The present age is not merely
an epoch of discovery; it is also a
period of revision of the various elements of knowledge. Having
recognised that there are no phenomena of which the first cause
is still accessible, science has resumed the examination of her
ancient certitudes, and has proved their fragility. To-day she
sees her ancient principles vanishing one by one. Mechanics is
losing its axioms, and matter, formerly the eternal substratum of
the worlds, becomes a simple aggregate of ephemeral forces in
Despite its conjectural side, by virtue of which it to some
extent escapes the severest form of criticism, history has not
been free from this universal revision. There is no longer a
single one of its phases of which we can say that it is certainly
known. What appeared to be definitely acquired is now once more
put in question.
Among the events whose study seemed completed was the French
Revolution. Analysed by several generations of writers, one
might suppose it to be perfectly elucidated. What new thing can
be said of it, except in modification of some of its details?
And yet its most positive defenders are beginning to hesitate in
their judgments. Ancient evidence proves to be far from
impeccable. The faith in dogmas once held sacred is shaken. The
latest literature of the Revolution betrays these uncertainties.
Having related, men are more and more chary of drawing
Not only are the heroes of this great drama discussed without
indulgence, but thinkers are asking whether the new dispensation
which followed the ancien regime would not have established
itself naturally, without violence, in the course of progressive
civilisation. The results obtained no longer seem in
correspondence either with their immediate cost or with the
remoter consequences which the Revolution evoked from the
possibilities of history.
Several causes have led to the revision of this tragic period.
Time has calmed passions, numerous documents have gradually
emerged from the archives, and the historian is learning to
interpret them independently.
But it is perhaps modern psychology that has most effectually
influenced our ideas, by enabling us more surely to read men and
the motives of their conduct.
Among those of its discoveries which are henceforth applicable to
history we must mention, above all, a more profound understanding
of ancestral influences, the laws which rule the actions of the
crowd, data relating to the disaggregation of personality, mental
contagion, the unconscious formation of beliefs, and the
distinction between the various forms of logic.
To tell the truth, these applications of science, which are
utilised in this book, have not been so utilised hitherto.
Historians have generally stopped short at the study of
documents, and even that study is sufficient to excite the doubts
of which I have spoken.
The great events which shape the destinies of peoples--
revolutions, for example, and the outbreak of religious beliefs--
are sometimes so difficult to explain that one must limit oneself
to a mere statement.
From the time of my first historical researches I have been
struck by the impenetrable aspect of certain essential phenomena,
those relating to the genesis of beliefs especially; I felt
convinced that something fundamental was lacking that was
essential to their interpretation. Reason having said all it
could say, nothing more could be expected of it, and other means
must be sought of comprehending what had not been elucidated.
For a long time these important questions remained obscure to me.
Extended travel, devoted to the study of the remnants of vanished
civilisations, had not done much to throw light upon them.
Reflecting upon it continually, I was forced to recognise that
the problem was composed of a series of other problems, which I
should have to study separately. This I did for a period of
twenty years, presenting the results of my researches in a
succession of volumes.
One of the first was devoted to the study of the psychological
laws of the evolution of peoples. Having shown that the
historic races--that is, the races formed by the hazards of
history--finally acquired psychological characteristics as stable
as their anatomical characteristics, I attempted to explain how a
people transforms its institutions, its languages, and its arts.
I explained in the same work why it was that individual
personalities, under the influence of sudden variations of
environment, might be entirely disaggregated.
But besides the fixed collectivities formed by the peoples, there
are mobile and transitory collectivities known as crowds. Now
these crowds or mobs, by the aid of which the great movements of
history are accomplished, have characteristics absolutely
different from those of the individuals who compose them. What
are these characteristics, and how are they evolved? This new
problem was examined in The Psychology of the Crowd.
Only after these studies did I begin to perceive certain
influences which had escaped me.
But this was not all. Among the most important factors of
history one was preponderant--the factor of beliefs. How are
these beliefs born, and are they really rational and voluntary,
as was long taught? Are they not rather unconscious and
independent of all reason? A difficult question, which I dealt
with in my last book, Opinions and Beliefs.
So long as psychology regards beliefs as voluntary and rational
they will remain inexplicable. Having proved that they are
usually irrational and always involuntary, I was able to propound
the solution of this important problem; how it was that beliefs
which no reason could justify were admitted without
difficulty by the most enlightened spirits of all ages.
The solution of the historical difficulties which had so long
been sought was thenceforth obvious. I arrived at the conclusion
that beside the rational logic which conditions thought, and was
formerly regarded as our sole guide, there exist very different
forms of logic: affective logic, collective logic, and mystic
logic, which usually overrule the reason and engender the
generative impulses of our conduct.
This fact well established, it seemed to me evident that if a
great number of historical events are often uncomprehended, it is
because we seek to interpret them in the light of a logic which
in reality has very little influence upon their genesis.
All these researches, which are here summed up in a few lines,
demanded long years for their accomplishment. Despairing of
completing them, I abandoned them more than once to return to
those labours of the laboratory in which one is always sure of
skirting the truth and of acquiring fragments at least of
But while it is very interesting to explore the world of material
phenomena, it is still more so to decipher men, for which reason
I have always been led back to psychology.
Certain principles deduced from my researches appearing likely to
prove fruitful, I resolved to apply them to the study of concrete
instances, and was thus led to deal with the Psychology of
Revolutions--notably that of the French Revolution.
Proceeding in the analysis of our great Revolution, the
greater part of the opinions determined by the reading of books
deserted me one by one, although I had considered them
To explain this period we must consider it as a whole, as many
historians have done. It is composed of phenomena simultaneous
but independent of one another.
Each of its phases reveals events engendered by psychological
laws working with the regularity of clockwork. The actors in
this great drama seem to move like the characters of a previously
determined drama. Each says what he must say, acts as he is
bound to act.
To be sure, the actors in the revolutionary drama differed from
those of a written drama in that they had not studied their
parts, but these were dictated by invisible forces.
Precisely because they were subjected to the inevitable
progression of logics incomprehensible to them we see them as
greatly astonished by the events of which they were the heroes as
are we ourselves. Never did they suspect the invisible powers
which forced them to act. They were the masters neither of their
fury nor their weakness. They spoke in the name of reason,
pretending to be guided by reason, but in reality it was by no
means reason that impelled them.
