EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

What we are not talking about already elsewhere
thelivyjr
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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr »

So far from this able disposition of some of the old republican legislators, which follows with a solicitous accuracy the moral conditions and propensities of men, they have leveled and crushed together all the orders which they found, even under the coarse unartificial arrangement of the monarchy, in which mode of government the classing of the citizens is not of so much importance as in a republic.

It is true, however, that every such classification, if properly ordered, is good in all forms of government, and composes a strong barrier against the excesses of despotism, as well as it is the necessary means of giving effect and permanence to a republic.

For want of something of this kind, if the present project of a republic should fail, all securities to a moderated freedom fail along with it; all the indirect restraints which mitigate despotism are removed, insomuch that if monarchy should ever again obtain an entire ascendancy in France, under this or under any other dynasty, it will probably be, if not voluntarily tempered at setting out by the wise and virtuous counsels of the prince, the most completely arbitrary power that has ever appeared on earth.

This is to play a most desperate game.

The confusion which attends on all such proceedings they even declare to be one of their objects, and they hope to secure their constitution by a terror of a return of those evils which attended their making it.

"By this," say they, "its destruction will become difficult to authority, which cannot break it up without the entire disorganization of the whole state."

They presume that, if this authority should ever come to the same degree of power that they have acquired, it would make a more moderate and chastised use of it, and would piously tremble entirely to disorganize the state in the savage manner that they have done.

They expect, from the virtues of returning despotism, the security which is to be enjoyed by the offspring of their popular vices.


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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr »

I WISH, Sir, that you and my readers would give an attentive perusal to the work of M. de Calonne on this subject.

It is, indeed, not only an eloquent, but an able and instructive, performance.

I confine myself to what he says relative to the constitution of the new state and to the condition of the revenue.

As to the disputes of this minister with his rivals, I do not wish to pronounce upon them.

As little do I mean to hazard any opinion concerning his ways and means, financial or political, for taking his country out of its present disgraceful and deplorable situation of servitude, anarchy, bankruptcy, and beggary.

I cannot speculate quite so sanguinely as he does; but he is a Frenchman, and has a closer duty relative to those objects, and better means of judging of them, than I can have.

I wish that the formal avowal which he refers to, made by one of the principal leaders in the Assembly concerning the tendency of their scheme to bring France not only from a monarchy to a republic, but from a republic to a mere confederacy, may be very particularly attended to.

It adds new force to my observations, and indeed M. de Calonne's work supplies my deficiencies by many new and striking arguments on most of the subjects of this letter.

It is this resolution, to break their country into separate republics, which has driven them into the greatest number of their difficulties and contradictions.

If it were not for this, all the questions of exact equality and these balances, never to be settled, of individual rights, population, and contribution would be wholly useless.

The representation, though derived from parts, would be a duty which equally regarded the whole.

Each deputy to the Assembly would be the representative of France, and of all its descriptions, of the many and of the few, of the rich and of the poor, of the great districts and of the small.

All these districts would themselves be subordinate to some standing authority, existing independently of them, an authority in which their representation, and everything that belongs to it, originated, and to which it was pointed.

This standing, unalterable, fundamental government would make, and it is the only thing which could make, that territory truly and properly a whole.

With us, when we elect popular representatives, we send them to a council in which each man individually is a subject and submitted to a government complete in all its ordinary functions.

With you the elective Assembly is the sovereign, and the sole sovereign; all the members are therefore integral parts of this sole sovereignty.

But with us it is totally different.

With us the representative, separated from the other parts, can have no action and no existence.

The government is the point of reference of the several members and districts of our representation.

This is the center of our unity.

This government of reference is a trustee for the whole, and not for the parts.

So is the other branch of our public council, I mean the House of Lords.

With us the king and the lords are several and joint securities for the equality of each district, each province, each city.

When did you hear in Great Britain of any province suffering from the inequality of its representation, what district from having no representation at all?

Not only our monarchy and our peerage secure the equality on which our unity depends, but it is the spirit of the House of Commons itself.

The very inequality of representation, which is so foolishly complained of, is perhaps the very thing which prevents us from thinking or acting as members for districts.

Cornwall elects as many members as all Scotland.

But is Cornwall better taken care of than Scotland?

Few trouble their heads about any of your bases, out of some giddy clubs.

Most of those who wish for any change, upon any plausible grounds, desire it on different ideas.

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thelivyjr
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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr »

Your new constitution is the very reverse of ours in its principle; and I am astonished how any persons could dream of holding out anything done in it as an example for Great Britain.

With you there is little, or rather no, connection between the last representative and the first constituent.

