the "natural" government is either the mo- 
narchical or the senatorial. But from the time that Locke utterly 
smashed up Filmer's fragile structure, 14 the earliest political author- 
ity was considered to be the senate composed of fathers of families, 
using the word "families" in the widest sense. 

Society must, therefore, have presented two degrees of authority, 
which were quite different in kind. On the one hand is the head of 
the family, exercising the most imperious sway over all who were 
within the family circle. 15 On the other are the heads of families in 
council, taking decisions in concert, tied to each other only by con- 
sent, submitting only to what has been determined in common, and 
assembling their retainers, who have, outside themselves, neither 
law nor master, to execute their will. 

Here to hand is an illustration of the patriarchal family, from an 
example which has been thrown up by modern ethnology. Among 
the Samos of Yatenga 16 the patriarchal family may be seen in its 
pure form. There, in fact, we find families of more than a hundred 
souls living in the same abode around a common ancestor. All who 
live inside one of these vast quadrangular dwellings own the sway 
of the head of the family. He directs the labour and assures the 
livelihood of all who live under his roof. As it grows, the family 
splits off into separate dwellings in which a "head of the dwelling" 
holds acknowledged rule. Henceforward it is he who directs the 
work, but without derogation to the religious authority of a head of 
a family. The memory of their common origin survives with particu- 
lar force among the Silmi-Mossis in the same region, who, though 


they number 5,627 in all, are divided up into no more than twelve 
large families. For practical purposes, no doubt, they are divided 
and subdivided into sub-families and dwellings, but it is the head 
of the huge family who owns the Ancestral Dwelling; he it is who 
offers sacrifice for them all, and who is entitled to give in marriage 
all the female children, even though in practice he confines himself 
to approving what the heads of the sub-families propose. 17 

What light, it may be thought, these observed instances throw on 
the possible nature of the Roman gens! How perfectly we now un- 
derstand that a society so constituted had for its natural government 
the assembly of the tribal heads who enjoyed a sacred eminence, 
no doubt assisted by the more important heads of sub-families! 


The classical conception of primitive society as resting on the 
patriarchate, which we have described, was rudely shattered round 
about 1860, almost concurrently with the Darwinian upheaval. 

This revolution I call here the "Iroquois period," to mark the fact 
that its impetus came from the discovery made by a young Ameri- 
can ethnologist, Morgan by name, who lived for several years 
among the Iroquois. 

After demonstrating to start with— what had already been ob- 
served by Lafitau— that inheritance is with them maternal and not 
paternal, he noted next that their words for denoting the parents 
have a different connotation from ours— that with them the word 
"father" covers a paternal uncle as well, and the word "mother" a 
maternal aunt as well. At first he regarded these as mere peculiari- 
ties of the Iroquois, but, on finding the same phenomena occurring 
among other North American tribes, it occurred to him that he 
might be on the track of a family structure which was quite other 
than patriarchal. 

At the same time that, with the help of the Smithsonian Institu- 
tion and even the federal government, he was conducting an inquiry 
into the words denoting family relationships in use in every society 
scattered over the face of the globe, a Bale professor published a 
remarkable book 18 based on ancient Greek texts and monuments 
of antiquity. 

His point of departure was a passage of Herodotus: 

There is a curious law among the Lycians under which they take the 
name not of their father but of their mother. Ask a Lycian to what family 


he belongs, and he will answer you with the genealogy of his mother and 
her ancestors; the children of a free woman married to a slave are con- 
sidered to be of noble rank; but if a male citizen, however illustrious his 
rank, marries a concubine or a foreigner, the children of the marriage are 
excluded from public honours. 

Bachofen, with inexhaustible patience, then got together a whole 
number of analogous indications derived from peoples of antiquity, 
with a view to demonstrating that the custom of the Lycians, so far 
from being an exception, was the relic of a general rule. In other 
words, the affiliation of a child must have been uterine. 19 

From every side there arose the idea that uterine affiliation pre- 
ceded the paternal. 20 A plethora of observations were soon to show 
it at work in a number of societies, in the form of the children of a 
marriage belonging not so much to the wife as to those who give 
the wife in marriage, viz., her father and, above all, her brothers. So 
that it would be more accurate to talk of avuncular inheritance. 

The fact of the same word "parent" denoting a whole group of 
people was taken to prove that marriage must have been by groups: 
for instance, my maternal uncle (or for that matter anyone else) is 
also my father because my mother must at one time have been as 
much his as my father's, for the reason that she was in her time the 
wife of a whole series of brothers ( or of a whole series of men ) . In 
the same way my maternal aunt is also my mother through having 
formed with her a part of a group of women who were in married 
intercourse with a group of men. And this phenomenon of group 
marriage has been seen actually operating among certain peoples. 21 

These were the two bases on which, once Morgan's great inquiry 
had been published, 22 was founded more than one ambitious and 
hazardous reconstruction of the past history of human society. 23 

These reconstructions, built, destroyed, and reconstructed again 
as they were, stirred up researches from which one thing clearly 
emerged: that in a number of societies the family was not patri- 
archal, that the patriarchal family could not in consequence be the 
formative element of them all, and that therefore the paternal au- 
thority could not be the point of departure of every government. 

The way is now clear, therefore, for a new conception of the 
origins of Power. 


McLennan, in 1870, had been the first to observe that primitive 
groups have a cult of some particular plant or animal: it is their 


totem. On this observation of his, confirmed as it was by subsequent 
observation in Australia of the most primitive tribes of savages so 
far encountered, a new theory was erected. 

It is at root a conception, formed by observation, of primitive 
mentality. The reason why Vico could seriously imagine the "fathers" 
discussing matters of common interest and deliberately creating the 
"fatherland," and why Rousseau could picture an assembly, delib- 
erately and after a careful weighing of the advantages of liberty 
against the dangers of isolationism, concluding a social pact, was 
that in their time the nature of primitive man was shrouded in 

All is now changed; the plumed paladin and the naked philoso- 
pher, those eighteenth-century hallucinations, have no existence for 
the ethnologist of today. The savage's body is, as he knows, exposed 
to such sufferings as through the organization of society we are 
spared; his soul is shaken by such terrors as would make our most 
horrible nightmares seem but passing dreams. The reaction of the 
human flock to all dangers and terrors is like that of animals: they 
gather closer, they curl themselves up, they give each other warmth. 
They find in numbers the principle of strength and safety for them- 

So far, then, from man having given willing adherence to the 
group, his very existence is only in and by the group; for this reason 
the severest punishment on him is banishment, which casts him out 
defenceless from his brothers to the mercy of men and beasts. 

The life of the group is, then, of a rigorously collective kind, and 
it is only by incessant vigilance that it maintains itself against the 
many dangers to it which are in nature. Death, disease, misfortune, 
all these are proofs of a pervading malignity. For the savage ascribes 
nothing to chance. Whatever evil befalls him comes of evil purpose: 
and a small misfortune is but a warning from this purpose of the 
approaching deployment of its full power. Therefore he must make 
haste to appease it with appeasing rites. 

Whatever comes, whether an exceptionally long winter exhausts 
the group's store of food or a torrid drought wipes out cattle and 
men alike, be it famine or epidemic or merely a child breaking its 
leg, nothing comes by chance. It follows that the appropriate be- 
haviour and ceremonies can forestall every misfortune. 

But who, except the Elders, knows what must be done? And 
among the Elders those only who have magical perceptions. Those, 


then, are the men to rule, for they alone can teach the way of com- 
ing to terms with the invisible powers. 

Certain observed facts have given to this idea of the intercessory 
government a tremendous impetus. The king must have been— and 
if necessary the appropriate man must have had the office forced on 
him 24 — someone who was qualified less to rule men's wills than to 
prevail upon the will of the invisible powers and secure their favour. 
His function was the appeasement of the evil purposes, if necessary 
by the sacrifice of himself in focusing them on his own person. It 
was also his business to encourage the forces of fertility. For in- 
stance, a very old song comes from Easter Island in which the 
growth and multiplication of potatoes, ferns, lobsters, and so on are 
ascribed to the virtue of the king. In winter there is a rigorous taboo 
on deep-sea fishing; when it starts again, the first tunnies to be 
caught must be brought to the king. Only after he has eaten them 
can the people use this source of food in safety. 25 

This widely spread custom of first-fruits is very likely the mark 
of the mistrust felt in olden times for food which had not first been 
essayed. The king's action is that of a man who takes on himself the 
risk: then he says to his people: "Now you may eat." 

In some places, again, he must deflower the virgins, and the mem- 
ory of this has been preserved in what history of the popular-serial 
type calls le droit de seigneur. There is no doubt that the act of de- 
flowering passed for dangerous and was never, as the case of Aus- 
tralia shows, performed by the husband; rather it is the occasion of 
a rite in which other men "render the wife harmless" before she 
goes in to her husband. Here too was the principle of kingly inter- 

It does not strain the imagination to suppose that a king whose 
duties are to tame ceaselessly the evil powers, to replenish the num- 
ber of good things and maintain at the same time the strength of 
the tribe, is likely to be put to death if he is a failure, or that any 
decline in his powers will be thought disadvantageous to his tribe. 
Thus, among the Shilluks of the Sudan, it is the duty of the king's 
wives to report any lowering of his virility, whereupon the now use- 
less king lays his head on the knees of a virgin, and is buried alive 
with her. 26 

These facts are sufficient proof of the existence of magical king- 


ships. They do not go the whole length of proving what Frazer 
thought could be proved, that kingship arises, and can only arise, 
on a basis of magical power. 


The further ethnological studies go, the more certain it seems that 
primitive societies do not fall into any of our three categories, mon- 
archy, aristocracy, and democracy. Neither the behaviour of indi- 
viduals nor the action of the community is determined by either one 
man or several men or all the men; they are prescribed by powers 
which overarch society— which certain men are able to interpret for 
their fellows. 

We are given a picture of primitive peoples meeting in assemblies. 
But it takes an inflamed imagination to conceive of democracies of 
savages. It is a ludicrous error to suppose that meetings were held 
by the tribe for the purpose of debating the pros and cons of a par- 
ticular course of action and that in the end the majority view pre- 
vailed. Their meetings were not deliberations at all: they were rather 
a species of black masses celebrated with the object of inducing the 
god to declare his will. 

Take the history of the least religious people the world has seen— 
the Romans: even among them, as we read, sacrifice and the con- 
sultation of the auspices preceded the opening of a debate. To us in 
our time this practice appears only as the ceremonial prelude to a 
sitting. But it is certain that in the earliest times the holocaust, and 
the examination and interpretation of the entrails, were the sitting. 
Its sacred character limited the assembly to certain times and places. 
G. L. Gomme, an Englishman, set about discovering these places: 2T 
these ancient assizes were, he found, always held out of doors, and 
a sacrificial stone stood in the middle of the gathering of the Elders. 
These were the men who had exorcized the most evil of spirits and 
had qualified themselves the best to understand the sibylline re- 
sponses of the god. We must picture the sacrificial stone and the 
gathering of the Elders as forming the spiritual centre from which 
political decision radiated— decision which wore the dress and car- 
ried the authority of a religious oracle. 

The Elders, as the natural interpreters of the god, endowed him 
with their own attachment to ancient usages. Our distant ancestors 
were ever conscious of the miracle of equilibrium required for the 
continuance of life at all. It could be achieved only by the pious 


transmission of certain secrets. A priceless legacy indeed was the 
science of the metallurgist who first assured the tribe of an efficient 
armoury, and precious were the rites which accompanied the forg- 
ing of metal! Even the least omission from the ordained series of 
motions was hazardous! 

Humanity's march lay in those days across an unknown country 
strewn with ambushes; in one narrow path, to which the Elders 
were the guides, was its security. That path it followed, in the 
Elders' footsteps, fusing in one divinity and custom. 

An example given by Sumner Maine * shows how great is the re- 
pugnance felt by uncivilized peoples to government by deliberative 
decisions. While he was a civil servant in India, the government 
constructed irrigation channels with a view to providing the village 
communities with water: it was left to the communities to distribute 
the water. What happened? Once all was in train and the delicate 
task of apportionment had been done, the villagers decided to for- 
get that a human authority had allotted to each his water! They 
persuaded themselves into the fictitious belief that their portions 
of additional water had been assigned them by a. very ancient cus- 
tom, at the back of which lay a primitive ordinance! 28 

If archaic societies felt like that, it is easy to understand the po- 
sition held by the Elders. Such is the strength of their authority in 
Melanesia that Rivers 29 actually saw them there cornering the 
women, with the result that one of the commonest marriages was 
between a grandson and the discarded wife of his paternal grand- 
father. Also, as he observed, a younger brother would, if his elder 
brother could find no better use for one of his granddaughters, 
marry her. 

Every act of life has its appropriate rite, and of those rites the 
Elders are the repositories. The assurance of a good harvest lies not 
in the work of men's hands and in their manner of husbandry, but 
in the rites. The impregnation of the female is achieved not by the 
sexual act, but by the spirit of a dead man who enters into her and 
is born again as a child. 

Would any young man question the authority of the Elders when, 
but for them, he would never attain manhood? Before he can be 
numbered among the warriors, he must submit to a rite of initiation 

"Sir Henry Sumner Maine (1822-1888), English comparative jurist and 
historian, whose best known work, Ancient Law, was published in 1861. His 
fundamental idea was to make patriarchal power the germ of society. 


at the hands of the Elders. 80 When the time has come, the adoles- 
cents are cut off, imprisoned, starved, beaten; then, the ordeal en- 
dured, they get the name of men. The adolescent well knows that, 
should the Elders refuse him this name, he would remain a child 
for ever. It is in fact from the name "that there comes to him his 
share in the power infusing the group viewed as a single whole." 31 

Among primitive peoples the royal road to political rule is an 
understanding of the will of the occult powers and a knowledge of 
the times in which and the conditions under which they will be 

The Elders are the natural repository of this branch of knowledge. 
But some are nearer to the gods than others, so near that they can 
even induce their actions. There is no question here of the divine 
will being moved by prayer, but rather, one might almost say, of its 
hand being forced by certain rites or incantations which obligate 
the god. 

All primitive peoples believed in the existence of this magical 
power. Take the Romans: the men who drafted the Twelve Tables 
included in them, even at that date,* a prohibition against a man's 
lifting into his own field by magic the grain sown in another's! The 
Druids were credited by the Celts with the power of surrounding 
an army with a wall of air, that could be surmounted only at peril 
of immediate death. The evidence collected by Frazer proves that 
in various parts of the globe men have been deemed capable of 
either precipitating rain or checking its fall. 32 

Could anyone fail to base all his hopes and fears on those who 
wield powers like these? Or to desire above all things, if they are 
transmissible, to come by them? There lies the explanation of the 
amazing crop of secret societies among savages. The inner circle is 
formed by those of the Elders who are most deeply versed in the 
occult sciences, and to them the whole tribe is subject. 33 

In the Bismarck Archipelago, apparitions of the divine monster, 
called the Dukduk, awaken at intervals the state of religious panic 
which holds society together. Before any trace of the new moon's 
crescent can be seen, the women hide themselves, for they know 
that it is death to see the god. The men of the tribe gather on the 
shore; there to the beating of drums they raise their voices in song 

* The date of the Twelve Tables was 451-449 B.C. 


—as much to conceal their own fears as to do honour to the Dukduks. 
When dawn comes there are seen on the water five or six canoes, 
tied together to support a platform: upon the platform flutter two 
ten-foot-high beings. At the moment of this contraption coming to 
shore, the Dukduks jump forth onto the beach, whereat those pres- 
ent scatter in terror: woe to the impious man who should touch 
these monsters— death by the tomahawk would be his fate. The 
Dukduks revolve around each other in a dance which they accom- 
pany with shrill cries. Thereafter they disappear into the under- 
growth, where a house, crammed with presents, has been made 
ready for them. When evening comes they reappear, the one armed 
with staves and the other with a club: the men, drawn up in line, 
let themselves be beaten by them till blood is drawn and faintness 
supervenes— sometimes even to the death. 

Are the two Elders who are dressed up as Dukduks aware that it 
is all an imposture? Do they do it for the sake of the natural advan- 
tages which thereby come to them, and to secure their rule over the 
society's life? Or do they really believe in the existence of the occult 
powers to which this play-acting of theirs gives sensible form? Who 
can tell? Do they know themselves? Whatever may be the answer, 
we have here a Power, religious, social, and political, other than 
which these tribes have none: it is centred in these play-actors. 

Recruitment of the holders of this Power takes place by a careful 
system of co-option. Entry into the various degrees leading to the 
office of Dukduk cannot be hurried. A magic circle of the same sort, 
called the Egbo, has been found in West Africa. It is, say its finders, 
a degenerate one, because both entry and advancement are bought 
and sold. To rise by degrees to the innermost circle of the initiated 
costs a native sums which amount in stages to a total of £3000 in 
all. And in that way the rule of the magician-elders joins to its au- 
thority the forces of society. Then position is consolidated first by 
society's contributions in money, then by its support, and lastly by 
their depriving any potential opposition of the means wherewith to 
form itself. 

The rule exercised by the magical Power is now a political rule, 
than which these primitive peoples know no other. 34 

Intimidation assures it the absolute submission of the women and 
children, blackmail gathers into it the whole of the collective re- 
sources of these communities. It imposes social discipline, it ensures 
observance of the oracular precepts which it gives forth, and of the 


judgments which it pronounces: all this it does by means of super- 
stitious terror. So much so that superstition could be commended 
by Frazer as the wet-nurse of the state. 35 


Fear is the principle at the root of magical Power; its role in so- 
ciety is the fixation of customs. The savage who should turn aside 
from the practices of his ancestors would draw on himself the anger 
of the occult powers. But the more conformist he is, the more they 
work for him. 

That is not to say that magical Power never innovates. The people 
may receive from it a new set of rules for the conduct of life, but 
these, once they have been promulgated, are integrated in the an- 
cestral heritage; they are accorded, by a fiction which is character- 
istic of savage mentality, a special antiquity, and the new ways are 
no more called in question than the old. We may say that what 
Power wins, it wins conservatively. All individual variations of be- 
haviour are checked, and society maintains itself in the same shape. 
To the group, magical Power acts as a cohesive force for the preser- 
vation of acquired social characteristics. 

Before we leave it, let us note that the aftereffects of a form of 
rule which must have endured for tens of thousands of years will 
not disappear with its fall. The peoples will still view innovation 
with a certain horror, they will still feel that uncustomary behaviour 
calls down a divine punishment. The Power which comes to replace 
the magical Power will take over from it a certain religious prestige. 

It came down to us from the earliest times, this superstitious feel- 
ing which, taking on a new form, will ascribe to kings the power to 
heal scrofula or to calm epilepsy; so it is too with this fear, so often 
met with in history, of the royal person. 

It is tempting to suppose that, with the liquidation of monarchies, 
all religious association went out of a now depersonalized Power. 
Very true it is that there is nothing holy about the people who now 
govern us! But our modes of feeling are more stubborn things than 
our modes of thinking, and we have transferred to the impersonal 
state some trace of our ancient reverence. 

There are philosophers 36 who have given their minds to the phe- 
nomenon of disregard of laws and have sought out its causes. Much 
more surprising, however, is the opposite phenomenon of respect 
for laws and deference to authority. History never lacks instances 


to show us of vast masses of men submitting to a yoke which is 
hateful to them, and lending unanimous and willing aid to keep in 
being a Power which they detest. 

The explanation of this strange veneration is in the unconscious 
worship which men still offer to the prestige of a remote titulary. 

And so disobedience— deliberate, proclaimed, and placarded dis- 
obedience—to the laws of the state has still about it something of a 
defiance hurled at the gods, and provides, too, a test of how great 
their power really is. Cortes threw down the idols on the island of 
Columel to prove to the natives, by his impunity, that their gods 
were false. When Hampden refused to pay ship money at Charles 
I's behest, his friends trembled for him: but his escape was proof 
that celestial thunderbolts were no longer wielded by the Stuart 
king: the king fell. 

Ransack the history of revolutions, and it will be found that every 
fall of a regime has been presaged by a defiance which went un- 
punished. It is as true today as it was ten thousand years ago that 
a Power from which the magic virtue has gone out, falls. 

Power the most ancient has therefore bequeathed something to 
Power the most modern. We have met for the first time with a phe- 
nomenon which will become clearer and clearer as we continue. 
However brutal the means by which new orderings of society take 
over from the old, the former bear for ever the impress of the latter. 


1. Social consequences of the warlike spirit. 2. War gives birth to 
the patriarchate. 3. The warrior aristocracy is also a plutocracy. 
4. The government. 5. The king. 6. The state or public thing. 7. 
Kingship becomes monarchy. 8. The public thing without state 
apparatus. 9. Ancient republics. 10. Government by folkways. 
11. Monarchical heritage of the modern state. 

There is no certain proof that our society once passed through 
the stage which any particular savage community is now 
seen to have reached. Progress is now no longer represented 
as a single road along which backward societies act as milestones. 
The present conception is, rather, of groups of human beings mov- 


ing on towards civilization by roads which are quite different, with 
the result that most of them get held up in culs-de-sac in which 
either they stand still or, on occasion, perish. 1 

It would not be claimed today that totemism was a stage of re- 
ligious and social organization which was traversed by every society 
without exception. On the contrary, there are, it seems, only certain 
regions of the earth to which it belongs. 2 Nor is it true that uterine 
affiliation preceded everywhere the paternal. This line of thought 
is contradicted by the survival of uterine affiliation among some 
societies even after they have reached a relatively advanced stage 
of civilization; whereas in others the patriarchal family may be seen 
already achieved while they are still in a state of the crudest bar- 

The conclusion seems to be, then, that human societies, having 
made their appearance on the earth's surface independently of one 
another, could from the start adopt different structures— structures 
which have, perhaps, determined their future greatness or their un- 
dying mediocrity.. 

What is certain is that those which, whether naturally or by their 
own efforts, were the first to be organized patriarchically, which were 
the least inclined to people the universe with evil purposes or freed 
themselves soonest from these fears, come before us as the real 
founders of states and as the truly historical societies. 

The extent to which exaggerated mystical fears inhibit every un- 
tried action and tend to block all innovation and all progress, needs 
no underlining, 3 and it is certain that the patriarchal way of life fa- 
vours social development as the avuncular certainly does not. The 
result in action of the latter is that the children of its young women 
become the property of a social group which cannot multiply except 
in proportion to its young women. Whereas in the former it is the 
children of its young men who become the group's property, and 
the rate of its growth greatly increases if these young men can, 
whether by war or in any other way, make a store of wives. 

Clearly then the patriarchal group will quickly become stronger 
than the avuncular, and at the same time more united. This has given 
rise to conjectures that some matriarchal societies had the patri- 
archal way of life thrust on them by their most powerful members, 
and that the groups so formed swallowed up the others whom they 
ground into a proletarian powder. But, however different their so- 
cial structures may have been, it seems certain that all primitive 


societies answer to our description of the ritual rule of the Elders. 
Rule of that kind was necessary to guide men's uncertain footsteps 
past nature's ambushes. But, for society to take wing again, the old 
rule with its unchanging essence must be overthrown or, more ac- 
curately, discarded. What we may call the first political revolution 
was precisely that process. What was the cause of it? Beyond all 
question, war. 


The hypotheses about the "natural man" formulated by both 
Hobbes and Rousseau are one and all rejected by anthropology. He 
is in fact neither so brutal nor so innocent as they made out. Indeed, 
within the limits of the small circle to which he belongs, he displays 
a good measure of sociability, though anyone, no doubt, who is out- 
side his circle is a stranger, which is as much as to say an enemy. 

Is it, however, inevitable that societies living in isolation from one 
another should come to blows? Why should they? Their place is a 
small one on continents which are vast. 4 Do peoples fight one an- 
other when they are living completely independent lives? Fichte 
thought not, and in his thought the creation by each nation of its 
own self-sufficiency was the royal road to perpetual peace. 5 

In the cold light of reason the conclusion is that the co-existence 
on the earth of various savage groupings does not necessarily result 
in either peace or war between them. What do we learn from the 
Central African and Central Australian fields of observation? What 
did our predecessors learn from the North American field? That 
some peoples are pacific and others bellicose. The fact is there, 
primary and irreducible: there are no circumstances to explain it. A 
people either has the will to power or it has not. 

The presence or absence of the will to power brings in its train 
vast consequences. Take the case of a pacific people. It renders re- 
spect and obedience to those who understand how to disarm and 
mollify the forces of nature, knowing that to them are due abundant 
harvests and multiplying cattle. But take on the contrary a bellicose 
people, which is less submissive to the decrees of nature. Violence 
will furnish it with whatever it lacks of women or cattle. We may 
be sure that there the first man in consideration is bound to be the 

All history is that of man's rebellion against his original state, of 


his efforts to secure for himself more goods than are within his im- 
mediate reach. One form, and an uncouth one, of this rebellion and 
effort is the foray. The same instinct, perhaps, in early times caused 
war and now induces global exploitation. Be that as it may, it is be- 
yond doubt that the principal authors of material civilization are 
the peoples who are marked by the spirit of conquest. 

War is the cause, whatever else, of far-reaching social disturbances. 

Let us suppose that the Elders of the tribe have celebrated all the 
rites and furnished the warriors with amulets which give immunity. 
The battle is then joined, and there now ensues a primitive form of 
scientific experiment. The strongest and the bravest proves the victor 
—not the man who carries the most charms. And before this harsh 
experience of reality the spurious reputations melt away. The man 
who returns in glory is the best warrior: his place in society will 
thenceforward be new and different. 

War is the overthrow of the established hierarchy. Consider the 
case of those Australian savages 6 whose only form of wealth is their 
serving-maids. So precious a commodity are women that they can 
be had only by barter. And so powerful and selfish are the Elders 
that none but themselves may dispose of the girls of their hutment, 
whom they in fact barter, not for the benefit of the young men of 
their tribe, to get them wives, but purely for their own; thus the 
number of their own concubines increases while the young men 
have to go without. To make matters worse, these ancients, fearing 
reprisals, do not allow the young men to go out on armed forays for 
women. The latter, therefore, have to do without women, and count 
themselves fortunate should they find some elderly female whom 
no one else wants any more, to maintain their fire, keep their drink- 
ing vessels full, and transport their luggage from camp to camp. 

Suppose now that a gang of these young men gets together and 
sets out on the warpath while the old men are palavering. 7 The war- 
riors return generously provided with wives, and their status— not 
only their material but their moral status— is at once transformed. 
If the foray leads to war, so much the better for them, for strong 
right arms will go up in price in times of peril, and the longer the 
war the more complete will be the displacement of authority. Honour 
to the combatants! The bravest become the most sought after and 
form an aristocracy. 

But we must not think of this process as a rapid one. Primitive 


military campaigns are brief and thinly scattered affairs. Between 
whiles the prestige of the Elders picks up, and the cohesion of the 
warriors fails to hold. 

The course of events varies greatly according to whether the so- 
ciety is, or is not, patriarchal. If it is, then the sons' exploits profit 
the fathers by strengthening their credit. If it is not, then the oppo- 
sition between the Elders and the warriors becomes more sharply 
defined; the one is the party of obstruction, the other of movement; 
the one is for fossilizing the behaviour of the tribe, the other for 
regenerating it by contact with the outside world. Where the Elders 
grew rich by monopoly of the tribal wealth, the new aristocracy 
grows rich by pillage: that is its contribution to the community's 
life, and there perhaps lies the secret of its political triumph. The 
bravest are also the best placed for practising the aristocratic duties 
of hospitality and largesse. Through the tribal feast they gain entry 
even into the secret societies and become their masters. They are, 
in a word, the parvenus of primitive societies. 

Even if the possibility of the patriarchate ever having been a 
primitive institution is not admitted, its rise is easily explained in 
terms of war. 

Agreed that, for natural reasons (in that the part of the father in 
the procreation of children was not at first understood), 8 the child 
was universally the property of the male members of the mother's 
family. But there is no maternal family with which the victorious 
warriors, returning from a raid with a booty of women, have any 
account to settle. The children will be theirs, and their multiplica- 
tion will bring them wealth and strength. And here is the explana- 
tion of the transition from the avuncular family to the paternal. 

The same explanation goes for the absolutist authority of the 
father; it comes, to put it shortly, from conquered women. And in 
that way war builds the bridge between one social regime and an- 
other. Notable philologists claim, moreover, to have found two strata 
of cults: the terrestrial cults of an agrarian and matriarchal society, 
later overlaid by the celestial cults of a warrior and patriarchal 
society. 9 


We are in the region of guesswork. But what is certain is that, 
with the patriarchal family in being and war in progress, warlike 


courage becomes a principle of social distinction and a cause of 
social differentiation. War brings wealth and brings it in unequal 

In a society of this kind, in what does wealth consist? Not in the 
land, for its extent is, relatively to the small population, almost in- 
finite. To some extent, in food stocks, but these are soon exhausted 
—the important thing is to keep them continually replenished. In 
tools, certainly, but tools are no use without men to handle them. 
At a relatively advanced stage, in cattle; but animals need men to 
guard and take care of them. Wealth, then, consists in having a large 
labour force— wives at first, slaves later. 

War pays both these dividends, and pays them inevitably to the 
bravest fighters. It is they who come off best; it is they who have 
the largest families. The hero procreates on a scale which is in pro- 
portion to that of his successes. 

At a later date, after the institution of monogamy, losses in war 
tend to extinguish the breed of warriors— our feudal nobility, for 
instance, is now extinct. Consequently, in our time, we have got 
used to seeing societies replenished by high birth rates among peo- 
ple of low position. But in earlier times the reverse was the case. It 
was the warrior families which multiplied. How many legends in 
how many languages tell us of the "hundred sons" of the gallant 

To the natural channels of increase others were soon added. Prim- 
itive people are so acutely aware of the importance of numbers to 
strength and wealth that the first thing the Iroquois warriors do, on 
returning from an expedition, is to proclaim the number of then- 
dead. 10 The great thing is to replace them, and for that purpose use 
is made of the prisoners, who get incorporated into the families that 
have suffered losses. 11 

The practices of polygamy and adoption tip the balance strongly 
in favour of the clans which have won distinction in war. The weak 
and the flabby cannot breed at the same pace. They are but as dust 
against the mighty pyramidical structures of the clans, and consti- 
tute the lower and most isolated groups of men in society. Here we 
see, no doubt, the makings of the first plebs. 

All quarrels— other than those which arise inside a clan and do not 
affect the outside world— are caused by each of two families espous- 
ing in a clash the interests of its own members; it follows that these 
isolated or nearly isolated men, the weak and flabby, cannot indulge 


in them at all against a strong clan. Being in need of protection, 
they join on to some powerful group and become its clients. And so 
society becomes a federation of clans, of social pyramids of greater 
or lesser strength. 

The invention of slavery enriches them still further. Invention is 
the right word, for there is no doubt that more backward peoples 
had no conception of it. The idea of a stranger living among them 
had never entered their heads. If he could not be assimilated— 
adopted into a family— then his place was outside, and his fate was 
banishment or death. The first industrial revolution, comparable to 
the coming of the machines, took place when it occurred to men to 
spare the lives of their enemies and exploit their labour. 

Who owns the slaves? The victors, whose aristocracy thus be- 
comes a plutocracy as well. And from that time wars will be carried 
on, or at least the essential parts in them will be taken, by this 
plutocracy alone. For wealth furnishes new munitions of war, such 
as the chariot, which only a rich man can make ready. They seem 
a different order of beings, the rich, fighting from their chariots: 
they are the nobles. So it was in the Greece of Homeric days. Be- 
sides the testimony of the poems themselves, Aristotle tells us that 
those were the times, both militarily and politically, of the "cavalry." 

In this way war came to create a monopolistic caste of men who 
were at once wealthy, warlike, and politically powerful; the Romans 
called them the patricians, the Greeks the eupatrides. 

The rest of society formed up inside the cadres of the clans, so 
that it came to resemble a line of human pyramids; at the top of 
each is the chief of the clan, lower down are the clients, and at the 
bottom are the slaves. Each is a little state, in which the man on top 
is government, law, and justice. Each is also a citadel of religion, 
with its own cult. 


Society has grown. We are already far away from the primitive 
group which was, we are told (according to observations made in 
Australia) 12 of a strength of from fifty to two hundred persons un- 
der the authority of the Elders. What we now have are swollen 
clans, each one of which may be as strong as a whole primitive 
group. What now hangs together is the great patriarchal family, 
and no longer what may be derisively called the primitive "nation in 
miniature." But as between these families, what is the link? 


We find ourselves confronted at this point with the same data on 
the problem of government as confronted the classical writers. While 
failing to recognize the existence of a political prehistory, they 
made no mistake about the point of departure of political history. 
And we fall back, naturally enough, on their solutions: the senate 
of the chiefs of clans, which is the confederative cement of society, 
and the king, who is its military symbol. 

Our brief excursion into the dark ages has, however, prepared us 
to appreciate that the nature of these governmental organs is not a 
simple one. 

It goes without saying that a chief for purposes of war there must 
be, and that his position is strengthened according as wars are fre- 
quent and his military successes unbroken; it is natural, too, that 
negotiations with foreigners should be conducted in the name of 
this redoubtable warrior, who, we may easily see, gets institution- 
alized to some extent and receives, while war is on, an absolute au- 
thority, the memory of which comes down to us from the Romans 
in the absolutism of the imperium extra muros. * 

It is, moreover, logical to suppose that this chief, who in the or- 
dinary way has at his disposition only the resources of his own clan, 
will have to reach agreement with the other chiefs of clans or be 
helpless: hence the necessity of the senate. But it is impossible to 
regard any institution as a mere piece of working machinery. All of 
them stand charged at all times with an electricity which has been 
transmitted to them by the past, and which is kept alive by the 
feelings handed down to the present. So it would be wrong to re- 
gard the senate as merely an administrative council in which each 
represents his own. It reproduces also some of the mystical char- 
acteristics of the council of magician-elders. 

Even more complex is the problem of the king. 


This problem is too vast for us to handle in detail, and we make 
no claim to hold the solution of it. There seems, roughly speaking, 
to be in kingship a fundamental dualism. 

Among certain peoples there are actually present, and among 

* This imperium included the power of life and death. It was assumed out- 
side the walls along with the sacred weapons and the red garb forbidden inside 
the city. War, in fact, transformed the consular potestas into an imperium. 


others there are traces of, two distinct personages, both of whom 
correspond generally to our idea of king. One is essentially a priest, 
officiating at the public ceremonies and conserving the strength and 
cohesion of the "nation"; 13 the other is essentially chief freebooter, 
leader of forays, director of the nation's strength. 14 

It is noteworthy that kingship, as we understand it, is not the 
apanage of the warrior-chief solely in virtue of that capacity. 15 He 
is honoured and saluted; he receives tribute of trapped game that 
he may, from his place of honour at the banquet, praise in return 
the skilful hunter; he is acknowledged to have a good eye for dan- 
ger or opportunity; he calls together the council of state— but he is 
only a man among men. 

For him to be more than that there must be joined to his office of 
dux, as we may call it, the office of rex, which is religious in char- 
acter. The rex is he in whom the ancient magical power and the 
ancient ritual office are subsumed and gathered up. At every point 
he is the slave of rigorous taboos. He cannot eat this, must not look 
at that; all about him is veneration, but his office is in truth prec- 
atory and expiatory, and himself but the prisoner and the victim 
of his mystic role. We glimpse dimly the dux usurping this place of 
honour; what he takes of it, however, are the prestige-advantages 
which the position carries— not its shackles. 

There lies the explanation of the double character of the kinglv 
Power of history— a duality which it has transmitted to all succeed- 
ing Powers. It is at once the symbol of the community, its mystical 
core, its cohesive force, its sustaining virtue. But it is also ambition 
for itself, the exploitation of society, the will to power, the use of 
the national resources for purposes of prestige and adventure. 

However it may be with these conjectures, it is sure that at a cer- 
tain point of historical development we meet with the ambitious 
king who aims at extending his own prerogatives at the expense of 
the chiefs of clans— "the absolute monarchs of their families," as 
Vico calls them— and is jealous of their independence. 

Inevitably the battle is joined. Among some peoples it is relatively 
easy to follow its course, and among them, as it happens, the kind's 
armament of mystical prestige is small. That is why, no doubt, he 
comes off second best in Greece and at Rome: but in the East the 
ftssue is far different. 


Let us examine first of all what is at stake. 

Without the chiefs of clans the king is powerless, since it is they 
alone who bring him the obedience of the groups which they con- 
trol; the groups themselves are impervious to the royal authority. 

What is the objective of the king bound to be? 

To deprive the magnates of this solid basis of power, which forces 
him to bring them into the government, and then, having broken 
their ranks, to acquire for himself the direct control of all the forces 
of which they dispose. To carry out this programme he seeks and 
receives the support of the plebeian horde which passes its unevent- 
ful life outside the proud pyramids of aristocracy; in some cases, 
too, he is helped by crushed and frustrated elements from within 
these pyramids. 

A victory for the king will be followed by a complete reclassifica- 
tion, 16 by a new-found social independence for the humbler mem- 
bers of the community, and by the erection of a governmental 
machine which will make every individual directly amenable to 
Power. A defeat for the king will put back the social reclassifica- 
tion, will save for the time being the social pyramids, and will place 
the direction of public affairs in the hands of the patricians, who 
will form an oligarchic republic. 

Mark this well: by its own inner logic the same impulse embarks 
Power on two courses— the diminution of social inequality, and the 
raising and centralizing of public authority. 

The chances of success for the royal purpose are least in a com- 
munity which is relatively small, and in which the cohesion of the 
patrician classes is that much closer. But a society tends to grow, 
at first by confederation and later by conquest. We have the ex- 
amples of Rome, Sparta, and the Iroquois to show us that con- 
federation comes naturally enough to warrior peoples. The effect of 
confederation is to introduce into the newborn "nation" an element 
of heterogeneity, which gives the joint rulers, of whom there were 
two at Sparta, two among the Iroquois, and in early times two at 
Rome, a certain accrual of influence. Inevitably they are linked to- 
gether, as when, at the start of a war, they celebrate the various rites 
of each constituent society. They are, as it were, the crystallizing 
factor in the mythological process, the factor which unites the cults 
and marries the gods of different societies. 


The societies of Greece and Rome, however, were not 17 either 
large enough or heterogeneous enough or religious enough to pro- 
vide the kings with a spiritual arm wherewith to assure their tri- 
umph. In the East events are harder to discern. But it seems that 
there the kings were more obeyed, at first by reason of the accentua- 
tion of their religious character, and later by the sweep of their terri- 
torial conquests. 

When vast annexations of several societies are effected by a small 
conquering nation, the chief of the latter has always offered him a 
wonderful opportunity of absolutist power. Within the city's walls 
there was but a small population to hear his call to rise against the 
patricians; but the subject peoples, vanquished at a time when na- 
tional sentiment was still unformed, can give him all the help he 
needs. One instance of this is Alexander, who formed a guard of 
young Persians when his Macedonians mutinied. Another is that of 
the Ottoman Sultans, who recruited from the Christian peoples be- 
neath their rule the corps of janissaries which brought them despot- 
ism at home and strength abroad. 

By means of conquest and of the openings which the diversity of 
the conquered gives him, the king can now shake off the aristocracy, 
of which till then he had been little more than the president; he 
turns monarch. Sometimes he turns more even than that. In the con- 
fused mass of conquerors and conquered the cults of the different 
groups get confused— those cults which are in every group the privi- 
lege of a patrician elite. 18 For to have relations with the gods is one 
way of securing their complicity, and there is no sharing out a pri- 
vate alliance of that kind. 

If, therefore, the king offers to the mass of his subjects a god for 
all, he is conferring on them an immense favour. The modern critic 
who thinks that the rulers of Egypt imposed on their humiliated 
subjects the cult of a god who was more or less themselves, is quite 
wrong. What happened was, on the contrary, that, basing them- 
selves on the sentiments of their time, they gave the mass a new- 
found right and dignity, by including them with the nobles in a 
common cult. 19 

Such are the political and religious devices by which the monarch 
can erect a whole apparatus of stable and permanent government, 
complete with a bureaucracy, an army, a police, a tax code, and 
everything else which is connoted for us by the word "state." 


The apparatus of a state is built by and for personal power. 

For the will of one man alone to be transmitted and exercised 
throughout a wide kingdom, transmission and execution must both 
be systematized and given the means of growth— in other words, 
bureaucracy, police, taxation. For monarchy this state apparatus is 
the natural and necessary instrument. But on society, too, its influ- 
ence down the centuries is so great that, when at long last the mon- 
arch has vanished without disturbing it, its motive power will still 
be conceived of only as one will, though it is now the will of an 
abstract person who has taken the monarch's place. The mind's eye 
will see, for instance, the nation deciding and the apparatus of state 
executing its decisions. 

Thinking thus, we find an ancient republic hard to understand; 
for there all action turns on a concourse of wills, whether the need 
is for decision or execution, and there is no state apparatus. 

It is remarkable that even such thinkers as Rousseau and Mon- 
tesquieu should have lumped together modern states and ancient 
cities without marking the essential point of difference between 

The republic of old had no state apparatus. It needed no ma- 
chinery for imposing the public will on all the citizens, who would 
have had none of such a thing. The citizens, with their own wills 
and their own resources— these latter small at first but continuously 
growing— decide by adjusting their wills and execute by pooling 
their resources. 

It is for this very reason, that everything turns on the adjustment 
of wills and the pooling of resources, that the ancient republic bears 
the name of "public thing." 


We have seen how the king of a warlike society of clans could 
not take action without the help of the chiefs of clans, and we realize 
how natural it was for him to aim at concentrating all power in him- 
self—a purpose which was bound to end in his breaking the power 
of the clans with the help of outsiders and plebeians of every kind, 
both native and captive. 

The clannish aristocracy suffers, inevitably, from a split mind. 


While seeking to maintain its status of near-independence of, and 
near-equality with, the king, it cherishes also the position of su- 
periority and authority which it holds in relation to other elements 
in the community. Thus, Alexander's comrades in battle refused to 
prostrate themselves before him, while behaving with crushing arro- 
gance to their latest victims in war and to their Greek associates. 

It is this frame of mind which must have set on foot the revolu- 
tion which extinguished the monarchy in both Greece and Rome. 
To take these revolutions for egalitarian in the modern sense, as 
some have, is to show a profound ignorance of the social structure 
in ancient times. Their object was to hold in check two associated 
phenomena— the political elevation of the king, and the social eleva- 
tion of the plebs. This they did in the interests of a social hierarchy. 

We can see this clearly in the case of Sparta, a city which, more 
than any other, preserved its primitive characteristics and thus en- 
ables us the better to appreciate their essentially aristocratic nature. 
What a paradox it is that Sparta of all places should have received 
so much admiration from the men of the French Revolution! 

At Sparta there is nothing but the victorious warriors. These 
style themselves the "Equals"— with reason, for their desire is to be 
equal with one another and with nobody else. Below them are the 
slaves who minister to them, the Helots, who cultivate the fields for 
them, and the "dwellers-round," who are free but have no political 

This social constitution is a typical one, and that of Rome in the 
earlv days of the republic is just like it. The "people" has driven 
out the king. But "people" in those days meant exclusively the 
patricians, the men who belonged to the thirty curiae, or groups of 
noble clans— groups which were represented as such in the Senate 
( the assembly of the "fathers" ) . Even the word pat'ria connotes, as 
Vico has pointed out, 20 the interests in common of the "fathers" and 
the noble families which they rule. 


We do not find anywhere in the ancient republic a directing will 
so armed with its own weapons that it can use force. There were the 
consuls, I may be told. But to start with there were two of them, 
and it was an essential feature of the office that they could block one 
another's activities. On occasions when they wanted to impose their 


joint will, what means had they to hand? Only a few lictors; right 
through her republican period Rome never knew the means of pub- 
lic coercion and had for force only the people themselves, who 
could at need answer the summons of the leaders of society. 

Only those decisions were possible on which there was general 
agreement, and, in the absence of any state apparatus, their execu- 
tion depended solely on the cooperation of the public. The army 
was but the people in arms, and the revenues were but the sums 
gifted by the citizens, which could not have been raised except by 
voluntary subscriptions. There was not, to come down to the es- 
sential point, an administrative corps. 

In the city of old, no public office is found filled by a member of 
a permanent staff who holds his place from Power; the method of 
appointment is election for a short period, usually a year, and often 
by the drawing of lots— which was called by Aristotle the true demo- 
cratic method. 

It thus appears that the rulers do not form, as in our modern so- 
ciety, a coherent body which, from the minister of state down to the 
policeman, moves as one piece. On the contrary, the magistrates, 
great and small, discharge their duties in a way which verges on 

How was a regime of this kind able to function at all? Only by 
great moral cohesion and the inter-availability of private citizens 
for public office. 

A certain code of behaviour had become so much second nature 
to the members of the community, thanks to the discipline of the 
home and the teaching of the school, and the code received such 
strong support from public opinion, that a mass of human beings 
became virtually indistinguishable. This happened especially at 
Sparta. Xenophon, in his Constitution of Sparta, 21 stressed educa- 
tion above all else, as making for cohesion and a workable regime. 
The government of societies like this was, as has been truly said, 
the work of the folkways. 


The really decisive moment in the early history of a people is that 
of the crisis between the king and the chiefs of clans; it is then that, 
according to the issue of the conflict, differences in political char- 
acter are formed such as will never be completely erased. Entangle- 


ment in constitutional theories of notions formed by contrary 
experiences— republic or state, citizen or subject— is due entirely to 
failure to appreciate the importance of this fork in the road. 

Whenever the chiefs of clans have won, the resulting political ar- 
rangements have been regarded as a society maintained jointly by 
the citizens for the advancement of their common interests— a res 
publica. The flesh and bones of this society are the individuals who 
make it up, and it takes visible form in their assemblies— the comitia. 
In time, those who were not of the society at first are promoted to 
membership and take part in its life; and with them the assemblies 
expand— the comitia centuriata and the comitia tributa. But when it 
is a case of opposing the whole of the community to an individual 
member or to a foreign community, then the title invoked is this 
concrete reality, the populus, and the interests which concern it, 
the res publica. No one speaks of the state, and there is no word to 
denote the existence of a fictional person separate from the body of 

If, on the other hand, the king wins, he becomes the man who is 
above all and rules all (supra, supranus, sovrano). The members of 
society are so many subjects (subditi = subjected). As and when 
the sovereign bids them, they lend him the aid of their resources; 
and the benefits which he brings them they enjoy. 

The community's focal point, its manifestation in the flesh, is the 
king on his throne. It is he who decides for and acts for the people, 
developing for this purpose an apparatus which consists solely of 
himself and his minions. Around this skeleton the flesh of society, 
its men, ranges itself. And the tie to which the community responds 
is one of a feeling, not of being associated in common, but of being 
possessed in common. 

Such is the manner of the formation of that complex idea, the 
state. The republic, that is clearly "we," we Roman citizens, looked 
at in the milieu of a society which we are forming for our common 
ends. The state, that is the sovereign commander of ourselves, who 
are its body servants. 

That in the end the king disappears in a political revolution makes 
no difference; for his work remains, that of a society formed about 
an apparatus which is society's master, never to be discarded. A 
natural result of the existence of this apparatus, and of the relations 
established between it and the subjects, is that the modern man 
can never know citizenship in the ancient sense, when each decision 


and its execution was the work of all, when all took an active share 
in every side of public activity. True it is that every four years de- 
mocracy will put him on a throne and give him the right of dis- 
pensing place and orientating policy; but the fact remains that for 
the rest of the time he is the subject of the apparatus which, if it is 
any consolation, he has helped to set going. 

We see then that the monarchical period established in the body 
of society a distinct organ: this was Power, which has its own life, 
its own interests, its own characteristics, its own ends. It needs 
studying under this aspect. 




1. Power in its pure state. 2. Reconstruction of the phenomenon by 
synthesis. 3. Command as cause. 4. Command as it first looked. 
5. Command for its sake. 6. Pure Power forswears itself. 7. Estab- 
lishment of monarchy. 8. From parasitism to symbiosis. 9. Forma- 
tion of the nation in the person of the king. 10. The City of 
Command. 11. Overthrow of Power. 12. The two ways. 13. The 
natural evolution of every apparatus or rule. 14. The governmen- 
tal ego. 15. The essential duality of Power. 16. Of the egoism of 
Power. 17. The noble forms of governmental egoism. 

The spectacle presented by modern society is that of an 
immense state apparatus— a veritable complex of moral and 
material controls by which individual actions are conditioned 
and around which private lives take shape. This apparatus grows 
with the growth of social needs, while its diseases infect both the 
life of society and the lives of individuals. The result is that, when 
we consider the sum of the services it renders us, the bare idea of 
its disappearance throws us into such a fright that an apparatus in 
such close communion with society naturally seems to us to have 
been made for it. 

Society, we see, has furnished it with the human elements which 
compose it, and its strength seems, therefore, only a centralized and 
mobilized fraction of society's strength. In a word, it is within society. 
If we look for the motive force which animates this Power, we find 
at work on it a crowd of influences situated at different points of 
the social compass; these influences, being in unceasing strife and 
combination with one another, assume at times the form of great 
waves which force the ship of state on to a new course. It is a con- 
venient substitute for the analysis of this diversity of influences to 
consolidate and integrate them into one will, and call it the General 
Will or the Will of Society. And, since it is as its instrument that Power 
functions, Power must, one would think, have been forged by it. 

Such is Power's dependence on the nation and so great its need 
to make its activities conform with the nation's necessities, that we 



are almost driven to the conclusion that the organs of command 
have been built up consciously, or unconsciously secreted, by so- 
ciety for use in its service. That is why jurists identify the state with 
the nation: the state, they say, is the nation personified, and organ- 
ized as it needs to be for the government of itself and for dealing 
with others. There are great attractions in this view: unfortunately, 
it leaves out of account a phenomenon which is met with only too 
frequently— the seizure of the state apparatus by a particular will 
which uses it to dominate and exploit society for egoistical ends. 

Once it is admitted that Power may forswear its true reason and 
end, and as it were detach itself from society to form far above it a 
separate body for its oppression, then the whole theory of Power's 
identity with society breaks down before this simple fact. 


At this point nearly all who have written on the subject look the 
other way. A Power which is both illegitimate and unjust is off their 
intellectual beat. This feeling of repugnance, while it is understand- 
able, has to be overcome. For the phenomenon' is of too frequent 
occurrence to give any chance of life to a theory which does not 
take account of it. 

It is clear enough how the mistake arose: it was from basing a 
science of Power on observations made, as it is history's business to 
make them, of Powers whose relations with society were of one 
kind only; what are in fact only its acquired characteristics were 
thus mistaken for Power's essence. And so the knowledge acquired, 
while adequate to explain one state of things, was quite useless in 
dealing with the times of the great divorces between Power and 

It is not true that Power vanishes when it forswears its rightful 
begetter and acts in breach of the office which has been assigned to 
it. It continues as before to command and to be obeyed: without 
that, there is no Power— with it, no other attribute is needed for it 
to be. 

It is not, therefore, the case that its substance was ever fused 
with the nation; it had a life of its own. Neither did its essence he 
in its rightful reason and end. It can live, as it has shown, as com- 
mand and nothing more. We must see it as it is if we are to grasp 
its inner reality, the thing without which it cannot be: that essence 
is command. 


I shall, therefore, take Power in its pure state— command that 
lives for its sake and for its fruits— as the basic concept from which 
I shall set out to explain the characteristics developed by Power in 
the course of its historical existence; those characteristics have vastly 
changed its appearance. 


At the start of this undertaking it is necessary to clear away all 
misconception, whether it proceeds from the emotions or from the 

No reasonable explanation of political phenomena in the concrete 
is possible if the reader— as in these days, alas, he is but too prone 
to do— runs away with one piece of the argument, either to justify 
with it his own emotional approach or to attack it in the name of 
that approach. Suppose, for example, that he extracts from the con- 
cept of pure Power an apology for aggressive egoism as a principle 
of organization, then, in seeing even the germ of such an apology 
in this concept, he is guilty of wishful seeing. And the same is true 
if he reaches the conclusion that Power, being evil in its root, is 
therefore basically evil in action, and supposes it to be the author's 
intention to show this. 

Let it be understood that our starting-point is a clearly defined 
abstract concept, our object being to discover the complex reality 
by way of a logical approach conducted in successive stages. What 
is essential to our purpose is not that this basic concept should be 
"true," but that it should be "adequate," in the sense of being able 
to furnish a coherent explanation of every fact submitted to obser- 
vation. That is the way of approach in all sciences; all stand in need 
of certain fundamental concepts, such as the line and the point, the 
mass and the energy. 

But we must not be expected— here is the second source of mis- 
conception—to copy the stern discipline of those exact sciences, to 
which, in that respect, political science will always be incomparably 
inferior. Even thought of apparently the most abstract kind is much 
dependent on the imagination: political thought is altogether gov- 
erned by it. In politics the method of the geometrician would be 
but an artifice and a deception. We can make no affirmation about 
either Power or society without having before our eyes apposite his- 
torical instances. Therefore, our attempt to reconstruct the course 
of Power's transformation lays no claim to a dialectic which is in- 
dependent of history or of the method of historical synthesis. Rather, 


we have tried to disentangle historical Power's complex nature by 
considering the age-long interaction of causes which have been 
ideally simplified. 

Finally, let it be understood that we are concerned here only with 
Power in large formations. 

Power in its pure state consists, as we have said, in command, a 
command which has an independent existence. 

This notion offends the widely disseminated feeling that command 
is but an effect, an effect of the humours of a group of men whose 
needs drive them into submission to rulers. 

This idea of a command-effect breaks down. When choice has to 
be made between two hypotheses neither of which admits of proof, 
the sensible thing to do is to choose the simpler. It is easier to im- 
agine one man or a few men having the will to command than all 
men having the will to obey, to conceive of one or a few with the 
love of domination than of all possessed by the inclination to obedi- 

Submission to a discipline is a product of the reason and is, there- 
fore, of its nature later in time than the love of domination, which 
is instinctive. Submission is, politically, always a relatively passive 
factor; it may be doubted whether by itself it is creative at all, even 
whether the general need for and expectation of an authority can 
bring one into being. 

But that is not all. The idea that the rulers have been willed into 
ruling by the ruled is not only improbable. If regard is had to the 
larger formation, it is also contradictory and absurd. For it implies 
that a formation in which a command is set up had needs and feel- 
ings in common— was in fact a community. Whereas, as history 
shows, communities of any size owe their existence to one thing only 
—to the imposition of one and the same force, and one and the same 
command, on divergent groups. 

Power in its root-principle is not and cannot be an emanation 
and an expression of the nation, because there was no such thing as 
nation until various separate elements had lived long together un- 
der the same Power. Beyond all question, Power came first. 

This is the true relationship between them, but it has been ob- 
scured by the nationalist metaphysic prevalent in the nineteenth 
century. The historians of that time had had their imaginations so 


dazzled by striking instances of nationalist sentiment that they 
projected into the past, even into the distant past, the happenings 
of the present. They came to regard the sentimental groupings of 
their time as having an existence anterior to their own recent ap- 
pearance. History becomes a novel about the personified nation, 
who, like a heroine of melodrama, always raised up at the critical 
moment the champion she needed. 

Rapacious conquerors, like Clovis or William of Normandy, be- 
came, by a quaint transformation, the servants of the will-to-be of 
the French or English nations. 

From one point of view history, like art, was greatly the gainer; 
at last it had found a unity of action, a continuity of movement and, 
above all, a central figure, all of which had been missing before. 1 

But it was literature, not history. The "collective conscience" 2 is, 
it is true, a phenomenon of very great antiquity; but the narrow 
geographical limits of this conscience must not be forgotten. In no 
other way could those limits be put back but by the fusion of dis- 
tinct societies; the work of fusion was the work of command. 

It is making a fateful mistake to suppose, as so many writers have 
supposed, that the major political formation, which is the state, was 
the natural product of human sociability. It seems a natural enough 
supposition, for society, which is a natural entity, is just such a 
product. But a natural society is a small thing. And for a small so- 
ciety to become a large one a new factor is necessary. For that there 
must be fusion, and this in the great majority of cases comes, not 
from the instinct of association, but from that of domination. The 
large formation owes its existence to the instinct of domination. 3 

In early times the nation did not raise up leaders for itself for 
the good reason that, until leaders had already appeared, there was 
not, either in fact or in feeling, a nation. Let us have no nonsense, 
then, as to the compelling and coordinating energy which creates 
nations being some ectoplasm or other risen from the depths of 
men in the mass. The history of large formations tells a different 
tale: their first and original cause is just that energy, behind which 
we cannot go. As if to prove the case more completely still, the 
energy generally comes from outside the formation. 

Conquest, and nothing but conquest, gives birth to large forma- 
tions. Sometimes the conquerors are a component society within a 


group, but usually a warrior band from outside it. 4 In the first case 
one township takes command over many townships, in the other, 
one small people takes command over many peoples. Whatever the 
"istinctions which the course of actual history forces us to draw, 
here can be no doubt that it is to these ancient phenomena that the 
notions of a capital city and a nobility owe in part their psycho- 
logical content. 5 

The instruments chosen by fate to carry out this "synthetic ac- 
tivity," as Auguste Comte calls it, are of the most ferocious. The 
modern states of Western Europe, for instance, have to allow as 
their founders those German tribes of which Tacitus, notwithstand- 
ing the prejudice of the over-civilized man in favour of the bar- 
barian, has left us a terrifying picture. The Franks, from whom the 
French take their name, were no better than those Goths whose 
roving career of pillage and devastation has been described for us 
in the striking pages of Ammianus Marcellinus. 

The relative nearness to us in time of the Norman founders of 
the Kingdom of Sicily and of the companions in adventure of Wil- 
liam the Bastard makes all doubt as to their real characters impos- 
sible. We have often seen them in the imagination— the greedy 
horde embarking at St. Valery-sur-Somme and then, arrived at Lon- 
don, having the country carved up among themselves by a victorious 
bandit chief, seated on his throne of stone. Strictly speaking, no 
doubt, they do not rank as unifiers of territories, but they came to 
supplant others who had done the work of unification for them and 
were very much like themselves. 

The Romans, those illustrious unifiers, were not in the beginning 
very different. On that score St. Augustine cherished no illusions: 

What are thieves' purchases but little kingdoms? for in thefts, the hands 
jf the underlings are directed by the commander, the confederacy of 
them is sworn together, and the pillage is shared by the law amongst 
them. And if those ragamuffins grow but up to be able enough to keep 
forts, build habitations, possess cities, and conquer adjoining nations, then 
their government is no more called thievish, but graced with the eminent 
name of a kingdom. . . . 6 


It follows that the state is in essence the result of the successes 
achieved by a band of brigands who superimpose themselves on 
small, distinct societies; this band, which is itself organized in a 


society as fraternal and as full of thieves' justice as you please,' 
behaves towards the vanquished and the subjected as Power in the 
pure state. 

Power of this kind can make no claim to legitimacy. It pursues 
no just end; its one concern is the profitable exploitation of con- 
quered and submissive subjects. It lives off the subject populations. 

The meaning of William's division of England into sixty thousand 
knightly fiefs is just this: that henceforward sixty thousand groups 
of men will each have to support by their labour one of the con- 
querors. There lies the justification, the only one visible to the eyes 
of the conquerors, for the continued existence of the subject popu- 
lations at all. If they could not be made useful in this way, there 
would be no point in leaving them alive. And it is well worthy of 
note that, where the conquerors are more civilized and do not treat 
the conquered so, they will yet, without having intended it, end up 
by finally exterminating populations which are no use to them: thus 
it has happened in both North America and Australia. The natives 
fared better beneath the rule of the Spaniards, who enslaved them. 

History, with whom there is no shuffling, shows no instance of a 
spontaneous relationship between the victor members of the state 
and the vanquished, other than that of exploitation. 

When the Turks had established themselves in Europe, they lived 
off the tribute paid them by the non-Mussulmans, whose difference 
of dress betrayed them as not belonging to the conquering race. It 
was a sort of annual ransom, the price extracted from those who 
could have been killed for being allowed to live. 

The Romans acted in the same way. They made war for its im- 
mediate gains of precious metals and slaves: the more treasure and 
the more ravaged victims that followed in the consul's train, the 
more applauded was his triumph. The essential feature of the re- 
lationship between the capital and the provinces was the gathering 
of tribute. The Romans regarded the conquest of Macedonia as 
marking the date from which it had become possible to live entirelv 
off the taxes paid by the conquered provinces. 

Even Athens, democratic Athens herself, regarded the payment of 
taxation as unworthy of a citizen. Her coffers were filled by the 
tributes of her allies, and the more demagogic leaders increased 
their popularity by increasing the weight of these charges. Cleon 
raised them from six hundred to nine hundred talents, Alcibiades 
to twelve hundred. 8 


The parasitic domination of a small society over a collection of 
other societies— that is everywhere the mark of the big formation, 
the state. Whether the domestic economy of that small society is, as 
at Rome, republican, or, as at Athens, democratic, or, as at Sparta, 
egalitarian, in each the relations of the victors with the vanquished 
show us an exact picture of command for its sake and for its fruits. 

What a hideously immoral phenomenon, you tell me. Wait a lit- 
tle. For here is an admirable case of time's revenge: the egoism of 
command leads to its own destruction. 

The further that the dominant society, urged on by its material 
appetites, extends the area of its domination, the more inadequate 
its strength becomes to hold down the growing mass of subjects, 
and to defend against other appetites an ever richer booty. That is 
why the Spartiates, who offer the perfect example of the exploiting 
society, limited their conquests. 

Again, the more the dominant society increases the weight of the 
charge which it imposes, the greater the desire it excites to shake 
off its yoke. Athens lost her empire by increasing the weight of the 
tributes which she extracted from it. It was for fear of that happen- 
ing to them that the Spartiates took from the Helots a moderate 
rent only and allowed them to grow rich. The Spartiates knew how 
to discipline their egoism of domination. Among them, egoism acted 
as might's conductor to right, as it was put by Ihering. 

But domination, no matter how prudently administered in prac- 
tice, had its term. In time the master gang thinned out. Its strength 
faded, so that in the end it could no longer hold out against foreign 
armies. Its only resource then was to inject strength into the subject 
mass. But it was too late: at the time that Agis armed the "dwellers- 
round" and changed their status, there were but seven hundred 
citizens left, and Sparta was in its dying agony. 

The instance of Sparta poses the problem which confronts Power 
in its pure form. Founded as it is on force, it has to keep up this 
force by maintaining reasonable relations with the mass which it 
dominates. Those who dominate are compelled by the most ele- 
mentary prudence to strengthen themselves with associates recruited 
from among the subject ranks. According as the dominant society 
takes the form of a city or a feudal state (Rome was the former, 
Norman England the latter), the act of association takes the form 


either of extending the city's franchise to the new allies or of con- 
ferring knighthood on the serfs. 

In the case of the cities a particularly strong repugnance is felt 
to this necessary process of reintegration of strength. This is shown 
by the opposition offered at Rome to the proposals for enfranchising 
the allies made by Livius Drusus, and by the ruinous war which 
the Republic had to endure before giving way. 

That is the way in which the relationship of domination estab- 
lished by conquest is kept up: the Roman Empire was the empire 
of Rome over its provinces, the Kingdom of the Franks was the 
reign of the Franks in Gaul. In this way a political structure arises 
in which the superimposition of the society which commands upon 
those who obey is maintained: a relatively recent example of it is 
the Venetian Empire. 


So far we have treated the dominant society as if it were itself 
undifferentiated, but that, as the study of small societies shows us, 
is not the case. All the time that this dominant society is exercising 
over the subject societies a command which lives for its own sake 
and for its fruits, there is, in the interior of the dominant society it- 
self, a command struggling to assert power over it. That command 
is the personal or royal power. Sometimes, as at Rome, it has fallen 
and vanished before the period of external conquests begins. Or 
sometimes, as in the case of the Germans, "the king" has still to be 
played at the time that external conquests start. Or finally, as in the 
case of the Macedonians, he has by that time already been played 
and the game won. 

If this royal power is in being, the collection of an empire gives 
it a wonderful chance, not only of consolidating its conquests, but 
of breaking, at the same time, the half-independent, half-equal 
status of its partners in them. 

What does it have to do? The king ceases to regard himself as 
the leader of a victorious band, the rex Francorum, upon whose 
united aid he must rely to maintain a power of constraint; instead 
he manipulates to his own advantage a part of the resources latent 
in the conquered formation, and employs them against either the 
rest of the formation or his own associates, whom he proceeds in 
this way to reduce to the level of subjects themselves. That, in its 
most brutal form, is what the Ottoman sultans did. From having 


been the chief men in a military feudal system, they became abso- 
lute monarchs when once they had made themselves independent 
of the enfeoffed Turkish chivalry; this they did by building up a 
new body-guard ( yeni cera, or janissaries ) from Christian children, 
who, owing them everything and loaded with privileges, proved an 
obedient instrument in their hands. For the same reason they chose 
their officers of state from Christians. 

Command remains in principle the same: it is still, as always, 
force. But now the force has left the hands of the conquerors as a 
whole, and has come to rest in those of the king as a man, who can 
now employ it even against his old companions in arms. The larger 
the part of these latent resources on which the king can lay his 
hands, the more authority will he have. 

He achieves much merely by attracting into his personal service 
some of the subjects, whom the contrast between the situation now 
within their grasp and the tyranny which so far they have endured 
will deeply affect. But he does better still if he can attach to his 
person the general body of the subjects by lightening such of the 
burdens laid on them as do not redound to his own advantage; the 
battle against the feudal system then opens. And in the end he 
crowns his efforts if he can manipulate to his own advantage the 
traditions of each of the groups which compose the whole; this 
Alexander did by giving himself out to be the son of Horus. 

Not everyone had the advantage of being taught by Aristotle, but 
what Alexander did was so natural that he has had many imitators 
since. Henry I, the Norman King of England, married a daughter 
of the old Saxon royal family. The son of their marriage he made 
the fulfilment of a prophecy: the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, 
Edward the Confessor, had promised his people that, after a suc- 
cession of usurpations, a child would reign who should mend all. 
Here was that child. 9 


We see, systematically set out, the logical way of the establish- 
ment of what may be called "national monarchy"— it would still be 
an anachronism to use the word "nation." Power, as is clear at once, 
has not changed a jot: it is still what it always was, a system of 
command for its own sake and for its fruits. 

The monarchy owes its existence to a twofold triumph: a military 
one, of conquerors over subjects; and a political one, of the king 


over the conquerors. The reason why one man can govern alone a 
vast mass of men is that he has forged the instruments which en- 
able him to be, strangely enough, stronger than anyone else; those 
instruments are the state apparatus. 

The subject mass is in the nature of a "boon" off which he lives 
and by means of which he maintains his state, sustains his instru- 
ments of compulsion, rewards loyalty, and pursues such ends as his 
ambitions suggest to him. But it would be no less true to say of this 
system of command that it owes its establishment to the protection 
which it has afforded the vanquished, its compulsive force to its 
skill in winning followers and making obedience popular, and, 
lastly, the resources which it draws from the people to the prosper- 
ity which it brings in its train. 

Both explanations exactly fit the case. Power took shape and root 
in habits and beliefs, but it developed its apparatus and multiplied 
its instruments through knowing how to turn the circumstances of 
the time to its advantage. But it could only so turn them by serving 
society. Its pursuit of its own authority never ceases, but the road 
to authority is through the services which it renders. 

No one supposes, when he sees a forester pruning a copse to help 
the trees to grow, or a gardener hunting for snails, tending young 
plants under glass frames, or exposing them to the health-giving 
heat of a conservatory, that these things are done from a feeling of 
affection for the vegetable kingdom. And yet care for it he does, 
much more so than cold reason would suppose. This affection, how- 
ever, is not the motivating reason for his pains; it is rather their 
necessary accompaniment. Reason would ban all affection from 
these labours of his. But the nature of man is such that his affections 
are stirred by the pains he gives himself. 

And so it is with Power. Command which is its own end comes in 
time to care for the common good. Those same tyrants who left be- 
hind them in the shape of the Pyramids the proof of a horrifying 
egoism, also regulated the course of the Nile and fertilized the 
fellah's fields. Western monarchs have the best of logical reasons 
for encouraging national industry, but the encouragement becomes 
in time a pleasure and a passion. What had been a one-way flow 
of services from the City of Obedience to the City of Command 
tends to be balanced by a counter-current, even when the subjects 
are in no condition to claim benefits as of right. To speak in meta- 
phor again— the plant of Power when it has attained a certain 


growth cannot continue to draw nourishment from the subject soil 
without putting something back into it. Then comes its turn of giving. 

The monarch is not in the least the creature of his people, set up 
to satisfy their wants. He is rather a parasitic and dominating growth 
which has detached itself from the dominating group of parasitic 
conquerors. But the need to establish his authority, to maintain it 
and keep it supplied, binds him to a course of conduct which profits 
the vast majority of his subjects. 

To suppose that majority rule functions only in democracy is a 
fantastic illusion. The king, who is but one solitary individual, stands 
far more in need of the general support of society than any other 
form of government. And, since it is human nature for habit to en- 
gender affection, the king, though acting at first only from concern 
for authority, comes to act with affection as well and in the end to 
be motivated by affection. The mystical principle of the rex has 
come again. 

Power has, by a wholly natural transition, moved from parasitism 
to symbiosis. 

The monarch is, as is obvious, at once the destroyer of the re- 
public of conquerors and the builder of the nation. This explains 
the conflict of judgments which were passed on, for instance, the 
Roman emperors; they were condemned by the republicans at Rome 
and approved by the subject peoples of outlying provinces. And so, 
at the start of its career, Power pulls down the exalted and exalts 
the humble. 

The material conditions under which a nation lives are the prod- 
uct of conquest: it is conquest that builds an aggregate out of dis- 
parate elements. But the nation is not at first a whole, since each 
constituent group is conscious of its separate life. How can a com- 
mon consciousness be formed? The sentiments of all must have a 
common point of attachment. Who is to be this centre of crystalliza- 
tion for national sentiment? The answer is the monarch. By an un- 
erring instinct he presents himself to each group as the substitute 
for and heir to its old chief. 

Take Philip II: we smile now at the almost interminable list of 
titles which he bore. We see in it only vanity. We are quite wrong- 
it was necessity. Being the master of several distinct peoples, he had 
to present to each an aspect which was familiar to each. Similarly 


a king of France had to take the title of Duke in Brittany and of 
Dauphin in the Viennois. And the same thing held everywhere. 

The string of titles is but the counterpart of the various aspects he 
wears. In time, these aspects fuse, and spiritual divergences get re- 
solved in the corporeal unity of the royal person. This process of 
fusion is of capital importance, for by it the throne becomes the 
place where emotional clashes are stayed and national sentiment 
formed. The thing in common between the Bretons and the people 
of the Viennois is that he who is duke of the one is dauphin of the 

In a sense, therefore, it is on the throne that the nation is based. 
Men become compatriots by reason of their allegiance to one and 
the same person. And now we see why it is that peoples formed in 
the monarchical mould inevitably regard the nation as a person; 
they think by analogy from the living person through whom a com- 
mon sentiment has been formed. 

The Romans were without this conception. The idea of a sup- 
posititious being living outside and above them did not enter their 
imaginations. They conceived of nothing but the societas which they 
formed. And the subject peoples did not belong to this societas un- 
less they were admitted to it— herein lay the burning question of 
the franchise. The Romans did themselves no good by taking over 
the religious ceremonies of the vanquished and transporting them 
to Rome— for the subject peoples never came to have their spiritual 
home at Rome, or to regard it as their moral base. Never, that is to 
say, until the appearance of the emperors, who offered themselves 
to the adoration of each separate people in the image of what each 
wanted to adore. It was through the emperors that the aggregate 
became a whole. 


Let us now assemble everything that goes to the command of a 
large formation at different stages of its existence. 

In the early days of a state, the collection of people within it at- 
tains only at intervals to a unified existence. We see gathered in 
their assemblies the Gothic or Frankish conquerors; we see the 
Roman people sitting in conclave; we see the king presiding over 
his court of Norman barons. In them we see the lords of all, an elite 
in visible form superimposed upon the mass, a Power existing for 
its own sake and for its fruits. 


Let us now jump forward in time. The place of assembly, be it 
field or forum or chamber, at times crowded and at times empty, 
has gone; there is now a palace, surrounded by a collection of build- 
ings in which a variety of dignitaries and functionaries carry on 
their business. He who commands is now the king, helped by his 
permanent servants, his ministeriales, his ministers. A whole new 
city has sprung up, the City of Command— the place of dominion, 
the hearth of justice, the haven of the ambitious. 

Should we be right in saying that this city has a significance quite 
different from that of the old assembly of lords and masters? that 
the new tribe of dignitaries and functionaries are not masters at all, 
but servants? that they are servants of the king, whose will is in ac- 
cord with the needs and desires of the people as a whole? that what 
we now see is, in short, a working apparatus placed in the hands of 
a social will? 

We should not be wrong, but we should not have said all. For the 
master's will, however closely it has been adapted to society, is still 
the master's will. And the apparatus is no passive instrument. It con- 
sists of men, men who have taken the place, by. slow stages, of the 
old rulers, and they have succeeded to a position so similar to that 
of the old, that they have taken over some of their characteristics 
as well, so much so that in time they will leave the apparatus behind 
them, acquire wealth and nobility, and come to regard themselves 
as the posterity in title to the conquering race: to this development 
Saint-Simon and Boulainvilliers * are witnesses. 

We must not therefore cease to regard Power, now that it is com- 
posed of the king and his administration, as a ruling elite; the dif- 
ference is that it is now better equipped to rule, the more so that, 
besides ruling, it renders vast and indispensable services. 


All these services, betokening as they do so admirable a solicitude 
for the mass of mankind, almost forbid the idea that, in its essence, 
Power is still the dominating egoist that we at first postulated. 

* Henri Boulainvilliers, Comte de Saint Saire (1658-1722), French political 
writer. An aristocrat of the most pronounced type, attacking both absolute 
monarchy and popular government, he was also at great pains to prove that the 
right of the nobility to rule was founded on conquest, because the nobles, as he 
said, were descended from the conquering Franks, while the subjects were the 
sons of the conquered Gallo-Romans. 


Its behaviour is quite changed, for now it dispenses the blessings 
of order, justice, security, prosperity. Its human content is quite 
different, for now it is made up of the most competent elements of 
the subject mass. 

This great transformation scene is entirely explicable by reference 
to the tendency of command to persist as such, which it can only 
do by drawing ever closer its ties with the people beneath it, by 
widening the scope of its services and the recruitment of its elite, 
and by a harmonization of wills. 

The effect is that Power behaves for practical purposes as if it 
had exchanged its essential nature, which is egoist, for an acquired 
nature, which is social. But at the same time it gives proof of a 
tendency to oscillation; sometimes this merges it completely with 
its asymptote, when it seems altogether social, and then again 
swings it back to its starting-point, when it becomes egoist once 

It seems paradoxical, but the charge of domination now begins to 
be heard against a Power which has become in intention profoundly 
social. This complaint can only take shape when Power has finished 
its work of spiritual unification and the nation has become a con- 
scious whole. The more keenly this unity is felt, the greater becomes 
the opposition to Power as being not an emanation from the nation 
but something imposed on it. By a coincidence which is not at all 
unusual in social history, men become conscious of Power's alien 
character just at the moment when it has become closely national. 
In the same way a working class will come to think itself oppressed 
at the very time when its burdens are being lightened. For a fact 
to bring to birth an idea— which is brought about by the thing ob- 
served being brought within the limits of conventional thought- 
its happening must have been near in time to the idea. The same con- 
dition holds true if a fact is to serve as a basis for an idea's being 
attacked for not being what it purports to be. 

So, then, this alien arbitrary, exploiting Power, which exists for its 
sake and for its fruits, gets overthrown. Yet at the very moment of 
its overthrow it had ceased to be either alien, arbitrary, or exploit- 
ing. Its human content had been entirely changed, its exactions 
were no more than what it required for its services: the maker of 
the nation had become its instrument— so far, that is to say, as it lay 
in Power's nature to become it, so far as a transformation of com- 
mand is possible without its ceasing to be. 



I make no claim to have traced here the historical evolution of 
Power, but rather to have proved by a logical demonstration that 
the hypothesis of a Power based on "pure" force and "pure" exploi- 
tation carries with it the implication that such a Power must nec- 
essarily try to come to terms with its subjects and adjust itself to 
their needs and aspirations; that, although inspired by a "pure" 
egoism, and with no other end than itself, it will notwithstanding 
come, by a predestined road, to advance the interests of the com- 
munity and to pursue social ends. In lasting it becomes social; it 
must become social to last. 