``The decisions for which we are so greatly reproached,'' wrote
Billaud-Varenne, ``were more often than otherwise not intended or
desired by us two days or even one day beforehand: the crisis
alone evoked them.''
Not that we must consider the events of the Revolution as
dominated by an imperious fatality. The readers of our works
will know that we recognise in the man of superior qualities the
role of averting fatalities. But he can dissociate himself
only from a few of such, and is often powerless before the
sequence of events which even at their origin could scarcely be
ruled. The scientist knows how to destroy the microbe before it
has time to act, but he knows himself powerless to prevent the
evolution of the resulting malady.
When any question gives rise to violently contradictory opinions
we may be sure that it belongs to the province of beliefs and not
to that of knowledge.
We have shown in a preceding work that belief, of unconscious
origin and independent of all reason, can never be influenced by
The Revolution, the work of believers, has seldom been judged by
any but believers. Execrated by some and praised by others, it
has remained one of those dogmas which are accepted or rejected
as a whole, without the intervention of rational logic.
Although in its beginnings a religious or political revolution
may very well be supported by rational elements, it is developed
only by the aid of mystic and affective elements which are
absolutely foreign to reason.
The historians who have judged the events of the French
Revolution in the name of rational logic could not comprehend
them, since this form of logic did not dictate them. As the
actors of these events themselves understood them but ill, we
shall not be far from the truth in saying that our
Revolution was a phenomenon equally misunderstood by those
who caused it and by those who have described it. At no period
of history did men so little grasp the present, so greatly ignore
the past, and so poorly divine the future.
. . . The power of the Revolution did not reside in the
principles--which for that matter were anything but novel--which
it sought to propagate, nor in the institutions which it sought
to found. The people cares very little for institutions and even
less for doctrines. That the Revolution was potent indeed, that
it made France accept the violence, the murders, the ruin and the
horror of a frightful civil war, that finally it defended itself
victoriously against a Europe in arms, was due to the fact that
it had founded not a new system of government but a new religion.
Now history shows us how irresistible is the might of a strong
nomad shepherds illuminated by the faith of Mahommed. For the
same reason the kings of
tatterdemalion soldiers of the Convention. Like all apostles,
they were ready to immolate themselves in the sole end of
propagating their beliefs, which according to their dream were to
renew the world.
The religion thus founded had the force of other religions, if
not their duration. Yet it did not perish without leaving
indelible traces, and its influence is active still.
We shall not consider the Revolution as a clean sweep in
history, as its apostles believed it. We know that to
demonstrate their intention of creating a world distinct from the
old they initiated a new era and professed to break entirely with
all vestiges of the past.
But the past never dies. It is even more truly within us than
without us. Against their will the reformers of the Revolution
remained saturated with the past, and could only continue, under
other names, the traditions of the monarchy, even exaggerating
the autocracy and centralisation of the old system. Tocqueville
had no difficulty in proving that the Revolution did little but
overturn that which was about to fall.
If in reality the Revolution destroyed but little it favoured the
fruition of certain ideas which continued thenceforth to develop.
The fraternity and liberty which it proclaimed never greatly
seduced the peoples, but equality became their gospel: the pivot
of socialism and of the entire evolution of modern democratic
ideas. We may therefore say that the Revolution did not end with
the advent of the Empire, nor with the successive restorations
which followed it. Secretly or in the light of day it has slowly
unrolled itself and still affects men's minds.
The study of the French Revolution to which a great part of this
book is devoted will perhaps deprive the reader of more than one
illusion, by proving to him that the books which recount the
history of the Revolution contain in reality a mass of legends
very remote from reality.
These legends will doubtless retain more life than history
itself. Do not regret this too greatly. It may interest a few
philosophers to know the truth, but the peoples will always
prefer dreams. Synthetising their ideal, such dreams will always
constitute powerful motives of action. One would lose courage
were it not sustained by false ideas, said Fontenelle. Joan of
Arc, the Giants of the Convention, the Imperial epic--all these
dazzling images of the past will always remain sources of hope in
the gloomy hours that follow defeat. They form part of that
patrimony of illusions left us by our fathers, whose power is
often greater than that of reality. The dream, the ideal, the
legend--in a word, the unreal--it is that which shapes history.
OF REVOLUTIONS We generally apply the term revolution to sudden political
changes, but the expression may be employed to denote all sudden
transformations, or transformations apparently sudden, whether of
beliefs, ideas, or doctrines.
We have considered elsewhere the part played by the rational,
affective, and mystic factors in the genesis of the opinions and
beliefs which determine conduct. We need not therefore return to
the subject here.
A revolution may finally become a belief, but it often commences
under the action of perfectly rational motives: the suppression
of crying abuses, of a detested despotic government, or an
unpopular sovereign, &c.
Although the origin of a revolution may be perfectly rational, we
must not forget that the reasons invoked in preparing for it do
not influence the crowd until they have been transformed
into sentiments. Rational logic can point to the abuses to be
destroyed, but to move the multitude its hopes must be awakened.
This can only be effected by the action of the affective and
mystic elements which give man the power to act. At the time of
the French Revolution, for example, rational logic, in the hands
of the philosophers, demonstrated the inconveniences of the
ancien regime, and excited the desire to change it. Mystic
logic inspired belief in the virtues of a society created in all
its members according to certain principles. Affective logic
unchained the passions confined by the bonds of ages and led to
the worst excesses. Collective logic ruled the clubs and the
Assemblies and impelled their members to actions which neither
rational nor affective nor mystic logic would ever have caused
them to commit.
Whatever its origin, a revolution is not productive of results
until it has sunk into the soul of the multitude. Then events
acquire special forms resulting from the peculiar psychology of
crowds. Popular movements for this reason have characteristics
so pronounced that the description of one will enable us to
comprehend the others.
The multitude is, therefore, the agent of a revolution; but not
its point of departure. The crowd represents an amorphous being
which can do nothing, and will nothing, without a head to lead
it. It will quickly exceed the impulse once received, but it
never creates it.