The member who goes to the National Assembly is not chosen by the people, nor accountable to them.


There are three elections before he is chosen; two sets of magistracy intervene between him and the primary assembly, so as to render him, as I have said, an ambassador of a state, and not the representative of the people within a state.

By this the whole spirit of the election is changed, nor can any corrective which your constitution-mongers have devised render him anything else than what he is.

The very attempt to do it would inevitably introduce a confusion, if possible, more horrid than the present.

There is no way to make a connection between the original constituent and the representative, but by the circuitous means which may lead the candidate to apply in the first instance to the primary electors, in order that by their authoritative instructions (and something more perhaps) these primary electors may force the two succeeding bodies of electors to make a choice agreeable to their wishes.

But this would plainly subvert the whole scheme.

It would be to plunge them back into that tumult and confusion of popular election which, by their interposed gradation of elections, they mean to avoid, and at length to risk the whole fortune of the state with those who have the least knowledge of it and the least interest in it.

This is a perpetual dilemma into which they are thrown by the vicious, weak, and contradictory principles they have chosen.

Unless the people break up and level this gradation, it is plain that they do not at all substantially elect to the Assembly; indeed, they elect as little in appearance as reality.

What is it we all seek for in an election?

To answer its real purposes, you must first possess the means of knowing the fitness of your man; and then you must retain some hold upon him by personal obligation or dependence.

For what end are these primary electors complimented, or rather mocked, with a choice?

They can never know anything of the qualities of him that is to serve them, nor has he any obligation whatsoever to them.


Of all the powers unfit to be delegated by those who have any real means of judging, that most peculiarly unfit is what relates to a personal choice.

In case of abuse, that body of primary electors never can call the representative to an account for his conduct.

He is too far removed from them in the chain of representation.

If he acts improperly at the end of his two years' lease, it does not concern him for two years more.


By the new French constitution the best and the wisest representatives go equally with the worst into this Limbus Patrum.

Their bottoms are supposed foul, and they must go into dock to be refitted.

Every man who has served in an assembly is ineligible for two years after.

Just as these magistrates begin to learn their trade, like chimney sweepers, they are disqualified for exercising it.

Superficial, new, petulant acquisition, and interrupted, dronish, broken, ill recollection is to be the destined character of all your future governors.

Your constitution has too much of jealousy to have much of sense in it.

You consider the breach of trust in the representative so principally that you do not at all regard the question of his fitness to execute it.

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thelivyjr
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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr »

This purgatory interval is not unfavorable to a faithless representative, who may be as good a canvasser as he was a bad governor.

In this time he may cabal himself into a superiority over the wisest and most virtuous.

As in the end all the members of this elective constitution are equally fugitive and exist only for the election, they may be no longer the same persons who had chosen him, to whom he is to be responsible when he solicits for a renewal of his trust.

To call all the secondary electors of the Commune to account is ridiculous, impracticable, and unjust; they may themselves have been deceived in their choice, as the third set of electors, those of the Department, may be in theirs.

In your elections responsibility cannot exist.

FINDING NO SORT OF PRINCIPLE of coherence with each other in the nature and constitution of the several new republics of France, I considered what cement the legislators had provided for them from any extraneous materials.

Their confederations, their spectacles, their civic feasts, and their enthusiasm I take no notice of; they are nothing but mere tricks; but tracing their policy through their actions, I think I can distinguish the arrangements by which they propose to hold these republics together.

The first is the confiscation, with the compulsory paper currency annexed to it; the second is the supreme power of the city of Paris; the third is the general army of the state.

Of this last I shall reserve what I have to say until I come to consider the army as a head by itself.

As to the operation of the first (the confiscation and paper currency) merely as a cement, I cannot deny that these, the one depending on the other, may for some time compose some sort of cement if their madness and folly in the management, and in the tempering of the parts together, does not produce a repulsion in the very outset.

But allowing to the scheme some coherence and some duration, it appears to me that if, after a while, the confiscation should not be found sufficient to support the paper coinage (as I am morally certain it will not), then, instead of cementing, it will add infinitely to the dissociation, distraction, and confusion of these confederate republics, both with relation to each other and to the several parts within themselves.

But if the confiscation should so far succeed as to sink the paper currency, the cement is gone with the circulation.

In the meantime its binding force will be very uncertain, and it will straiten or relax with every variation in the credit of the paper.

One thing only is certain in this scheme, which is an effect seemingly collateral, but direct, I have no doubt, in the minds of those who conduct this business, that is, its effect in producing an oligarchy in every one of the republics.