The problem then arises of how to eliminate what is left of its 
primitive nature, how to deprive it of all possibility of reverting to 
its original mode of conduct; how, in a word, to make its essence 
social. There are two possible ways; of these, the one is logical but 
seems impracticable, the other seems easy but does not do the work 
required of it. 

It is, to start with, generally agreed that Power which is bom of 
domination and lives to dominate ought to be destroyed. The next 
step is for us who know ourselves for compatriots and proclaim our- 
selves for fellow-citizens to form a societas, for the joint manage- 
ment of our common interests; in this way we shall get ourselves a 
republic in which there is no longer a sovereign personage, whether 
in fleshly or ideal form, and one will no longer holds sway over the 
wills of all— where nothing can be got done except by an effective 
consensus of wills. We shall then have dispensed with any state 
apparatus formed in a centralized hierarchy and consisting of a 
coherent elite; we shall have gotten instead a large number of inde- 
pendent magistracies which the citizens will take it in turn to fill- 
thereby going through phases of both command and obedience, 
whose alternation Aristotle made the essential feature of the repub- 
lican form of government. That would indeed be the complete over- 
throw of the monarchical type of constitution. But tendencies of that 
kind, though in fact they show themselves, do not carry the day. 
What does carry the day is the simpler idea of preserving whole the 
monarchical state apparatus with one solitary difference— the substi- 
tution of the ideal personage, the nation, for the fleshly personage, 
the king. 

The City of Command still stands. All that we have done has 


been to drive out the occupant of the palace and put in his place 
the representatives of the nation. The new arrivals will quickly find 
in their newly conquered habitation the memories, the traditions, 
the symbols, and the means, of domination. 


To give our investigation strictly logical form, we will, for argu- 
ment's sake, suppose this legacy removed. We will suppose that the 
revolutionaries, while recognizing the necessity of having a coherent 
state apparatus, a City of Command, want nothing of the old ap- 
paratus and of the old city. We will suppose them building a wholly 
new Power, a Power established by and for society, whose repre- 
sentative and servant it is by definition. This new Power, too, I say, 
for all its origin, will in time elude the intentions of its creators and 
tend to an existence for its sake and for its fruits. 

Every association of men shows us the same spectacle. When once 
the social end ceases to be continuously pursued in common 10 and 
becomes the permanent charge of one differentiated group, to be 
interfered with by the rest of the associates only at stated intervals 
—when once this differentiation has come about, then the respon- 
sible group becomes an elite, which acquires a life and interest of 
its own. 

It withstands on occasion the mass whence it came. And it carries 
the day. 11 It is hard in reality for private persons attending a meet- 
ing, taken up as they are with their own concerns and without hav- 
ing concerted among themselves beforehand, to feel the confidence 
necessary to reject the proposals which are cleverly presented to 
them from the platform, and the necessity for which is supported 
by arguments based on considerations of a kind to which they are 

There, too, we see the reason why the Roman people was able for 
so long to pass its laws on the public square: an examination of the 
procedure followed shows conclusively that their effective part con- 
sisted merely in ratifying what had been jointly determined by the 
magistrates and the Senate. 

In our times the same methods are exactly reproduced at annual 
general meetings of shareholders. How could the managing class, 
strong in competence and briefed to withstand opponents, fail to 
grow convinced that they are a people apart, that only in their 
hands can the interests of society be safeguarded and that, in brief, 


society's strongest interest is to preserve and cherish its elite of 


If these phenomena occur, as they do, in every association, they 
cannot fail to press with peculiar intensity in political associations. 12 
There is no need to suppose that the persons chosen to govern are 
not in general perfectly representative men, exactly resembling their 
subjects. But when once they have been summoned to the exercise 
of sovereign authority, their wills take on, as is observed by Duguit, 
a new character and a different force. 

Those who act in the name of the sovereign authority and express a 
sovereign will are set above the rest and act in regard to them by way of 
command, and by no other way. Those whom the sovereign addresses are 
bound to execute the order which he gives them, not because of what is 
in the order but because it comes to them from a will which is naturally 
superior to their own. 13 

It is then the case that the exercise of the sovereign authority en- 
genders a feeling of superiority which in effect turns these "likes" 
of the ordinary citizen into his "unlikes." But yet, you say to me, 
they act only as his agents and trustees. You think so! From his ex- 
periences as a deputy in the 1848 Assembly, Proudhon drew this 

It is no use saying that the elected person or the representative of the 
people is only the trustee for the people, its delegate, its advocate, its 
agent, its interpreter, and so forth; notwithstanding this sovereignty 
which belongs, in theory, to the mass, and the formal and legal subor- 
dination to it of its agent, representative or interpreter, it will never 
come about that the agent's influence and authority will not be greater 
than his principal's and that he takes trusteeship seriously. It will always 
be so: in despite of principle, the delegate of the sovereign toill be the 
master of the sovereign. Sovereignty on which a man cannot enter, if I 
may so put it, is as empty a right as property on which he cannot enter. 14 

Standing thus above the mass, to which the difference in their 
positions has made them different psychologically, the managers are 
drawn together among themselves, all being under the influence of 
their situations and functions: "All those," said Spencer, "who make 
up the organization of government and administration, join up to- 
gether and draw apart from the rest." 15 They form an elite, as has 


been emphasized by Rousseau, who noted both the social inevi- 
tability and the moral consequences of its happening: 

. . . that the governing elite may come into being and have a life of its 
own which distinguishes it from the rest of the State; that all its members 
may act in unison and answer the end which it exists to pursue, for this it 
must have its private ego, an esprit de corps shared by its members, and 
a force and will of its own which make for its preservation. 16 

The point could not be better put, that society, in setting up an 
apparatus for its service, has brought to birth a small society which 
differs from itself and has, inevitably, its own sentiments, interests, 
and personal wills. Anyone wishing to regard the nation as a moral 
being, endowed with a collective conscience, and capable of exer- 
cising a general will, must see in Power what Rousseau saw— another 
being, with its conscience and its will, drawn on by natural egoism 
to the pursuit of its private advantage. Striking evidence can be pro- 
duced as to this egoism: 

It is true [remarked Lavisse, the historian] that the public authority in 
France, under whatever regime, the republican as well as the rest, has its 
own, narrow, egoistical ends. It is, I will not say a coterie, but a con- 
sortium of people who, having attained authority originally by an acci- 
dent, are thenceforward concerned not to lose it by an accident. National 
sovereignty is undoubtedly a lie. 17 

As to the sentiments animating the consortium, we have the testi- 
mony of the great Bolingbroke: 

I am afraid that we came to court in the same dispositions that all 
parties have done; that the principal spring of our actions was to have the 
government of the State in our own hands; that our principal views were 
the conservation of this power, great employments to ourselves, and great 
opportunities of rewarding those who had helped to raise us, and of hurt- 
ing those who stood in opposition to us. 18 

Candour of this kind is rare among those who command.* But it 
expresses accurately the view taken by those who obey. Forewarned 
by their intuitions and educated by their experience, the people re- 

a Cf. Halifax, Maxims of State: "Parties in a State generally, like freebooters, 
hang out false colours; the pretence is the public good; the real business is to 
catch prizes; and wherever they succeed, instead of improving their victory, 
they presently fall upon the baggage." 


gard as turncoats those who leave them to enter the City of Com- 
mand. In a son of a peasant turned tax-gatherer, in a trade union 
secretaiy turned minister, his old associates detect one who has sud- 
denly become a stranger to them. The reason is in effect that there 
is a climate of authority which changes men; the inmates of Power 
are, in consequence, as much and as necessarily the guardians of its 
house as are opium-takers of their den. 

The subjects, feeling that government is not being conducted ex- 
clusively for their benefit, charge the regime, be it monarchy or 
republic, with a vice which belongs to human nature: there is, ines- 
capably, egoism in Power. 

We posited at the beginning a Power whose essence was egoist; 
we saw it acquire a social nature. We have now reached the position 
of positing a Power whose essence is social and seeing it acquire an 
egoist nature. This convergence of rational sequences brings us to 
the irrational conclusion of the whole matter: in the make-up of 
Power in the real, two natures are necessarily found in association. 
In whatever way and in whatever spirit it has been established, 
Power is neither angel nor brute, but, like man himself, a composite 
creature, uniting in itself two contradictory natures. 


It would be absurd to claim to have identified in every historical 
Power a combination, whether in the same or in different propor- 
tions, of two chemically pure substances, egoism and the social sense. 

Every nascent science— and political science is, heaven knows, 
immature enough!— has to make use of abstract ideas. But it should 
not be lost sight of that these ideas are in fact so many syntheses of 
pictures supplied us by the memory; these pictures will always colour 
the ideas, creating associations which will only be shaken off— and 
then imperfectly— by long habit. Therefore, great care is needed in 
the handling of abstract ideas, which must be kept imprecise so as 
not to exclude the admission of further pictures. I go so far as to say 
that they should remain undefined until an adequate inventory has 
been taken of the actual things perceived to which they should pro- 
vide the common denominator. 

If, for instance, we base our idea of Power's egoism on the picture 
supplied us by the king of the Bantus, for whom ruling is, in essence, 
nothing more than swimming in wealth and eating enormous meals— 
so that the same word, fouma, serves to denote both ruling and eat- 


ing 19 — if, under the influence of this picture of an obese chieftain 
swollen with fat, we start looking for his exact equivalent in the 
modern world, we shall not find it: in these days the exercise of 
Power does not take the form of a preoccupation with overeating, 
and the ministers who abuse their offices to enjoy and enrich them- 
selves are the exceptions. 

Is that to say that a careful scrutiny will disclose nothing in com- 
mon between the Bantus' way of doing things and our own? They 
heap up tribute in the form of food, we pile on taxes. The king eats 
his revenues, but he is joined in this by his dependants and those 
who help him in governing— the equivalent of our administrative 
corps and our police forces. So that there is a group of "tribute- 
eaters" with a vested interest in the enlargement of the tributes, a 
group into which the governed, who pay the imposition— here again 
the same word, louha, denotes governed and taxpayers— strive to 
break, so as to exchange the position of nourisher for that of nour- 
ished. Would anyone be so bold as to assert that nothing of the same 
kind happens in our society? 

But there is more to it than this. The king employs a considerable 
part of the tribute in grants of largesse, bestowed by way of ban- 
quets or presents, to those whose support consolidates his authority, 
whereas their defection would endanger it. Do we not see modern 
governments as well using the public funds to endow social groups 
or classes, whose votes they are anxious to secure? Today the name 
is different, and it is called the redistribution of incomes by taxation. 

It would beyond question be wrong to say that Power levies taxa- 
tion today firstly for the benefit of its own machine and then to gain 
supporters by boons or beneficia. But all the same does not this 
egoist interpretation of taxation come as a necessary corrective to 
the social conception of it which is usually taught? Is it quite true 
to say that the pace at which taxes grow does no more than keep 
faithfully in step with the growth of social needs? That the only 
reason for multiplication of posts is extension of services, and that 
services are never extended to excuse the multiplication of posts? 
Is it absolutely certain that the motive for largesse to the public is 
always the care for social justice and never the interest of the gov- 
erning faction? 

The picture of the public official, of a man completely disinterested 
and wedded to the public interest, who is indeed one of the least 
materially minded human types to be found in our society, rises at 


this point to reproach us for these suggestions, yet what confirma- 
tion of them there is every time that Power changes hands and is 
used by the victorious party after the Bantu fashion, as a banquet 
at which the new arrivals fight for places and throw the scraps to 
their supporters! * 

Let us take note— without at this place developing the point— that 
the egoist principle comes to life again in its most barbarous shape 
every time that Power changes hands, even when the professed ob- 
ject of the change has been the triumph of the social principle. And 
let us reach this provisional conclusion: that it would be as incorrect 
to form an exclusively egoist picture of Power as to form an exclu- 
sively social one. A stereoscopic view combining these two pictures 
presents a truth which is very different. 


We must not form too narrow and squalid a conception of govern- 
mental egoism, a term which only denotes the tendency to live for 
itself which we have seen to be an inherent feature of Power. But 
this tendency shows itself in more ways than in the utilization of 
Power for the advantage of those exercising it. The pleasures which 
the holding of it brings are, except to spirits of an irretrievable 
squalor, quite different from that of gorged cupidity. 

Man, in love with himself and made for action, rises in his own 
esteem with every extension of his personality and multiplication of 
his faculties. The leader of any group of men whatsoever feels 
thereby an almost physical enlargement of himself. His nature 
changes with his stature. The personal prudence and avarice which 
we associate with egoism are rarely seen in him. His restricted ges- 
tures take on an amplitude: he has, as the ordinary man truly puts 
it, "lordly" virtues and vices. He is the man of destiny. 20 

Command is a mountain top. The air breathed there is different, 
and the perspectives seen there are different, from those of the val- 
ley of obedience. The passion for order and the genius of construc- 
tion, which are part of man's natural endowment, get full play there. 
The man who has grown great sees from the top of his tower what 
he can make, if he so wills, of the swarming masses below him. 

° This statement of the case is, no doubt, truer for France and America than 
for England. In America, notwithstanding some recent legislation, the spoils 
system still operates over a wide area. In England, too, there is a substantial 
6eld of ministerial appointment which seems unlikely to narrow. 


Are the ends which he sets before himself for the weal of society? 
Possibly. Are they in conformity with its desires? Often. And so the 
leader easily convinces himself that his one ambition is to serve the 
whole, and forgets that his real motive-spring is the enjoyment of 
action and expansion. I have no doubt that Napoleon was sincere 
when he said to Caulaincourt, "People are wrong in thinking me 
ambitious— I am touched by the misfortunes of peoples; I want them 
to be happy and, if I live ten years, the French will be happy." J1 

This memorable assertion well illustrates the claim invariably 
made by command which makes itself its end, that its one and only 
aim in life is to serve social objectives. The He is not, it is true, always 
as flagrant, nor the contradiction always as glaring. And how often 
it happens that the turn of events gives some plausibility to the lie, 
for social ends are achieved, and it is of no interest to history 
whether they were the real motive-spring of the men of Power! " 

The egoism of Power and its social sense leave us, you say, in 
inextricable confusion. We are lost in a maze. Not at all. We have 
reached the goal: we stand in the presence of Power as it is, as all 
history has fashioned it. From now on they will strike us as futile 
and puerile, these endlessly renewed claims to be creating a Power 
from which all trace of egoism will be purged away. 

The mind of man, in love with a simplicity which it finds nowhere 
in nature, cannot be convinced that the duality of Power is of its 
essence. Ever since the divine dreamings of Plato, themselves stem- 
ming from earlier Utopias, the search has gone on for an entirely 
virtuous government and one which lives only for the interests and 
the wishes of the governed. 

For thinkers this illusion has done no more than thwart the crea- 
tion of a political science worthy of the name; but, reaching the 
multitude, the disposer of Power, it has become the fruitful cause 
of the great disturbances which desolate our age and threaten the 
very existence of civilization. 

The vices and abuses seen in the Power that is in being are not 
actively restrained by the citizens, as knowing that such vices and 
abuses are inherent in the nature of Power. Civically passive, but 
emotionally active, they take these vices and abuses for the stig- 
mata of a bad Power which should be overturned to make place 
for another Power which shall be infinitely just and beneficent. 
Away, then, with the egoisms, which, by long practice, have come 
to adapt themselves to society and have learned that, to attain their 


own satisfaction, they must first satisfy the needs of the generality 
by putting to the service of the public good the whole force of their 
private passions! 

The road is now clear, the fool has said, for a spirit which is al- 
together social, a spirit with which the aspirants to Power claim to 
be overflowing. Even if they spoke truth, it is still unproven that 
the abstract and ideal conception of the general good which they 
bring with them would be any improvement on the practical and 
empirical understanding of the body of society which was possessed 
by their old-established predecessors. And, even if they should be- 
come completely stripped of egoism, even then something, as we 
shall see, would be lacking to Power. But, in sober truth, pretensions 
of this kind are always unjustified. Disinterested feelings may stir 
some of the conquerors of Power, but with them are mingled, both 
in the conquerors themselves and in their following, ambitions and 
appetites. Every change of regime and, to a lesser extent, every 
change of government is, as it were, a reproduction, on a more or 
less reduced scale, of a barbarian invasion. The newcomers wander 
about the power house with feelings in which curiosity, pride, greed, 
all have a place. 

The credit which they then for the first time enjoy enables them 
to make full use of this formidable machinery, and even to add to it 
some further controls of their own. In time yet another faction will, 
by promising to make a better use of it, force its way in turn into 
the City of Command, which it will find already embellished by 
its forerunners. So that the hope, always renewed, of stripping from 
Power all trace of egoism results only in forging ever vaster means 
of compulsion for the next egoism. 

Therefore, that is not political science which does not recognize 
the essential duality of Power: the egoist principle cannot be purged 
out of it. We have seen the natural ways in which it adapts itself to 
the social interest; also, no doubt, there are artificial ways, but they 
form part of the art of politics— and that is another story. 

We may rest content with having made some advance in knowl- 
edge of Power in the concrete. 



1. Egoism is a necessary part of Power. 2. From egoism to idealism. 

5. The egoistical stimulus of growth. 4. The social justifications 
for Powers growth. 5. Power as the repository of human hopes. 

6. Thought and Power, the philosopher and the tyrant. 

If there is in Power's make-up an egoistical urge combined with 
the will to serve society, it is a natural supposition that, the 
weaker the former, the stronger will be the latter: perfection 
of government would consist in the complete elimination of the 
egoistical principle. The chimera of elimination has been unceasingly 
pursued by minds whose limited range is only equalled by their 
good intentions. They do not realize that the nature of man and the 
nature of society combine to make any such project chimerical. For 
without the egoistical principle Power would lack the inner strength 
which alone enables it to carry out its functions. 

The duality is irreducible. And it is through the interplay of these 
two antithetical principles that the tendency of Power is towards 
occupying an ever larger place in society; the various conjunctures 
of events beckon it on at the same time that its appetite is driving 
it to fresh pastures. Thus there ensues a growth of Power to which 
there is no limit, a growth which is fostered by more and more 
altruistic externals, though the motive-spring is still as always the 
wish to dominate. 

It is, no doubt, a flattering picture, this of a managing elite mo- 
tivated exclusively by benevolence. The rulers themselves are so 
susceptible to it that they profess to dislike the discharge of public 
duties, which they claim to have undertaken from nothing but a 
sense of duty. But so much devotion, even if it was genuine, would 
not be to society's advantage. Any advantage there was would come 
to it only from minds of a purely speculative type, whose presence 
in public life has often been desiderated. A government of that kind 


fails— apart from one other veiy serious disadvantage to which we 
shall revert— from a lack of red blood, of which the governed quickly 
become conscious. 

In the order of nature everything dies which is not sustained by 
an intense and brutal love of self. Power, in the same way, can only 
maintain the ascendancy necessary to it by the intense and brutal 
love which the rulers have for their authority. It has, alas! to be 
agreed that tenderness of heart, going to the length of self-denial, 
spells self-inflicted death to Power. Instances of this are the case 
of Lamartine * and the ever memorable one of Louis XVI. In an 
illuminating passage 1 Tocqueville has shown us the monarchy turn- 
ing into its own prosecutor for its crimes, and calling down on itself 
a wrath from which it has no wish to protect itself. It lacked the 
will to live: "Go and tell the Swiss not to fire." 

History rejects the heroes proffered it by poetry, the generous 
Carlos, the tender Alexius, the debonair Charles Edward. They were 
dear to their contemporaries, and even today sensitive spirits shed 
a tear for them. But, as Luther said, "God has not given rulers a 
fox's tail but a sabre." In other words, a certain feeling of superior- 
ity, a certain taste for domination, a certain assurance of Tightness, 
and an imperious temper are appropriate qualities in rulers. The 
"Roi d'Yvetot," the good little king of Beranger's song, was like no 
king that ever kept his throne, f 

Our era, too, has experimented in debonair rulers. Notwithstand- 
ing their amiable qualities, or perhaps because of them, history has 
swept them away with her broom. The life of Frederick the Great is 
in this respect an object lesson. The amiable young man that he 
was! But had he so remained, he would have gone the way of the 
Czarevitch Alexius. Then he mounted the throne, and an aston- 
ished Europe saw a very different person. 

9 Lamartine (1790-1869) was the leading member of the provisional gov- 
ernment set up in February 1848. The reference here is to the failure of that 
government to cope with the disturbances of June 1848— a failure which led to 
the supersession of Lamartine by Cavaignac. 

f The town and territory of Yvetot was long a semi-sovereign principality, 
and the Lord of Yvetot was popularly stvled "Roi d'Yvetot." Beranger's well- 
known song, with that title, was published in 1815. 

Don Carlos (1545-1568), son of Philip II of Spain. Of weak intellect, he 
was confined, and possibly murdered, by Philip. Schiller, Alfieri, and Otway 
wrote plavs about him. 

Alexius Petrovich (1690-1718), son of Peter the Great. A gentle, emotional 
dreamer, he was little to the taste of his father, who in the end had him done 
to death. 


A truce, then, to seeking in rulers virtues which are foreign to 
their condition! 

Power takes life from those who exercise it, it is warmed and 
nourished unceasingly by means of the enjoyments which it pro- 
cures them. The keenest of these enjoyments are not those infantile 
delights of luxury and vanity which dazzle the popular imagina- 
tion, irritate the small shopkeeper and thereby demonstrate to him 
the egoism of Power. The banquets portrayed for us by the Bur- 
gundian chroniclers, the state processions, the luxury which en- 
compassed a Charles the Bold, a Julian II, a Lorenzo de' Medici, a 
Francis I, or a Louis XIV, those epicures of wealth— that is what 
annoys the public. Yet we may feel grateful for their prodigalities, 
to which we owe the Van Eycks and Michelangelos of this world, 
as well as the Sistine Chapel and Versailles: the wasteful habits of 
princes have proved the most precious treasure of humanity. 

To be completely acquitted of egoism by the generality, rulers 
need only affect a studied austerity and a strict economy. As if the 
real pleasures of authority were not quite other! 

In every condition of life and social position a man feels himself 
more of a man when he is imposing himself and making others the 
instruments of his will, the means to the great ends of which he has 
an intoxicating vision. To rule a people, what an extension of the 
ego is there! The ephemeral delight given us when, after a long 
illness, our limbs return to their duty can alone give us some small 
idea of that incomparable pleasure of radiating daily impulsions 
into an immense mass and prompting the distant movements of mil- 
lions of unknown limbs. It can be savoured in the shadows of a cab- 
inet by a grey-haired and black-coated official. The thoughts he 
thinks keep pace with the orders he gives. He sees in his mind's eye 
the canal being dug along the line which his pencil has traced on 
the map, the boats which will shortly give it life, the villages spring- 
ing up on its banks, the profusion of merchandise heaped high on 
the quays of his dream-town. It is not surprising that Colbert, on 
coming to his desk in the morning, rubbed his hands for joy, as the 
tale is told by Perrault* 

This intoxicating pleasure of moving the pieces on the board of 
the social game breaks out continually in Napoleon's correspondence. 
Is it merely attention to detail that makes him, even in time of peace, 

* Perrault, who was Colbert's secretary, is the author of a well-known book 
of French fairy stories. 


prescribe the route that each troop of soldiers is to take across his 
vast empire, determine the number of muskets to be stored in each 
armoury, how many cannon balls there shall be in each place, or 
how much cotton shall be imported into France and through what 
customs houses— the way which it shall follow and the time which 
it shall take to come from Salonika? Far from it: when he regulates 
the vast traffic of men and goods, he feels, as it were, the coursing 
of an infusion of new blood which supplements his own. 

In this way the people ruled becomes in some sort an extension 
of the ruler's ego; his sensations of pleasure in them are at first 
positive and then reflex— that is to say, the pleasure is no longer 
simply that of moving so many pieces, but has become a deeply 
felt consciousness of whatever affects any one of them. At that point 
the egoism of Power extends to the whole people, and its identifica- 
tion with them is complete. It was, in olden days, the monarchic 
principle which had to double the parts of a directing egoism and 
of an identification of itself with the social mass. And in this way 
the institution of monarchy, so far from merely subsuming the in- 
terests of the mass into those of one man, became sensitive to every 
wound received by every little cell. A secure hold on Power and 
its descent in a regular line assured the maximum of identification 
of egoism with the general advantage. Whereas, contrariwise, a 
transient or precarious hold on Power tends to make of the nation 
merely the instrument of a personal destiny, of an egoism which 
resists absorption in the whole. 

The more quickly the holders of Power succeed each other, the 
less completely can their egoism be extended to a body which is 
but their mount of a day. Their ego stands more apart and takes its 
enjoyments in more vulgar fashion. Or else, if their egoism can be 
projected outwards at all, it stops at a formation, such as a party, 
with which it can stay in long association. So that the nation gets 
ruled by a succession of men who have identified their egos not 
with it but with parties in it. 

It is the public service which is the repository of that sublimated 
sort of egoism which is the preservative of Power. Permanent offi- 
cials bring to the maintenance and enlargement of their offices, 
which in their innermost hearts they regard always as a piece of 
their property, and which they have often inherited, the diligence 
of a lifetime. The social virtue of monarchy, which consists in iden- 
tifying the ego with society, finds a pallid reflex in hereditary of- 


ficialdom, or in the "great seminaries," which secure by other means 
the same continuity of sentiments. 

Once the necessity of there being a Power in society is admitted, 
it has to be agreed that it needs a preservative; this it gets from the 
affection felt by the rulers for their own functions, which in time 
they confound with their own personalities. By means of these func- 
tions they project what each feels himself to the far extremities of 
the body social. This concrete and visible phenomenon has given 
birth, by unconscious processes of thought, to the widespread theory 
of the nation-person, of which the state is the visible expression. 
The only element of truth in it is psychological: for those who are 
identified with the state, the nation is in effect the expression of 
their persons. 

We must beware of the consequences which follow if we push 
this train of thought to its logical conclusion. If the governmental 
ego really could spread itself out over the mass of its subjects in 
such a way as not only to control all their activities but also to re- 
ceive back from them every impress it bears, the traditional politi- 
cal antinomies would be finally resolved: to inquire whether the 
impulsive force should come down from Power in the shape of 
authoritative commands, or should ascend to it from the body so- 
cial in expressions of the general will, would be a vain question, 
seeing that these commands would, ex hypothesi, have been fully 
adapted to that will: the only problem left would be the philosoph- 
ical one of which came first. 

Starting from the egoistical nature of Power, we should reach the 
conclusion that this egoism, even if given full rein, could desire for 
the future only what the needs of society demanded. This theory, 
absurd as it is, would be hardly more so than that which was for 
years the staple food of political economy. For if, left to themselves, 
the egoisms of individuals are bound to produce the best of all pos- 
sible worlds, why should not the same apply to the egoisms of 

Political science needs purging of sophistries of this kind, all of 
them due to the same mistake of giving an indefinite extension to a 
truth which is valid only within certain limits. Reason and observa- 
tion alike permit the conclusion that the lengths to which the ego- 
ism of men of high place carries them in their self-identification 


with society are all the greater if their hold of Power is stable and 
of long date. The notion of legitimacy is an expression of this truth. 
Legitimate Power is one in which Power's interests and those of 
society have reached an accommodation through getting used to 
each other. 

But neither logic nor experience permits us to say that instinctive 
feeling can ever operate so as to make this accommodation com- 
plete. Here is the sunken reef on which have foundered all those 
doctrines both of ancient and modern times which taught that com- 
plete egoism could be the foundation for complete altruism. If it is 
true— what has never been strictly proven— that a man's maximum 
good results from thinking only of the good of others, it is a matter 
of observation that in practice he is incapable of inducing his ego- 
ism to the distant point at which these fruitful consequences begin. 

In the case of even the most legitimate rulers, egoism continues 
to occupy a half-way house; it still gives out anti-social manifesta- 
tions in sufficient quantities to render, should they be emphasized, 
the egoistical instinct suspect to the public, and make them un- 
mindful of the services to society which, incontestably, egoism pro- 
vides. The altruism for which the public calls is not a subconscious 
by-product but a conscious principle of government. 

But as soon as Power is conceived as being exclusively the agent 
of the common good, it must form a clear picture for itself of what 
this common good is. While Power was egoist, the vital necessity 
under which it lay of reaching every day a daily accommodation 
with society, itself sufficed to form in it pictures of public require- 
ments which, though confused, were born of actual contacts. But 
as soon as Power, under the spur of altruism, has a vision of the 
entire community and what medicine it needs, the inadequacy of 
the human intelligence to such a task appears in its fullness. What 
the judgment pronounces then shows itself a blinder guide than 
what the senses indicate— to put it another way, touch is superior 
to vision. 

It is a noteworthy fact that all the greatest political mistakes stem 
from defective appraisals of the common good— mistakes from which 
egoism, had it been called into consultation, would have warned 
Power off. Take, for example, the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. 
Louis XIV was far too well aware of the value of the eminent serv- 
ices rendered to his authority by the clever mechanics who were 


his subjects, 2 the admission of talented persons into France had 
been pursued as a policy by the monarchy for too long and with 
results which were too fruitful, 3 for the King not to have taken into 
account the enormous disadvantages to himself of a step which 
would have the effect of throwing the best French citizens into the 
arms of the Dutch enemies and the English rivals of France. If, 
notwithstanding this, he took so disastrous a decision, it was through 
the impulsion of a false conception of the common good and of his 
duty as ruler. In his funeral oration Massillon expressly says so: 
"You specious reasons of policy, in vain you presented to Louis the 
timid counsels of human wisdom: the body of the monarchy en- 
feebled by the emigration of so many citizens, the course of com- 
merce retarded either by the loss of their labour or the secret 
removal of their wealth, neighbouring nations becoming the pro- 
tectors of heresy and ready to fly to arms in its defence. Dangers 
but strengthened his zeal ...!"* 4 

If it is yet possible to stand sufficiently away from the all-engulfing 
catastrophe of our own time, so as to pass a historical judgment 
on it, it seems to furnish an analogous instance. A healthy egoism 
would, in the absence of other motives, have dissuaded an ambitious 
Power from racial persecutions which were bound, as it knew, to 
excite universal indignation, and which, as it admitted itself, helped 
to throw into the scale of its enemies the immense weight of a na- 
tion which disposed of unlimited resources. Have we not here, too, 
a case in which an arbitrary vision of what society ought to be has 
hurled the Power seeing it into the crudest blunders— blunders from 
which the instinct of self-preservation would have saved it? 

It is not true to say that Power redeems its egoism by pursuing 
ends which it considers social; for society is a complex structure, 
and, when it comes to ways of improving it, bogus science and 
ideological passion are blind and cruel guides— and not a whit less 
cruel for the people itself being privy to the errors committed. 

Power, egoist though it is, can render immense services to society; 

* Nothing in the career of Massillon ( 1663-1742 ) , who in his day rivalled 
Bossuet as a preacher, suggests that there was the faintest tinge of irony in this 
passage— even though a man is no more on oath in a funeral oration than in a 
lapidary inscription! The funeral oration on Louis XIV is best remembered for 
its opening sentence: "Dieu seul est grand." D. W. Brogan, in his review of 
this book, gives some reasons for doubting whether Louis was in fact as single- 
minded as Massillon made out. 


it can also do untold harm in its attempts to render them. But only 
by intellectual analysis can we distinguish in it the two strands 
which the course of its actual life makes inextricable. 

The egoism which gives it life and the ideal which it claims to 
be realizing are inseparable features of it, as the personalities of 
the great giants of Power show; they can no longer tell whether it 
is themselves or their peoples that inebriate them— they take every- 
thing and believe that they are giving it. 

In the successive stages of Power's existence the joint action of 
these two characteristics serves to inflate it: the one gives it cash, 
the other tenacity. 


To the extent that command is a species of egoism it tends nat- 
urallv to grow. 

Man, says Rousseau, is a limited creature, 

his life is short, his pleasures know bounds, his capacity for enjoyment is 
always static, and it is no good his raising himself in his own imagination, 
for he continues to be small. The State, 5 on the contrary, being an artifi- 
cial body, knows no fixed bounds; the greatness which belongs to it is 
unlimited, and can always be increased by itself. 6 

And the egoisms which shape it and give it life expand its conquests. 

The spirit of conquest has had both its shocked accusers and its 
apologists; the latter praise it for its work of consolidation and re- 
consolidation of small political entities— a work which has resulted 
in the creation of vast formations which are, to their minds, the 
necessary condition of a more perfect division of labour, of more 
efficient social cooperation and, in short, of an advance of civiliza- 
tion. 7 

The outward growth of Power has excited much comment, the 
inward growth astonishingly little. Insufficient attention has been 
given to the fact that any Power whatsoever looks on the mass it 
rules as an investment from which it can draw the resources needed 
by it for its purposes, or as a block of stone to be fashioned as it 
sees fit. To resume the likening of a nation to an individual, but 
without forgetting that it is really only the rulers who so look at it, 
the head aims continually at pressing more services from the body, 
and the brain at increasing its conscious control of the limbs. This 
characteristic of Power shows itself in concrete ways: in the in- 


creased budgets of which it disposes, and in the spawning of regu- 
lations which it imposes and of officials who see to their execution. 
Limiting ourselves to outward signs, have we ever seen a Power 
which, unlike the others, was not impelled by an inner urge to 
grow? That is not to say that every Power has been equally success- 
ful, or that the steady growth of expenditure, of legislation, and of 
officialdom is due to nothing but the impulse of Power. My point 
is that this impulse is immanent in every Power whatsoever. 

The impulse is nourished by all the egoisms, great or small, noble 
or sordid, which, taken together, make up the egoism of Power. The 
perspectives which open before the great man are invisible to Tom 
and Dick as they come and go on their daily tasks. From them he 
must draw, whether by permission or constraint matters not, the 
means he has need of. The ruler of poor quality dreams no such 
exalted dreams: but he lets all the nuts in the machine go loose, 
and from their slackening will come the uncontested need for new 
levies and a further supply of public servants. At the bottom of the 
governmental ladder, the official, silently and imperceptibly, breeds 
the official, and brings his cousins and dependants into the offices 
of state. 

The history of the West, from the time of Europe's fragmentation 
into sovereign states, shows us an almost uninterrupted advance in 
the growth of governmental Power. The only way of failing to see 
it is to fix exclusive attention on the forms which Power takes: a 
picture of pure fantasy is then formed, in which monarchs appear 
as masters to whose exactions there are no bounds, to be succeeded 
by representative governments whose resources are proportionate 
to their authority, until in the end democracy succeeds and receives 
from a consenting people only what it chooses to give to a Power 
which is its servant. 

These are imponderables. But there are also ponderables— the 
dimensions of armies, the weight of taxation, the number of officials. 
The measurable scale of these implements provides an exact index 
of the growth of Power. Begin at the reign of Philip Augustus.* 8 
Without taxation to maintain him, the king lives, like other land- 
lords, off his own estate. Without an army at his command, he keeps 
a meagre bodyguard who feed at his own table. Without officials, 
he depends for the discharge of public business on ecclesiastics 
whom he employs and on servants whom he appoints. Even his pub- 

* Philip Augustus was King of France from 1180 to 1223. 


lie treasure, as well as his private fortune, has an ecclesiastical home 
and is left in the hands of the monks who act as his bankers. Though 
I am his subject, my path never crosses that of this head squire; he 
demands no tax from me, claims from me no military service, and 
passes no law which can possibly affect my life. 

By the end of the reign of Louis XIV, what a change is here for 
my countrymen! After a struggle lasting for centuries, the people 
has been brought to fill the royal coffers at regular intervals. The 
monarch maintains out of his revenues a standing army of two hun- 
dred thousand men. His intendants make him obeyed in every prov- 
ince, and his police harry the malcontents. He gives out laws and 
sets his dragoons at those who do not worship God in what he con- 
siders the right way; an enormous army of officials animates and 
directs the nation. Power has imposed its will. It is now no longer 
one small dot in society but a great stain at the centre of it, a net- 
work of lines which run right through it. 

An infliction, you say? Is not the revolution which overthrows the 
king going to pull down his structure, attack his apparatus of com- 
mand, which it will partly at any rate destroy, and reduce the taxa- 
tion paid by the people? By no means; instead it will introduce the 
conscription which the monarchy long desired but never had the 
strength to realize. True it is that Calonne's budgets will never be 
seen again; but the reason simply is that they will be doubled un- 
der Napoleon and trebled under the Restoration. The intendant will 
have gone, but the prefect will have taken his place. And so the 
distension grows. From one regime to another, always more soldiers, 
more taxes, more laws, more officials. 

I am not saying that the impulsion of Power is the only operative 
cause of all this; I do say that none can read history without being 
continuously conscious of its presence. Sometimes the impulsion re- 
laxes, as when Charles V, on his death-bed, renounced all the taxes 
which he had with so much trouble imposed and maintained, and 
which had made possible the victories of his reign. Almost at once, 
however, they were reimposed, though the doing of it required 
much bloodshed. 9 

Pauses there are, even retreats, but these are but incidents in the 
progress through the centuries of Power's distension. It is true, no 
doubt, that Power could not make this progress but for the very 
real services which it renders and under cover of the hopes aroused 
by its displays of the altruistic side of its nature. 



When Power makes a demand for resources for itself, it quickly 
wears down the complacence of the subjects. A thirteenth-century 
king might crave a grant for dressing his eldest son, amid seemly 
rejoicings, in knight's armour. But if too soon after he bethought 
him of giving his daughter in marriage and asked the provision of 
a suitable dowry, he would meet with a very bad reception. 

To raise contributions, Power must invoke the public interest. It 
was in this way that the Hundred Years' War, by multiplying the 
occasions on which the monarchy was forced to request the coop- 
eration of the people, accustomed them in the end, after a long 
succession of occasional levies, to a permanent tax, an outcome 
which outlived the reasons for it. 

It was in this way, too, that the Revolutionary Wars provided the 
justification for conscription, even though the files of 1789 disclosed 
a unanimous hostility to its feeble beginnings under the monarchy. 
Conscription achieved fixation. And so it is that times of danger, 
when Power takes action for the general safety, are worth much to 
it in accretions to its armoury; and these, when the crisis has passed, 
it keeps. 

It has, moreover, long been a matter of observation that the ego- 
ism of Power profits by public insecurity: 

War [exclaimed Omer Talon] is a monster whom there is a conspiracy 
not to throttle, so that it may continue always as the opportunity of those 
who abuse the royal authority, enabling them to devour such property as 
is still left in private hands. 

It is impossible to exaggerate the part played by war in the dis- 
tension of Power; but war is not the only set of circumstances in 
which it can invoke the public interest to strengthen its grip on the 
nation. Its role is not merely that of defender of its subjects against 
other Powers which are like unto itself; it claims also to protect 
them against forces which are different in kind. 

The mistake of not seeing in society more than the one Power, i.e. 
the governmental or public authority, has an astonishingly wide 
vogue. Whereas in fact the governmental is but one of the authori- 
ties present in society; there exist alongside it a whole host of others, 
which are at once its collaborators, in that they help it in securing 
social order, and its rivals, in that, like it, they claim men's obe- 
dience and inveigle them into their service. 


These non-governmental authorities, to which we give the name 
social authorities, are no more blessed with an angelic nature than 
is Power itself. If they all were so blessed, there could be, depend 
on it, nothing but perfect harmony and cooperation between them. 
But it is not so: however altruistic one of these authorities, such as 
the paternal or the ecclesiastical, is intended by nature to be, human 
nature imparts to it a measure of egoism: it tends to make itself its 
end. Whereas, conversely, an authority which is by nature egoist, 
such as the employer's or the feudal lord's, is sobered by time, and 
develops by unequal stages the spirit of protection and kindness. 
Every authority is, by the law of its nature, essentially dualist. Being 
ambitious, each separate authority tends to grow; being egoistical, to 
consult only its own immediate interest; being jealous, to pare down 
the role of the other authorities. There thus ensues an incessant 
strife of authorities. And this strife provides the state with its main 

The growth of its authority strikes private individuals as being 
not so much a continual encroachment on their liberty as an attempt 
to put down the various petty tyrannies to which they have been 
subjected. It looks as though the advance of the state is a means to 
the advance of the individual. 

Here is the main reason for the endless complicity of subjects in 
the designs of Power; it is the true secret of Power's expansion. 


Mankind passionately desires to escape the dooms of his destiny 
and his condition, and this wish of his is, when transformed into 
action, the origin of all progress. But it is also the basis of that 
vulgar 10 form of prayer which asks the intervention of the invisible 
powers in our private affairs. 

Is it not natural that prayers of this kind, directed as they are to 
practical ends, should be addressed also to a visible authority, which 
is no less powerful to destroy the author of our oppression or of the 
wrong done us, no less rich for the ample fulfilment of all our 
wishes, and no less sovereign for the transformation of our entire 

The sceptre is, as it were, a magic wand which can work miracles 
for us : "Si le roi voulait . . ." But these miracles can only come about 
in so far as Power is not kept within the leading-strings of a strict 
rule of law. If it lacks the ability to temper justice with expediency 


and to grant boons unexpectedly, its fairy enchantments quickly 
fade. Hence it is that institutions of moderate tempo become, in 
Lamartine's vigorous phrase, "a bore." 

Though the hurtfulness of arbitrary Power be proved and re- 
proved a thousand times, arbitrary Power will always start up anew. 
To shake it off, men must grow tired of paying too dearly for a 
chance, which is too small, of the arbitrary ruler playing their game, 
just as we weary of a lottery in which we have gone on losing over 
a long time. But arbitrary Power is for ever lifting its head again; 
it returns to life by means of its promises, the irresistible attraction 
of which paves its way for it. The wider the gap between man's 
awakened desires and the realities of his existence, the more clam- 
orous are the passions which summon and fetch him the magician. 

Nor is Power the repository only of egoistical hopes; it is that of 
altruistic or, more accurately, socialist hopes as well. That is a mis- 
erable philosophy which explains all human behaviour by the sim- 
ple motive of egoistical interest. It is given the lie both by the 
unceasing formation in speculative brains of visions of a better order 
and by the influence of these visions on men who have nothing per- 
sonally to gain by the change. Any account of the various social 
transformations which neglected the determining influence of these 
visions would be an entirely false one. Yet, they too, no less than 
the grossest, most muddled expectations, are grist to Power's mill. 

In the realm of nature there is nothing able to satisfy the human 
spirit's primitive passions. In love with his own experiments, with 
the simple relationships and direct causations his brain can grasp, 
and with the artless plans which he is wise enough to construct, 
man wishes that the whole created world may show itself built not 
only with the same instruments as he possesses but also by the same 
turns of skill as he has mastered. Rejoicing as he does in all that 
can be brought to uniformity, he is for ever being disconcerted by 
the infinite variety which nature herself seems to prefer, as instanced 
by the chemical structure of organic bodies. 

It is an agreeable game, imagining how man, if he had the power, 
would reconstruct the universe— the simple and uniform lines on 
which he would do it. He has not that power, but he has, or thinks 
he has, the power of reconstructing the social order. This is a sphere 
in which he reckons that the laws of nature do not run for him, 11 
and there he tries to plant the simplicity which is his ruling passion 
and which he mistakes for perfection. 


So soon as an intellectual imagines a simple order of things, he 
is serving the growth of Power. For the existing order, here as every- 
where, is complex and rests on a whole mass of supports, authori- 
ties, sentiments, and adjustments of the most varied kind. If it is 
sought to make one spring do the work of so many, how strong 
must be the force of its recoil; or if one pillar must support hence- 
forward what many supported, it must be of the stoutest! Only 
Power can be that spring or that pillar— and what a Power it must 
be! Simply because speculative thought tends to neglect the useful- 
ness of a crowd of secondary factors which make for order, it leads 
inevitably to the reinforcement of the central authority, and never 
more surely than when it is unsettling every kind of authority, the 
central included; for authority there must be, and when it rises 
again it is, inevitably, in the most concentrated form open to it. 18 


Much misapprehension exists as to the true relations between 
thought and Power. Thought has only to be the habitual critic of 
the existing order and established authority for her passion for order 
and authority as such to be completely overlooked. 

Rich in ideas of the beautiful, the harmonious, and the just, 
thought is bruised and revolted by all social reality. Here, it says, 
are cities spread out at random giving equal offence both to the eye 
and to the nostril; within them is a swarm of ugly, stupid, and un- 
happy beings; here stupidity darkens counsel, and stingy greed and 
squalid evil make holiday; are they to be found here, the royal 
homes of nature's king who has been made the reflex of the divine 
intelligence? How, from the depths of this sewer, can thought fail 
to evoke an ideal city, in which the severe beauty of the citizens 
would match the majestical quality of the buildings? It was in the 
slums of Naples that Campanella,* the Dominican, had his dream 
of a City of the Sun, which should carry on its walls no lascivious 
scrawlings, but geometrical figures and pictures of the animals and 
plants catalogued by science and of the instruments created by hu- 
man ingenuity; its life to be presided over by the Supreme Meta- 

Campanella, Tomaso (1568-1639), a Dominican monk, who was kept in 
prison at Naples for twenty-seven years by the Spanish authorities for supposed 
complicity in a political conspiracy. His Civitas Soils, the work here referred to, 
was written in prison and produced in 1623. It is a cold and abstract variant 
of More's Utopia, with the same Platonic background. 


In this way, under the stimulus of the "divine tenderness which 
feels both loathing and love, which transforms and raises what it 
loves," 13 the speculative man builds his perfect society, his Repub- 
lic, his Utopia, whence all disorder and injustice have been ban- 

Take a look, however, at the way in which the master builders 
of Paradises, the Platos, the Mores, the Campanellas, set about it. 
They get rid of the clashes by getting rid of the differences: 

Let the citizens never know [said Plato] and let them never desire to 
learn what it is to act independently and not in concert, and let them 
never form the habit of so acting; rather, let them all advance in step 
towards the same objects and let them have always and in everything but 
one common way of life. . . . 14 

Property is held in common: the magistrates will give to each citi- 
zen his share of what he needs. Clothing is uniform, meals are takeo 
in common, lodging is in common, and Campanella shows us the 
magistrates distributing the inhabitants, for periods of six months, 
among the various dormitories, and having the name of each put 
up over each bed. The magistrates assign to each his task, and their 
consent, revocable at any time, is necessary to any course of studies. 
More divides up the lives of his Utopians between work in the fields 
and professional work in the cities, the latter, unless the magistrates 
decide otherwise, to be for each man what his father did before him. 
No one might leave his house without a permit specifying the date 
of his return. And Plato was for prohibiting all foreign travel, ex- 
cept on account of the public service: he imposed on the citizens 
on their return the duty of expounding to the rising generation how 
vastly inferior to their own were the institutions of other lands. 

Such are the rules of the ideal republics dreamed of by the phi- 
losophers, the vision of which could bring enchantment to our an- 
cestors at a time when they were obvious fantasies and in no danger 
of being realized. We in our time, as the storm-clouds draw nearer, 
look more closely at them; we look for liberty there and do not find 
it. These dreams are, one and all, of tyrannies, of straiter, heavier, 
more oppressive tyrannies than any that history has yet shown us. 
In all of them, order is secured at the price of universal registration 
and wholesale regimentation. 

That is where thought leads us with no bit and bridle! And the 
imaginings are most revealing as to its natural bent. Thought de- 


lights in order, because thought is intelligence; and it conceives of 
order as simple, because thought is human. Whenever it strives to 
realize order, it displays the sombre savagery of a Savonarola or a 
Calvin; more often, however, it seeks and summons to its aid the 
man of action, its temporal arm: we see Plato, for instance, expect- 
ing his laws to be enforced by the tyrant of Syracuse. 

Is that a paradox, the association of the philosopher with the ty- 
rant? By no means. Authority can never be too despotic for the spec- 
ulative man, so long as he deludes himself that its arbitrary force 
will further his plans. Proof of this is the attraction, seen time after 
time, which Russian despotism has had for the intellectuals. The 
approach of Auguste Comte to Czar Nicholas is but a repetition 
of Diderot's waiting for Catherine the Great to promulgate by ukase 
the Encyclopaedist dogmas.* Disillusioned with the weapon proper 
to itself, persuasion, the intelligence admires those instruments of 
Power which are swifter in action, and Voltaire found it in him to 
admire Catherine's ability "to make fifty thousand men march into 
Poland to establish there toleration and liberty of conscience." 15 
And so the credulous tribe of philosophers works in Power's behalf, 
vaunting its merits right up to the point at which Power disillusions 
it; whereupon, it is true, it breaks into cursings, but still it serves 
the cause of Power in general, by placing its hopes in a radical and 
systematic application of its principles, being a thing which only a 
capacious Power can achieve. 

Benjamin Constant f mocked with good reason at the unphilosoph- 
ical preference of the learned for authoritarian methods: 

Every great development of the unlawful use of force, every recourse to 
illegal measures in times of crisis, has been, from one century to another, 
related with respect and described with complacence. The author, sitting 
peacefully at his desk, looses off arbitrary power in all directions and tries 
to make his style reflect the dashing quality which he approves in meas- 
ures; he sees himself, just for a moment, dressed in authority by reason 
of his praising its abuses; he warms his speculative life at the fire of all 
the demonstrations of force and power which serve to decorate his 
periods; in this way he finds a sort of pleasure in Authority; he repeats at 

* In a broadcast review of this book, Mr. Max Beloff compared the attraction 
of Catherine for Voltaire and Diderot with that of Stalin for the Webbs. 

f Constant de Rebecq, Henri Benjamin (1767-1830), French writer and 
politician, from whose writings there are many citations in this book. A con- 
sistent advocate of Liberal principles and freedom of the press, and an inti- 
mate of Mme de Stael. His political writings, all short and pithy, are collected 
in two volumes entitled Cours de politique constitutiop^Ue 


the top of his voice the fine phrases— safety of the people, supreme law, 
public interest; he is lost in admiration of his own profundity and stands 
amazed at his own energy. Poor fool! His words are addressed to men 
who ask nothing better than to hear them, and who, having heard, will 
take the first opportunity of trying his theory out on him. 16 

Thought, dreaming of an order which is at once too simple and 
too rigid, seeking to realize it too quickly by measures which are 
too drastic and too radical, is in a perpetual conspiracy on Power's 
behalf: even in giving battle to the actual incumbents of authority, 
it is still working for authority's enlargement. For it puts into so- 
ciety's head visions which cannot take concrete shape but by an 
immense effort in the opposite direction to that of the natural course 
of things— an effort of which only Power, and a big one at that, is 
capable. So that in sum thought furnishes Power with quite the 
most effective justification for its growth. 

As a self -proclaimed egoist, Power encounters the resistance of 
all the particular social interests with which it must have dealings. 
But let it call itself altruistic and give itself out for the executant of 
an ideal, and it will acquire such an ascendancy over every con- 
crete interest as will enable it to sacrifice them to the fulfilment of 
its mission and crush every obstruction to its triumphal march. 


7* war alien to modern times? 2. A self-militarizing civilization. 
S. The law of political rivalry. 4. Advance of Power, advance of 
war. Advance of war, advance of Power. 5. From the feudal army 
to the royal army. 6. War, midwife of absolute monarchy. 7. 
Powers in international rivalry. 8. Conscription. 9. The era of 
cannon fodder. 10. Total war. 


istory is the register of the strife of authorities. Always and 

everywhere man takes possession of man to bend him to his 

will and adapt him to his designs; so that society is seen 

to be a galaxy of authorities which arise, grow, and fight each other. 

Between authorities which are different in kind, as is political 

* This chapter appeared in January 1943, in the review Suisse contemporaine. 


authority from that of either the family or the squire or the priest, 
collaboration and conflict go on simultaneously. Between authorities 
which are similar in kind and unlimited in their scope, 1 the natural 
state of things is war. In the eyes of a man who lives exclusively in 
his own time, which may by happy chance have been a peaceful 
one, war seems but an accident; but to him who contemplates the 
unfolding of the ages war presents itself as an activity of states 
which pertains to their essence. 

Look at the map of Europe, not in the static form in which the 
political geography of any given period presents it, but rather as 
the moving picture which has been showing down the centuries. 
Observe how the parts coloured pink or blue or yellow, signifying 
the state to which each belongs, now spread out at the expense of 
one or more of the others, and now contract under neighbourly 
compression. Now a tentacle is put out towards the sea, now align- 
ment is formed along a river, or a mountain is taken in the stride, 
or a foreign body is engulfed and absorbed. At long last the partic- 
ular octopus loses its vitality; a day arrives when it becomes the 
prey of another's appetite, and disappears. 

The picture evoked by these shifting colours is that of the crawl- 
ing of amoebas observed under the microscope. That, heaven help 
us! is history. 

Before the nineteenth century this sort of cannibalism was the 
principal subject matter of historical studies. From that time on 
our learned men have looked elsewhere. They thought, not without 
reason, that in modern times the spirit of conquest pertains, never 
to peoples, but only to their rulers; and they were rash enough to 
assume that the course of political evolution was that of the sub- 
ordination of rulers to their peoples. War, therefore, was a thing 
of the past, the themes of the present were quite other, of man 
throwing off the yoke of social despotisms and, with the help of 
science, skill, and combination, making himself master of the earth's 

Bringing this modern eye to bear on the centuries that had 
passed, it seemed to man as if the wars which had given lustre to 
monarchs and left as their legacy to students the names of innu- 
merable battles were but so many adventitious happenings which 
had cut across the main and essential lines of human development. 


The real history was much more truly this development than the 
tale of military escapades! For the development gave a picture of a 
continuous advance in one direction— the integrated exploitation of 
the world's resources for the benefit of man in association with his 

This was the end to which the peoples of the world, now the mas- 
ters of their fate and the clear-eyed graduates of education, would 
march henceforward in conscious unison. Each separate Power, be- 
ing now the servant of its nation, would press on this advance. If by 
any chance there were any further clash of arms, it could but be 
as by a deplorable collision between the cars driven by the various 
states; the fault was that of inexpert drivers or— but this would be 
quite exceptional!— of crazy and morbid ambitions. 

But is the will to aggrandizement nothing more than an aberra- 
tion of rulers? If it is so, how is it that the rulers most covetous 
of territory have also been the most astute to organize their peo- 
ples? Of such were Peter the Great, Frederick II, Napoleon, Bismarck 
—perhaps we must add the name of Stalin. Can it be doubted that 
the genius of statesmanship proves itself both in expansion and in 
administration, and that Power administers to conquer and conquers 
to administer? The instinct of growth is proper to Power; it is a part 
of its essence and does not change with its changing forms. 

For Power is still command, with the passions proper to com- 
mand, of which the first is to expand the area which is beneath its 
rule. Maybe this passion will lie dormant for decades, but its awak- 
ening is in the order of things. For like attracts like: authority at- 
tracts the authoritarian, and empire the imperious. 

The quality of conquest is as much an attribute of Power as is 
infection of the bacillus; both have their periods of torpor, from 
which they awake to renewed vigour. After an interval of calm, the 
modern tyrannies were to find to their hand such resources as had 
been beyond the hopes of their ancient models, just as the sleeper 
in Wells' tale found when he awoke that, while he was asleep, his 
wealth had marvellously multiplied. 

At the very time when, as it was claimed, violence had been 
banished from history, it was making its presence felt as much as 
ever. But this was happening in distant parts, where savage or tech- 
nically backward peoples were being incorporated cheaply. The 
splashes of colour denoting the various states hardly changed in 
Europe but spread out overseas, and were soon confronting each 


other on fresh continents, multiplying in the process their frontiers, 
their disputes, and in the end their battlefields. 

The wealth amassed by private persons was building up for the 
state immense resources for war. Metallurgical factories were going 
up which could, when the time came, be used for the construction 
of enormous guns. Savings were pouring into the banks which 
would defray the expenses of the war. Why was Germany develop- 
ing production in the Briey basin, and England smiling at the grip 
of her great companies on the world's oil fields, and Russia cover- 
ing herself with a network of railways? These activities all looked 
peaceful enough, but were in reality a process of accumulating 
trump cards to play in the unceasing game of power. 

Lastly, the democratic advance itself put arms in the armouries 
of governments. Powers which are seen by all to be strangers to the 
peoples they rule cannot sweep them along into making really great 
sacrifices; where, on the other hand, they are intimately linked to 
their peoples, they can get more out of them, as was shown by the 
astonishing amount of force put at the disposal of successive author- 
ities by Revolutionary and Imperial France, the reason being that 
she conceived these authorities to be bone of her bone. 

The upshot is that those very phenomena which seemed to give 
promise of an era of perpetual peace * were in fact building up for 
the various Powers material and psychological munitions of war, 
such as far surpassed in intensity and scale anything seen before. 


Was it not conformable, you say, with the laws of history that a 
great society, such as is the Western World of our day, forming in 
itself a slice of civilization, should become demilitarized as its de- 
velopment proceeded? Had not this phenomenon been seen to hap- 
pen in the Roman world? The longer this civilization lasted, the less 
inclined did its members become to take up arms. The military call- 
ing, which had been in early days the natural vocation of every 
adult man— as among all the primitive peoples, such as the Iroquois, 
the Zulus, the Abyssinians, it is seen to be— became in the end a 
specialized and discredited profession. 

This process of progressive demilitarization showed itself in the 
number of Roman effectives available. The still uncouth City which 

* It was remarked by Leibniz that the only place in which the words pax 
perpetua had any relevance was a cemetery. 


Hannibal came over to attack numbered a mere million men at the 
time that it put in the field against him at Cannae an army of more 
than 85,000 men. But when its armies clashed at Pharsalia, the Re- 
public, though by then it was spread out over the whole of the Medi- 
terranean basin, could not put in the field more than 65,000 men in 
all. When Tiberius strained every nerve to avenge the legions of 
Varus, he could send the future Germanicus but 50,000 men. Marcus 
Aurelius seems to have had not many more in his attempt to finish 
off the secular quarrel with the Parthians. When Julian checked the 
Alemanni near Strasbourg, he had 13,000 men, and Belisarius was 
given 11,000 by Justinian to win back Italy from the Goths. 2 

Such is the natural evolution of a people which is rising in the 
scale of civilization. It is also the explanation of that people's cul- 
minating impotence in the face of the invasions of the Goths and 
Vandals, who were but small nations in arms, numbering but a few 
tens of thousands of men; the smallest province in the Empire, had 
its inhabitants still been trained to arms, could have wiped them 
out. Assuredly, Alaric could have no more taken the Rome of old 
than Genseric the Carthage of old. 

The path followed by our own civilization is in the opposite direc- 
tion; it is leading it to a catastrophe just as total but of quite a dif- 
ferent kind. 

At Poitiers, which was the decisive battle of the fourteenth cen- 
tury, about 50,000 men were engaged, and about the same number 
fought at Marignan. Only very few more, some 65,000 it is said, 
fought at Nordlingen, the decisive battle of the Thirty Years' War. 
But come to Malplaquet in 1709 and Leipzig in 1813: the figures 
there are 200,000 and 450,000 respectively. 

In our time we have improved on that. The 1914 war killed or 
mutilated five times as many men as were under arms in Europe at 
the end of the Napoleonic Wars. 3 And in this present war (1939- 
1945) there is no counting the people involved. We are ending up 
where the savages began. 


Why is it that we are retreating from civilization instead of ad- 
vancing towards it like the Romans? 

One difference between their world and ours leaps to the mind: 
theirs was monist, ours is pluralist. In its human content ours is 
perhaps less diversified than the Roman, but it is split up among 


several governments, each one of which, as Rousseau says, "feels 
itself weak as long as there are stronger ones than itself; its safety 
and preservation demand that it make itself stronger than its neigh- 

Rousseau continues: 

As its size is purely relative, the body politic must institute comparisons 
to get to know itself; it is dependent on what is around it and it must take 
an interest in everything that goes on there. It would be useless for it 
to try to stay as it is and keep within its own shell; it becomes weak or 
strong according as its neighbour expands or contracts, grows stronger or 

This natural jealousy between Powers has brought to birth one 
rule which is familiar enough— states pay dearly if they forget it 
even momentarily: that every annexation of territory by one Power, 
by increasing its sources of supply, compels each of the others to 
look about for a like extension with a view to redressing the balance. 

There is, however, another way of growing stronger which is much 
more to be feared than any acquisition of territory: that is the ad- 
vance made by any one Power in exploiting the natural resources of 
its own national domain. If it increases the draft which it makes on 
the strength and wealth of its people and contrives to get this in- 
crease accepted, it then changes the relationship between its own 
sinews of war and those of its neighbours; it becomes, if its capital 
is small, the equal of great Powers, and if it is large it brings hegem- 
ony within its reach. 

If in the time of Gustavus Adolphus, Sweden's place in the world 
of politics was out of all proportion to the country's importance, the 
reason was that this great king had made the activities of the nation 
subservient to his designs, to an extent never before seen. Prussia, 
too, in the time of Frederick II, could not have kept at bay a coali- 
tion of three great monarchies, each one of which could have ob- 
literated her, but for the similar intensive exploitation of her capa- 
bilities. And, to conclude, France at the time of the Revolution 
gained in a single bound frontiers which Louis XIV had been un- 
able to reach, for the reason that the more total Power then in con- 
trol had drawn more deeply on the national resources. 

Burke, writing in 1795, understood this well: 

The State [France] is all in all. Everything is referred to the production 
of force. It is military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirit and in 


all its movements. . . . Were France but half of what it is in population, 
in compactness, in applicability of its force, it would be too strong for 
most of the States of Europe, constituted as they are, and proceeding as 
they proceed. 4 

Every encroachment by Power on society, whether it has been 
made with a view to war or for some totally different purpose, gives 
that Power an advantage in war. 5 Evidence of this is supplied by 
the two German invasions of France, made within a quarter of a 
century of each other. The debacle of 1940, which took the place of 
the miracle of the Marne in 1914, was probably the result less of the 
enfeeblement of France than of the accretion of German strength 
brought about by total mobilization of her energies. Further evi- 
dence of it is supplied by the very different destinies awaiting the 
Russian armies in the two wars, a difference which was due entirely 
to the conquests wrought in the interval by the Power inside that 
vast domain. 

The lesson is that no state can remain indifferent to another state's 
wresting from its people more of their rights. It must make a cor- 
responding draft on its own people's rights, or else pay dearly for 
its neglect to put itself on a level. So France had already lost the 
war of 1870 because, through failure to impose military conscription 
as her neighbour had done, she could only put in the field against 
the Prussians armies which were much inferior in numbers. 

The most pressing and best known aspect of the phenomenon is 
the race in armaments. But the race in armaments is but the shadow 
and the reflex of a much more serious development— the race in 
totalitarianisms. A Power which interferes with its people only in 
certain respects cannot increase its warlike potential beyond certain 
limits. To pass them, it must revolutionize those respects and give 
itself fresh prerogatives. 


Thus it happens that the great steps forward in the process of 
militarization are linked up, whether as effect or cause, with the 
great steps forward of Power. 

Sometimes the reason is that a political revolution suddenly 
strengthens Power and so makes possible a scale of armaments which 
was previously impossible. That happened when Cromwell built up 
without difficulty a naval power for England which was beyond the 
dreams of Charles I; or when the French Revolution instituted con- 


scription— a thing which the servants of the monarchy would not 
have dared propose. 

Sometimes the need to attain military equality with a formidable 
rival can be invoked to justify an advance of Power, as in France 
in Charles VII's * time, or in the United States today. 

We see, then, that, as every advance of Power is useful for war, 
so war is useful for the advance of Power; war is like a sheep-dog 
harrying the laggard Powers to catch up their smarter fellows in the 
totalitarian race. 

This intimate tie between war and Power is a constant feature of 
European history. Each state which has in its turn exercised political 
hegemony got itself the wherewithal by subjugating its people more 
completely than its rivals could subjugate theirs. And to resist ab- 
sorption by their predecessors in hegemony, the other Powers of the 
continent were bound to get on a level with them. 

If a feudal monarchy succeeded in getting financial aids from its 
vassals at more and more frequent intervals and could thus increase 
the number of mercenaries in its employ, the others had to copy it. 
If in the end these aids were consolidated into a permanent tax for 
maintaining a standing army, still the movement had to be followed, 
for, as Adam Smith remarks: 

Once the system of having a standing army had been adopted by one 
civilized nation, all its neighbours had to introduce it; security reasons 
made it inevitable, for the old militias were quite incapable of resisting an 
army of that kind. 

But once the monarchy could rest on a standing army, it was in 
the way to impose taxation arbitrarily— in other words, to make itself 
absolute. And from that time it must also battle its way towards mili- 
tary conscription, of the menace of which Montesquieu was already 

Military conscription, towards which the monarchies were making 
more or less timid advances, was inaugurated by Revolutionary 
France. And to it she owed her victories, most of which were won 
by overwhelming superiority of numbers. Right up to 1809, the 
French armies retained this superiority in all their battles. Gneise- 
nau f formulated the only possible answer: "The Revolution has 

° Charles VII, King of France from 1422 to 1461. Joan of Arc was one of his 
subjects. He created a standing army supported by a permanent tax. 

f Gneisenau (1760-1831), one of the Prussian generals of the War of Liber- 
ation. Chief of Bliicher's staff at Waterloo. 


deployed in its entirety the national strength of the French peo- 
ple. . . . The other European States must draw on the same reserves 
with a view to restoring the ancient balance of Europe." 

Such being the way in which political rivalry works, attempts at 
the limitation of armaments are, it is clear, a vain thing. Armaments 
are merely an expression of Power. They grow because Power grows. 
And yet those parties are loudest in demanding their limitation 
which, with unperceived inconsequence, are the most ardent sup- 
porters of Power's expansion! 

Power is linked with war, and a society wishing to limit war's 
ravages can find no other way than by limiting the scope of Power. 

The social regime which imposes the narrowest limits on the ex- 
tent of a nation's involvement in war is the aristocratic regime, the 
reason being that no other regime is equally allergic to the expan- 
sion of Power. Such a regime wears, it is true, an essentially mili- 
tarist air because the business of the ruling class is war. But then, 
war is the business of no other class. At Sparta, for instance, the 
disproportionately small number of soldiers compared to the popula- 
tion as a whole is striking, and in Western Europe the establishment 
of feudalism was the signal for a drastic cut in the size of armies. The 
number of Charlemagne's effectives is not reached again until the 
seventeenth century. The need to hold in check the Saracen or Hun- 
garian cavalry, and to take up new positions as speedily as the Nor- 
man pirates in their light craft, led to the introduction of the cavalry 
era— but only the cavalry of the feudal lords, of which the king could 
not rightly call more than one troop his own. At that time the peo- 
ple took no part at all in war— were unaffected by it, except for those 
over whose plots of land it passed— and the memory of those days is 
preserved in the cry often uttered by the people today: "Those who 
want war have only to make it themselves and leave us alone." 

There are big differences between the army of a landed aristoc- 
racy, which is naturally incoherent and undisciplined by reason of 
the diversity of the contingents forming it, and that of an urban 
aristocracy, to which, contrariwise, community of interests and edu- 
cation and the intimate ties of custom lend a peculiar strength. 
Troops of the latter type are superior to mercenaries, whereas troops 
of the former are bound to go down before paid regular troops, as 
was seen at Crecy and Nicopolis. The ortas, or companies, of janis- 


saries were the expression of a Power which was much more extreme 
than any of its contemporaries in the West, who were to prove un- 
able, right up to the end of the seventeenth century, to offer effec- 
tive resistance to it. The English army— a paid army, from the Prince 
of Wales down to the lowest archer— was the expression of a mon- 
archy which could already get from its vassals and commons regular 
subsidies, 6 and was soon to get its hands on the national output of 
wool so as to provide itself with foreign exchange; 7 lastly, it could 
harness to its service the largest capitalists of the period, those of 

In the history of France, the Hundred Years' War represents the 
attempts of the royal Power to get on an equal basis with the enemy 
Power. Numbered among them are the requests for subsidies made 
by Philip VI and John II to successive assemblies which were some- 
times general and sometimes regional. So too are the taxes imposed 
for the ransom of John II, taxes which Charles V continued to levy 
and to which his victories were due: the taxes suppressed, the Eng- 
lish fortunes revived again. 

The significant thing that came out of the Hundred Years' War 
was the institution of the permanent poll-tax (taille) wherewith to 
maintain the orderly companies, that is to say a standing and paid 
force of cavalry ( 1444 ) . In this way the result of the first great con- 
flict of arms in Western society was to strengthen Power. 


And all the wars in all the centuries in which European states 
fight each other will have the same results. In the sixteenth century 
and for a part of the seventeenth Spain was the leading Power in 
Europe, buttressed with the gold of the New World and, above all, 
with the army forged for her by Gonzalo of Cordova, "the Great 
Captain." The Ordinance of- 1496 instituted even at that early date 
a kind of conscription. One out of twelve of all subjects between the 
ages of twenty and forty-five were bidden to the service of the state. 
Those bidden became soldiers. That was the origin of that "redoubt- 
able Spanish Infantry," in time to be celebrated by Bossuet. 

The development of absolute monarchy in both England and 
France is linked with the efforts of their respective dynasties to resist 
the dangers from Spain. James I owed his wide powers to the Ar- 
mada. Richelieu and Mazarin could raise high the prerogatives of 


the state because they could invoke unceasingly the peril from 

Fontenay Mareuil gives us some idea of how large a part was 
played by military exigencies in liquidating the ancient forms of 
government and paving the way for absolute monarchy: 

To save the realm it was absolutely necessary that the king should have 
in it an authority which was sufficiently absolute to enable him to do 
whatever should seem good to him; for since he was dealing with the King 
of Spain with his large country in which he takes what he wants, it is only 
too certain that had our king had to assemble the States-General, as is 
generally done, or to depend on the benevolence of the Parliament for 
getting all that he needed, it would never have been got. 8 

Richelieu, finding that the entire military effectives of France had 
been reduced to 10,000 men by Marie de' Medici, raised them to 
60,000; then, after having kept up for many years the war in Ger- 
many by means of subsidies to the Swedes and others ("putting," 
as he reported to the king, "his hand in the purse rather than on the 
sword"), when the exhaustion of the Swedes and their defeat at 
Nordlingen obliged him to step in, he did so with 100,000 foot- 
soldiers and 20,000 cavalrymen— armies on a scale unknown to 
France for eight centuries. 

Heavy taxation was needed to sustain this effort; its collection 
could not be delayed by regard to forms, nor made subject to the 
consent of the taxed. Oblivion overtook the lesson taught by Co- 
mines.* "What king or nobleman is there on earth who has power 
to lay on his subjects a penny piece of taxation without the grant 
and consent of those who have to pay— except by tyranny and vio- 

Tyranny of this kind was justified in France by the "unceasing 
purpose to stay the progress of Spain." 9 


But while Richelieu, with an eye on victory in the political battle, 
was violating all rights and destroying all institutions which ob- 

* Comines, Philippe d« (1445-1509), French statesman and historian. His 
memoirs, in seven books, have been called the earliest example in French liter- 
ature of the "history" as distinguished from the "chronicle." Unlike the chron- 
iclers, Comines cared little for show and spectacle, but made many acute com- 
ments on men and affairs. 


structed the state's power to tax, he was causing his rivals, all of 
them anxious to maintain their own positions, to take similar meas- 

Olivarez in Spain strove to make effective the maxim that "the 
good of the nation and the army transcends every law and every 
privilege." 10 In England Charles I lost patience with Parliament's 
refusal and levied ship-money illegally, thereby calling out Hamp- 
den's resistance. Hampden's trial took place near the end of 1637; in 
1639 Normandy revolted against Richelieu in an attempt to stop the 
levying of all taxes imposed since the death of Henry IV. In 1640 
revolution broke out in Catalonia for the preservation of the tradi- 
tional privileges and liberties. The Fronde, in its relation to Euro- 
pean events, is but one of many reactions to the onward march in 
step of all the competing Powers towards domestic absolutism. 

The Fronde did not succeed in undoing the work of Richelieu, by 
which was formed, according to de Retz, "in the most legitimate of 
monarchies, the most scandalous and dangerous tyranny that has 
ever existed." n As a result, the power of Louis XIV came to domi- 
nate Europe. Whereupon the other European states naturally started 
to invoke in their turn the need to check the -course of France's 

The envy felt for Louis XIV by other princes is at the root of their 
usurpations of authority over their peoples. But the menace of his 
hegemony gave them a perfectly honourable pretext for imitating 

Achievement of the right to search its subjects' pockets for the 
wherewithal to maintain its enterprises had been the first great vic- 
tory of Power in modern times. At first, in the time of the English 
Parliaments, the States-General of France, and the Cortes of Spain, 
taxation had been dependent upon the consent of the taxed. Then 
it became arbitrary, a step which marked an immense advance of 

But another, and for the waging of war still more important, ad- 
vance had still to be achieved: to lay hands on the very bodies of 
Power's subjects, to swell the armies. Nothing was more alien than 
this to the genius of aristocratic societies; it is natural to them to be 
defended only by the aristocrats. That is the interest, the office, and 
the privilege of aristocracy. It is as warriors that they make them- 


selves, taken as a whole, indispensable to the monarch who is their 
chief and to the common people who depend on them. As cham- 
pions of the one and protectors of the other, they gain both the good 
opinion of the nation and the respect due to their position, and they 
are no less able to defend national interests against the foreigner 
than their own interest against encroachment from above and agita- 
tion from below. 

The employment of mercenary troops had already cut into this 
monopoly of the profession of arms. 12 It perished when military serv- 
ice ceased to be the preserve of the nobility and was extended to 
the entire population. As we shall see, 13 kings have always yearned 
for universal military service; it provided them, so far as internal 
order was concerned, with the means of throwing down the barrier 
to state encroachments presented by the aristocratic order. And in 
respect of external order it brought them a prodigious accretion of 

The only way in which Gustavus Adolphus had been able to main- 
tain his armies in Germany had been by securing that in every com- 
mune of Sweden the inhabitants periodically selected some of their 
number for the king's service. Louvois made a proposal to keep up 
to strength in the same way the French regiments whose wastage 
could not be made good by voluntary recruiting. It was, as he ex- 
plained at the start, only for the purpose of local defence that thirty- 
five regiments, aptly called territorial, were being formed. But his 
initiative encountered so much opposition that he had to substitute 
for the selection of recruits a drawing by lot for them. What peasant 
distrust had felt coming soon came: these regiments acted as depots 
which could be drawn on to make good the numbers in regiments 
on active service. 

Such were the timid beginnings of the militarization of entire 

It was in Prussia that the new system first spread its wings. A 
kingdom of recent formation, it possessed neither population nor 
wealth on any scale, nor had it any territorial cohesion. Its various 
provinces had varying histories and lacked unity. Frederick William 
made it his aim to maintain an army which should be composed of 
the finest soldiers that could be recruited throughout the length and 
breadth of Germany— and Europe. To each of his regiments he al- 
lotted a portion or "canton" of Prussian soil. Each canton furnished 
its regiment with the recruits needed to fill its ranks. These con- 


scripts, who went by the name of "cantonists," served in the first 
instance only for a few months, but they were recalled for a few 
weeks every year and joined up in time of war. 

Such was the import of the famous rescript of 1733. Military serv- 
ice, the status of reservist, mobilization in time of war, all were the 
work of Prussia. The small resources of men and money possessed 
by Prussia in its early days caused an ambitious Power to mobilize 
the strength of the nation to a point hitherto unknown. And Prussia, 
though it was still small by the side of France, notwithstanding the 
consecutive accretions brought it by its glorious victories, had under 
arms on the eve of the Revolution 195,000 men, as against 180,000 
in France. It was a great advantage of the Prussian system that these 
195,000 men cost only some forty-five millions, which was less than 
half the cost of the less numerous French army. 

These figures, 180,000 French soldiers, 195,000 Prussians, 240,000 
Austrians, sufficiently explain France's passivity towards the close of 
the monarchy, which remained deaf to the appeals reaching it from 
Holland in 1787 and Belgium in 1789— thereby missing its chance of 
closing once for all that "open door to the enemies of France," its 
northeast frontier. 

The audacity which succeeded to this pusillanimity made ample 
amends! Harebrained and politically inexperienced rulers plunged 
the country into war with not one but both of the leading military 
Powers on the continent, who were joined by Spain, England, and 
Piedmont. How did France of the Revolution come to sustain the 
shock? She was saved in the first hour by the dubious conduct of 
Brunswick. But after that? After that she put in the field much more 
numerous armies than those of the coalitions combined; to do it she 
needed a Power whose absolutism was far different from that of the 
ancient monarchy, a Power which could proclaim: "From now on 
until the enemy has been chased from the soil of the Republic, every 
Frenchman is permanently required for service in the armies." 


This decision of the Convention of August 23, 1793, was followed 
by measures giving effect to it. In 1794, 1,169,000 men figured on 
the French military registers. 