The sudden political revolutions which strike the historian most
forcibly are often the least important. The great revolutions
are those of manners and thought. Changing the name of a
government does not transform the mentality of a people. To
overthrow the institutions of a people is not to re-shape its
The true revolutions, those which transform the destinies of the
peoples, are most frequently accomplished so slowly that the
historians can hardly point to their beginnings. The term
evolution is, therefore, far more appropriate than revolution.
The various elements we have enumerated as entering into the
genesis of the majority of revolutions will not suffice to
classify them. Considering only the designed object, we will
divide them into scientific revolutions, political revolutions,
and religious revolutions.
<>SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTIONS Scientific revolutions are by far the most important. Although
they attract but little attention, they are often fraught with
remote consequences, such as are not engendered by political
revolutions. We will therefore put them first, although we
cannot study them here.
For instance, if our conceptions of the universe have profoundly
changed since the time of the Revolution, it is because
astronomical discoveries and the application of experimental
methods have revolutionised them, by demonstrating that
phenomena, instead of being conditioned by the caprices of the
gods, are ruled by invariable laws.
Such revolutions are fittingly spoken of as evolution, on account
of their slowness. But there are others which, although of the
same order, deserve the name of revolution by reason of their
rapidity: we may instance the theories of Darwin,
overthrowing the whole science of biology in a few years; the
discoveries of Pasteur, which revolutionised medicine during the
lifetime of their author; and the theory of the dissociation of
matter, proving that the atom, formerly supposed to be eternal,
is not immune from the laws which condemn all the elements of the
universe to decline and perish.
These scientific revolutions in the domain of ideas are purely
intellectual. Our sentiments and beliefs do not affect them.
Men submit to them without discussing them. Their results being
controllable by experience, they escape all criticism.
<>POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS Beneath and very remote from these scientific revolutions, which
generate the progress of civilisations, are the religious and
political revolutions, which have no kinship with them. While
scientific revolutions derive solely from rational elements,
political and religious beliefs are sustained almost exclusively
by affective and mystic factors. Reason plays only a feeble part
in their genesis.
I insisted at some length in my book Opinions and Beliefs on
the affective and mystic origin of beliefs, showing that a
political or religious belief constitutes an act of faith
elaborated in unconsciousness, over which, in spite of all
appearances, reason has no hold. I also showed that belief often
reaches such a degree of intensity that nothing can be opposed to
it. The man hypnotised by his faith becomes an Apostle, ready to
sacrifice his interests, his happiness, and even his life for the
triumph of his faith. The absurdity of his belief matters
little; for him it is a burning reality. Certitudes of mystic
origin possess the marvellous power of entire domination over
thought, and can only be affected by time.
By the very fact that it is regarded as an absolute truth a
belief necessarily becomes intolerant. This explains the
violence, hatred, and persecution which were the habitual
accompaniments of the great political and religious revolutions,
notably of the Reformation and the French Revolution.
Certain periods of French history remain incomprehensible if we
forget the affective and mystic origin of beliefs, their
necessary intolerance, the impossibility of reconciling them when
they come into mutual contact, and, finally, the power conferred
by mystic beliefs upon the sentiments which place themselves at
The foregoing conceptions are too novel as yet to have modified
the mentality of the historians. They will continue to attempt
to explain, by means of rational logic, a host of phenomena which
are foreign to it.
Events such as the Reformation, which overwhelmed
period of fifty years, were in no wise determined by rational
influences. Yet rational influences are always invoked in
explanation, even in the most recent works. Thus, in the
General History of Messrs. Lavisse and Rambaud, we read the
following explanation of the Reformation:--
``It was a spontaneous movement, born here and there amidst the
people, from the reading of the Gospels and the free individual
reflections which were suggested to simple persons by an
extremely pious conscience and a very bold reasoning power.''
Contrary to the assertion of these historians, we may say with
certainty, in the first place, that such movements are never
spontaneous, and secondly, that reason takes no part in their
The force of the political and religious beliefs which have moved
the world resides precisely in the fact that, being born of
affective and mystic elements, they are neither created nor
directed by reason.
Political or religious beliefs have a common origin and obey the
same laws. They are formed not with the aid of reason, but more
often contrary to all reason. Buddhism, Islamism, the
Reformation, Jacobinism, Socialism, &c., seem very different
forms of thought. Yet they have identical affective and mystic
bases, and obey a logic that has no affinity with rational logic.
Political revolutions may result from beliefs established in the
minds of men, but many other causes produce them. The word
discontent sums them up. As soon as discontent is generalised a
party is formed which often becomes strong enough to struggle
against the Government.
Discontent must generally have been accumulating for a long time
in order to produce its effects. For this reason a revolution
does not always represent a phenomenon in process of termination
followed by another which is commencing but rather a continuous
phenomenon, having somewhat accelerated its evolution. All the
modern revolutions, however, have been abrupt movements,
entailing the instantaneous overthrow of governments. Such, for
example, were the Brazilian, Portuguese, Turkish, and Chinese
To the contrary of what might be supposed, the very conservative
peoples are addicted to the most violent revolutions. Being
conservative, they are not able to evolve slowly, or to adapt
themselves to variations of environment, so that when the
discrepancy becomes too extreme they are bound to adapt
themselves suddenly. This sudden evolution constitutes a
Peoples able to adapt themselves progressively do not always
escape revolution. It was only by means of a revolution that the
English, in 1688, were able to terminate the struggle which had
dragged on for a century between the monarchy, which sought to
make itself absolute, and the nation, which claimed the right to
govern itself through the medium of its representatives.
The great revolutions have usually commenced from the top, not
from the bottom; but once the people is unchained it is to the
people that revolution owes its might.
It is obvious that revolutions have never taken place, and will
never take place, save with the aid of an important fraction of
the army. Royalty did not disappear in
Louis XVI. was guillotined, but at the precise moment when his
mutinous troops refused to defend him.
It is more particularly by mental contagion that armies become
disaffected, being indifferent enough at heart to the established
order of things. As soon as the coalition of a few officers had
succeeded in overthrowing the Turkish Government the Greek
officers thought to imitate them and to change their government,
although there was no analogy between the two regimes.