A paper circulation, not founded on any real money deposited or engaged for, amounting already to forty-four millions of English money, and this currency by force substituted in the place of the coin of the kingdom, becoming thereby the substance of its revenue as well as the medium of all its commercial and civil intercourse, must put the whole of what power, authority, and influence is left, in any form whatsoever it may assume, into the hands of the managers and conductors of this circulation.

In England, we feel the influence of the Bank, though it is only the center of a voluntary dealing.

He knows little indeed of the influence of money upon mankind who does not see the force of the management of a monied concern which is so much more extensive and in its nature so much more depending on the managers than any of ours.

But this is not merely a money concern.

There is another member in the system inseparably connected with this money management.

It consists in the means of drawing out at discretion portions of the confiscated lands for sale, and carrying on a process of continual transmutation of paper into land, and land into paper.

When we follow this process in its effects, we may conceive something of the intensity of the force with which this system must operate.

By this means the spirit of money-jobbing and speculation goes into the mass of land itself and incorporates with it.

By this kind of operation that species of property becomes (as it were) volatilized; it assumes an unnatural and monstrous activity, and thereby throws into the hands of the several managers, principal and subordinate, Parisian and provincial, all the representative of money and perhaps a full tenth part of all the land in France, which has now acquired the worst and most pernicious part of the evil of a paper circulation, the greatest possible uncertainty in its value.


They have reversed the Latonian kindness to the landed property of Delos.

They have sent theirs to be blown about, like the light fragments of a wreck, oras et littora circum.

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thelivyjr
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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr »

The new dealers, being all habitually adventurers and without any fixed habits of local predilections, will purchase to job out again, as the market of paper or of money or of land shall present an advantage.

For though a holy bishop thinks that agriculture will derive great advantages from the "enlightened" usurers who are to purchase the church confiscations, I, who am not a good but an old farmer, with great humility beg leave to tell his late lordship that usury is not a tutor of agriculture; and if the word "enlightened" be understood according to the new dictionary, as it always is in your new schools, I cannot conceive how a man's not believing in God can teach him to cultivate the earth with the least of any additional skill or encouragement.


"Diis immortalibus sero", said an old Roman, when he held one handle of the plough, whilst Death held the other.

Though you were to join in the commission all the directors of the two academies to the directors of the Caisse d'Escompte, one old, experienced peasant is worth them all.

I have got more information upon a curious and interesting branch of husbandry, in one short conversation with an old Carthusian monk, than I have derived from all the Bank directors that I have ever conversed with.

However, there is no cause for apprehension from the meddling of money dealers with rural economy.

These gentlemen are too wise in their generation.

At first, perhaps, their tender and susceptible imaginations may be captivated with the innocent and unprofitable delights of a pastoral life; but in a little time they will find that agriculture is a trade much more laborious, and much less lucrative, than that which they had left.

After making its panegyric, they will turn their backs on it like their great precursor and prototype.

They may, like him, begin by singing "Beatus ille" but what will be the end?

Haec ubi locutus foenerator Alphius,
Jam jam futurus rusticus
Omnem redegit idibus pecuniam;
Quaerit calendis ponere.

They will cultivate the Caisse d'Eglise, under the sacred auspices of this prelate, with much more profit than its vineyards and its cornfields.

They will employ their talents according to their habits and their interests.

They will not follow the plough whilst they can direct treasuries and govern provinces.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

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Your legislators, in everything new, are the very first who have founded a commonwealth upon gaming, and infused this spirit into it as its vital breath.

The great object in these politics is to metamorphose France from a great kingdom into one great playtable; to turn its inhabitants into a nation of gamesters; to make speculation as extensive as life; to mix it with all its concerns and to divert the whole of the hopes and fears of the people from their usual channels into the impulses, passions, and superstitions of those who live on chances.


They loudly proclaim their opinion that this their present system of a republic cannot possibly exist without this kind of gaming fund, and that the very thread of its life is spun out of the staple of these speculations.

The old gaming in funds was mischievous enough, undoubtedly, but it was so only to individuals.

Even when it had its greatest extent, in the Mississippi and South Sea, it affected but few, comparatively; where it extends further, as in lotteries, the spirit has but a single object.

But where the law, which in most circumstances forbids, and in none countenances, gaming, is itself debauched so as to reverse its nature and policy and expressly to force the subject to this destructive table by bringing the spirit and symbols of gaming into the minutest matters and engaging everybody in it, and in everything, a more dreadful epidemic distemper of that kind is spread than yet has appeared in the world.

With you a man can neither earn nor buy his dinner without a speculation.