A new era in military history now opened, the era of cannon fod- 
der. Not a single general of the ancien regime would ever have dared 
expose his troops in serried columns to the enemy's fire. Folard, who 


had proposed it, had been unable to get a hearing. The extended 
order of battle saved lives but brought no clear-cut decision. Whereas 
the generals of the Revolution and the Empire spent without count- 
ing the cost; Power could now draw for them on the whole French 
nation. And history was to record that these massacres were the 
start of the decline of the population and vitality of France. 

Jourdan's law of 1798 gave formal shape to the system of requisi- 
tioning men. Service was obligatory for men of between twenty and 
twenty-five years of age, who formed the first five classes, numbering 
a million men; the law decided how many of them should be 
taken, and the conscripts were drawn by lot. Every year the oldest 
class could be recalled and a younger one called up. Napoleon was 
to employ this system: at first he took 80,000 men in each class, but, 
when he was making ready for the Russian campaign, he called up 
120,000 men of the 1810 class, and after the disasters there he called 
up 150,000 men of the 1814 class besides bringing back 300,000 men 
of the classes on which he had at first economized. In all, from Sep- 
tember 1805 to November 1813 he took from France 2,100,000 men 
in addition to the soldiers of the Republic who had been kept with 
the colours. 

How could the rest of Europe ever have fought him if it had not 
had recourse to like measures? Many governments only consented 
with reluctance to measures which smacked of barbarism. But 
adopted they were, and Napoleon was crushed beneath the weight 
of numbers. 

The advantage at first derived by France from intensive exploita- 
tion of her human potential was lost as soon as her competitors took 
to imitating her. The numerical balance of forces suggested the like- 
lihood of crushing the French in 1793 or 1794. The French levee en 
masse prevented it. But when once the same methods had been 
adopted by all, France gained nothing by this postponement of the 
fatal day. 


Germany, however, learned nothing from this experience. Alone 
of the victorious Powers who forced France to give up the system 
by means of which she had desolated Europe, Prussia retained an 
analogous but aggravated system, which prepared the way for the 
victories of 1870. Their success frightened Europe so much thai 
every continental country followed Germany's example and intro- 


duced military conscription. The splendid result of this was that in 
1888 Europe's armies on a peace footing were the same in numbers 
as at the height of the Napoleonic Wars— 3,000,000 men. The public 
expenditures of the European states, which came to 170 million 
pounds sterling in 1816, reached 868 millions in 1898. In every coun- 
try military expenditure took the lion's share. 

At length the storm broke, with results which we know. The dead 
numbered 8,000,000, the mutilated 6,000,000. Taking the belligerent 
countries as a whole, 8 per cent of the male labour force was de- 
stroyed; in France and Germany the figure was 10 per cent. 

And what was gained by so much destruction? The issue of the 
war would have been the same even if the armies engaged had been 
no larger than the professional armies of the seventeenth century. 
Just as Revolutionary France, notwithstanding her intensive utiliza- 
tion of the national resources, finally succumbed to a coalition which 
could bring to bear a far superior human and economic potential, so 
it was with the Germany of William II; her resistance broke down 
against such a combination of national forces as made it certain that, 
sooner or later, the balance of resources would be tilted against her. 

Thus it was demonstrated a second time that the advantage in 
the political race given by the growth of a state's requisitions on its 
people is but an ephemeral one; rivals are thereby incited to take 
like measures, and the growth results merely in hateful burdens in 
time of peace and in a frightful aggravation of the hecatombs and 
ruins of war. 

Had there to be a third demonstration? Our hearts fail us at the 
very thought of reckoning the price in human lives and cultural 
heritages destroyed. 

It was the blockade of Germany in the First World War that gave 
birth to the doctrine of total war. 

For the German state, as for its individual citizens, the satisfaction 
of needs is limited not only by the disposable funds available but 
also by the physical products of the limited areas controlled by the 
German armies. The measures necessitated by this situation become 
progressively systematized. In time of war all production must be 
planned by the state so as to get thereby the maximum war poten- 
tial which is compatible with the need to maintain a minimum 
standard of life for the population. Thus the whole nation becomes 
a weapon of war wielded by the state; and the proportion engaged 
on warlike tasks is limited only by the need to keep it alive. 


This total identification of the nation with the armed forces seems 
only to have been envisaged towards the end of the First World 
War. Progress in this direction was at first tentative, and the doc- 
trine finally emerged from policies which kept, even to the end, an 
uncoordinated and empirical air. The idea was nourished round the 
hearth of German nationalism, which bequeathed it to the National 
Socialist movement. Once in power, that movement embarked on 
such a reconstruction of the German economy as made it come to 
look like a man-of-war. Its purpose was battle, with every man of 
the crew at his station, either as combatant or as victualler of the 
combatants. The magazines were filled with shells, but the victual- 
ling of the crew had not been neglected on that account. 

Up to then the state, in the event of war, had requisitioned from 
the life of the nation only so much of its strength as was needed to 
sustain its warlike undertaking. But now, in time of peace, the state 
made ready the total utilization of the national resources for war. 

The first encounters in the Second World War had exactly the 
issue that could be expected in a fight between a cruiser and Atlan- 
tic liners which were equipped with guns but on board which stew- 
ards were still serving sluggish passengers. 

The outcome was different when Germany attacked a country, 
to wit Russia, in which, for twenty years, men had had their tasks 
assigned to them by the public authority. 

Political rivalry had its usual consequences, and England and the 
United States had soon to copy the German methods of war. These 
are the two countries in which the private person has been most 
successful in maintaining his rights against the state. The United 
States had not instituted military conscription until the time of the 
Civil War and had abolished it when once the danger was past. 
Even in the First World War England had created a national army 
only after long hesitation, and the right of the state to constrain the 
subject was regarded as so questionable that the refusal of conscien- 
tious objectors to serve was admitted. Under stress of need Power 
had, it is true, swallowed up the nation's substance by borrowing 
and inflation, but it had afterwards taken on itself to restore what 
it had so taken by putting back the currency, pounds or dollars, to 
its old parity. In time of war no other means than those derived 
from its extraordinary credits had been employed by the state to 
divert production to its requirements. 

It may be observed, however, that in the years immediately pre- 


ceding the Second World War the state had made some notable 
addition to its empire, especially in the United States. The struggle 
against Germany witnessed its triumph. For the first time in history 
a President of the United States looked on the mass of his fellow- 
citizens as "human potential," to be used as might best serve the 
prosecution of the war! 

Thus we see how, ever since the Middle Ages, to keep their places 
in the political race, states have been increasing the sacrifices which 
they demand of their nations. Whereas the Capetian kings made 
war with a few seignorial contingents whose service was for no more 
than forty days, the popular states of today have power to call to 
the colours, and keep there indefinitely, the entire male population. 
Whereas the feudal monarchs could nourish hostilities only with the 
resources of their own domains, their successors have at their dis- 
posal the entire national income. The citizens of medieval cities at 
war could, if they were not too near to the actual theatre of opera- 
tions, take no notice of it. Nowadays friend and foe alike would 
burn their houses, slaughter their families, and measure their own 
doughty deeds in ravaged acres. Even Thought herself, in former 
times contemptuous of these brawls, has now been roped in by de- 
votees of conquest to proclaim the civilizing virtues of gangsters and 

How is it possible not to see in this stupendous degradation of our 
civilization the fruits of state absolutism? Everything is thrown into 
war because Power disposes of everything. 

Industrial rivalry would go the same way as political, if masters 
exercised unlimited rule over their men. However humane they 
might be by nature, they would be forced to exact ever greater 
efforts from the subject mass below them— under the vital spur of 
keeping abreast of a rival's efforts. 

This hateful consequence of rivalry is checked only because trade 
union opposition sets a limit to what the masters can exact. 

Why does the modern state meet no organized resistance? 

The ancien regime met with such resistance, which was offered it 
by the representatives of the various elements in the nation who 
fought in line against Power. But in the modern regime these ele- 
ments have become Power, and the people are left in consequence 
without a champion. Those who are the state reserve to themselves 
alone the right to talk in the name of the nation; an interest of the 


nation as distinct from the interest of the state has no existence for 
them. They would crush as sedition what the monarchy would have 
received as remonstrance. Under the pretext that Power has been 
given to the nation, and from refusal to see that there are here two 
bodies which are and must ever be distinct, the nation has been 
delivered over to Power. 




1. Power's conflict with aristocracy and alliance with the common 
people. 2. Is Power a social conservative or a social revolutionary? 
3. The troughs in the statocratic waves. 4. Power and the cell of 
the clan. 5. Power and the baronial cell. 6. Power and the capi- 
talistic cell. 7. Zenith and dismemberment of the state. 8. The 
dynamism of politics. 

Power is authority and makes for more authority. It is force 
and makes for more force. Or, if a less metaphysical termi- 
nology is preferred, ambitious wills, drawn by the lure of 
Power, expend unceasingly their energies in its behalf that they 
may bind society in an ever tighter grip and extract from it more of 
its resources. 

The process is not uninterrupted, but the checks and recoils which 
it receives have not prevented the advance of the state through the 
centuries, as is sufficiently proved by the history of taxation, the 
history of armies, the history of legislation, and the history of police 
forces. It is clear enough that the fraction of society's wealth appro- 
priated by public authority is a growing one, as is the fraction of 
the population which it mobilizes. It regulates private activities 
more and more closely, and watches more and more narrowly those 
who are its subjects. 1 

The sight prompts two questions : What has made possible Power's 
advance? And why has the advance been so little observed? 

Its success in achieving an ever further direction of individual 
activities, and in appropriating for itself an ever larger part of the 
strength subsisting in society, is not at first realized. Every increase 
of state authority must involve an immediate diminution of the lib- 
erty of each citizen; every augmentation of the public wealth means 
an immediate lopping of the revenues of each. So obvious a danger 
should, one would think, have the effect of uniting all in an almost 
unanimous opposition, by which Power's advance would be surely 



Why is it that the opposite happens and that we see Power pursu- 
ing its triumphal way over all the pages of history? 

It had to remain largely invisible, and not to let alarm arise at its 
becoming an ever larger creditor for obedience and services. But 
that raises a further mystery. Why is it not clear as crystal to every- 
one that the private citizen is falling ever more deeply into the 
public authority's debt for those commodities? And what is the ex- 
planation of the fact that, right down to our own time, the move- 
ment of history has in general been interpreted as a progressive 
liberation of the individual? 

The reason is that there are in society, in addition to the state and 
the individual, social authorities as well, which also claim from the 
human being their due of obedience and services. And the diminu- 
tion or disappearance of his obligations to a social authority may 
affect his life and stir his interest more than the aggravation of his 
obligations to the political authority. 

Every social authority rests on a basis of services and dues, and 
naturally, therefore, a struggle ensues between the different authori- 
ties for possession of the services and dues available. What assists 
the advance of the state is this : that it is at war with others of man's 
masters, the abasement of whom tends to be more regarded than 
its own elevation. Only in an ideally simple society, in which there 
were no social authorities, would matters proceed differently. 

When a particular society lies somewhere near this abstract proto- 
tvpe, as in communities of yeomen with nearly equal holdings, then 
Power encounters the maximum of opposition. Not only does it not 
expand, but it cannot even maintain its position as a separate entity 
in the body of society. It stays in, or returns to, the condition of 
being something open to all, and the members of society take turns 
in the function of command, the scope of which they are careful to 
guard from all accretion. 

But the form of society is in general far different from this. It is 
an inextricable blend of juxtaposed formations, inside which are ties 
of dependence and relationships formed by exploitation. Or again 
it is a hierarchy, a system of inequality, a struggle of classes, as 
Plato saw it to be: "Every people, no matter how small it is, is nat- 
urally divided into two peoples, the rich and the poor, who make 
war on each other." 2 

The court at which Power holds sway is, therefore, a complex one. 
The situations, the interests, and the aspirations of men are many 


and various, and for that reason Power meets not only with opposi- 
tion but with support as well. 

Who are its supporters? Who its adversaries? 

We can see at once that if, in society, the behaviour of groups, 
large or small, is governed by various authorities, then those authori- 
ties are bound to conflict with Power, which seeks to govern the 
behaviour of one and all: as their prerogative keeps back its own, 
its own aims at breaking theirs. Those who are subjected to the rulr 
of the various princes of society have no fear of the advance of the 
state, for they lose no liberty thereby. At the very worst they lose 
one command and get another. Conversely, Power, in search of re- 
sources, attacks the princes of society who got in first. For what 
purpose are wealth and strength but to hold in disposition a mass 
of human labour and energies? A rich man is one who can draw 
benefits from this mass. A strong man is one who can harness these 
energies to impose his will. The word "wealth" calls up the idea of 
a retinue of servants, "strength" that of an army of soldiers. 

Always and everywhere the labour of men is put to use, and the 
energies of men are tamed. Power, which needs them for itself, must 
therefore start by detaching them from their first overlords. The 
leaders of groups, the masters of resources, the gatherers of tithes, 
the employers of labour, are all despoiled by it, but their servants 
get no more than a change of masters. Thus, in the time of its ex- 
pansion Power's predestined victims and natural enemies are the 
powerful— the men with payrolls, and all those who wield authority 
in society and are strong in it. To attack them Power need feel for 
them no conscious hostility; with animal instinct, it overthrows what 
irks it and devours what nourishes it. 

All command other than its own, that is what irks Power. All 
energy, wherever it may be found, that is what nourishes it. If the 
human atom which contains this energy is confined in a social mole- 
cule, then Power must break down that molecule. Its levelling tend- 
ency, therefore, is not in the least, as is commonly thought, an ac- 
quired characteristic which it assumes on taking democratic form. 
It is a leveller in its own capacity of state, and because it is state. 3 
The levelling process need find no place in its programme: it is 
embedded in its destiny. From the moment that it seeks to lay hands 
on the resources latent in the community, it finds itself impelled to 


put down the mighty by as natural a tendency as that which causes 
a bear in search of honey to break the cells of the hive. 

How will the common people, the dependants and the labourers, 
welcome its secular work of destruction? With joy, inevitably. Its 
work is that of demolishing feudal castles; ambition motivates it, 
but the former victims rejoice in their liberation. Its work is that of 
breaking the shell of petty private tyrannies so as to draw out the 
hoarded energy within; greed motivates it, but the exploited rejoice 
in the downfall of their exploiters. 

The final result of this stupendous work of aggression does not 
disclose itself till late. Visible, no doubt, is the displacement of many 
private dominions by one general dominion, of many aristocracies 
by one "statocracy." 4 But at first the common people can but ap- 
plaud: the more capable among them are, in a continuous stream, 
enrolled in Power's army— the administration— there to become the 
masters of their former social superiors. 

It is the most natural thing, therefore, that the common people 
should be Power's ally, should do its work in the expansion of the 
state— a process which they facilitate by their passivity and stir up 
by their appeals. 


To represent Power as being of its nature dedicated to casting 
down social authorities and robbing them, as being inevitably thrown 
into alliance with the common people, is to run counter to accepted 
ideas. But to find in it a revolutionary smacks of paradox. For a 
thoughtful mind the least breath of paradox acts as a warning that 
he must retrace his steps and plot his road anew. 

I have against me here not only the popular view, but also that of 
men like Montesquieu and Marx. The nobility, says the former, is 
impelled to defend the throne; the state, affirms the latter, is an in- 
strument for the domination of one class by another. Who, they say, 
is the real beneficiary of the protection of the laws, the decisions of 
the courts, the interventions of the police? Those in possession, 
whose position is legitimized, guaranteed, and protected by the 
public authorities. And who, unless the victims of the social order, 
will look on Power as an enemy? The proletarian, having no interest 
in property, stands in inevitable fear of the policeman, who is its 

History, surely, is full of the cruelties inflicted by Power on those 


who have aspired to shake off an aristocratic yoke. What need to 
catalogue the massacres of Jacqueries or the shooting down of strik- 
ers? Besides, these men go on; Power, acting thus, was only filling 
its necessary role. For how could a feudal king have mustered an 
army if the barons whose duty it was to bring him each a contingent 
had not received obedience in their own domains? And how could 
the industrialists have paid their taxes if their workers had stopped 

And look, they will say further, at the extent to which the state is 
of its nature conservative of acquired rights. Even in our days, when 
it is in the hands of the representatives of the greatest number, and 
is for this reason compelled to pull down social authorities, it may 
yet be seen supporting with one hand what it attacks with the other; 
it still gives sanction to the right of inheritance even when, in one 
law after another, it destroys the substance of the bequest. 

The example is well chosen. We see here the state playing two 
roles at the same time, guaranteeing the established order bv its 
organs and undermining it by its legislation. What I am saying is 
that it has always filled this double role. True it is that the judiciary, 
the police, and, at need, the army do cause acquired rights to be 
respected. And if the state is viewed as a collection of institutions, 
as so much machinery, it is abundantly clear that these institutions 
are conservative in character and that the machinery works in de- 
fence of the existing social order. 

But we have already proclaimed our intention of not studying the 
state as an "it," but of finding in it a "they." As machinery, it plays 
its conservative role automatically; as a living thing with a life of 
its own, thriving and developing, it can but thrive and develop to 
the detriment of the social order. Look at it in its Being, and it is the 
protector of the privileged. But look at it in its Becoming, and it is 
the inevitable assailant of the master class, a word under which I 
comprise every form of social authority. 

In the course of history kings have welcomed more and more 
people to their courts, which became more and more brilliant. Is it 
not obvious that these courtiers and "officers" were stolen from the 
feudal lords, who thus lost at one fell swoop their retinues and 
their administrators? The modern state nourishes a vast bureaucracy. 
Is not the corresponding decline in the staff of the employer patent 
to all? 

Putting the mass of the people to productive work makes possible 


at any given moment of technical advance the existence of a given 
number of non-producers. These non-producers will either be dis- 
persed in a number of packets or concentrated in one immense 
body, according as the profits of productive work accrue to the 
social or to the political authorities. The requirement of Power, its 
tendency and its raison d'etre, is to concentrate them in its own 
service. To this task it brings so much ardour, instinctive rather than 
designed, that in course of time it does to a natural death the social 
order which gave it birth. 

This tendency is due not to the form taken by any particular state 
but to the inner essence of Power, which is the inevitable assailant 
of the social authorities and sucks their very lifeblood. And the 
more vigorous a particular Power is, the more virile it is in the role 
of vampire. When it falls into weak hands, which give aristocratic 
resistance the chance to organize itself, the state's revolutionary na- 
ture becomes for the time being effaced. 

This happens either because the forces of aristocracy oppose to 
the now enfeebled statocratic onslaught a barrier- capable of check- 
ing it, or, more frequently, because they put a guard on their as- 
sailant, by laying hands on the apparatus which endangers them; 
they guarantee their own survival by installing themselves in the 
seat of government. This is exactly what did happen in the two 
epochs when the ideas of Montesquieu and Marx took shape. 

The counter-offensive of the social authorities cannot be under- 
stood unless it is realized that the process of destroying aristocracies 
goes hand in hand with a tendency in the opposite sense. The 
mighty are put down— if they are independent of the state; but 
simultaneously a statocracy is exalted, and the new statocrats do 
more than lay a collective hand on the social forces— they lay on 
them each his own hand; in this way they divert them from Power 
and restore them again to society, in which thereafter the statocrats 
join forces, by reason of the similarity of their situations and inter- 
ests, with the ancient aristocracies in retreat. 

Moreover, the statocratic acids, in so far as they break down the 
aristocratic molecules, do not make away with all the forces which 
they liberate. Part of them stays unappropriated, and furnishes new 
captains of society with the personnel necessary to the construction 
of new principates. In this way the fission of the feudal cell at the 


height of the Middle Ages released the labour on which the merchant- 
drapers rose to wealth and political importance. 

So also in England, when the greed of Henry VIII had fallen on 
the ecclesiastical authorities to get from their wealth the where- 
withal to carry out his policies, the greater part of the monastic 
spoils stuck to the fingers of hands which had been held out to 
receive them. These spoils founded the fortunes of the nascent 
English capitalism. 5 

In this way new hives are for ever being built, in which lie hidden 
a new sort of energies; these will in time inspire the state to fresh 
orgies of covetousness. That is why the statocratic aggression seems 
never to reach its logical conclusion— the complete atoxnization of 
society, which should contain henceforward nothing but isolated 
individuals whom the state alone rules and exploits. 

Here, then, we see the general character of the action of Power 
on society, and how the struggle of Power for more power inter- 
venes in the struggle of classes. It must be examined more closely. 
First, we shall illustrate by three examples the problem which is 
posed for Power by the constitution of society in watertight auton- 
omous cells. Next, we shall demonstrate what is the final objective 
of the statocratic offensive. Then, in another chapter, we shall pre- 
sent the statocratic offensive in action, throwing into relief the 
stages of its development, the factors which help it, the obstacles 
on which it stumbles, and the extraordinary exertions required of 
it to overcome those obstacles. 


The great societies which are called "political" do not, as Hobbes 
supposed, spring forth ready armed, leaving to Power the subse- 
quent task of establishing order in a crowd of individuals. On the 
contrary, they are the result of the coalescence, whether by violence 
or by consent, of smaller and much more ancient societies which 
are called, in the case of the Indo-European peoples, clans. 

Clans are coherent, orderly formations, obeying their own au- 
thorities. All that the political authority need do, therefore, to 
superimpose itself on these primitive groups, is to establish cohe- 
sion and order between them. 

The City of Athens, says Fustel, "must have borne a close re- 
semblance to a federal State. The wider political association had 
not only left intact the internal constitution of each clan— it had 


not even modified it. This sort of huge family, while becoming an 
integral part of the City, still kept up its ancient cults, its customs, 
its laws, its festivals, its internal jurisdiction. It remained under the 
rule of its patrician chieftain, and continued to form a small mo- 
narchical State in which the rule of the City did not run." 6 

Even the murder of one member of a clan by another did not 
involve the intervention of Power. It was the business of the respon- 
sible chieftain to punish the crime as he saw fit. The king's con- 
cern was only with murders in which the murderer and his victim 
belonged to two different groups. And even then his role was a 
pacificatory one. He did not punish an act at which the only people 
entitled to be angry were the dead man's clansmen. He strove to 
prevent the pursuit of vengeance destroying the harmony between 
the groupings, and to that end exacted from the murderer's family 
such reparation as might satisfy the avengers. 

Power of this kind, then, has business only with the heads of 
groups, between whom it arbitrates and to whom it gives com- 
mands. Its authority does not run within the group itself. Nineteenth- 
century writers took for legend the revolution unleashed at Rome 
merely by the rape of Lucretia. But the event is not an improbable 
one, for, when Norway was at a similar stage of civilization, the 
king, who had made unwelcome intrusion into someone's home, 
found the hands of all the freemen raised against him; they sought 
to kill him, and on his escape forbade him ever to return to the 

In this shape Power is little more than a sort of chairmanship 
exercised by the bravest, the richest, and the most respected chief- 
tain over the others. Political society is but a congeries of social 
pyramids which touch only at their summits. The army, as may be 
seen in the Iliad, is no more than an assemblage of private con- 
tingents. In historical times, the gens Fabia may still be seen launch- 
ing on its own a military expedition. The king is in consequence 
constrained to unceasing consultation with his peers, for they alone 
can supply him with the troops he needs. Must it not be a standing 
temptation to him to substitute for his mediatory authority an im- 
mediate one, to claim direct obedience from the members of the 
clan? But in that case he poaches on the preserves of the Elders 
and comes into conflict with them. And by the same stroke of 
policy he becomes the ally of all those who seek to escape from 
the harsh rule of the patriarchate. 


To break the cadre of the clans is, therefore, of the first impor- 
tance to kings. Their resistance is the reef on which kings are ship- 
wrecked; but the Power which succeeds them, although but a 
mandatory of the aristocracy of the clans, carries on the work of 
breaking the clans, because that work is essential to the develop- 
ment of Power. That is why the classifications of the people, attrib- 
uted to Solon and Servius Tullius,* assume so capital an importance 
in Greek and Roman history. They mark the break-up of the nat- 
ural groups, the members of which were now divided up into 
categories, to be in their individual capacities soldiers, taxpayers, 
and electors. 

Power's war with the cell of the clan is never over. It continued 
through all history. With admirable perspicacity Maine f hung his 
exposition of the evolution of Roman law on the thread of the suc- 
cessive recoils of the patria potestas. In the beginning the legislator 
did not have to concern himself at all with the son, the daughter, 
and the slave, for these fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the 
father. Step by step they all become subject to the law: the state 
had broken through into a world from which it was at first excluded, 
and had claimed as subject to its own jurisdiction those who had in 
former days been subjects of the father alone. 

We have just been seeing political Power concerned to break a 
"clandom" which preceded it in time. Let us now see how it behaves 
in regard to a clandom which is its contemporary. It may be said 
in effect, paraphrasing Shakespeare: "Monarchy and feudal aristoc- 
racy are two lions born on the same day." 

There was something of an act of piracy about the foundation 
of the European states. The Franks who conquered Gaul, the Nor- 
mans who conquered England and Sicily, and even the Crusaders 
who went to Palestine, all behaved like bands of adventurers di- 
viding the spoil. What was there to divide? First of all, the ready 
cash. Afterwards there were the lands; no deserts, these, but fur- 

* Servius Tullius, sixth King of Rome, from 578 to 534 B.C. His famous classi- 
fication of the freeholders, here referred to, though subsequently adopted to 
some extent as the basis of the political system, was in origin much more exclu- 
sively military than would appear from the text. Its object was to grade the 
fighting men in classes by reference to their equipment, and therefore by refer- 
ence to their wealth. In doing so, no regard was paid to the old clan divisions. 

f Sir Henry Maine. See footnote in chapter IV. 


nished with men whose labour was to maintain the victor. To every 
man, then, his share in the prize. And there we have the man-at- 
arms turned baron. This is shown by the evolution of the word 
baro, which in Germany meant "freeman," and in Gaul denoted the 
name of the class. 

There remains for seizure the apparatus of state, where there is 
one: naturally it is the share of the chief. But when a barbarian like 
Clovis found himself confronted with the administrative machine 
of the Late Empire, he did not understand it. All he saw in it was 
a system of suction pumps bringing him in a steady flow of riches 
on which he made merry, 7 with no thought for the public services 
for which these resources were intended. In the result, then, he 
divided up among his foremost companions the treasure of the state, 
whether in the form of lands or fiscal revenues. 

In this way civilized government was gradually brought to ruin, 
and Gaul of the ninth and tenth centuries was reduced to the same 
condition as that in which William of Normandy was to find the 
England of the eleventh. 

There was imposed the system of barbarian government known 
as government by retainers. Let Charlemagne use as the points 
cTappui of Power the influential men who were already on the spot, 8 
or let William create his own influential men by a share-out of big 
fiefs in England— it was all one. The important thing to note is that 
the central authority appoints as its representatives in a given dis- 
trict either the chief proprietors of the soil who are there already 
or those whom it sets up in their place. 

By a slant common to the barbarian mind, or rather by an in- 
clination which is natural to all men but in barbarians encounters 
no opposing principle, these influential men soon confound their 
function with their property, and exercise the former as though it 
were the latter. Each little local tyrant then becomes legislator, 
judge, and administrator of a more or less extensive principality; 
and on the tribute paid by it he lives, along with his servants and 
his men-at-arms. 

Power thus expelled soon returns, however, under the spur of its 
requirements. The resources at its disposal are absurdly out of pro- 
portion to the area which depends on it and to the population which 
calls it sovereign. The reason is that the manpower has been taken 
over by the barons. What was in other days a tax is now a feudal 
due. The only way out is to rob the baronial cell of its withheld 


resources. That is why monarchy establishes townships on the con- 
fines of the baronial lands; they act as cupping-glasses, drawing 
away the best elements in the population. In that way the barons 
will get fewer villeins and the king more bourgeoisie, who will be 
grateful for the franchises conferred on them and will help the king 
in his necessities from their purses. For this reason, again, the mon- 
archy, through its lawyers, comes between the barons and their 
subjects; the purpose is to compel the former to limit themselves to 
the dues which are customary and to abstain from arbitrary taxa- 

In this way the monarch curbs the exactions of the barons with 
one hand, but with the other serves his own turn. His demands for 
grants-in-aid become more and more frequent; that is to say that, 
instead of subsisting solely on the workers who are directly subject 
to him, he lives more and more on those who are subject to the 

The memoranda of the States-General are full at one and the same 
time both of requests to the king that he curb the exactions of the 
barons and of protests against the progressive extension of his own 

No doubt the attitude of Power grows more and more protective, 
but the reason is that Power gets greedier and greedier. Its battle 
with the feudal cell is essentially that of a creditor with a second 
charge who tries in every way to release the debtor from a debt 
which is in front of his own: the motive is not generosity but the 
desire to have his own debt served. 

We cannot but admire the ways, hidden even from itself, in which 
Power attains its ends. 

It is well known that wars multiply the grants-in-aid demanded 
by the king, and how these grants, which were at first exceptional, 
became in the course of the long conflict between England and 
France more and more frequent, until in the end Charles VII was 
able to establish the permanent poll-tax, on top of which came the 
super poll-tax, a foundation for the ensuing structure of taxation. 

What is less well known is how this continuous advance in de- 
mands for public taxation was made possible by an increasing recoil 
in the collection of feudal dues. The back of the worker would have 
been broken had one set of taxes been imposed on top of the other; 
but in fact one took the place of the other, which gradually became 
less burdensome by reason of monetary devaluations. 


The reasons for these devaluations have been misunderstood, just 
as their effects have been underestimated. The French kings were 
not counterfeiters by habit, in the sense that, with a view to facili- 
tating payments, they passed into circulation clipped currencies to 
which they gave the same nominal value. The course of events was 
different. To further their imperial ends, and above all to meet their 
military requirements, they had to have supplies of precious metals. 
Their way of attracting them to the mints was to raise the price 
offered for gold and silver marks. 9 In that way there was an inflow 
of gold and silver, but, as the price of the mark in pounds had 
risen, 10 and in order not to incur a loss by the transaction, they had 
to mint and put into circulation additional pieces with a higher 
nominal value. That is the real way in which devaluations operate: 
their rhythm follows that of the state's requirements. 

An aristocracy lives on the fixed dues paid it by the peasantry; 
therefore the effect of each devaluation was to impoverish it and 
enrich the peasantry. In the course of four centuries the silver con- 
tent of the pound fell progressively to an eighteenth of what it had 
been before the Hundred Years' War. It is easy to see what inroads 
this single cause n made in the baronial revenues. No doubt the 
feudal lord was able to compensate the attenuation of his revenues 
by raising the dues payable, so long as he was the absolute master 
of the men under his jurisdiction. But at first the meaning of the 
phenomenon escaped him. And when at last he did try to make 
adjustments, the king's courts had already become powerful enough 
to prevent him. The result was that, at the time that the monarchy 
ended, the notables, though their estates were enormous, were draw- 
ing from them relatively small revenues and had been reduced to 
begging for pensions. 12 

In this way Power, even where it has no such intention, merely 
by the slant given to it by its nature, puts down the mighty and 
frees those who were subject to them: by closing the door on one 
form of exploitation, it opens it to its own. 


If the aristocracy of the clans preceded the city state of old, and 
if the feudal aristocracy was the twin brother of the Gothic type 
of monarchy, the capitalist aristocracy came after the birth of the 
modern state. It grew in its shadow and may fairly be called its 
child. But its parent chases it with an appetite worthy of old Saturn. 


By forcing men out of the closed formations of which they are in 
the beginning integral parts, Power creates the essential condition 
of a mercantile economy: they are now entered on the roll in both 
columns, as producers and consumers. 

So long as Power is fighting its battle with the notables, who keep 
men in the fetters of a personal dependence on themselves, it views 
with favour the rise of a class of rich, who seem to it to derogate 
nothing from its own authority, being as they are without a subject 
group which takes its law from them and disregards that of the 
state. That is the reason why the celebrated classifications of Servius 
Tullius and Solon, conceived as a means of putting down the aristoc- 
racy of the clans, had the effect of exalting the rich. The kings, 
who are the most set on destroying the feudal baronies, are also the 
best friends of the merchants, the bankers, and the master manu- 

A shipowner is not the chieftain of a gang of sailors whom he 
abstracts from Power's clutch, but rather an employer of labour 
who, on the contrary, makes them available to Power when the 
time comes for it to require them; in this way is explained the 
favour shown by Francis I, to take one instance, towards Ango. A 
banker is not after political power— he is after wealth. His function 
is to build a sort of store-house on which, when the time is ripe, 
Power will draw to transmute this wealth into strength. 

A mercantile aristocracy, then, so far from abstracting anything 
from the state's resources, makes potential additions to them which 
will, when circumstances so require, be realized. This is the only 
aspect under which, for many years, Power saw the money power. 

But in the end the overthrow of every other social domination of 
whatever kind left financial domination master of the field. At that 
stage it was seen to be the formative source of fresh cells. That 
showed itself clearly enough in the case of the industrial employers. 
Not only was the employer the law in his factory, but quite often 
he would put up nearby a township for his workers in which he had 
the position of prince. A point was even reached, as in some of the 
states of the U.S.A., at which the manufacturer, owning as he did 
the land on which the factory had been built, allowed on it no other 
police than his own. 

In its jealousy of any and every command, however small, which 
was not its own, Power could not tolerate such independence. More- 
over, as in every other battle which it had fought with aristocratic 


formations, it soon found itself appealed to by the underlings. Then 
it made its way not only into the employer's township but into his 
workshop as well; there it introduced its own law, its own police, 
and its own factory regulations. If its earlier aggressions against 
closed aristocratic formations were not our old friends, we might 
be tempted to see in this one nothing more than a result of the pop- 
ular character of the modern state, and of socialist ideas. These 
factors played, no doubt, their part, but no more was needed than 
that Power should be itself— a thing naturally tending to shut out 
the intervention of all other authorities. 

The financial cell is less visible to the eye than the industrial cell. 
By its hold on money, and above all by its disposal of vast amounts 
of private savings, finance has been able to build up a vast struc- 
ture and impose on the ever growing number of its subjects an 
authority which is ever plainer to the view. On the empires of fi- 
nance also Power made war. The signal for battle was not given by 
a socialist state, the natural enemy of the barons of capital. It came 
from Theodore Roosevelt, himself a man of Power and therefore 
the enemy of all private authorities. 

In this way a new alliance was sealed— an alliance no less natural 
than that of the Power of early days with the prisoners of the clan- 
cells, than that of the monarchy with the subjects of the feudal 
barons— that of the modern state with the men exploited by capi- 
talist industry, with the men dominated by the financial trusts. 

The state has often waged this particular war half-heartedly, 
thereby marking the extent to which it has turned its back on itself 
and has renounced its role of Power. And renunciation was in this 
case favoured by the internal weakness of modern Power; the pre- 
cariousness of its tenure encouraged its phantom tenants to betray 
it in favour of the financial aristocracies. 

But Power has natural charms for those who desire it for use. It 
was as certain that anti-capitalists would come to occupy the public 
offices of the bourgeois state as it was certain that anti-feudalists 
would come to occupy those of the monarchical state. 

Not that they were the real artisans of the capitalist downfall. 
They were not responsible for the growing diversion at the source 
of the rivulets of savings which fed capitalist authority. The growth 
of savings banks, the accumulation of their earnings in an enormous 
bank which was larger than any capitalist bank, their enlargement 


by funds of a social character, the employment of the deposits of 
commercial banks in government issues, everything, in short, which 
has put the bulk of the national wealth at Power's disposal, was 
done without thought of socialist purpose. 

It was because of the state's needs, and from no anti-capitalist 
design, that there was developed that efficient weapon, the income 
tax, which is associated with the names of Pitt and Caillaux. 

In the end, calling it socialization or nationalization, the state 
strives to make its own all the great castles of the economic feudal 
system, the railway companies, the electricity distributing compa- 
nies, and so on. Only those who know nothing of any time but their 
own, who are completely in the dark as to the manner of Power's 
behaving through thousands of years, would regard these proceed- 
ings as the fruit of a particular set of doctrines. They are in fact 
the normal manifestations of Power, and differ not at all in their 
nature from Henry VIII's confiscation of the wealth of the mon- 
asteries. The same principle is at work; the hunger for authority, 
the thirst for resources; and in all these operations the same char- 
acteristics are present, including the rapid elevation of the dividers 
of the spoils. Whether it is socialist or whether it is not, Power must 
always be at war with the capitalist authorities and despoil the 
capitalists of their accumulated wealth: in doing so it obeys the 
law of its nature. Whether it is socialist or whether it is not, it can- 
not but present itself as the ally of those who are under the do- 
minion of the capitalist. Philanthropy, it is true, plays a part in this 
alliance. But the sure instinct for the distension of the state neces- 
sarily turns this philanthropy to the glory and strength of Power. 

One particularly interesting feature of the war waged by Power 
in our own time has been that, up to now, it has fought only one of 
the two categories of social authorities which made their appear- 
ance in the second half of the nineteenth century: its enemy has 
been the capitalist forces, not the syndicalist. 

These two authorities have evolved on almost parallel lines. In 
the beginning both were associations in the true sense— between 
masters who knew each other and men who knew each other. Helped 
by the folly of legislatures, both grew to Gargantuan proportions, 
and with that took on new forms. They then became associations 
in the fictive sense, in which an apparatus of command gave rule 
to the associates, of whose control it became much more independ- 


ent than political commands have succeeded in becoming of their 
peoples. Will political Power, after beating capitalist feudalism 
with the help of syndicalist feudalism, now round on its ally? 

If it does not, it will be the syndicalist feudalisms, and not itself, 
which will exercise the vast powers committed to it by individuals. 
And the state will then be the "public thing" of the syndicalist 

In the alternative, as has happened in Russia, it will beat them 
down into subordination. This battle is now joined everywhere be- 
fore our eyes. 

Where does it all lead to, this unending war waged by Power 
against the other authorities which society throws up? Will the jaws 
of the great boa constrictor of human energies ever cease to close 
on all who in turn put these energies to their use? 

Where will it end? In the destruction of all other command for 
the benefit of one alone— that of the state. In each man's absolute 
freedom from every family and social authority, a freedom the price 
of which is complete submission to the state. In the complete equal- 
ity as between themselves of all citizens, paid for by their equal 
abasement before the power of their absolute master— the state. In 
the disappearance of every constraint which does not emanate from 
the state, and in the denial of every pre-eminence which is not ap- 
proved by the state. In a word, it ends in the atomization of society, 
and in the rupture of every private tie linking man and man, whose 
only bond is now their common bondage to the state. The extremes 
of individualism and socialism meet: that was their predestined 

Every historical society seems, by successive stages, to have dragged 
its slow length into a form of institutions in which all life is ab- 
sorbed by, and all movement emanates from, Power. It is a despotic 
form; in it there is neither wealth, nor authority, nor even liberty, 
outside Power, which is in consequence the goal of all ambition; 
nor can its holders find shelter from the rivalry which breeds an- 
archy, except by buttressing themselves with divine status. 

We feel much as Tacitus might have felt about this "imperial" 
ordering of society. But we must in honesty admit that at certain 
periods of history the desire of men is to live in tranquillity, even 
if to do so requires keepers. Sometimes it has happened that an un- 
limited and omnipotent sovereignty made small demands of its 
subjects, the reason being that it pursued no large ends, had no 


fanatical leanings, and feared no foreign rival. But even these con- 
ditions would not have sufficed in the absence of another and de- 
cisive one: which is that the strength of Power was in proportion to 
its extent. 

When an energetic and persistent will exercises even the most 
extensive powers, custom after a time deadens the weight of the 
duties and inhibitions which it inflicts. Power's security, both in- 
ternal and external, then makes possible a real alleviation of the 
burden, so that at certain periods of the Roman Empire, for in- 
stance, a very wide measure of personal liberty seems to have been 
effectively enjoyed. 

Very different, however, is the case when the strength of Power 
is in inverse ratio to its extent— which is what we see today, when 
the political controls, which extend in all directions and leave noth- 
ing untouched, are liable to be given, whether simultaneously or 
successively, contradictory impulsions, and the master of a regi- 
mented society is not a single mind but a confused jumble. It is in 
such a case as certain as anything can be that, unless there is cur- 
tailment of the state's activities, the reins of government will in the 
end be brought together into one imperial hand, whatever name it 
takes and from whatever place in society it comes. 

What, then, will an egalitarian society, in which the high com- 
mand no longer resembles an excited crowd, look like? The Ancient 
Egyptian Empire, which Jacques Pirenne has strikingly depicted, 
may give us some idea. 13 

In an individualist society in which no family or social group exists, 
every public duty is performed exclusively by the State. First among them 
is that of assuring external security. To guarantee it the State disposes of 
an up-to-date military organization, which is distinct from the civil 
authorities and of which the king is the supreme head. The army is 
divided into tactical units which are placed under the command of 
regular officers; it is equipped, victualled and supplied by a commissariat 
service; the fleet, composed of large ships, is built in the shipyards of the 
State; the frontier forts are built by the military labour corps. In addition, 
the army is formed out of recruits; and the only security the Nation knows 
is that which it gets itself by supporting the burden of military service 
imposed on it by the State. 

Internal peace is assured by the judicial body, which holds pride of 
place among all the administrative bodies. All justice emanates from the 
king, in whose name the various courts of first instance and appeal pro- 
nounce their judgments. The litigants may, it is true, resort to arbitration, 


which, however, derives all validity and authority from the assurance that 
the State will execute its awards. 

The social life, whose external and internal security is assured by the 
army and the judicial body respectively, rests on the service of the civil 
departments, which give to each and preserve for each his place in 
Society, of the land-survey, which is the foundation of all property rights, 
and of the registry of documents, which, by transcribing all conveyances 
and contracts, can assure at need respect for the pledged word and 
guarantee to each the free disposal of his own goods and rights. 

The economic life largely depends on the service of the inland water- 
ways. The ever more powerful State is ever more lavishly housed by the 
public works administration. The coordination of the various departments 
is the work of the chancery. 

The offices of all these various services are spread over the country; 
in all parts of it officials of all grades write minutes on papyrus rolls, 
which are then collected and filed in the State archives. 

In this way the administration makes itself not only the foundation but 
the very condition of existence in this individualist society; that society 
owes life itself to the supremacy of a State which guards, but, for that 
very reason, encroaches further and further. 

And so, in the act of developing, the administration fastens closer and 
closer the grip of the State and multiplies incessantly the number and 
importance of its services and officials. 

All these functions must be paid for. The State, it is true, possesses vast 
estates with enormous revenues. But the charges which it has to meet 
grow unceasingly. Not only does the administration itself cost more and 
more, but the growing authority of the State increases continually the 
prestige of the king, who, now canonized not only into a god but into the 
god of gods, surrounds himself with a Court the measure of whose luxury 
calls for an ever more numerous retinue of priests, courtiers, employees 
and servants. Thus the requirements of the State come to exceed by far 
the revenues of its estates. Recourse is then had to taxation. 

The civil departments, the land-survey, the registry of documents, 
thanks to which each single Egyptian is secured in his property and in his 
rights, have the further effect of giving the State a very good idea of 
what each possesses and of levying taxation on it accordingly. The admin- 
istration of the finances and the taxation service then assumes an impor- 
tance second to none, for, if Egyptian Society, from the third to the fifth 
dynasty, is viable only by reason of its competent and complicated admin- 
istrative machine, that machine itself lives only on the strength of the 
taxation yield. So that the fiscal weapon is seen as an essential feature of 
the Egyptian Empire under the fourth dynasty. 

All Egyptians are equal before the Law, but this equality of theirs 


levels them all into an equal subservience to a more and more omnipotent 
State as represented in the king. 

There we see where the development of the state leads. The so- 
cial hierarchy is in ruins; the individual members are like peas 
shelled from their pods and form a numerical whole composed of 
equal elements. The state is the beginning and end of organization; 
it must apply itself to the task with the highest degree of authority 
and attention to detail. But is that to say that there are now no longer 
any privileged persons? There are indeed; but as regards the state 
they are no longer privileged as men preceding its authority. They 
hold their privileges in and from the state. 

The cultus of the king, established as it was to assure the supremacy 
of the sovereign and to exalt him far above those ancient local cults to 
which in former times the territorial nobility had owed its power and its 
prestige, undoubtedly played a large part in destroying this ancient 
nobility; simultaneously, however, it brought to birth in the heart of the 
services of the Crown a new and non-hereditary nobility which, though 
owing everything to the king, was bound little by little to raise up against 
his authority a new social force of considerable strength. 13 

Bureaucratic omnipotence tends naturally to convert the holders 
of key positions in the vast administrative machine into a new va- 
riety of notables and nobles. So it happened in the later Roman 
Empire. The aristocratic families had been ground to powder by 
taxation. Those, on the other hand, often the freedmen of subject 
races, who occupied strategic positions in the wealth-absorbing ma- 
chine, got from it immense fortunes not unmixed with personal 
regard. On this subject Rostovtzev says: 

The reforms of Diocletian and Constantine, by implementing a policy 
of systematic spoliation to the profit of the State, made all productive 
activity impossible. The reason is, not that there were no more large 
fortunes: on the contrary, their build-up was made easier. But the founda- 
tion of their build-up was now no longer creative energy, or the discovery 
and bringing into use of new sources of wealth, or the improvement and 
development of husbandry, industry and commerce. It was, on the con- 
trary, the cunning exploitation of a privileged position in the State, used 
to despoil people and State alike. The officials, great and small, got rich 
by way of fraud and corruption. 14 


We may be sure that this new race of barons will try to make 
their own the offices which bring them such advantages and to as- 
sure their transmission to their descendants. It will be the feudal 
system over again. 15 

Conqueror though it is of the aristocracy which took shape in so- 
ciety, the state will in the end be dismembered by the statocracy 
which it itself has borne. The beneficiaries of the state leave it, tak- 
ing with them a veritable dowry of wealth and authority, leaving 
the state impoverished and powerless. Then it becomes the turn of 
the state to break down these new social molecules, containing as 
they do the human energies which it needs. And so the process of 
the state's expansion starts all over again. 

Such is the spectacle which history presents to us. Now we see 
an aggressive state pulling down what other authorities have built 
up, now we see an omnipotent and distended state bursting like a 
ripe spore and releasing from its midst a new feudalism which robs 
it of its substance. 


Has this process of everlasting weaving and undoing no term or 
purpose? Apparently not. It is this making and unmaking of the 
state that gives social life its rhythm. 

We do not demand of a chemist who has just described to us a 
chemical reaction that he should pass on it a judgment of value. 
Why, then, should the political analyst be expected to hold up one 
phase of this unending transformation scene as progress and an- 
other as decadence? 

All that can be said is that contemporaries get the feeling of prog- 
ress right through the period in which the state is building up, a 
feeling comparable to the sense of well-being which in an economic 
cycle accompanies the period of high prices. When the process 
nears its apogee, the more sensitive spirits are assailed by feelings 
of doubt and dizziness. It begins to be seen that this perfection 
of equality and this carefulness of organization are a work of men's 
hands and stand against the blasts of natural laws only by a con- 
scious effort of will, and that, on the first sign of slackening in the 
rulers, or at the first shock from the outer world, nuclei of resistance 
form among the powerless. 

Then the question is heard again whether the egalitarian society, 
which is the handiwork of the despotic state, is more or less ad- 


vantageous to the mass of the workers than a society of independent 
authorities. The question does not admit of an exact answer. For 
the condition of a man who is bound in shackles, whether they are 
those of a state or of an employer, turns much less on the nature 
of his particular master than on the degree of rivalry subsisting 
among all the masters; the condition of the Lancashire families en- 
gaged in the cotton industry at the time of intense rivalry for the 
world market was a miserable one. Those workers would have had 
everything to gain by entering the service of a state which was 
pacific. But when states are engaged in an operation of war, that 
one which is loudest in its appeal to popular principles demands of 
its citizens such an output as makes them sigh for the hardest pri- 
vate employer. 

It is, by a lamentable conjuncture, always in warlike times that 
the state tries its hardest to take immediate hold on the labouring 
classes. In times of peace it is relatively content to leave them in 
the hands of private employers; for the state obeys the rhythm of 
its own needs. 

Whoever does not wish to render history incomprehensible by 
departmentalizing it— political, economic, social— would perhaps take 
the view that it is in essence a battle of dominant wills, fighting in 
every way they can for the material which is common to everything 
they construct: the human labour force. 


I. The feudal commonwealth. 2. Power asserts itself. 3. The place of 
the common man in the state. 4. Plebeian absolutism. 5. The aris- 
tocratic reaction. 6. Bad tactics and suicide of the French aris- 

If the natural tendency of Power is to grow, and if it can ex- 
tend its authority and increase its resources only at the expense 
of the notables, it follows that its ally for all time is the com- 
mon people. The passion for absolutism is, inevitably, in conspiracy 
with the passion for equality. 

History is one continuous proof of this; sometimes, however, as 


if to clarify this secular process, she concentrates it into a one-act 
play, such as that of the Doge Marino Falieri. So independent of 
the Doge were the Venetian nobility that Michel Steno could in- 
sult the Doge's wife and escape with a punishment which was so 
derisory as to double the insult. Indeed, so far above the people's 
heads was this nobility that Bertuccio Ixarello, a plebeian, was 
unable, in spite of his naval exploits, to obtain satisfaction for a box 
on the ear given him by Giovanni Dandalo. According to the ac- 
cepted story, Bertuccio came to the Doge and showed him the 
wound in his cheek from the patrician's ring; shaming the Doge out 
of his inactivity, he said to him: "Let us join forces to destroy this 
aristocratic authority which thus perpetuates the abasement of my 
people and limits so narrowly your power." The annihilation of the 
nobility would give to each what he wanted— to the common people 
equality, to Power absolutism. The attempt of Marino Falieri failed 
and he was put to death. 

A like fate befell Jan van Barneveldt, whose case was the exact 
converse. In the history of the Netherlands we come across this 
same conflict between a prince wishing to increase his authority, in 
this case the Stadtholder of the House of Orange, and social au- 
thorities standing in his way, in this case the rich merchants and 
shipowners of Holland. William,* commander-in-chief throughout 
thirty difficult and glorious years, was nearing the crown, and had 
already refused it once, as did Caesar and Cromwell, when he was 
struck down by the hand of the assassin. Prince Maurice inherited 
his father's prestige, added to it by victories of his own, and seemed 
about to reach the goal, when Barneveldt, having organized se- 
cretly a patrician opposition, put an end to Maurice's ambitions by 
putting an end, through the conclusion of peace, to victories which 
were proving dangerous to the Bepublic. 1 What did Maurice do 
then? He allied himself with the most ignorant of the preachers, 
who were, through their fierce intolerance, the aptest to excite the 
passions of the lower orders: thanks to their efforts, he unleashed 
the mob at Barneveldt and cut off his head. This intervention by 
the common people enabled Maurice to execute the leader of the 
opposition to his own increasing power. That he did not gain the 
authority he sought was not due to any mistake in his choice of 
means, as was shown when one of his successors, William III, made 

* William the Silent (1533-1584), Prince of Orange. 


himself at last master of the country by means of a popular rising, 
in which Jean de Witt, the Barneveldt of his period, had his throat 

De Witt and Barneveldt were in the tradition of Cato; they stood 
for a commonwealth administered by the most considerable men in 
the community. The Princes of Orange were in the tradition of 
Caesar; to make themselves supreme they roused the mob. The 
poorest of scholars remembers those scenes of riot— Cato pulled 
down from the rostrum by an angry mob, and warning it in vain 
that it is silencing its superiors only to give itself a master. 

The uses of demagogy to ambition are well known, but no study 
of Power's confederacies in violence with the common people is 
complete which does not draw attention to their amiable and perma- 
nent cohabitation down the centuries. What it took Caesar a few 
years to do took the Capetian monarchy some four hundred years: 
but the task and the tactics were the same. 

Aristocracy, always and everywhere, opposes the rise of a Power 
which disposes in its own right of sufficient means of action to 
make itself independent of society, those means being, essentially, 
a permanent administration, a standing army, and taxation. 

The type of regime which answers to the aristocratic spirit is one 
in which the magistrates are entrusted by rotation to the most emi- 
nent citizens, an armed force is formed at need by the gathering 
together of the various social forces, and financial resources are 
collected, as occasion calls, out of the contributions of the leading 
members of the community. 

The more concentrated and urban an aristocracy is, and the more 
tightly knit its common interests, the more effective will such a 
system be; the more spread out and landed it is, and the more di- 
vided in interest, the less effective will it be. In a constitution such 
as this lay the strength of Athens at the time of the Persian Wars, 
and that of Rome at the time of the Punic Wars; but in it, too, lay 
the weakness of Germany in the Renaissance. 

Always and everywhere a concrete Power tends to form in the 
midst of these aristocratic republics; its success is measured by the 
build-up of its bureaucratic, military, and financial agencies; the co- 
operation of the common people is the stay of its advance, its victim 
is the aristocracy. 

To this the history of France bears striking testimony. 



Was it really Power that Hugh Capet got in a.d. 987? It was 
much more like the presidency of a loosely-knit aristocratic repub- 
lic or, to speak more accurately still, of a federation of barons. 

It is common knowledge that a long line of our kings took their 
most important political decisions only when they were sitting at 
court with their peers and that the same procedure marked the giv- 
ing of judicial decisions. It would be a mistake to think that the 
monarch merely asked for the peers' advice. 

This customary procedure was a reflection of the social constitu- 
tion. To bring into being any public body of force meant a bringing 
together of numerous private forces, the result being that nothing 
could be undertaken without the consent of those to whom those 
forces belonged. What use would it have been to the king to decide 
on a war if the barons had not mustered their contingents? What 
use to condemn a notable if his peers were certain to refuse to 
cooperate in the execution of the sentence? 

The king's court of those days corresponded to the board of di- 
rectors of ours; its purpose was to handle matters which were within 
the competence of the commonwealth but not of one man. 2 

The weakness of Power of this kind was due to a process of de- 
composition which has been fully studied. 

Gaul, no doubt, had yielded the Frankish chiefs important state 
domains, and even state workshops, together with regular revenues 
from forced contributions. But the chiefs divided up these proper- 
ties and assigned the revenues to the Frankish nobles and the 
Roman bishops, whether from the native generosity of barbarians, 
or more probably from being compelled to buy up continually 
variable local loyalties, the demand for which was only too frequent 
because of their own dynastic quarrels. 

No doubt the invaders obeyed their king's call to arms— such was 
the German custom— and even included in it the subject popula- 
tions. But this service was unpaid, and the warrior, whose duty it 
was, had to equip and provision his contingent himself; 3 it there- 
fore carried the implication that he was rich enough to procure the 
arms needed 4 and had slaves enough to absent himself from home. 5 
The class of freemen who fulfilled these conditions had been nu- 
merous in the time of Dagobert * but declined progressively from 

* Dagobert (reigned a.d. 631-638), first of several Merovingian kings of 
that name. 


the eighth to the tenth century. The independent proprietor, seeing 
his freehold threatened with devastation by Norman or Saracen or 
Hungarian, placed himself and his possessions in the hands of some 
notable who could supply the king's inability to protect him. From 
this there emerged the establishment of feudal "police forces," con- 
sisting of mounted troops clad in costly cuirasses, at a price which 
only the most substantial men could support. There was not, then, 
a national army for the king to muster, but only feudal troops, for 
the loan of which he had to ask. 

The reason for the king's inability to govern without the barons 
was that the wealth and energy of the country were their private 
property. They, naturally, came to occupy in the commonwealth 
positions of an importance which was in proportion to their own, 
bringing to those positions a greater authority than any they de- 
rived from them. So that the king was not so much served by an 
administration as kept in leading-strings by the "great officers" of 
the realm. 

Power emerged from this primitive state of impotence by con- 
tinuous and successive stages: for the organs lent it by the social 
authorities it substituted its own. 

At the top was the court, in which the divergent interests of the 
barons found expression. The king slipped into it some ecclesiastics, 
not any of the great bishops, who were as baronial as the barons, 
but humble priests who had in strict reason no place in what was 
really an assemblage of petty sovereigns. But their habit and their 
knowledge brought them respect: and their opinions supported the 
king's. Next, he introduced some lawyers of plebeian rank, who sat 
humbly on the steps of the benches reserved for the peers and up- 
per barons— as Saint-Simon contemptuously records 6 — that they 
might be consulted when it was convenient to do so. Raised from 
nothing by the king, they gave advice, having for its inspiration the 
Roman law, 7 which was always favourable to the central authority. 
In the end the sovereign permitted them to express opinions, thus 
subverting the primitive constitution by which a man's importance 
in the state was in proportion to the strength which he wielded in 
society. At long last, the court became the parliament— the expres- 
sion of none but the royal interest. 

The fist of the state was an army made up of feudal contingents, 


each of which acknowledged only its immediate chief, the partic- 
ular baron who had summoned it to his banners: a structure which 
was without cohesion, for the caprice of any one baron could at a 
stroke deprive it of an entire group of combatants: an undisciplined 
kind of coalition which could not, as was seen at Crecy, 8 be trained 
to orderly movements. The king soon put in their place a force of 
hired cavalry which he developed as far as his resources allowed. 
He would have liked to withdraw the commons from feudal au- 
thority and draw on them for a substantial force of infantry, a truly 
national army which would be under his orders. But all attempts in 
that direction failed until the last one, Charles VII's * free corps 
of archers, of whom nothing more would be expected after their 
rout at Guinegate (in 1479). 

Infantry did not become capable of withstanding cavalry charges 
until the Swiss had revived the Greek tactical formation of the 
"hedgehog": and it was only then that, backed by plebeian mer- 
cenaries, the monarchy could make itself absolute. 

The nerve centres of the political high command were at first the 
"great officers of state," powerful barons who supervised, controlled, 
and bridled the king, and on occasion turned against him. The king 
in his turn took every occasion of noiselessly removing these dan- 
gerous auxiliaries. That was what happened to the seneschal. This 
"officer of state" was charged with the oversight of the king's table, 
and, when that was served, with victualling the king's men-at-arms; 
this meant that it was he who also led them to battle and was their 
military commander. But, besides that, since the provisioning of 
the court fell in those days on the provosts who administered the 
royal estates, the seneschal, as was natural, controlled the provosts 
and superintended the estates. 

When functions of this character had been concentrated in the 
hands of a baron who was already powerful in his own right, any- 
thing might be feared. It took a palace revolution to bring about 
the fall of Etienne de Garlande in 1127, and Philip Augustus did 
away with the office in 1191. Later, however, the constable, who 
carried the king's sword, was to prove, as is shown by the Constable 
de Bourbon's treason, no less dangerous. 9 

It was in the military sphere that the monarchy let itself be served 

* Charles VII ( 1422-1461 ) ended the Hundred Years' War successfully for 
France in 1453. 


longest by the great barons. In all others it may be seen having 
systematic recourse to plebeian servants. 

What could be more essential to the royal authority than finance? 
And how could its management possibly be left to a powerful baron, 
such as the chamberlain, whose key denotes that the safe is in his 
keeping? For that reason the sovereign took for the effective ad- 
ministration of his revenues humble ecclesiastics and mere bour- 
geoisie. Borelli de Serres has given us the names of these officials 
from the time of Philip the Fair in the late thirteenth and early 
fourteenth centuries: all of them are men of humble rank. 

There we see it: plebeian counsellors, plebeian soldiers, plebeian 
officials; these are the instruments of a Power which seeks, more or 
less consciously, to make itself absolute. 


In popular imagination a monarchy keeps its employments for the 
nobles and excludes from them the common people. In fact the 
exact opposite happens; it endures the services of the great only so 
far as it stays under aristocratic tutelage; but it calls on the services 
of the common people so far as it aims at becoming absolute. 

The most total Power that Europe in the days of the ancien regime 
ever knew was that of the Ottoman Turks. And where, if you please, 
did their grand seigneur find his most faithful soldiers and his surest 
servants? Not among the Turkish nobility, the companions of his 
conquests, of whose pride and turbulence he went in fear. He re- 
cruited his janissaries among the subject Christian races. To them, 
too, he went for his administrators, and even for his grand vizier. 
In this way he raised above the natural aristocracy a statocracy 
composed of men who had nothing and owed him everything. 10 

Our French kings moved on the same road. Some of them moved 
consciously, as in the case of Louis XI ( 1461-1483 ) , who is shown 
us by Comines as being "the natural friend of the middle class and 
the enemy of the great who could do without him." The other kings 
followed instinctively the same course. 

The natural requirements of Power made the fortunes of the com- 
mon people. All those "little people," whom Dupont-Ferrier n shows 
us staffing the Treasury Court and the Taxes Court, no sooner found 
their niche in the state than they set about advancing their own for- 
tunes along with their employer's. At whose expense? The aristo- 


crats'. With a boldness born of obscurity they encroached progres- 
sively on the taxing rights of the barons and transferred to the royal 
treasury the incomes of the great. As their invasions grew, the finan- 
cial machine grew larger and more complicated. That there might 
be new posts for their relations, they discovered new duties, so that 
whole families came to take their ease in a bureaucracy which grew 
continually in numbers and authority. Again, as more and more 
taxes were demanded from the people of the realm, the middle-class 
officials of the Taxes Court took the chance presented to secure the 
elevation of their provincial colleagues. Assessment and collection 
were at first entrusted to men chosen by the taxpayers; but these 
officials soon came to be appointed by the administration and con- 
tinued in office from one tax to the next, spawning the while a whole 
hierarchy of underlings— deputies, clerks, registrars. So it was that 
everywhere the service of the state became the road to distinction, 
advancement, and authority for the common people. 12 

The judicial world went the way of the financial. The poor bache- 
lors of law who were summoned to the king's court steadily pushed 
the barons out of it, gained assurance, put on a periwig, became the 
parliament,* and forced their way by degrees even into the baronial 
estates; this last they did by setting up as judges between the baron 
and his followers: in other words, by robbing him of his authority. 

What a sight it is, this rise of the clerks, 13 this swarming of busy 
bees who gradually devour the feudal splendour and leave it with 
nothing but its pomp and titles! Does it not leap to the eye that the 
state has made the fortunes of all these common people, just as they 
have made the state's? 

They are bound by a passionate attachment to the offices the pos- 
session of which transforms their lives. When the King was mad and 
the Dauphin imbecile, and the Duke of Burgundy, flown with pride 
and popularity, had given Paris over to anarchy and butchery, it 
was Jean Jouvenel, King's Advocate, who, all alone, vindicated and 
retrieved the laws of the state. 

5 "Parliament" has been used to translate parlement here and elsewhere in 
this book, but it requires to be noted that in France, from the end of the 
thirteenth century down to the Revolution, parlement signified, not a delibera- 
tive assembly, but certain superior and final courts of judicature, in which also 
the edicts of the king were registered before they became laws. The chief 
parlement was at Paris, but there were also twelve provincial parlements. The 
parlements had, by virtue of their judicial functions, some measure of control 
over the administration within their several provinces. 


Their love of office, though essentially conservative, has its aggres- 
sive side. In putting down the mighty they not only serve the state, 
they take their revenge at the same time. There are, as it happens, 
certain aristocratic interests which are also the interests of society. 
"The continuance of prosperity," said Renan, "needs to be safe- 
guarded by institutions which, though admittedly they give a privi- 
leged position to some, form notwithstanding organs of the national 
life without which certain of its needs stay unsupplied." 14 There is 
no asking your plebeian official to understand the meaning of that. 
"The various small fortresses," adds Renan, "in which are stored the 
things that pertain to society, come to look like feudal castles." 
Against these feudal castles the men of the king tirelessly renew 
their attacks. 

The historians of the Italian cities picture to us the bourgeoisie 
setting out on expeditions against the nearby chateaux, attacking 
them, and, once they had taken them, demolishing them stone by 
stone. Those who had been the barons were forced by the bour- 
geoisie to live, alongside themselves, the lives of plain citizens; and 
in this way the citizens extended the city's authority over the open 
country. The same memories of past humiliations and deeply felt 
jealousies, the same passion for the city— which is the City of Com- 
mand—to which he belongs, impel the politician of the people to 
destroy every private authority, and anything else that bounds, lim- 
its, or stays the majesty of the public authority. 


Thus we see that the advance of the common people in the state 
is closely linked with that of the state in the nation. 

The common people are to the state servants who buttress it; the 
state is to the common people the master who raises them. 

In favouring the freeing of the serfs and limiting the right of the 
barons to exploit their underlings, the king thereby weakens his nat- 
ural enemies. In encouraging the formation of a stratum of well- 
to-do bourgeoisie, an oligarchy of commoners and a mercantile class, 
he gets himself servants and assures himself support. In instituting 
the farming of taxes, he opens to this bourgeoisie the gates of the 
state. In allowing these taxes to become a heritable property, he 
links with his own fortunes entire families among the bourgeoisie. 
He encourages the universities, which provide him with his most 
effective champions. These maintain his cause, whether against the 


Emperor or the Pope, in brilliant theses, but, also and still more, 
they gnaw darkly and continuously at the foundations of baronial 
right. Augustin Thierry has, therefore, good reason to assert: 

For a period of six centuries, from the twelfth to the eighteenth, the 
histories of the Third Estate and royalty are indissolubly linked together. 
. . . From the coming of Louis the Fat to the death of Louis XIV, each 
decisive period in the advance of the various plebeian classes towards 
liberty, well-being, enlightenment and social importance, corresponds, in 
the list of reigns, to the name of a great king or of a great minister. 15 

During minorities, or when the sovereign was a weak one and 
took his orders from the nobility, as was the case with Louis X or 
Louis XVI, this advance was interrupted and a reaction took shape. 

But, the greedier was the monarch of Power, the harder he hit the 
social princes and the further he pushed the work of emancipation. 
This was well understood by the Third Estate, and, at the States- 
General, its representatives— who knelt down to speak— were the 
most ardent supporters of Power. Sometimes, when their grievances 
had anticipated the wishes of the king, they incited him to speed his 
seizure of the baronial jurisdictions. 16 At other times they gave vigor- 
ous support to his authority, as at the first convocation summoned 
b} Philip the Fair, and we even see them handing to the monarchy 
in 1614 an irrevocable mandate to do what it pleased, 17 such as 
might have emanated from the brain of a Hobbes and to which only 
a class with a vested interest in absolutism could ever have agreed. 

The aristocracy was no less aware that the principal instrument of 
its progressive decline was the plebeian staff into whose hands 
Power was falling ever more completely. We have only to listen to 
Saint-Simon's * bitter cries against Mazarin. Saint-Simon well un- 
derstood that at the time of the Fronde a revolution happened, not 
of the tumultuous sort at which the Frondeurs tried their hand, but 
rather an invisible one, which was accomplished by the minister who 
was Richelieu's heir and Louis XVI's tutor. 

All his attention and care were devoted to abolishing in every possible 
way the distinctions of birth and to despoiling persons of quality of every 

* Saint-Simon, Due de (1675-1755), French soldier and diplomat, and the 
author of memoirs, published posthumously, which are such a masterpiece of 
their kind as to have caused Sainte-Beuve to rank him with Tacitus. After the 
death of Louis XIV in 1715 he sought, as one of the regents, to realize his 
favourite vision of France ruled by the nobles for its good; the vision quickly 
faded, and with it his influence. 


sort of authority, for which purpose he tried to keep them away from 
affairs of state; to bringing into the administration people of as low 
extraction as his own; to magnifying their offices in point of power, dis- 
tinction, credit and wealth; to persuading the king that as every noble- 
man was the natural enemy of his authority, he should prefer to them, 
to handle his affairs, men of no account, who could at the first sign of 
discontent be reduced to insignificance by having their employments 
taken from them as easily as the gift of them had raised them from insig- 
nificance; whereas the nobility, being already men of importance by 
reason of their birth, their marriage connections and often by their estab- 
lishments, acquired through high office and ministerial patronage a 
formidable strength and became, for the same reason, dangerous to re- 
move from office. That was the cause of the entry into public life of men 
of the pen and the long robe and of the destruction, still felt and seen, 
of the nobility at a rate which will seem a prodigy; the men of the pen 
and the long robe well knew the means of hastening this destruction, and 
made their yoke worse every day until a point was reached at which the 
greatest nobleman in the land became of no use to anyone and became in 
a thousand and one ways dependent on the vilest plebeian. 18 

And again, speaking of Mazarin, he said: 

A foreigner coming from the dregs of the people, a man of no account 
and having no other gods than his own greatness and power, has no care 
for the state [i.e. nation] that he governs other than as he is himself 
affected. He despises its laws, its genius, its interests; he disregards its 
rules and forms; he thinks only of subjugating and confounding all, of 
contriving that the all shall be the common people. 

Let us stop to admire how the invective of a great writer flour- 
ishes in the soil of truth. To subjugate and confound all, to contrive 
that the all shall be the common people, therein is the real genius 
of a monarchical administration. Historians of the sentimental school 
have sometimes regretted that royalty became absolute, while at the 
same time rejoicing that it installed plebeians in office. They deceive 
themselves. Royalty exalted plebeians just because it aimed at be- 
coming absolute; it became absolute because it had exalted plebeians. 

It is always utterly impossible to build an aggressive Power with, 
aristocrats. Care for family interests, class solidarity, educational in- 
fluences, all combine to dissuade them from handing over to the 
state the independence and fortunes of their fellows. 

The march of absolutism, which subdues the diversity of customs 
to the uniformity of laws, wars against local attachments on behalf 


of a concentration of loyalties on the state, douses all other fires of 
life that one may remain alight, and substitutes for the personal 
ascendancy of the notables the mechanical control of an administra- 
tion—such a system is, I say, the natural destroyer of the traditions 
on which is founded the pride of aristocracies and of the patronage 
which gives them their strength. 

Resistance is, therefore, the business of aristocracies. 


Philippe Pot 19 has come in for much praise by reason of the re- 
proaches he hurled at the monarchy for the despotic character which 
had just been impressed on it by Louis XI. His defence of the rights 
and liberties of the nation is often quoted; what is often forgotten 
is that he was speaking in the name of the nobility. 

The Due de Montmorency, who, as Governor of Languedoc, un- 
dertook the defence of the ancient liberties against Richelieu and 
paid for it with his head— he too was acting the part natural to an 

Bonald was not far wrong when he wrote: 

Nobility preserves subjects from oppression merely by its existence. A 
despotic Power is one which can change, destroy and overthrow as it 
pleases; a Power which can overthrow as it pleases is an unlimited Power. 
Nobility sets a limit to Power, for the monarchy cannot obliterate a 
nobility which lives beside it, is the child, like itself, of the constitution 
and is, again like itself, linked to society by indissoluble ties. . . . 20 

The reason could not be put more shortly why it was that the 
unceasing movement of the monarchical Power towards uniformity 
and unification never attained its logical end— an end which the 
Revolution was to reach in a few months. The reason was that the 
monarchy had to reckon with an always resistant and often rebel- 
lious nobility, and that the kings, though in logic bound to destroy 
the nobles utterly, were held back from doing so by tradition, senti- 
ment, and a failure to realize their own true historic role. 

The main differences between the histoiy of France and the his- 
tory of England are almost entirely due to the very different ways in 
which their respective nobilities acted— as De Lolme * has perfectly 

The French aristocracy managed badly the day-to-day defence of 

* De Lolme, Dr. J. L., was a Swiss, who published in 1771 The Rise and 
Progress of the English Constitution. 


itself; it proceeded by way of violent, disorderly, clumsy, and brutal 
counter-offensives, as when, in Louis X's reign, it hanged Enguer- 
rand de Marigny and put to the torture Pierre de Latilly, Chancellor 
of France, and Raoul de Presle, King's Advocate. 21 It could not carry 
with it the Third Estate by making it understand that the only mo- 
tive for freeing it from superiorities which time had sweetened was 
to subject it to the crushing domination of the state. If the two did 
find themselves working together, as at the start of the Fronde, the 
aristocracy soon lost the others' support through incapacity to give 
its revolt the appearance of a defence of the general interest; soon it 
was split itself by the greed of the rebels, each of whom was ready, 
if it was made worth his while, to make his private treaty of peace 
with the crown. 

In short, it lacked the political sense, and knew no other way of 
recapturing lost positions than under cover of civil disturbances, 
such as the Wars of Religion or the Fronde— events which weakened 
authority and so allowed the nobles to resume in the general dis- 
order their part of petty potentates whose return to the fold, when 
the task of pacification began, would have to be bought. 22 

The English aristocracy knew better how to work together; the 
reason perhaps being that, whereas in France the Parliament passed 
into the hands of the lawyers and so became an instrument of the 
crown, in England it remained an organ of the social authorities and 
a rallying-point for their opposition. So well did it understand the 
art of giving to its resistance a plausible show of public advantage 
that the Magna Charta, to take one instance, though in reality noth- 
ing more than the capitulation of the king to vested interests acting 
in their own defence, contained phrases about law and liberty which 
are valid for all time. 

Whereas the French nobles got themselves known to the people 
as petty tyrants, often more unruly and exacting than a great one 
would be, the English nobles managed to convey to the yeoman 
class of free proprietors the feeling that they too were aristocrats on 
a small scale, with interests to defend in common with the nobles. 

This island English aristocracy achieved its master-stroke in 1689. 
With Harrington * rather than John Locke for inspiration, it riveted 

* Harrington, James (1611-1677), English political philosopher. Of his main 
work, Oceana, in which he expounds an ideal constitution for England, it has 
been said that "it contains many valuable ideas but is irretrievably dull." The 
key to his system is rotation in office. One of the valuable ideas is that when 
all property is concentrated so is all power. 


on the Power given the king whom it had brought from overseas 
limits so cleverly contrived that they were to last a long time. 

The essential instrument of Power is the army. 23 An article of the 
Bill of Rights made standing armies illegal, and the Mutiny Act 
sanctioned courts-martial and imposed military discipline for the 
space of only a year; in this way the government was compelled to 
summon Parliament every year to bring the army to life again, as it 
were, when it was on the verge of legal dissolution. Hence the fact 
that, even today, there are the "Royal" Navy and the "Royal" Air 
Force, but not the "Royal" Army. In this way the tradition of the 
army's dependence on Parliament is preserved. 

Under the Stuart kings Parliament was summoned at irregular in- 
tervals and always voted subsidies for several years, sometimes in- 
deed for the entire period of the reign. It continued to grant William 
III the right to collect the customs dues for the term of his life, but 
annual meetings of Parliament were needed to vote the annual sup- 
plies. Thus not only the army but the civil administration too were 
made dependent on the consent of Parliament: in other words, of 
the aristocracy of whom it was composed. De Lolme rightly dis- 
cerned in this the foundation of English liberty. 

The right, possessed by the English, of deciding themselves what taxes 
they will pay seems to be generally regarded as a guarantee of private 
property against the pretensions of the crown; but to look at it so is to 
ignore the best and most important part of this privilege. 

The right which the English possess of measuring out the subsidies to 
the crown is in fact the safeguard of all their liberties, civil and religious. 
It is an infallible method of securing that they retain the right of passing 
judgment on the conduct of the executive; it is the rein by which the 
executive is held in check. The sovereign can, no doubt, dismiss at pleas- 
ure the representatives of the people but he cannot govern without 
them. 24 

The word "people" is here used in the meaning which the Romans 
gave to the word populus, that is to say, the aristocracy. At that time 
the aristocracy had a monopoly, which they were to retain until 
1832, of seats in Parliament. 

Already, in 1689, not all the blood of the aristocracy was blue. 
Men who had done well out of the Cromwellian confiscations, sub- 
stantial merchants of the East India Company who had bought land 
cheap, Restoration wire-pullers, formed between them a high pro- 
portion of the whole. There was to be no pause in the flow of recruits 


to the aristocracy from big business. It was in essence a class of 
large landowners. The restrictions which it laid on Power are preg- 
nant with historical consequence. The king, lacking the right of taxa- 
tion, was led to borrow; the lending class had seats in Parliament 
and watched over the administration of the debt. From this cause 
the public credit was born in England one hundred and twenty 
years before anything worthy of the name appeared in France. It 
was to have striking political results. 25 

The English aristocracy, perhaps because of the nabobs' infiltra- 
tion into it, was so well in control of economic phenomena that it 
stopped dead every attempt at monetary devaluation, thereby assur- 
ing the stability of its income in terms of goods, and in the eight- 
eenth century even raising its value, thanks to the downward move- 
ment of prices during that period. 

Thus armed with power and wealth, the British aristocracy was, 
under the Hanoverian kings, to be the true master of the state. When 
at a much later date democracy raised its head, it was to find in 
England a Power quite surrounded by a network of aristocratic de- 
fences, whereas in France it seized at a stroke a Power which was 
an unrestricted monarchy. This fact explains the difference between 
the two democracies. 


For France the eighteenth century was a period of aristocratic re- 
action, so badly handled, however, that, instead of resulting in the 
limitation of the monarchical Power, it ended by destroying mon- 
archy and aristocracy alike, and by exalting a Power which was far 
more absolute than that of the "Great King" had ever been. 