A military movement may overthrow a government--and in the
Spanish republics the Government is hardly ever destroyed by any
other means--but if the revolution is to be productive of great
results it must always be based upon general discontent and
Unless it is universal and excessive, discontent alone is not
sufficient to bring about a revolution. It is easy to lead a
handful of men to pillage, destroy, and massacre, but to raise a
whole people, or any great portion of that people, calls for the
continuous or repeated action of leaders. These exaggerate the
discontent; they persuade the discontented that the government is
the sole cause of all the trouble, especially of the prevailing
dearth, and assure men that the new system proposed by them will
engender an age of felicity. These ideas germinate, propagating
themselves by suggestion and contagion, and the moment arrives
when the revolution is ripe.
In this fashion the Christian Revolution and the French
Revolution were prepared. That the latter was effected in a few
years, while the first required many, was due to the fact that
the French Revolution promptly had an armed force at its
disposal, while Christianity was long in winning material power.
In the beginning its only adepts were the lowly, the poor, and
the slaves, filled with enthusiasm by the prospect of seeing
their miserable life transformed into an eternity of delight. By
a phenomenon of contagion from below, of which history affords us
more than one example, the doctrine finally invaded the upper
strata of the nation, but it was a long time before an
emperor considered the new faith sufficiently widespread to be
adopted as the official religion.
<>THE RESULTS OF POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS When a political party is triumphant it naturally seeks to
organise society in accordance with its interests. The
organisation will differ accordingly as the revolution has been
effected by the soldiers, the Radicals, or the Conservatives, &c.
The new laws and institutions will depend on the interests of the
triumphant party and of the classes which have assisted it--the
clergy for instance.
If the revolution has triumphed only after a violent struggle, as
was the case with the French Revolution, the victors will reject
at one sweep the whole arsenal of the old law. The supporters of
the fallen regime will be persecuted, exiled, or exterminated.
The maximum of violence in these persecutions is attained when
the triumphant party is defending a belief in addition to its
material interests. Then the conquered need hope for no pity.
Thus may be explained the expulsion of the Moors from
autodafes of the Inquisition, the executions of the
Convention, and the recent laws against the religious
The absolute power which is assumed by the victors leads them
sometimes to extreme measures, such as the Convention's decree
that gold was to be replaced by paper, that goods were to be sold
at determined prices, &c. Very soon it runs up against a wall of
unavoidable necessities, which turn opinion against its tyranny,
and finally leave it defenceless before attack, as befell at the
end of the French Revolution. The same thing happened
recently to a Socialist Australian ministry composed almost
exclusively of working-men. It enacted laws so absurd, and
accorded such privileges to the trade unions, that public opinion
rebelled against it so unanimously that in three months it was
But the cases we have considered are exceptional. The majority
of revolutions have been accomplished in order to place a new
sovereign in power. Now this sovereign knows very well that the
first condition of maintaining his power consists in not too
exclusively favouring a single class, but in seeking to
conciliate all. To do this he will establish a sort of
equilibrium between them, so as not to be dominated by any one of
these classes. To allow one class to become predominant is to
condemn himself presently to accept that class as his master.
This law is one of the most certain of political psychology. The
energetically against the encroachments first of the nobility and
then of the clergy. If they had not done so their fate would
have been that of the German Emperors of the Middle Ages, who,
excommunicated by the Pope, were reduced, like Henry IV. at
This same law has continually been verified during the course of
history. When at the end of the
became preponderant, the emperors depended entirely upon their
soldiers, who appointed and deposed them at will.
It was therefore a great advantage for
long governed by a monarch almost absolute, supposed to
hold his power by divine right, and surrounded therefore by a
considerable prestige. Without such an authority he could have
controlled neither the feudal nobility, nor the clergy, nor the
century, had also possessed an absolute and respected monarchy,
she would not have descended the path of decadence which led to
her disappearance from the map of
We have shewn in this chapter that political revolutions may be
accompanied by important social transformations. We shall soon
see how slight are these transformations compared to those
produced by religious revolutions.
IMPORTANCE OF THE STUDY OF RELIGIOUS REVOLUTIONS IN RESPECT OF THE
COMPREHENSION OF THE GREAT POLITICAL REVOLUTIONS A portion of this work
will be devoted to the French Revolution.
It was full of acts of violence which naturally had their
These exceptional events will always fill us with astonishment,
and we even feel them to be inexplicable. They become
comprehensible, however, if we consider that the French
Revolution, constituting a new religion, was bound to obey the
laws which condition the propagation of all beliefs. Its fury
and its hecatombs will then become intelligible.
In studying the history of a great religious revolution, that of
the Reformation, we shall see that a number of psychological
elements which figured therein were equally active during the
French Revolution. In both we observe the insignificant bearing
of the rational value of a belief upon its propagation, the
inefficacy of persecution, the impossibility of tolerance between
contrary beliefs, and the violence and the desperate struggles
resulting from the conflict of different faiths. We also observe
the exploitation of a belief by interests quite independent
of that belief. Finally we see that it is impossible to modify
the convictions of men without also modifying their existence.
These phenomena verified, we shall see plainly why the gospel of
the Revolution was propagated by the same methods as all the
religious gospels, notably that of Calvin. It could not have
been propagated otherwise.
But although there are close analogies between the genesis of a
religious revolution, such as the Reformation, and that of a
great political revolution like our own, their remote
consequences are very different, which explains the difference of
duration which they display. In religious revolutions no
experience can reveal to the faithful that they are deceived,
since they would have to go to heaven to make the discovery. In
political revolutions experience quickly demonstrates the error
of a false doctrine and forces men to abandon it.
Thus at the end of the Directory the application of Jacobin
beliefs had led France to such a degree of ruin, poverty, and
despair that the wildest Jacobins themselves had to renounce
their system. Nothing survived of their theories except a few
principles which cannot be verified by experience, such as the
universal happiness which equality should bestow upon humanity.
<>THE BEGINNINGS OF THE REFORMATION AND ITS FIRST DISCIPLES The Reformation was finally to exercise a profound influence upon
the sentiments and moral ideas of a great proportion of mankind.