What he receives in the morning will not have the same value at night.

What he is compelled to take as pay for an old debt will not be received as the same when he comes to pay a debt contracted by himself, nor will it be the same when by prompt payment he would avoid contracting any debt at all.


Industry must wither away.

Economy must be driven from your country.

Careful provision will have no existence.

Who will labor without knowing the amount of his pay?

Who will study to increase what none can estimate?

Who will accumulate, when he does not know the value of what he saves?

If you abstract it from its uses in gaming, to accumulate your paper wealth would be not the providence of a man, but the distempered instinct of a jackdaw.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

Post by thelivyjr »

The truly melancholy part of the policy of systematically making a nation of gamesters is this, that though all are forced to play, few can understand the game; and fewer still are in a condition to avail themselves of the knowledge.

The many must be the dupes of the few who conduct the machine of these speculations.

What effect it must have on the country people is visible.

The townsman can calculate from day to day, not so the inhabitant of the country.

When the peasant first brings his corn to market, the magistrate in the towns obliges him to take the assignat at par; when he goes to the shop with his money, he finds it seven per cent the worse for crossing the way.


This market he will not readily resort to again.

The townspeople will be inflamed; they will force the country people to bring their corn.

Resistance will begin, and the murders of Paris and St. Denis may be renewed through all France.

What signifies the empty compliment paid to the country by giving it, perhaps, more than its share in the theory of your representation?

Where have you placed the real power over monied and landed circulation?

Where have you placed the means of raising and falling the value of every man's freehold?

Those whose operations can take from, or add ten per cent to, the possessions of every man in France must be the masters of every man in France.

The whole of the power obtained by this revolution will settle in the towns among the burghers and the monied directors who lead them.

The landed gentleman, the yeoman, and the peasant have, none of them, habits or inclinations or experience which can lead them to any share in this the sole source of power and influence now left in France.

The very nature of a country life, the very nature of landed property, in all the occupations, and all the pleasures they afford, render combination and arrangement (the sole way of procuring and exerting influence) in a manner impossible amongst country people.

Combine them by all the art you can, and all the industry, they are always dissolving into individuality.

Anything in the nature of incorporation is almost impracticable amongst them.

Hope, fear, alarm, jealousy, the ephemerous tale that does its business and dies in a day — all these things which are the reins and spurs by which leaders check or urge the minds of followers are not easily employed, or hardly at all, amongst scattered people.

They assemble, they arm, they act with the utmost difficulty and at the greatest charge.

Their efforts, if ever they can be commenced, cannot be sustained.

They cannot proceed systematically.

If the country gentlemen attempt an influence through the mere income of their property, what is it to that of those who have ten times their income to sell, and who can ruin their property by bringing their plunder to meet it at market?

If the landed man wishes to mortgage, he falls the value of his land and raises the value of assignats.

He augments the power of his enemy by the very means he must take to contend with him.

The country gentleman, therefore, the officer by sea and land, the man of liberal views and habits, attached to no profession, will be as completely excluded from the government of his country as if he were legislatively proscribed.

It is obvious that in the towns all things which conspire against the country gentleman combine in favor of the money manager and director.

In towns combination is natural.

The habits of burghers, their occupations, their diversion, their business, their idleness continually bring them into mutual contact.

Their virtues and their vices are sociable; they are always in garrison; and they come embodied and half disciplined into the hands of those who mean to form them for civil or military action.

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thelivyjr
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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

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All these considerations leave no doubt on my mind that, if this monster of a constitution can continue, France will be wholly governed by the agitators in corporations, by societies in the towns formed of directors of assignats, and trustees for the sale of church lands, attorneys, agents, money jobbers, speculators, and adventurers, composing an ignoble oligarchy founded on the destruction of the crown, the church, the nobility, and the people.

Here end all the deceitful dreams and visions of the equality and rights of men.


In the Serbonian bog of this base oligarchy they are all absorbed, sunk, and lost forever.

Though human eyes cannot trace them, one would be tempted to think some great offenses in France must cry to heaven, which has thought fit to punish it with a subjection to a vile and inglorious domination in which no comfort or compensation is to be found in any, even of those false, splendors which, playing about other tyrannies, prevent mankind from feeling themselves dishonored even whilst they are oppressed.

I must confess I am touched with a sorrow, mixed with some indignation, at the conduct of a few men, once of great rank and still of great character, who, deluded with specious names, have engaged in a business too deep for the line of their understanding to fathom; who have lent their fair reputation and the authority of their high-sounding names to the designs of men with whom they could not be acquainted, and have thereby made their very virtues operate to the ruin of their country.