Saint-Simon shows us the upper nobility waiting for the death of 
Louis XIV to recover the ground which they had lost since Mazarin. 
How to do it? Was it a case of setting up against the king a moderat- 
ing counter-authority? The dukes thought otherwise and aimed at 
laying hands on the state. Apt scholars of the plebeian officers of state, 
whose victims they had been, their only idea of political action war 
to use the levers of state authority. 

My plan [says Saint-Simon] was to start installing in the ministry 
nobles with all the dignity and authority that belonged to them, thereby 
displacing the clerks and the lawyers; I planned to manage things pru- 
dendy and gradually and empirically, so that bit by bit this rabble should 
lose all its posts which were not of a purely judicial character and be 


replaced in all its offices by seigneurs and nobles only; in this way the 
entire field of administration would have come under the nobility. 26 

This senseless project, seasoned by Fenelon's Utopian ideas, had 
already entered the head of the Duke of Burgundy. It implied to 
start with a mistake as to the composition of the aristocracy; it was 
no longer composed exclusively of the nobility, but included also the 
class of gentlemen of the robe, who had interests in common with 
the nobility— whom the nobility were now in their folly seeking to 
shut out. It implied, secondly, a non-comprehension of the aristoc- 
racy's historical role, which was, not to govern, but to act as buffer- 
stop to the government. The examples furnished by Venice and Eng- 
land of government by aristocracy had turned French heads. But the 
composition and temperament of the Venetian nobility were quite 
different. It was not a collection of independent princes with sepa- 
rate interests which one prince had brought into subjection, but a 
body of notable citizens who had been elevated to the charge of 
public affairs. As for the English nobility, it had fitted itself into the 
government by means of a long tete-a-tete with it in Parliament. 

The reaction that occurred in France in 1715 resulted merely in 
the disorganization of the state, through "the ignorance, idleness and 
frivolity of a nobility whom practice had made good for nothing 
but getting themselves killed." 27 The plebeian clerks, who had had 
to be kept on as the secretaries of the now preposterous councils, 
were noiselessly reinstalled as heads of the administration. But now 
Power had been weakened, to the profit of those competent folk, the 
gentlemen of the robe. In origin they were statocrats. Raised up in 
the shadow of the state, as they acknowledged, 28 they prided them- 
selves, and with good reason, on having raised up the state: 

If the pride of the great vassals has been forced to humble itself before 
the throne of your ancestors, to renounce its independence, and to recog- 
nize in the king a supreme jurisdiction and a public authority which is 
superior to that exercised by themselves . . . 29 these are all services, the 
most important doubtless ever rendered to the royal authority, which are 
due, as history testifies, to your Parliament. 30 

Strong in services rendered, the now wealthy heirs of Power's 
lawyer-servants claimed henceforward to control its actions, 31 and 
assuredly there was no other body of men in the country better 
qualified to hold Power in check. 

If offices were bought, the control over the sales exercised by this 


body hedged in the appointment of a new magistrate with guar- 
antees which ensured that no senate was ever recruited better. If 
the members of the Parliament were not elected by the public, they 
deserved on that account more of the public confidence, as being 
less its flatterers by design than its champions by principle. Taken 
as a whole, they formed a weightier and more capable body of men 
than those of the British Parliament. Was it right, then, for the mon- 
archy to accept and sanction this counter-Power? Or did its dignity 
demand that it react against the pretensions of Parliament? That was 
the policy of one party, which called itself Richelieu's heir and was 
in fact led by d'Aiguillon, a great-nephew of the great Cardinal. But 
if the need was to smash now this aristocracy of the robe and extend 
the royal authority ever further, it had to be done as in former days 
to the plaudits of the common people and by employing a new set 
of plebeians against the present wearers of periwigs. Mirabeau saw 
as much, but d'Aiguillon's faction were blind to it. 

That faction consisted of nobles who had been more or less plucked 
by the monarchical Power and were now getting new feathers by 
installing themselves in the wealth-giving apparatus of state which 
had been built by the plebeian clerks. Finding that offices were now 
of greater value than manors, they fell to on the offices. Finding that 
the bulk of the feudal dues had been diverted into the coffers of the 
state, they put their hands in them. And, occupying every place and 
obstructing every avenue leading to Power, they succeeded in weak- 
ening it both by their incapacity and by their feeble efforts to pre- 
vent it from attracting, as formerly, to its banners the aspirations of 
the common people. 

In this way the men who should have served the state, finding 
themselves discarded, 32 turned Jacobin. In the cold shades of a par- 
liamentary opposition, which, if it had been accepted, would have 
transformed the absolute monarchy into a limited one, a plebeian 
elite champed at the bit; had it been admitted to office, it would 
have extended ever further the centralizing power of the throne. So 
much was it part of its nature to serve the royal authority that it was 
to ensure its continuance even when there was no king. 



1. Power restrained by beliefs. 2. The divine law. 3. The law's 
solemnity. 4. The law and the laws. 5. The two sources of law. 
6. The law and custom. 7. The development of the legislative 
authority. 8. The rationalist crisis and the political consequences 
of Protagorism. 

What the inquiring mind first sees in any human formation 
are the emergent authorities which superintend its group- 
ings and direct its activities. But soon it realizes that the 
rules and constraints of these visible authorities could not of them- 
selves achieve harmony and cooperation among men. 

The behaviour of individuals is much less influenced by the exter- 
nal forces pressing upon them than by an invisible director who de- 
termines their actions from within. Each man with a given position 
in a given society strays only in the most exceptional cases from a 
typical behaviour. This regularity is produced by a code of beliefs 
and moralities which is deeply embedded in the nature of man in 

The ancients showed, by the importance which they attached to 
folkways, that they were well aware of this; if folkways were good, 
government was hardly necessary, and if they were bad, it was al- 
most impossible. 

So long as persons of every degree behave according to fixed rules 
which everybody knows, their actions under all circumstances can 
be predicted by their associates, and confidence reigns in human 
relationships. Conversely, a nonconformist behaviour upsets all cal- 
culations, makes every precaution necessary, stirs up acts of reprisal 
for its own wrongful acts of aggression, and, if the evil grows, un- 
leashes in the end hatred, distrust, and violence. 

The ancients had, therefore, good reason to keep the foreigner at 
a distance. His folkways were different, and it could not be known 
how he would act. No less logical was it to punish with the greatest 
severity behaviour of any kind which ran counter to the normal 
course of things. Under these conditions little government was 


needed, for education had done what was necessary to regulate 

Hence it is that Power, in so far as it aims at securing social order, 
finds in folkways, and in the beliefs which maintain folkways, its 
most valuable adjutants. But the egoism which is its essence impels 
Power towards an ever wider expansion. We have already seen it 
attacking, in the course of this advance, those very social authorities 
which aid it, taking position under cover of their demolition, and 
replacing the natural aristocracies by its own statocracy. In the same 
way, folkways and beliefs must be brought low, that Power may 
substitute for their influence its own authority and build its church 
on their rums. 


The successive developments of public authority become incom- 
prehensible if we think that the measure of its strength is to be found 
in its formal constitution. 

Governments are in that case graded according to the number of 
the restraints put on their incumbents by checks and balances. And 
the most absolute government, the most arbitrary, the most free to 
do what it likes, is the one which encounters no organized obstruc- 

This criterion, though the intellectually lazy find it highly con- 
venient, is completely fallacious, for it disregards the domain of the 
moral sentiments, which is, whatever may be the case with their 
quality, an immense one. I am not referring here to the highest type 
of emotions, those of the individual conscience in search of the sov- 
ereign good; but rather to a society's attachment to its own modes 
of action and feeling, which make up, in the fullest sense, its cornme 
it faut. The moral sentiments, so understood, obsess the body social 
and the conscience of the rulers themselves, who steer their course 
on them; that action is effective which runs with acquired habits and 
convictions, that action is ineffective which brutally offends them. 

Therefore, the more stable and rooted are a society's habits and 
beliefs and the more predictable is its behaviour, the less freedom 
will Power have in action. It may indeed seem absolute even when 
it is only playing the part allotted it by folkways. But let it once run 
counter to the force of usage, and it will be found to be infinitely 
weak. And the more inflexible the usage, the less latitude has com- 


There lies the explanation of the fact that there were ancient des- 
potisms which, though endowed by custom and superstition with a 
luxury and cruelty which astonish us, were yet powerless to put 
through measures which seem simple enough to us. In some respects 
superstition maintained them, in others it checked them. For that 
reason the proposition so often met with in eighteenth century phi- 
losophy, that "superstition is the support of despotism," needs to be 
examined before it can be accepted. Before we are done with the 
subject, our ideas will be much clearer and quite different. 

To the rationalist thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth cen- 
turies primitive man appeared as a completely free agent following 
the caprices of his own will. It was only when he had bowed his 
neck beneath the social yoke that forbidden fruits, defined as such 
by the law, made their appearance. And a pious fraud gave to this 
same law the semblance of a divine revelation. It followed that 
Power was the author of every prohibition and rule of conduct, with 
religion acting as Power's ghostly policeman. 

Today's view of the subject is very different. The further we seek 
to know primitive men, the more struck we are, not by the extreme 
liberty of their behaviour, but, on the contrary, by its extraordinary 
strictness. In very backward societies the life of man consists of an 
extremely narrow cycle of actions which are always alike. Far from 
this regularity being the work of a lawgiver, it may be seen even in 
communities in which there is a minimum of government. 

The savage derives an obvious satisfaction from conformity. To 
all attempts to impel him into an uncustomary activity he evinces a 
repugnance which soon reaches the point of panic. It is easily ex- 
plained. Every novelty arouses emotions of indistinct fear. The 
"things that are not done" make up an enormous mass in which the dis- 
tinctions with which we are familiar— the immoral, the illegal, the 
shocking, the dangerous— have not yet been drawn. The bad appears 
as an undifferentiated mass which blocks nearly the whole of a 
primitive man's field of vision. If we picture to ourselves everything 
which is physically possible as a map, the morally feasible forms but 
a narrow zone on it— hardly more, indeed, than a line. Or, to vary 
the metaphor, the morally feasible is a narrow track across an unex- 
plored bog; it has been beaten by ancestors and may be followed in 

Even when a society of this kind has a despot at its head, we may 


feel sure that the extreme fixity of the folkways will force him to 
keep to the track. Far from being, as was so lightly supposed, the 
author of this social discipline, he is himself answerable to it. 

Legislation is quite a modern idea; by which I do not mean that 
it belongs exclusively to our own time, but rather that it makes its 
appearance only at a very advanced stage in the evolving life of a 
society. To a society which is young it is inconceivable that a group 
of men, whoever they are, are in a position to prescribe rules of 
behaviour. The rules in existence constitute a categorical premise for 
all members of the society, however powerful or however weak. 

These rules are buttressed by the entire authority of ancestors who 
inspire everywhere a fearful respect. It is not beyond the capacity of 
savages to explain their "laws," if that is the right word for them. 
Each of them is justified by a legendary tale which is linked to some 
mythical and superhuman ancestor. 

A whole structure of such tales supports a structure of rites, cere- 
monies, and practices which are of an entirely obligatory character, 
and in regard to which the savage is infinitely less capable of insub- 
ordination than we are in regard to laws which are known to us to 
be of human origin and to be maintained by human constraints. 

The less advanced a society is, the more sacred is custom, and a 
monarch who was imprudent enough to order something which did 
not conform to custom would, in doing so, break his own authority 
and risk his life. 1 

So great is the power of suggestion exercised by instances which 
are always like each other, to such an extent does the imitative in- 
stinct exclude all eccentric behaviour, that there is not even any 
need to make express provision for the case arising. 

Such is the explanation of the peculiar nature of the sanctions 
operating in very primitive societies— as, for instance, in Greenland. 
In the periodic public assemblies which are the only governmental 
organ of the Eskimos, any man violating the public order gets him- 
self denounced and tormented by "teases," who career about him 
chanting songs of derision. This public humiliation, singularly remi- 
niscent of the habit in vogue among children of putting out their 
tongues at people, proves sufficient to put the delinquent, now re- 
duced to desperation, to flight into the mountains, where he remains 
hidden until he has digested his disgrace. Moreover, if he has of- 
fended too deeply the feelings of the society, no other punishment 


is possible than his formal expulsion from the tribe; this is the cus- 
tom among the Eskimos and among the Bedouins, and it makes its 
appearance also in the Bible. 


A rigorous conformity with meticulous rules is a characteristic 
feature of small primitive societies. But, as may easily be seen, com- 
plications arise when conquest, a phenomenon of comparatively re- 
cent date in human history, brings several communities with distinc- 
tive folkways under one and the same government. Each of them, of 
course, retains its own usages, but the resulting friction tends all the 
same to make originality possible and to release initiative. Moreover, 
anv people, to conquer at all, must have partly freed itself from the 
underlying fear of setting in motion invisible forces which are every- 
where present. 

An innovating people, released from the sleep induced by thou- 
sands of years of servile imitation, rushes impetuously into every 
sort of original activity. At a later date a system of law steps in 
which opens up to it the various fruitful avenues of development, 
while those which would lead it on the path of its own destruction 
lose entirely their divine authority. In its march towards civilization 
every people has had its divine book, which has conditioned its prog- 
ress. In the case of the great historical peoples these books have been 
so admirable that even a man of small religion will tend to see in 
them an intervention of Providence. Contrariwise, their great suita- 
bility to the needs of society has caused them to be taken for monu- 
ments of human wisdom, to which, by a neat piece of trickery, a 
divine origin has been ascribed. This egregious mistake brings in its 
train another: that of supposing that Power is the author of law, 
whereas in truth it is subject to law, as appears from Deuteronomy, 
where the duty of the king is said to be to get himself a copy of the 
Law, to read in it all the days of his life, to observe faithfully all the 
commandments, and to depart from them neither to the right hand 
nor to the left. 2 

The lawgiver is not Power, but God, speaking through the mouths 
of men who were either inspired or, at least, deeply convinced. Any 
transgression offends not the social authority, but God. God, and not 
the social authority, punishes. Maine has observed 3 that in the most 
ancient texts of the sacred books of the Indians no provision is made 
for any punishment to be administered by the state; they merely ad- 


vise the guilty man to punish himself by, for example, casting him- 
self three times in the fire, or by handing himself defencelessly over 
to the malice of his enemies, that he may escape the yet more ter- 
rible punishment of God. 

By reason of the strong feeling of solidarity among early peoples, 
the individual's impiety compromises the whole peoples alliance 
with the supernatural legislative authority. The criminal must be 
excluded from the society for fear that his sin may be visited on the 
whole. "If thine arm offend thee . . ." 

Men smite the transgressor because they fear that the divine ven- 
geance will find them out if they tolerate the presence among them 
of one who has incurred it; they do not punish, but they cut off from 
themselves a guilty man whose presence puts them in jeopardy. So 
great towards God, so little towards man, is the accountability of the 
sinner, that society cannot and dare not pardon him. The Oedipus 
myth expresses this truth with incomparable force. Oedipus was a 
good king, and the public advantage required that a veil should be 
thrown over the crimes which he had in all ignorance committed. As 
though to make us more conscious of the social virtue of Oedipus, 
Sophocles shows us how Thebes, after his fall, was first racked with 
civil war between Eteocles and Polynices, and then oppressed by 
Creon, the tyrant. It would have been better, certainly, to keep 
Oedipus. But that was impossible. It vexed the gods to see on the 
throne one who had committed parricide and incest: therefore they 
loosed on Thebes the pestilence. Oedipus, his eyes gouged out, had 
to leave the city— to satisfy whom? Not men, but gods. 

When the captain of a Greek ship refused to receive a murderer 
aboard, it was not that the murderer filled him with horror, but rather 
that he feared that the divine vengeance would strike himself along 
with the guilty man, and even the boat which carried him. 

Crime was God's business. For that reason, even at an advanced 
stage of civilization, judgment was committed to him. There are 
Polynesian tribes that embark the man under sentence of death on 
a canoe; if God so wills, He will bring the outcast to port. The or- 
deals which are an almost universal social phenomenon stem from 
the same principle. Even in our own Western society it was not so 
long ago that a man might prove his innocence by seizing after Mass 
a cross thrust in fire throughout the preceding night. If at the end 
of three days the resulting scar was healed, God had decided his 
cause for him. 


In the sphere of law, God is legislator, God is judge, God is ad- 


It is only in the third of these roles that men may take a part; 
they may put to death— offer up, that is, as a sacrifice to God 4 — one 
whose guilt has been certified by a sure sign. At a later date they 
became bolder and took to giving judgment. But it is noteworthy 
that this role was more often taken by an assembly of the people 
than by an agent of Power, as is shown by the courts of peers of the 
Middle Ages and by the popular verdicts in capital causes at Rome. 

Power in the role of legislator had still to appear. What seems to 
us to be the highest expression of authority, that of saying what 
should and what should not be done, of distinguishing the lawful 
from the unlawful, becomes an attribute of political Power only at a 
very late stage of its development. 

This fact is of capital importance. For a Power which lays down 
the good and the just is, whatever form it takes, absolute in a quite 
different way from one which takes the good and the just as it finds 
them already laid down by a supernatural authority. A Power 5 
which regulates human behaviour according to its own notions of 
social utility is absolute in a quite different way from one whose 
subjects have had their actions prescribed for them by God. And 
here we glimpse the fact that the denial of a divine lawgiving and 
the establishment of a human lawgiving are the most prodigious 
strides which society can take towards a truly absolute Power. So 
long as a supernatural origin was ascribed to law, this step remained 

If God is the author of law, who else is there worthy to amend 
it? There must be a new law from Him. And so we find Christians 
calling the law brought by Christ the New Law, and the Mosaic 
Law, in so far as it dealt with points on which Jesus did not touch, 
the Old Law. St. Thomas so refers to them. 

Up to that point the Mussulmans are in agreement. But they allow 
for a third revelation as well, that of Mohammed, which, with a 
constancy greater than our own, they still regard today as the one 
foundation of their law. When we read of the voyages of Ibn Batoutah 
we are struck to find him charged with the duty of doing justice in 
a country which is as far away as possible from his birthplace. Can 
we imagine an Abyssinian, newly arrived in France, being sum- 


moned to preside over the highest French court? His ignorance of 
French laws would alone make it impossible. But Ibn Batoutah 
knew the one law which ran throughout the Islamic world. Unity 
of belief brought unity of lawgiving, because there was no other 
lawgiver than God. 

All the great civilizations were formed in the framework of a di- 
vine law given to society, a law which even the strongest will of 
all, that of the wielders of Power, was powerless to shatter or replace. 

So it was with the least religious peoples in history, the Greeks 
and the Romans. 6 No doubt the principles of Roman law quickly 
lost any tincture of religious connotation. But their civil ordinances 
and institutions are, as Ihering has shown, the exact reproduction of 
ancient ordinances and institutions which had a sacred character. 7 

The modern man, imbued as he is with the idea that laws are 
but man-made rules issued with a view to the convenience of so- 
ciety, will observe with some astonishment that, even at a late stage 
of civilization, Cicero began his treatise on the laws with a detailed 
dissertation on the ways of honouring the gods. Yet nothing could 
be more logical: respect for the laws is but one aspect of respect for 
the gods. 

Cicero expounds the nature of law as clearly as anyone could 

Our greatest philosophers have unanimously concluded that law is 
neither an invention of man nor anything at all resembling the rules of 
day-to-day life; rather it is something eternal which governs the universe 
by the wisdom in which its orders and prohibitions are conceived. Accord- 
ing to these same authorities this primitive law is nothing other than the 
supreme expression of the spirit of God Himself, whose sovereign reason 
is the source of every precept, whether to do or not to do. From this law 
comes the nobility of that which the gods have given to mankind, which 
is in fact the reason and wisdom embodied in the man who has learnt to 
command what is good and prohibit what is bad. 8 

No doubt divine orderings and prohibitions do not cover the 
whole field of social requirements. The situations which arise make 
dispositions necessary to which Cicero makes disdainful allusion: 
"rules of day-to-day life" he calls them. But what a difference there 
is between the divine law and these human laws! 

As the seat of the supreme law is in this divine spirit who conceived it, 
it resides no less in the spirit of the man who is wise or perfect. As for 


the written laws, which speak with different voices on the same subjects 
and last but for a time, they bear the name of law rather from popular 
acquiescence than in their own right. 

There are, therefore, two sorts of laws. First there is what may be 
called the commandment, which is received from on high, either 
because a deeply religious people conceives it to have been issued 
to a prophet or because a people with greater confidence in the 
human intellect believes its seers to be capable of declaring it. In 
either case, God is its author. A breach of this law is an offence 
against Him. Punishment ensues, whether or not the temporal power 
takes part. And then there are the regulations, made by men to dis- 
cipline the infinitely various modes of conduct which the growing 
complexity of society brings in its train. 

The more attention is paid to the process of social evolution, the 
clearer this duality becomes. The man who slowly changes his 
habits will still remain faithful to certain modes of action and will 
still observe respectfully certain prohibitions. A stern imperative 
upholds these social constants. That is the domain of the absolute. 

On the other hand, fresh activities and contacts throw up new 
problems, rendering necessary new patterns of behaviour. There 
must be new rules to meet new situations. How are these new rules 
to be formulated? For a truly religious people there is but one way. 
The divine law is the one foundation of morality and the sole basis 
of jurisprudence; as questions are put, the doctors of religion formu- 
late the answers, basing themselves on the principles of the Book. 
In that way a nation, trusting to ecclesiastical jurisprudence, can do 
without a legislature at all. The Jewish people, for instance, could, 
even though dispersed, settle in this way the most embittered dis- 
putes. This example of practical legislation formulated in the ab- 
sence of any duly constituted state seems not to have received the 
attention it should have from political thinkers. In the Islamic world 
the jurisprudence based on the Koran has played a similar role. 9 

In these instances, then, laws are not made. Interpretation of the 
law provides the necessary answers to all particular cases. Legisla- 
tion becomes no more than a jurisprudence, and jurisprudence a 

The Oriental genius inclines to this solution; the Western does 
not. The latter tends to cantonize the divine law into its own sphere 


—that, namely, of actions which are absolutely obligatory or abso- 
lutely prohibited, and to assume that actions not specified by the 
law are a matter of indifference to it. Thus, in this open field indi- 
vidual energies and initiatives can gallop loose, subject to no other 
restraints than those which they impose on each other— restraints 
which take the concrete forms of war or litigation. 

The further away from a primitive conformity that behaviours 
develop, the more they give rise to clashes; the growth of these 
clashes is the visible reflex of society's evolution. The number of 
disputes grows as the pace of the transformation quickens. The har- 
mony of behaviours is no longer a natural thing as in a static so- 
ciety, but must be continually restored anew. Therein is the need 
for particular (or judicial) decisions and general (or legislative) 
decisions, the rapidly growing volume of which places a superstruc- 
ture on the law. They will form a human law as opposed to a divine 

Take Rome, where the distinction between the two spheres is 
particularly clear-cut. Suppose a Roman to have taken a vestal for 
his mistress: as he has offended the gods, the king punishes the 
crime, acting as the instrument of the divine wrath. But suppose, on 
the other hand, he has killed a fellow citizen: as he has offended 
only the family of the victim, it is for the family to take justice into 
its own hands. But the murderer's family stands by him, until this 
vendetta threatens the integrity of the whole community; the king 
then intervenes as mediator, acting in behalf of the interests of 

It cannot be too much emphasized that at the root of these two 
interventions two very different principles are at work, the one moral 
or religious and the other social or expedient. Nor should it be over- 
looked that the second principle comes into play only through a 
deficiency of the religious sense, by reason that the gods of Western 
man are conceived as having only a limited circle of interests. The 
Romans are, perhaps, the least mystical people ever seen on the 
face of the earth. And that is the reason why they so soon distin- 
guished from the fas, which is what the gods enjoin, the jus, which 
is the work of men's brains. 


From then on it is possible to discern two sources of law. On the 
one hand are categorical rules of conduct, making up an objective 


law which is religious in character. On the other we see human 
beings at strife confronting each other, and, in the interest of all, 
giving in the end reciprocal recognition to subjective rights, which 
form in bulk, if looked at from the outside, an objective law which 
is utilitarian in character. 

The spheres of these two laws vary greatly according as any given 
society regards the divinities which it worships as egoist and want- 
ing only burnt offerings, or as judicial and concerned for men to act 
in truly moral ways. We find the first alternative in its pure form 
among certain African tribes, where, we are told, "religion consists 
solely in ceremonial worship, and nothing but the neglect or omis- 
sion of a rite can call down the anger of the gods." 10 This is an 
extreme case; but the fact remains that gods may be more or less 
"moral." The less moral they are, the larger is the sphere of a purely 
human law. 

Nor is the line between the two spheres drawn once and for all. 
The food of human law is the course of life and the pressure of in- 
terests and passions. Ihering could even say that a subjective right 
was only a protected interest. We see that, as an interest hardens, 
it gets itself judicial cover because of the force which it generates. 
In a sense, human law is at any given time the existing state of a 
treaty which is subject to periodical revision by the stresses set up. 
A movement of that kind, which happens inevitably, has a natural 
tendency to encroach on the sphere of divine law; it encounters, 
unless faith is living and active, an opposition which is but passive. 

Much more, ideas themselves are excited by this medley of inter- 
ests and passions. Ideas are not the products of the study but are 
subject to influences of time and place. So it comes about that the 
conception held of what is the will of the divinities gets modified 
in the heat of the social battle and that the moral imperative suffers 
both infiltration and attrition. 

Some elaboration of the theme is needed to demonstrate how 
differently the line can be drawn between the two spheres, and that 
they are not impervious to one another's influence. 

A secularist people like the Romans merely reserves to the gods 
their sphere of law, while proceeding to elaborate its own. 11 It is 
sufficient to give the gods no direct offence. A deeply religious so- 
ciety, on the other hand, like that of the Middle Ages, makes the 
divine law the predominant partner. The more exalted the concepN 
tion of God, the more completely must it give the answer to human 


oblems. St. Thomas is thus able to affirm that everything is cov- 
ed by the divine legislation: 

As, then, the eternal law is the idea in the mind of the supreme ruler, 
follows that all schemes of government which are in the minds of 
Ferior [sc. terrestrial] rulers stem from the eternal law. Now the schemes 
government of inferior rulers are the whole body of laws whatsoever 
her than the eternal law. Therefore all laws, to the extent to which they 
rtake of right reason, stem to that extent from the eternal law. . . . 
Human law answers to the idea of law to the extent to which it accords 
th right reason; if it does so accord, then it is clear that it stems from 
e eternal law. But in so far as it is repugnant to reason, to that extent 
is an iniquitous law; and in that event it is in the category not of law 
it rather of violence. 12 

Nothing could be more precise: the human, or positive, law must 
3 written within the framework of the divine, or natural, law. St. 
homas elaborates it still further: 

The eternal law, in effect, contains no more than certain general pre- 
pts which remain always the same; man-made law, on the other hand, 
ntains particular precepts to meet the various cases which arise. 13 

We see, then, that the growing complexity of society may demand 
?er more numerous prescriptions. All that St. Thomas requires of 
iem is that the starting-point of them all should be the principles 
mnciated once and for all. The guarantees given to the individual 
/ such a way of procedure are easily conceived. While he conforms 
> certain principles learned almost in babyhood, he enjoys an ab- 
>lute security, for the law has no other foundation than these prin- 
ples, and men no other rule of conduct, including even the men 
ho exercise Power. 

A society which acknowledges a law is not, of course, exempt 
om violation of it. Swayed by passion or flown with authority, its 
embers frequently commit gross violations of it, and princes more 
lan anyone else. St. Louis * would not be famous if all Christian 
rinces had behaved like Christians. 
But the subject, even when he is suffering a wrong which is con- 

* Louis IX (1226-1270), a king whose object it was to reconcile all Christen- 
>m by a general crusade and to do justice ( which he meted out under the oak 

Vincennes ) to everyone. A man of lofty religious morality, he sought to make 
the rule of public, as well as of private, life, and to give the lie to the dictum 
at "politics is one long second-best." 


trary to the law, can still regard the law as a dike which the wave 
of crime, though it has flooded it for the moment, will not carry 

The abuse of authority is recognized for what it is even by its 
abettors. Thus, to disapproval from without is added vacillation 
within to compel a withdrawal. The Middle Ages abound in in- 
stances of royal recantations in which uneasiness of conscience has 
played a larger part than your rationalist historian thinks. 

Law is thus seen to be a given frame; to it folkways conform and 
within it all behaviour, private or public, is fitted with greater or 
lesser irregularity. In the uncertainty of human affairs it gives to 
human calculations the highest degree of certainty which is possible. 


Divine law must not be confused with custom. Custom is the 
crystallization of the whole of a society's habits. A people among 
whom custom is altogether sovereign endures the despotism of the 
dead. Law, on the other hand, while prescribing and fixing such 
habits as are essential to the preservation of society, does not bar the 
door to favourable variations : it acts, so to speak, .as a discriminating 

The supremacy of a creed may no doubt result in riveting on a 
docile race the sovereign authority of doctors of the law who will 
aim at stabilizing for all time the whole of human behaviour. But 
up to now the personalities thrown up by the Western peoples have 
been too vital for such a yoke to be feared. Variations in behaviour 
have been produced under the vigorous impulsion of the will to 
authority. These the law did not condemn out of hand, but did pro- 
vide criteria for settling the disputes arising from these novelties, 
and general principles for organizing aright these new behaviours. 

Law and custom, though not identical in Logic, are so for prac- 
tical purposes. 

The feelings of veneration which are directed towards law handed 
down by ancestors extend also to their modes of action. "My father, 
who feared God, acted in this way." Traditional behaviour and in- 
stitutions, even when they are without religious content, get some- 
how incorporated into religion: they resemble the booths which 
were in other days set up against the sides of cathedrals. 

It is from beliefs and habits, and from nothing else, that are de- 
duced the rules of law used in an evolving society to restore un- 


ceasingly that harmony which is for ever being troubled by the 
conflict of wills. This rule-making activity may take the form either 
of judicial decisions exclusively or of judicial decisions combined 
with legislation. 

If the former, then "the wise men," having to confront problems 
of infinite variety, must devise ever more daring fictions with a view 
to bringing the problems under ever remoter precedents. But also 
law develops in step with life, and the most intricate systems of 
social rules are the successive emanations of a bundle of principles 
and habits which is the common heritage of the whole society; so 
much is this the case that the subtlest piece of reasoning by the 
"wise man" is first cousin to the proverbs quoted by the village 

When the regulation of novel modes of conduct is effected ju- 
dicially, there ensue political and psychological consequences of 
importance. So far as society as a whole is concerned, the effective 
need to go back to ancient customs buttresses the sense of continu- 
ity, and so acts as a corrective to the progressive decline of the 
worship of ancestors. It is for the individual a high school of morals 
and vitality— not to be armed at every point by the appropriate law 
but to have to decide for himself what is his due and to have to win 
respect for it in judicial combat. For Power, finally, and that is what 
concerns us here, belief in a law outside itself is of first-rate impor- 

Behaviours continue to change without prescription of them by 
Power, and the problems to which these changes give rise continue 
to be solved without its intervention. By long prescription human 
law acquires an authority proper to itself, comparable almost to 
that of divine law, to which it is linked by more or less close ties. 
Taken together the law makes a formidable whole: not only must 
Power respect it but even the men who exercise Power feel them- 
selves caught in a vast network of obligations. The law is above 
them, and they can move only along its paths. So it was in early 
Rome, where the state, instead of using against the citizen any 
specific rights of police, had to bring an action against him, called 
the actio popularis; 14 so it was also in England, where, according 
to Dicey, 

what are called the principles of the constitution are certain inductions 
and generalizations based on particular decisions given by the courts in 
matters concerning the rights of specified individuals. 15 


There are, then, good grounds for seeing in the corpus juris a 
powerful instrument of social discipline which owes nothing to 
Power; it opposes Power and imposes itself on it; it both limits it 
and strives to control it. 

It is obvious that the part played by Power in society will vary 
greatly according as it does or does not make the laws, according 
as it prescribes the rules of behaviour or contents itself with en- 
forcing respect for them. 

When at a given moment of historical development we find Power 
making laws with the assent either of the people as a whole or of 
an assembly, and being unable to make them except with this as- 
sent, we are apt to interpret these rights of the people or assembly 
as a limitation on Power, as a decline from its primitive state of 
absolutism. But this primitive absolutism is pure myth. It is not 
true that mankind has emerged from a former state in which magis- 
trates and monarchs dictated out of their own heads the rules of 
behaviour. They had not in truth a vestige of such a right, or, more 
accurately perhaps, of such a power. 

It is, then, not the case that the people or the assembly deprived 
Power of the ability to make the laws by itself, for it never had this 
ability. We form a completely wrong idea of societies in their adoles- 
cent state if we think that one man or a few men, happening to 
wield effective authority, are thereby enabled to impose on their 
subjects behaviours which involve a breach with their accepted 
scheme of beliefs and customs. So far from that, we find that the 
rulers themselves are in thrall to the accepted scheme. 

The assents of people or assembly, so far from fettering for the 
rulers a freedom to act which they never had, made possible an 
extension of governmental authority. 

In the Middle Ages it was Power which summoned the English 
Parliaments and the French States-General. Its primary object was 
to raise taxes to which custom gave it no title. Even in 1789 it was 
again Power which summoned the States-General, that with the 
help of the people it might find the strength to break the resistance 
offered to the reforms which it deemed necessary. 

The power to legislate is not an attribute which was taken from 
Power by the establishment of an assembly or by popular consulta- 
tion. It is an addition to Power, of so novel a kind that without an 


assembly or without popular consultation it would have been im- 
possible. 16 Note the slow, timid pace at which this power develops. 
At first there is nothing more than a restatement of custom. 17 Then, 
by slow degrees, innovating laws are introduced, which are, how- 
ever, deliberately presented as returns to good old customs. Through 
the practice of legislation the idea gains ground little by little that 
the laws or law may not only be restated but created— by formal 

In a word, it is not to the caprice of some fabulous despot but to 
popular or representative institutions that we must ascribe the con- 
ception which makes a more or less late appearance in the history 
of every civilization, that it is lawful for a directing will to put in 
question at any moment the laws and modes of conduct of men. 

For that to happen there had to be opposed to the divine author- 
ity, which had laid them down, the authority, not of a solitary mon- 
arch, but of society. The notion of society consciously elaborating 
the rules of conduct binding on all its members may make its ap- 
pearance all the sooner, as noted already, if the divine authority 
played (as at Rome) a relatively minor part in the formulation of 
law; its triumph is assured by nothing so much as the rationalist 
crisis which occurs in the history of every civilization. 


In its youth every civilization fears supernatural powers, vener- 
ates its ancestors, is loyal to custom. If it conceives of a better state 
of things, it puts it in the past, and it is a sure sign of its progress 
that what it fears above all and tries to prevent is degeneracy. 

Its life then runs into a contrary phase in which, trusting in its 
own lights, it sets about regulating men's behaviour in such a way 
as to produce the maximum of utility; never doubting its power to 
attain in this way an Age of Gold which is concealed in the future, 
and wholly taken up with the idea of its own improvements, it no 
longer takes thought for the preservation of its inheritance, and 
sometimes declines into corruption and dissolution at the moment 
when its hopes are at their most exaggerated. The line, or rather the 
zone, of division is drawn by the rationalist crisis. 

There comes a time when, just because of the vitality given to it 
by its folkways, a people expands and comes into contact with a 
number of very different societies; at first it mocks them in derision, 
then it takes to examining more attentively beliefs and modes of 


conduct which are different from its own. "The just and the unjust 
are mainly a matter of geography. A change of three degrees in 
elevation shatters an entire jurisprudence." 18 

On the one hand, these contacts affect favourably minds which 
are capable of rising above outward forms and perceiving the un- 
derlying unity of laws, as was the case with the Jesuit missionaries 
in China; on the other, they are dangerous to baser minds, which, 
through failure to realize the inner coherence of the entire scheme 
of a society's beliefs and customs, regard themselves as free to adopt 
at random some way of life or other, and then take to wondering 
whether any way of life is really necessary. 

Finding that one of their beliefs is not universally held, they con- 
clude that neither is it necessary, without stopping to think that as 
regards their own society it may be necessary. At this point, whether 
by correlation or coincidence, the pure intelligence itself starts to 
destroy its ancient handiwork. It had at first applied itself to de- 
fining the idea of the natural order, to understanding the rationality 
and the beauty of what is, and to proving that it is to man's moral 
and material advancement to range himself behind such admirable 
laws. Then it turns in its tracks and starts to put in question every- 
thing which it had previously affirmed. 

In Greece, for instance, whereas the Pythagoreans had affirmed 
the divine origin and nature of law 19 and the immutability of cus- 
tomary laws, the philosophers started to represent laws as being 
purely the work of men's hands, which had been maintained by the 
device of a fictitious intervention from above. 20 

In that case not only are the laws subject to change— in this re- 
spect the philosophers did no more than justify the legislative prac- 
tice already in vogue— -but, in addition, there is in them no element 
of fixity, nothing of natural law or of objective morality. This is held 
proved by the fact that no single law has received men's assent in 
all times and in all places. 21 From this it is easy to deduce that there 
is no natural law, and that legislation and morals are merely things 
of convention and the products of human wills. 

It is an attitude of mind which Plato has made familiar: 

As regards the gods, these men claim that they have no natural exist- 
ence but are artifacts living by virtue of certain laws; that they are differ- 
ent among different peoples, according to the intention which each people 
had in establishing them; that the good is one thing in nature and another 


in law; that, in regard to justice, absolutely nothing is just by nature, but 
that men, always divided in feeling about it as they are, are for ever 
making fresh arrangements in regard to the same objects; that these 
arrangements are the measure of the just for as long as they endure, and 
originate in art and laws and not in nature. 22 

The rationalist crisis, as has been said, occurs in every society at 
a certain stage in its development. While its historical importance 
is generally recognized, its result tends to be wrongly interpreted 
because only the immediate consequences are regarded. 

The prop of the throne, we are told, was superstition, and the 
effect of the rationalist onslaught is, therefore, to bring down Power 
by weakening the support given to it by beliefs. 

We must look further. Community of beliefs was a powerful fac- 
tor in social cohesion; it was the stay of institutions and the keeper 
of folkways. It assured a social order, complementary to and bul- 
wark of the political order; its existence, as shown by the independ- 
ence and sanctity of the law, discharged Power from a vast measure 
of responsibility and set up against it an almost impassable barrier. 

Can we fail to note the coincidence of the breakdown of beliefs 
from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries with the elevation of 
absolute monarchies during the same period? Is it not clear that 
they owed their elevation to this breakdown? Is not the conclusion 
this : that the great period of rationalism was also that of enlightened 
and free-thinking despots, 23 all assured of the conventional char- 
acter of institutions, all persuaded that they both could and should 
overturn the customs of their peoples to make them comformable to 
reason, all extending prodigiously their bureaucracies for the fur- 
therance of their designs, and their police in order to smash all 

The directing will is then credited with the power of reordering 
all things, the legislative authority is deployed, and the law, which 
has now ceased to be the master and guide of human ordinances, 
becomes henceforward a mere statute book. 

History knows nothing apter to Power's enlargement. And the 
choicest spirits of the eighteenth century knew this so well that they 
aimed to bar the legislator's way with an irreproachable guide— the 
"natural religion" of Rousseau or the "natural ethic" of Voltaire. We 
shall see how these brakes functioned in the nineteenth century, 
and how in the end they ceased to work. 


Logically, they were bound to go under. For, once man is declared 
"the measure of all things," * there is no longer a true, or a good, 
or a just, but only opinions of equal validity whose clash can be 
settled only by political or military force; and each force in turn 
enthrones in its hour of triumph a true, a good, and a just which 
will endure just as long as itself. 

9 This aphorism is ascribed to Protagoras. Montaigne, in the Apology for 
Raimond Sebond, quotes Pliny on it: "As if he could take the measure of any 
other thing, who cannot take his own!" Montaigne comments on this: "Truly, 
Pythagoras stuffed us very nicely when he made man the measure of all things, 
who never knew even his own." 




1. Revolutions liquidate weakness and bring forth strength. 2. Three 
revolutions. 3. Revolution and tyranny. 4. Identity of the demo- 
cratic state with the monarchical state. 5. Continuity of Power. 
6. Disparate character of the authority of the ancien regime. 7. 
Weakening of Power. Aristocratic coalition. 8. The Third Estate 
restored the monarchy without the king. 9. Napoleons prefect, 
the child of the Revolution. 10. The Revolution and individual 
rights. 11. Justice stands disarmed before Power. 12. The state 
and the Russian Revolution. 

olitical revolutions, being violent crises in the careers of in- 
stitutions, engage closely the attention of historians. The sud- 
den blaze of lurking passions, the explosion and the incendiary 
propagation of principles which had been working underground, the 
rocket-like ascent into importance of new men, the play of charac- 
ters in brutal and violent action, the monstrous outbreaks of the mob 
in which the serious faces of men about their business are soon no 
longer seen but only the terrifying visage of hate and animal cruelty 
—here indeed is matter to inflame the writer and to give the peace- 
able reader at his fireside the shudders! 

These are the most written-up periods of history, but they are also 
the least understood. The spirit of man is still in its childhood, and 
learning raises a smile more often than it instructs him. Aware of 
the outward aspect of events, he thinks to find in it their meaning; 
he takes the onrush of the wave, which is under his eyes, for the 
movement of the sea, which demands the faculty of thought. He 
holds to the cry of "Liberty," which goes up in the beginnings of 
every revolution; he does not perceive that there never was a revolu- 
tion yet which did not result in an accretion of Power's weight. 

To grasp the true role of revolutions and to give these swift and 
spectacular denouements their due place in the long march of his- 
tory, we must turn our eyes away from the fascinating spectacle of 

* In this chapter the meaning in French history of the word "parliame^^ 
explained in a footnote in chapter x, should be remembered. 



their eruption; we must notice how the stream looked before it 
reached these rapids and in what shape we find it again when events 
have resumed their even pace. 

Before the rapids, there was the rule of a Charles I, a Louis XVI, 
a Nicholas II. After them, that of a Cromwell, a Napoleon, a Stalin. 
Such are the masters to whom the peoples that rose against Stuart or 
Bourbon or Romanov "tyranny" find themselves subjected next. 

The phenomenon is as startling as the usual interpretation of it is 
misconceived. How sad, it is said, that the revolution strayed from 
its natural course, that the anti-social extravagances of liberty called 
for a constraining force to discipline them, that these extravagances 
caused so widespread a ruin that there had to be a man to recon- 
struct! If this or that mistake had but been avoided! Ingenuity is 
freely expended in unearthing the exact moment at which licentious- 
ness set in, in isolating; the act that made the revolution sin, in nam- 
ing the criminal. 

O pectora caeca! What a misunderstanding is here of the revolu- 
tionary phenomenon! The Crom wells and Stalins are no fortuitous 
consequence, no accidental happening, of the revolutionary tempest. 
Rather they are its predestined goal, towards which the entire up- 
heaval was moving inevitably; the cycle began with the downfall 
of an inadequate Power only to close with the consolidation of a 
more absolute Power. 


The beginnings of a revolution are of an indescribable charm. 
The event, while it is still in suspense, seems to open up every pos- 
sibility. It holds promise for the unsatisfied dream, the despised 
system, the wounded interest, the disappointed ambition; it will 
mend all, fulfil all, and accomplish all; the joyous assurance of its 
youthful gait wins the hearts of all and attracts even those whom 
it directly menaces. 

These happy hours are written ineffaceably in the memories of 
peoples, and they colour, for the eyes of posterity, the sequel which 
belies them. It is in their lyrical quality that men will look for the 
clue to the movement, it is from the old revolutionaries that they 
will ask for it; as though men knew what they did and did what 
they thought to do! They thought to fight oppression, to limit Power, 
to put an end to arbitrariness, to guarantee the life and liberty of 


each, to remove the exploitation of the people and compel its bene- 
ficiaries to disgorge. 

They would like to build— a vain wish, for this has never been 
their destiny. Their historical mission has been performed when 
they have braved and flouted Power. Their impunity attests its 
weakness and gives the signal for a general assault on the helpless 
monster. The sluices of envy are opened and the bonds of appetite 
are struck off, against authority; it falls, and in its fall may be heard 
crashing around it the social authorities. Nothing remains but ruins 
for the wave to break on. New men ride on its crest; to ask of them 
what their programme is would be a scorn and derision. They are 
but sails filled with the wind of their time, shells that catch the 
sound of the tempest. 

But at long last the sea of society is calm again. Now is the chance 
for those who then install themselves in what remains of the City of 
Command; they buttress it with fragments taken from the ruins of 
the social commands, they extend their Power with none to say 
them nay. 

How can this fail to be the predestined and providential end of 
every such cataclysm— the liquidation of a weak Power, the erection 
of a strong one? 

The English Revolution, the Civil War, began in the name of 
outraged property rights, in a resistance to a small tax on land 
called "ship-money." It was soon to impose on land a tax ten times 
as heavy. It was a protest against certain confiscations on the part 
of the Stuarts; soon it would itself not only plunder the Church 
systematically but, on political pretexts, seize as well a great part 
of property in private hands. In Ireland a whole people was dispos- 
sessed. Scotland, which had taken arms in defence of its own ways 
of life and government, saw taken from it all that it so highly valued. 1 

So strengthened, Cromwell could get himself the army for want 
of which Charles had fallen, and drive out the Parliament men to 
whom the king had had to submit. The dictator could found the 
naval power which the unhappy monarch had dreamt of for his 
country, and wage European wars for which Charles had lacked 
the means. 

The French Revolution freed the peasantry from feudal burdens, 


but it forced them to bear arms and sent mobile columns in pursuit 
of the refractory; it suppressed lettres de cachet, but erected the 
guillotine in public squares. It denounced in 1790 the plan, which it 
ascribed to the king, of joining the Spanish alliance in a war against 
England standing alone; but it hurled the nation into a military 
adventure against the whole of Europe, and, by unprecedented req- 
uisitions, drew from the country resources on such a scale that it 
was enabled to accomplish the programme which the monarchy had 
had to abandon, the conquest of France's natural frontiers. 

It has taken a quarter of a century for the Russian Revolution of 
1917 to be seen in its true light. A far more extensive authority than 
that of the Czar has released in the country very different forces, 
by which it has recovered all, and more than all, of the territory 
which the Czarist Empire had lost. 

Thus we see that the true historical function of revolutions is to 
renovate and strengthen Power. Let us stop greeting them as the 
reactions of the spirit of liberty to the oppressor. So little do they 
answer to that name that not one can be cited in which a true des- 
pot was overthrown. 

Did the people rise against Louis XIV? No, but against the good- 
natured Louis XVI, who had not even the nerve to let his Swiss 
Guards open fire. Against Peter the Great? No, but against the 
weakling Nicholas II, who did not even dare avenge his beloved 
Rasputin. Against that old Bluebeard, Henry VIII? No, but against 
Charles I, who, after a few fitful attempts at governing, had re- 
signed himself to living in a small wav and was no danger to any- 
one. And, as Mazarin sagely remarked, had he not abandoned his 
minister, Strafford, he would not have laid his head on the scaffold. 

These kings died not because of their tyranny but because of 
their weakness. The peoples erect scaffolds, not as the moral pun- 
ishment of despotism, but as the biological penalty for weakness. 

Peoples never rebel against a Power which squeezes the life out 
of them and grinds them underfoot. The savagery of such Power is 
feared, and it even happens that men find something admirable in 
its scourging of the great. What is detested is softness: firstly, by 
reason of that natural instinct which, when the rider is hesitant, 
turns the most obedient mount into an almost wild animal; secondly, 
because a soft Power is in reality, however good may be its inten- 
tions, the enemy of the people— it cannot in fact stop whatever has 
authority from grabbing wealth and making heavier its social yoke; 


lastly, because the law of rivalry summons peoples to an ever greater 
concentration of their strength in an ever more imperious hand. 

Revolutions rend the air with denunciations of tyrants. Yet in 
truth they encounter none in their beginnings and raise up their 
own at their ends. The principle of government which they over- 
throw is a worn-out one, inspiring but a modest respect, and with 
no more than faded authority left to it. The same causes which 
made possible its fall rendered it incapable of despotism. 

In place of a nerveless scarecrow, popular agitation hangs out the 
banners of its own enthusiasm, and supplants a weary and sceptical 
set of rulers with the political athletes who have just emerged 
bloody but victorious from the eliminating contests of the revolu- 

Are not men of that kind, acting in the name of a principle which 
evokes such fervours, certain to receive a fanatical obedience? Not 
only is Power given new life at its centre, but the direction given 
by it to the nation's course no longer encounters the obstacles set 
in its path by the social authorities— whom the whirlwind has swept 

The further the liquidation of the aristocracy has been carried, 
the more complete will be the tyranny established by the revolution. 

Cromwell's confiscations were, no doubt, immense; but the soil 
itself was not ground to powder— it was merely transferred in large 
blocks to new owners, often men who had grown rich in the service 
of the East India Company. For that reason social interests con- 
tinued as a powerful conservative force. They kept in check the 
Levellers, inspired Monk, and, with the disappearance of the Com- 
monwealth, applied themselves to limiting the authority of the state; 
for that they needed thirty years and a different dynasty, but their 
work was to endure for a century and a half. 

In France the destruction of the aristocratic families by the sup- 
pression of privileges and the break-up of estates went much fur- 
ther. But inequalities of wealth were respected, and the spoliation 
of the Church and the pillage of Europe gave rise to new fortunes. 
And so were erected the capitalist barriers to the all-powerful state. 

But the Russian Revolution seized all private property in what- 
ever form. In that way the Russian state met with no other obstacles 
than that of the Nepmen, whose rise it had allowed, and then that 


of the Kulaks, whose independent means had seemed at first too 
small to be worth destroying. So it is that the English Revolution 
strengthened Power less effectively and durably than did the French, 
and the French less than did the Russian. Yet all three ran the same 
course. Only to outward view were they revolutions against Power. 
Their true effect was to give to Power a new vigour and poise, and 
to pull down the obstacles which had long obstructed its develop- 


The state's underlying continuity through every change of form, 
and the growth given to it by those changes, are strikingly illus- 
trated by the French Revolution. Violent as this upheaval was, it 
did not break the continuity of the evolution of the French state; 
rather it was a brutal liquidation of the obstacles which had by the 
end of the eighteenth century gathered in its path, and were hin- 
dering its advance. 

Viollet understood this well: 2 

The dominant feature of the historical evolution of the monarchy in 
its last three centuries had been a general tendency, towards unification 
and uniformity. Everywhere liberty fell, authority rose. 

The Revolution resembled the violent breaching of an enormous dam 
which the weight of water carried away in one sweep. This rush of water 
was itself largely the sum of traditional and historical forces; therefore, 
and we cannot note it too closely, the genius of the ancien regime remained 
at the service of new ideas. That genius, authoritarian and centripetal in 
essence, triumphed with the Revolution and presided over its work of 
destruction, with a force multiplied a hundredfold. The heart of the past 
continued beating and living. 

Our concept of the omnipotent state, properly understood, is, there- 
fore, the ancien regime's urge to rule erected into a doctrine and a system. 
In other words, the modern state is no other than the king of earlier 
centuries; it continues triumphantly his relentless work of suppressing all 
local liberties, it is, like him, leveller and standardizer. 

If this truth is not yet generally accepted, the reason must be 
sought in the method adopted by most historians for studying the 
eighteenth century. From the Telemaque * to Madame de StaeTs 
Considerations stir la Revolution frangaise there was a prodigious 
outpouring of ideological assertions. Never was there such a flow 

* Telemaque was Fenelon's famous "utopian" romance, published in 1699. 


of books and speeches, irony and argument, about politics. Our 
learned men, with infinite care and subtlety, have constructed gen 
ealogical trees for the ideas of the century down to their final flow- 
ering. They make stimulating studies. For the elucidation of history, 
however, it is less important to listen to what men say than to ob- 
serve what they do.* 

Action in politics is in the last resort administration. Let who will 
open the administrative dossiers from the reign of Louis XIV to that 
of Napoleon. The continuity of Power will then strike his eye; the 
obstacles which it encountered and the true direction of events will 
then stand revealed. 

The officials of the monarchy had one constant policy: that of 
Richelieu and Mazarin; it consisted of the struggle, going back to 
Louis XI, against the House of Habsburg. The deep-laid schemes 
of Mazarin, adapted and realized by Louis XIV, had driven the 
Habsburgs from the throne of Spain. In both Spain and Italy Bour- 
bons were installed in the place of Austrian princes. Vienna still had 
to be opposed, not from need to destroy a state that was no longer 
dangerous, but because, in opposing her, France became the natural 
rallying-point of the German princes, who feared the Emperor, and 
in that way not only prevented the union of Germany under the 
Habsburgs, who were no longer formidable, but also and above all 
its crystallization around an internal centre of resistance, Prussia, 
which would, it was certain, fill the role of protector from the mo- 
ment that France abandoned it. 

In that policy, as simple as it was far-sighted, the French officials 
never wavered. But they could not maintain it, because noble wire- 
pullers, having made their way into the employments of ambassador 
and minister, worked against French policy, whether because van- 
ity made them want to cut a figure or because, as in the case of 
Choiseul, they made of a foreign court a rallying-point for the dc 
fence of themselves and their faction against the incessant intrigues 
of Versailles. 

If Marie Antoinette was hated as was no other queen of France 
before her, the main reason for it certainly was that she represented 
the Austrian alliance, which had brought on France the disasters of 

* "We cannot," said Dr. Johnson, "pry into the hearts of men, but their 
actions are open to observation." 


the Seven Years' War and driven her from the first rank of European 

Now, what was the result of the Revolution on French foreign 
policy? The war against Austria. War against Prussia too, no doubt, 
but with Prussia there was no delay in coming to terms and seeking 
an alliance. And the war was pursued with the same enemy, the 
same plans, and the same objects as in the palmiest days of the 
monarchy. The officials triumphed, the continuity of the state was 
restored. "Ha! who could wish himself into thinking that the French 
Republic is not another Louis XIV?" 3 Was it due to chance? Not a 
bit. Burke records the anger which reigned in official circles on 
the morrow of the partition of Poland; it did not stop at insulting the 
sovereign. It was to the order of those circles that Soulavie, the 
pamphleteer, wrote his De la Decadence de la Monarchie jrangaise, 
in which he developed the principles of the ancient policy of France, 
"whose aim abroad was to raise up the small states and humiliate 
the Great Powers; whose aim at home was to raise up the power of 
the state and humiliate all subordinate authorities." 4 


Fulfilment of the second part of this programme was no more 
successful than of the first, under the monarchy. 

The royal authority had grown slowly by way of a prudent but 
unceasing advance; it subordinated, when necessary, principle to 
expediency. It held unequal sway over the different parts of the 
realm; for instance, it is true that no taxation was levied and assessed 
by its agents except in the electoral districts, whereas, in the dis- 
tricts of the states, regional assemblies decided the sum which they 
would raise for the king and divided it up among the persons liable. 
These variations in the degree of his authority were met with again 
according to the "order" of the population to which the king ap- 
plied. The contribution of the clergy retained the title of "gratuitous 
gift." 5 In addition to regional privileges and those attaching to rank, 
there were now added those of the agents of the state and free- 
holders of their offices, the principal of whom were the Parliament 
men, whose claim it was that their approval was necessary to give 
validity to the royal edicts. 

In this way Power 

found itself checked at every turn by the respect which it had to pay to 
our rights and usages. 


When it asked its subjects for gratuitous gifts, taxes and grants in aid, 
it had, in order to get them, to make representation to the clergy of 
France and call them together. 

It negotiated for the entry into force of a fiscal edict with the Parlia- 

It asked for jurisdiction in the State of Languedoc. 

It commanded it in Burgundy. 

In Brittany it generally had to buy it, more or less indirectly. 

It took it by force of arms in the provincial administrations. 6 

The royal government had, therefore, to tread delicately. To but* 
tress it, it was at all times necessary to counter simultaneously all 
the various centrifugal tendencies, while taking care never to unite 
their interests against the state. 

This disastrous union of interests was brought about in the eight- 
eenth century by a series of mistakes which were to bring about 
the fall of the monarchy. 


A nobility of birth surrounded the king and acted as a screen which 
prevented the rise of the plebeian servants who had so ably served 
his ancestors. Louis XIV had strictly excluded the nobles from 
every political office, but now this crowd of courtiers, greedy of 
power and place, started to wage a continuous war against the 
king's ministers, each of whom had henceforward to raise his own 
faction to maintain himself in office. 

The result was that the monarchical government no longer offered 
that stability, that aloofness as regards disputed matters, which 
were in principle its merits. Each party at court sought support in 
the country, and, for the sake of a momentary advantage, strength- 
ened, as in the case of Choiseul and the Parliaments,* a partial in- 
terest. They even went for help to foreign Powers, and their ambas- 
sadors and agents played a part which had been forgotten since the 
days of the League, f 

* Choiseul, Due de ( 1719-1785), Louis XV's chief minister from 1758 to 1770. 
He owed his rise to the Pompadour; his position was weakened by her death 
in 1764, and Madame du Barry was largely the means of his dismissal in 1770. 
One of the reasons for it was his support of the provincial parliaments against 
Maupeou, the Chancellor, who was his rival. A recent French historian has 
called him "etroitement lie aux parlements, jansenistes." 

f The League, in French history, was the organization formed in 1576 by 
the Due de Guise to maintain the predominance of the Roman Catholic religion 
and exclude the Protestant princes of the blood from the throne. Civil war 
shortly ensued on its formation. 


While authority vacillated, the Parliaments united against it the 
centrifugal forces. To keep the men of law in service to authority, 
as in their beginning they had been, all that was needed was that 
their ranks should be filled either from the bodies of poor clerks at- 
tached to the courts or, at the least, from a middle class between 
whom and the nobility there was a great social gulf. But hereditary 
offices, which had at first attached certain middle-class families to 
the interests of the state, had detached them from the middle class, 
and made of them a distinct caste, which constant intermarriage 
bound to the interests of the higher nobility. The Parliament men, 
who were at first statocrats, with no more status than their offices 
gave them, had become aristocrats, with an authority proper to 
themselves and interests which were distinct from those of the state. 
If an attempt was made to cut down the absurdly bloated number 
of officials, which got in the way of the dispatch of business, the 
Parliament men obstructed it. The reason was that the officials, like 
the Parliament men, had bought their offices (which had been 
created in lean times to bring in a revenue ) and the Parliament men 
could not permit any attack on a form of property 7 which gave 
them their own importance. If an attempt was made to spread taxa- 
tion evenly over all the orders, with regard henceforward paid to 
nothing but ability to pay, the Parliament men, who themselves had 
fiscal privileges, made common cause with everyone else who had 
them. In view of the conflict looming inevitably between Power and 
themselves, they made themselves, they who were by tradition the 
enemies of local immunities, the paradoxical defenders of those very 

They became in the end so strong that Maupeou's dismissal of 
them in 1770 amounted to a coup d'etat. Such was the feebleness 
of authority at the time that some courtiers of the parliamentary 
faction were able to maltreat the Minister of Finance in the ante- 
chamber of the king itself. 8 

Behind the Parliament were the nobility, the clergy, the provinces, 
and the princes themselves. There was no king's party to be found. 
Or, rather, it was the people. 


In 1788 the administration confronted everywhere forces which 
thwarted it. It had been reduced to die lowest level of impotence. 
The Revolution was suddenly to liberate it from all its adversaries. 


The retreat of the monarchy had gone so far that it had had to 
throw to popular clamour its provincial intendants, who were the 
executors of the central government's will; they were succeeded by 
provincial assemblies— a move which was in the opposite direction 
to all French history. The Revolution, on the other hand, was to 
subject the entire country, more strictly and uniformly than ever 
before, to the will of Power. 

The work of the Revolution was the restoration of absolute mon- 
archy. The direction of the common people's aspirations had been 
understood by Philip the Fair: for that reason he— the first to do 
it— had summoned the Third Estate to the States-General. Nearly 
five centuries later the event still justified him; but Louis XVI was 
no Philip the Fair. And the restoration was to take place without a 

Whoever examines in detail the tumultuous career of the revolu- 
tionary assemblies loses himself at first in the currents and counter- 
currents of ideas, and in the intrigues of factions who often use 
language only to mask their real intentions. But one thing is clear 
enough: that from the start the Constituent Assembly sacrificed the 
interests of just those privileged persons who had demanded the 
convocation of the States-General. A few sessions saw the destruc- 
tion of privileges on which the kings had never dared lay hands. 
The suppression of the States-Provincial, which had been an object 
of royal policy for centuries, was the work of a moment. The vast 
possessions of the clergy were made over no less swiftly to Power, 
and the Parliaments, whose obstructionist tactics had brought about 
the convocation of the States-General, received a more summary 
dismissal than in the time of Maupeou. 

The checks and balances were all swept away, and here, as Mira- 
beau saw, lay the king's great opportunity. 9 He wrote to him: "The 
idea of forming all the citizens into but one class would have 
pleased Richelieu, for an equality of this kind facilitates the work 
of Power." 10 Mirabeau saw himself filling the part and place of the 
great Cardinal, gathering the fruits of this stupendous lopping of 

But Louis XVI and the Assembly thought otherwise; so did his- 

Attempts have been made, but in vain, to uncover the intentions 
of the members of the Constituent Assembly. True, they approved 
the separation of Power into an executive, left with the king, and a 


legislature, to be taken over by the representatives of the people. 
True, they also committed local administration to local elected 
bodies and in that way effected a further division of Power. But 
these dismemberings of authority, however great the importance 
attached to them by their authors, are without historical significance. 
For the Assembly's work, even as its final repentance shows, was, 
despite itself, the complete transference of Power. 

It took away the legislative power from the king, and swore to 
take no more. Lalli-Tollendal u and Mirabeau 12 both descanted on 
what a menace the Assembly would be were it ever to take over the 
powers left with the king. "Yes, I assure you," cried Mirabeau, "I 
can think of nothing more terrible than a sovereign aristocracy of 
six hundred people." Yet it came, inexorably. And it is a sight for 
philosophers, that of the men, first of the Constituent and then of 
the Legislative Assembly, fighting against their fate, which thev 
both dreamed of and feared. 

To create a national assembly the first revolutionaries invoked the 
principle of the general will and claimed to be its mandatories. It 
is curious to observe how this principle carried them on its crest 
in so far as it assisted the foundation of a new Power, but went 
underground at the first sign of its causing that Power embarrass- 
ment. Since the national will was the source of all authority, the 
king too, if he was to continue to hold a part of it, had to be, to- 
gether with the Assembly, "a representative of the nation." But then 
the paradox arose of having elected representatives and a hereditary 
representative both functioning. And soon the king became no more 
than first functionary: but then, why should a mere functionary be 
irremovable? The opportunity was favourable, and they suppressed 
him; and now the executive and legislative powers were joined in 
the Convention. "As for the equilibrium of powers, we have in the 
past let ourselves be the dupes of its prestige . . ." exclaimed Robes- 
pierre, but now, 

what do we care for devices devised to balance the authority of tyrants? 
It is tyranny that must be extirpated: the aim of the people should be, 
not to find in the quarrels of their masters short breathing-spaces for 
themselves, but to make their own right arms the guarantee of their 
rights. 13 

In other words: when the Power was held by others, we favoured 
limiting it: now that we hold it ourselves, it cannot be too biff. 


So the Assembly became sovereign. But if it draws its authority 
from the fact that it expresses the general will, it is, of course, right 
for it to stay constantly subject to those who put it there. Not a bit 
of it! During its very first days 14 the "Constituents" threw off the 
imperative instructions which many of them had received from 
those who had sent them there. 

Parliamentary sovereignty was substituted for popular, less be- 
cause of the arguments of Sieyes than because of the will to power 
of the men who heard them. By all means let the people be an ab- 
solute sovereign in the hour of choosing its representatives, for in 
that way the representatives hold from it unlimited authority. But 
when it has conferred on them this authority, its role is finished and 
it is of no further importance: it is now the subject, and only the 
assembly is sovereign. Only the assembly is the place where the gen- 
eral will is formed, 15 and consultation with the people is no more 
than a species of cookery which boils down the entire nation into 
a microcosm of six hundred persons who, by an exceedingly coura- 
geous fiction, are deemed to be the assembled nation itself. 16 

Yet this exalted sovereignty, which dared to send the king to the 
scaffold and rejected contemptuously the Girondins' proposal of ap- 
peal to the electoral assemblies, abased and humbled itself— before 
whom? Before the bands of unbridled fanatics who were welcomed 
at the bar of the Convention and whose crazy petitions were ac- 
cepted as the expression of the popular will. 

There have been great jurists who have expended an admirable 
ingenuity in reducing all these contradictions into constitutional 
theories. It passes my imagination how they can fail to hear with 
the mind's ear the cries of the street and the rattle of the tumbrils, 
and how they can put their trust in written words, which were 
either dashed down under the influence of hate or panic, or were 
pieced together in hours of compromise and weariness. 

The logic of a revolutionary epoch is to be found, not in the ideas, 
but in the facts. 

The central fact is the erection of a new Power, that of the self- 
styled representatives who, in so far as they did not kill each other 
off, kept themselves in session from the days of the Convention right 
through the Directory and Consulate, and contributed their quota 
to the men of the Empire. 

The true incarnation of this new Power was Sieyes. No one had 
played a larger part than he in the unfolding of the Revolution; 


having been a member of the Constituent Assembly, of the Conven- 
tion, and of the Committee of Public Safety, a Director and a Con- 
sul, he prompted, no doubt, these words of Napoleon, which, had 
he been in a position to do so, he would have spoken on his own 
account: "The Revolution is closed; its principles are fixed in my 
person. The government in being is the representative of the sover- 
eign people. There can be no opposition to the sovereign." 

The boundless authority of Napoleon was the goal towards which 
the entire upheaval had been proceeding from the day on which 
the ambition of Orleans or the vanity of Lafayette set it in motion. 
"One would say that to create Napoleon I was the uninterrupted 
design, daily and meticulously followed, of the men of the Revolu- 
tion." 17 Everything converged on that end. Look, for instance, at 
the way in which the dictatorship of the prefects, which was to 
be a constant feature of French society, was in successive stages 

The wish of the population was to be quit of the royal intendants 
and to administer itself by localities. The Constituent Assembly gave 
it apparent satisfaction by entrusting all departments of government 
to elected local assemblies. But simultaneously it destroyed just 
those historical units which had the ability and the will to govern 
themselves. The geometrical intelligence of Sieves conceived the 
idea of cutting up the country into twenty-four equal rectangles, 
themselves divided into nine equal communes, which, by the same 
infantile geometry, spawned nine cantons each. 18 Though this crazy 
plan was not followed through, it remained the ideal of the creators 
of the depart ements. It was safe enough after that to give these 
artificial creations an autonomous existence! As though there were 
danger of such as they feeling the breath of a life of their own! 

The systematic spirit [said Benjamin Constant] 19 at first went into 
raptures over symmetry. The passion for Power soon found out what an 
immense advantage this symmetry procured it. It nearly came to the point 
of denoting cities and provinces by numbers, just as numbers were used 
to denote legions and army corps: so great was the apparent fear of any 
moral idea being attached to whatever was done! 

But before long even the wretched directories of departments 
were accused of retarding or checking the policies of the central 
authority. Billaud-Varenne condemned them in these terms: 


Unfortunate results of this kind will always be liable to happen so long 
as the directing nerve of the complicated organism of government is 
relaxed: it must be taut and, to be that, it must run uninterruptedly from 
the centre to the circumference, with but one intermediate support. 20 

The "intermediate support" was to be the Napoleonic prefect. To 
quote Benjamin Constant again: 

The despotism which has replaced the demagogy, and has made itself 
the residuary legatee of all the latter s works, has continued very cleverly 
on the trail blazed for it. The two extremes were in agreement on this 
point because, at bottom, there was in both of them the will to tyranny. 
The interests and memories which spring from local customs contain a 
germ of resistance which is so distasteful to authority that it hastens to 
uproot it. Authority finds private individuals easier game; its enormous 
weight can flatten them out effortlessly as if they were so much sand. 


That the Revolution, however fine its language, worked for Power 
and not for liberty is strikingly proved by what happened to indi- 
vidual rights in the course of the upheaval which started in 1789. 

Never was more striking— or, no doubt, more sincere— proclama- 
tion made of the intention to recognize that man, as man, had cer- 
tain sacred rights. That was the great conception of the members 
of the Constituent Assembly; that is their title to fame. And in like 
manner the members of the Legislative Assembly and the Conven- 
tion, and the Thermidorians, all alike, even Bonaparte himself, 
claimed to have dedicated and guaranteed these rights. And yet 
the Revolution, obeying the stirrings less of the ideas which it pro- 
claimed than of the unseen principle of life which gave it motion, 
wiped out all the rights which it had claimed to exalt, and effectively 
disarmed the citizen of every sure guarantee against the Power to 
which it had bequeathed an unlimited authority. 

Let us examine the facts. 

The safeguarding of individual rights is the function of the judi- 
ciary. Such was the ingratitude of the Constituent Assembly to the 
old Parliaments whose obstructive tactics had led to the summon- 
ing of the States-General that it dismissed them summarily. It then 
rebuilt the temple of justice on new foundations, that justice might 
be "all-powerful to succour all rights and all individuals." Justice 
would now be completely independent of Power. A citizen could 
not be prosecuted for an offence unless a grand jury had returned 


a true bill. In that way, before a man could be handed over to stand 
his trial, certain citizens, selected by chance and under no other 
direction than that of a judge who took no part in their delibera- 
tions, had to decide that there was a case for him to answer. Before 
whom would he appear next? Before the Court of the Department, 
in which another jury would pronounce his guilt or innocence. Yet 
even so, and notwithstanding all efforts to cut it down, the part 
played by the judges remained considerable. Veiy well, then, they 
must now be elected by the people. In this way the citizen would 
be judged in future by the people alone, and Power would be un- 
able to punish the man whom his peers should be disposed to acquit. 

Could more complete guarantees be imagined? 

But the Power which was born of the Revolution was young and 
ardent, ambitious to shape society to its own fancy, impatient of all 
opposition and quick to denounce it as a crime. It was soon to find 
that the guarantees which it had itself granted were an embarrass- 
ment to it. It claimed that the judges drew their inspiration, not 
from the laws worthy of the name which the Constituent Assembly 
had at first formulated, and which laid down general principles, but 
from occasional standards, aimed at specific classes of citizens, and 
masquerading under the name of laws. It attacked them for being 
too lenient. When, after August 10, 1792, Danton became Minister 
of Justice, he frightened the judges by announcing that he had at- 
tained high office by way of the breach in the Tuileries' walls, that 
the cannon was now the ultima ratio of the people, and that blood- 
shed would have been prevented if the functionaries had done their 
duty— but these had prosecuted popular societies and outspoken 
writers, while protecting non-juring priests. On the motion of a 
popular society, Philippeaux demanded a clean sweep of the tribu- 
nals which had been elected, two years before, for six years. "I can 
bear witness," he said, "that in most of the tribunals a man need 
only be a patriot to lose his suit." And from then on there was to 
be election after election. But the people's choice would never be 
sufficiently to the taste of Power, which took to purging the elected 
of the people after their election: the Directory, for instance, was 
to annul the elections in forty-nine departments. 

Even the process of purging was not enough for the Terror. The 
Terror required revolutionary tribunals on the model of the Revolu- 
tionary Tribunal at Paris, which, unassisted by a grand jury, soon 
ceased hearing either witnesses or defending counsel, and, without 


leaving their seats, took to condemning accused whose names and 
alleged crimes had hardly been declared. 

When this monstrous creation had been swept away, Power went 
back to ordinary judges but would not grant them independence. 
Tired by this time of annulling elections, it vested in itself in the 
year VIII the nomination of judges, and their promotion. 21 From 
that time on it preserved religiously a means of pressure which un- 
der the ancien regime it had not had, because in those days offices 
were for sale or inheritance. 

The Parliaments of former days were like a federation of small 
republics in the midst of the monarchy; they were jealous of their 
liberty and were guardians of the Roman tradition. Whatever may 
have been the defects of the justice administered under the ancien 

there was not to be found in it [says Tocqueville] that servility to author- 
ity which is the worst form of venality. To this deadly vice, which not 
only corrupts the judiciary but soon infects the body of the entire people, 
it was completely a stranger. 22 

Independent, majestic, and capable of withstanding the king him- 
self, the judiciary influenced profoundly the character of the people. 

Judicial habits had become in many respects the habits of the nation. 
The courts had spread the idea widely that every dispute was subject to 
argument and every decision to appeal; they had made publicity custom- 
ary and formality desirable, both of them things which keep servitude 
at bay. 23 

This independence has never reappeared: "The subordination of 
the magistracy to the government is one of the triumphs of the Rev- 
olution. At the moment of proclaiming the rights of man, it destroyed 
their castle and paralysed their defenders." 24 


That was not the only respect in which "progressive" justice found 
itself worse equipped than in pre-Revolutionary days for the de- 
fence of individual rights. 

In former days the Parliaments had had no scruple in citing be- 
fore them agents of Power, or in launching proceedings against 
them in defence of the rights of private persons. 

It is remarkable that the very men who claimed to have placed 
individual rights on an unassailable foundation attacked the Parlia- 


ments for having protected them even against the acts of the prince. 
Who talked this language? The men of the Convention? Not so; the 
men of the Constituent Assembly had already talked it. They ap- 
plauded Thouret, one of their colleagues, 25 unanimously, when he 
hurled at the judicial authorities this reproach, which was in reality, 
as they should have seen, a commendation: "As the administrative 
authority's rival, it interfered with its actions, checked its opera- 
tions and disquieted its agents." On January 8, 1790, the assem- 
bly issued an instruction by which every act of the tribunals and 
courts of justice tending to thwart or hold up the operations of the 
administration, being unconstitutional, was declared to be of no 
effect and to be powerless to check the various administrative bodies. 
On the August 24 following, a law made provision: "The judges 
are forbidden, on pain of forfeiture, to interfere in any way whatso- 
ever with the operations of the administrative bodies or to cite 
administrators before them for anything done in the course of their 

When, as was to happen, the vigilance committees had covered 
the whole country with a network of informers, and the represen- 
tatives on circuit had violated every principle of justice and human- 
ity, the Convention hurled its thunders, not at them, but at the 
weak and timorous obstacles placed by the judges— whom the peo- 
ple had elected, do not forget— in the path of arbitrary cruelty. 

The National Convention decrees . . . that it annuls all causes proceed- 
ing and judgments delivered in the courts against members of the admin- 
istrative bodies and vigilance committees on complaints laid concerning 
requisitioned goods, revolutionary taxes and other administrative acts 
issuing from the said authorities with a view to the execution of the laws 
and decrees of the representatives on circuit. 

The tribunals are again forbidden to take cognizance of administrative 
acts, of whatever nature they may be. . . . 26 

I have cited these passages at length because they establish the 
point that the Revolution took away from justice the duty which it 
had previously performed of defending the individual against the 
encroachments of Power. Also because they demonstrate that the 
cribbing and cabining of justice and the baring of the individual 
were the work, not of the Terror, but of the Constituent Assembly. 
Also because this condition of things has been bequeathed by the 
Revolution to modern society, in which these principles are still in 


Just as the Revolution crushed any bodies whose authority was 
capable of limiting that of the state, so it deprived the individual 
of every constitutional means of making his right prevail against 
that of the state. It worked for the absolutism of Power. 


The Russian Revolution offers the same contrast, but still more 
pronounced, between the liberty promised and the authority realized. 

It was not any particular Power, but Power itself, which was de- 
nounced and damned by the school of Marx and Engels, with a 
vigour nearly equal to that of the anarchists. In a justly celebrated 
pamphlet Lenin asserted that the Revolution must "concentrate all 
its forces against the might of the state; its task is not to improve 
the governmental machine but to destroy it and blot it out." * 28 

The state is in fact rooted in evil. Engels scoffed at its deification 
by Hegel: 

. . . according to philosophy, the state is the realization of the idea; it is 
in philosophical language the reign of God on earth, the domain in which 
eternal truth and justice are realized, or should be. Hence comes this 
superstitious respect for the state, and for all that affects the state, a 
respect which finds a place in men's minds the more easily because they 
have got used from childhood to supposing that the general business and 
interest of society as a whole cannot be managed otherwise than as they 
have been managed up till now, that is to say by the state and by the 
subordinates whom it installs in office in due form. And people think that 
they have already made a positively dashing advance if they shake off 
the belief in hereditary monarchy to swear fealty instead to a democratic 
republic. But the state is in reality nothing else than an instrument for 
the oppression of one class by another, and it is more completely this in 
a democratic republic than in a monarchy. 29 

Since "the state is the specific organization of a force, the force 
destined to subjugate a certain class," 30 its raison detre will vanish 
with the oppressor: "Marxism has always taught that the suppres- 
sion of the state must coincide with the suppression of classes." 31 

Engels said the same thing in a passage which is regarded by all 
Marxists as of fundamental importance: 

* The [London] Times of March 10, 1947, gives extracts from articles by 
Stalin and Vishinsky in a recent number of the Russian periodical Bolshevik, 
from which it appears that this feature of Marxist theory has now been officially 
disclaimed by the present rulers of Russia. 