Modest in its beginnings, it was at first a simple struggle
against the abuses of the clergy, and, from a practical point of
view, a return to the prescriptions of the Gospel. It never
constituted, as has been claimed, an aspiration towards freedom
of thought. Calvin was as intolerant as Robespierre, and all the
theorists of the age considered that the religion of subjects
must be that of the prince who governed them. Indeed in every
country where the Reformation was established the sovereign
replaced the Pope of Rome, with the same rights and the same
the new faith spread slowly enough at first. It was about 1520
that Luther recruited a few adepts, and only towards 1535 was the
new belief sufficiently widespread for men to consider it
necessary to burn its disciples.
In conformity with a well-known psychological law, these
executions merely favoured the propagation of the Reformation.
Its first followers included priests and magistrates, but were
principally obscure artisans. Their conversion was effected
almost exclusively by mental contagion and suggestion.
As soon as a new belief extends itself, we see grouped round it
many persons who are indifferent to the belief, but who find in
it a pretext or opportunity for gratifying their passions or
their greed. This phenomenon was observed at the time of the
Reformation in many countries, notably in
Luther having taught that the clergy had no need of wealth, the
German lords found many merits in a faith which enabled them to
seize upon the goods of the Church. Henry VIII. enriched
himself by a similar operation. Sovereigns who were often
molested by the Pope could as a rule only look favourably upon a
doctrine which added religious powers to their political powers
and made each of them a Pope. Far from diminishing the
absolutism of rulers, the Reformation only exaggerated it.
<>RATIONAL VALUE OF THE DOCTRINES OF THE REFORMATION The Reformation overturned all Europe, and came near to ruining
France, of which it made a battle-field for a period of fifty
years. Never did a cause so insignificant from the rational
point of view produce such great results.
Here is one of the innumerable proofs of the fact that beliefs
are propagated independently of all reason. The theological
doctrines which aroused men's passions so violently, and notably
those of Calvin, are not even worthy of examination in the light
of rational logic.
Greatly concerned about his salvation, having an excessive fear
of the devil, which his confessor was unable to allay, Luther
sought the surest means of pleasing God that he might avoid Hell.
Having commenced by denying the Pope the right to sell
indulgences, he presently entirely denied his authority, and that
of the Church, condemned religious ceremonies, confession, and
the worship of the saints, and declared that Christians should
have no rules of conduct other than the Bible. He also
considered that no one could be saved without the grace of God.
This last theory, known as that of predestination, was in Luther
rather uncertain, but was stated precisely by Calvin, who made it
the very foundation of a doctrine to which the majority of
Protestants are still subservient. According to him: ``From
all eternity God has predestined certain men to be burned and
others to be saved.'' Why this monstrous iniquity? Simply
because ``it is the will of God.''
Thus according to Calvin, who for that matter merely developed
certain assertions of St. Augustine, an all-powerful God would
amuse Himself by creating living beings simply in order to burn
them during all eternity, without paying any heed to their acts
or merits. It is marvellous that such revolting insanity could
for such a length of time subjugate so many minds--marvellous
that it does so still.
 The doctrine of predestination is still taught in Protestant
catechisms, as is proved by the following passage extracted from
the last edition of an official catechism for which I sent to
``By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some
men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and
others foreordained to everlasting death.
``These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are
particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so
certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or
``Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before
the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal
and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure
of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of
His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or
good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing
in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto;
and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
``As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the
eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the
means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in
Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith
in Christ by His spirit working in due season; are justified,
adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power through faith unto
salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually
called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect
The psychology of Calvin is not without affinity with that of
Robespierre. Like the latter, the master of the pure truth, he
sent to death those who would not accept his doctrines. God, he
stated, wishes ``that one should put aside all humanity when it
is a question of striving for his glory.''
The case of Calvin and his disciples shows that matters which
rationally are the most contradictory become perfectly reconciled
in minds which are hypnotised by a belief. In the eyes of
rational logic, it seems impossible to base a morality upon the
theory of predestination, since whatever they do men are sure of
being either saved or damned. However, Calvin had no difficulty
in erecting a most severe morality upon this totally illogical
basis. Considering themselves the elect of God, his disciples
were so swollen by pride and the sense of their own dignity that
they felt obliged to serve as models in their conduct.
<>PROPAGATION OF THE REFORMATION The new faith was propagated not by speech, still less by process
of reasoning, but by the mechanism described in our preceding
work: that is, by the influence of affirmation, repetition,
mental contagion, and prestige. At a much later date
revolutionary ideas were spread over
Persecution, as we have already remarked, only favoured this
propagation. Each execution led to fresh conversions, as was
seen in the early years of the Christian Church. Anne Dubourg,
Parliamentary councillor, condemned to be burned alive, marched
to the stake exhorting the crowd to be converted. ``His
constancy,'' says a witness, ``made more Protestants among the
young men of the colleges than the books of Calvin.''
To prevent the condemned from speaking to the people their
tongues were cut out before they were burned. The horror of
their sufferings was increased by attaching the victims to an
iron chain, which enabled the executioners to plunge them into
the fire and withdraw them several times in succession.
But nothing induced the Protestants to retract, even the offer of
an amnesty after they had felt the fire.
In 1535 Francis I., forsaking his previous tolerance, ordered six
fires to be lighted simultaneously in
we know, limited itself to a single guillotine in the same city.
It is probable that the sufferings of the victims were not very
excruciating; the insensibility of the Christian martyrs had
already been remarked. Believers are hypnotised by their faith,
and we know to-day that certain forms of hypnotism engender
The new faith progressed rapidly. In 1560 there were two
thousand reformed churches in
first indifferent enough, adhered to the new doctrine.
<>CONFLICT BETWEEN DIFFERENT RELIGIOUS BELIEFS--IMPOSSIBILITY OF TOLERANCE I have already stated that intolerance is always an accompaniment
of powerful religious beliefs. Political and religious
revolutions furnish us with numerous proofs of this fact, and
show us also that the mutual intolerance of sectaries of the same
religion is always much greater than that of the defenders
of remote and alien faiths, such as Islamism and Christianity.