So far as to the first cementing principle.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

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THE second material of cement for their new republic is the superiority of the city of Paris; and this I admit is strongly connected with the other cementing principle of paper circulation and confiscation.

It is in this part of the project we must look for the cause of the destruction of all the old bounds of provinces and jurisdictions, ecclesiastical and secular, and the dissolution of all ancient combinations of things, as well as the formation of so many small unconnected republics.

The power of the city of Paris is evidently one great spring of all their politics.

It is through the power of Paris, now become the center and focus of jobbing, that the leaders of this faction direct, or rather command, the whole legislative and the whole executive government.

Everything, therefore, must be done which can confirm the authority of that city over the other republics. Paris is compact; she has an enormous strength, wholly disproportioned to the force of any of the square republics; and this strength is collected and condensed within a narrow compass.

Paris has a natural and easy connection of its parts, which will not be affected by any scheme of a geometrical constitution, nor does it much signify whether its proportion of representation be more or less, since it has the whole draft of fishes in its dragnet.

The other divisions of the kingdom, being hackled and torn to pieces, and separated from all their habitual means and even principles of union, cannot, for some time at least, confederate against her.

Nothing was to be left in all the subordinate members but weakness, disconnection, and confusion.

To confirm this part of the plan, the Assembly has lately come to a resolution that no two of their republics shall have the same commander-in-chief.

To a person who takes a view of the whole, the strength of Paris, thus formed, will appear a system of general weakness.

It is boasted that the geometrical policy has been adopted, that all local ideas should be sunk, and that the people should no longer be Gascons, Picards, Bretons, Normans, but Frenchmen, with one country, one heart, and one Assembly.

But instead of being all Frenchmen, the greater likelihood is that the inhabitants of that region will shortly have no country.

No man ever was attached by a sense of pride, partiality, or real affection to a description of square measurement.

He never will glory in belonging to the Chequer No. 71, or to any other badge-ticket.

We begin our public affections in our families.

No cold relation is a zealous citizen.

We pass on to our neighborhoods and our habitual provincial connections.

These are inns and resting places.

Such divisions of our country as have been formed by habit, and not by a sudden jerk of authority, were so many little images of the great country in which the heart found something which it could fill.

The love to the whole is not extinguished by this subordinate partiality.

Perhaps it is a sort of elemental training to those higher and more large regards by which alone men come to be affected, as with their own concern, in the prosperity of a kingdom so extensive as that of France.

In that general territory itself, as in the old name of provinces, the citizens are interested from old prejudices and unreasoned habits, and not on account of the geometric properties of its figure.

The power and pre-eminence of Paris does certainly press down and hold these republics together as long as it lasts.

But, for the reasons I have already given you, I think it cannot last very long.

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Re: EDMUND BURKE ON FRENCH REVOLUTION

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Passing from the civil creating and the civil cementing principles of this constitution to the National Assembly, which is to appear and act as sovereign, we see a body in its constitution with every possible power, and no possible external control.

We see a body without fundamental laws, without established maxims, without respected rules of proceeding, which nothing can keep firm to any system whatsoever.


Their idea of their powers is always taken at the utmost stretch of legislative competence, and their examples for common cases from the exceptions of the most urgent necessity.

The future is to be in most respects like the present Assembly; but, by the mode of the new elections and the tendency of the new circulations, it will be purged of the small degree of internal control existing in a minority chosen originally from various interests, and preserving something of their spirit.

If possible, the next Assembly must be worse than the present.

The present, by destroying and altering everything, will leave to their successors apparently nothing popular to do.

They will be roused by emulation and example to enterprises the boldest and the most absurd.

To suppose such an Assembly sitting in perfect quietude is ridiculous.

Your all-sufficient legislators, in their hurry to do everything at once, have forgotten one thing that seems essential, and which I believe never has been before, in the theory or the practice, omitted by any projector of a republic.

They have forgotten to constitute a senate or something of that nature and character.

Never before this time was heard of a body politic composed of one legislative and active assembly, and its executive officers, without such a council, without something to which foreign states might connect themselves; something to which, in the ordinary detail of government, the people could look up; something which might give a bias and steadiness and preserve something like consistency in the proceedings of state.

Such a body kings generally have as a council.

A monarchy may exist without it, but it seems to be in the very essence of a republican government.

It holds a sort of middle place between the supreme power exercised by the people, or immediately delegated from them, and the mere executive.

Of this there are no traces in your constitution, and in providing nothing of this kind your Solons and Numas have, as much as in anything else, discovered a sovereign incapacity.

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