The proletariat seizes all authority in the state and at once transfers the 
means of production into state ownership. By that means it abolishes itself 
qua proletariat, it abolishes all class antagonisms and at the same time 
it abolishes the state qua state. The old society, which moved in the midst 
of class antagonisms, needed the state, because it needed at every period 
an organization by which the exploiting class could maintain its external 
conditions of production and could, above all, force the exploited class to 
remain in the conditions of servitude made necessary by this existing 
mode of production (slavery, serfdom, hired work). The state was the 
official representative and visible embodiment of the whole of society, but 
only in so far as it was the state of the class which itself represented 
in its time the whole of society: the state of the slave-owning citizens 
of antiquity, the state of the feudal nobility in the Middle Ages, the 
bourgeois state of our own time. But in the act of becoming the effective 
representative of the whole of society, the state renders itself superfluous; 
when once there have been repressed, along with the rule of the old 
anarchy of production, the clashes and excesses which resulted from it, 
there is no longer anything left to restrain, and any specific power of 
restraint, a state, ceases to be necessary. 32 

The passage is marked by a vigour of thought and clearness of 
expression which earn it its celebrity. It removes all possible doubt 
as to the true doctrine. So does this letter from Marx to Hiigelmann, 
written at the start of the Commune: 33 "I say that the revolution 
in France should have made every endeavour not to transfer the 
bureaucratic and military machine into other hands, which has been 
the only result of revolutions to date, but to smash it." In this pas- 
sage Marx seems to want the apparatus of constraint broken even 
while a revolution is still running its course, whereas Lenin, on the 
other hand, was to take the view that it was first necessary to make 
use of it "to repress the resistance of the exploiters and to sweep in 
the vast mass of the population— peasantry, lower middle class and 
half-proletarians— to building the socialist economy." 34 

In any case Power must, sooner or later, disappear. To the ques- 
tion "What is to replace the mechanism of the state when once it 
has been smashed?" Lenin replied: 

Instead of the institutions set apart for a privileged minority (civil 
servants and military staff officers), the majority can itself carry out 
directly the duties of government, and the more the people itself takes 
over these duties the less will be the need for government. In this respect 
one of the steps taken by the Commune, to which Marx directs particular 
attention, is especially noteworthy: it suppressed all "expense" allowances, 


along with all pecuniary privileges of the civil service, and it reduced all 
official salaries to the level of the workers' pay. In this may be seen the 
best indication of the transition from middle-class democracy to prole- 
tarian democracy, of the transition from the democracy of the oppressors 
to the democracy of the oppressed. . . . 35 

Compare now these principles with the formidable apparatus of 
constraint erected in Russia by the Revolution. The adherents of 
the Marxist doctrine can, if they like, denounce the betrayal of the 
Revolution's objectives. The enemies both of the doctrine and of 
the regime can, if they like, call pointed attention to the discrep- 
ancies. The partisans of the regime can, if they like, justify them 
by reference to the needs of a transitional period in which social- 
ism is being built up.* 

Our present concern is not controversy, but to find in a contem- 
porary event of vast extent an illustration of what is in our view the 
law of revolutions: that they tend always to buttress Power by 
changing its agents and resuscitating its spirit. 

A nation may get from a revolution a new strength, as the en- 
feebled France of Louis XVI got from the Revolution the energy 
to win her natural frontiers, and as Russia, which in 1917 met de- 
feat, got from it the will to conquer in 1942; but let it never expect 
from it liberty. In the final analysis revolutions are made, not for 
man, but for Power, f 

* All three parties have doubtless overlooked a truth enunciated by Gibbon: 
"From enthusiasm to imposture the step is slippery and perilous; the demon of 
Socrates affords a memorable instance how a wise man may deceive himself, 
how a good man may deceive others, how the conscience may slumber in a 
mixed and middle state between self-illusion and voluntary fraud." 

f Cf. what Tocqueville says about Marrast in his Souvenirs of the 1848 
Revolution: ". . . il appartenait a la race ordinaire des revolutionnaires jrangais 
qui, par liberie du peuple, ont tou jours entendu le despotisme exerce au nom 
du peuple!' 



1. On the fate of ideas. 2. The principle of liberty and the principle 
of law. 3. The sovereignty of the law results in parliamentary 
sovereignty. 4. The people, judge of the law. 5. Law as the peo- 
ple's "good pleasure." 6. The appetite for the imperium. 7. Of 
parliamentary sovereignty. 8. From the sovereignty of the law to 
the sovereignty of the people. 

History, we have seen, is the picture of a concentration of 
forces growing to the hand of a single person, called the 
state, which disposes, as it goes, of ever ampler resources, 
claims over the community ever wider rights, and tolerates less and 
less any authority existing outside itself. The state is command; it 
aims at being the organizer-in-chief of society, and at making its 
monopoly of this role ever more complete. We have seen how, on 
the other hand, various social authorities defend themselves against 
it, and set their rights in opposition to its rights, and their liberties, 
which are often of an anarchic or oppressive character, to its au- 
thority. Unceasing war has been waged between these two forces, 
between the interest calling itself general and interests avowing 
themselves private. 

Power has had its ups and downs, but, looking at the picture as a 
whole, it is one of continuous advance, an advance which is re- 
flected in the stupendous growth of its instruments, its revenues, its 
armed forces, its police forces, and its capacity to make laws. 

Next, we have seen the old Power cast out. But this revolution 
has not been followed by Power's dismemberment; far from it. What 
has perished in the upheaval have been the social authorities which 
obstructed its advance. And the spiritual authority, too, which gave 
it rules of behaviour, has suffered a great decline. But the complex 
of rights and powers which composed it has not fallen apart: it has 
only passed into other hands. 

What is called the coming of democracy is really the conveyance 
of the established Power to new owners, or, if you prefer it, the 
conquest of the City of Command by new tenants. As this con- 


veyance or conquest is accompanied by the annihilation or recoil of 
whatever forces oppose the imperium,* the position of Power in 
society is in the end more isolated and therefore more powerful. 

The new Power, like the old, calls itself the "expression of society," 
in which it arouses less distrust than the old Power. We shall now 
see the consequences of this. 

It would not, however, be correct to treat this political transfor- 
mation as having been no more than the replacement of one sover- 
eign by another. Had that been all, the incorporation in the concept 
of democracy, which, properly speaking, means no more than sov- 
ereignty belonging to the people and exercised in its name, of ideas 
such as liberty and law, in strict logic strangers to it, would be un- 
intelligible. Their presence in this connection is instructive. Just as 
the presence of shells on a mountain-top attests that in former days 
the sea was there, so the emotional associations of liberty and law 
with democracy serve to remind us that something different and 
wider was intended by it than a mere change of sovereign. It repre- 
sents a claim to have civilized and domesticated the Minotaur, to 
have converted this tyrant, whose appetites were formerly his only 
law, into a mere piece of machinery, purged of all emotion, the 
passionless executive of just and necessary laws, and incapable of 
laying a hand on individual liberty; a servant, in short, of those 
great and fair ideas, law and liberty. 

This attempt, if successful, would deprive of their occupation the 
various social and religious forces which hold the state in check. 
The isolated position of Power in society would work harm to no- 
body, and even seem desirable. Was it possible for this attempt to 
succeed? Can the nature of Power be reformed? 

The position occupied by it, the attraction inspired by it, the op- 
portunities offered by it, the hopes aroused by it, alike contribute 
to impress on it certain permanent characteristics. Proof of this is 
seen in the ultimate end of all systems of ideas with a libertarian, 
"legalitarian," and democratic flavour. 


Does thought preside over the successive transformations of hu- 
man communities? Hegel asserted it did, and changes in the form 
of a state are for him only the shadows cast by the majestic march 
of ideas engendered by the world spirit which advances through an 

* The sovereign authority in a state. 


unceasing synthesis of opposites bred by itself. With Marx ideas are 
no longer queens but servants, the mere formal expressions of needs 
and feelings brought into being by situations: their effectiveness is 
not their own but has been lent them by the social impulsions which 
give them birth. 

Marx was wrong to deny the creative quality of the spirit, but 
Hegel misunderstood the way in which the mechanism of politics 

It is true that ideas are queens by birth: but they only gain favour 
when they enter the service of interests and instincts. Follow an 
idea through from its birth to its triumph, and it becomes clear that 
it came to power only at the price of an astounding degradation of 
itself. A reasoned structure of arguments, setting in motion a whole 
stream of logical correspondences between defined terms, does not 
as such make its way into the social consciousness: rather it has 
undergone pressures which have destroyed its internal architecture, 
and left in its place only a confused babel of concepts, the most 
magical of which wins credit for the others. In the result, it is not 
reason which has found a guide but passion which has found a flag. 

The history of the democratic doctrine furnishes a striking exam- 
ple of an intellectual system blown about by the social wind. Con- 
ceived as the foundation of liberty, it paves the way for tyranny. 
Bom for the purpose of standing as a bulwark against Power, it ends 
by providing Power with the finest soil it has ever had in which to 
spread itself over the social field. 


To get an understanding of this catastrophic descent to earth, let 
us first of all restore the internal ordering of the ideas in question— 
an ordering which lies today in ruin and confusion. 

The originators of democratic doctrine made liberty of man the 
philosophical basis of their whole structure, and they thought to 
rediscover that liberty as the political consequence of their activi- 
ties. It marks the elevation of their minds that, out of the slow decay 
of the Christian cathedral— to the ruin of which they had, inciden- 
tally, made their own contribution— they should have sought to sal- 
vage the conception of man's dignity. 

A man, whoever he is, has, in their eyes, ends proper to himself, 
towards which an inner urge directs him. He may be prevented 
from realizing them by two external causes: the crushing weight of 


physical needs and the aggression of his fellows, whatever form it 
takes. Association enables him to lighten the burden of need, and 
should guarantee him against the will of his neighbour. But associa- 
tion is a snare and delusion when it subjects him "to the inconstant, 
uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man," J his sovereign. 

Our authorities allow in principle that a man on "entering into 
association" has accepted of his own free will certain rules of con- 
duct which are necessary to the upkeep of the association. But he is 
obliged to obey those rules and nothing else; his only master and 
terrestrial sovereign is the law. "A free people," said Rousseau t 
"obeys laws and laws only, and it is by the force of the laws thai 
it does not obey men." 2 

Let us pause a moment to salute the nobility of this conception, 
which has been debased less by its critics' attacks than by the us«j 
made of it by its avowed champions. 

Liberty is the principle and the end of society: no other sover- 
eignty is acceptable than the necessary and sufficient sovereignty of 
law. Such are the postulates, postulates which furnish immediate 
justification for the abasement and subordination of Power— which 
has henceforward no other right or reason for existence than to ex- 
ecute the law. The law is over all, and its authority, which protects 
man against man, contains Power within the limits of its proper 
functions. "The law should protect public and individual liberty 
against oppression by those who rule." 3 The intention informing 
these foundations is unambiguous : it is a matter of restraining Power. 

Let us now see what ideas go to the making of the rest of the 

Since the law is over all, the question of capital importance to de- 
cide is where the law is to come from and who is to enunciate the 
rule of right. The Middle Ages knew nothing of this difficulty; for 
them the law was fixed, the rule a premise. But from the time that 
the divine law was rejected as superstition, and custom as a mere 
routine, the law had to be made. 

There had to be a legislative authority, which, as the fount of the 
supreme rule of life, would necessarily be supreme. 4 But what is 
this? Shall men prescribe the conduct of men? Has Power, now sunk 
to the status of "executive," been put in chains merely to raise up 
a new and prouder Power? The danger was clear enough. All our 
authorities were aware of it. As temperament and nationality dic- 
tated, they coped with it either empirically or philosophically. 


The remedy discovered by English thinkers was, as Montesquieu 
put it, of Gothic inspiration. 

The country had had experience for centuries of assemblies which, 
though convoked by the monarch, always showed a tendency to 
limit his rights and refuse him the facilities for which he asked. 
Indeed, in times of trouble they had been seen to go to the length 
of giving him directives which narrowly limited his powers. This 
decided tendency to a negative attitude was mistakenly regarded 
as inherent in representation of the people as such, whereas it was 
in fact due to the special nature and status of these medieval as- 

What were they? In the beginning, gatherings of the privileged. 
Those sitting or represented there were at first those persons (the 
great barons) who had proved sufficiently powerful to assert their 
autonomy; next, they were that powerful entity, the Church, which 
had maintained such moral and temporal independence as was nec- 
essary to the fulfilment of her mission; lastly, they were the small 
communal bodies which, having received their liberties through 
their own initiative, had been granted by the king a power of de- 
cision proper to themselves. 

The meeting of Parliament had, then, from the start this essential 
characteristic, that it was the convocation of authorities, great and 
small, to which the king could not give orders and with which he 
had to parley. 

The English king in his Parliament, or the French king in his 
States-General, constituted a congress of the various authorities in 
the nation: there the public authority encountered the private au- 
thorities, and the general interest, impersonated by the king, held 
parley with the sectional interests, which appeared either in person 
or by representatives. 

In the dialogue which ensued between unity and diversity the 
nation was represented in two differenl characters— as a whole, as 
regards the interests gathered up in the sovereign, and as a collec- 
tion, as regards the sectional interests represented by those present. 5 

An assembly of this kind was a necessity for a Power which could 
not dispose of property by force but had to make request of each 
private interest to make its own contribution to the public require- 
ment. The attitude of the representatives to Power's requests was 


more or less negative. They did not give all that was asked, and 
they attached conditions to what they did give; an unreserved as- 
sent could be obtained from them only in the event of the clearest 
necessity. They were, moreover, tightly held by imperative man- 
dates to the sectional interests whom they represented. 

In raising taxation without having obtained it as a benevolence 
from these assemblies, men like Louis XIII and Charles I embarked 
on a revolutionary course: no longer did the general interest take 
account of private interests but proceeded to the disposal of prop- 
erty by force. Naturally public opinion, confronted with this abso- 
lutist revolution, favoured return to a regime of assemblies which 
guaranteed private interests. Reluctance to have the sovereign leg- 
islate without the concurrence of these assemblies was reasonable. 
His legislative career had begun only with them and by their con- 
sent, and for him to claim to exercise this dangerous authority by 
himself was an abuse. It could be restrained within just limits only 
if the consent of sovereign and assembly had both to be obtained, 
and of the latter it could safely be predicted that it would tend to a 
negative attitude and be reluctant to give more than the indispen- 
sable minimum. 

When, however, the predominant position secured by the as- 
sembly over the sovereign had made it the sole repository of the 
legislative authority, as being the sole representative of the nation, 
the change that was bound to ensue in its character and attitude 
escaped attention. Instead of being a juxtaposition of different in- 
terests, represented by men who were tied to a strict mandate, it 
became a representation in whole of the whole nation; 6 it was 
bound to become this under a system of ideas which laid on it the 
task of making laws in the nation's name. 

What the old constitution had guaranteed was that no proposition 
made by Power in the name of the public interest could become 
law without having obtained the assent of the various interests in- 
cluded in the nation. It would have been illogical for these various 
interests as such to have proposed laws, since the purpose of laws 
was to serve the public interest. The assembly could become, as it 
did, the propounder of laws only in virtue of the quite novel idea 
that it was representative of the nation, considered as a whole and 
in its general interest; this was the role that had formerly belonged 
to the king. The change, which affected the very essence of the 
assembly's nature, was marked by a new-found freedom of action on 


the part of the representatives in regard to their constituents, a free- 
dom which the doctrinaires of the new system especially empha- 
sized. 7 They were careless of the fact that Parliament, once it had 
been unified, emancipated, and made supreme as being the main, 
and tending to be the sole, 8 author of law, could not possibly main- 
tain the same dispositions as had characterized it when it was dis- 
parate, bound down, and without authority proper to itself. 

Parliament was now the king's successor as the representative of 
the whole: it had taken over his mission and his requirements. Un- 
like him, however, it no longer had representatives of diversity to 
deal with, mandatories of particular interests which it must take into 

In the ancient constitution the interest of the nation was repre- 
sented in two ways, as a whole and as a collection of parts, the 
former disposed to ask and the latter to refuse. One of them now 
disappeared. It was not, as might have been expected, the king, for 
the legislative Power representing the public interest is merely his 
successor. No, what has disappeared has been the representation of 
the various interests included in the nation. What had been a body 
for the protection of private citizens is now one for the advance- 
ment of the public interest, and has been clothed with the formi- 
dable power of legislation. 

In its new form Power had a much wider scope than in its old. 
The sovereign, when he was a king, was tied down by a higher code, 
which religion validated and of which the Church stood guardian; 
he was restrained as well by the various customary rules which, 
being rooted in popular sentiment, acted as makeweights to him- 
self. But this code and these rules are of no avail against Power 
turned lawgiver, whose recognized right and duty it is now to be 
itself the source of codes and rules. "The English Parliament," it has 
been said by some wit, "can do anything except change a man into 
a woman." 

It is quite certain that nothing of this sort entered philosophical 
heads. All of them were deeply convinced of the existence of a nat- 
ural and necessary order, and the function of the lawgiver, as they 
saw it, was to disentangle the outlines of this order and to keep on 
recalling erring;; governments to observance of it. Locke considered, 
but only to condemn, the absolute and arbitrary capacity to make 
laws. 9 Blackstone considered, along with all the sages of antiquity 
and all the theologians, that human laws derive their competence 


only from their conformity to, or their coherence with, the divine 
law. 10 

But there is now no concrete sanction to safeguard this conformity 
or this coherence. We can do no more than hope that lawgivers will 
be men sufficiently imbued with this higher code to give them to us. 
And that, it is clear, depends in the last resort on the dominion of 
religious and moral ideas. 

In the end, therefore, the principle of legality, intended as the 
absolute guarantee of each man's liberty, was to come to justify the 
absolute commission of that liberty to the discretion of a parlia- 
mentary aristocracy. 11 

That aristocracy becomes "the prince," and a more powerful prince 
than a king not in control of legislation ever was. One of two things 
may now happen. Either this "prince" succeeds in breaking loose 
from his constituents— as happened, for instance, with the Republic 
of Geneva in the eighteenth century— when he becomes absolute: 
though he may still be restrained from violating civil liberty by his 
recognition of a higher code, a code which is the source of his laws— 
as of the monarch's under the theory of divine right properly under- 
stood—and the regulator of his behaviour. 

Or again, in the contrary event, the members of the assembly may 
become the mere instruments of parties, or the playthings of forces 
outside the assembly altogether, parties and forces which are the 
expression of sectional interests and are all the more dangerous to 
society for being as well the expression of philosophic heresies. As 
each of them seeks for itself an absolute dominion, a battle ensues, 
in which the stake is now not only Power, as in the dynastic con- 
flicts, but the laws themselves, which will no longer be the constant 
reflection of higher truths but will chop and change with every fluc- 
tuation of fortune in the combat. In a regime of this kind there will 
be neither certitude in law nor guarantee for liberty. 

As a Genevan, Rousseau was warned of the first danger by the 
histoiy of his native city. All his political writings, while written in 
exaltation of the principles of liberty and equality, 12 are at the same 
time an attempt to prevent them from issuing in parliamentary sov- 
ereignty. That he damns and denounces in many passages, and his 
proclamation of the inalienability of popular sovereignty is made 
with a view to obviating it. 


It is of the greatest importance, nor is it difficult, to re-establish 
his meaning, which has suffered much tendentious distortion.* 

The citizen must be free, and freedom turns for him on his obey- 
ing nothing but laws. If the laws are his master, then it is most im- 
portant that there should be only such laws as are just and necessary. 

Rousseau does not entrust the establishment of such laws to a 
body of self-styled representatives. Certainly not. The citizen is both 
the subject-matter and the end of law. So he must be its judge. A 
new law will impose on a citizen a new obligation: it belongs to 
him, and to him only, as the person obligated, to accept or reject 
this obligation. According to Rousseau's reasoning, each law is an 
amendment of the social contract: for it to be valid the parties to 
that contract must have assented to it. 

This line of argument, if pushed to its logical conclusion, would 
make laws valid for those only who had voted in favour of them in 
the assembly of the people. Rut a system of that kind would destroy 
the body social. He therefore presupposes that the primitive con- 
vention contained a clause by which the contracting parties had to 
obey laws approved bv a majority. 

The object of Rousseau's system was, it is clear, to restrict the 
number of laws, and also the extent both of the obligations imposed 
on the subject and of the powers conferred on the magistrates. It 
did not enter his mind to suppose that the people could make laws, 13 
but he wanted to place it in their power to reject any which they 
thought unjustified. Theirs was in effect to be the same negative and 
eliminatory role as is plaved in practice by the referendum, a device 
which has been taken straight from the Rousseauesque principle. 

Light is thrown on his ideas by the legislative technique of the 
Romans, who were always much in his mind. At Rome it was a 
member of the executive who proposed to the people a new law: 
he made them acquainted with its provisions and fixed a day three 
weeks ahead 14 for the popular verdict on it. To carry a law meant, 
in strict parlance, to put it forward. 15 Refore voting day orators 
harangued the people in the forum either for or against the law. 
Only those who had come expressly participated in these debates, 
and the rule was, though it was often broken, that they must listen 
in silence. On voting day, on the other hand, all the citizens had to 

* For a fuller exposition of Rousseau's ideas, see the author's essay on "The 
Political Thought of Rousseau," appearing as introduction to his edition of 
Du Contrat social published by Constant Bourquin, Geneva, 1947. 


be present. The magistrate then put the question: "Are you in favour 
of this law?" and voting took place in one of the two constitutional 
ways provided (either by centuries or tribes).** The acceptance of 
the law by the people was, properly speaking, a contract entered 
into between the magistracy and itself: the word lex, incidentally, 
means contract. 16 

Not all the laws proposed by the magistracy— the government, if 
the word is preferred— were accepted. Therefore, the procedure 
could be described as a process of negation and elimination. 

If we stop there, however, we shall be overlooking the rising tide 
of laws which were adopted by the people in the latter days of the 
Republic without having emanated from the executive. These were 
"popular resolutions," 17 so called; they were taken on the initiative 
of the tribunes, who were persons outside the actual government, 
and they had been assimilated to laws in the strict sense by a lengthy 
process of evolution. With them it is no longer a case of the execu- 
tive asking for an extension of its prerogatives or proposing to the 
people a new set of regulations: it is the people, roused thereto by 
its leaders, setting the executive in motion. The popular will no 
longer plays the passive role of a sieve, but the active role of an 

If Rousseau had really held the views on popular sovereignty 
which have been ascribed to him, it is this last method of legislation 
which he would particularly have favoured. Now, a whole chapter 
of Du Contrat social is expressly consecrated to the tribunate. 18 And 
what he says about it is this: "The tribunate is not a constituent 
part of the city, and should Jiave no share either in the legislative 
authority or in the executive." 

My wish would be [he says elsewhere] 19 that, to check the interested 
and ill-conceived proposals and the dangerous innovations by which the 
Athenians came to grief in the end, each man should not have the power 
to propose new laws at will; that the right to do this should belong to the 
magistrates only; that they should make such careful use of it, that the 
people for their part should be so reluctant to give their assent, and that 

** The reference here is to the comitia centuriata and the comitia tributa. The 
comitia were the meetings of the Roman people held for the purpose of electing 
magistrates and voting laws. The comitia centuriata, in which the voting was 
by the military formation of centuries, was the earlier and more patrician of 
the two. The comitia tributa, in which the voting was by tribes, elected the 
tribunes and was the assembly of the plebs. In it were passed plebiscita, or 
popular resolutions which had force of law. 


the promulgation of new laws should only be made in so solemn a fashion 
that everyone should have time to realize, in advance of the overthrow of 
the constitution, that it is above all the great antiquity of the laws which 
makes them sacred and venerable; that the people should quickly learn 
to despise those laws which they see changing every other day; and that 
they should get to know that a habit of neglecting ancient usages under 
cover of improving on them often puts right lesser evils at the cost of 
introducing great ones. 

His conclusion is, therefore, this: that the people is "the source of 
laws" only in the sense that it alone gives them their validity and 
is also free to reject them; but not in the sense that every popular 
urge should, either directly or through the medium of representa- 
tives, be translated into law. 

It was not his view that any sort of laws would do, that they 
might as well be the caprice of whatever set of interests or opinions 
happened to be predominant; but rather that, as their function is 
to increase the good of the whole, their intent should sufficiently 
show them to have had, as it were, an existence prior to their reve- 
lation by the legislator— the person, that is to say, who proposes 
them. And the general will is an infallible instinct which knows 
them for what they are. 

The notion of a general will is something of a mystery and has 
given rise to much misconception: notwithstanding the care which 
Rousseau took to set over against it the will of all, 20 there is a tend- 
ency to see in it no more than the sum or mean of private wills. But 
it is not that at all: rather it is a will from which every subjective 
element has been purged, which has become, as Hegel would say, 
objective, and thereafter, by an inevitable process, aims only at the 
best. This will for the best lives in each of us, but is overlaid by our 
private passions, which are far stronger than itself. The effect of 
general discussion is, on Rousseau's supposition, to void and ex- 
tinguish the private passions by throwing them into opposition to 
each other; and so, in the end, the passions are silenced, and the 
general will makes good its claim. 

Rousseau's detestation of factions comes from his regarding them 
as so many coalitions of interests and passions by means of which 
the elimination of interest and passion, necessary to the manifesta- 
tion of the general will, is checked. 

The presentation of a law to the people is, therefore, the occasion 
for a judgment to be passed by the feeling for right— always sup- 


posing that the conditions are favourable for its manifestation— on 
what it is sought to make positive law. 

This conception of Rousseau's will perhaps become clearer by 
comparing it with the contemporary thought of Leon Duguit. That 
great jurist regards as laws in the true sense only such as conform 
to the rule of right, a rule which he conceives as imprinted on the 
social conscience. Borrowing Duguit's terminology, we might say 
that, in Rousseau's system, the object of presenting a law to the peo- 
ple is not only to save the citizen from being subjected to obliga- 
tions to which he has not subscribed, but even more to ensure that 
the law is brought face to face with the social conscience and in 
that way with the rule of right. 


That is how Rousseau put the coping-stone on the structure of 
his thought on law and liberty. 

The uses to which his doctrine has been turned are a matter for 
amazement and provide a striking lesson in social history. All that 
has been taken over from it is the magic formula, popular sover- 
eignty, divorced both from the subject-matter to which it was ap- 
plicable and from the fundamental condition of its exercise, the 
assembly of the people. It is now used to justify the very spate of 
legislation which it was its purpose to dam, and to advance the in- 
definite enablement of Power— which Rousseau had sought to restrict! 

All his school had made individual right the beginning and end 
of his system. It was to be guaranteed by subjecting to it at two 
removes the actual Power in human form, namely the executive. 
The executive was made subject to the law, which was kept strictly 
away from it, and the law was made subject to the sacrosanct prin- 
ciples of natural justice. 

The idea of the law's subjection to natural justice has not been 
maintained. That of Power's subjection to the law has fared a little 
better, but has been interpreted in such a way that the authority 
which makes laws has incorporated with itself the authority which 
applies them; they have become united, and so the omnipotent law 
has raised to its highest pitch a Power which it has made omni- 

Rousseau's school had concentrated on the idea of law. Their 
labour was in vain: all that the social consciousness has taken over 
from it is the association between the two conceptions, law and pop- 


ular will. It is no longer accepted that a law owes its validity, as 
in Rousseau's thought, only to the formal consent of the people; 
law is now whatever the people wishes, or whatever it is repre- 
sented as having wished. Law, he thought, should be confined to a 
generalized subject-matter. 21 Its majesty was usurped by any ex- 
pression of an alleged popular will. 22 

A mere juggling with meanings has brought the wheel full cycle 
to the dictum which so disgusted our philosophers: "Whatever pleases 
the prince shall have force of law." * The prince has changed— that 
is all. 

The collapse of this keystone has brought down the whole build- 
ing. The principle of liberty had been based on the principle of 
law: to say that liberty consists in obedience to the laws only, pre- 
supposes in law such characteristics of justice and permanence as 
may enable the citizen to know with precision the demands which 
are and will be made on him; the limits within which society may 
command him being in this way narrowly defined, he is his own 
master in his own prescribed domain. But, if law comes merely to 
reflect the caprices of the people, or of some body to which the leg- 
islative authority has been delegated, or of a faction which controls 
that body, then obedience to the laws means in effect subjection 
to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of men who 
give this will the form of law. In that event the law is no longer the 
stay of liberty. The inner ligatures of Rousseau's system come apart, 
and what was intended as a guarantee becomes a means of oppres- 

Government is by way of laws, and it is by laws that the transfer 
of Power to the legislative body has been effected. Their fusion once 
completed, a new Power, calling itself the expression of the popular 
will and presenting itself as the guarantor of individual liberty, will 
be seen separating itself by degrees from the legislative body, which 
is constitutionally unsuited to the work of command. The truth is 
seen to be that the entire logical structure of Rousseau's doctrine 
was destroyed by popular pressures, leaving behind it nothing but 
one simple association of words: popular sovereignty and liberty. 


This distortion of doctrine, incomprehensible though it is to the 
dealer in ideas, seems natural enough to an observer of the social 

c "Quod principi placuit, legis habet vigorem." Justinian, Instits. 


mechanism. It has been said that the reader determines the fate of 
the book: it is equally true that an idea gets its political meaning 
from the class which takes it over. 

Suppose the case of a country in which the Power in being, the 
imperium, has been successfully challenged by the social forces, 
and has been enclosed in a limited circle of fixed duties, within 
which a patrician "people" keeps watch and ward on it. In it the 
system of individual rights has grown autonomously, and the or- 
dinances of religion have retained much of their force. It will nat- 
urally follow both that the patrician "people" will make use of the 
principle of law to put a bridle on the vagaries of Power, and that 
the law will draw its inspiration from the system of rights which 
was formed in the womb of society. The function of the represen- 
tative body will be that of vigorous control, and the legislation will 
be of a restrictive character. Such were, in effect, the features of 
English political life, so long as an aristocracy was in the saddle and 
the "people" was exclusively patrician. 

Now suppose a country in which the Power has no history but 
has been built up from nothing, its only opponents being some lo- 
calized authorities of more ancient date which for long derive ad- 
vantage from an intenser loyalty. In it, moreover, a fundamental law 
is laid down, the guardians of which will be a judicial authority 
with a penchant for a traditional scheme of individual rights. It will 
necessarily follow that an improvised imperium such as this will for 
long remain weak; it will be held in check by a legislative authority 
which is itself checked by the imperium and both of them will be 
restrained not only by the provisions of the fundamental law but by 
the watchful jealousy of older authorities. So it was with the United 

Far different is the case in countries where the Minotaur has al- 
ready amassed vast forces, and has compelled the social makeweights 
to fight an ever more desperate defensive action. The imperium has 
there become so rich a booty and so great a stake that all desire and 
all ambition must be to lay hold on it. If a body is charged to regu- 
late by laws the manner of the imperium 's exercise, its high position 
will seem to it of small account until it can lay its own hands on 
the great treasure-house of honour and authority. It will grow more 
faithless to its office of control, and more disposed to conquest, with 
every step it takes away from being representative of aristocratic 
interests on the defensive and towards being representative of popu- 


lar interests on the march. It will thus follow that the legislative 
Power, which was called into being to exert popular control over 
the imperium, will tend more and more to take over the imperium. 
And, as there is in this country no autonomous scheme of individual 
rights, the faculty of legislation will be used with no higher rule to 
guide it than the class feeling of the legislative body soon to be 
sovereign. So it is with France. 

Her political destiny was really settled for her by the concentra- 
tion of Power effected under the Bourbon kings. From then on 
Power gleamed with so bright a radiance as to attract to itself all 
eyes. Those who could hope to be its new inheritors lived anxiously 
hoping. Those who could not lived in the expectation of profiting 
by a force whose miraculous virtues they much exaggerated. 

For that reason the legislative authority in France has never been 
valued but as a near-by elevation to the City of Command, as a 
vantage-point from which the latter might be stormed. For that rea- 
son popular sovereignty has always been secretly taken by its "rep- 
resentatives" to imply the exercise by themselves of the imperium. 
It is the logic, not of ideas, but, in politics a more potent logic, of 

It was to the possession of Power by the representatives of the 
people that the Revolution came when it replaced the king's min- 
isters by committees of the Convention. The same ownership of 
Power was brought in its train by the course of events which issued 
in the resignation of MacMahon in 1875. 


The evolution of the nineteenth century— an evolution which more 
or less continued into the twentieth— presents us with three impor- 
tant facts in regard to the imperium. The first is political: it is the 
conquest of the imperium by the parliamentary body, which exer- 
cises it through a committee, the cabinet, formed from within itself. 
The second is social: the parliamentary body becomes, slowly but 
surely, more and more plebeian. The third and last is moral: the 
general acceptance of the democratic principle, understood in the 
sense that it is the province of the people taken as a whole, not, 
indeed, to pronounce on laws— the true notion of which has been 
lost— but to govern. It is invariably assumed that this moral fact is 
the cause of the other two. But the opposite assumption is more 
probably the correct one. 


During this period the parliamentary body came to play the same 
role as was taken under the ancien regime by the service of the 
king: it became, more and more, the social ladder of plebeians. As 
it steadily filled up with their ambitions— and there is in this respect 
a striking contrast between the Constituent Assembly and the Con- 
vention—its fingers itched the more to close on the executive power, 
the source of actual command. 

To satisfy this ambition, popular sovereignty had, as was natural, 
to be invoked. Parliament, by a daring fiction, gave itself out for 
the assembled people itself: it was thus its function to make laws, 
for the laws were the people's. But it was its function also to gov- 
ern: and it would be the people governing. 

History may be ransacked in vain for a thinker who commended 
the sovereignty of an assembly, at once legislator and, for practical 
purposes, magistrate, to which, as the supposed incarnation of the 
interest of the whole, every private interest was subject, and which, 
as the sole begetter of the laws, the laws could not check. Rousseau 
kept his strongest invective for just such a regime: 

I can but marvel at the carelessness, the incuriosity and I will even say 
the stupidity of the English nation, which, after arming its deputies with 
supreme power, applies no brake for controlling the use which they make 
of it during the seven whole years that their commission lasts. 23 

Parliamentary sovereignty is not, then, the realization of an idea; 
rather it is the case of an idea having been adapted to fit the pur- 
poses of the parliamentary body hungering for imperium. The harm- 
fulness in action of parliamentary sovereignty has been much exag- 
gerated; but the extreme harmfulness of the intellectual system to 
which it has had to go for its justification has been completely 

It has been in actual fact, for a time at least, the government of 
an elite, bound by a real attachment to an exalted conception of law. 

The Declaration of 1789 had imprinted on minds certain prin- 
ciples which from then on haunted the waking hours of a middle 
class with a legalistic outlook. 

The violation of these principles during the Terror caused their 
value to be recognized, and, though legislation which was a con- 
tradiction of them met with no positive obstacle, they presented a 
framework which the action of the legislature had still to take into 


Moreover, the choice of parliamentary representatives was for 
much of the time a good one. Montesquieu expressly said so: "The 
people has a great gift for choosing those to whom it must entrust 
some part of its authority." 24 The quotation generally stops there, 
and his meaning thereby receives an arbitrary extension. But there 
is no denying that the inhabitants of a sufficiently small constituency, 
just because they know the candidates, do naturally single out those 
who have recommended themselves to them by the worth of their 
lives, the number of their good services, and their exalted merits. 
In that way good assemblies are formed as long as the choice is 
made on no other principle. Popular habit, in truth, changes slowly. 
The people, bidden to choose men who were to be for all practical 
purposes its sovereign, preferred, as in former days, to nominate 
those who would defend its local interests against Power. It there- 
fore tended to select such of the local notables as, from experience, 
it knew to be suited to this task. And these social authorities, as is 
the way of an aristocracy, added but little weight to political au- 

The separation of powers, though it could exercise only for a 
time its moderating function, did at least set up a friction by which 
parliamentary absolutism was slowed down. Moreover, this abso- 
lutism found a sort of check in the very numbers of the assembly: 
such a large body is naturally unsuited to steadfast and vigorous 
action. But this was a dangerous safeguard, for, while parliamentary 
sovereignty with its concentration of powers paved the way for an 
unlimited Power, its incapacity to use these powers itself summoned 
to the seat of this Power a formidable occupant. 


Had my purpose been to study merely the bodily growth of the 
Minotaur— the growth, that is to say, of its rights, powers, and re- 
sources—my reference to democracy could have been limited to 
showing what it had effectively contributed to the transformation 
of the state; and then I should have omitted this chapter altogether. 
But the age of democratic Power is characterized by a misconcep- 
tion which is so favourable to the growth of the imperium that some 
light needed to be thrown on it. 

It needed to be recalled that the democratic ideal was not in 
origin the substitution of the arbitrary will of a body or of a crowd 
for the arbitrary will of a monarch as the principle of rule. As was 


finely said by Royer-Collard: "The will of a single person, the will 
of many, the will of all, these are but variants of force of a greater 
or less degree; not one of these wills can, as such, claim either obe- 
dience or the smallest respect." As Clemenceau said later, ". . . had 
we expected that these majorities of a day would exercise the same 
authority as that possessed by our ancient kings, we should but have 
effected an exchange of tyrants." 25 * 

The stuff of men's dreams was that law should be sovereign, and 
not just any law but one which was compulsive in its own right. 
The guarantee of liberty lay in the sovereignty of the rule of right 
or law. 

The advances in law and liberty for which democracy gets the 
credit were in fact the fruit of complex governmental machinery in 
which no human will, whether single or collective, was sovereign: 
to constitutional regimes of this kind the word "polity" was prop- 
erly applicable.! These polities, being more or less shackled in their 
movements, came to be attacked on two counts; these were: their 
executive incapacity, and the fact that Power had in them no ra- 
tional foundation. 

Men called more and more loudly for the institution of popular 
sovereignty, with its absolutism; in other words, the complex of 
springs which played the part of shock-absorbers had to be made as 
simple as possible, and there had to be a concentrated Power, of a 
sensibility which would make it obsequious to the wishes of a day, 
and of a strength which could fulfil them. This cause was espoused 
both by the magistracy and by the legislative body, which saw in the 
proclamation of popular absolutism the way to magnify its own 
authority. It was not realized that this was the way of the renuncia- 

* Clemenceau's words echo nearly some spoken by Chatham on January 9, 
1770: "Are all the generous efforts of our ancestors . . . reduced to this con- 
clusion, that instead of the arbitrary power of a king we must submit to the 
arbitrary power of a House of Commons? If this be true, what benefit do we 
derive from the exchange? Tyranny is detestable in every shape; but in none 
so formidable as when it is assumed and exercised by a number of tyrants." 
(Cf. Acton: "It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be 
oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses 
which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist. But from the 
absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge 
but treason!") 

t The word "polity" is here used in its Aristotelian sense, to indicate "consti- 
tutional government." For a full account of it see the Politics 1293b, where it 
emerges as a blend of oligarchy and democracy, but also is akin to aristocracy. 
(Perhaps the sort of alternating oligarchy of trained minds which governed 
England for much of the nineteenth century answers to an Aristotelian "polity." ) 


tion of the rule of law— that rule so difficult in practice 26 — and of 
the abandonment of guarantees for liberty; that there was in truth 
going up a new Caesarism which was certain in time— similia simili- 
bus— to find its Caesars. 


1. Sovereignty and liberty. 2. The idea of the whole advances. 3. 
The attack on centrifugal tendencies. 4. The authoritarian spirit 
in democracy. 5. The general interest and its monopoly. 6. Self- 
defence of the interests. 7. Of the formation of Power. 8. Of 
paities. 9. Of the political machine. 10. From the citizen to the 
campaigner: the competition for Power takes military form. 11. 
Towards the plebiscitary regime. 12. The competition of "mech- 
anized" parties ends in the dictatorship of one party. 13. The 
degradation of the regime is linked to the degradation of the 
idea of law. 

Proudhon said truly 1 that popular instinct grasps the simple 
notion of Power more successfully than the complex notion of 
social contract. The explanation of the democratic principle's 
degeneration is psychological: conceived at first as sovereignty of 
the law, it triumphed only when it had come to be regarded as 
sovereignty of the people. 

Its only effect was to transfer into other hands, those of the rep- 
resentatives of the people, the whole complex of rights, duties, and 
resources which had been built up during the monarchy for the 
behoof of the king. 

The imperium took no diminution therefrom but an accretion. 
The traditional view of it, as a principle of authority which was, 
however necessary, the enemy of liberty, gave way to one in which 
it was regarded as the agent of liberty. From being, in other words, 
one will, and within certain limits a beneficent one, among others 
equallv worthy of respect, it passed henceforward for the general 
will. From being but one interest in society, an eminent and essen- 
tial one certainly, it became the interest of society. 

We have posited that the transformation of Power took place in 


such a way as to disarm all suspicion of it. The credit then opened 
in its name has prepared the way for an age of tyrannies. This we 
are now going to see. 


Viewed historically, liberty had been a status, acquired not with- 
out a struggle by certain men, maintained by an energetic de- 
fence, and guaranteed by privileges extorted from authority. Men 
aspired to make of it a right conferred on all, and thought to guar- 
antee it by regulations of general extent. This idea, arbitrary sim- 
plification though it was of the most difficult problem in political 
science, was even so too subtle to penetrate the social consciousness, 
and was besides unsatisfying to the appetites of the new office- 
holders, who greatly preferred command to liberty. 

The libertarian idea is, as such, indifferent as to the form which 
Power takes. Its principle is the recognition, or the assumption, that 
there is in every man the same pride and dignity as had hitherto 
been assured and protected, but for the aristocracy only, by privi- 
leges. Proclaiming as it does the sovereignty of each man over him- 
self, its sufficient requirement is that every member of society should 
have a domain proper to himself in which to be his own lord. And, 
as corollary to this, that Power be confined within a zone of in- 
fluence from which it never breaks out. This condition once realized, 
it is a matter of indifference whether the command remains mo- 
narchical and so assures itself of the advantages both of stability and 
of neutrality in the strife of interests; or whether it becomes aristo- 
cratic and benefits by an incessant rivalry of intelligent ambitions 
and well-grounded opinions; or, again, whether it becomes demo- 
cratic. Even Rousseau shared this indifference: the choice between 
the various forms of government turned, in his view, on the size of 
the community, and if his own leaning was to aristocracy it was 
because it suited the moderately sized states of his choice. 

But this indifference is not to the taste of ambitions dressed in 
the panoply of new ideas. Their objective would be outside their 
grasp were they to use the libertarian aspirations which escort them 
to Power, merely to usher in a limitation of the imperium. Their 
aim is, rather, the seizure of this imperium. They can no more tol- 
erate a Power which is not theirs than they can admit limitations 
to one which is. Hence the idea that it is not enough for individual 
sovereignties to be guaranteed against Power: also and more, they 


must admit no Power which has not issued from themselves. If they 
are sacred, why should they accept a command which they cannot 
but distrust? On, then, with the good work of abolishing such a 
Power, and let the sum of private liberties set in its place a new 
authority, which of its nature cannot turn traitor to those who gave 
it life. 

In this way, it is claimed, to the existing means of defence against 
Power, and to the established liberty, are added, for the individual's 
benefit, the right of taking part in Power and an established sover- 
eignty. It is, unfortunately, an abandonment of the substance for 
the shadow. 

It looks on the face of it as if the joint sovereignty of the citizens 
must be a greater which includes the less of liberty, which will in 
this way find its fixed and certain guarantee. The mistake is one 
which was exposed in advance by Montesquieu: "As it is a feature 
of democracies that to all appearance the people does almost ex- 
actly what it wishes, men have supposed that democratic govern- 
ments were the abiding-place of liberty: they confused the power 
of the people with the liberty of the people." 2 This confusion of 
thought is at the root of modern despotism. 

It is possible, with the help of prudently balanced institutions, to 
provide everyone with effective safeguards against Power. But there 
are no institutions on earth which enable each separate person to 
have a hand in the exercise of Power, for Power is command, and 
everyone cannot command. Sovereignty of the people is, therefore, 
nothing but a fiction, and one which must in the long run prove 
destructive of individual liberties. 

It is difficult, it requires unceasing vigilance, to keep the libertar- 
ian principle alive, for the spirit of domination never slumbers. 
While admitting that Power cannot be dispensed with, and while 
allowing it the full use of its energies in its own sphere, the liber- 
tarian principle never ceases to distrust Power as being potentially 
an aggressor, and keeps a jealous watch on the frontiers of liberty. 
But, when once Power is based on the sovereignty of all, the dis- 
trust comes to seem unreasonable and the vigilance pointless: and 
the limits set on authority no longer get defended. 


The onlooker sees in society a vast crowd of individuals, each ani- 
mated by his particular will; he sees that their diversity of charac- 


ters, functions, and situations tends naturally to group them in 
various categories, each of which has an interest of its own— an in- 
terest which is, in regard to the members of a category, general, 
and, in regard to society, particular. These individual wills, these 
sectional interests, are the rudimentary realities of social life. They 
live, no doubt, in constant warfare, but, given the observance of 
certain rules, that warfare is the breath of life of society. 

The will and interest of Power have always taken a hand in this 
"warfare. The will has always sought to seem infallible, the interest 
transcendent. But, so long as the regime was monarchical, in spite 
of the royal house's movement towards absolutism, they never fully 
succeeded. Democratic Power has other weapons. Its predecessor, 
being personified, was, patently, above but also outside the people. 
Democratic Power claims identity with them, yet, in the nature of 
things, remains above them. 

The royal will was, and was known to be, that of a crowned head, 
his favourite, or his minister; it was in that respect as human and 
personal as that of anyone else. The will of democratic Power goes 
by the name of general. It crushes each individual beneath the 
weight of the sum of the individuals represented by it; it oppresses 
each private interest in the name of a general interest which is in- 
carnate in itself. The democratic fiction confers on the rulers the 
authority of the whole. It is the whole that both wills and acts. 

This personification of the whole is a great novelty in the Western 
world, and is a throwback to the world of the Greeks, from whom 
its inspiration comes. But the citizens of an ancient city state, being 
enclosed within its walls and having been conditioned by much the 
same education, showing in social standing differences that were 
but of degree, came much nearer to being a real whole than the 
people of an extensive nation, of various origins and traditions, and 
marked by a diversity of functions. 

This whole is not a fact, for all the care that is taken to break 
down every private formation and tradition in existence. 3 It is a 
fiction, which it is sought the harder to accredit for being the title 
deed of Power. 

It does not admit of doubt that the suppression or lightening of 
the imperium, and the ability to follow their private desires which 
people would have received therefrom, would have had a solvent 
effect on the men and territories once held together by the monar- 
chical grip. And that was what the imperium 's new owners refused 


to tolerate. Sieyes expressed himself on the subject 4 with the great- 
est vigour: 

France must not be an assemblage of small nations each with its own 
democratic government; she is not a collection of states; she is a single 
whole, made up of integral parts; these parts must not have each a com- 
plete existence of its own, for they are not wholes joined in a mere federa- 
tion but parts forming a single whole. The difference is a big one, and one 
which is of vital importance to us. Everything is lost once we consent to 
regard the established municipalities, the districts, or the provinces as so 
many republics joined together only for the purposes of defence and 
common protection. 


Every Power is sure to attack centrifugal tendencies. But the be- 
haviour of democratic Power offers in this respect some peculiar 
features of a striking kind. It claims its mission to be that of liberat- 
ing man from the constraints put on him by the old Power, which 
was the more or less direct descendant of conquest. But that did 
not stop the Convention from guillotining the Federalists, the 
English Parliament from wiping out, in some of the bloodiest re- 
pressions of history, the separatist nationalism in Ireland, or the 
government at Washington from launching a war such as Europe 
had never yet seen to crush the attempt of the Southern States to 
form themselves into a separate unity. Another instance would be 
the action of the Spanish Republic in 1934 in opposing by force 
the movement to Catalan independence. 

This hostility to the formation of smaller communities is incon- 
sistent with the claim to have inaugurated government of the peo- 
ple by itself, for clearly a government answers more closely to that 
description in smaller communities than in larger. 5 Only in smaller 
communities can the citizens choose their rulers directly from men 
whom they know personally. Only in them can justification be found 
for the encomium pronounced by Montesquieu: 6 

The people is well fitted to choose. . . . The people knows well whether 
a man has often seen active service and what successes he has won: 
therefore it is well equipped to choose a general. It knows whether a 
judge attends to his duties; whether most people leave his court satisfied; 
whether or not he is corrupt: therein is knowledge sufficient for it to elect 
a praetor. It has been impressed by the magnificence or wealth of a cer- 
tain citizen: this qualifies it to choose an aedile. These are all facts which 
make a public square a better-informed place than the palace of a king. 


A further requirement is that there should be a public square or 
its equivalent, and that the choice of administrators should take 
place at the municipal level. 

The desire to secure the fullest measure of popular sovereignty 
possible should, logically, lead to the same principles being followed 
in the formation of the higher authorities. At the provincial level, 
the population is already too large and too scattered to be effec- 
tively assembled, so that each candidate for a place may be known 
personally to everyone. For that reason the choice and control of 
regional administrators should be the work of representatives of 
the municipalities. And, for the same reasons, the choice and con- 
trol of national administrators should be the work of representatives 
of the regions. 

A system of this kind would assuredly be the best fitted to em- 
body popular sovereignty, especially if the representatives were 
held in check by imperative mandates, 7 and were liable at any 
moment to be recalled by their constituents, even as the represen- 
tatives attending at the Dutch States-General could be recalled by 
their provinces, and the representatives at the States-Regional by 
their townships. 8 

But the new men whom the popular voice has made masters of 
the imperium have never shown any inclination to a regime of that 
kind. It was distasteful to them, as the heirs of the monarchical au- 
thority, to fritter away their estate on subordinating themselves. On 
the contrary, strong in the strength of a new legitimacy, their one 
aim was to increase it. Against the federalist conception Sieyes 9 was 
their mouthpiece: "... a general administration which, starting from 
a common centre, will reach uniformly to the remotest parts of the 
Empire— a body of laws which, though its elements are provided by 
the body of citizens, takes bodily form at as distant a level as that 
of the National Assembly, to whom alone it belongs to interpret the 
general wish, that wish which thereafter falls with all the weight of 
an irresistible force on those very wills which have joined in the 
formation of it." 

So! On particular wills there falls, "with all the weight of an irre- 
sistible force," a "general wish"; the wish, from being the expression 
of the aforesaid particular wills, justifies the force. . . . Behind these 
phrases lies a reality, the irresistible nature of the "general wish"; 


lies also a lie, the generation of this "general wish" by the particular 

So far from the people being the sole author of laws, it does not 
rest with it to pronounce even on the most general, those which 
affect most profoundly its way of life. Although there exists a method 
of popular consultation, the referendum, which has been tried out 
in Switzerland, democratic Power is careful not to have recourse 
to it. 

In the moment of proclaiming the sovereignty of the people, it 
limits them exclusively to choosing delegates who will enjoy that 
sovereignty's plenary exercise. The members of society are citizens 
for a day and subjects for four years, a state of things which was 
damned in the strongest terms by Rousseau. In America, they choose 
both legislators and administrators. In Europe, only legislators, so 
that the latter are virtually masters of the administrators, and there 
is no separation of powers. 

In France the practice was for the electors to choose deputies, and 
these came by degrees to the point of choosing the ministers; 10 
these in turn chose the public functionaries, notably the official who 
is in regional control, the prefect, and so on down to the official who 
in practice exercises the municipal authority, the teacher. That was 
how France was, in reality, governed in 1939. It was, in fact, quite 
unconstitutional for the ministers to be chosen by the deputies.* 
Municipal authority belonged, no doubt, to the local councillors, 
who tended, however, to get rid of it onto the teacher. That he 
exercised it ably and patriotically is not denied. The point is, how- 
ever, that, even in positions where the onrush of Power did not dis- 
pense with them, the citizens dispensed with themselves. 11 

It comes to this: that the "Power of the people," so called, is in 
fact linked to the people only by an extremely slack umbilical cord- 
general elections; 12 it is, to all intents and purposes, a "Power over 
the people," a Power which is all the greater for getting its authoriza- 
tion from this cord. 

The imperium could have wished no finer justification, the Mino- 
taur could never have gazed on a face of things that seemed more 
propitious for his appetites. Power now crushed those provincial au- 
tonomies before which the monarchy had had to retreat. It obtained 

* Since this was written it has become constitutional for the President of the 
Council to be elected by the Assembly, and his ministers are the delegates of 
sections of the Assembly. 


he financial resources which were refused to the king. It achieved 
:onscription— conscription which had floated before Louvois' eyes 
is an impossible ideal. It discovered the secret of mustering the en- 
ire people for war— war which is the special business of Power. 

A democratic regime ensures, so we are told, that the general 
nterest is exactly represented by Power. From this postulate flows a 
:orollary: that no interest is legitimate which opposes this general 
nterest. For this reason every local or particular interest must bend 
he knee to Power, for is not the whole naturally to be preferred to 
he part? Nowadays it is a mere truism that "particular interests 
nust be sacrificed to the general interest." It has been said so often 
hat it no longer stays for an answer. 

And of course no answer is possible if the very existence of society 
s at stake. But that is a case of infrequent recurrence. Whereas it 
)ften happens to the imperium that it comes up against a sectional 
nterest whose resistance, even if it were successful, could not pos- 
ibly endanger society. Yet this resistance is damned as egoistical; 
t is considered illegimate, and the organ which gives it expression 
s regarded as an evil influence. Indeed the fathers of democracy 
leld it for a fundamental principle that an organ of this kind had 
10 right to exist; that Power which incarnated the general wish and 
nterest could not suffer in society the existence of any group which 
embodied less general wishes and interests; that Power had by right 
>oth monopoly and solitude. 

Since that time, "particular interest," the very name, has become 
l species of insult— a development of language which, on being ex- 
imined, is seen to reflect the unceasing mobilization of public opin- 
on against the community's constituent sections. 

This a priori damnation of every particular interest as such is a 
nost surprising phenomenon. The more advanced is a society, the 
nore diversified is its functional and human content and the more 
mmerous the categories which arise in it of their own accord. In the 
sarly Middle Ages there were some who commanded and fought, 
ome who studied and prayed, and some who farmed and provi- 
ioned: here were three categories, of which one was menial. A little 
ater there arose, at a level lower than that of the nobility and priest- 
lood, a Third Estate of merchants, artisans, and lawyers. It was in 
hose days freely admitted that the nobility as such had certain inter- 


ests of their own which, though doubtless egoistical, were yet legiti- 
mate and such as might be opposed to the royal Power. And so it 
was too with the other orders. 

Observation shows that the social categories of today are just as 
clear-cut as then and far more numerous. But the egoistical interests 
of any one of them are no longer thought legitimate or such as may 
be opposed to the democratic whole. For instance, a military officer 
who tried to win for subjective rights of his own the same respect 
as in former times the knights-at-arms won for theirs would be guilty 
of sedition. Yet, if each specialized group is necessary to society, no 
less necessary and respectable must be the conditions which allow 
it to fulfil its function. And the sacrifice of those conditions to a self- 
styled general interest is for society a defeat and not a victory. 

It is the height of folly to rely on Power alone to bring about the 
conditions in which each category can play its part; the only result 
of that must be that Power fights with each of them in turn, falling 
on each minority with the whole weight of all the others whom it 
has at call; and it will oppress each in turn by the same methods. 

The whole course of the evolution of democratic society has belied 
its monist principle. The various interests which found themselves 
no longer safeguarded took to defending themselves. The experience 
of centuries had shown them the way of defence: the formation of 
representative bodies. And these have been developed in the teeth 
of every interdict and persecution. They have won themselves rights 
by asserting them and fighting for them. These rights are naturally 
proportioned to the strength of each group's reaction. 

This spontaneous formation of society into syndicates of interests, 
secret or professed, has been denounced and damned, but in vain. 
It is a natural phenomenon, acting as a corrective to the false totali- 
tarian conception of the general interest. 

These private authorities occupy all the same a somewhat uncer- 
tain position in relation to the political Power. The latter, invoking 
the general will, cannot endure that each fractional interest should 
rule autonomously in its own inviolable domain. And the interests, 
having no defensive position which they can take up to check the 
onrush of Power, have had perforce to act on the offensive. They 
have had, in other words, to get sufficient sway over Power itself to 
influence its actions and make them conduce to their own advantage. 


The result is the besieging of Power by particular interests which is 
seen at its most visible in the popular assemblies of America. There 
each great interest, whether it falls within the category of agricul- 
tural, industrial, or working-class, keeps at the federal parliament 
representatives of its own who fill the lobbies ( from which they take 
their name) of the official buildings, and lay siege to "the represen- 
tatives of the Nation." So well recognized is the phenomenon that it 
is often called "the third chamber." 13 There they are, armed with 
resources which are not hard to guess, for the express purpose of 
hindering or helping the passage of such laws as affect those who 
sent them. If they do not get their way, their associations start cam- 
paigns in the country which make the legislators pause. 

Democratic Power recognizes no other authority in society than 
itself, and claims always to go just as far as the general will carries 
it— or as it claims it carries it. But this Power, if there is no stopping 
it, is on the other hand eminently open to be wooed and won. 

Every Power tends to be the object of manoeuvres of this kind, 
which are the more necessary the less limited it is, and the more 
effective the wider is its base. If it is a king, the interests can only 
win him over by setting in motion, by means of slow and systematic 
approaches, someone within the inner ring of his court. If it is an 
aristocracy, they must make use of family relationships and social 
contacts. In this way Power can be influenced or led. 

But this is as nothing to what the interests can make of a demo- 
cratic Power. In this case Power is conferred by the opinion of the 
majority. If, therefore, sectional interests know how to organize 
themselves and can but acquire the art of creating movements of 
opinion, they can enslave Power, they can degrade it, they can even 
seize it, to use it to their own advantage and benefit themselves at the 
expense of other groups or of society as a whole. 

They make the participants in Power their slaves when they exact 
from them, at election times, precise pledges in favour of particular 
groups; they degrade Power when they force it to retreat before a 
well-orchestrated press campaign; lastly, they seize it when they 
sweep a party into power which is the expression and instrument of 
their particular needs. 

In other words, particular interests, having been deprived of all 
means of defence, have been driven to an offensive activity which 
results in their oppression of other interests; these in their turn are 
thereby stimulated to stop, push, or conquer Power by similar meth- 


ods. Authority then becomes nothing better than a stake, and loses 
all stability and respect. The characters of those who exercise it be- 
come increasingly debased, until in the end the Palace of Com- 
mand gets a tenant who decides not to let himself be driven out: 
the tyrant. 

When that time comes, he can, with hardly an addition to Power's 
attributes on paper, found the most hideous despotism. Each of its 
successive conquerors before him has, for his own ends, created 
some new office, and if the state, already monstrous in size, had not 
in those days crushed all life, the only reason was that it was con- 
tinually changing hands. Let it once come to rest in the same hands, 
and its weight will be felt. 

The strength of Power and its extent are two very different things. 
It may be confined within a very narrow range of attributes and, in 
its own domain, act energetically and receive complete allegiance. 
Or it may again have vast attributes but a constitution which ren- 
ders it nerveless and so deprives it of public respect. In this case, 
however, it is in uncertain equilibrium: either it must work within 
narrower limits or it must strengthen its constitution. At the time of 
Pompey the government of Rome had become unfitted to govern 
a vast empire: everywhere was felt the need for a system of com- 
mand which would be at once more concentrated and more stable. 
It was to be the Empire. 

Just as the territorial conquests of Republican Rome called into 
being the Empire, so the extension of the attributes of the state in 
democracies made inevitable the coming of authoritarianism. 

It could, no doubt, have been avoided if there had been a stable, 
vigorous, and unified executive to which the legislature acted merely 
as limitary principle. But in fact, as we have seen, the contrary 
happened: the legislature made itself the ruling sovereign. The only 
effect of the proclamation of the sovereignty of the people was to 
substitute for a king of flesh and blood that hypostasized queen, the 
general will, whose nature is always to be adolescent and incapable 
of personal rule; the occasional inconveniences which arise in a mon- 
archy during the minority or mental incapacity of the sovereign 
being now permanently present, the aforesaid queen boldly en- 
trusted her person to a succession of favourites, who abused their 
position the more freely the less she became an object of contro- 


versy. The only possible safeguard was in the sense and morals of 
that regency council, the sovereign assembly. 

In this respect antiquity furnished an admirable model in the 
shape of an assembly, the Senate, which had known how to build 
and govern the Roman Empire: the slackness which made a per- 
sonal authority necessary was not the fault of this assembly but 
rather of the disorders which ensued on the decline of its strength. 

The Senate, however, even though in the great period of Roman 
history it did actually exercise sovereignty as if it were a modern 
parliament, was far from proceeding from the same principle. The 
legislative authority belonged, not to it, but to the people, acting 
on the impulsion of its chosen magistrates; the Senate was thus, not 
the parliament of the people, but the council which the executive 
magistrates had to attend, and these it kept in an ever tighter con- 
trol. This illustrious chamber was composed only of men who had 
filled the highest executive offices, to which they had risen only by 
way of a succession of minor posts. The Senate, therefore, consisted 
exclusively of men who had grown grey in the public service; of 
these none was missing, and all were vested with a sacred character 
and made irremovable. 

It has been today's folly to imagine that assemblies which have 
not enjoyed these advantages of careful selection, long experience, 
and great stability are capable of playing the same managerial role 
as the Senate. The importance of their composition being a good 
one has, no doubt, been recognized. But it has been hard to recon- 
cile this desideratum with the principle that they must embody the 
general will. 

Recourse has to be had to the idea that everyone cannot take part 
in the formation of the general will because everyone is not inde- 
pendent and enlightened and for that reason cannot be an active 
citizen. As Kant says: 

The right to vote is the only test of citizenship; but this right presup- 
poses the independence of him who wishes to be not only a part of the 
Republic but also a member of it— a part, in other words, that acts as it 
sees fit in conjunction with the others. Action in this capacity compels a 
distinction between the active citizen and the passive. . . . 14 

Kant ranked among the passive citizens "all those who to preserve 
their lives, their nourishment, or their protection depend on some- 
one else"; he would, in other words, have denied the vote to all the 


salaried employees of a factory. Among other thinkers, not inde- 
pendence, but leisure, becomes the test of civic rights. And in this 
may be felt the influence of Aristotle: what makes the citizen is hav- 
ing the time to think about public affairs— in fact, no time, no citizen. 
There appears in Sieyes and even in Rousseau a shamefaced nostalgia 
for the facilities for forming an enlightened opinion which in ancient 
days slavery conferred on the freeman. 

Among the Ancients, the slavery of a large number of individuals had 
[said Sieyesl a refining effect on the classes of freemen. The result was 
that every freeman could be an active citizen. In our days, fortunately, 
society has a broader base, our principles are more humane and the law 
offers protection to all alike. But for the very reason that the inhabitants 
of every floor of the social structure are citizens, there are men among us 
whom their state of intelligence and feeling alienates from society's inter- 
ests much more than could ever have been the case with the humblest 
citizens of the free States of antiquity. 15 

Rousseau comes near to saying that the abolition of slavery makes 
a republic on the ancient model impossible: 

What is this? That liberty requires slavery to maintain it? It may be so. 
Extremes meet. Whatever is unnatural has its disadvantages, and that is 
truer of civil society than of anything else. 

Circumstances unfortunately arise in which a man can keep his liberty 
only at the cost of another's, in which the citizen can enjoy perfect free- 
dom only on the condition of the slave being very much a slave. Such was 
the position of Sparta. You, ye modern peoples, have no slaves but you 
are slaves yourselves; the slaves' liberty is paid for by yours. Do not claim 
credit for this state of things to me; I see in it a proof, not of humanity, 
but of pusillanimity. 16 

He marks in several passages his distrust of a crowd incapable of 
sound judgment. 

Our authors were, then, in agreement in refusing to admit all the 
members of society to the task of forming the general will. 

But [asks Sismondi] how are we to distinguish those who have a will 
from those who have not? Everyone has a right to happiness, everyone 
has a right to perfect himself. By what signs can we recognize those whose 
imperfections are a menace to the happiness and progress of the rest? 
Lines of division have had to be drawn but they are almost capricious. 
. . . The belief has been entertained that those whose poverty condemned 
them to unceasing manual labour, who had no time left for reading, 
reflection or conversation with their neighbours on more serious subjects, 


had no will of their own. It has been sought to exclude them— even though 
it was well recognized that there were exceptions to the rule. 

This philosophy, of a regime based on intelligence tests, was for- 
mulated at the representative Council of Geneva, and Geneva fur- 
nishes the most perfect example of such a regime in operation. 17 It 
gave good practical results, 18 but could not, in spite of them, main- 
tain itself. There is no country in which it has maintained itself. 

Entrusting the function of voting to a part only of the people— 
which was what it came to— could not be made consistent with the 
totalitarian aspect assumed by Power. Power tolerates no resistance 
from society, allows no sectional interest's right to oppose the gen- 
eral interest as incarnated by itself. That being so, to have no share 
in the formation of Power is to be completely defenceless. Nor is it 
compatible with justice to exclude any class of society from voting. 
It is, no doubt, undesirable that the Lumpenproletariat, as Marx 
called it, should affect foreign policy by its votes. But the political 
structure has been built in such a way that there is no means of 
depriving the voters of the power to bedevil diplomacy without rob- 
bing them at the same time of the power to defend and ameliorate 
their condition. 

It is a melancholy but indubitable fact that in a democracy each 
social category can get what is due to it both in justice and in 
humanity only in so far as its voting power makes possible its extor- 
tion. No working-class vote, no laws protecting the worker. No wom- 
en's vote, no laws protecting women. 

And so, since the various sectional interests have no other means 
of expression or weapons of defence on which to rely, sovereignty 
has to be shared with social categories which are incapable of pass- 
ing a sound judgment on matters of general interest. 

Democracy being a battle for Power, those who are not repre- 
sented necessarily go under. Children, for instance, having no vote, 
get little attention, and what concerns their well-being tends to be 
neglected. For this to be remedied under the present system they 
would have to receive in their cradles the ballot papers which are 
the sole means of self-defence.* 

This is the preposterous result of the confounding of interests and 

* In the application of this statement to England it may be observed that 
family allowances were introduced nearly forty years after old age pensions. 
Even then, so Lord Beveridge has said, the balance of his plan was, for political 
reasons, disturbed for the benefit of the old, to the disadvantage of the children. 


opinions. If interests were guaranteed and given their own means of 
expression and action, Power could then be formed by a clash of 
opinions only and could be thrown open to enlightened opinions 
only. In the absence of this basic distinction, Power is the plaything 
of interests which, disguised as opinions and served by passion, do 
battle for a majority, to be the arbiter of problems on which it is 

The phenomenon which denotes a democracy is the activity of 
voting: but its nature is not self-explanatory. Do men in voting exer- 
cise a right or do they perform a duty? Are they choosing a policy 
or representatives who will work out a policy for them? What ju- 
rists have said on this point is of less importance than the general 
feeling. It is certain that the average citizen looks on voting as a 
right. It is no less certain that in early days he conceived himself to 
be choosing a man but that, as time went on, he came to see himself 
as choosing a policy. The cause of this change is the rise of political 
parties; its consequence is that the regime of parliamentary sov- 
ereignty has been gradually transformed into a plebiscitary regime. 

So long as the people, gathered together by constituencies to 
nominate its national representatives, has regard to the personal 
merit of each and not to his political label, the assembly consists of 
an elite of independent personalities. Groups are formed in it by 
those who think alike, but these can only live in a perpetual flux of 
disintegration and reconstitution; the reason is that men who were 
in agreement on one piece of legislation, touching, for instance, 
questions of defence, may be in disagreement on fiscal matters. The 
result is a living assembly in which opinions are always free and do 
battle with one another for the country's good and the education of 
the public. 

But when, as happens in democracies, the representative assembly 
becomes the repository of Power, the appetite for command impels 
the members to group themselves in permanent factions, thereby 
sacrificing something of their own personalities to the effective cohe- 
sion of the group in its quest for victory. 

The forthcoming elections are then no longer regarded as held 
with the object of bringing to the assembly an accession of fresh 
talent but rather of strengthening or weakening the various groups 
to which all belong. Anxious to strengthen itself, the group makes its 


presence felt in the electoral body, from which it asks that it choose 
a man who stands in the name of the group in preference to a man 
with distinguished personal qualifications. "In voting for a man as 
such, you are abandoning your sovereignty to him," is the way in 
which it is put to the electors— and it is true. 

Vote rather for an opinion: that is to say in practice for a man of whose 
merits, like himself, you are necessarily ignorant, but who is the standard 
bearer of an opinion. In this way you will be exercising your sovereignty, 
and will be impressing on the government the way in which it is to go. 

Through the prestige of its leaders and the popularity of its prin- 
ciples the group brings victory to its candidates, whom it has chosen 
less for their personal worth than for the pledge of their obedience 
to itself; moreover, they will be the more faithful to their party from 
their inability to make their way without it. 

The first result of this is a degradation of the assembly, which no 
longer draws its recruits from the best men. A man must now be 
ready to rely on the support of the controller of his group's votes 
and to let his name be boosted for election by his whip. He must be 
ready to become a mere numerical, and not a qualitative, addition 
to the assembly. 

Another result is the debasement of the elector's position. He is 
now regarded only for the weight which he can throw into one or 
the other of the scales. By hook or by crook the vote of which he 
disposes must be got from him. When the Reform Act of 1832 had 
widened the franchise, the chief preoccupation of the two English 
parties was to get put on the register the electors whose support each 
believed itself to have won, and to fetch them in carriages on polling 
day, for fear that otherwise they would omit to record their vote. 
The spectacle was not so much that of people proudly exercising 
their rights as citizens, as of two factions touting in every way open 
to them for the votes which could confer Power. 

So far the debasement of the electors and the degradation of the 
assembly are only accidental. They are to become by progressive 
stages systematized. Syndicates of interests and ambitions will soon 
take shape which, regarding the assembly as a mere adjunct of 
Power and the people as a mere cistern for the assembly, will devote 
themselves to winning votes for the installation of tame deputies 
who will bring back to their masters the prize for which they have 
ventured everything, the command of society. 


The political machine is perhaps the most important discovery of 
the nineteenth century; the credit for it must, it seems, be given to 
an American, Martin Van Buren. 

Like every other machine, it has the advantage of effecting a 
great economy of effort by dint of being immensely complicated. 

During his campaign, the candidate must try to convince the elec- 
toral body that his opinions are the soundest and his character the 
worthiest. The machine saves him most of this work by bringing 
him supporters who cleave to his views without his having had to 
set them out and who cheer his name without ever having heard it 
before. When the period of the elections opens, the elector has to 
weigh the pros and cons of the programmes and personal merits of 
the respective candidates. This worry is saved him by the machine, 
which hands him out a ready-made list of those whom he must 

All that is needed to produce these desirable results is organiza- 
tion. In this respect the city of New York has long since shown the 
way. In each quarter of the town each party has an office staffed by 
permanent and salaried agents, who, in a descending hierarchy down 
to the leader of a block of flats, maintain contact with each single 
person who may one day be called on to vote. It is all a question 
of linking people to the party in such a way that their support may 
be counted on. Is hammering at their eardrums with political ideas 
the best way of doing this? Are men as susceptible as all that to 
intellectual arguments? Do not the emotions hold greater sway over 
them? Do they not attach themselves to those who, in times of diffi- 
culty, have helped them with kind words and material succour and 
have found them work? If they have opened for them gambling and 
drinking clubs where they meet the same companions every evening, 
do they not develop an esprit de corps which makes them feel proud 
of the party emblem looking down on their festivities? When the 
moment has come, will they refuse to give what costs them so little, 
the insertion in the ballot box of a voting paper bearing beneath the 
usual emblem a list of names? 

They were rare spirits, the Rousseaus and the Jeffersons. The 
manipulators of the machine make fewer pretensions; but they know 
the real man, who needs warmth, comradeship, the team spirit, and 


can make noble sacrifices for his side. The machine whose founda- 
tions are laid in an empirical psychology can make the pretensions 
of political philosophy look meaningless and ridiculous. 

Stupid slogans, which come trippingly to the tongue and are a 
pleasure to repeat,* songs which exalt the "comrades" and ridicule 
the "enemy," these are the stuff of politics. Mix with it a little doc- 
trine, but only a very little, and reduce it to the simplest proposi- 

A good regimental officer may explain to his men what they are 
fighting for, but in the day of battle that will not avail him if he has 
not first kept them in good humour, convinced them that he is at all 
times there to help them, and inspired in them trust and affection. 

The squalid side of Tammany Hall has been thrown into relief 
many times; but it has not been sufficiently brought out, so it seems to 
me, that this machine of the Democratic party has been of service, 
materially and morally, not on the plane of charity, but on that of 
comradeship. For the machine's officers, both the commissioned and 
the non-commissioned, there are solid rewards in store. Long and use- 
ful service earns them at length posts, graded according to their im- 
portance, in the administration; in these they are allowed a few 
peculations so long as they do not cause too great a scandal. Their 
installation in these posts is all the easier because, in accordance with 
ancient custom, many of them are elective, and, for the rest, it is the 
usual thing to dismiss office holders who were put in by the beaten 
party. For "to the victors belong the spoils." Such was the nature of 
the Tammany Hall machine; though today it lies broken, it can still 
take pride in having set in motion a completely new scheme of 

The prescient of every country have transplanted this experiment; 
they too have made organized love to the electors. 

The bosses of the machine were at first looked on by the great 
party leaders as useful but lowly auxiliaries. In much the same way 
there was a time when navigating officers looked down on engineers. 

* Cf. George Savile, Marquess of Halifax, The Character of a Trimmer: 
"Amongst all the engines of dissension, there hath been none more powerful 
in all times than the fixing names upon one another of contumely and reproach; 
and the reason is plain in respect of the people, who, though generally they 
are incapable of making a syllogism or forming an argument, yet they can 
pronounce a word; and that serveth their turn to throw it with their dull 
malice at the head of those they do not like." 


But the men of the machine lost little time in making their impor- 
tance felt. All the work of an election had been made cut and dried 
beforehand by them: why then should they let candidates who had 
not received their blessing profit by their labour? Soon they secured 
for themselves the selection of the candidates, and, naturally, chose 
men in their own likeness: they did not choose Catos. From this has 
followed a prodigious drop in the level of parliaments and in the 
level of government. 


The history of the machine in the United States and in England, 
where it was introduced by Joseph Chamberlain, has been admirably 
recorded by Ostrogorski, a Russian. 19 His book has been translated 
into several languages, and each country has taken it to heart. The 
lesson has been learned everywhere that, since votes give Power, 
the supreme art of politics is getting voters to the polls. And that is 
the concern of organization and propaganda. 

So far as organization is concerned, the task has been one of per- 
fecting the achievement of Tammany Hall; there has been no ele- 
ment of innovation, and even the National Socialist party created 
nothing which was not to be found in embryo in the ancient doings 
at New York. 

But so far as propaganda is concerned, what an advance is here! 
The fathers of democracy held the view that an election campaign 
was a season of popular education by means of the full exposition 
of contrary policies; they attached special importance to the publica- 
tion of parliamentary debates which would, by being reported, en- 
able the citizen to follow the activities of government and so fit him 
more and more to pass judgment. If the participation in sovereignty 
of an ill-informed man was not without its drawbacks, these would 
in large measure be compensated for by the gradual mitigation of 
the prevailing ignorance through the medium of discussion, to which 
even the meanest intelligences could not help paying heed. The fact 
that the larger spirits would have to solicit the votes of the smaller 
would mean that the latter, their intelligences once formed in such 
a school, would at long last be fitted for the leading part which had 
been assigned to them without exception. Of all the arguments in 
favour of democracy this was the noblest. 

The men of our day, however, being circumspect people, have 
realized that the cultivation of the electors' intelligence is at least as 


likely to open a window on the arguments of their opponents as on 
their own; therefore it is labour lost. 

The faculty of reason may lie relatively unused in the majority of 
a people, but there is not a man anywhere who is incapable of emo- 
tion. And it is to the emotions, therefore, that appeal must be made. 
Rouse in your behalf trust, hope, and affection; rouse against your 
rival indignation, anger, and hatred— and success is yours. It is truly 
complete when a public meeting can be induced to cheer a speech 
which it cannot understand, and to greet the other side's reply with 
stampings of the feet. Its path of duty is marked out for it by the 
proceedings of the national assembly itself. The result is that good 
citizenship, so far from being awakened among those who are as yet 
without it, gets extinguished in those who already have it. 