In fact, if we consider the faiths for whose sake France was so
long rent asunder, we shall find that they did not differ on any
but accessory points. Catholics and Protestants adored exactly
the same God, and only differed in their manner of adoring Him.
If reason had played the smallest part in the elaboration of
their belief, it could easily have proved to them that it must be
quite indifferent to God whether He sees men adore Him in this
fashion or in that.
Reason being powerless to affect the brain of the convinced,
Protestants and Catholics continued their ferocious conflicts.
All the efforts of their sovereigns to reconcile them were in
vain. Catherine de Medicis, seeing the party of the Reformed
Church increasing day by day in spite of persecution, and
attracting a considerable number of nobles and magistrates,
thought to disarm them by convoking at Poissy, in 1561, an
assembly of bishops and pastors with the object of fusing the two
doctrines. Such an enterprise indicated that the queen, despite
her subtlety, knew nothing of the laws of mystic logic. Not in
all history can one cite an example of a belief destroyed or
reduced by means of refutation. Catherine did not even know that
although toleration is with difficulty possible between
individuals, it is impossible between collectivities. Her
attempt failed completely. The assembled theologians hurled
texts and insults at one another's heads, but no one was moved.
Catherine thought to succeed better in 1562 by promulgating an
edict according Protestants the right to unite in the public
celebration of their cult.
This tolerance, very admirable from a philosophical point of
view, but not at all wise from the political standpoint, had no
other result beyond exasperating both parties. In the
where the Protestants were strongest, they persecuted the
Catholics, sought to convert them by violence, cut their throats
if they did not succeed, and sacked their cathedrals. In the
regions where the Catholics were more numerous the Reformers
suffered like persecutions.
Such hostilities as these inevitably engendered civil war. Thus
arose the so-called religious wars, which so long spilled the
massacred, and the struggle rapidly assumed that special quality
of ferocity peculiar to religious or political conflicts, which,
at a later date, was to reappear in the wars of La Vendee.
Old men, women, and children, all were exterminated. A certain
Baron d'Oppede, first president of the Parliament of Aix, had
already set an example by killing 3,000 persons in the space of
ten days, with refinements of cruelty, and destroying three
cities and twenty-two villages. Montluc, a worthy forerunner of
Carrier, had the Calvinists thrown living into the wells until
these were full. The Protestants were no more humane. They did
not spare even the Catholic churches, and treated the tombs and
statues just as the delegates of the Convention were to treat the
royal tombs of Saint Denis.
Under the influence of these conflicts
disintegrated, and at the end of the reign of Henri III. was
parcelled out into veritable little confederated municipal
republics, forming so many sovereign states. The royal power was
vanishing. The States of Blois claimed to dictate their wishes
to Henri III., who had fled from his capital. In 1577 the
traveller Lippomano, who traversed France, saw important cities--
Orleans, Tours, Blois, Poitiers--entirely devastated, the
cathedrals and churches in ruins, and the tombs shattered. This
was almost the state of
Among the events of this epoch, that which has left the darkest
memory, although it was not perhaps the most murderous, was the
massacre of St. Bartholomew in 1572, ordered, according to the
historians, by Catherine de Medicis and Charles IX.
One does not require a very profound knowledge of psychology to
realise that no sovereign could have ordered such an event. St.
Bartholomew's Day was not a royal but a popular crime. Catherine
de Medicis, believing her existence and that of the king
threatened by a plot directed by four or five Protestant leaders
to the summary fashion of the time. The massacre which followed
is very well explained by M. Battifol in the following terms:--
``At the report of what was afoot the rumour immediately ran
through Paris that the Huguenots were being massacred; Catholic
gentlemen, soldiers of the guard, archers, men of the people, in
short all Paris, rushed into the streets, arms in hand, in order
to participate in the execution, and the general massacre
commenced, to the sound of ferocious cries of `The
Huguenots! Kill, kill!' They were struck down, they were
drowned, they were hanged. All that were known as heretics were
so served. Two thousand persons were killed in
By contagion, the people of the provinces imitated those of
When time had somewhat cooled religious passions, all the
historians, even the Catholics, spoke of St. Bartholomew's Day
with indignation. They thus showed how difficult it is for the
mentality of one epoch to understand that of another.
Far from being criticised, St. Bartholomew's Day provoked an
indescribable enthusiasm throughout the whole of Catholic Europe.
Philip II. was delirious with joy when he heard the news, and the
King of France received more congratulations than if he had won a
But it was Pope Gregory XIII. above all who manifested the
keenest satisfaction. He had a medal struck to commemorate the
happy event, ordered joy-fires to be lit and cannon fired,
celebrated several masses, and sent for the painter Vasari to
depict on the walls of the
carnage. Further, he sent to the King of France an ambassador
instructed to felicitate that monarch upon his fine action. It
is historical details of this kind that enable us to comprehend
the mind of the believer. The Jacobins of the Terror had a
mentality very like that of Gregory XIII.
 The medal must have been distributed pretty widely, for the
cabinet of medals at the Bibliotheque Nationale possesses
three examples: one in gold, one in silver, and one in copper.
This medal, reproduced by Bonnani in his Numism. Pontific.
(vol. i. p. 336), represents on one side Gregory XIII., and on
the other an angel striking Huguenots with a sword. The exergue
is Ugonotorum strages, that is, Massacre of the Huguenots.
(The word strages may be translated by carnage or massacre, a
sense which it possesses in Cicero and Livy; or again by
disaster, ruin, a sense attributed to it in Virgil and Tacitus.)
Naturally the Protestants were not indifferent to such a
hecatomb, and they made such progress that in 1576 Henri III. was
reduced to granting them, by the Edict of Beaulieu, entire
liberty of worship, eight strong places, and, in the Parliaments,
Chambers composed half of Catholics and half of Huguenots.
These forced concessions did not lead to peace. A Catholic
League was created, having the Duke of Guise at its head, and the
conflict continued. But it could not last for ever. We know how
Henri IV. put an end to it, at least for a time, by his
abjuration in 1593, and by the Edict of Nantes.