To stifle the curiosity which may be aroused by an outstanding 
orator on the other side, to kill the desire for the knowledge which 
comes from an understanding of the arguments on both sides, to 
destroy the natural amiability which predisposes a man favourably 
to his neighbour, the chord of party loyalty is struck. To read the 
enemy's newspaper becomes a treason, no less than to attend his 
meetings except for the purpose of drowning his voice and after- 
wards confuting him with the help of a manual for hecklers. For the 
political battle is a war in the true sense. Baudelaire, even in his 
day, marvelled at the military jargon employed in it: "The advance 
guard of democracy, in the forefront of the battle for the republic, 
and others." The poet was right. The electors had been transformed 
into soldiers engaged in a campaign, the reason being that their 
leaders were out to take possession of Power. 


The further the organization of parties is pushed and the greater 
the part that is played in winning elections by "the flag" and "the 
machine," so much the more complete is the subjection of the mem- 
ber of congress or parliament to that machine, which is the real 
holder of his seat. Parliament is then no longer a sovereign assembly 
in which an elite of independent citizens compare freely formed 
opinions and so arrive at reasonable decisions. It is now only a 
clearing-house in which the various parties measure their respective 
parcels of votes against each other's. 

The more powerful the machine becomes and the tighter the 
bonds of party discipline are drawn, the less does debate matter: 


it no longer changes votes. The hangings of desks take the place 
of arguments. Parliamentary debates are no longer a school for citi- 
zens but a circus for boobies. 

In the beginning it was the machine that made away with men of 
intelligence and character. Soon they are making away with them- 
selves. The tone and behaviour of the assembly are in a continuous 
decline. At length it loses all consideration. 20 

As the parties take on a greater consistency and discipline, so does 
all effective authority leave the assembly. If one of them disposes of 
sufficient votes to dominate it, then the assembly becomes merely 
the office in which that party's decisions are registered. Under these 
conditions the only possible government is that which the party 
wills; it is the party's government. 

The relations between cabinet and parliament then become re- 
versed, a phenomenon of which Dicey, writing in 1889, was already 
aware. After recalling that in England the executive was in principle 
independent of Parliament, that ministers were named and retired 
by the king alone, he went on to note that in practice "the cabinet 
is a parliamentary executive, for it is effectively chosen, though very 
indirectly, by the House of Commons, which can at any time dismiss 
it; further, its members are chosen invariably from among the mem- 
bers of both houses." But, as Dicey saw, the cabinet was starting to 
extricate itself by progressive stages from its dependence on Parlia- 
ment. The consultations with the electorate having now the char- 
acter of battles waged between the various machines, the victorious 
machine can install its leader in power; and he need then hardly 
concern himself with the assembly, in which a stable majority will 
be guaranteed him by the whip. 

It is at any rate conceivable [said Dicey] that the time may come 
when, though all the forms of the English Constitution remain unchanged, 
an English prime minister will be as truly elected to office by a popular 
vote as is an American president. 21 

In 1904 Sidney Low remarked the same phenomenon: 

An English prime minister, with his majority secure in Parliament, can 
do what the German emperor and the American president, and all the 
chairmen of committees in the United States Congress, cannot do; for he 
can alter the laws, he can impose taxation, and repeal it, and he can 
direct all the forces of the state. The one condition is that he must keep 
his majority. 22 


Now, keeping his majority is easy enough when the party machine 
controls the elections, when the member who falls out with his 
machine is certain to lose his seat, and when he is, morally and 
socially, of such a kind that the loss of his seat means his relapse 
into insignificance. 23 

The more the machine controls the way in which votes are cast 
the more the individual member sinks to the condition of a mere 
arithmetical symbol and the more the leader of the party tends to 
exercise an absolute and undivided imperium. We have seen the 
fruits of this system in Germany, where in 1933 the National Social- 
ist party manoeuvred in Parliament as at a military word of com- 
mand, thereby assuring the absolute rule of their leader. Had the 
Communists, who were organized after the same fashion, had the 
same weight of numbers in the French Parliament in 1936, the same 
result would have followed. And so the action of parties has caused 
sovereignty to pass from parliament to the victorious machine, and 
elections are now no more than a plebiscite by which a whole peo- 
ple puts itself in the power of a small gang. 


Let one of these machines put more method into its organization 
and more cunning into its propaganda, let it boil down its doctrine 
still further into propositions which are at once simpler and falser, 
let it surpass its adversaries in insult, treachery, and brutality, let it 
once seize the coveted prey and, having seized it, never let it go— 
and there you have totalitarianism. 

All those in outer darkness then break out in angry laments. Yet 
have they not contributed to this result? 

A man or a gang now disposes of vast munitions which had been 
long accumulating in Power's arsenal. Yet who heaped them all up 
there if not those others who, when they were in office themselves, 
were always for an extension of the state? 

There is now no makeweight in society with the strength to stay 
Power's advance. And who, if you please, destroyed them, those 
powerful groups of men on which the monarchs of former days 
dared not lay a hand? 

A single party leaves the marks of the master's talons on every 
inch of the nation's flesh. Who at first was it that aimed at crushing 
all personality beneath the deadening weight of party? And who 
looked for the triumph of his own party? 


This tyranny is accepted by the citizens, who come to hate it only 
when it is too late. Yes, but who was it that disinclined them to 
judging for themselves and made them take the loyalty of the cam- 
paigner in exchange for the independence of the citizen? 

There is no more liberty, for liberty is a property only of men who 
are free. And who bothered himself about forming men who were 


All discussions of democracy, all arguments whether for it or 
against it, are stricken with intellectual futility, because the thing 
in issue is indefinite. As many writers, so many definitions— a con- 
fusion which is a function of contradictory notions being covered by 
the same word. In essence these notions fall into two groups, the 
one, that of law and liberty, the other, that of absolute sovereignty 
of the people. 

It is overlooked that, in the life of a democracy as it is in fact 
lived, these two principles conflict; and astonishment is felt when, 
supposing ourselves to be the witnesses of successive advances of 
democracy— as measured by the triumphs of popular sovereignty— 
we see in the end the emergence of a despotism, of a regime from 
which law and liberty have taken flight. 

This is the process on which we have tried to throw light. Let us 

In the beginning, thought laid down liberty as the end. It was 
sought to ensure to the individual the maximum of independence 
that was compatible with life in society, to protect him from every 
arbitrary will, and to guarantee his rights effectively. 

With this end in view, proclamation was made of the sovereignty 
of the laws. The laws were, in accordance with Rousseau's formula, 
placed above the man. And nothing else other than the laws was to 
be above him. He would have no need to &o in fear either of an 
individual who was more powerful than himself or of a group which 
was formidable by weight of numbers, for between their force and 
himself stood an inexorable justice which would decide in accord- 
ance with the laws established. Equally he would have no further 
cause to fear the rulers, whose expansionist tendencies would be 
held in check by the laws, to serve which would be their only func- 
tion. And in this way there opened before the citizen such a vista of 


freedom and inviolability as no other system could procure him. The 
will of the human being was enfranchised from all other masters 
save the law, which was conceived as a binding force at once sov- 
ereign and salutary. 

This system could only last so long as the law inspired a religious 
veneration. While it was sacred and immutable, it could hold sway 
over a society which was based on law and liberty: whether the 
rulers held office on a permanent tenure or were elected at intervals 
made no real difference if, in any case, they themselves were subject 
to something which did not change. 

But is it possible for law not to change at all? Certainly it is not. 
What was possible, and what to preserve its sacred character was 
necessary, was that a change in it should be either the imperceptible 
labour of time, the slow work of custom, helped by the invisible and 
silent toil of scholars laying precedent on precedent, or else a solemn 
act, looked on by all as dangerous and impious, justifiable only 
when it seemed amply probable that the substance of what was 
effected conformed with the dictates of objective reason. There had, 
to put it shortly, to be a belief in the necessary character of the laws; 
they had to be looked on as inscribed in the nature of things, and 
not merely as a product of the human will. 

What in fact happened was that the laws came to be looked on as 
mere regulations which were always open to criticism and revision. 
And the task of their unending amendment was entrusted now to a 
parliamentary body and now to the people itself: it became in either 
case a function of opinion. The reason for this was not a prior admis- 
sion that the laws could be what anyone wished them: their neces- 
sary character was still accepted, but it was thought that the "neces- 
sary" law would be given to the people by revelation, at a time 
when, as was supposed, passion and interest would be dumb. This 
is a conception which merits a careful consideration in its own 
right, 24 but must not detain us here. Our concern is not with the 
result predicted but with the result obtained. And that result was 
that the supreme rules of social life became matter for political 

From then on, the particular wills, which it had been sought to 
keep in subjection by proclaiming the sovereignty of the laws, were 
free to act, for they were now competent to make or unmake these 
same laws. Whereas formerly only the choice of the rulers was com- 


mitted to the strife of parties, there was now not a single rule of 
social life which did not depend for its continuance on the issue of 
an election. The life of democracies has been marked by a growth 
in the precariousness of laws. Kings, chambers of peers, senates, any- 
thing that might have checked the immediate translation into law 
of whatever opinion was in vogue, have everywhere been swept 
aside or rendered powerless. The law is no longer like some higher 
necessity presiding over the life of the country: it has become the 
expression of the passions of the moment. 

Changes in the laws react on every social relation and affect every 
individual life. They affect them the more as men grow bolder as 
regards the laws, as they extend their scope and are at greater 
liberty, as they think, to make them. The citizen has now no longer 
a fixed and protected right, for justice has become the servant of 
changing laws. He is no longer safeguarded against rulers, when 
their aggressions are backed by laws which they have made to suit 
themselves. The hurts which a new law may inflict or the advan- 
tages which it may confer are now on such a scale that any change 
in the law tends to induce in the citizen a mood of total fear or total 
hope. As the only way to subdue the legislative authority, which is 
now one with the executive, is by means of a well-organized faction, 
factions are for ever gaining in cohesion and violence. The more of 
possibility and the more of menace that Power holds, so much the 
fiercer grows the strife of factions, and so much the more precarious 
the tenure on which Power is held. 

The reality of Power is now no longer held by the titulars of 
office; it is scattered among factions, only the leaders of which draw 
profit from the loyalty felt by a percentage of the population to the 
heads of the state and to the magistrates— a loyalty which, in a re- 
public worthy of the name, should be the possession in common of 
the entire people. 

These factions are states within the state; 25 sometimes they hold 
each other in check to the enfeeblement of the public authority, at 
others they succeed each other in office, changes which take on the 
character of earthquakes. 

But, whether their equilibrium produces anarchy or their alternate 
victories a contrariety of extreme courses, in either case the result- 
ing uncertainty becomes so great and the prerequisite conditions of 
social life are laid in such ruin, that in the end the peoples, tired 


of the impotence of an imperium which is ever more hotly disputed, 
or of the ruinous oscillations of an imperium which bears ever more 
hardly, aspire to stabilize this crushing burden of Power which 
changes hands at random, and find in the end disgraceful consola- 
tion in the peace of despotism. 



A Prince that will say he can do no good, except he may do every- 
thing, teacheth the people to say they are slaves, if they must not do 
whatever they have a mind to. 

Halifax, Maxims of State 


J. Limited Power. 2. Of internal checks. 3. Of makeweights. 4. The 
makeweights crushed and law subordinated. 5. Unlimited Power 
is equally dangerous whatever its source and wherever it rests. 
6. Thought swings back to limited Power. Lessons drawn from 
England. 7. The formal separation of powers. 

Power has two aspects, of which sometimes the one and some- 
times the other is the more present to men's minds, according 
to the character and the situation of the onlooker, and, above 
all, to the circumstances of the time. 

It is a social necessity. By reason of the order which it imposes 
and the harmony which it creates, it enables men to attain a better 
life. 1 These services rendered by it have made so great an impres- 
sion on the majority of writers, and the idea of a governmental 
vacuum ( Hobbes, 2 Ihering 3 ) has filled them with so much horror, 
that in their conception no foundation could ever be dug too deep 
for the rights of Power. And this held good whether its rights were 
derived from God or from society, of which it was the supreme 
expression ( Kant ) or the predestined guide ( Hegel ) . These theories 
we attacked in limine, and we demonstrated that Power's undeni- 
able blessings could be explained on a quite different hypothesis, 
and one which had the advantage of not obscuring its other aspect. 

It is also a social menace. It is not a thing of reason but a living 
complex, animated by a dynamism which impels it to take over the 
forces developed already in the human congeries under its sway, 
that it may use them to its own purposes. 

The basic condition of all political science is to see Power, as it 
were, stereoscopically, from both angles. 

The very possibility of such a science is, in truth, open to doubt. 
For there is no branch of study in which the intelligence gets so 
easily led astray from the path of neutrality by prejudice and inter- 
est, none in which the strict meanings of words suffer a like corrup- 
tion from use in popular controversies and from the call to action 
which they sound: instance the words "democracy" or "socialism," 



which are charged with so many different hopes as to have lost all 
precise meaning. 

To the observer who is inside the test tube and not above it, it 
happens inevitably that he exaggerates the importance of the reaction 
which is all about him, and views as an advance what is merely an 
oscillation. And so it happens that the solutions found in times past 
to the problems which agitated the finest spirits of their age are in 
the sequel forgotten or regarded as otiose: yet their value remains. 

The doctrine of limitation of Power is the most striking example 
of this. 

This doctrine has had a strange destiny. In the course of a single 
century it has burned brightly, concentrated on itself the attention 
of every thinker of eminence, grown in attraction by reason of the 
frightful spectacle presented by the outbreak of an unbridled abso- 
lutism, been the fixed guiding star of all political navigation; it has 
then, in the very hour of its triumph, paled its fires to the point at 
which what was in 1840 a truism seems today a paradox. To under- 
stand how it came into being, we must return to the ancient society 
of that Middle Age from which we are descended'. 

What we find there is a complex of authorities which all limit one 
another. That of the king, the state's in other words, is only one of 
them. And he, like all the others, lives in what may be called an 
atmosphere of right. By this I mean that certain ideas are so much 
the heritage of all that not even the most outstanding of these au- 
thorities is in a position to modify them: it must submit to them. 
So said John of Salisbury in the twelfth century: "The difference 
between the prince and the tyrant is that the prince obeys the law 
and governs his people in accordance with right." This formula re- 
ceives its full force only if it is remembered that what is here referred 
to is a law and a right which issue from a source higher than Power. 

We are acquainted with the process by which the state has grown 
at the expense of all other authorities. Not only has it subdued them 
to its overlordship, but in addition, thanks to the dismemberment 
of the Church, the temporal monarch has claimed to be in direct 
communion with the divine suzerain, and has in this way justified 
his assumption of a measure of legislative power, a goal towards 
which he had long been moving. Though the measure of it seems to 
us a small thing, it seemed to contemporaries a daring innovation. 


In this way Power, which had till then been on a footing with the 
other authorities and the prisoner of right, tended to absorb within 
itself the various social authorities and even right itself. The nota- 
bles, that is to say, could not maintain their position but by its pleas- 
ure, and ideas of the just depended for their continuance on its 

Our understanding of the old society is so imperfect that we tend 
to regard the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as still a time of 
feudalism and clericalism; whereas to contemporaries, when they 
compared them with times past, it seemed that the state was well 
in the saddle. An unparalleled concentration of functions in the hands 
of Power was already tending to make participation in its exercise 
more sought after than ever before; its favours were becoming more 
lucrative, its mistakes more fraudulent, and its vengeance more 

Government is not at its most stable when its powers are at their 
most extended. Then, rather, is the time when it disturbs most inter- 
ests, and the weight which it lays on them stimulates them to dis- 
charge, if they can, the burden onto other interests. This they 
cannot do so long as the strength of the government is in proportion 
to the extent of its claims. Their time for action comes when gov- 
ernment is weak. 

Such a combination of circumstances leads inevitably to troublous 
times. The criticisms directed against the actual rulers, the attacks 
launched against the doctrines of which they make use, and the 
denunciation of the interests which they serve or protect, take on a 
tone, at any rate among some sections of the population, of hatred 
and warlike violence. By legal means, if such there are, if not by 
violence, they are ejected from their places by other men, basing 
themselves on other doctrines and allied to other interests, who 
harry, punish, and execute their predecessors, together with their 
auxiliaries, partisans, and colleagues. But before long these new 
arrivals, who are the more rabid from coming; to Power with fresh 
appetites and all the strength given by victorious passions, evoke in 
another section of the community a no less fanatical rage. 

The time of proscriptions opens. The wiser heads then bethink 
them that what renders this succession of rulers, their doctrines and 
their interests, so altogether hateful is the possibility which they 
enjoy of an exclusive dominion. 

When, for a whole half-century in England, poison, confiscation, 


burning, and capital punishment had been successively meted out 
to heterodox opinions and opposition parties, Locke, from his Dutch 
retreat, considered that security, liberty, and peace could be the lot 
of the citizen, only if Power were deprived of the right to prescribe 
all, to direct all, and to impose all. 

It is the eighteenth century's title to fame that it tried to find 
means of effecting this limitation. Its jurists, to start with, furbished 
anew the principles of natural right. These, in the Middle Ages, had 
been founded on the direct command of the divine will, but this 
foundation had been laid in ruins by the break-up of Christian unity, 
the great diversity of sects, and the advance of free-thinking. A sub- 
stitute, though, truth to tell, a less robust one, was found in reason. 
The thing of importance was to uphold a legislation of universal 
extent, such as no human will could bend to suit its fancy or its 

Next, Montesquieu demonstrated the need for makeweights. "All 
history shows that every man who has authority is led to abuse it; 
he does not stop until he comes up against limitations. It is a hard 
saying, but limitations need to be set even to virtue herself." Shades 
of Calvin, Savonarola, and Saint-Just! But what is the way to get 
these limitations respected? "Things must be so arranged that one 
authority checks another." 4 

The checking of one authority by another is a difficult conception 
for countries in which the various public authorities are dependent 
parts of one centralized machine, all set in motion by one authorita- 
tive will. 

Such is the structure of the European states today. In them the 
governmental machine was the work of the absolute monarchy, and 
its task is still the execution of orders which emanate from one 
supreme organ. Thus, the democracies which we know are in reality 

But the republics of antiquity, Rome especially, were quite other. 
There the different magistracies were independent, and there was no 
concentration of the imperium except when, under pressure of events, 
a temporary dictator was appointed. Each office, moreover, had its 
own authority or potestas. The result was that the various authori- 
ties were liable to cross one another's paths and act as a check on 
one another. This process of check offered by one authority to an- 


other was an essential part of Roman constitutional law. One mag- 
istrate could stop another either by prohibiting a step intended or by 
annulling a step taken. Thus, the consul could check the praetor and 
the tribune the consul. And the contribution to Roman political his- 
tory made by the tribune's power of check has been the most impor- 
tant of any. 

To men familiar from childhood with Roman history and knowing 
it infinitely better than that of their own country, 5 the idea of one 
authority checking another seemed natural enough. The difficulty 
consisted in finding an equivalent suitable for introduction into mod- 
ern constitutions. It was perhaps neither practical nor prudent to 
introduce internal tensions into a Power which had been a unity for 
centuries. But Western society did, as history showed, offer the pos- 
sibility of limiting Power by means not of an internal but of an 
external check. Power could, without falling over itself, come up 
against makeweights. 


What is a makeweight? Clearly it must be a social authority, an 
established sectional interest; such were in Montesquieu's day the 
higher ranks of the English aristocracy, which he so much admired, 
and the Parliamentary class in France, to which he himself belonged. 
In our own time the syndicates of workmen and employers answer 
to the description. So do in all times the various conglomerations of 
interests and loyalties which arise spontaneously in society and 
which Power seeks instinctively to dissolve. 

At different times it is, as is natural, different sectional interests 
which display sufficient character and energy to "form a body" and 
play the role of makeweights. It would be as absurd to entrust a 
political role to a social class which was devoid of any energy of its 
own as to refuse it to one which had and asserted such an energy. 
Interests, moreover, make themselves sufficiently prominent by their 
own dynamism. What Montesquieu means is that their defence of 
themselves, however egoistical it may be in principle, goes to form 
a social equilibrium, marked by the existence of makeweights which 
are capable of checking Power. 

Bodies of this kind were found by Montesquieu in every part of 
the society of his own time. There were the nobility, whose influence 
had declined with the decline of their social importance. There were 
the clergy, also in decline, but still kept independent by their large 


estates and by the extent to which they acted as a ladder for the 
rise in the social scale of men of intellect. Over against these bodies 
in decline was one in the ascendant, that of the Parliament men 
with official freeholds, who would often turn back the royal author- 
ity. There were the surviving assemblies of the States in the prov- 
inces, who guarded jealously the privileges earned by loyalty and 
were sustained by a vigorous parochialism. There were besides the 
corporations, also in a decline, confronted now by the rising power 
of the commercial or industrial companies which tended to domi- 
nate the chambers of commerce and make of them their instrument. 6 

The tradition of the monarchy inclined it to the suppression of 
these centres of social life, not so much those which were, like the 
nobility, dying by inches as the more vigorous ones. The spirit of 
authority and centralization, which was to triumph with the Revo- 
lution, was already at work. 

Montesquieu took advantage of a pause in this process to de- 
nounce it as harmful: "Monarchy is lost," he said, "when the king, 
concentrating all power in himself alone, summons the state to his 
capital, the capital to his court and the court to his own person." 7 
For him the social equilibrium is assured by incessant warfare be- 
tween the various authorities. And this becomes readily intelligible 
when it is remembered that it was at this time that the doctrine of 
the balance of power and European equilibrium first saw the light 
in diplomacy. 

The Continent of those days swarmed with petty states, whose 
lives depended on the rivalries of the larger; everywhere one power 
checked another and so enabled these tiny sovereignties to live in 
the interstices between the great. And by analogy Montesquieu 
seems to have sought the preservation of individual liberty in social 

Further, just as the jus gentium, which could not by itself have 
saved these small sovereignties, came to invest them with sanctity 
and respectability, so the judicial authority furnished additional 
guarantees to individual liberty. 

The sale of offices guaranteed the complete independence of the 
judicial authority in its dealings with the state. The king must stop 
removing cases to his privy council. Thus there was to be a justice 
which would be the more objective, in that, laws being still few and 
far between, decisions must be mainly based on natural law, on 


contract, and on custom. Such a justice would, moreover, be con- 
stantly tempered by interpretations which were in accord with the 
movement of ideas: the English jury system was to be introduced, 
and with it the intervention of what modern sociologists would call 
"the contemporary social conscience." The final requirement was 
that this justice should be put within the reach of all. 


Such in outline was the system of Power which was conceived by 
the choicer spirits of the eighteenth century. They had no need to 
concern themselves with the problem of the formation of Power: 
the eighteenth-century solution of that was heredity. Nor with the 
problem of the formation of right. There had come down to them 
a transcendental right: philosophy did no more than rub the cor- 
ners off it. No: for them the great problem was that of the limitation 
of Power, and they focused attention on formulas for doing it. At 
that moment a sudden earthquake occurred— political, but intellec- 
tual as well. Its harbingers had been Rousseau and Mably. 

The sovereignty of the people was asserted against the sovereignty 
of the king, and triumphed. The old Power, whose virtues and vices 
were, like its nature, known to all, was suddenly replaced by a new 

Among such of the men of the Convention as did not merely ig- 
nore him, Montesquieu was treated with a superior and disdainful 
amusement. He had met with it before from his correspondent, 
Helvetius. Let us not waste our time, said they, on framing an elab- 
orate machine to check the anti-social activities of Power. There is 
but one effective remedy— to overturn it. What made the old Power 
bad was the law of its being: "We are only too well aware," said 
Gregoire, "that there has never been a dynasty which was not a race 
of devouring monsters living on the people's blood." 8 The Power 
which we are now building is one which will be, by the law of its 
being, good. Thus we make of government a thing commensurate 
with the interests of society. 

The problem of the limitation of Power, so it was supposed, only 
arose from the defective solution found in earlier times for the prob- 
lem of the formation of Power. 9 If the source of government is un- 
defiled, then liberty is the offspring, not, as formerly, of its weakness, 
but of its strength; it is no longer Power's growth that will be anti- 


social, but any obstacle which it is sought to oppose to its growth. 
Thus it happened that the enemies of Power 10 became the fanati- 
cal agents of its growth and realized in a few months the absolutism 
which had for centuries eluded the grasp of the monarchy. 

The French monarchy [said Odilon Barrot] had spent whole centuries 
in dissolving all the various forces in society which resisted its will— yet it 
had still left in being some few scattered remnants of the institutions of 
the Middle Ages. What next? The Constituent Assembly made a clean 
sweep of all these last remaining obstacles: independence of the clergy, 
tradition of the nobility, municipal bodies of towns, syndicates of guilds, 
States provincial, local Parliaments, hereditary offices, all disappeared in 
a day, not to make way for more liberal institutions, but to enrich with 
their effects, and to augment still further, the central authority. 11 

So complete was the work of destruction of the makeweights 
which the wild men of the Revolution effected, that for many gen- 
erations to come the French nation, with no other object before its 
eyes than the state, would come to place in it all hope and all fear, 
would seek unceasingly to change its ministers, and would lose in 
the end the instinct of association and the tendency to form societies 
within society, which had in other days been the precious bulwarks 
of liberty. 

There is good reason for the growth which we have seen in "this 
universal and passionate desire for public offices," of which Tocque- 
ville said that it was giving to politics the proportions of an indus- 
try, but "an unproductive industry, which disturbs the country 
without fertilizing it." 12 The growth is the natural result of the fact 
that in modern society the subject's condition has become, under 
onerous and arbitrary administration, a hazardous one; whereas the 
career of administrator has become a safe one. A man needs to be 
in the machine if he is to avoid being helplessly in its grip. 

Nor was that the end. There was, overarching Power, natural 
law, which is, as was said by Cicero, 13 valid for all nations and all 
times; we cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people. 

The men of the Revolution pulled down this sovereign law from 
heaven and handed it like a bauble to Power. 

It had needed the hardihood of a Hobbes to assert that the state 
is the source of law, that "when a republic is formed, there are laws 
and nothing antecedent to them," 14 that "every law, written or un- 
written, derives its force and authority from the will of the republic, 
that is to say from the will of its representative, be he monarch or 


assembly," that it is by these laws alone that man "distinguishes 
good and evil; in other words, what is contrary to and what is not 
contrary to the statutes of the realm." 15 

The Revolution took these principles to its bosom. Law is a crea- 
tion of the general will, of parliament,* in fact, which has become 
in a trice the only competent authority not only for manifesting but 
for forming this will. 16 The effective sovereign is parliament, 17 on 
which unlimited authority has been conferred not only to make of 
government a hurtful business but to crush with the whole force of 
the law the individual liberties which had just been proclaimed. 

Doubtless the men of the Constituent Assembly had originally 
had a restrictive intention: they realized that there was nothing a 
government could do except in virtue of a law, and that no law 
could be made except in virtue of an assent by the people. But the 
logical end of their system could only be to make possible any act 
of government whatsoever, provided that it was authorized by a 
law, 18 and to make possible any law whatsoever, provided that Par- 
liament voted it. 

This absorption of law within the state, combined with the de- 
struction of the various social formations, laid the twin foundations 
of what has in our time been called "the monolithic state." There 
is no authority outside the Power which the state exercises, no law 
outside the law which the state has formulated. 


This whole scheme of political philosophy reposed on a fallacy 
which Montesquieu had exposed in advance: "As in democracies 
the people appears to do very nearly what it wills to do, liberty has 
been supposed to reside in governments of this species: the Power 
of the people has been confused with the liberty of the people." 19 
The Power of the people was but a fiction 20 in a regime which was 
for practical purposes a parliamentary sovereignty. 21 But the fiction 
justified the blotting out of liberty on a scale never known before 
in Europe. 

These, it has been said, were but the birth-pangs of a new prin- 
ciple. Where is the novelty? It had already been condemned by 
Cicero. 22 Its consequences had already been illustrated by sufficient 
examples, drawn both from ancient and from modern history, to en- 

* With the coming of the Revolution, "parliament" now takes on its modern 


able a commentator 23 on L'Esprit des lois to write almost at the 
time of the publication of the Contrat social: 

Whenever the governing body within a state is enabled by the posses- 
sion of a majority to command what seems good to it, it becomes a 
despotic government just as surely as one in which one man alone com- 
mands in obedience to no other law than his own will and pleasure. 

Even after more than twenty years, Benjamin Constant could still 
not talk of the despotism of the Convention without a spasm of hor- 
ror and anger: 

When no limits are set to the representative authority, the representa- 
tives of the people are not the defenders of liberty but the candidates for 
tyranny. Moreover, once tyranny comes to be, it may well be the more 
hideous for the tyrants being more numerous. . . . 

An assembly which can neither be suppressed nor restrained is, of all 
possible authorities, the blindest in its movements and the most incalcu- 
lable in its results, even for the members who compose it. It plunges into 
excesses which, on a first view, seem inconceivable. An ill-considered 
bustle about everything; an endless multiplicity of laws; the desire to 
gratify the passions of the popular party by self-abandonment to their 
pressure or even by encouraging them to press; the rancorous hatred 
inspired in it by the resistance which it meets or the disapproval which 
it senses; the flouting of national sentiment and the stubborn clinging to 
error; often enough the esprit de corps which gives strength but for 
usurpation only; the alternation of rashness and timidity, violence and 
feebleness, favouritism to one and distrust of all; the motivation by purely 
physical sensations, such as enthusiasm or panic; the absence of all 
moral responsibility, and the certitude of safety in numbers from either 
the reproach of cowardice or the dangers attending on rashness; such are 
the vices of assemblies when they are not confined within bounds which 
they cannot overstep. 24 

Another writer of the period concludes as follows: 

Too long have we asserted that opinion was queen of the world- 
opinion, changing, passionate and capricious opinion, is a tyrant whom 
we should distrust not less than other tyrants. 25 

More, indeed, for there is no tyrant who dares go to such extremes 
as those who give themselves the airs of popular sovereignty. 

When the general will is all-powerful, its representatives are the more 
to be feared for giving themselves out as nothing more than the docile 


instruments of this alleged will, and for possessing the means of compul 
sion or persuasion by which to canalize it into whatever channel suits 
them. What no tyrant, acting in his own name, would dare to do, these 
men legitimate by the limitless extent of the power of society. For the 
increase of taxation made necessary by their requirements they go to the 
freeholder of this power, to the people, whose omnipotence serves no 
other purpose than to excuse the encroachments of their representatives. 
Laws the most unjust, institutions the most oppressive, are rendered 
obligatory for being the expression of the general will. . . . The all- 
powerful people is as dangerous as a tyrant and more so; or rather it is 
certain that tyranny will usurp the right which is the people's. It need do 
no more than proclaim the omnipotence of its people in the act of threat- 
ening it, than speak in its name in the act of silencing it. 26 

Such were the lessons taught by a generation which had learned 
wisdom by suffering. For a whole quarter of a century they had 
witnessed a succession of mutually incompatible regimes, whose 
only point of resemblance was in the obedience which all alike ex- 
acted, and in the assurances of zeal, devotion, and enthusiasm which 
had to be showered on them. The characters of men had been de- 
graded before their very eyes by fear, which sought to avert the 
tyrant's blows, by malice, which strove to point them at others, and 
by greed, which rushed in wherever they had been struck. Proscrip- 
tions had been the lot of the proud, honours that of the renegades, 
safety that of no man. 

Daunou, in the year 1819, raised this protest against the revenges 
which terror wreaked on terror: 

The restoration of the liberties of the individual is for a revolution a 
vain objective; at no point in its course does it return them. Ambition, 
greed, hatred, vengeance, the violent or hurtful passions of every kind, 
lay hold on revolutionary movements; and if, during the long night of 
disorder in which the victors and the vanquished take turns in being lost 
and crushed, voices are raised reclaiming order and safety, their advice is 
held for treacherous or untimely; the perils of the time, which could in 
fact be cured only by the application of the safeguards of ordinary laws, 
are made the excuse and banal watchword for welcoming every fresh act 
of injustice and disorder. For the space of thirty years arbitrary acts of 
every kind have been multiplied, unavailingly, to the point at which not 
a single citizen remains who has not, once or more times, suffered from 
them: unavailing it has been, for the power to commit more goes on being 
demanded at intervals in the sacred name of public security. 27 


This is an instance of experience echoing a meditation of Montes- 
quieu's : 

Great vengeances, and the great changes which flow from them, can- 
not be undertaken without placing great power in the hands of a few 
citizens. . . . There is need for government to return at the earliest pos- 
sible moment to its ordinary channel, in which the laws are all-protective 
and show their teeth at no man. 28 


The thinkers of the Restoration had received their political edu- 
cation in the school of twenty-five years of despotism and proscrip- 
tion. The similarity in the situations confronting each sent Benjamin 
Constant back to the truths which Locke had perceived. 

The establishment of sovereignty of the people in an unlimited form 
is to create and play at dice with a measure of Power which is too great 
in itself and is an evil in whatever hands it is placed. 29 

The principle of the limitation of Power is rediscovered. 

Entrust it [unlimited Power] to one man, or to several men, or to all 
men, as you please; whichever it is, the results will be equally unfortunate 
for you. You will then wax hot against the actual holders of this Power, 
and will, according to circumstances, accuse in turn monarchy, aristoc- 
racy, democracy, mixed governments and the representative system. You 
will be wrong; it is the measure of force that is the culprit, not its holders. 
Your indignation needs to be directed against the sword and not against 
the arm. There are weapons which are too heavy for the hand of man. 30 

The entire work of this great liberal writer is a repetition of this 
one idea. The problem was to apply it. 

How did omnipotence rise to the top? By destroying in the name 
of the mass, which it claimed to represent, though its existence was 
only a fiction, the various groups, whose life was a reality. By mak- 
ing a handmaid of the law to which in former times the public au- 
thority had itself been subject. 

The logical way to remedy this would have been to let free asso- 
ciations develop, whether they were founded on locality or function, 
and to restore to a position of complete independence the processes 
of forming and administering the law. But the custodians of Power 
were disinclined to lose the immense resources placed at their dis- 
posal by the Revolution and the Empire. In 1814 the France of the 
departments seemed to the Due d'Angouleme a much easier country 


to govern than the France of the old provinces, "which was a veri- 
table hedgehog of liberties." 31 The opposition, in a parliamentary 
regime in which it might one day come to power, was no longer 
concerned with cutting down the substance of an authority which 
it might one day hope to inherit. The social impulsion to form 
groups and the spirit of independence among the lawyers had been 
left enfeebled by a long enslavement: the thought was rather to get 
from Power what could be had than to dispense with it. This was 
to be noted later by Odilon Barrot: 

The wider you set the bounds of Power, the more people will there be 
to aspire to it. Life goes where there is life, and when a nation's entire 
stock of vitality is concentrated in its government, it is only natural that 
every man should seek a place in it. 32 

The circumstances of the time and the tendency to "catch the 
nearest way" brought the entire principle of limitation of Power 
down to a formal system of separation of powers. Had not Montes- 
quieu praised this aspect of the English Constitution in a famous 
chapter of L'Esprit des Lois? As it was a big, fat book, the reading 
of a single chapter was held to qualify for the office of interpreter. 
And so this doctrine, at once simple and formal, took root in the 
political science which was spread by the French all over the Con- 
tinent, that there must be an executive, a lower chamber, and an 
upper chamber— and then all would be well. 

It is true enough that English analogies had an immense influence 
on the men of that time. They saw in Elizabeth, James I, and 
Charles I the prototypes of the French absolute monarchy; in the 
English Revolution the prototype of the French; in Cromwell a cross 
between Robespierre and Bonaparte; in Charles II, Louis XVIII, 
and James II, they saw Charles X; and they believed that the men 
of the July monarchy had given France a William III, and with him 
the stability which England had displayed since 1689. 

Therefore, it was natural for them to look across the Channel for 
a model for French institutions. But they needed also to look behind 
the established powers of government to the social foundations 
which gave them a solid strength. 

The English Parliament had then been in existence for nearly six 
centuries. In truth, however, it was born along with the monarchy 
itself, being the child of the colloquium in which the king, to furnish 
himself with the sinews of action, assembled the effective custodians 


of the various social forces and had to bargain with them. As the 
small fry of the esquires and the commonalty in the various coun- 
ties grew in capacity to give him "aids," he made place for them in 
his counsels. The "King in Parliament" was supreme because the 
social forces supported him; and Parliament had no need of special 
rights, being itself the congress of independent authorities of whom 
Power must make request. 

The social importance of the peers had not diminished with time. 
Their special position of territorial magnates still assured them a 
power of the purse even after they had lost their military power. 
When wool was the leading industry, they were its principal pur- 
veyors; when the growth of population in the eighteenth century 
raised the price of commodities, they reaped the most advantage 
from the rise. They were to do so again in the nineteenth century 
from the rise in land values and from the extraction of coal, for in 
English law the owner of the land is owner also of what is below 
the land. Tied as they were to the land, they were tied also to the 
men who lived on the land, and in the strength of their roots in the 
soil lay the secret of their political durability. 

The system of pocket boroughs, vicious as it was, assured the 
automatic representation in Parliament of all that was eminent in 
society, for wealth took the form of estates; with estates went rotten 
boroughs, and rotten boroughs carried seats in Parliament. 

Thus the two chambers were in fact the organ of the actual social 
forces. From this they drew their strength, which they did not borrow 
from any form of constitution: from this again came their caution. 

They did not so much balance Power as hem it round. Though 
they could have crushed it and taken its place, they refrained by 
reason only of a good sense of which de Lolme has come upon the 
secret: they saw that a Power as circumscribed as this, and as re- 
marked by all, was much less dangerous than would be its successor 
if it perished, for its successor would enjoy all the advantage of 
surprise and all the prestige of novelty. Yet the social forces, each 
time that they so wished, could dictate Power's course, as had been 
seen in 1749 when they drove Walpole into war. 

Thus, the "separation of powers," as seen in England, was in 
reality the consequence of a process of recoil of the royal imperium 
before the social forces. The institution of Parliament was the con- 
stitutional expression of forces which were in league against Power, 
acted as its overseers and controllers, and doled out to it its sinews 


of action, by which means they kept it always in check and decided 
its course with ever greater frequency. Such was the position in the 
time of Montesquieu, and such it was still in that of Benjamin 
Constant. The profound transformation which has since taken place 
is another story. 


The mere recital of the circumstances which gave birth to the 
duality of powers in England reveals how arbitrary was the intro- 
duction of the system in France. In the history of France the central 
Power and the social authorities had never had a meeting-place; 
the centralized imperium had lived in victorious isolation. Duality 
in France had not been the creation of events: it was an artificial 
duality introduced by the makers of constitutions. The imperium 
was cut into three slices, the king's, the lower chamber's, and the 
upper chamber's. 

But habits are stubborn things. Each slice of the serpent tended 
to reproduce the complete serpent: the king regarded himself as the 
heir of a king who was absolute, and the assembly regarded itself 
as the heir of an assembly which was absolute. Both of them tended 
naturally not to remain within the limits of the part written for them 
by a constitution, but to make themselves masters of the imperium 
conceived always as a whole. In the same way the Augustuses and 
the Caesars, between whom Diocletian had made so ingenious a 
division of the Empire, never regarded their respective territories 
except as bases from which to make themselves masters of the un- 
divided Empire. 

In the event, as we know in France, the monarchy made the run- 
ning by successive encroachments, and the appeals of Parliament 
to the people led in the end to the Revolution of 1848. The hopes to 
which the July monarchy had given birth can be measured in the 
accents of woebegone astonishment with which men like Augustin 
Thierry greeted its sudden fall. It had been supposed to be going 
to last for centuries! And there it was, dead after eighteen years! 
Popular sovereignty had triumphed, and the problem of the forma- 
tion of Power was no more. 

The sequel was the reappearance of the fundamental mistake of 
the first revolution, the illusion that any Power which is founded o» 
a good principle must be infinitely beneficent. Listen to Lamartine: 
"A strong, centralized Power such as is this, is, it is true, dangerous 


where the government and the people are not one, but it ceases to 
be so when the government is merely the nation in action, that and 
no more." 33 

All the same the National Assembly, in honouring the shades of 
Rousseau by acclaiming the sovereignty of the general will, burnt a 
candle to Montesquieu as well by organizing the separation of powers. 

Then ensued the pons asinorum of constitution-makers. Never was 
seen such light-mindedness! One power, they said, would check 
another— and no doubt it would if each distinct institution was the 
organ of a force pre-existent in society. But if both are emanations 
of the same force, never. 

To oppose, as the Second Republic did, an assembly elected by 
the people to a president elected by the people was not the organ- 
ization of a true equilibrium of social elements, but merely the in- 
troduction of dispute between men invested by the same authority. 
In the matter of equality of rights, the president was bound to win 
the day over a body of men with disparate wills. Taught by experi- 
ence, the makers of the constitution of 1875 no longer provided for 
the election of the president by the people. But in that case the 
Chamber, which drew its power directly from the sovereign people, 
was bound to win the day over the president and annul his powers. 

There was in all this a fulfilment of the prediction uttered by 

Whenever it is recognized that all power issues from the people, then 
those who hold it most directly from the people and those with the largest 
number of electors are bound for that reason to think their power the 
most legitimate. 34 

The different destinies of the third element, the upper house, 
under different constitutions, illustrate the conditioning of an insti- 
tution's political existence by the social background. 

It is noteworthy that the Senate in France has resisted stoutly the 
onslaughts of the lower house, the reason being that it was the true 
reflection of a distinct social force, the small country oligarchies. It 
is still more noteworthy that, of the two American chambers, the 
one which has had the greater success in creating a balance with 
the President is not the one which has, like him, been elected by 
universal suffrage: had the latter stood alone the President would 
have mastered it, as Louis Napoleon mastered the National Assem- 
bly. It is the Senate which has for many years counterbalanced the 


presidential authority; the reason being that, composed as it is of 
two members from each state, without regard to statistics of popu- 
lation, it is representative of separate local entities, of established 
groupings and the oligarchies which run them: of anything, in short, 
except the people. 

Volumes have been written on the usefulness of a second chamber 
in moderating the transports of the first. But, as Mill wrote, 

its efficacy in this respect wholly depends on the social support which it 
can command outside the House. An assembly which does not rest on 
the basis of some great power in the country is ineffectual against one 
which does. 35 

For this reason the House of Lords, which in the thirteenth cen- 
tury had been able to hold Power in check, and at times even to 
keep it in tutelage, could hold back the movement of the people 
only so long as the lords were still social forces 36 and were for ever 
admitting fresh social forces by a wise course of policy. 

The House of Lords has, in fact, recoiled further and further be- 
fore the Commons: indeed it saved what is left to it of its power 
of check only by resigning itself— in 1911— to being no more than a 
hindrance. Today it is little more than a school of academic debate. 

Constitutions may contrive admirable organs, but these get life 
and force only so far as they are filled with a life and force derived 
from a social power which it is not within the capacity of the 
constitution-makers to create. It is, therefore, a mere conjuring trick 
to parcel out into distinct organs a Power which derives from one 
solitary source, the majority of the people. So long as the pieces 
remain apart, there is, admittedly, conflict, but it is the deleterious 
conflict of the ambitions of men and bodies of men, not the health- 
giving conflict of different social interests. When this point is 
reached, there goes with the enfeeblement and the discrediting of 
authority a vast increase in the responsibilities of the state. But in 
the end, when nothing keeps the pieces apart but constitutional 
devices and the amour propre of the different species of represen- 
tatives, they come together again in the winning organ whose abso- 
lutism is now unlimited. 

Power cannot, therefore, be limited by the mere dismemberment 
of the imperium into constituent parts each with its distinct organ. 
For limitation of this kind to succeed, there must be in existence 
sectional interests in a sufficiently advanced state, conscious of their 


identity, and armed with strength to stop the encroachments of 
Power on their own spheres, together with a system of law which 
is independent enough to arbitrate their clashes and escape from 
being the instrument of the central command. 

The nature of this social equilibrium raises vast questions. Can it 
be fitted up and kept alive by legislators of vision? Or must it not 
rather be a situation of a kind which is met with at certain stages 
in the course of historical evolution, when an ascending scale of the 
social balance is symmetrically in line with a descending— a position 
which any continuation of the movement inevitably disturbs? This 
may happen when the scale of political power rises in the midst of 
social powers which were at first unbounded. Or again when social 
powers renew their strength against a political power in its decline. 

We will not now handle this problem in which are implicit the 
freedom and effectiveness of the human will, and, it may truly be 
said, the limitations of the human being. Let us be content to note 
that the second hypothesis would, if true, explain those brilliant ap- 
pearances and long eclipses of individual liberty which strike the 
historian as a recurrent phenomenon. 

The explanation of this liberty would in that case be the momen- 
tary inability of any one of the powers at strain to impose itself 
absolutely, an inability which cannot last, because each of these vari- 
ous bodies lives its own life, some sinking into decay and others 
taking on fresh strength. And the precariousness of liberty would 
then be seen to be a social fatality, for liberty cannot continue to 
be, either when the family, the commune, the squire, or the em- 
ployer enjoy an absolute autonomy, or equally when the state has 
total sovereignty. 

Here too would lie the explanation of the remarkable decline in 
the status of the individual in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 
First came oppression by the state, following the destruction of the 
makeweights by the French Revolution. Followed the rise, thanks 
to the enfeeblement of Power by its own internal divisions, of new 
social forces, which were at first capitalist and later trade unionist. 
Soon a certain tendency to oppression showed itself in some of these 
new forces, wherever they achieved a measure of autonomy. Then 
Power started to gather strength again, and the social forces were 
attacked by the state, an attack which, at the start, had as its aim 
to protect the human being, but, pushed to its conclusion, was logi- 
cally bound to enslave him. 


Again, it must be noted that Power which is founded on the sov- 
ereignty of the people is in better shape than any other to fight and 
conquer. If sovereignty resides in a king or an aristocracy, so that 
it belongs to but one man or a few, it cannot markedly extend its 
scope without clashing with the interests of the majority; and if 
only these interests are provided with an organ of their own, how- 
ever restricted its power— such as the tribunate in the early days of 
Rome— the vast forces which in this way find expression will expand 
the organ by degrees, just as an army which is vastly superior in 
numbers will necessarily spread out once it has secured a bridge- 
head. But with an organ of resistance possessed by a minority 
against the power of the multitude, the opposite must happen; it is 
sure to wither away by progressive stages, just as a bridgehead nar- 
rows when it is held by an army which is much inferior in numbers. 37 

We see, then, that the opposition evoked by Power will be strong 
enough to limit it only in the case of a Power which is of a minor- 
ity character. But a majority Power can proceed to absolutism itself; 
such an absolutism reveals, by its mere existence, the lie in such a 
Power's soul— though it styles itself "people," it has never ceased to 
be Power. 


1. Is law a mere body of rules issued by authority? 2. Of unlimited 
legislative authority. 3. The mistake of the hedonist and the utili- 
tarian. 4. Law above Power. 5. A period of ambulatory law. 6. 
Remedies against laws. 7. When the judge checks the agent of 
Power. 8. Of the authority of the judge. 9. Does the movement of 
ideas affect the fundamentals of law? 10. The way in which law 
becomes jungle. 

The absence in society of any concrete authorities capable 
of restraining Power does not matter if Power itself makes 
humble submission before the abstract force of the natural 
law. The idea of the limitation of Power by such a law puts no trust 
in material makeweights, which are in their nature egoist and may 
as often hinder Power's beneficent action as check its malignant use; 


rather it calls into being a spiritual process to take the place of a 
mechanical. It takes the form of a general distaste for the rulers 
aroused in the entire nation, and of a prick felt in their own con- 
sciences; it may end up in the setting in motion against them of a 
judicial machine by which, their great place notwithstanding, they 
are brought to book. 

Beyond all question, the supremacy of law should be the great 
and central theme of all political science. But, make no mistake 
about it, the necessary condition of this supremacy is the existence 
of a law older than the state, to which it is mentor. For if law is 
anything which Power elaborates, how can it ever be to it a hin- 
drance, a guide, or a judge? 

The same passions and the same ideas as those which laid in 
ruin the social authorities deprived law of its autonomy. 

This process we are now about to follow into its furthest conse- 
quences, in full knowledge that the widespread feeling of the 
supremacy of law which haunts men's souls makes easier of achieve- 
ment the restoration of its independence. 

The man in the street, in unconscious repetition of the medieval 
theologians, requires of those who rule society that they be just. 

But what is justice? It is defined in the Institutes of Justinian as 
"the permanent and unshakable will to give to each his due right." 
Nothing could be clearer than that: each of us has his rights, which 
are called subjective rights, and these live and meet in an objective 
law— the elaboration of a moral code which is over all and which 
Power must both respect and make respected. 

We agree with Duguit when he says: "The end of public author- 
ity is to realize law." And when Power is exercised in accordance 
with this law, it becomes legitimate, whatever its origin. 1 

But what, you will say, is this law? Let us see what the jurists say. 
The answer given by most of them is that the law is the epitome 
or consequence of the rules of conduct given out by the competent 
authority. "So that," one of them adds, "what is in conformity with 
the laws is good, and what disregards them is bad." 2 "The art of 
distinguishing the just from the unjust," defines another, "is one 
with the art of knowing and applying the laws." 3 

We are now going round in a vicious circle! Political authority 
should be just; it needs, that is to say, to act in conformity with the 


law. But the law, we are told, is nothing more than the epitome of 
the rules given out by political authority itself. Therefore the au- 
thority which makes laws is, by definition, always just. 

Here is sophistry and to spare! Evidently, however, it takes some 
avoiding, since even a Kant arrived at this all-embracing justification 
of Power. As he writes in his Metaphysic of Ethics: 

The people is never entitled to resist the supreme legislator of the state; 
for a rule of law is only made possible by the submission of all to the 
legislative will. Any right of rebellion, or even of sedition, is, therefore, 
totally inadmissible. . . . 

The people's duty to put up with abuse of the supreme power, even 
when it finds it insupportable, is based on the consideration that resistance 
to the sovereign body of laws should never be regarded as other than 
illegal, and as involving, even, the overthrow of the entire legal constitu- 
tion. For the people to have a right to resistance, there would first need 
to be a public law permitting it to resist; in other words, the sovereign 
body of laws would need to contain a provision making it no longer 
sovereign. 4 

The logic is impeccable. Laws are the only source of the law. 
Therefore, whatever is in a law is law, and there can be no remedy 
against the laws. Accept it, and to seek in law a bulwark against 
Power becomes pure illusion. 

The law is, as the jurists put it, "positive." 

The very essence of the Rule of Law [writes a contemporary authority] 
is that it be instantly enforceable by weapons. Law, therefore, necessarily 
supposes a public authority capable of compelling individuals to obey the 
orders given out by itself. For the same reason it is clear that law can be 
conceived of only in terms of positive law. 5 

Must we, then, in the face of such authorities as these, renounce 
as illusion the idea of a law capable of checking Power, and see in 
law merely a creature of the state and one which is powerless against 
its creator? Yet has not history shown us 6 a law whose credentials 
are of a different standing, being founded on the divine law and 
custom? And even today does not the general sentiment attest the 
fact that anything that is in a law is not necessarily law? Let us 
rather inquire, therefore, how this aberration, to the existence of 
which we have just called so much evidence, came to be, and what 
produced the subjection of law. 


We are now at a point at which several streams of error, starting 
from very different sources, meet— the mistake of Hobbes, the illu- 
sions of Rousseau and Kant, and above all the transgressions against 
common sense of the hedonist or utilitarian school, as represented 
by such men as Helvetius,* Bentham, and Destutt de Tracy, whose 
understandings were as moderate as their influence was great. 

Hobbes, we know, saw in Power the only begetter and maintainer 
of order among men. In times before it or without it there was noth- 
ing but the brutal clash of appetites. Again, "when a republic is 
established, there are laws and nothing antecedent to them." Further, 

for each subject the civil law is the body of rules which the state, orally, 
in writing or in any other way that sufficiently indicates its pleasure, has 
communicated to him in order that he may employ them to discern good 
and evil, evil being what is against the rules. 7 

This definition bears a close resemblance to that of some modern 
jurists! Given these principles, where does it all end? 

The sovereign of a republic, be he a man or an assembly, is not subject 
to the civil laws. For he, having the power to make and unmake the laws, 
can, when he pleases, escape from subjection to them by abrogating those 
which impede him and making new ones. 8 

Hobbes, at any rate, both saw and wished the consequences of 
the principle which he was laying down. His imagination took 
pleasure in a total Power, and he painted its horrific features with 
a logician's fanaticism: lord of all property, censor of all opinion, 
above reproach in all its actions, since it alone was judge of the 
social good and all morality came back to the social good. 

The case of Rousseau and Kant is quite other. They carefully re- 
frained from entrusting this unlimited legislative authority to either 
a monach or an assembly. No! Such an authority could belong to 
none other than the entire people and, on that condition, seemed to 
them innocuous. For, argues Kant, "when a man decides on some- 
thing in regard to another, it is always possible that he may do that 
other some injustice; but injustice is impossible in what he decides 
for himself ( for volenti non fit injuria ) ." 9 

* Helvetius (1715-1771), French philosopher of the utilitarian school and 
one of the Encyclopaedists; he held that all man's faculties may be reduced to 
physical sensation, that self-interest is his only motive, and that ideas of justice 
and injustice, not being absolute, change according to custom. His chief work, 
De VEsprit, was published in 1758 and raised such a storm that he published 
three s or ^>rate retractions. 


From this line of reasoning, which would be in strict logic sup- 
portable if everyone subject to the laws had without exception 
given an effective assent to each of them, is deduced, with the 
help of numerous fictions, the essential justice of the legislative 

Fiction number one: that a people as a whole, speaking ex cathedra, 
can do no injustice to any man in its decisions. 

Fiction number two: that a people as a whole formulates a con- 
sidered determination at all; have we not lately observed the Amer- 
ican people, which had voted as a whole the Prohibition law, giving 
the lie to its vote at any hour of the day or night? 

Fiction number three— and a most important one: that the people 
is consulted on each law; that happens only in Switzerland, and 
even there only on certain laws. 

The unlimited legislative authority with which Kant and Rousseau 
endowed the whole of society was bound inevitably, as Benjamin 
Constant said, "to pass from the whole to the majority, and from the 
majority into the hands of a few men, often into the hand of 
one. . . ." 10 

However, what were potentially the evil effects of this idea were 
held in check by the conception of society which was entertained 
by Rousseau, Kant, and the men of their time. The one reality seen 
in the entire social complex by these men of enlarged understanding 
was the human being, and they proclaimed the dignity and rights 
which were his in his capacity of man, in language of an admirable 
elevation. What they did not sufficiently see was that these rights 
of his might come into conflict with unlimited legislative authority. 
But it is certain that in that event they would have fought for them 
and not against them. Rousseau's point of view in the matter was 
made clear for all to see by the defence of the liberum veto * which 
he undertook. And in the nineteenth century it is on the whole true 
to say that the separation, though inevitably provisional, of the ex- 
ecutive and the legislature, and above all the individualist ideas 
which were everywhere in vogue, acted as a safeguard against the 
possible consequences of an extreme application of the idea of leg- 

* The liberum veto, which was introduced into the constitution of Poland in 
the seventeenth century, gave each single deputy the right of vetoing any 
measure introduced into the Diet, even if the rest of the house approved it. 
It need hardly be said that, when at the time of the first Partition the partition- 
ing powers presented the Poles with a new constitution, they retained a feature 
so well adapted to keep a country infirm of purpose. 


islative omnipotence. The truth is that the various declarations of 
rights played the part of a natural law set above the laws. 

The hedonist and utilitarian mistake is grosser. 

It is the end-product of the rationalist crisis. Nothing, said 
Helvetius, is good or bad in itself: "The different peoples of all ages 
and countries have at no time applied the name of virtuous to any 
actions except those which either were, or were at any rate believed 
to be, useful to the public." 

But they were, of course, often wrong on what was useful. Help 
was brought to them by the new science of utility and Bentham's 
doctrine of "the greatest good of the greatest number." 

The first thing to do is to banish entirely the "archaic prejudice" 
of an objective morality which is compulsive in itself. 

It is a very old and very ridiculous mistake [said Destutt de Tracyl 
to suppose that the principles of morality are as it were immanent in our 
heads and are the same for everyone, and then to posit for them some 
kind of celestial origin ... let us recognize that morality is a science 
which, as with the other sciences, we make up as we go along, that it is 
only the knowledge of what consequences our inclinations and feelings 
will have for our happiness ... of all the sciences it is always the last 
to achieve perfection, always the least advanced, always the one on which 
there must be the widest differences of opinion. So we shall find, if we 
look closely, that our moral principles are so far from being uniform that 
there are in this respect as many modes of seeing and feeling as there are 
men, that it is this diversity which accounts for diversity of character and 
that, without our being aware of it, each of us has a system of morals 
which is proper to himself, or rather a confused mass of inconsequent 
ideas, which does not deserve the name of system but for all that takes 
the place of one. 11 

The reader will perhaps shrug his shoulders and consider that 
Tracy * may be dismissed as a second-rate thinker who cannot have 
had much direct influence. Possibly, but he describes to perfection 
the dispersal of beliefs and feelings which followed on the rational- 
ist earthquake. Good and evil, justice and injustice, have now be- 
come a matter of opinion. 

* Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836), French materialist philosopher, whose 
tenet it was that to think is to feel. His chief work, Elements d'ideologie, was 
published in 1817-1818. 


Persisted in, these opinions will find expression in laws, and these 
laws will be the foundation of law, by deciding what shall be just 
and what unjust. Tracy is aware that there is here the possibility of 
great confusion. Therefore he wishes to entrust to "the legislator, 
who is primed on every aspect of morality by methodical and strictly 
deductive reasoning," the duty of issuing practical moral precepts, 
the reasons for which it is impossible to explain in detail. How are 
men to be got to obey them? "The most powerful of all moral in- 
struments, in comparison with which the rest are almost a nullity, 
are repressive laws and their entire and perfect execution." 1J 

The modern problem is here posed for us. When law has ceased 
to be a thing in its essential parts untouchable, a thing sustained by 
the beliefs held in common by the whole of society, when it has 
become, even in respect of fundamental morals, a thing modifiable 
at the pleasure of the legislator, one of two consequences must fol- 
low: either a monstrous spawning of laws at the bidding of every 
interest which agitates and of every opinion which stirs, or else their 
planned economy by a master who knows his mind and will drive 
society to accept whatever rules of conduct he thinks it necessary 
to prescribe. 

This dilemma is the inescapable consequence of two connected 
facts: the throwing of all first principles into the melting-pot of a 
scepticism which is as unrestrained as it is unmethodical, and un- 
limited legislative authority. 


Loud and clear we proclaim it— the mounting flood of modern 
laws does not create law. What do they mirror, these laws, but the 
pressure of interests, the fancifulness of opinions, the violence of 
passions? When they are the work of a Power which has become, 
with its every growth, more enervated by the strife of factions, their 
confusion makes them ludicrous. When they issue from a Power 
which is in the grip of one brutal hand, their planned iniquity makes 
them hateful. The only respect which they either get or deserve is 
that which force procures them. Being founded on a conception of 
society which is both false and deadly, they are anti-social. 

It is untrue that the supremacy of law can be procured by Power 
working alone. By far the most of the work is done by beliefs and 
folkways, of which there must be no incessant calling in question; 
their relative stability is an essential condition of the welfare of so- 


ciety. The necessary cohesion of society cannot be procured by 
Power alone. There must exist, rooted in a common faith, a deep 
community of feeling, passing into an acknowledged ethic and main- 
taining an inviolable law. 

Power can achieve nothing of all this. Once this community of 
feeling is in dissolution, and law is delivered over to the good pleas- 
ure of the legislature, then no doubt Power not only can but must 
extend. It must intervene, widely and continuously, to restore, if it 
can, the threatened cohesion. 

Thus is explained the rise of Power at the time when the Catholic 
faith was shaken. Thus, too, is explained its further advance coinci- 
dent with the effective abandonment of the individualist notion of 
subjective rights affirmed in 1789. While this belief in inherent sub- 
jective rights was a less effective bulwark than the Christian faith 
from which it was left over, yet it was very precious as against the 
abuses of man-made law. 

In France it was the Catholic jurists who first recalled to mind 
that there exists an absolute law, to give expression to which is the 
only function of laws. 13 It was a truth which, though it had seemed 
self-evident to Montesquieu, 14 raised, in our own day, a veritable 
outcry— so strong was the conviction that there was no institution so 
fundamental and no principle so primary as not to be infinitely vari- 
able at the pleasure of whatever wish or opinion happened to be 
predominant for the time being. 

It was to the accompaniment of an orchestra of protesting noises 
that Duguit enunciated the true doctrine of law, and its political 

Whatever idea of the state is formed ... it needs energetically and 
pertinaciously restating that the activity of the state in all its manifesta- 
tions is limited by a law which is superior to itself, that there are things 
which it cannot do and things which it should do, and that this limitation 
does not apply merely to this or that organ of it but to the state itself. . . . 
It is essential never to weary both in understanding and in asserting that 
there is a rule of law which is superior to the public authority, a law 
which comes to limit it and lay on it obligations. 15 

The conception is one which, no sooner formulated, forces itself 
on the mind. It alone can give meaning to what are otherwise mere 
games with words: the talk heard nowadays of installing the reign 


of law between nations signifies nothing at all if every people claims 
to possess an unlimited right of deciding what it will do. 

But, however true may be the idea of a rule of law laid on Power, 
its implementation is in our time a matter of great difficulty. For, 
even if the principle of laws being conformable to a law is admitted 
as an obligation, what is there to prevent a Power which presents a 
law and a group which mobilizes opinion to get it passed, from 
claiming that the law in question is an expression, manifestation, 
and realization of law? And, on my calling it iniquitous, I shall 
merely be told that my conception of law is false or, a still more 
crushing retort, out of date. 

Law, like morality, which is its stay, is, we are told, ambulatory; * 
both are in continuous movement and neither, therefore, has any 
fixed mark. 

The genius of our time finds quite instinctively this repartee to 
the principle of the supremacy of law. Having found it, it comes to 
terms with the principle fast enough, even to the point of invoking 
it! The attack on those same individual rights which in 1789 had 
had their sacredness proclaimed, the privileged position accorded to 
certain groups or the discrimination exercised against certain others, 
the character of uncertainty stamped on every interest, and the un- 
conditional surrender of them all to Power, all were explained, justi- 
fied, and extolled as reflecting an ever more advanced and elevated 
conception of law. 

And what answer can be made? In what does the substance of 
law, as opposed to ambulatory law, consist? It has now lost the two 
stays which formerly kept it on its base: as to its essential parts, 
faith in a divine law, as to the rest, respect for ancestral observances. 
The second root could not, it is true, hope to survive in a time of 
rapid change. But how about the first? 

The man of today, owning neither superior nor ancestors nor 
beliefs nor folkways, stands completely defenceless before the glit- 
tering prospect which is now held out to him, of a better state of 
things to be achieved, of a larger social welfare to be realized, by 
means of legislation, which, though it offend an outmoded law, is 
inspired thereto by today's better law! 

It is, then, quite useless to look for the defence of an unsettled 
law from a hesitant public opinion. The feeling of law is still alive, 

* The word "ambulatory," which is here chosen to translate mouvant, is 
found in Religio Medici in just this context. 


but it is now called out effectively only by violence in its most naked 
forms— it does not respond, and is quite without means of respond- 
ing, to the challenge of daily and surreptitious aggression. 


Is there, then, any way of assuring effectively the supremacy of 
law unless it be by first formulating expressly its fundamental rules, 
and then establishing a concrete authority, which will have the task 
of bringing laws to the test of law, and rejecting those which offend 

That was the system which Marshall, the American jurist, was 
able to get accepted in the United States in 1803. Against a law 
which violates the rights guaranteed him by the Constitution, the 
citizen can have recourse to the judicial machine, in the final resort 
to the Supreme Court; this can invalidate as respects the suitor the 
provisions of the law in question, which, being now inapplicable, is 
thereafter a dead letter. 

In this institution the Americans have found the bulwark of their 
liberty and the dam to Power's encroachments. It has checked the 
passions to the play of which the democratic form of constitution 
abandoned the legislative machine— it has prevented them from 
using this machine to the detriment of this or that class of citizens. 

The proposal was made to bring this institution over to France 
and to make of the Declaration of Rights of 1789 the fundamental 
and inviolable law. The tribunals and, in the last resort, a supreme 
tribunal would then adjudicate between the impatient legislator and 
the wronged citizens. 

The project would certainly have tied up with the real intentions 
of the men of the Constituent Assembly. They are now made fun of 
for having inscribed "immortal principles" at the head of the legisla- 
tive structure which the rulers of today were to build. Here, as often 
happens, it is the sceptic that was the fool, and the enthusiast who 
was the wise man. Once the decision was taken to entrust to men 
the vast responsibility of making the law, they needed for their 
guidance a fixed framework to direct and limit their activities. The 
Declaration was the more or less legitimate descendant of the divine 
law. But a much less effective one! 

Is it now possible to make the Declaration effective by bringing 
over an American institution? Let it be remembered that this institu- 


tion grew and flourished only from being the natural offspring of 
the Common Law which the immigrants had brought with them 
from England, a law which has not, or has not for a long time had, 
its equivalent on the Continent. 

If the judge in America can now rebuff the legislator who invades 
the domain of private liberty, the reason is that the judge in Eng- 
land had been able before him to rebuff the agent of Power who 
encroached on this sphere. 

A judicial bit was in the mouth of the executive, and it was, there- 
fore, logical, at a time when the legislature was taking a big step 
forward, to put a bit in its mouth, too. For what did it profit the 
citizen to be protected by a judge against an agent of Power come 
without legal warrant, if, as nowadays happens, the agent could 
return the next day, and be acting this time in the name of the law? 
This is the danger which is parried by the Supreme Court. And, as 
we see, the innovation of 1803 was in line with earlier conceptions 
of the judge's role and of judicial authority which are, unfortunately, 
foreign to France, at least to the France born of the Revolution. 


The eighteenth century conceived for English liberties an admira- 
tion which has echoed down to our own time, but it was quite 
wrong in ascribing the principle of them to the parliamentary re- 
gime. It was really embedded in the judicial regime. 

When the agent of Power comes to lay hands on a man in his 
private domain, whether to force him to do or to prevent him from 
doing, he is backed by a complete apparatus of constraint to which 
a solitary individual can make no resistance. He is, if left to his own 
resources, a slave of Power. He only ceases to be so if a makeweight 
can hold back the arm of government. That was the primary function 
of the tribunes of Ancient Rome, from whose establishment the plebs 
dated the beginning of its emancipation. It is a task which both in 
England and, derivatively, in the United States, devolves on the 

In every civilized country the judicial function consists in punish- 
ing the criminal and righting the civil wrong done by one man to 
the rights of another. It implies, logically, ability to take the preven- 
tive steps needed to terminate the tortious act. 

Now, in what are called the Anglo-Saxon countries the right of 


justice to take these steps is not limited to the actions of one private 
individual in regard to another, but extends also to the actions of 
an agent of Power in regard to a man in a street. 

A secretary of state [said Dicey] is governed by the ordinary law of the 
realm both in his official conduct and in his private life. If, in an access of 
anger, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs assaulted the Leader of the 
Opposition or had him arrested because he considered the liberty of his 
political opponent dangerous for the state, this minister would in either 
case expose himself to proceedings and to all the other penalties laid 
down by the law for the case of acts of violence. Although the arrest of an 
influential politician, whose speeches might excite disorder, is a strictly 
administrative act, that would not excuse either the minister or the police- 
men who had obeyed his orders. 16 

This example throws into relief the essential difference between 
British and Continental society, and makes clear what is the real 
foundation of English liberty. It is not where search has been made 
for it, in political institutions, which have been copied to no pur- 
pose, but rather in the conception of law. 

Political thought in France places Power above the ordinary law. 
In that way it divides the members of the community into two 
clearly defined classes. All who are on the state's side of the line may 
proceed against all who are on the people's without becoming ac- 
countable to the ordinary tribunals. 

In England, on the other hand, the idea of legal equality, or of the 
universal subjection of all classes to one law administered by the ordinary 
courts, has been pushed to its utmost limit. With us every official, from 
the prime minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the 
same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any 
other citizen. The reports abound with cases in which officials have been 
brought before the courts, and made, in their personal capacity, liable to 
punishment, or to the payment of damages, for acts done in their official 
character but in excess of their lawful authority. A colonial governor, a 
secretary of state, a military officer, and all subordinates, though carrying 
out the commands of their official superiors, are as responsible for any act 
which the law does not authorize as is any private and unofficial person. 17 

The effectiveness of these guarantees derives not so much from 
the sanctions which they carry as from the state of mind which they 
induce. The subaltern, being punishable for the orders which he 
executes, reflects before he executes, and the primary conceptions of 
the Common Law serve him as a measuring-rod. Whatever lies out- 


side it is suspect to him. As for his superior, the threat of legal pro- 
ceedings reminds him unceasingly that he is as much a citizen as 
everyone else; these results do not follow when, as in France, the 
legal remedy, offered as an act of grace to the private person against 
authority which has abused its power, does not strike the actual men 
who have done the wrong. 


The French Revolution was, as we saw, bent on destroying this 
precious guarantee of liberty against the acts of Power, which is 
conferred by the judge's intervention. None of the succeeding re- 
gimes has suffered it to reappear. 

Today we can hardly realize its worth: for in our times the idea 
of the sufficiency of a law to arm the agent of Power seems natural 
enough. And if in the United States the judge can annul the law 
itself, he cannot do so in England. 

That the power of check possessed over the executive (but giving 
way before the will of the legislature) could be of immense effect 
will be recognized by those who remember that for a long time the 
legislative power was feeble in the extreme or even non-existent, 
and that law signified a fixed code of rights which all were agreed 
on keeping fixed: Nolumus leges Angliae mutari. 

Nevertheless, this code of rights developed, though imperceptibly, 
by means of decisions given in particular cases, decisions which, 
under the need to decide on more and more diverse sets of facts, 
were brought together and created a body of precedent. 

It was a difficult science and made to look forbidding both by the 
fictions to which recourse had to be had and by the Norman patois 
with which it was studded, with the result that the law was to some 
extent the preserve of those who handled these sacred mysteries. 

In this way there came into being a law which drew its inspira- 
tion not at all from the specific needs of Power but responded only 
to those of the body of society. The arcana of the law gave birth to 
what are called in England the principles of the Constitution, 18 
being nothing more than "a generalization of the rights which the 
courts secure to individuals." 19 

Forming, as it does, a world apart, exercised in the grave dis- 
charge of its solemn and to some extent mysterious function, the 
English bench of judges has accumulated in the course of centuries 
a prestige and a moral authority which explain the respect in which 


Parliament holds what has been rightly styled judicial legislation. 
Parliament, though "it can do anything," has observed great cir- 
cumspection in regard to the law thus formulated: "upon the de- 
gree of authority and independence to be conceded to the Bench 
depended the colour and working of our institutions." 20 

And the same reasons explain how the same prestige, of which the 
American courts are the heirs, has caused those courts to have en- 
trusted to them the right of pronouncing on the laws themselves. 
But in recent times the rising flood of laws has not, in England, 
spared the fabric of the ancient law. And in the United States Power 
has rebelled against the hindrance opposed to it by the Supreme 
Court, which has been accused of not moving with the times. 

Having joined issue with Power on a terrain which suited Power 
well and itself badly, the Court found itself against public feeling 
and, after a Pyrrhic victory, had to turn down its wick: there has 
been talk of its twilight. 

The fact is that public feeling today, which apprehends things in 
terms of a delusive simplicity, declines utterly to permit the opinion 
of a few men to act as a brake, all on its own, on what the opinion 
of society as a whole demands. That, it is thought, is a sin against 
the principle of popular sovereignty. 

The reason why in France laws have been completely removed 
not only from the control of the courts but even from interpretation 
by them is, as Geny truly said, "the feeling, vague and instinctive 
but deeply rooted in Frenchmen, that in emasculating, even by 
judgments given in concrete cases and which have small validity 
outside the facts of those cases, the certain authority of statutory 
dispositions, our magistrates would in the end reach the position of 
restraining the supreme power of the legislator, and that in that way 
the judicial authority would become, merely in the process of strictly 
carrying out its duties, superior to the legislative, the latter being 
the authority in which your modern man wishes to keep sovereignty 
exclusively vested." 21 

The legislative authority, now regarded as the expression of the 
will of all, or, more accurately, of the whole, exercises a total sov- 
ereignty. Who dares to hinder it? 

So long as the question is posed in terms of the opinion of a few 
as against the opinion of all, the answer does not admit of doubt. 
But this misses the point, for it is not a matter of opinions on one 
side or the other. On one side is a passing emotion, which a govern- 


merit or a party can fan into flame with the greatest ease, thanks to 
the improved and still improving methods of agitation which are 
available to them. And on the other are the verities of justice, with 
which there is no shuffling. No doubt the slightest false step on their 
part gravely discredits the guardians of these verities. 22 But they do 
not on that account lose their obligatory character. 

The verities to be defended, however, must be eternal verities. 
The mistake of the United States Supreme Court was to defend 
against political opportunism principles which themselves partook 
of political opportunism. 

The founders of the American Constitution were independent 
proprietors and they legislated for independent proprietors. At the 
time of the conflict which brought about the eclipse of the Supreme 
Court, Power had the backing of a mass of proletarians who were 
suffering from the consequences of a monstrously distorted concep- 
tion of the rights of property. It is because it took its stand on the 
terrain of perishable verities that the Court has seen its authority 
temporarily in abeyance. 

Similar in kind is the mistake of those who say that the natural 
or fundamental law should follow the movement of ideas. This high- 
sounding title masks in truth only the flux of interests. The various 
classes and social groupings are in continuous change as regards both 
their composition and their relative strengths. And the phrase really 
means that law must adapt itself to these changes. 

But there is in law an immutable element, and we human beings 
are not, as I see it, alas, equal to the task of evolving a bubbling 
stream of ever new verities. Ideas are, more truly, like infrequent 
oases in the barren wastes of human thought; once discovered, they 
are for ever precious, even though they are left to be silted up by 
the sands of stupidity and ignorance. Where is this stream of yours, 
that it should cause me to change direction? A mirage. There must 
be a return to Aristotle, St. Thomas, Montesquieu. In them is sub- 
stance, and nothing of them is divorced from reality. 


The capital blunder of our time is, probably, this: that everything 
has come to be regarded as eternally abiding our question. No so- 
ciety, as Comte said, can continue at all in which certain funda- 


mental notions are not accorded a unanimous respect, as being be- 
yond the pale of discussion. And, said he, 

there can be no true liberty without a rational submission to the unique 
dominion, properly authenticated, of the fundamental laws of nature, in 
which is shelter from all arbitrary rule of men. 23 The metaphysic of poli- 
tics has tried in vain to give its realm an odour of sanctity by investing 
with the honourable name of laws any sort of decisions, confused and 
irrational as they often are, taken by sovereign assemblies, whatever may 
be their composition; decisions which are conceived of, by a basic fiction 
which is unable to change their nature, as a faithful expression of the 
popular will. 24 

Can we fail to see that a delirium of legislation, such as has grown 
up with the last two or three generations, creates, by accustoming 
minds to look on fundamental rules and notions as infinitely modifi- 
able, the most favourable conditions for the despot? 

Ambulatory law is the sport and instrument of the passions. The 
despot whom a political wave carries to Power can twist into the 
most fantastic shapes what had already lost all certainty of form. 
Immutable verities being things of the past, he can now impose his 
own— intellectual monstrosities resembling those creatures of night- 
mare with the head taken from one animal and the limbs from an- 
other. By setting up a kind of vicious "alimentary circle" he is en- 
abled to feed the people on ideas which they return to him in the 
guise of general will. This general will is the breeding-ground of 
laws which are ever more divorced not only from the divine but 
also from the human intelligence. 

Law has lost its soul and become jungle. 25 

liberty's aristocratic roots 317 


1. Of liberty. 2. The distant origins of liberty. 3. The system of lib- 
erty. 4. Liberty as a system based on class. 5. The free, the un- 
free, the half-free. 6. Incorporation and differential assimilation. 
7. The advance of Caesarism. 8. The conditions of liberty. 9. The 
two possible directions of people's parties. 10. The problem is still 
with us. 11. Of the historical formation of national characteristics. 
12. Why democracy extends Power's rights and weakens the in- 
dividuals safeguards. 

Where is liberty? 
For two centuries now this European society of ours has 
been seeking it; what it has found has been the widest, the 
most cumbersome, and the most burdensome state authority ever 
yet experienced by our civilization. 

That being so, when we ask where liberty is, "they" refer us to 
the ballots in our hands; over the vast machine which keeps us in 
subjection we have this one right: we, the ten- or twenty- or thirty- 
millionth of the sovereign, lost in the vast crowd of our fellows, can 
on occasion take a hand in setting the machine in motion. And that, 
"they" tell us, is our liberty. We lose it whenever an individual will 
takes sole possession of the machine: that is autocracy. We regain it 
when the right of giving the machine a periodical mass-impulsion is 
restored to us: that is democracy. 

This is all either misdealing or cheating. Liberty is something 
quite different. Its essence lies in our will not being subject to other 
human wills: in our will ruling alone over our actions, only being 
checked when it injures the basic, indispensable requirements of life 
in society. 

Liberty is not our more or less illusory participation in the abso- 
lute sovereignty of the social whole over the parts; it is, rather, the 
direct, immediate, and concrete sovereignty of man over himself, 
the thing which allows and compels him to unfold his personality, 
gives him mastery over and responsibility for his destiny, and makes 
him accountable for his acts both to his neighbour, dowered with an 

<dl8 ON POWER 

equal right claiming his respect— this is where justice comes in— and 
to God, whose purposes he either fulfils or flouts. 

It is not as an element in the happiness of the individual that the 
loftiest spirits have vaunted liberty, but rather because it consecrates 
the dignity of his personality and thus saves the human being from 
playing the merely instrumental role to which the wills of authority 
tend ever to reduce him. 

Why is it that these lofty intentions have been completely lost 
sight of? That participation in government (absurdly called "politi- 
cal liberty" when it is in reality one of the means given to the indi- 
vidual of safeguarding his liberty against the unending onslaught of 
the sovereignty ) has come to seem to him more precious than liberty 
itself? That this participation of his in Power has sufficed to induce 
him to raise up and encourage state encroachments, which have, 
thanks to the approval of the mob, been carried to much further 
lengths than absolute monarchy could ever have carried them? * 

The phenomenon looks paradoxical but only until it is analysed. 1 
It is easily accounted for when once a sufficiently clear idea has been 
formed of the thousand-year-old duel fought between sovereignty 
and liberty, between Power and the freeman. 


Liberty is not a recent invention; on the contrary, the idea of it 
forms part of our oldest intellectual heritage. 

When we employ the terminology of liberty we rediscover nat- 
urally formulas which had been elaborated in a social past far dis- 
tant, long before the appearance of absolute monarchy, which is, 
properly speaking, the first in time of the modern regimes and first 
set in motion the destruction of subjective rights to Power's advan- 
tage. For instance, when we say that no man may be imprisoned or 
dispossessed unless in virtue of the law of the land and the judg- 
ment of his peers, we are getting back to the language of the Magna 
Charta. 2 Or if we seek with Chatham to affirm the inviolability of the 
private dwelling-house, we are unconsciously bringing back to life 
the imprecation contained in the ancient law of Norway: "If the 
king violates a free man's dwelling, all will seek out the king to kill 
him." And again, when we claim the right to act as we will, subject 
to liability for the consequences of what we do (which is, for in- 

* Cf. "And one sad servitude alike denotes The slave that labours and the 
slave that votes."— Peter Pindar. 

liberty's aristocratic roots 319 

stance, the state of British law in regard to freedom of the press), 
we breathe the air of the very earliest Roman law. 

We form an idea of liberty "instinctively," or so we think; but it 
is in reality a throwback of the collective memory to the day of the 
freeman. Unlike man in a state of nature, the freeman is not a phi- 
losopher's dream, but actually existed in those societies which Power 
had not invaded. It is from him that we derive our notion of indi- 
vidual rights. All we have forgotten is how they were hedged around 
and defended. We have become so inured to Power that we have 
now come to regard our liberties as held in grant from it. But viewed 
historically, the right to liberty was not an act of generosity on the 
part of Power: its birth was of another kind. And the chief clash 
with our modern ideas lies in this: that in the past this right was not 
of general extent, based on the hypothesis that there was in each 
man a dignity which Power had on principle to respect. It was the 
personal right of certain men, the fruit of a dignity to which they 
had enforced respect. Liberty was an achievement, which won the 
name of subjective right by self-assertion. 

It is against this historical background that liberty must be viewed 
if we are to see its problem aright. 

Liberty is found among the most ancient groupings of the Indo- 
European people, known to us. 

It is a subjective right which belongs to those, and to those only, 
who are capable of defending it: to the members, that is to say, of 
certain virile families which have, with a view to forming a society, 
entered into a sort of federation. Whoever belongs to one of these 
families is free, because he has "brothers" to defend him or avenge 
him. These can, if he has suffered injury or death, beleaguer in arms 
the dwelling-place of the murderer; they can also, when he is the 
accused, range themselves at his side. 

In this powerful family solidarity all the most ancient forms of 
procedure find their explanation. As, for example, the manner of 
serving a writ, the record of which is preserved for us in the laws 
of Alfred: 3 acceptance of service was obtained by a mimic assault on 
the defendant's house— a clear indication of the fact that a suit was 
at first a recourse to arbitration held with a view to obviating a 
physical combat. It also explains why the suit took the form of a 
piling up of oath against oath, with that suitor winning the day who 


could bring up the larger reserves of "sworn men" to put their hands 
under his and swear in his behalf: 4 it was an obvious trial of 
strength, in which the more numerous and united family was bound 
to carry the day. 

It was these powerful families, jealous of their independence but 
assiduous in matters of common import, that gave their tone to 
libertarian institutions. Unwilling at first to accept a leader at all 
except when circumstances made one necessary, 5 they ended in sub- 
mission to a regular government, but always refused to admit that 
anything other than their express consent tied them to it. All the 
authority, strength, and resources at Power's command were those 
which were lent to it by assemblies of freemen. Life in cities disin- 
tegrated the clans progressively into families in the strict sense, but 
the chief still embodied the fierce spirit of independence which 
marked the beginnings of society. Witness the most ancient Roman 
law, which was built on the principle of the autonomy of the indi- 
vidual will. 6 


To us it is hardly credible that a society can remain alive in which 
each man is the judge and master of his own actions, and our first 
reaction is that the most hideous disorder must reign wherever there 
is no Power to dictate to men their behaviour. Patrician Rome is 
evidence to the contrary. It offers us the spectacle of a continuing 
gravity and seemliness which suffered no decline until after a lapse 
of centuries; and disorder set in at the very time that rules started 
to multiply. 

Why is it that the autonomy of individual wills did not produce 
what seem to us its natural results? The answer lies in three words: 
responsibility, ritual, folkways. 

The Roman was, it is true, free to do anything. But let him have 
answered imprudently the question "SpondesneP" and he was bound; 
that he misunderstood, that he was deceived or even coerced, helped 
him nothing: there was no coercing a man; etiamsi coactus, attamen 
voluit. 7 * He was free, but, through carelessness, imprudence, or 
stupidity, he promised to pay a certain sum, and cannot: behold him 
now the slave of his creditor. 

A world in which the consequences of mistakes were liable to be so 

* Spondesne? ( Do you promise? ) 
Etiamsi coactus, attatnen voluit. ( Even though compelled, yet he decided. ) 

liberty's aristocratic roots 321 

heavy both required and formed virile natures. Men meditated long 
their actions, and, as though to induce reflection, their every action 
wore a ceremonial aspect. All might be done, the sale of a son or the 
substitution for him in the inheritance of a stranger in blood, but the 
necessary ritual had to observed. At the height of Republican Rome 
this ritual was strict in the extreme; and brought it home to men 
that their decisions and acts were grave and solemn things. It gave to 
their steps a measured and majestic gait. 8 Unquestionably nothing 
did more to give to the Senate its air of an assemblage of kings. 

Finally we come to the essential factor in the ordering of society, 
to the folkways. 

The early imprinting on the mind by a feared and venerated father 
of the cult of the ancestors, 9 a severe and uniform education, 10 the 
formation in common of adolescent training centres, 11 the early 
spectacle of behaviour commanding respect, 12 this and all else con- 
ditioned freemen to certain modes of behaviour. Should they fall 
short, whether through whim or weakness, there fell on them the 
force of public censure, which checked their careers and might even 
go so far as to deprive them of their status of freemen. 

The reason why Plutarch makes such elevating reading is that his 
characters, from the best to the worst, play their parts one and all 
without commonness or meanness. It is not surprising that they have 
furnished tragedy with almost all its heroes, for, even while they 
were alive, they were in some sense already on the stage, trained to 
play certain characters and fixed in their parts by the exacting ex- 
pectations of the spectators. 

The climate of opinion when Republican Rome stood at its sum- 
mit was that of a small, privileged society, freed from all menial 
work and sordid preoccupation and nurtured on tales of heroic ex- 
ploit; a betrayal of this standard, and its doors closed for ever against 
the offender. Let us remark in passing that it was because the politi- 
cal thinkers of the eighteenth century conceived of opinion after 
these classical models that they sought to entrust it with so large a 
part. They failed to notice that the object of their admiration was 
neither general nor natural, that it was the opinion of a class and a 
product of meticulous training. 

The system of liberty rested entirely in those days on the assump- 
tion that men would use their liberty in a certain way. 


This assumption implied no estimate of the nature of man as such. 
Speculations of that kind made their appearance only when Greek 
civilization was in decline, and came to Rome as an importation 
from abroad. 

Reliance was placed on the observable fact that men— men, that 
is to say, of a certain class— in virtue of acquired characteristics 
which could be maintained in vigour, behaved for all practical pur- 
poses in this particular way. With them, and for them, the system 
of liberty was workable. 

It was a system based on class. There lies the gulf which separates 
the city of antiquity from the state of today, ancient thought from 

The word "freeman" does not sound to our ear as it did to those 
of the men of old. The emphasis is, for us, entirely on the "man." 
In it is the substance, and the adjective is a mere redundancy which 
only develops an idea already contained in the noun; whereas 
for the Romans the emphasis was on the "free," so much so that 
they telescoped the noun and the adjective into a single noun: 
ingenuus. 13 

The freeman is a man of a particular kind, and has, if we are to 
accept Aristotle, a particular sort of nature. It is to this nature that 
the privileges of liberty are linked. The moment a man belies it, they 
are lost to him— as, for instance, to the Roman who let himself be 
taken prisoner in war, or became a notorious evildoer, or, for the 
sake of security, placed himself in another man's power. 

Freemen are, taken as a body, capable both of ruling others and 
of agreeing among themselves, and rest their pride simultaneously 
in the majesty of their own persons and in that of the city. Men of 
their breed, whether Spartiates or Romans, will never submit to 
slavery whether from within or from without. They put up a superb 
resistance to the aggressions of Power seeking expansion, while 
bringing to the discipline and defence of society a proud and assidu- 
ous succour. 

They are the soul of the Republic, or rather they are the entire 

But what about the rest? 

It is passing strange that our philosophers of the Revolutionary 
period should have formed their conception of a free society by 
reference to societies where everyone was not free— where, in fact, 
the vast majority were not free. It is no less strange that they never 

liberty's aristocratic roots 323 

stopped to ask whether perhaps the characters which they so much 
admired were not made possible by the existence of a class which 
was not free. Rousseau, in whose philosophy were many things, was 
fully conscious of this difficulty: "Must we say that liberty is pos- 
sible only on a basis of slavery? Perhaps we must." 14 


The system of liberty in the ancient world rested on a social dif- 
ferentiation which the modern spirit finds profoundly shocking. At 
Athens there were from fifteen to twenty thousand free citizens, as 
against four hundred thousand slaves. And the slavery was, even in 
the eyes of the philosophers, the condition of the freedom; a section 
of humanity had to be tools. "The usefulness of slaves diverges little 
from that of animals/' said Aristotle; "bodily service for the necessi- 
ties of life is forthcoming from both." 15 It is thanks to them alone 
that freemen had the leisure to raise themselves to the true condi- 
tion of man, as it was defined by Cicero: "The name of man is gen- 
erally bestowed but is in fact earned only by those who cultivate 
knowledge." 16 

But, even so, the position at Athens in the time of Aristotle and 
at Rome in the time of Cicero, in which a large class of freemen 
rested on a bed of slaves, marked a stage in a long trail of general- 
ization of liberty. 

It is far from the case that in the epoch in which liberty glittered 
most brilliantly all who were not slaves were free. Full liberty be- 
longed only to some, but there were many who enjoyed what was 
called by Mommsen half -liberty. 

Full civil and political rights were at first the portion only of the 
eupatrids or the patricians, members at one and the same time both 
of the founding families or clans and of the warrior bands in whose 
assemblage the strength of society consisted; the phratries and curias 
kept alive the memory of these bands. 17 The plebeians who lay out- 
side these categories, or entered them only in the capacity of de- 
pendants, were not citizens and freemen in the true sense. 

Naturally the mass of plebeians brought social pressure to bear on 
the privileged aristocracy, and this pressure had the effect of diffus- 
ing the system of liberty, though it also altered its characteristics. 

To us, who are not satisfied with a liberty that is undiffused, this 
pressure, and its diverse forms and consequences— which are not, as 
we shall see, what was intended— are full of valuable lessons. 



Out of an extremely complex process (one on which historians 
have been too silent ) it is only possible here to disengage the three 
main forms of emancipation, to which we shall give the names of "in- 
corporation," "differential assimilation," and "counter-organization." 

It is certain that in the earliest days of Roman history whole fami- 
lies were taken into the patriciate. The authorities tell us of several 
occasions on which this happened, as, for instance, at the annexation 
of Alba, when the great Alban clans were taken in on a footing of 
equality. Enlargements of the patriciate effected after this manner 
did no harm to the system, any more than did the frequent admis- 
sions of individuals by way of adoption. The effect was merely that 
people who had the habit of liberty received an accretion of like- 
minded people, or, in the case of individual admissions, of people 
who were considered to display in the highest degree the character- 
istics proper to a state of liberty. The admissions of individuals went 
on almost uninterruptedly and greatly reinvigorated the patriciate. 
The admission of whole families, on the other hand, soon came to 
an end. 

The result was that, instead of virile plebeian families coming in 
to enlarge and fortify the patriciate, they remained part of the plebs, 
gave it its leaders, and conducted a long-drawn-out political war- 
fare, in the course of which the right of plebeians to hold the various 
public offices was progressively recognized. Then these plebeian 
families, in the pride of offices held and administered, joined up 
with the patriciate to form a new governing class: the nobilitas, 
which presided over the destinies of Rome in the most glorious hours 
of her history. 

In the course of its struggles with the patriciate the condition of 
the plebs changed, for it won for itself civil and political rights. 18 
These were not, properly speaking, the patrician rights, and this is 
why the expression "differential assimilation" has been used. For 
instance, the form of patrician marriage, the confarreatio, was bound 
up with rites which were purely patrician; other forms of marriage 
had, therefore, to be found. Again, the manner of making a will by 
means of a solemn declaration of testamentary intentions made be- 
fore the comitia curiata was unsuited to the plebeian; so there was 
invented the disposition by way of a fictitious sale of the estate. All 
these forms of plebeian usage were, moreover, of greater practical 

liberty's aristocratic roots 325 

convenience than the ancient forms, which were in the end to be 
abandoned even by the patricians themselves. 

The spirit of the law underwent a change. So long as Roman so- 
ciety was powerfully organized in private groupings, each of them 
presided over by a man of strong will, whose will had been disci- 
plined by beliefs and folkways, all the law that was necessary was 
to keep some sort of watch on the various crossroads at which colli- 
sions were possible. 

But behaviour became less calculable when it was a case of a 
crowd of men whose wills had received less conditioning. Weaker 
characters, of men who had not previously enjoyed complete au- 
tonomy as regards law, could not be made subject to the cruel con- 
sequences of mistakes, which would be more frequent. It became 
necessary to temper and humanize the law. Public authority, in the 
form of the praetor, was brought in to protect individuals. Regula- 
tions multiplied under it. 

Nor was that all. Primitive law could do without means of coer- 
cion. Judgment was an arbitral award accepted in advance. Maine 
noted the entire absence of sanctions in the earliest systems of law. 
Now, when it was in operation over a wider area, justice acted in a 
sovereign rather than in a mediatory capacity. She needed the 
wherewithal to execute her will. 

Liberty, now cut to the habits of more people, lost something of 
its primitive stiffness and haughtiness. Yet it still reigned, though the 
phenomenon that was to destroy it was already forming. 


The acquisition of civil and political rights was a very big thing 
for the plebeian. It was a big enough one even for the strong char- 
acters and bold spirits who had made their own way and founded 
powerful families, thereby putting into the shade many enfeebled 
patricians and gathering about them in their turn a numerous ret- 
inue of dependants. 

In law there was, it is true, no longer a plebs, but there was still 
one in fact. In the mistress of the world that was now Rome, in- 
equality of conditions took a form far different from that taken in 
the days when even the proudest patricians were no more than 
swollen peasants. Prodigious fortunes were now amassed, to which 
the inviolability of individual rights gave the same protection as 
formerly it gave to the peasant's field. 


The men of the people came thereby to set less store by their 
legal status of freemen than by their participation in the public au- 
thority. By means of the first, whether through their own fault or 
that of circumstances, they could not make progress adequate to 
their situation. The second was to be their instrument, and they were 
to make such use of it as would destroy liberty itself, their own 
along with that of the mighty who kept them down. The tribunate 
and the plebiscite would, between them, produce this result. 

In the time when the plebeian had no rights, he had obtained, by 
means of the celebrated secession of the plebeians to the Aventine, 
the institution of inviolable tribunes, armed with complete powers 
for protecting him and with the right to halt for his behoof any ac- 
tivity of the government. This tribunician power had about it an 
arbitrary character which was necessary at first to make up for the 
plebeian's lack of rights: it should, logically, have disappeared as 
soon as equality of rights had been realized. Far from that, how- 
ever, it continued in existence, backed by the Senate, which made 
clever use of it to check the designs of magistrates who were too 
independent, and to concentrate finally in its own hands all public 
authority. 19 

The Senate permitted the tribunes to unite the plebs as a separate 
community within the city, and to arrange for it to pass by vote 
resolutions of its own, plebi scita, resolutions which acquired in the 
end the status of laws in the true sense. 20 

These laws were very different both in intent and content from 
those which had in former days been presented by the magistrates, 
the Senate consenting; the latter had been limited to the formulation 
of general principles. The tribunician plebiscites, products for the 
most part of the needs or passions of the passing hour, came often 
into conflict with the most fundamental principles of the law. 

In this way there was introduced into Roman society the essen- 
tially erroneous notion that it is the business of legislative authority 
to prescribe or forbid anything whatever. Anyone who put forward 
a proposition of a nature seemingly advantageous for the immediate 
future was blindly applauded, even though his proposition sub- 
verted the entire permanent edifice of order. It was the tribunate 
which habituated the people to the idea of a saviour redressing at 
a stroke the social balance. Marius and Caesar were to be its heirs, 
and the emperors would find it an easy task to establish themselves 
on the ruins of the Republic and liberty. 

liberty's aristocratic roots 327 

And who were the men who would try to stay this process? Free- 
men of the old school. Brutus's dagger, so dear to the Jacobin heart, 
was wielded by an aristocratic hand. 

The death or the Roman Republic may be ascribed with 
equal truth either to the fault of the masses or to the failure of 
the great. 

The system of civil and political liberty could be made to work so 
long as it was not extended beyond men whose folkways accorded 
with it. 21 But it ceased to be workable when once it had come to 
include strata of men for whom liberty was as nothing beside politi- 
cal authority, who expected nothing from the one and hoped every- 
thing of the other. 

So far the responsibility for error is that of the masses. But that 
of the great is just as heavy. They had changed from the austere 
patricians of old into greedy capitalists, enriched by the pillage of 
whole provinces, by the illegal occupation of conquered territories, 
and by the squalid practice of usury. There were those who, like a 
certain Caecilius Clodius, had come to possess 3,600 pairs of oxen 
and 257,000 head of cattle. As absences on military service ruined 
the small proprietors, the capitalists acquired their land, and— an 
eloquent symbol, this!— ruined the once fertile soil by periodical 
changes of pasture for their vast herds of cattle, to such an extent 
that it was to be out of cultivation for nearly two thousand years. 22 

It thus appears how right Tiberius Gracchus was in seeking to 
limit the large and multiply the small estates, thus tightening the 
dangerously relaxed bonds of the social order. 

In so doing he hit on a fundamental truth— on what may truly be 
called the secret of liberty. A libertarian regime— one, that is to say, 
in which subjective rights are inviolable— cannot be maintained if 
the majority of those members of society who take a part in politics 
are not concerned to keep them intact. How can they be made con- 
cerned? By all the citizens having interests— not, it is true, of the 
same extent, but at least of the same kind and not differing: too 
widely in degree— interests which all are glad to see protected by 
the same rights. 

In the heyday of the Republic the more fortunate citizens had 
been able without occasioning discontent to predominate at the elec- 
tions, just as in war they were in the forefront of the battle. The 


reason was that their interests, though large, were not different in 
kind from the smaller ones of their neighbours. 

But this natural harmony could endure only so long as the mate- 
rial conditions of life stretched in an uninterrupted chain from high- 
est to lowest, a chain in which the various links were not too far 
apart. It was utterly destroyed when there came to be at one end of 
the social ladder a disinherited mass, and at the other an insolent 
plutocracy. The subjective rights, regarded as legitimate when all 
that they included was the modest holding of a quiris, came to in- 
spire hatred when immense fortunes, however acquired, however 
large, and however used, sheltered beneath them. Thereafter the 
social pressures were directed against just those individual rights 
which should have been dear to each single member of the body 
politic, but had in fact come to be regarded by most of them as a 
mere blind, as the jealously guarded abuse of a small minority. 
From that time the majority laboured for the destruction of those 
rights. And liberty foundered with them. 


It would be an error, disastrous alike to intelligent historiography 
and to the formation of political science, to confound in one and the 
same bland admiration everyone who has "espoused the popular 
cause," without distinguishing the two ways of serving it and the 
two roads along which, in pursuit of this end, society can be brought. 

The situation to be coped with is the same, whichever way is 
taken: it is the vast gulf set between the legal status and the eco- 
nomic status of the ordinary man. 

Whereas at Rome, in the first period of growth, economic inde- 
pendence and personal autonomy in matters of everyday life had 
gone on broadening down at the same pace as the right to political 
liberty, or even at a faster pace, a second phase arrived in which 
this independence and this autonomy started contracting, while the 
right to liberty continued to be extended to those members of so- 
ciety who were as yet without it (instance the admission to citizen- 
ship by Marius of the capite censi). 

In this way a position was reached in which a large crowd of indi- 
viduals, weak and wretched in isolation, had at their collective dis- 
posal a great influence on public affairs. Naturally financial advances 
were made to this influence by the plutocratic factions. But in the 
end, as was certain to happen, it was caught by the popular leaders. 

liberty's aristocratic roots 329 

When that point had been reached, there were two courses open 
to the popular leaders. The first was that of Tiberius Gracchus. To 
him it seemed that the spirit of citizenship, the will to safeguard and 
defend common interests and sentiments, gets at once lost sight of 
both at the top and at the bottom when the capitalists have too 
much to defend and the proletarians not enough. Therefore he 
sought to re-establish as between citizens a real similitude, together 
with the solidarity which flows from it: to put an end to the exist- 
ence side by side of a plutocracy and a proletariat, and to arrange 
matters so that each single citizen could enjoy effectively an inde- 
pendence and an autonomy such as would bind all together in de- 
fence of the system of liberty. 

The second course, to which Gaius Gracchus allowed himself to 
be committed by the failure of his brother, was quite different. To 
him the monstrous individual strength of the grandees and the utter 
individual weakness of the ordinary man were accomplished facts 
on which there was no going back, and he set himself the task of 
installing a public authority as manager of the people's affairs on 
their behalf. 

The contrast between the policies of the two brothers at once 
leaps to the eye; the aim of the elder was to restore every citizen to 
the status of owner, whereas the younger got a law passed which 
allotted to each citizen his ration of corn at a low price, soon to be 
given gratis. 23 This measure went in the diametrically opposite direc- 
tion to the policy of Tiberius Gracchus. Tiberius had sought to 
multiply the numbers of independent proprietors; Gaius brought 
into Rome the last of them, lured there by free rations.* 

* The reference here is to the lex frumentaria of 123 b.c. by which Gaius 
Gracchus fixed the price of corn at six and one-third asses to the modius. The 
view that this measure had the effect suggested in the text, though it has often 
been taken, is not accepted by die writer in the Cambridge Ancient History 
(vol. IX, chapters II and V), who maintains that, even though the law was 
repealed some four years later by reason of its cost, the price of six and one- 
third asses was probably not much below that at which the state might, with 
judicious buying, have hoped to sell without serious loss to itself. It is now, not 
surprisingly, impossible to determine with any sort of certainty what, on any 
hypothesis, was the economic price of corn at Rome in 123 B.C. The view taken 
in the text can, it is thought, claim this much at least of justification: even on 
the most favourable view of the lex frumentaria as such— even if there was n« 
offence in it to the most "classical" of economists— it set a course which led, first 
to the proposal of Saturninus in 103 B.C. to fix the price of the modius at only 
five-ninths of an as (though neither the figure nor the date can be regarded as 
certain), and then to the free distribution by Clodius in 58 B.C. It can, in short, 
be fairly said that it was Gracchus who "fished the murex up." 


The result was that, instead of the physical independence of so- 
ciety's members becoming generalized, the bulk of them became 
the dependants of the public authority. 

To carry out its new duties, that authority had necessarily to build 
up a separate administrative corps. It was, in time, to turn into the 
Empire, which lost no time in creating permanent officials and prae- 
torian guards. 

In truth there is no republic except where Power does not take 
the form of a concrete entity with its own members, where the citi- 
zens may almost without distinction be called on to manage tem- 
porarily common interests commonly conceived, and where none has 
a motive to increase the burdens which all support. 

On the other hand, Power comes into being (a state in the mod- 
ern sense) as soon as the gulf between individual interests has be- 
come so deep that the weakness of the mass requires the perma- 
nent protection of an all-powerful care, which cannot but behave as 


Shall I be reproached for having buried my head too deeply in 
ancient history? But I have buried it in very recent history, too. 

I find a remarkable counterpart to the story of the two Gracchi in 
that of the two Roosevelts. 

Theodore Roosevelt, considering that the physical independence 
of the majority of citizens was the essential condition of their at- 
tachment to libertarian institutions, applied himself to fighting a 
plutocracy which was transforming citizens into salaried dependants. 
He came to grief on the same blind egoism of the men of great place 
as caused the downfall of Tiberius Gracchus. 

Franklin Roosevelt accepted the accomplished fact, took up the 
defence of the unemployed and the economically weak, and con- 
structed, by means of their votes and to their immediate advantage, 
such a structure of Power as recalled in striking fashion the work of 
the first Roman emperors. The individual right— the shield of each, 
which had become the bulwark of a few— had to bow down before 
the social right. And the free citizen passed a milestone on his way 
to becoming a protected subject. 

The phenomenon, when once its essence has been grasped, throws 
a flood of light on the political history of Europe. We may pass over 

liberty's aristocratic roots 331 

the evolution of the Italian republics, which, in their progress from 
the patriciate to the tyranny, exactly reproduce the course of events 
at Rome; for it is not by these, but rather by the monarchies, that 
the modern states have been created, receiving from them indelible 

An important class of freeman can be dimly discerned in the dark- 
ness of the Merovingians.* But troubled times cast them into a de 
facto dependence— to become de jure— on a powerful squirearchy. 
The kingdoms of the early Middle Ages may be conceived of as a 
species of vast and loosely knit republics in which citizenship was 
the perquisite of only a few notables. 

But, as we have seen, the chances of preserving libertarian institu- 
tions are bound up with the proportion of the politically effective 
members of the society in question who desire benefit from them. 
We ought not, therefore, to feel surprise at the wide measure of 
support accorded to kings in their attempts to substitute their own 
authority for liberties which benefited only the few and were an 
oppression to the many. 

Those historians who are impelled by an inner need to take sides 
are much embarrassed by this struggle between monarchy and aris- 
tocracy. How should they pay tribute to the authoritarian labours of 
kings, which rescued men from feudal servitude? Albert de Broglie 
has described this tendency: 

We have had already, and even from the highest quarters, theories of 
French history which were very consistent, very well pieced together, and 
in which the whole construction stood its ground to perfection. According 
to these system-builders, the two principles which have always taken 
charge of the development of France are also the fulfilment of all its 
prayers— Equality and Authority. The greatest measure of equality pos- 
sible protected by the largest amount of authority imaginable, there is 
the ideal government for France. That is what the crown and the Third 
Estate were seeking in common all through our long convulsions. To 
suppress both the superior ranks which dominated the bourgeoisie, and 
at the same time the intermediate authorities which inconvenienced the 
throne, to reach by that road complete equality and unlimited power, that 
is the final and providential tendency of French history. 

A royal democracy, as it has been called, in other words a master but 

* The Merovingians were the first dynasty of Frankish kings in Gaul. It was 
founded by Merovech in a.d. 448; his grandson, Clovis, established its for- 
tunes. The Carolingians succeeded in a.d. 752. 


no superiors, equal subjects but no citizens, no privileges but no rights, 
such is the constitution which suits us. 24 ° 

Will historians, in their passion for libertarian and anti-absolutist 
institutions, admire the resistance of aristocracy to the formation of 
absolutism? Sismondi, for instance, states that in the Middle Ages 
"all the real advances made in independence of character, in the 
safeguarding of rights, and in the limitations forced by discussion on 
the caprices and vices of absolute Power, were due to the hereditary 
aristocracy." 25 

Only the English political scene does not impale the historian on 
this dilemma, and that by reason of certain historical peculiarities 
which have been well set forth by de Lolme. There, in effect, the 
authority of the crown was from the first sufficiently great and se- 
curity sufficiently assured to save the large class of freemen from 
shrivelling into a narrow caste. 

Instead of the ambitions which had been thwarted and the activi- 
ties which had been exploited by the oppressive measure of liberty 
enjoyed by the notables finding, as in France, a rallying-point be- 
neath the royal banner, the political strength of what may already 
be termed "the English middle class" was mustered in the wake of 
the squires (regarded as large-scale freemen) under the banner of 
liberty. The phenomenon is one of decisive importance: for it has 
had the effect of forming, for and throughout whole centuries, an 
English political outlook very different from that prevailing on the 
continent of Europe. 


J. S. Mill, in a famous passage, threw into contrast the different 
political tempers of the peoples of France and England: 

There are two states of the inclinations, intrinsically very different, but 
which have something in common, by virtue of which they often combine 
in the direction they give to the efforts of individuals and nations; one is 
the desire to exercise power over others; the other is disinclination to have 
power exercised over themselves. The difference between different por- 
tions of mankind in the relative strength of these two dispositions is one 
of the most important elements in their history. 26 

Barely troubling himself to camouflage the cap, Mill then fits it on 

* In stressing this tendency, de Broglie was animated by the wish to fight the 
Bonapartism for which it had paved the way. 

liberty's aristocratic roots 333 

the French, who sacrifice their liberty, he explains, to the most 
exiguous and illusory participation in Power. 

There are nations in whom the passion for governing others is so much 
stronger than the desire of personal independence, that for the mere 
shadow of the one they are found ready to sacrifice the whole of the 
other. Each one of their number is willing, like the private soldier in an 
army, to abdicate his personal freedom of action into the hands of his 
general, provided the army is triumphant and victorious, and he is able 
to flatter himself that he is one of a conquering host, though the notion 
that he has himself any share in the domination exercised over the con- 
quered is an illusion. 

A government strictly limited in its powers and attributions, required 
to hold its hands from overmeddling, and to let most things go on without 
its assuming the part of guardian or director, is not to the taste of such a 
people; in their eyes the possessors of authority can hardly take too much 
upon themselves, provided the authority itself is open to general competi- 
tion. An average individual among them prefers the chance, however 
distant or improbable, of wielding some share of power over his fellow- 
citizens, above the certainty, to himself and others, of having no unneces- 
sary power exercised over them. 

These are the elements of a people of place-hunters; in whom the 
course of politics is mainly determined by place-hunting; where equality 
alone is cared for, but not Liberty; where the contests of political parties 
are but struggles to decide whether the power of meddling in everything 
shall belong to one class or another, perhaps merely to one kind of public 
men or another; where the idea entertained of democracy is merely that 
of opening offices to the competition of all instead of a few; where, the 
more popular the institutions, the more innumerable are the places cre- 
ated, and the more monstrous the over-government exercised by all over 
each, and by the executive over all. 27 

The English people, on the other hand, according to Mill, "are 
very jealous of any attempt to exercise power over them, not sanc- 
tioned by long usage and by their own opinion of right, but they in 
general care very little for the exercise of power over others"; the 
English have little sympathy with the passion for government, but 
"no people are so fond of resisting authority when it oversteps cer- 
tain prescribed limits." 28 

To the extent to which these two pictures seem to us to be true, 
how are we to explain such a contrast? By the characteristics ac- 
quired in the course of two quite different historical evolutions. 

In their capacity as leaders of the middle classes, the English aris- 


tocrats, ever since Magna Charta, associated them in their own re- 
sistance to the encroachments of Power. From that ensued a general 
attachment to safeguards for the individual and to affirmation of a 
law which was independent of Power and, at need, opposable to it. 

In France, on the other hand, it was around the monarchv that 
the middle classes rallied in their struggle against privileges. The 
victories of state legislation over custom were popular victories. 

So it came about that the two countries entered on the democratic 
era with very diverse dispositions. 

In one of them, the system of liberty, from being a right of per- 
sons of aristocratic origin, was to be progressively extended to all. 
Liberty would become a generalized privilege. For this reason it is 
misleading to speak of the democratization of England. It would be 
truer to say that the rights of the aristocracy have been extended to 
the plebs. The British citizen is as untouchable as a medieval 
noble. 29 

In France, on the other hand, the system of authority, the abso- 
lutist machine constructed by the Bourbon monarchy, was to fall 
into the hands of the people, taken in mass. 

In England, democracy would take the form of the extension to 
all of an individual liberty which was provided with centuries-old 
safeguards; in France, that of the attribution to all of a sovereignty 
which was armed with a centuries-old omnipotence and saw in indi- 
viduals nothing but subjects. 


When the people appears in the political arena in the leading 
part, it enters on what has been for centuries the battle-ground of 
monarchy and aristocracy. The former has forged the offensive 
weapons of authority, the latter has strengthened the defensive posi- 
tions of liberty. 

According as the people has, during its long minority, rested its 
hope in the monarchy or in the aristocracy and collaborated in the 
extension or in the limitation of Power, according as its admiration 
has traditionally gone out to kings who hang barons or to barons 
who turn back kings, it will have formed potent habits of mind and 
inveterate sentiments which will lead it on to continue either the 
absolutist work of the monarchy or the libertarian work of the aris- 

Thus, the English Revolution of 1689 invoked the name of Magna 

liberty's aristocratic roots 335 

Charta, whereas in the French of 1789 praises of Richelieu rang loud; 
he was canonized as "man of the mountain and Jacobin." 

But even in countries where popular authority is orientated by 
potent memories towards the safeguarding of individual rights, it 
will inevitably tack about to Power's side, and its breath will come, 
sooner or later, to puff the sails of sovereignty. 

This tacking about takes place at the bidding of the same causes 
as we have already seen at work at Rome. So long as the people, 
consisting of freemen participating in the work of government, com- 
prises none without some individual interests to defend, so that all 
feel an attachment to subjective rights, liberty seems to them pre- 
cious and Power dangerous. But so soon as this "people with voting 
power" comprises a majority of persons who have, or think they 
have, nothing to defend, but are offended by great material in- 
equalities, then it starts to set no value on anything but the power 
which its sovereignty gives it of overthrowing a defective social 
structure: it delivers itself over to the messianic promises of Power. 

Louis Napoleon, Bismarck, and Disraeli perfectly understood this 
—great authoritarians all of them, who realized that, by enlarging 
the franchise at a time when property was becoming a closer pre- 
serve, they were, by calling in the people, paving the way for the 
distension of Power. It was the politics of Caesarism. 

What folly it is to remit the judgment of events to posterity when 
contemporaries often see so much more clearly! Those of Napoleon 
III saw very well that he was not acting illogically in instituting 
universal suffrage while at the same time favouring the concentra- 
tion of wealth and the accentuation of social inequality. 30 

Only three things matter to Caesarism. First, that those who are 
oldest in liberty within the society should lose their moral credit and 
become incapable of imparting to those who enter on the heritage 
of this liberty a pride of personal status embarrassing to Power. 
Tocqueville has remarked on the part played in this respect in 
France by the complete extirpation of the ancient nobility. 31 The 
second factor necessary to Caesarism is that a new class of capital- 
ists should arise, without moral authority and possessed of an ex- 
treme of wealth which sets them apart from their fellow-citizens. 
Lastly, there is the third element, which is the union of political 
strength with social weakness in a large dependent class. 

Though they heap treasure on treasure and think themselves 
thereby more powerful, the "aristocrats" of the capitalistic creation, 


by awakening the resentment of society, disqualify themselves for 
ever from being its leaders against the inroads of Power. Whereas 
the infirmities of the multitude find a natural haven in the omnip- 
otent state. 

In this way is removed the only obstacle that Caesarism has to 
fear— a movement of libertarian resistance, emanating from a people 
with subjective rights to defend and under the natural leadership 
of eminent men whom their credit qualifies and whom the insolence 
of wealth does not disqualify. 


1. Tlie price of liberty. 2. Ruunt in servitutem. 3. Of the architec- 
ture of society. 4. Power and social promotion. 5. The middle class 
and liberty. 6. One level of liberty or several levels. 7. A securi- 
tarian aristocracy. 8. Disappearance of the libertarian element. 
9. The pactum subjectionis. 10. Social security and state omnipo- 
tence. 11. The social protectorate; its justification and purpose. 
12. Theocracies and wars of religion. 


^he history of Western society was interpreted in the nine- 
teenth century as an uninterrupted progress of the peoples 
towards liberty. Two periods were discerned. 
In the first, men, who had till then been closely bound in chains 
of dependence on and exploitation by particular masters, were seen 
being progressively extricated by means of the struggle in progress 
between these masters and political authority. 

In the second, being now more or less freed from their masters, 
they were in the enjoyment of a measure of civil liberty, but under 
the rule of a state which lived far above the heads of every social 
authority. All that still remained to do was to transform this su- 
preme master of society into its servant. That was the task of de- 
mocracy which, once realized, brought in its train political liberty; 
by this was meant the giving of obedience not, as previously, to 
masters, but to stewards whom the ruled had, for the furtherance 
of the common good, themselves appointed. 


This process of liberation in the material sphere was accompanied 
by a similar process in the spiritual. Instead of being subjected, as 
in the past, to the categorical imperatives of creed and conduct, men 
rid themselves of these superstitions and took to sitting in their own 
judgment seat as to what they should believe and in what manner 
they should act. 

Such were the convictions of the nineteenth century, which were, 
it is true, slow to penetrate certain spirits. 

But today it is a very different evolutionary process which the 
contemporary observer finds to record. Power, which had been re- 
fashioned for the service of society, is in reality its master. It is the 
less contested for claiming itself to be society's offspring. It is the 
more irresistible for meeting with no authority outside itself with 
the strength to limit it. The dethronement of the old faith, to which 
the state itself was subject, left an aching void in the room of beliefs 
and principles, a void which enabled Power to enunciate and im- 
pose its own. The appeal to the state against the exploiters of human 
labour ended in the substitution of it for them. The result is our 
present tendency towards the concentration in the same hand of a 
unified political command and a unified economic command, to- 
wards, in other words, an absolute imperium such as was never 
imagined by our forefathers, to find the like of which we must turn 
to other civilizations, such as the Ancient Egyptian. 

At the summit of our society are regents who, that action may be 
harmonized, have an eye to the harmonization of thought. At the 
base is a mob which is, taken all in all, obedient, credulous, and 
laborious, which dutifully receives from the sovereign its orders, its 
faith, and its daily bread, and which lives more or less in a state 
of servitude to a master who is immeasurably distant and impersonal. 

The proposition that this state of public servitude is the inevitable 
culminating point of the historical sequence formed by the succes- 
sive stages of a civilization, can be supported with many more 
proofs than are available to demonstrate the interpretation of a prog- 
ress towards liberty. But it would be exceeding our knowledge to 
assume that the sequence has a culminating point. As to that we 
know nothing, and we are acquainted with too few civilizations in 
the successive stages of their development to justify us in making 
their histories the norm of our own. 

We do no more than record that every society which has evolved 


in the direction of a state of individual liberty turns aside from that 
liberty suddenly and abruptly just when it seems on the point of at- 
taining it. And what interests us are the reasons for this phenomenon. 


It is a mysterious excellence of language that it expresses more 
truths than are clearly conceived of by the speaker. We say, for in- 
stance: "Liberty is the most precious of all goods," without noticing 
everything that this formula implies in the way of social assumptions. 

A good tiling which is of great price is not one of the primary 
necessities. Water costs nothing at all, and bread very little. What 
costs much is something like a Rembrandt, which, though its price 
is above rubies, :s wanted by very few people, and by none who 
have not, as it happens, a sufficiency of bread and water. 

Precious things, therefore, are really desired by but few human 
beings and not even by them until their primary needs have been 
amply provided. It is from this point of view that liberty needs to 
be looked at. A fable will, perhaps, render her more intelligible to us. 

A man is wandering in the jungle, relying for his food on the un- 
certainties of the chase, in constant danger from wild beasts of all 
kinds. A caravan comes by him; he runs to it and is glad to find 
rest in the security of numbers and an abundance of provisions. He 
becomes the most docile of all the chief's servants, and arrives under 
his aegis at the city. At first he enjoys the wonders of the city, but, 
getting quickly acclimatized to his security, it comes over him that 
he is now a slave, and he seeks his freedom. In the end he becomes 
free. But just at that moment the city is overwhelmed bv nomad 
tribes who pillage, burn, and massacre. Our man flees into the 
countryside and takes refuge in a fortress in which a baron shelters 
beasts and men: he pledges to this protector all his productive en- 
ergies, the consideration being the life which has been saved to 

But a strong Power brings back order to life, and our man is soon 
heard complaining of the baronial fatigues; these he transforms into 
a tribute of money which he contrives to make progressively smaller 
until in the end he sets up as an independent proprietor. Or again 
he sets off for the town, where he seeks to hire out the labour of 
his hands as it pleases him, or to find an opening in some industry 
which fits his capacity. Then there is a sudden economic crisis. The 
farmer and the industrialist can no longer sell at the anticipated 


price. The worker is thrown on to the street. Once more our man 
looks for some master with whom he is safe for a regular pittance, 
either by having a stated quantity of what he produces taken at an 
assured price or by having guaranteed him stable employment and 
a stable wage. 

In this way we see how, in the case of the hero of our allegory, 
the will to be free is in time of danger extinguished and revives 
again when once the need of security has received satisfaction. 

Liberty is in fact only a secondary need; the primary need is se- 

The idea of security merits, therefore, some examination: examina- 
tion at once reveals its complex nature. For which reason its oppo- 
site, insecurity, is more manageable. This we will define as the 
carking anxiety of being threatened with a disastrous occurrence. 
Insecurity, as is at once apparent, is a function of three variables. 
To start with, what is a disastrous occurrence? For one man a mere 
loss of money answers the description, whereas another will not so 
regard death itself. It follows that, as greatness of soul is more or 
less present, the number of disastrous occurrences is more or less 
extensive. Take the case of an individual for whom any one of a 
given number of occurrences is disastrous. The chances of one or 
another of these occurrences happening are greater or smaller ac- 
cording to the age in which he lives and his own condition. The 
chances of violent death are different in the nineteenth century 
from what they were in the time of the barbarian invasions. But 
men do not submit these risks to the process of mathematical calcu- 
lation. A sanguine man underestimates them, a nervous man exag- 
gerates them. 

The feeling of insecurity may, then, be represented as a function 
which carries different intensities for each member of any given 
community at any given time, according to the number of things 
feared by each, the mathematical probability of one or another of 
them happening, and the propensity of each to exaggerate or un- 
derestimate this probability. The greater this feeling of insecurity 
and the stronger the individual man's desire for protection, the 
higher also is the price which he will pay for this protection. 

The feeling of security is, as we said above, the opposite of this 
feeling which is, in principle, of measurable intensity. In that case 
security too is of measurable intensity, and the more strongly it is 
felt the stronger also will be the will to liberty. 



The conclusion is that there never was a time in any society 
whatsoever when some individuals did not feel themselves to be 
insufficiently protected, and others did not feel themselves to be in- 
sufficiently free. The former I will call "securitarians" and the latter 

This line of reasoning, as is at once apparent, forces on us a cor- 
rection of our earlier hypotheses concerning the relations between 
Powers and the social authorities. The social key positions may in 
time lapse into the hands of securitarians, who will not rest until 
they have exchanged the independence which might have been 
theirs for a guarantee from the state. We shall consider the con- 
sequences of this phenomenon later. 

It is also apparent that, taking one country with another and as- 
suming that the risks are equal, the spirit of liberty will be more 
prevalent where the spirit of men is prouder, or even where their 
temperaments are merely cast in a more sanguine mould. 

If, then, character is debased by an effeminate education, or if 
life takes new forms which generate anxiety without the real risks 
being increased, the proportion of securitarians will go up. 

If, again, the real likelihood of terrible occurrences is suddenly in- 
tensified, almost the whole of a society may go securitarian. 

It is for this reason that the freemen of the eighth to the tenth 
centuries rated their liberty cheaply. Seeking a strong right arm to 
protect them against the fury of the Saracen or the Norman or the 
Magyar, they made haste to raise up with their own hands the cita- 
del which was to be for centuries their descendants' prison. Bold 
and few were to be those who would, later, venture themselves 
outside their lord's domain, those whose adventurous peddling was 
to found the fortunes and the dynasties of the merchant patriciate. 
It was to require the increasing warmth of the king's peace to melt 
off from the iceberg of feudal servitude its most capable and en- 
ergetic elements; these became the bourgeoisie of the towns while 
the rest lingered on in feudal bonds. 

The history of the intelligentsia shows how surely infeudation 
follows in the wake of insecurity. 

The murder of Archimedes at the siege of Syracuse symbolizes 
the intellectual's fate in ages of violence. Let an ancient society be 
invaded by barbarians or let passion arouse in it the barbarism that 


slumbers there, and the first victims are sure to be the intellectuals. 

What is the intellectual to do next? At the time of the downfall of 
the Roman Empire he took precipitate refuge in the Church. That 
for him was the safe life and it was also, thanks to the munificence 
of the new masters, to be a life of rapidly growing opulence. For 
more than five hundred years every intellectual was in religious 
orders. Not, we may be sure, that every intellectual was a believer, 
but because an intellectual and social discipline was the price paid 
for security. 

As physical security came to seem better assured, some few ven- 
tured to step outside this tutelary watch and ward. But the great 
majority of the intellectuals remained within the family of the 
Church, from which they drew a pittance, small but certain. For 
instance, even as late as the eighteenth century, men like Condillac 
and Sieyes were abbes. 

• 3. 

He who has grasped the conception of the libertarian and se- 
curitarian sentiments being measurable quantities of opposites can 
envisage any society whatsoever, at any given moment of its exist- 
ence, as a multitude of specks, each corresponding to an individual, 
which can be arranged in tiers by reference to their libertarian con- 
tent. The most securitarian among them will, as I see it, be quite at 
the bottom and the most libertarian right at the top; and the rest 
will be spread out according to the ratio between their aspirations 
to liberty and their need for security. We may conceive this image 
as bearing the general appearance of a pyramid or a spindle. Which- 
ever we take, there will in either case be an arrangement of hori- 
zontal tiers, acting as lines of demarcation, in each of which is found 
a particular group of individuals, categorized by reference to tem- 
perament. These categories we may call alpha, beta, gamma, and 
so on, starting from the top. 

But still using the simile of specks to represent the members of 
society, we can also distribute these specks by reference to another 
principle, namely their position in society. Social position is some- 
thing which does not admit of logical definition but which we know 
by feeling it. Leaving aside for the moment, as being unnecessary 
to our purpose, any attempt to give precision to the idea of social 
position, we will, trusting to impression alone, present yet another 
image, that of the arrangement of society in tiers by reference to 


stations in life. Here too are lines of demarcation, separating off 
what are commonly called "classes." Let us call them A, B, C, and 
so on. 

If we now bring these two images together, what is the conclusion 
which their confrontation suggests to us? Will there be a correla- 
tion of classes and categories, so that A corresponds to alpha, B to 
beta, and so on? 

There certainly will not be an absolute correlation. All the A's will 
not, through pride of rank, be seen disdaining eveiy form of pro- 
tection. Nor will all the Z's find their impotence so alarming as to 
have no other concern but that of s;ettino; themselves assistance. In 
each class and for each society there will be a certain degree of 
correlation. 1 

One thing is certain: that the correlation will be at its maximum 
either in a society which is in process of formation or in one which 
has just undergone a complete overthrow. It is in such times as those 
that audacity takes wing. By accepting all risks and seizing all in- 
itiatives, the bold become the rulers. Whereas, on the contrary, the 
timid run to cover and support; so that the degree of their subjection 
will give the almost exact measure of their fears. 

There are in a society of this kind great inequalities; but there 
is in it, notwithstanding, a social equilibrium for the reason that lib- 
erties enjoyed are in proportion to risks taken. 

This equilibrium, however, is soon, inevitably, disturbed. The na- 
ture of men is such that they organize into subjective rights the 
positions which they have won for themselves; they monopolize 
them and pass them on to their descendants. No doubt it is true that 
the force of example, education, and perhaps heredity, of which we 
have still so much to learn, tend to preserve in each class the char- 
acteristics proper to each. But the process is an incomplete one: 
men of libertarian temperament make their appearance in the 
depths, and the men on the top show more and more marked se- 
curitarian trends. The result is that the arrangement in tiers by ref- 
erence to stations in life ceases to correspond with that by reference 
to temperament; the degree of correlation is lowered and the social 
equilibrium is destroyed. If society was so fluid a thing that some 
went up and others down without impediment, the equilibrium 
could be maintained. But in fact, as has been said above, a powerful 
instinct for acquisition and conservation is at work, which tends to 
stabilize the status quo and render the barriers impassable. 


The various turns which events may take are all easily imagined. 
Sometimes it happens that, as at Sparta, the upper classes long suc- 
ceed in continuing to produce virile types of men, by means of a 
severe training and a rigorous exclusiveness. Sometimes it happens 
that, without disturbance to the existing arrangements of tiers, they 
throw open their ranks to fresh infusions of energy; that happened 
at a certain period of Roman history, and at a certain period of 
English history, but the most striking instance of it is seen in the 
Middle Ages, up to about the time of St. Louis. Then the baron who 
led to the wars the most valiant of his men-at-arms would often 
knight the serf who had displayed outstanding courage, and the 
origin of the true feudal nobility was no other than that. At a later 
date, with the development of economic activities, wealth became 
the road to nobility. Let a man buy a noble fief and himself fulfil 
its military obligations, and he had only to show that he had "lived 
a noble's life" for three generations to place beyond dispute his 
status as noble. 

Power may also be the upward path to social distinction. But of 
all the means of replenishing the upper strata this is the least 
adapted to reviving their libertarian virtues. 

In the image in which we represented the architecture of society, 
the body of officialdom found no place. There was reason for this. 
For in a nascent society, or in one which is making an entirely fresh 
start, there is not and cannot be a political authority as distinct 
from the social authority. In them political authority can be the 
product only of the willing assent of men who have risen spontane- 
ously to positions of command. A Power which looked elsewhere 
for support would be nerveless, and it receives their support only at 
the price of gaining their assent to its decisions. 

But this coalescence of political Power with the social authorities 
does not endure for ever. The reasons for its disappearance are vari- 
ous, but chief among them is the coming of a "head chief" whose 
policy it is to reduce his peers to a subordinate position— in other 
words, a king. As we have seen, his next step is to court an alliance 
with the inferior classes; but what is emphasized here is that it is 
to the more vigorous elements of those classes that he goes for sup- 
port, to those whose station in life is out of relation to their energies. 
The more difficult the process of transition from one class to an- 


other is made, the greater is the commotion among these elements 
to find an outlet; the king provides them with the outlet which they 
need by enrolling them in his service, and the body of the state 
draws fresh life from their young strength. This is the first phe- 
nomenon to mark: the encroachment of political Power on the aris- 
tocratic authorities. A second, already described by us, accompanies 
it: with a view to breaking down the resistance of the aristocracy, 
Power strives to loosen the hold of the notables on their dependants. 
This results in a change of status for the dependants. To be at the 
mercy of a single master is a wretched condition. But when there are 
two masters, squire and state, battling for their allegiance, the in- 
tervention of Power creates for them a sort of liberty. Not, it is 
true, the liberty which comes from a man's own assertion of his 
own rights, but a poorer quality of liberty, liberty by another's in- 
tervention, than which the securitarian temper can know no other. 

The third phenomenon to mark is the progressive invasion of the 
high social strata by elements from below; they ascend by the offi- 
cial ladder and then, grown rich in the service, break away from it. 

It is far from being the case that these new aristocrats show all 
the characteristics of the old, or even of those who have climbed 
the rungs of society's ladder by their own unaided efforts. It is one 
thing to rise at the riser's own risks, another to owe promotion to a 
master's favour. A pirate like Drake, enriched by his voyages, the 
importance of which his ennoblement, if nothing else, attests, owes 
everything to himself and makes a very different sort of aristocrat 
from a public administrator grown great in public offices often by 
qualities of flexibility rather than of energy. 

No absolute rule can be laid down, and there have been public 
functionaries who have displayed the most virile qualities. But often 
also, as was seen in the late Roman Empire, the functionary is only 
a freedman who has never shaken off the characteristics of a slave. 
Recruited from these freedmen, the ruling class of the late Empire 
became tame and spiritless. 

Towards the end of the ancien regime the French aristocracy, too, 
felt the effect of the ways in which most of its members had ob- 
tained their elevation, as may be seen in the astonishing picture of 
Pontchartrain given us by Saint-Simon.* 

* Pontchartrain, Jerome, Comte de, 1674-1747. Secretary of State, 1699- 
1715. His administration of his office was deplorable and Saint-Simon's memoirs 
are studded with unflattering references to him. He obtained his elevation 
through the influence of his father, who was Chancellor. 


The tone of an aristocracy gets transformed by the process of 
internal decay, along with its restocking by elements with little in 
them of the libertarian spirit: securitarian elements come to pre- 
dominate in it. 

It is the most pitiable spectacle to be found in social history. In- 
stead of maintaining their position by their own energy and prestige, 
as men who are always ready to take the initiatives, responsibilities, 
and risks which are too formidable for the other members of society, 
the privileged, whose role it is to protect others, aim at being pro- 
tected. Who alone is placed high enough to protect them? The state. 
They ask it to defend for them the positions which they are no 
longer capable of defending for themselves and are therefore unfit 
to occupy. 

When the French nobility, recruited as it then was by the pur- 
chase of public offices, was no longer capable of excellence in war, 
then was the time that it got reserved to it by law the officers' berths. 
When to the merchants who, like Sindbad, embarked in a voyage 
their entire capital there had succeeded a prudent generation of 
traders, the latter sought to have the king's navy secure to their 
travellers exclusive rights to some distant coast— from which their an- 
cestors would have kept all intruders away themselves by their own 

How can men whose authority rests on Power's guarantee oppose 
to it the proud independence which honourably distinguished the 
ancient aristocracy? Lacking now all strength of their own, they no 
longer uphold Power; no longer upholding Power, they have be- 
come incapable of limiting it. The notions of aristocracy and liberty 
have parted company. 

The heirs of their libertarian aspirations are the middle class. We 
will define the middle class, if we must, as composed of those who 
have enough social strength to stand in no need of any special pro- 
tection and to desire the largest measure of liberty, but have on the 
other hand not enough strength to make their liberties oppressive 
to others. 

A class of this kind can only develop when general security has 
reached a certain level. For in a time of general insecurity the ele- 
ments of society must combine into sufficiently large aggregates for 
safety, and the result is squirearchy. It is only at a later date, when 


the public Power is sufficiently in the saddle, that less force is needed 
to maintain an independent existence; when that has happened the 
hour of the middle class has sounded. It then becomes, as Aristotle 
stressed, the most important element in the body of society. If it is 
a case of disciplining an aristocracy which is making disorderly use 
of its strength, it is the natural ally of Power. Whenever the state 
tries to stifle liberty, it is the natural ally of the aristocracy. 

Its specific interests make it the champion of a republic in which 
the order necessary for the maintenance of security is made com- 
patible with the tolerance necessary for the practice of liberty. It 
is, as a class, so attuned to a regime of moderation that, wherever 
it flourishes, such a regime comes into being, and, whenever it dis- 
appears, such a regime sinks without trace. It is a well-known his- 
torical fact that when at Rome this class of the population had been 
decimated and proletarianized by a succession of wars, the Republic 
broke down. 

It is a no less safe generalization that its shipwreck is the proxi- 
mate cause of modern despotisms. Tyrannies made their appearance 
in step with the inflation which destroyed the independence and 
security of middle-class liberalism. 


We can take things a step further. The position of this class is, 
as we have said, sufficiently secure for it to have no other wish than 

Suppose that Power has come into its hands. It then has a choice 
of one of two courses. Either it retains this liberty for itself without 
generalizing it, while contriving for the lower strata all the security 
which they need, and permitting and even facilitating migration 
from the securitarian zone to the libertarian. Or else it extends this 
liberty to everyone. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it 
followed, as we have seen, the second of these two policies. 

But there was a fatal corollary. By sharing with all the degree of 
liberty which was suited to itself, it withdrew from the classes be- 
low it the means of protection which it did not need itself. In this 
the logical connexion is clear enough, but misconception on the sub- 
ject seems to be so widespread that we must pause a moment to 
clear it up. 

An example will assist. One of the most important aspects of lib- 
erty is liberty to contract. It is consistent with the dignity of a free- 


man that he should be able to engage and bind himself by his own 
voluntary act. That was the view of the Romans, who used the same 
word, leges, to denote laws which were binding on everyone and 
contracts which were binding on parties. The same idea turns up 
again in the French civil code: contract is the law of the parties. 
It has been a fixed tenet of jurists, arguing irrefutably from these 
premises, that the worker was bound by his contract of service, and 
that a strike was a unilateral breach of this contract, which gave the 
employer the right to sue for damages. In our own time even the 
illustrious Duguit has refurbished in peremptory style this line of 
reasoning. But the consequences of this logic proved unacceptable, 
as working out too hardly for the employee— just as it also worked 
out too hardly to place on him the economic burden of every injury 
caused him at his work which did not result from the fault of his 
employer: and yet that is the way in which things should have gone 
since what was in question were the relations between two freemen, 
each of whom should take the consequences of his own clumsiness 
or mischance. 

A whole code of social legislation has stepped in to protect the 
worker and confer on him privileges. Nor were the superior classes, 
who had to support the burden of it, in good case to be heard in 
protest against it. For in this way there was established, bit by bit, 
the securitarian body of law, which will always be necessary for 
most men. But at the same time the obverse side of this securitarian 
policy seems to have been imperfectly discerned: in effect, it im- 
ports a discrimination between men all of whom enjoy the nominal 
status of "free," and denies to the multitude the risks, the respon- 
sibilities, and, as a natural consequence, the preferments of liberty. 


This retreat from the obligations of liberty was the less remarked 
because at the other end of the social ladder the same phenomenon 
was happening, though here it was without the excuse of necessity. 

If it is the function of an aristocracy which disposes of large re- 
sources and enjoys a large measure of liberty to prevent abuses and 
disorder by means of a strict self -discipline, then no aristocracy ever 
failed in its duty more completely than that which was raised in the 
soil of the employing class. If an aristocracy is false to its duty when 
it takes to shuffling out of responsibilities and risks, and making its 
sole aim the security of its possessions and position, then no other 


aiistocracy ever made greater haste to leave its post than the capi- 

How has it in fact functioned? Whereas in the early decades of 
the nineteenth century there were to be found a large number of 
proprietors each of whom bore the risks involved in his particular 
undertaking, by the end of the century there was a much smaller 
class which, with the aid of the limited liability company and the 
money market, controlled gigantic enterprises and regulated all eco- 
nomic activities. An aristocracy indeed! But without the honour 
that belongs to aristocracy and directs its actions in well-ordered 
channels; one which was careful to divorce from the command, 
which it exercised, the responsibility, which it rejected, and the 
risks, which it palmed off on to the shareholders. 

It can scarcely be denied that this small capitalist aristocracy has 
dealt more generously with its employees than did the large pro- 
prietary class which preceded it. For all that, it is not surprising that 
it has aroused more anger and hatred. For men put up with any 
masters who show themselves brave and self-disciplined. The Roman 
legionaries did not grumble when the consul, who had given them 
throughout one example of endurance after the other, took the lion's 
share of the spoils for himself. But when intrigues at home enabled 
clever men to appropriate the greater part of the ager romanus, that 
was taken badly. 

Similarly, the bourgeois who was seen by all to be devoting all 
his time and his entire fortune to a business which bore his name 
and to which his honour was pledged, won men's respect. But under 
the reign of anonymity the case was different. 

Every method of shaking off risks came alike to the new aristoc- 
racy. And more and more, following the usual securitarian proce- 
dure, it came to monopolize the positions which it had won and to 
shore them up with the authority of the state. The breaking of the 
storm is the signal for big business to panic. In the name of the 
general interest it supplicates Power to support and save it. 


At the time of the twenty-year crisis between the two wars, the 
proletarians were in a fair way to assure themselves of a miserable 
sort of security, the outward expression of which was unemploy- 
ment benefit. The aristocrats had found in the backing of the state 
another and more gilded kind. Between them lay a middle class, 


which had been already, according to the countiy to which it be- 
longed, half or wholly proletarianized by inflation. It too had been 
struck by the great wave of insecurity. The upheaval was on a scale 
that gave the lie to the wisdom of a thousand years. 

It had been held an assured truth that a man of character and 
capacity never lacked work. And yet highly qualified engineers, like 
the lowest grades of unskilled labour, were given to understand that 
their services were not wanted. The disgrace of unemployment 
quickly gave birth to the idea that to obtain work was a matter of 
luck or nepotism. 

Another adage which generations had consecrated was that to 
produce more was to improve the producer's standard of life. The 
vine-grower, the fisherman, and many others besides were now to 
be taught the lesson that increases in production may reduce profit 
and reductions in production may increase it. 

Lastly, it had been taken as proved that abstemiousness in the 
present would assure to a man a better future for himself and his 
family. A fresh wave of devaluations now completed the lesson of 
the war and made a mockery of individual forethought; contrary 
to all right and reason, the debtor waxed fat on the loans granted 
him, loans which impoverished the creditor. 

A whole science of living, which, simple though it was, had till 
then sufficed, went by the board. It was as though a crowd of fisher- 
men, each in control of his own boat, had had all their plans upset 
by the sudden unaccountable behaviour of the tides, the wind, and 
the fish. What was to happen next? This is what happened. Note 
was taken of the existence of certain sheltered occupations. The 
official was seen to be in a comfortable niche and to be safe for his 
pension. The great public utility undertakings, in their monopolistic 
positions, were seen to be maintaining and even improving on their 
normal profits. It was, then, to these sheltered sectors that the crowd 
inevitably gravitated in its bewilderment. And as there was not 
room in them for everybody, the natural desire of all men was to 
include their own sectors of activity among the sheltered. 


The essential psychological characteristic of our age is the pre- 
dominance of fear over self-confidence. The worker is afraid of un- 
employment and of having nothing saved for old age. His demand 
is for what is nowadays called "social security." 


But the banker is just as timorous; fearing for his investments, he 
places the capital monies at his disposal in government issues, and 
is content to credit effortlessly the difference between the interest 
earned by these securities and the interest which he pays out to his 
depositors. Everyone of every class tries to rest his individual exist- 
ence on the bosom of the state and tends to regard the state as the 
universal provider. And President Franklin Roosevelt came out as 
the perfect psychologist when he laid down as "the new rights of 
men" the right of the worker to be regularly employed at a regular 
salary, the right of the producer to sell stable quantities of goods at 
a stable price, and so on. Such are, in substance, the securitarian as- 
pirations of our time. 

The new rights of man are given out as coming to complete those 
already proclaimed in the eighteenth century. But the least reflec- 
tion is sufficient to show that in fact they contradict and abrogate 
them. The old ones, in decreeing liberty, made each man the sole 
master of his own actions; the state could not guarantee their con- 
sequences, which had to be borne by the individual alone. Whereas, 
on the other hand, if the state is to guarantee to a man what the 
consequences of his actions shall be, it must take control of his ac- 
tivities. In the first case, a man is thought of as an adult, he is freed 
from tutelage and left to face the risks of life himself. Whereas, in 
the second, the purpose is to keep him out of the way of risks; he 
is treated as an incapable and put in leading-strings. The conclusion 
is, then, that the promises of today in fact close the cycle which was 
opened by the declarations of earlier days. The liberty then given 
is taken back in exchange for a security which is desired by all. 

The mind of man needs, like his heart, objects of affection; 
they land him in the same evasions. All that he wants to see in any 
given phenomenon are those aspects of it which flatter and exalt 
him, not those which offend and mortify him. He dissociates what 
life has made inseparables, praises the cause and condemns the 
consequence, applauds the end and repudiates the means, affirms 
an idea and denies its corollary. Thus the Rights of Man fill us with 
exaltation; but the bourgeois ferocity of society in the days of Louis 
Philippe, its indifference to the unemployed man and its cruelty to 
the bankrupt offend our sensibilities. So we refuse to see in all this 
merely two closely linked aspects of the same spirit. 

The spirit was that of a class which, seeking a full outlet to its 
energies, sought to throw down all barriers to its activity, like the 


giant seen on the frontispiece of a well-known pamphlet 2 with this 
epigraph: "Take his chains off him and let him go." Its aim was the 
removal of all obstacles from the social arena, without pausing to 
consider that these had been necessary as hand-rails and useful as 
supports. It decreed that a man should be the sole ruler of his con- 
duct and the sole author of his fate. But, once this course had been 
set, the rule of life could only be that which Carlyle formulated in 
anger: 3 "Every man for himself and let the devil take the hindmost." 

The plenitude of liberty carried with it the plenitude of risks. 
There could henceforward be as little succour for the weak as there 
could be restriction on the strong. It was the survival of the fittest, 
an idea which, as is known, was not suggested to Darwin by the 
spectacle of nature, but was, on the contrary, taken by him from 
the philosophers of individualism. 

The full harshness of a regime of this kind was bound to fall on 
those who were "bad starters," namely the proletariat. A society in 
which there was the same degree of liberty and the same absence of 
protection for every one of its members created for those who were 
worse placed an insecurity which was insupportable. These were 
the first to protest against a right to liberty which was common to 
all and to demand protective measures. 

But even those who were deemed strong, they too took fright in 
their turn. The whole of society without exception reached the point 
of demanding security. Security has to be paid for. It is for that 
reason that we are today the participants in what the old writers 
called a pactum subjectionis, by which men surrender to the state 
their individual rights in consideration for the social rights received 
back from it. 


What concrete proof is there, we may be asked, that those who 
seek social security find an authoritarian state? 

The facts are clear to see. 

In two countries with opposite political traditions, two men, than 
whom two more different cannot be imagined, were simultaneously 
carried to Power by the same securitarian aspiration of a people 
maddened by the post-war crisis. We must keep in mind the com- 
plete contrast between the two nations and the two rulers, but it is 
even so most noticeable that the role of saviour assumed by Power 
justified both in the United States and in Germany a prodigious step 


forward by the state, the symptoms of which were the same multi- 
plication of officials, the same triumph of the central authority over 
the regional authorities, the same subordination of business to politics. 

It is true that the process went further in Germany than in Amer- 
ica. But then they started from very different positions. In the case 
of Germany a federal state was converted into a unitary state; but 
the unitary principle was already implicit in the Prussian predomi- 
nance in the Reich. Whereas only the tiny District of Columbia was 
governed directly from Washington. The strength and vitality of 
the states' governments were so great that the subordination of those 
governments in the space of a few years verges on the miraculous. 4 

America was a country which was a stranger to compulsory mili- 
tary service, in which the tradition was to elect officials to office, 
and in which Power was subject to judicial control. Is it not astound- 
ing that Power was able in a few years to reduce this control nearly 
to the vanishing-point, to build up a vast bureaucracy, and to in- 
vest this bureaucracy with such wide powers that a number of fed- 
eral agencies have been established simultaneously to formulate 
rules, to apply them, and to punish breaches of them— to act, in 
other words, as legislator, executive, and judge? 

Finally, nothing has strengthened Power's grip so much as its con- 
tinuance, however unconstitutional, in the same hands. Thus, two 
states, as dissimilar as they well could be, both swept forward simul- 
taneously towards omnipotence, borne on the wave of the same se- 
curitarian aspirations. 

We have already seen how greatly aspirations of that kind serve 
to distend the state. Let us now examine how they do it. 

The state is expected to be a shelter from the blast; the result is 
seen in an eagerness to accept its growth on the part of all the can- 
didates for security; it comes to be looked on as a sort of living 
umbrella, and its proliferation is received not only with complacency 
but with enthusiasm. For instance, the criticisms with which every 
increase in the bureaucratic machine would have been received in 
other times are quickly stifled when it is a case of putting into force 
schemes of social insurance. 

The state, when once it is made the giver of protection and se- 
curity, has but to urge the necessities of its protectorate and over- 
lordship to justify its encroachments. Bismarck realized long ago 
that this was the road which led to enlarged authority. 5 

The sense of insecurity, which, in growing more general, gen- 


eralizes also the eagerness to undergo authority, acts on Power as a 
stimulus and excitation. 

Power draws its energy from the social atoms which furnish it 
Forth. In a time of security, men of energy and enterprise tend to 
Bnd in society the means of raising themselves, and not to enter the 
service of the state machine. But a time of social confusion deflects 
them towards Power. Anyone analysing the new entries into new 
regimes, whether at Washington or Berlin, would find them com- 
posed of elements which would not, for the most part, have been 
attracted to government in normal times. 

In a time of insecurity such as ours, we find, then, these two fac- 
tors which seat a social protectorate in power— in society a marked 
predisposition to be governed, and in government a personnel of 
unusual drive. 


Every people is today being swept along on the same current, 
though not all at the same rate, towards the social protectorate. The 
interests which uncertainty has frightened, the reason which dis- 
order has offended, the feelings which misery has revolted, the im- 
agination which the vision of future possibilities has inflamed, all 
these call with one voice for a manager and lawgiver. The pressure 
of needs, desires, passions, and dreams helps him, once found, to 
overthrow every constitutional obstacle, legal or moral, that stands 
in his path: obstacles which were already in dissolution, thanks to 
the decay of absolute values, the hatred felt for acquired rights, and 
the fierce and vengeful spirit of parties. To do all, Power must be 
lord of all. The peoples reckon that it will continue to be the docile 
recipient of their impulsions while at the same time it secures for 
them concrete results which can only be obtained by the continuous 
pursuit of systematic policies. The experts expect it to plan all social 
mechanisms by reference to objective reason, when it is nothing 
better than a bubbling cauldron of subjective wills. Everything 
beckons on the agents of Power to vaster ambitions. The noblest of 
these ambitions are not on that account the least dangerous: their 
aim is to be the architects of public happiness and historical progress. 

From the time that religion lost its empire over the spirit of man, 
the avowed end of human existence has been happiness. The Amer- 
ican Declaration of Independence included in the catalogue of the 
rights of men "the pursuit of happiness." In the view of the Found- 


ing Fathers it was the business of each man to secure his own hap- 
piness. But could not the vast resources of the state help in securing 
it for him? Should they not be used for this purpose? As long ago 
as 1891, Joseph Chamberlain expressed the view that the state was 
entitled to pass any law or perform any action which might increase 
the sum of human happiness. 6 

The scientists having reduced the human being to one animal 
among many, another notion came to birth: that of the perfectibility 
of the species. Was it not Power's business to impel the human ani- 
mal along the path of his perfection? 

Human behaviour was made the object of studies which stressed 
its irrationality. The eighteenth century had trusted to instinct to 
guide man in accordance with his best interests once he had been 
freed from restraints and superstitions. Instinct is today regarded, 
not as an infallible natural guide, but as a collective memory which 
is rich in nothing but slowly realized accretions. So imperfect a 
guide does it make that there are savage peoples who have been 
known to let themselves starve to death in the near vicinity of herbs 
and roots which they had never been taught to regard as edible. 

Examined in the light of science, human behaviour looks to be 
susceptible of many improvements which would increase individual 
happiness and advance the progress of the species. It is far from 
being the case, to take some of the commonest examples, that the 
family dietary is well balanced and intelligent care taken of the 
body. How infinitely fair and healthy men could be, would they 
but cease to be the slaves of habit and the playthings of chance! 
And what a welter of a world is this in which children who were 
conceived in inadvertence grow like wild grasses, in which towns 
spread as greedy speculators direct, like blind animals sprawling in 
their own excrement! 

I pity the man who has never experienced the noble temptation 
to play the gardener to this disorder, to build Cities of the Sun, 
which shall be peopled by a nobler race. But there is in these visions 
a danger. Men whose stock of knowledge is small find them intoxi- 
eating and may be readily convinced by them that the happiness of 
a continent requires the complete suppression of fermented liquors, 
or, worse still, the extermination of an entire race whose blood is 
deemed impure. 

Only a man who has himself gone in search of truth knows how 
deceptive is the blaze of evidence with which a proposition may 


suddenly dazzle his eyes; the light soon fails, and then the hunt is 
i>n again. The entire field of knowledge would have to be covered 
:o measure how few discoveries are sufficiently well grounded to 
ustify a man in basing on them any actions which affected the 
vhole of human society; or to appreciate as well the difficulty of 
•econciling the often discrepant indications furnished by independ- 
ent branches of learning. 

In the absence of this intellectual realization of the limits of 
cnowledge, the worldly wisdom of ancient aristocracies may often 
;hield us from the various enthusiasms which, in their desire to be 
constructive, come near to being incendiary. 

Everywhere, however, it happens that the handling of public af- 
: airs gets entrusted to a class which stands in physical need of 
certitudes and takes dubious truths to its bosom with the same 
fanaticism as did in other times the Hussites and the Anabaptists. 


Faith has been pitchforked out of the political scene, but to no 
purpose. Religious aspiration is natural to man, so much so that he 
3ven invests interests and opinions with the haloes of idolatrous 
cults: he commits his gold rings to any Aaron who makes for him 
i god. For that reason Power, on passing into the hands of a vic- 
arious sect, takes on the character of a theocracy, a character with- 
out which it could not hope to win the degree of obedience necessary 
:o the accomplishment of its tasks as protector of all. 

These tasks, in fact, make higher demands on discipline than 
would ever be met by the rational assent of the citizens, who have 
aeen known, even after giving their express approval to a particular 
neasure, to obstruct its application with virtual unanimity'. 7 There- 
fore, there must be means of constraint. The growth of the police, 
in numbers, importance, and dignity, is a universal phenomenon at 
the present time. But this direct constraint must be used sparingly. 
The secret of success is to reach the mind, and propaganda is the 
indispensable adjunct of the police. But this propaganda, too, has 
its requirements, which are certain master words, thrilling in all 
who hear them chords that are stretched on one and the same faith. 

Thus, all stands firm in the structure of the new state. There are 
no limits to the Minotaur's beneficent protection; there can be none, 
therefore, to his authority. To be always sure of himself, he must be 
convinced; and, to be obeyed, he must convince: so he unites in 


his own person the spiritual and temporal powers, joining together 
what Western civilization had always until then kept separate. In 
that separation lay its unique achievement, and perhaps the secret 
of its tremendous success. 

It is astounding how little conscious we are of the pace at which 
we are moving towards a regime of this kind. With it as the goal, 
political struggles take on a new sharpness and cruelty. Men feel 
in their bones that there is now no longer room for what used to be 
called "private life." 

Such is the Minotaur's success in moulding the lives of individuals 
that escape from him is impossible; there is, therefore, no salvation 
but in seizing him. The words "I will live in a certain way" are now 
pointless; what must be said is, "To live in a certain way myself, I 
must seize the controls of the great machine and employ them in 
such manner as suits me." 

It is a time of proscriptions and civil wars. It is also a time of 
wars between nations, for these Titans are allergic to each other. 
And what wars they are! For what is now at the disposal of rulers 
is not a mere segment of the national resources, but the entire spir- 
itual and material resources of whole communities, to which they 
have become the poor-box, the housing authority, and the god. 