The struggle was quieted but not terminated. Under Louis XIII.
the Protestants were still restless, and in 1627 Richelieu was
obliged to besiege
perished. Afterwards, possessing more political than religious
feeling, the famous Cardinal proved extremely tolerant toward the
This tolerance could not last. Contrary beliefs cannot come into
contact without seeking to annihilate each other, as soon as one
feels capable of dominating the other. Under Louis XIV. the
Protestants had become by far the weaker, and were forced to
renounce the struggle and live at peace. Their number was then
about 1,200,000, and they possessed more than 600 churches,
served by about 700 pastors. The presence of these
heretics on French soil was intolerable to the Catholic clergy,
who endeavoured to persecute them in various ways. As these
persecutions had little result, Louis XIV. resorted to
dragonnading them in 1685, when many individuals perished, but
without further result. Under the pressure of the clergy,
notably of Bossuett, the Edict of Nantes was revoked, and the
Protestants were forced to accept conversion or to leave
This disastrous emigration lasted a long time, and is said to
since they had the courage to listen to their conscience rather
than their interests.
<>THE RESULTS OF RELIGIOUS REVOLUTIONS If religious revolutions were judged only by the gloomy story of
the Reformation, we should be forced to regard them as highly
disastrous. But all have not played a like part, the civilising
influence of certain among them being considerable.
By giving a people moral unity they greatly increase its material
power. We see this notably when a new faith, brought by
Mohammed, transforms the petty and impotent tribes of
a formidable nation.
Such a new religious belief does not merely render a people
homogeneous. It attains a result that no philosophy, no code
ever attained: it sensibly transforms what is almost
unchangeable, the sentiments of a race.
We see this at the period when the most powerful religious
revolution recorded by history overthrew paganism to substitute a
God who came from the plains of
the renunciation of all the joys of existence in order to
acquire the eternal happiness of heaven. No doubt such an ideal
was readily accepted by the poor, the enslaved, the disinherited
who were deprived of all the joys of life here below, to whom an
enchanting future was offered in exchange for a life without
hope. But the austere existence so easily embraced by the poor
was also embraced by the rich. In this above all was the power
of the new faith manifested.
Not only did the Christian revolution transform manners: it also
exercised, for a space of two thousand years, a preponderating
influence over civilisation. Directly a religious faith triumphs
all the elements of civilisation naturally adapt themselves to
it, so that civilisation is rapidly transformed. Writers,
artists and philosophers merely symbolise, in their works, the
ideas of the new faith.
When any religious or political faith whatsoever has triumphed,
not only is reason powerless to affect it, but it even finds
motives which impel it to interpret and so justify the faith in
question, and to strive to impose it upon others. There were
probably as many theologians and orators in the time of Moloch,
to prove the utility of human sacrifices, as there were at other
periods to glorify the Inquisition, the massacre of St.
Bartholomew, and the hecatombs of the Terror.
We must not hope to see peoples possessed by strong beliefs
readily achieve tolerance. The only people who attained to
toleration in the ancient world were the polytheists. The
nations which practise toleration at the present time are those
that might well be termed polytheistical, since, as in
Under identical names they really adore very different deities.
The multiplicity of beliefs which results in such toleration
finally results also in weakness. We therefore come to a
psychological problem not hitherto resolved: how to possess a
faith at once powerful and tolerant.
The foregoing brief explanation reveals the large part played by
religious revolutions and the power of beliefs. Despite their
slight rational value they shape history, and prevent the peoples
from remaining a mass of individuals without cohesion or
strength. Man has needed them at all times to orientate his
thought and guide his conduct. No philosophy has as yet
succeeded in replacing them.
RESISTANCE OF GOVERNMENTS IN TIME OF REVOLUTION Many modern
nations--France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Poland,
Japan, Turkey, Portugal, &c.--have known revolutions within the
last century. These were usually characterised by their
instantaneous quality and the facility with which the governments
attacked were overthrown.
The instantaneous nature of these revolutions is explained by the
rapidity of mental contagion due to modern methods of publicity.
The slight resistance of the governments attacked is more
surprising. It implies a total inability to comprehend and
foresee created by a blind confidence in their own strength.
The facility with which governments fall is not however a new
phenomenon. It has been proved more than once, not only in
autocratic systems, which are always overturned by palace
conspiracies, but also in governments perfectly instructed in the
state of public opinion by the press and their own agents.
Among these instantaneous downfalls one of the most striking was
that which followed the Ordinances of Charles X. This monarch
was, as we know, overthrown in four days. His minister
Polignac had taken no measures of defence, and the king was so
confident of the tranquillity of
The army was not in the least hostile, as in the reign of Louis
XVI., but the troops, badly officered, disbanded before the
attacks of a few insurgents.
The overthrow of Louis-Philippe was still more typical, since it
did not result from any arbitrary action on the part of the
sovereign. This monarch was not surrounded by the hatred which
finally surrounded Charles X., and his fall was the result of an
insignificant riot which could easily have been repressed.
Historians, who can hardly comprehend how a solidly constituted
government, supported by an imposing army, can be overthrown by a
few rioters, naturally attributed the fall of Louis-Philippe to
deep-seated causes. In reality the incapacity of the generals
entrusted with his defence was the real cause of his fall.
This case is one of the most instructive that could be cited, and
is worthy of a moment's consideration. It has been perfectly
investigated by General Bonnal, in the light of the notes of an
eye-witness, General Elchingen. Thirty-six thousand troops were
made it impossible to use them. Contradictory orders were given,
and finally the troops were forbidden to fire on the people, who,
moreover--and nothing could have been more dangerous--were
permitted to mingle with the troops. The riot succeeded without
fighting and forced the king to abdicate.
Applying to the preceding case our knowledge of the
psychology of crowds, General Bonnal shows how easily the riot
which overthrew Louis-Philippe could have been controlled. He
proves, notably, that if the commanding officers had not
completely lost their heads quite a small body of troops could
have prevented the insurgents from invading the Chamber of
Deputies. This last, composed of monarchists, would certainly
have proclaimed the Count of Paris under the regency of his
Similar phenomena were observable in the revolutions of
These facts show the role of petty accessory circumstances
in great events, and prove that one must not speak too readily of
the general laws of history. Without the riot which overthrew
Louis-Philippe, we should probably have seen neither the Republic
of 1848, nor the Second Empire, nor
the loss of
In the revolutions of which I have just been speaking the army
was of no assistance to the government, but did not turn against
it. It sometimes happens otherwise. It is often the army which
effects the revolution, as in
innumerable revolutions of the Latin republics of
effected by the army.