1. The Liberal negation. 2. The "legalitarian" criticism. 3. The mod- 
ern problem and its absurd solution. 4. The miracle of confidence. 
5. Concepts of right conduct. 6. On the regulation of society. 
7. New functions necessitate new constraining concepts. 8. Social 
authorities without ethical codes. 9. Consequences of a false con- 
ception of society. 10. From chaos to totalitarianism. 11. The fruits 
of individualist rationalism. 

We are the witnesses of a fundamental transformation of 
society, of a crowning expansion of Power. The revolutions 
and coups d'etat which are a feature of our epoch are but 
insignificant episodes heralding the coming of the social protectorate. 
A beneficent authority will watch over every man from the cradle 


to the grave, repairing the disasters which befall him, even when 
they are of his own making, controlling his personal development 
and orientating him towards the most appropriate use of his fac- 
ulties. By a necessary corollary, this authority will be the disposer of 
society's entire resources, with a view to getting from them the 
highest possible return and in that way multiplying the benefits 
which it confers. 

Power takes over, as it were, the whole business of public and 
private happiness, and it is an indispensable clause of the contract 
that all possessions, all productive energies, and all liberties should 
be handed over to it, as being the labour and the raw materials 
without which it cannot accomplish so gigantic a task. The business 
is one of setting up an immense patriarchy, or, if anyone prefers the 
word, a matriarchy, since we are now told that collective authority 
should be animated by maternal instincts. 

It is, no doubt, true that not every mind has a clear conception of 
the goal to which the pressure behind the idea of a social protector- 
ate is driving. But it is obvious enough to the thoughtful. There are 
those who denounce it in panic, but with no clear perception of the 
force and complexity of the causes at work. There are those who 
welcome it, but with no care for all the ensuing consequences. In 
truth the atmosphere of the whole debate is less that of two doctors 
calmly discussing a course of treatment than that of two swimmers 
swept away by a current, against which one struggles while the 
other deliberately abandons himself to it: it is an atmosphere not 
of reason but of emotion. 

Our analysis of the growth of Power has put us in the way of 
understanding the great phenomenon of modern times. We will now 
set down the reasons for which it is opposed, recall the immediate 
factors which fight for it, underline its dangers, and, finally and 
above all, plumb the profound causes which in present conditions 
make it inevitable, that we may ask ourselves whether their nature 
partakes of absolute or of contingent necessity. 


The Liberal school of thought denies flatly that it is any business 
of the state to undertake the tasks to which it is now bidden and 
on which it enters with enthusiasm; for they lie, it says, outside the 
normal sphere of its competence. 

The very terms used remind us that we are at this point entering 


a fresh field, that we are leaving behind us the examination of Power 
as a phenomenon, for the ethical study of the state. This change of 
terminology is not only permissible but obligatory, for we are now 
done with inquiries as to what is, and are facing up to various opin- 
ions as to what ought to be. But the new departure needed to have 
attention called to it: for nothing is worse than to jumble up the 
normative and the positive. 

What we are told, then, is that the state is leaving the normal 
sphere of its competence. Let us see what the Liberal has to say on 
this, basing ourselves on the arguments of a man of clear intelli- 
gence, Emile Faguet. 1 

The state, you tell us, has a normal sphere of competence. Agreed, 
but how do you define it? "To assure internal order and external 
security." 2 What has determined it? The nature of society, which is 
formed for the defence of all against aggression from without and 
of each man against assault by his neighbour! But at this point I 
pull you up. Who compels me to subscribe to your conception of 
society? Were I a small peasant proprietor, living autarchically with 
my family, for me, no doubt, society would be merely an institution 
of repression, assuring me my security by means of the soldier and 
the policeman. But were I, on the other hand, a worker, producing 
what is useless to myself and receiving my requirements through the 
complex mechanism of the labour of a crowd of others, for me so- 
ciety would tend rather to wear the aspect of a workers' association. 
I should be led to regard it as being in essence a cooperative institu- 
tion, by means of which I receive, in exchange for a given quantity 
of work, a given quantity of goods and services. And if this exchange 
is irregular or seems to me inequitable, why should I not invoke the 
intervention of Power to regularize the cooperation, just as you 
yourself, my Liberal proprietor, invoke it to suppress any attack on 
your property? 

Then what becomes of your "normal sphere"? It is now nothing 
but your conception of what the public authority ought to be: it is 
in my view a narrow, out-of-date conception, which does not re- 
spond to my needs. I oppose to it my conception, and I will bring 
mine out on top. But I go further; I want to accept your definition 
of the "normal sphere." You said "external security." Very well; it is 
apparent that neighbouring states are controlling and disposing of 
the entire resources of their nations with a view to producing the 
maximum military strength. That being so, the duty of defence, 


which you include among the normal duties of the state, forces our 
Power to control and dispose of everything. 

You also referred to "internal order." But what sort of order is this, 
in which I cannot find employment for my stock of labour, I am 
not sure of procuring for my children what the young of savages 
receive from nature, and the slightest financial shock may render 
useless a lifetime of forethought? So even your own formula refutes 

It gives me no pleasure to crush in argument the Liberal stand- 
point. Its mistake is to have taken up positions which are as un- 
tenable in discussion as they are irrelevant to the needs and passions 
of men. 

The image in which it makes Power does not respond to the real- 
ity of any time or country. Power has never regarded as forbidden 
territory the domains of social and economic interests. When the 
French Civil Code prescribed the division of property on death, it 
was prescribing what was, both in intention and in effect, a social 
and economic measure. And the law of 1867 on limited companies 
has also had momentous consequences of the kind. 

The Liberal negation is, therefore, in the forms in which it is 
clothed, quite Utopian. 

That is not in the least to say that no other critical standpoint is 
possible. To establish it, let us borrow from theology certain ele- 
mentary notions. When the intelligence, unsupported by either study 
or revelation, applies itself to its essential objective, the knowledge 
of God, it forms by a natural process two antithetical conceptions. 
One is that of a miraculous Providence, which is reached and set in 
motion by prayers for particular objects and then intervenes to dis- 
turb for the benefit of its invoker the natural course of things. And 
the other is that of a supreme Wisdom, which has subjected every- 
thing to laws of a majestic regularity and then leaves them to oper- 
ate unchecked. 3 

Theology has, as is known, admirably reconciled the two concep- 
tions in the account of the Divine Nature which it has drawn up. It 
is enough for our present purpose to have borrowed from it the an- 
tithesis in its crudest form that we may apply it to the government 
of human affairs. 

This government may take one of two forms, the legalitarian or 


the providential. It may buttress with sanctions fixed and relatively 
unchangeable laws, and see to their exact execution, while treating 
with respect whatever consequences they have; or else it may take 
occasional interventions and bring to each situation as it arises its 
own remedy, with the result that there are no longer fixed laws but 
rather an uninterrupted series of "miracles" or arbitrary acts. 

Political philosophy in every age has thrown into contrast the two 
conceptions, which twenty-five centuries ago were called by the 
Chinese "government by the laws" and "government by men" re- 

The first, clearly, is an ideal which does not admit of more than a 
partial attainment. We will examine it summarily, and endeavour, 
in doing so, to introduce for the sake of clarity a little order into the 
many and various notions evoked by the word "law." 

The material world is governed by laws, to which we, as physical 
beings, are necessarily subject: if, for instance, I am hoisted into the 
air and support is withdrawn from me, I must fall, in just the same 
way as an apple falls. Our submission to these laws is absolute, and 
let me not be told that science frees us from them, when in fact all 
the successful discoveries are in essence only an intelligent and 
profitable submission to these very laws. 

When we talk of the natural laws of society, we come at once to 
something quite different: a population of nomadic shepherds, for 
instance, whose pastures are ruined by drought, must emigrate. But 
in this case the necessity is not, as in the former, a mechanical one: 
the population may refrain from emigrating— and die in consequence. 

Lastly, we come to laws our submission to which is neither me- 
chanical nor vital, to the moral law which it lies in our power to 
violate, and to the civil law which it lies in our power to transgress. 
The moral law prescribes what is good absolutely, the civil law 
what is useful to society. The positive legislation of a society but- 
tresses with sanctions these prescriptions of the good and the useful, 
while paying attention to the necessary subordination of the useful 
to the good. 

We see, then, that government by the laws is, in essence, that in 
which those rules are sanctioned which are of useful effect to men 
dedicated to the good; they are set in a framework which is deter- 
mined, generally, by the physical laws of nature and, especially, by 
the natural laws of society. 

When Power confines itself to enforcing respect for those laws, 


the individual moves over ground on which there are both barriers 
erected and roads marked, but on which, on condition that he re- 
spects those barriers and follows those roads, he is free, in the sense 
that no human will can, by a sudden and arbitrary intervention, dis- 
turb his plans and constrain his will. He is recognized as being the 
master of his fate and responsible for it. He has a consecrated dig- 

Human infirmity, no doubt, will always stand between us and the 
complete realization of such a system as this. Our power of discern- 
ing the good is not flawless and, still more, our ability to anticipate 
the useful is unequal to taking into account all possible circum- 
stances. Our laws, in consequence, can never be of an absolutely 
unalterable and immutable character; unceasing vigilance is needed 
to provide for particular cases, and wisdom must from time to time 
take a hand in revising the rules. Yet it is certain that this vigilance 
carried to excess and these interventions multiplied unduly will 
diminish the liberty and dignity of the individual. The conclusion 
is, then, that government by the laws, undiluted, is in its perfection 
unrealizable, but remains ever the model and the touchstone, the 
myth and the inspiration. The cause of social order and human dig- 
nity is best served when this ideal is made the goal. 

We may say of each successive society which has crossed the 
stage of civilization that it has, at one moment in its career, drawn 
near to this perfection— but only to sheer off again before long and 
to move headlong towards arbitrariness in government and servility 
in the hearts of the subjects. 

Of the various reasons for this it will be sufficient to enumerate a 
few. First is the fact that the interplay of positive laws deemed the 
most adequate still leaves only too much for scores of individual 
miseries and misfortunes. This feature of human laws need not occa- 
sion much surprise to the public man when its presence in the divine 
law is freely admitted by the theologian. But it would be asking too 
much of the victims to expect so serene a spirit in them; they de- 
sire—nay, they demand— a providential intervention to mend the 
consequences of their misfortunes. This "variable" of present discon- 
tents is liable to take on sudden accretions at certain periods, either 
because, owing to a change in the actual circumstances of life, the 
civil law ceases to supply the needs of society in a satisfactory man- 
ner; or because, through a change in the psychological outlook of 
individuals, what was previously regarded as satisfactory is no longer 


so regarded; or for reasons which are still more serious: that men 
deny the need to subordinate the useful to the good and, taking the 
view that the useful is the good, in that way break the connecting 
chain which keeps in coherence the various kinds of laws; or again 
because, flown with a false conceit of human capabilities, they think 
themselves endowed with power to abrogate the natural laws of 
society by means of positive laws. 

It may happen that all these reasons will be found working to- 
gether, and it is in fact the lesson of history that they are usually 
found in conjunction. 

Between them they furnish dormant ambition with a wonderful 
opportunity for putting life into Power, and for restoring to it those 
aggressive and arbitrary characteristics of which its nature partakes. 

It goes without saying that, thanks to the ingrained habit of legal- 
ity, the interventions on which Power now embarks take on at first 
the form of laws. But these are but counterfeit laws, concerned only 
to provide for the situations of the moment, owning the imperious 
sway of current passions and requirements. Under the cloak of ob- 
jective legislation, every subjective desire enjoys a saturnalia, as is 
shown both by the rapidity and the inconsistency with which these 
so-called laws multiply. Principle and certitude -are things of the 
past; the desires of the moment become "your only lawgiver," no 
respecters these of the notions of moral good and natural necessity, 
which they confound with that of utility in its most transitory shape. 
Utility itself has come to mean, not the permanent utility of society 
as a whole, but the passing utility of a sectional group which accom- 
modates virtue and knowledge to its interests and passions. 

Whatever pretensions are made that this is the way to be of serv- 
ice to man, the fact remains that he thereby loses all liberty and all 
dignity. For he can now no longer plan his course by reference to 
any given certainties, and the knowledge that any activitv of his 
own will avail him much less than to stand well with Power disposes 
him towards ambition of a servile kind— to be of those who are in 
touch with the author of all miracles, to be a beneficiary of arbitrari- 

Would anyone dare to deny that this is the general tendency of 
our time? And is not its danger patent? Very strong inclinations are 
at work on its behalf. Where the idea comes from that men hold 
despotism in detestation, I do not know. My own view is that they 
delight in it. 


We need look no further than at the fortunes which they embark 
in games of chance, paris mutuels, and lotteries, to measure the ex- 
tent of the glamour which the hope of a casual increment holds for 
them, as well as of the sacrifices which they are ready to make to 
give themselves a chance of gaining it. Now arbitrary Power is a 
lottery of a kind: and there are prizes in it for the fortunate. 

Or look at the novels, plays, films, and news items which have a 
popular success: it will be found that here, too, there is a very wide 
demand for events, shows, and characters which are out of the com- 
mon run. Arbitrary Power answers to this need. 

In this way human nature makes straight the way for the coming 
of arbitrary Power, the summons to which is given, as it was sure 
to be, by the tasks committed to the social protectorate. 


We will now try to expound in a series of simple propositions the 
problem in our own time. 

Firstly, the social evil to which a remedy is sought in the institu- 
tion of the protectorate is no imaginary evil. In the vast industrial 
complex there is, in a very real sense, a failure in the adjustment and 
correlation of the relations between the parties which cries out for 
correction. And there is also a widespread discontent, due to the 
conviction that the complex does not distribute to each his fair social 

Secondly, anyone supposing that adequate remedies can be found 
within the framework of the legalitarian system, by means of one of 
those applications of positive exactments to new situations which 
are from time to time necessary in such a system, will find that it is 
impossible in practice to make an application of that kind effective. 
For the new laws required would need to be the fruit of enlightened 
study and meditation. Whereas in fact legislative activity, as it is 
called, is nothing better than the hurried botching of short-sighted 
interests and blind passions. 

So that, thirdly, these outpourings of so-called laws are in reality 
merely so many acts of government, busy in its daily task of coping 
with the day's situations. Power in any case, whether it keeps or 
spurns the thin disguise of legality, proceeds in fact by way of arbi- 
trary decisions. 

Fourthly, the arbitrary Power, swept on by the passions of the 
mob and swayed by the ardours of the holders of office, lacking rule 


and bit and limit, constitutes, for all its tinsel dresses, a despotism 
such as the West has never known before. It is none the less dan- 
gerous for being unstable— all despotisms have been unstable. As 
none is outside its power, it makes for servility; as every conquest is 
open to it, it breeds ambition. 

And, lastly, the demand for order, with which we began, ends in 
letting loose disorder on a gigantic scale. 

At this point we should be justified in bringing our investigation 
to a close, for we have done what we set out to do. We aimed at 
explaining the successive stages of Power's growth and its monstrous 
efflorescence that is now before our eyes. The inquiry is finished, 
the dossier is complete, the reasons have been made good and the 
consequences foreshadowed. 

Yet we cannot bring ourselves to leave the subject without pillory- 
ing the error which is guiding our epoch to the absurd solution of 
making general disorder the remedy for particular disorders. 4 

It should be clearly understood, however, that this supplement to 
our investigation is no more than a rapid and superficial glimpse of 
another vast field of study which we hope one day to explore. 

Let us, in this spirit, go back to the various phenomena of social 
and moral disharmony which in our own time favour the rise of 
absolute Power. 


The entire existence of man in society rests on confidence. The 
stranger whom we meet constitutes no menace either to our persons 
or to our property. We see in him, on the contrary, one of those 
countless anonymous fellow-workers who guarantee to us the daily 
satisfaction of needs which have in the course of centuries gradually 
multiplied. Nor do we rely only on his negative virtues, as when we 
leave valuable objects in the care of whoever happens to be our 
neighbour; our well-being depends on his active cooperation as well, 
as when we trust ourselves to the diligence of a host of intermedi- 
aries to get a message through to its destination and to get for us 
at every hour of the day our necessaries of life. 

Our security turns on the admirable regularity with which a 
whole host of services is rendered to us by a countless number of 
members of the same society who do not know us and whom we do 
not know. We, too, play our part, but its efficaciousness and value 
are due to all the parts being concerted. 


The mind slips all too easily into the passive acceptance of this 
harmonious working; once meditated on, it becomes both astonish- 
ing and admirable, and is sufficient proof that "Each for all and all 
for each" is not the motto of an improbable Utopia but the formula 
of society in being. 

It is, evidently, a false and superficial view of the matter to regard 
the great mass of the "administered," the users and the consumers, 
as being served by certain independent "organs," such as the police, 
the railways, and commerce generally, for these so-called organs are 
in truth only the services guaranteed to each other by the members 
of the mass. The true picture of the social order is rather that of the 
miraculous conjunction of millions of separate trajectories. The vari- 
ous services are regularly rendered by the appropriate agents, and 
the users regularly served, the condition being the amazing adher- 
ence of each social atom to its own trajectory and its wonderful 
loyalty to its own appropriate line of conduct in its double capacity 
of agent and user. 

Think of the ensuing disaster if a railway signalman leaves for 
only an hour his normal course of conduct! Nor is his case in any 
way exceptional, though it is certainly one to strike the imagination. 
Each single irregularity causes a shock, and the machine can only 
function at all so long as the peccant behaviours do not exceed in 
number the lowest margin which it can rectify in its stride. Irregu- 
larity on a widespread scale would bring our species to an end, for 
there is no individual who can provide for his own needs. So aware 
are we of this that, even when faced with disturbance on the most 
colossal scale, we immediately and instinctively start to tie up again 
the threads which bombardment or insurrection have broken. 

But how, you ask, has the division of labour come about, how 
have men fallen into their several divisions, and how is the neces- 
sary internal adjustment brought about? 

One possible answer— the first that occurs to men in general— is 
that it is the work of a single will. There is a wide variety of myths, 
the systematic study of which has still, unfortunately, to be under- 
taken, explaining the functional division of men into different cate- 
gories with each of which there goes along a certain type of be- 
haviour. This form of social organization, say the myths, has been 
decreed by one particular lawgiver, demiurge, hero, or even fabu- 
lous animal, as the case may be, so that slavish adherence to the 
traditional behaviour is the fruit of veneration and fear. In one 


myth 5 the ordering of all things, natural and social, is represented 
as a combined and simultaneous operation. In another, on the other 
hand, it is recognized that objects which are incapable of the act of 
willing are not regulated in the same way as are human beings. 
Human beings are allowed by this myth to have had their own par- 
ticular teacher, who ceases in time to arouse any superstitious ven- 
eration: at that stage the myth degenerates into something worse 
than the mythical— false history. Since, it is said, the organization of 
society is the work of a man, it is open to other men, if they please, 
to rebuild it on other foundations. Thus to the superstitious horror 
of change succeeds naturally a belief in the possibility of any change 
whatsoever. The fixationist error has given birth to its contrary, the 
Utopian error. The reason is that ideas are still bound by the same 
conception of the social order being subject to a will. 

By the time that the legalitarian conception makes its appearance 
the development of human intelligence has proceeded a certain dis- 
tance: its starting-point is the affirmation that, on the analogy of the 
laws of nature, human society also has its natural laws. With these 
the social order is secured and preserved; they mend it without 
ceasing and in doing so complicate it no less continuously. Whatever 
the other merits of this thesis, it is in its concrete, applications viti- 
ated partly by the hasty assimilation of the "forces" which move 
men to the "forces" of nature, and partly by an inability, for which 
there is some excuse, to distinguish between the laws which govern 
objects without souls and those which control beings who have re- 
ceived liberty and will. The upshot of it is a tendency to quietism. 

Epitomized, these two points of view, the voluntarist and the 
quietist, issue in the ordinary conceptions of socialism and liberalism 
respectively, which do not merit discussion. No positive study has 
yet been made of the means by which the harmony of society is 
maintained and mended, nor can there be any question of making 
one here. All that can be done will be to give certain indications, 
which will be developed elsewhere and, where necessary, revised. 


Let us begin in a small way by considering any given man in 
society, fulfilling any given function and pursuing any given line of 
behaviour. He suggests naturally to the mind the image of a mobile 
object describing a given curve. What is the force which binds him 
to this curve and causes him to follow this trajectory? 


Egoism, answers the school of Hobbes and Helvetius; concern for 
his own self-interest! From that starting-point every social institution 
has been explained as an emanation of the natural and necessary 
complex of egoistical interests. Intellectually, nothing could be finer 
than some of the workings-out of this theory, 6 and it would be 
ridiculous to impugn the intentions of its authors. What attracted 
them to this hypothesis was the desire, coming naturally to savants, 
to find in the moral order one simple principle corresponding to 
energy in the physical order. 

However reluctant we might be to accept their assumption, we 
should be in their debt if they had really succeeded in building a 
coherent structure. But they have not done so, and the only way 
which they have found of making egoisms the instrument of the 
common good is by endowing them with calculations which show a 
more human degree of enlightenment. But men take short views 
where their interests are concerned, and this fact leads our philoso- 
phers to secure by constraint the order which the reason is too feeble 
to establish. Starting from the all-sufficient efficaciousness of egoism, 
they reach the necessity of repression, to which in the end they 
ascribe a most exaggerated role. 

This twofold misconception, of basing social order either on en- 
lightened self-interest or on repressive constraint, is due to defective 

Neither the most far-sighted calculation nor fear of punishment 
determines to any marked extent the conduct of man in the con- 
crete, either in what he does or in what he refrains from doing. His 
actions are governed by feelings and beliefs 7 which dictate to him 
his behaviour and inspire his impulses. Not a man of us asks him- 
self, when the time comes for us each day to go out into the fields, 
or the factory, or the office, "Shall I go or not?" Just as none asks 
himself, seeing a child in danger, "Shall I save it or not?" Or, seeing 
a neighbour fingering a well-filled wallet, "Shall I take it from him 
or not?" 

Man is an animal made for life in society. The intelligent aware- 
ness of our interests and the fear of punishment are but comple- 
mentary forces, which are useful for checking the occasional aberra- 
tion. But such occasions are infrequent. In general we behave as 
good neighbours and scrupulous cooperators, for that to us is second 
nature, a nature which has moreover grown in the soil of a socia- 
bility and benevolence which should not be underestimated. 


And now how does this nature work? He would be a bold man 
who claimed to have the explanation of it; yet it seems clear to me 
that it works by way of concepts. Common speech often provides 
the key to the workings of psychology, and when we say, "I do not 
see myself doing something or other," we are revealing that we are 
controlled by concepts of right conduct. 

In childhood a host of educational influences play their part in 
forming these concepts. Not only parents and teachers and priests 
and masters, but some fellow-pupil whom we admire, some col- 
league who attracts us, some dead man whose example stirs us. 
What may be called "social heredity" operates here with a power 
incomparably greater than that of physical heredity: the family into 
which we are born, the country to which we belong, the career on 
which we enter, all these have for us an immense power of sug- 

All that is around us whispers to us our duty: we have but to copy 
and repeat. The conduct always seen around us and the actions 
always held up for our admiration provide our spirit with models 
which we follow without thinking. Even on their death-beds, some 
of the greatest men have repeated formulas and gestures which they 
have taken from history or poetry. 

These potent concepts are the guides to our behaviour; it is they 
which make it calculable to our fellows and compatible with their 
behaviours. It is they which maintain the social harmony. 


From this it follows that, whenever the current concepts of right 
conduct are disturbed, the social harmony is in danger. Disturbance 
may happen even in a fossilized society, in which the same tasks and 
the same employments have been shared in the same proportions for 
generations. And it happens almost inevitably in a rapidly develop- 
ing society, in which new functions and new ways of life are con- 
tinually coming into being. 

Take the first case. Each new arrival in such a society, in whatever 
situation and social employment, arrives as a successor already 
formed by example and teaching. He has served his apprenticeship, 
whether as a medieval mason or as a Roman emperor, at the side 
of the man he is to replace. His duty is a simple one, though all the 
same he may prove unequal to it; that is the phenomenon of the 


decay of folkways, a theme to which the ancient authorities devoted 
a most intelligent attention. 

The debasement of religious beliefs may set it in motion, accom- 
panied by a rationalist outbreak which fastens on all the deter- 
minants of behaviour, gives every proof of its inability to replace 
them, and ushers in the reign of intellectual anarchy. But the trouble 
may also be caused by the corruption of the ruling classes, a cor- 
ruption which leads to the rupture of the true social contract: that, 
namely, by which each man behaves in character with his func- 
tional type on condition that everyone else with whom he has rela- 
tions acts in character with his. In those conditions irregularity of 
conduct spreads from top to bottom, and in many cases the intel- 
lectual upheaval is little more than the consequence of the moral, 
for it is part of the average man's make-up to feel religious doubts 
on account of doubts concerning his bishop rather than to feel 
doubts concerning his bishop on account of religious doubts. And so, 
even in a fossilized society, harmony is destroyed. 

Far more difficult is the task of maintaining it, or rather of un- 
ceasingly restoring it, in a developing society, in which there is a 
continuous addition of new activities to old, bringing new behaviours 
in their train and making necessary the adaptation of such of the 
old as they do not directly modify. 

Once the complexity of the problem is grasped, the functional dis- 
orders which in fact occur in a developing society seem less matter 
for surprise than the high degree of adjustment secured it by a hid- 
den automatism; the admiration felt by the men of the nineteenth 
century for self -regulating mechanisms is understandable; 8 but these 
disorders explain how it is that in the end an accumulation of trou- 
bles comes to exceed the tolerable limit, especially if the mecha- 
nisms are in continuous process of losing their virtue. 

These mechanisms are much misconceived, for the study of them 
has hardly begun. How so? you say; have not the economists an- 
alysed meticulously the delicate interplay of forces? True enough, 
but there lies the mistake, in thinking that the whole problem in its 
entirety falls within the province of the economists. Economists can 
explain to us the way in which a growing supply of automobiles 
lessens progressively the demand for horses and carriages until these 
completely disappear, in which automobile factories absorb the men 
engaged in coachmaking and saddlery and draw in more besides, iD 


which stables are transformed into garages. But when the process of 
quantitative adaptation has been brought to its inevitable perfec- 
tion, there remains outstanding the whole of the infinitely more im- 
portant question of qualitative adaptation. Between a master saddler 
living above his workshop in the Temple * quarter, and his son lost 
in the nameless and cosmopolitan crowd of Citroen workers and 
living in a suburb, there has been a prodigious transformation of 
folkways, beliefs, and sentiments, a transformation which cannot but 
leave its mark on the whole tone of society and in the end even 
affect the interplay of supply and demand. 

What makes it possible for political economy to be a science at all 
is that it looks on social life, and all the activities, relationships, and 
satisfactions of human beings, as the regular flow of one and the 
same energy: sometimes— as in the case of labour— active, some- 
times—as in the case of wealth— potential, but homogeneous and 
always measurable in units of value. But the very feature which 
makes a science of it makes it incapable of explaining the whole of 
social reality, or even of taking account of all the phenomena which 
occur within its proper sphere. It reveals the reasons for which local 
savings are diverted from accounts kept locally by local bankers, as 
in former days they were, and are attracted into vast central reser- 
voirs from which they are distributed nationally and even interna- 
tionally; but it is no part of its business to stress the fact that the 
manipulators of savings are now not the same set of men, and that 
the old and the new types are quite different, in nothing more un- 
like than in their respective concepts of right conduct. It justifies the 
money market as a useful piece of regulative machinery, but is not 
concerned to know what temperaments it attracts and what char- 
acters it develops. It is a valuable science, but one grafted on to a 
false psychology, which regards the race of men as a physical mass 
pin-pointed in place and acted upon only by the mechanical force 
of self-interest. 

Hence it is that the point of view of the economist is the worst of 
all for discerning social disharmonies: these must react on quantita- 
tive adaptations before they receive his attention. That is what in 
the end happened. Disturbance in the sphere of economic functions 
appeared as a sort of tertiary ague compelling attention to a social 
disease which had been long in progress. 

* A quarter in the centre of old Paris in which the Templars lived. The name 
has survived. 


This disease takes the form of a social fissiparousness, of a defec- 
tive medley of inharmonious behaviours. 

These are occasioned by the disturbance, which goes along with 
the evolution of society, of the concepts of right conduct, and there 
is delay in finding substitutes which are at once sufficiently clear-cut 
and sufficiently binding to guide mankind when they find themselves 
in novel situations. Men become the natural prey of interests which, 
even when restrained by the fear of penal sanctions, show them- 
selves impotent to procure harmonious behaviours. 

The phenomenon of being thrown out of his element and out of 
gear is substantially the same whether it is a case of a peasant being 
flung into a factory or of a small employee becoming a big specula- 
tor. It is not merely, as has sometimes been said, the too rapid 
change of condition which constitutes the essential danger, but 
rather that, on reaching their new condition, the men who have 
either got on or been uprooted are without concepts of right con- 
duct to prompt them in their new parts. They retain, no doubt, cer- 
tain moral ideas, which they learnt in childhood. But casuistry, 
which means the application of general precepts to particular situa- 
tions, is a difficult art and only for the few. And so long as there is 
no code of practical rules suited to any given condition, general 
principles by themselves are impotent. 9 The task of elaborating this 
code of rules is not the business of the legislative authority, which 
cannot go into details of that kind; it is no director of consciences. 

It belongs to the creators of the new conditions, to the innovating 
elites, guided to the extent needed by the spiritual authorities, to 
create the code of behaviour and the concepts of right conduct 
which are needed to harmonize the new function with the order of 
society. These innovating elites 10 must consider, while innovating, 
the personnel whom they attract, and make ready for their reception 
frameworks of morals as well as the raw materials of their work. 

Each function, in a word, has its law of chivalry and its duty of 
leadership. In the social movement of today, the innovators have 
neither elaborated these laws nor been conscious of these duties. 

Let us look at some actual cases. 

The man who thought of the bearer share of low nominal value 


made possible the association of small and medium savings with 
large-scale economic enterprises. The role of the financiers who mo- 
bilized the people's savings was a very beneficent one on two condi- 
tions: first, that the enterprises on whose behalf they raised the 
capital were advantageous to the community, and secondly that they 
had a care for the security of the savers. It would be unfair to deny 
that many financiers have been conscious of this double responsi- 
bility; but no such binding financial ethic has ever been constructed 
as to keep every financier without exception in the narrow path. On 
the contrary, an ever growing irresponsibility has marked this par- 
ticular category of society. The annals of capitalism show instances 
of numerous issues which have had no other aim than that of rob- 
bing the investors, by, for example, selling them a limited liability 
concern at a price well above its true value (watering the stock), 
provoking an exaggerated fall in the price of the shares, and then 
buying them in at a low price. Even apart from the numerous in- 
stances of devices which are openly fraudulent, there are many 
others in which the promoters are quite indifferent as to both the 
security of the capital and the purposes to which it is put, their sole 
concern being their own brokerage and commission. 

They justify their indifference by two notions, both of them false. 
The first is that the extent of the flow of capital towards a particular 
enterprise is determined by its profitability, which in turn measures 
its social utility and the need for its extension, conclusions which are 
quite erroneous, being based on an ill-founded confidence in eco- 
nomic automatism. The second is that the promoter of an issue con- 
tracts on equal terms with the investor: this is one of the absurd 
consequences of the egalitarian fiction which is the presiding genius 
of modern law. 

Now let us pass on to the industrialist who, fortified by a vast 
provision of capital, opens a large factory. In his capacity as a sup- 
plier of goods and employment he is a social benefactor, but only, 
of course, on the two conditions that the goods supplied are useful 
and that he is conscious of his responsibility for the fate of the army 
of workers which he musters. 

The first of these two preoccupations is, unfortunately, removed 
from him by the utterly false dogma that demand is the measure of 
utility, whatever the way in which this demand is stimulated, and 
even if it is the fruit of an impudent publicity. 

As for the second, it gets dispensed with by the fiction of equality. 


The industrialist is not now the lord, protector, and guardian of 
those who are to work in his service, but only a man who contracts 
on equal terms with equals. Hence came the nineteenth century's 
folly of supposing that the obligations of contract were the long and 
short of the obligations of the employer to his men. Anyone studying 
the case law and legislation relating to industrial accidents will 
think himself in a madhouse as he contemplates the legal fictions to 
which recourse has had to be had to justify the responsibility of the 
employer, a responsibility which should, on the contrary, have flowed 
naturally from the positive recognition of the duties inherent in an 
economic overlordship carrying with it all the obligations of protec- 
tion and help. 

Next we come to the proprietor of the popular newspaper. Such a 
man is not a mere seller of paper in obedience to a popular demand; 
he is, rather, a propagator of opinions, an awakener of emotions, a 
builder or destroyer of concepts of right conduct. Yet, from the day 
that the first "ha'penny paper" was launched until now, the big cir- 
culations have never built up an ethic. The spread of education 7 
which was designed to counteract the consequences of universal suf- 
frage by providing the citizens with the minimum of knowledge 
necessary to enable them to form sensible opinions, has in fact fur- 
nished the purveyors of cheap emotion with an inexhaustible reser- 
voir of consumers. 

To superficial minds the only point of consequence lies in the 
direct influence exercised by the press on the course of politics, but 
that is not the essential feature of the phenomenon. It is, rather, the 
propagation of concepts of right conduct which are anti-social n and 
the habit of emotional processes of thought which it engenders. 12 

The shock administered to "good manners" by the press, not un- 
assisted by the film, is almost incalculable. And the journalist world, 
though much more honest in the narrower sense than is often 
thought, is quite unconscious of its responsibility in the wider. 

One more example: that of the publicity agent, the worker in 
persuasion, who hires his services to all comers whether he gives the 
public a taste for patent medicines which are either actively harmful 
or completely useless, or teaches them habits which may do them 
harm, or propagates destructive political principles, a form of adver- 
tisement which is called, for short, propaganda.* 

* Miss C. V. Wedgwood, in a notable essay entitled "The Historian and the 
World" (republished in Velvet Studies; London: 1947), has written on the 



To sum up this cursory tour d'horizon, it is clear enough that the 
financier, the industrialist, the journalist, and the publicity agent, 
even when they are perfectly decent people, are all guilty of social 
misbehaviour, for the simple reason that they have no professional 
code which is sufficiently precise and binding to canalize their ac- 
tivities towards social ends. 

The unedifying character of such codes and concepts of right con- 
duct as they have is due in part to the rapidity of society's evolution. 
But a further and much more important reason is the lack of spiritual 
and social authorities. 

The task of the spiritual authorities should be to keep close on the 
tail of the evolution of society, and to formulate specific obligations, 
flowing naturally from moral truths of universal extent, for each 
situation as it arises. It is a pure waste of time to preach in a church 
frequented by stock-jobbers the rules formulated for a patriarchal 
peasantry. After listening respectfully, the stock-jobbers will go away 
without having received the smallest guidance for life. 

But the assurance needed to play so active a role is lacking to 
spiritual authorities whose title deeds are in dispute and who in 
consequence fall back defensively on the mere performance of cere- 

The task of those who are for practical purposes rulers, leaders, 
employers, squires, and guides of the people, should be to take good 
care where they are going and whither they are leading. But in fact, 
the words "ruler" and "leader" are not applied to them; they are 
denied this style and title. The false dogma of equality, so flattering 
to the weak, results in practice in a chartered libertinism for the 

At no time in history has social elevation carried with it fewer 
obligations, or actual inequality proved more oppressive, than since 
the incorporation in positive law of an equality in principle, bring- 

need for "concepts of right conduct" in historians: "Misinterpretation of past 
ages is more or less inevitable, and, although a respect for truth is an essential 
quality for the good historian, his understanding will always be limited by 
individual peculiarities. That is why it is important, if his style is persuasive 
and his learning impressive, that he should also be a good man. The dead can 
look after themselves; the living cannot ... it is all too easy, armed with this 
romantic, this most appealing of weapons, to play unfairly on the wishful 
thoughts of the ingenuous." 


ing in its train the negation of all the duties that belong to station. 
What we now see are the developing consequences of hasty think- 
ing, which has refused to see in the mechanism of society anything 
except the individual men and women who make it, and a central 
mainspring, the state. Everything else it has disregarded, and the 
role of the spiritual and social authorities has been denied. 

There were intellectual reasons for this mistake: into a new sort 
of studies was carried the presumption of an adolescent science, 
grown drunk on Newton, which could see in the whole universe 
nothing but the simple play of elemental forces. 

And there were political reasons too. The state and the individual 
were just emerging triumphant from their long struggle waged in 
common against the social authorities, which were hateful to the one 
as rivals and to the other as tyrants. 

How would they share the spoils between themselves? Either the 
individual would reap all the benefit of a twofold enfranchisement— 
the individualist solution— or else the state would be heir to the 
functions hitherto filled by the now banished authorities— the etatiste 
solution. The nineteenth century essayed at first the first of these 
solutions: Power, which had no master, mastered itself, trusting to 
the interplay of individual interests to bring about the best of all 
orders, a spontaneous order. We have seen how, thanks to this for- 
bearance, new social authorities sprang into the saddle, 13 unrecog- 
nized as such and finding in the foolish denial of their existence the 
opportunity for doing infinite mischief. And we have witnessed, too, 
the appearance of the most fantastic candidates to spiritual author- 
ity: the most moth-eaten heresies have reappeared in the guise of 
new ideas, and around them have sprung up those militant and 
aggressive churches, the parties of today. 

The result has been that in the end the insolence of interests and 
the confusion of beliefs have made necessary the restoration of some 
sort of order. The only available disciplinary authority being Power, 
it has had to have conferred on it an unlimited restraining capacity. 


Leaders of groups, such as the feudal baron or the captain 01 
industry, have always existed in every society known to history and 
will continue to be in every conceivable society. This fact carries 
with it a twofold responsibility for the leaders, as to the harmonizing 
of the group with the whole and as to the well-being of the group. 


Both these responsibilities are natural ones: they continue just the 
same even if positive law neglects them or refuses to give them 
countenance. Similarly, there are in each social authority, whether 
ancient or modern, those who set the pace and lay down standards 
of behaviour: the elders, whose responsibility it is— it, too, a natural 
one— to set an example. 

There are many different species of "notables," and there are 
Elders for each of the many roles played in the drama of society. No 
social order could either maintain or restore itself if the controllers 
of groups and masters of colleges ceased to carry out their essential 
purpose, to which the spiritual authority must continually recall 

It is an idle metaphysic that denies their existence and treats them 
as ordinary citizens: it results, not in suppressing their authority and 
influence, but only in freeing them from the honourable disciplines 
which make them the servants of the common good. On interest 
becoming their only principle of action, the very men whose duty it 
is to secure order spread disorder. The troubling of the concepts of 
right conduct spreads from top to bottom, and individuals, whatever 
their stations and functions, lose the precise and detailed picture of 
their duties on which their effectiveness as fellow-workers depends. 

When that happens, cohesion can be restored to society only by 
Power's formulating in the greatest detail the rules of behaviour 
which are appropriate to each separate function. And since habits 
and folkways, those powerful internal regulators of the concepts of 
right conduct, have ceased to bring about a spontaneous conformity, 
conformity must be secured by repression. 

But repression cannot be made effective at every turn and every- 
where; that would need as many policemen as there are citizens. 
Therefore it is sought to supply the defect of external compulsion by 
a form of constraint which is really the most efficacious of all, that 
which the forum of a man's own conscience exercises over his ac- 
tions. Concepts of right conduct are put into him from without, for 
which purpose use must be made of the squalid weapons of mass 
suggestion and propaganda. The upshot is squalid concepts, undif- 
ferentiated by reference to function, as those which spring from 
moral influences and observed examples are differentiated. 

The social cohesion created in this way is of a far rougher and 
more primitive kind than the one which has been allowed to perish. 


The divergences which troubled society are diminished, but at the 
price of the differences which gave it its civilization. 

This is the totalitarian solution, an evil called into being by the 
individualist evil, for the contrary of an error is not truth but only 
another error. 


From not having known how to preserve, and from not knowing 
how to restore, the delicate and living harmony of a highly civilized 
society, we are returning to the form of cohesion which is that of 
the primitive tribe. Out of common frenzies are forged powerful 
sentiments, comporting with their totems and taboos, for failure to 
feel which the penalty is to be treated as a hostis or foreign enemy. 

What would the individualists and freethinkers of the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries say could they but see what idols a man 
must now worship, to what jackboots he must now pay homage, if 
he is to escape being hunted and stoned? Would not the superstition 
which they fought seem to them the very acme of enlightenment, 
compared with the superstitions which have taken its place? And 
how mild is the despotism which they threw off by the side of those 
which are now crushing us! 

So careful of the individual life, so delighting in refinement of 
manners, so critical of the criminal law's severity, so scandalized by 
legal injustice, think of the horror with which they would compare 
the society which made them with the society which they have 
made! For, however strong an attraction individualist ideas may 
have for us, it must be admitted that it is impossible to condemn 
totalitarian regimes without also condemning the destructive meta- 
physic which made their happening a certainty. 

This metaphysic refused to see in society anything but the state 
and the individual. It disregarded the role of the spiritual authori- 
ties and of all those intermediate social forces which enframe, pro- 
tect, and control the life of man, thereby obviating and preventing 
the intervention of Power. It did not foresee that the overthrow of 
all these barriers and bulwarks would unleash a disorderly rout of 
egoistical interests and blind passions leading to the fatal and inaus- 
picious coming of tyranny. 

Tocqueville, Comte, Taine, and many another redoubled their 
warnings in vain. Were all the prophecies poured out by so many of 


the finer spirits to be set down in sequence, a whole book would be 
the result. 

Useless Cassandras! And why so useless? Perhaps societies are 
governed in their onward march by laws of which we are ignorant. 
Do we know whether it is their destiny to avoid the mortal errors 
which beset them? Or whether they are not led into them by the 
same dynamism which carried them to their prime? Whether their 
seasons of blossom and fruitfulness are not achieved at the cost of 
a destruction of the forms in which their strength was stored? * 
After the firework display, the darkness of a formless mass, destined 
to despotism or anarchy. 

* Cf. Halifax, A Character of King Charles II: "Formality is sufficiently re- 
venged upon the world for being so unreasonably laughed at; it is destroyed, 
it is true, but it hath the spiteful satisfaction of seeing everything destroyed 
with it." 


ncouraged thereto by the author, I am minded to write a 
few sentences of my own on a work which has occupied so 
.J much of my time. 

This book ranges over the great open spaces of place and time, 
but its kernel can be bounded in a nutshell: it is a study of the ex- 
pansionism of Power at the hands of men of great place, called 
throughout les dirigeants. 

At the root of Power is force, and its ultimate appeal is to the 
egoistical side of men. From the resulting deterioration in them- 
selves and their policies the dirigeants can be saved, if completely, 
only through the undeviating acknowledgment of an absolute code, 
which neither they nor their supporters made or can alter, but which 
can instantly deprive of all validity, other than that given by force, 
their own laws and ordinances. Lex iniqua non habet rationem legist 
the words beat like drum-taps, but their sound is often low through 
the grinding of political axes. The people can, for all a Durkheim's 
advocacy, do wrong; and, when a majority holds power over a mi- 
nority, justice may as easily as with a despot turn to being the 
interest of the stronger— unless they (or he) keep a vigilant and 
instructed conscience which impels to the unquestioning recognition 
of the obligatory character of the objective moral code. "They made 
it known," wrote Acton of the Stoics, "that there is a will superior to 
the collective will of man and a law that overrules those of Solon 
and Lycurgus. That which we must obey, that to which we are 
bound to reduce all civil authorities and to sacrifice every earthly 
interest is that immutable law which is perfect and eternal as God 

Ideas such as these were once the commonplaces of Western Eu- 
rope—the nations of which now resemble nothing so much as Athens 
and Thebes and Sparta bickering in the shadow of Macedonia, with 
Trieste or Salonika cast for the part of Olynthus. But we in our time 
have changed all that. Disliking the minority rule of one person ( or 
even of three), we have increasingly organized ourselves in the 



light of our mass recipes for what a statesman (heaven help us!) 
has called "the science of happiness." "We have," said an eloquent 
and progressive French orator of some forty years ago in a much 
applauded peroration, "pulled down the stars from heaven." He 
would be thwarted no longer. 

Recent events confirm the teaching of earlier ones as to the capac- 
ity for sin of dirigeants,* whose oratory is still expended on the 
soundness of "the people's heart" (the general will) and in exalting, 
for purposes more their own than his, the moral and intellectual 
competence of the ordinary man. (They "praise my Lord Such-a- 
one's horse when they mean to steal it.") Therefore, it is now said 
of him, whatever he (vicariously) decrees or decides, under what- 
ever pressure of emotion or interest, is as good law as God's, if he 
has but decreed or decided it by a sufficient majority. To this claim 
it must be replied, as the book makes reply, that Power, even when 
based on popular sovereignty at its broadest, is still not God; that 
the natural law need never justify itself to any man, to any assembly, 
or to any tribunal; that neither the largest of majorities nor the most 
powerful of despots can ever meet it on its own ground; that, io 
short, Antigone was right and Creon wrong, notwithstanding Hegel's 
attempt to confuse that particular issue. The angels fell from spirit- 
ual pride, and the people would be well advised to stop their ears 
against the exaltation of their merits by seekers after Power; else 
their ultimate disaster will be the greater. 

From the Power-bred instinct of dirigeants to persuade their sub- 
jects that they are the only providers of the best of a wide variety of 
worlds, the tendency to confound categories by conferring on words 
the meanings best suited to the users' purposes has taken vigorous 
wing. Upon corruption of will has been piled obfuscation of intel- 
lect. One of the first casualties in times of discord is, as Thucydides 
noted, the meanings of words, and to the Thucydidean list of inex- 
actitudes it is time to add the current equation of liberty with secu- 
rity and the possession of a vote, of justice with equality as, too 
often, envy has conceived it to material ends, of idealism with the 
not always disinterested exaggeration of man's moral capacity, and 
of "democratic" with whatever the user of the word happens to 

* Cf. Swift, in a letter to Bolingbroke of April 5, 1729: ". . . for I will 
venture all I am worth that there is not one human creature in power, who 
will not be modest enough to confess that he proceeds wholly upon a principle 
of corruption." 


approve. Humpty Dumpty has succeeded to the chair of more pre- 
cise thinkers. 

The remedy for which the author calls is simple to state, but none 
the easier on that account to compass, being in fact the return to 
the acknowledgment of a code which is not relative to some con- 
temporary set of interests and pressures, but lives and moves 

Beyond time's troubled fountains 
On the great Atlantic mountains. 

This process is, whatever else, certainly different in kind from the 
standard preoccupations of displacing this ruler by that, raising to 
Power that state or class or party in preference to this, and sub- 
stituting one piece of political or economic machinery for another, 
all to the sound of self-appreciative chatter. 

Debemur morti, and now an almost simultaneous doom (in less 
lethal times Clemenceau could at least predict the survival of a few 
Negroes in the Congo) is, if we may believe half we hear, quite 
possibly round the next corner: the planetary epitaph, if the djinn 
gets really out, should be in these terms only: 

We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. 
Hie jacemus. 




1. "The needs of the civilian population must receive sufficient satisfaction 
to ensure that its work on war production will not suffer," wrote the Frank- 
furter Zeitung of December 29, 1942. The paper was inspired by a "liberal" 
motive! It was concerned to justify the survival of a remnant of life's ordinary 
activities. That could be done only by demonstrating that the activities of death 
could not be carried on without them. In England, too, the release of miners 
from the Forces was urged in numerous debates in Parliament, the argument 
advanced being the capital importance of coal-mining for the war. 

2. The formula is President Roosevelt's. 

3. In my book Apres la defaite, published in November 1940, I have 
demonstrated how the pressing of all its resources, economic and intellectual, 
into the service of one idea gives a country which is subjected to such a 
discipline an immense advantage over one which has not been concentrated 
to the same extent. This sort of monolithism, the product of our monolithic age, 
is now, alas, the one condition on which a society can survive in war. 

4. Great emphasis is laid on the part which they played at Bouvines, but 
what happened at Crecy illustrates their more usual role. There, says Froissart, 
after drawing their swords while the enemy was still two miles off and shouting, 
"To the death, to the death," they took to their heels precipitately as soon as 
the English army came in sight. 

5. Cf. A. Caullery, Histoire du pouvoir royal d'imposer depuis la feodalite 
jusqu a Charles V (Brussels: 1879). 

6. According to the documents published by M. Maurice Jusselin in Biblio- 
theque de Vecole des Chartes, 1912, p. 209. 

7. Baldwin Schuyler Terry, The Financing of the Hundred Years' War, 
1337-1360 (Chicago and London: 1914). 

8. Of the wealth of France at the start of the war, Froissart writes: "Adonc 
e"tait le royaume de France gras, plains at drus, et les gens riches et possessans 
de grand avoir, et on i savait parler de nulle guerre." 

9. An increase was to some extent necessitated by the general rise in prices 
following the influx of precious metals from America. 

10. "A new disease has broken out in Europe: it has infected our rulers and 
caused them to maintain armies which are out of all proportion. It has its 
recurrences and soon becomes contagious; inevitably, because as soon as one 
State increases the number of its troops, as they are called, the others at once 
increase theirs, so that the general ruin is all that comes out of it. Every 
monarch keeps permanently on foot armies which are as large as would be 
needed if his people were in imminent danger of extermination; and this 
struggle of all against all is called peace." Esprit des Lois, Livre XIII, chap. xvii. 

11. hoc. cit. 

12. H. Taine, Les Origines de la France contemporaine, Vol. X, pp. 120-23. 

13. Paul Viollet, Le Roi et ses ministres pendant les trois derniers siecles de 
la monarchic (Paris: 1912) p. 8. 

14. Karl Marx, Le dix-huit brumaire de Louis Bonaparte. 


384 NOTES 

15. L. Duguit, L'Etat, le droit objectif et la loi positive (Paris: 1901) Vol. I, 
p. 320. 

16. Cf. Benjamin Constant: "Your party man, however excellent his inten- 
tions may be, is always opposed to any limitation of sovereignty. He regards 
himself as the next in succession, and handles gently the property that is to 
come to him, even while his opponents are its tenants." Cours de politique 
constitutionelle, ed. Laboulaye (Paris: 1872) Vol. I, p. 10. 

17. Engels, in his 1891 preface to Marx's Guerre civile. 

18. Lenin, L'Etat et la Revolution, ed. Humanite (1925) p. 44. 

19. "What they distrust," Constant went on to say, "is this or that form of 
government and this or that class of governors; but once allow them to organize 
government in their own way, once let them entrust it to mandatories chosen 
by themselves, and there are no limits to what they will think its desirable 
extension." Loc. cit. 

20. Cf. A. Ullmann, La Police, quatrieme pouvoir (Paris: 1935). 

21. The reason is that in a stratified society the police agent is afraid to 
attack anyone of importance. He is never free of the fear that he will come off 
second best in such a conflict, and that fear keeps him down and renders him 
inactive. It is only in an egalitarian society that the nature of his activities 
elevates him above everyone else, and this inflation of the man contributes to 
the inflation of the office. 


1. Necker, Du Pouvoir exdcutif dans les Grands Etats (1792) pp. 20-22. 

2. Rousseau, Du Contrat social, Book III, chap. vi. 

3. Necker, op. cit. 

4. J. G. Frazer, Lectures on the Early History of Kingship (London: 1905) 
pp. 3-23. 


1. Burlamaqui, Principes de droit politique (Amsterdam: 1751) Vol. I, p. 43. 

2. By this is meant that it was not sovereign in the modern meaning of the 
word. Sovereignty of the medieval type is merely "superiority." It is the quality 
which belongs to the authority set above all the others, and which has no 
superior in the temporal hierarchy. But because it is the highest, it does not 
follow that the right of the sovereign is different in kind from the other rights 
which are below it: it does not offend these, of which it is not regarded as the 
source and author. The modern conception of sovereignty unfolded in the 
seventeenth century. 

3. We find, in the great work devoted by the brothers R. W. and A. J. Car- 
lyle to the political ideas of the Middle Ages (A History of Political Medieval 
Theory in the West, London: 6 vols., 1903-1936), this idea— conclusively 
proved by the whole of their researches— constantly repeated, that the monarch 
was regarded by both medieval thinkers and people in general as being below 
the law, which obligated him and which he could not use his authority to 
change. For him law was a premise: it was really the sovereign. 

4. Quoted by Marc Bloc, Les Rois thaumaturges, p. 351. 

5. Louis XIV, CEuvres, Vol. II, p. 317. 

6. Palm Sunday, 1662. 

7. Cf. Epistle to the Romans, xiii, 1. Commentaries in Carlyle, op. cit., 
Vol. I, pp. 89-98. 

NOTES 385 

8. St. Gregory, Regulae Pastorales, III, 4. 

9. Cf. in particular Hincmar de Reims, De fide Carolo Regi servanda, 

10. Epist, CVI P. L., Vol. CLXII, col. 121. 

11. Cf. the fine study by Noel Valois on John of Jandun and Marsilius of 
Padua in L'Histoire litteraire de la France, Vol. XXIV, pp. 575 et seq. 

12. "The democratic theory of Marsilius of Padua led to the proclamation of 
Imperial omnipotence," says Noel Valois, op. cit., p. 614. 

13. "No Luther, no Louis XIV," as Figgis truly says. J. N. Figgis, Studies of 
Political Thought from Gerson to Grotius (2nd ed., Cambridge: 1923) p. 62. 

14. For instance, the De rege et regis institutione of Mariana and the 
Tractatus de potestate summi pontificis in temporalihus of Bellarmin were 
burnt at Paris in 1610, followed by the Defensio fidei of Suarez in 1614. The 
same thing happened in London. 

15. Vittoria, De indis, I, 7. 

16. "The nature of man is such that he has to be a political and social 
animal and live among his fellows," as St. Thomas has said. De regimine 
principum, I, 1. 

17. Cf. Suarez, De legibus ac Deo Legislatore, Book III, chaps, i, ii, iii, iv. 
In the two-volume summary at pp. 634-35. 

18. Bellarmin, De Laicis, Book III. 

19. Bellarmin, "Reply to James I of England." Works, Vol. XII, pp. 184 
et seq. 

20. Suarez, De Opere, LV, chap, vii, No. 3, Vol. Ill, p. 414. 

21. Rousseau's new idea was merely to divide this original proceeding into 
two successive parts. In the first the city is formed and in the second it 
designates its government. In theory the subordination of Power is increased 
by this process. But his was only an enlargement of the Jesuit idea. 

22. Spinoza, Traite theologico-politique, XVI: Des fondements de Vetat. 

23. T. Huxley, Natural and Political Rights, in Method and Results (London: 

24. Hobbes, Leviathan, chap, xxvii, "De cause, generatione et definitione 

25. Hobbes, Leviathan, 2nd part, chap, xviii. This proposition is fundamental 
to Hobbes' entire position. Thus, in the case of an executive act affecting an 
individual, done by the sovereign-representative of the people: "Whatever the 
sovereign-representative does to a subject, and for whatever reason, it cannot 
be called an injustice or a hurt; for each subject is the author of each of the 
sovereign's acts." Ibid., chap. xxi. In the case of a law: ". . . no law can be 
unjust. Laws have been made by the sovereign authority and all that it does 
is agreed (in advance) by each subject; and what each has willed can be 
called unjust by none." Ibid., chap. xxx. 

26. Spinoza, op. cit., xvi. 

27. Ibid. 

28. St. Augustine, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. 

29. Du Contrat social, Book I, chap. vi. 

30. Hobbes, Leviathan, 2nd part, chap, xviii. 

31. Cf. Bossuet, Cinquieme avertissement aux protestants. 

32. Du Contrat social, Book III, chap. iii. 

33. "That the 'Government corps' may have a being and a life of its own 
distinguishing it from the nation as a whole, that all its members may act in 
unison and serve its specific purpose, it must have its personal ego, an esprit de 
corps in which all its members share, a strength of its own and a will to its own 

386 NOTES 

survival. This personal life presupposes assemblies, councils, the capacity to 
deliberate and decide, rights, titles and privileges, all of which are the exclusive 
property of the prince." (Rousseau meant by "prince" the totality of the com- 
ponents of government; it is what in this book I have called Power.) Du 
Contrat social, Book III, chap. ii. 

34. Book III, chap. x. 

35. Ibid. 

36. We must always remember that, when Rousseau talks of the people 
being the only law-making authority, he is thinking only of quite general 
directives, and not of all the particular and detailed provisions which modern 
constitutional practice comprises under the name of legislation. 

37. He always took care to found his authority on the sovereignty of the 
people. As for instance in this declaration: "The Revolution is over; its prin- 
ciples have come to rest in my person. The present government is the represen- 
tative of the sovereign people; there can be no revolution against the sovereign." 

Mole observes: "Everything spoken or written by him bore the same charac- 
ter, was bound up with the same system and was directed to the same end, 
that of propagating the principle of the sovereignty of the people— a principle 
which he thought completely erroneous and certain to have disastrous conse- 
quences. . . ." Mathieu Mole, Souvenirs d'un Temoin (Geneva: 1943) p. 222. 

38. I must not be supposed to be saying that in medieval society the Church 
was the only organism actually engaged in the control and check of Power. 
I am not now recording events but analysing theories. 

39. "Whenever," remarks Sismondi, "the view is taken that all authority 
proceeds from the people by process of election, then those who derive their 
power from the people most immediately and have the largest number of 
constituents come to regard their authority as the most legitimate." Sismondi, 
Etudes sur les Constitutions des Peuples modernes (Paris; 1836) p. 305. 

40. Du Contrat social, Book III, chap. xv. 

41. Ibid. 

42. We find in Kant the same distrust of "representatives." "The people," he 
writes, "that is represented in Parliament by its deputies, finds these guardians 
of its rights and liberty to be men deeply interested in the position of them- 
selves and of the members of their family in the army, the navy and the civil 
administration— all of them things which are in the disposal of ministers; thev 
do not offer resistance to the government's pretensions but are, on the contrary, 
always ready and prepared to divert the government into their own hands." 
Kant, Metaphysique des Mceurs. Trans. Barni (Paris: 1853) p. 179. 


1. Summa Theologica, II, 42, 2. "Ad tertiam dicendum, quod regimen 
tyrannicum non est justum; quia non ordinatur ad bonum commune, sed ad 
bonum privatum regentis; et ideo perturbatio hujus regiminis non habet 
rationem seditionis." 

2. If, in medieval speech, it administers in destructionem instead of, as it 
should, in aedificationem. 

3. Du Contrat social, Book II, chap. iii. 

4. Cf. Cicero, De Republica, I, 25, 39: "Res publica, res populi, populus 
autem non omnis hominum coetus quoquo modo congregatus, sed coetus multi- 
tudinis juris consensu et utilitatis communione sociatus." 

5. For instance: ". . . although the artificial body of the government is the 

NOTES 387 

work of another artificial body (the body politic or Society) . . ." (Du Contrat 
social, Book III, chap. i). 

6. Hobbes, whom civil commotions troubled so much that he fled the 
country on their appearance, wished to confer on Power this degree of abso- 
lutism only because he hated above everything the idea of humanity falling 
back into what he regarded, rightly or wrongly, as the primitive condition of 
all against all. After developing his theory of an unlimited right of command, 
he answered objections to it in this way: "Perhaps at this point objection will 
be taken that the condition of the subjects is wretched, in that they are 
exposed to the cupidity and other irregular passions of those who possess so 
unlimited a Power. And in general those who five under a monarch attack 
monarchy; and those who live in a democracy or are governed by any other 
sort of sovereign authority, ascribe their discomforts to whatever the form of 
government is; whereas in truth Power, under whatever form, is, if it is 
sufficiently complete to protect them, always the same. 

"They do not reflect that the condition of man is never without some incon- 
venience, and that the worst which a government of whatever kind can inflict 
is nothing at all to the miseries and frightful calamities which go with civil 
war, or to the anarchic condition of men who, lacking masters, are exempt 
from all laws and from every coercive force capable of opposing their rapines 
and vendettas." (Leviathan, 1st edition of 1651, p. 94.) 

7. I have refrained from exact quotations by reason of the peculiarity of 
Hegelian jargon. The important passages will be found in Vol. VII of Lasson's 
edition of the complete works: Schriften zur Politik und Rechtsphilosophie. 

8. Cf. particularly Carre de Malberg, Contribution a la theorie generale de 
Vetat (2 vols., Paris: 1920) and Paul Bastid, in a work of importance: Sieyei 
et sa Pensee (Paris: 1939). 

9. Du Contrat social, Book I, chap. vii. 

10. Du Contrat social, Book II, chap. iii. 

11. "The principle of modem States has the deep-seated ability of allowing 
the principle of subjectivity to work itself out to the extreme limit of independ- 
ent individual particularity, and of bringing it back simultaneously to the main 
unity; and so of maintaining this unity in the midst of this principle of license." 
(Hegel, Principes de la Philosophie de Droit. French ed. N.R. F. 1940, 
para. 260). 

12. Cf. Durkheim, De la Division du travail social (1st ed. Paris: 1893). 

13. Auguste Comte, Cours de philosophie positive (Paris: 1839), especially 
Vol. IV, pp. 470-80. 

14. Auguste Comte, Cours de philosophie positive (Paris: 1839) p. 220. 

15. Cf. H. Spencer, Essays, Scientific, Political and Speculative (3 vols. 
London). The article referred to fills pp. 384-428 of the first volume: the 
passage in the text summarizes pp. 391-92. 

16. De Regimine Principium, I. 1. 

17. Ibid., I, 2. 

18. E. Forset, A Comparative Discourse of Bodies Natural and Political 
(London: 1606). 

19. Du Rouvray, he Triomphe des republiques, 1673. 

20. In the Encyclopedic, in the article "Economie politique," he writes: "The 
body politic, taken in itself, may be likened to a living body with organs, like 
that of a man. The sovereign power represents the head; the laws and customs, 
whose instruments are the judges and magistrates, are the brains (which are 
the nerve centre and the seat of the understanding, the will and the senses); 
commerce, industry and agriculture, which provide subsistence for all, are the 

388 NOTES 

mouth and stomach; the public finances are the blood, which a wise economy, 
acting as the heart, uses to distribute nourishment throughout the body; the 
citizens are the body and limbs, by which the machine moves, lives and works, 
and which cannot suffer hurt in any part without the sense of pain being at 
once transmitted, assuming that the creature is healthy, to the brain. 

"The life of both consists in the ego common to the whole, the reciprocal 
sensitiveness and the internal harmony of all the parts. Should this system of 
communication stop, should the formal unity disappear, and the neighbouring 
parts cease to share one another's life while remaining neighbours, the man 
dies and the State dissolves. 

"The body politic is, then, a moral being with a will, and this General Will 
which tends ever towards the preservation and well-being of the whole and 
the parts, which is the source of laws . . . etc." 

21. Philosophie positive, Vol. IV, pp. 486, 488, 490. 

22. Spencer, Essays, Vol. Ill, pp. 72-73. 

23. He was to write later in Professional and Industrial Institutions: "In the 
middle of this century there had been attained, especially in England, a greater 
degree of Liberty than there had ever been since nations started to form. . . . 
But the movement, which to so large an extent broke the despotic regime of 
the past, came to a certain limit from which it has begun to go back. New 
sorts of restrictions and constraints have been gradually imposed in place of 
the old sorts. Mankind has substituted for the domination of powerful social 
classes the rule of official classes who will become just as powerful and more so, 
and who, in the end, will be just as different from the imaginings of socialist 
theories as the rich and proud hierarchy of the middle ages was from the poor 
and humble missionaries from which it sprang." 

24. Huxley continues: "Supposing that, in accordance with this view, each 
muscle were to maintain that the nervous system had no right to interfere with 
its contraction, except to prevent it hindering the contraction of another muscle; 
or each gland, that it had a right to secrete, so long as its secretion interfered 
with no other; suppose every separate cell left free to follow its own 'interest' 
and laissez-faire lord of all, what would become of the body physiological? 

"The fact is that the sovereign power of the body thinks for the physiological 
organism, acts for it, and rules the individual components with a rod of iron. 
Even the blood corpuscles can't hold a public meeting without being accused 
of 'congestion'— and the brain, like other despots whom we have known, calls 
out at once for the use of sharp steel against them. As in Hobbes' Leviathan, 
the representative of the sovereign authority in the living organism, though he 
derives all his powers from the mass which he rules, is above the law. The 
questioning of his authority involves death, or that partial death which we call 

"Hence, if the analogy of the body politic with the body physiological counts 
for anything it seems to me to be in favour of a much larger amount of govern- 
mental interference than exists at present, or than I, for one, at all desire to see." 
( In the essay Administrative Nihilism written in reply to Spencer, and repub- 
lished in the volume Method and Results. London: 1893.) 

25. See, among many others, Lilienfeld: Die menschliche Gesellschaft als 
realer Organismus (Mittau: 1873). Society, he says, is the highest class of 
living organism. Alb. SchafHe, Bau und Leben des sozialen Korpers, 4 vols., 
published 1875-1878, where the author laboriously works out, organ by organ, 
the comparison of the physiological body with the social body. This did not 
deter Worms from again pursuing the same line of thought in Organisme et 
societe (Paris: 1893). Or, again, G. de Graef, he Transformisme social, essai 

NOTES 389 

sur le progres et le regres des societes (Paris: 1893): "In the history of the 
development of human societies, the regulative organs of collective power per- 
fect themselves progressively, creating a more and more powerful co-ordination 
of all the social agents. Does not the same thing happen in the hierarchy of all 
living creatures and is it not the degree of organization achieved by them 
which gives them their place in the scale of life? So with societies, the degree 
of organization is the common measure, the measure of progress; in the history 
of civilizations there is no other criterion of their respective and relative worth." 
Novicow may also be cited: Conscience et Volonte societies (Paris: 1893). The 
thesis had much success in socialist circles where Vandervelde became its 
enthusiastic exponent. Its best and most recent exponent is the biologist Oskar 
Hertwig: Der Stoat als Organismus, 1922. 

26. De la Division du travail social (Paris: 1892). 

27. "It is utterly unsystematic to regard the actual dimensions of the govern- 
mental organ as something morbid and due to a concurrence of accidental 
circumstances. It is on all accounts a normal phenomenon, and one related to 
the very structure of the higher societies, since it advances regularly and con- 
tinuously to the extent that societies approximate to this type," etc., etc., 
pp. 201-202. 

28. "Whenever there appears a governmental structure of wide authority, 
the reason must be sought, not in the position occupied by the rulers, but in 
the nature of the societies ruled. We must examine what beliefs they hold in 
common, and what common sentiments there are which, becoming incarnate in 
a person or a family, have given him or it so much power," pp. 213-14. 

As in Durkheim's thesis, which is in that respect inspired by Hegel, society 
starts from a strong moral solidarity, to return by a way of a process of differ- 
entiation to an even completer solidarity; it follows that authority, after a period 
of enfeeblement, must in the end acquire new force. 

29. Cf. Les Formes elementaires de la Vie religieuse (2nd ed., Paris: 1925): 
"The faithful are right to believe in a moral force which restrains them and 
from which the best in themselves is derived: this force exists: it is Society . . . 
the deity is but the figurative expression of Society," pp. 322-23. 


1. Some idea of this undertaking of winning back for man his past appears 
in M. Marcel Brion's book: La Resurrection des villes mortes (2 vols. Paris: 

2. It is well established that there is not one civilization of which we 
represent the most advanced form, but that different societies have, in the 
course of human history, developed different civilizations, each of which 
reached a certain blossoming, sometimes much inferior to our own, at others 
equivalent to ours and in some respects superior. This conception is by this 
time so well known that I need not, I think, enlarge on it. 

3. On this subject, Dykmans writes as follows: "As soon as we can discern 
for certain the first social groupings in Egypt, notably in the figured pictures 
appearing on predynastic paddles, we find ourselves confronted with organized 
cities, which are protected by ramparts, governed by panels of magistrates and 
given over to profitable maritime trade with the Syrian sea-board. . . . We 
know nothing of anything that preceded this period near to the dawn of 
history: the process of evolution, lasting for many thousands of years, from 
the origins of Society to cities like this, to the earliest confederations and to 

390 NOTES 

the first kingdoms, is buried in the depths of pre-history." Dykmans: Hisioire 
eco. et soc. de Vancienne Egypte (Paris: 1932) Vol. I, p. 53. 

4. "I admit that, if the writers of antiquity have supplied me with informa- 
tion for the support of certain fortunate conjectures of mine about savages, 
savage customs have supplied me with information for the easier understanding 
and explanation of several matters on which the writers of antiquity touch." 
Lafitau, La Vie et les mceurs des sauvages americains, comparees aux mceurs 
des premiers temps (Amsterdam: 1742) Vol. I, p. 3. 

5. In 1859. 

6. The notion of a primitive society was formulated by Spencer in the 
following terms: "The conceptions of biologists have been greatly enlarged by 
the discovery that organisms which, when adult, appear to have scarcely any- 
thing in common, were, in the first stages, very similar; and that, indeed, all 
organisms start with a common structure. ... If societies have evolved, and 
if that mutual dependence of their parts which cooperation implies, has been 
gradually reached, then the implication is that, however unlike their developed 
structures become, there is a rudimentary structure from which they all set out." 
Principles of Sociology, Vol. Ill, para. 464. 

7. Morgan expounded his theory in 1877 in a book which had a resounding 
success: Ancient Society or researches in the lines of human progress from 
savagery through barbarism to civilization. 

8. Aristotle, Politics, Book I, chap. i. 

9. Du Contrat social, Book II, chap. ii. 

10. Pensees sur divers sujets. Bonald also wrote: "Every proprietary family 
forms on its own a naturally independent domestic society." Legislation primi- 
tive, Book II, chap. ix. 

11. Aristotle, op. cit. 

12. Patriarcha, or the Natural Rights of Kings (London: 1684). 

13. Vico, La Science nouvelle, translation of Princess Belgioso (Paris: 1844) 
p. 212. 

14. An Essay Concerning Certain False Principles, which is the first of his 
two essays on government. 

15. In 1861 the English jurist, Maine, gave a vivid picture of this patriarchal 
family which was universally regarded as the initial society. Maine had not 
been taught Roman law: and so, when he first made contact with the ordi- 
nances of earliest times, the contrast between them and modern jurisprudence 
came as a great intellectual shock to him, and he had a sudden vision of the 
mode of life which they implied. He then came to recognize that the patres of 
primitive Rome were simply the jealous proprietors of a group of men to whom 
they gave laws. The father had power of life and death over his offspring, 
punished them as he pleased, got his son a wife, and exchanged with some 
other father one of his daughters for one of the other's sons. He could take 
back the daughter he had given in marriage, drive out his daughter-in-law, 
exclude from his group any member who disobeyed him, and bring into it 
anyone he chose by a form of adoption which had the same legal results as 
legitimate birth. Chattels, beasts, and men— everything in the group belonged 
to him and obeyed him in virtue of his position; he could as easily sell his son 
as a head of cattle; the only rights and the only hierarchy were those of his 
introduction, and it was lawful for him to put in as chief of the group in his 
own stead the lowest of his slaves. Maine, Ancient Law: its Connection with 
the Early History of Society and its Relation to Modern Ideas (London: 1861). 

16. In the bend of the Niger. According to L. Tauxier, Le Noir du Yatenga 
(Paris: 1917). 

NOTES 391 

17. The strength of family feeling, as found among the Silmi-Mossis, is 
perfectly compatible with the advance of the process of physical disintegration; 
indeed, the average number of persons which a dwelling (zaka) contains is 
only eleven or twelve. The Mossis are leading people of the district, and in the 
canton of Koussouka, for example, they number 3,456 persons, divided into 
24 families; they live in 228 dwellings, which gives about 15 people to each. 

The head of the family, or boudoukasaman, keeps only his own dwelling 
under his undivided authority, but as head of the family he performs the 
duties of priest and judge, and it is his prerogative to give in marriage the 
daughters of the family. When he dies he is succeeded by his younger brother, 
who in his turn is succeeded by the next brother in order until the whole line 
is extinct, when the succession comes back to the eldest son of the eldest 
brother. This rule of succession is very understandable; it tends to keep at the 
head of the family its most focal member. The head of a dwelling is called 
a zakazoba. For a part of the year the members of the dwelling owe him the 
best of their time on two days out of three, and for more than half the year, 
seven months out of the twelve, he provides for their sustenance. There are 
both family fields and small private fields. Cf. Louis Tauxier, op. cit. 

18. Bachofen, Das Mutterrecht: Eine untersuchung iiber die Gynoikokratie 
der alien We nach ihrer religiosen und rechtlichen natiir (Stuttgart: 1861). 

19. In the first flush of his discovery, the Bale professor even went so far as 
to claim that Power must have belonged to the grandmother, who was the 
counterpart of the patriarch, and that the first great revolution in human affairs 
was the overthrow of the matriarchate. The memory of this overthrow was, 
he suggested, preserved in the myth of Bellerophon, who slew the Chimaera 
and overcame the Amazons. This hypothesis tickles the imagination but has not 
proved acceptable to the scientific world. 

20. It is noteworthy that in 1724 Father Lafitau had observed the phenom- 
enon of uterine affiliation among the Iroquois and noted that this fact made 
the woman the centre of the family and nation. He had even then established 
the resemblance with what Herodotus had reported of the Lycians, but more 
than a century and a half had passed before anyone profited by his discerning 
observations. "It is," said Lafitau, "in the women that the nation, the nobility, 
the genealogical tree, the order of the generations and the preservation of 
families rightly consist. The women wield all real authority; the land, the fields 
and the entire harvest belong to them; they are the backbone of counsel and 
the arbiters of peace and war; they control the public treasury; slaves are their 
perquisite; they give in marriage; the children belong to them, and the order 
of succession is founded in their blood. The men, on the other hand, are 
entirely cut off and confined to themselves; their children are strangers to them; 
on their death none succeeds; none but a woman continues the house. But if in 
a particular house there are none but men, then, no matter what their number, 
their family suffers extinction; and although the formal choice of chiefs is 
made from among them, they do not labour for themselves; their only purpose 
in life seems to be to be the agents and helpers of the women. . . . 

"It must be understood that the manner of marriage is such that the husband 
and wife do not leave their own families and huts to set up a separate hut of 
their own. Each stays put; the children of the marriage are the women's who 
bore them, and they are numbered among the hut and the family of the 
woman, and not those of the husband. The husband's goods are not kept in the 
wife's hut, to which he is himself a stranger, and in the wife's hut the daugh- 
ters precede in succession the male children, who receive there no more than 
their subsistence! And so is verified the statement of Nicolas of Damascus about 

392 NOTES 

inheritance among the Lycians and what Herodotus told us about their nobility; 
the children being in dependence on their mothers, their importance turns on 
the importance of their mothers. . . . The women do not exercise political 
authority but they transmit it," as Lafitau explains. Op. cit., Vol. I, pp. 66 et seq. 

21. Cf. notably the Urabanna of Central Australia. Spencer and Gillen, The 
Northern Tribes of Central Australia (London: 1904) pp. 72-74. 

22. Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family, Vol. XVII 
of the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge (Washington: 1871). 

23. Giraud-Teulon, Les Origines de la famille. Questions sur les antecedents 
des societes patriarcales (Geneva: 1874). And, above all, Lewis H. Morgan, 
Ancient Society (New York: 1877). 

24. Frazer cites this testimony from the King of Etatin ( Southern Nigeria ) : 
"The whole town forced me to be head-chief. They hanged our big juju (or 
fetish), the horns of a buffalo, round my neck. ... It is an old custom that 
the head-chief here shall never leave his compound. ... I am the oldest man 
of the town, and they keep me here to look after the jujus, and to conduct the 
rites celebrated when women are about to give birth, and other ceremonies of 
the same kind. By the observance and performance of these ceremonies, I bring 
game to the hunter, cause the yam crop to be good, bring fish to the fishermen, 
and make rain to fall. To make rain, I drink water, and squirt it out, and pray 
to our big deities. If I were to go outside this compound, I should fall down 
dead on returning to this hut." Frazer, Early History of the Kingship, p. 118. 

25. Cf. Alf. Metraux, Vile des Pdques (Paris: 1941). 

26. Gaetano Casati, Ten years in Equatoria (2 vols., London: 1891). 

27. G. L. Gomme, Primitive Folk Moots (London: 1880). 

28. Sumner Maine, Village Communities (London: 1871). 

29. Rivers, The History of Melanesian Society (2 vols., Cambridge: 1914). 

30. Hutton Webster, Primitive Secret Societies (New York: 1908). 

31. V. Larok, Essai sur hi valeur sacree et la valeur sociale des noms de 
personnes dans les societes inferieures (Paris: 1932). 

32. Cf. The Golden Bough, Vol. I, Part I: "The Magic Art and Evolution 
of Kings." 

33. On the secret societies in Africa, there is a good appreciation by N. W. 
Thomas in the Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics; see the artic