When a revolution is effected by an army the new rulers naturally
fall under its domination. I have already recalled the fact that
this was the case at the end of the
emperors were made and unmade by the soldiery.
The same thing has sometimes been witnessed in modern times. The
following extract from a newspaper, with reference to the
Greek revolution, shows what becomes of a government dominated by
``One day it was announced that eighty officers of the navy would
send in their resignations if the government did not dismiss the
leaders of whom they complained. Another time it was the
agricultural labourers on a farm (metairie) belonging to the
Crown Prince who demanded the partition of the soil among them.
The navy protested against the promotion promised to Colonel
Zorbas. Colonel Zorbas, after a week of discussion with
Lieutenant Typaldos, treated with the President of the Council as
one power with another. During this time the Federation of the
corporations abused the officers of the navy. A deputy demanded
that these officers and their families should be treated as
brigands. When Commander Miaoulis fired on the rebels, the
sailors, who first of all had obeyed Typaldos, returned to duty.
This is no longer the harmonious Greece of Pericles and
Themistocles. It is a hideous camp of Agramant.''
A revolution cannot be effected without the assistance or at
least the neutrality of the army, but it often happens that the
movement commences without it. This was the case with the
revolutions of 1830 and 1848, and that of 1870, which overthrew
the Empire after the humiliation of
The majority of revolutions take place in the capitals, and by
means of contagion spread through the country; but this is not a
constant rule. We know that during the French Revolution La
Vendee, Brittany, and the Midi revolted spontaneously against
<>HOW THE RESISTANCE OF GOVERNMENTS MAY OVERCOME REVOLUTION In the greater number of the revolutions enumerated above, we
have seen governments perish by their weakness. As soon as they
were touched they fell.
The Russian Revolution proved that a government which defends
itself energetically may finally triumph.
Never was revolution more menacing to the government. After the
disasters suffered in the Orient, and the severities of a too
oppressive autocratic regime, all classes of society, including a
portion of the army and the fleet, had revolted. The railways,
posts, and telegraph services had struck, so that communications
between the various portions of the vast empire were interrupted.
The rural class itself, forming the majority of the nation, began
to feel the influence of the revolutionary propaganda. The lot
of the peasants was wretched. They were obliged, by the system
of the mir, to cultivate soil which they could not acquire. The
government resolved immediately to conciliate this large class of
peasants by turning them into proprietors. Special laws forced
the landlords to sell the peasants a portion of their lands, and
banks intended to lend the buyers the necessary purchase-money
were created. The sums lent were to be repaid by small annuities
deducted from the product of the sale of the crops.
Assured of the neutrality of the peasants, the government could
contend with the fanatics who were burning the towns, throwing
bombs among the crowds, and waging a merciless warfare. All
those who could be taken were killed. Such extermination is the
only method discovered since the beginning of the world by which
a society can be protected against the rebels who wish to destroy
The victorious government understood moreover the necessity of
satisfying the legitimate claims of the enlightened portion of
the nation. It created a parliament instructed to prepare laws
and control expenditure.
The history of the Russian Revolution shows us how a government,
all of whose natural supports have crumbled in succession, can,
with wisdom and firmness, triumph over the most formidable
obstacles. It has been very justly said that governments are not
overthrown, but that they commit suicide.
<>REVOLUTIONS EFFECTED BY GOVERNMENTS.--EXAMPLES:
create them. Representing the needs of the moment and general
opinion, they follow the reformers timidly; they do not precede
them. Sometimes, however, certain governments have attempted
those sudden reforms which we know as revolutions. The stability
or instability of the national mind decrees the success or
failure of such attempts.
They succeed when the people on whom the government seeks to
impose new institutions is composed of semi-barbarous tribes,
without fixed laws, without solid traditions; that is to say,
without a settled national mind. Such was the condition of
Europeanise the semi-Asiatic populations by means of force.
government, but it was her machinery, not her mind that was
It needs a very powerful autocrat, seconded by a man of genius,
to succeed, even partially, in such a task. More often than not
the reformer finds that the whole people rises up against him.
Then, to the contrary of what befalls in an ordinary revolution,
the autocrat is revolutionary and the people is conservative.
But an attentive study will soon show you that the peoples are
always extremely conservative.
Failure is the rule with these attempts. Whether effected by the
upper classes or the lower, revolutions do not change the souls
of peoples that have been a long time established. They only
change those things that are worn by time and ready to fall.
impossible experiment, in seeking, by means of the government,
suddenly to renew the institutions of the country. The
revolution which overturned the dynasty of her ancient sovereigns
was the indirect consequence of the discontent provoked by
reforms which the government had sought to impose with a view to
ameliorating the condition of
and gaming, the reform of the army, and the creation of schools,
involved an increase of taxation which, as well as the reforms
themselves, greatly indisposed the general opinion.
A few cultured Chinese educated in the schools of
by this discontent to raise the people and proclaim a republic,
an institution of which the Chinese could have had no conception.
It surely cannot long survive, for the impulse which has given
birth to it is not a movement of progress, but of reaction. The
word republic, to the Chinaman intellectualised by his European
education, is simply synonymous with the rejection of the yoke of
laws, rules, and long-established restraints. Cutting off his
pigtail, covering his head with a cap, and calling himself a
Republican, the young Chinaman thinks to give the rein to all his
instincts. This is more or less the idea of a republic that a
large part of the French people entertained at the time of the
of the armour slowly wrought by the past. After a few years of
bloody anarchy it will be necessary to establish a power whose
tyranny will inevitably be far severer than that which was
overthrown. Science has not yet discovered the magic ring
capable of saving a society without discipline. There is no need
to impose discipline when it has become hereditary, but when the
primitive instincts have been allowed to destroy the barriers
painfully erected by slow ancestral labours, they cannot be
reconstituted save by an energetic tyranny.
As a proof of these assertions we may instance an experiment
analogous to that undertaken by
and full of good intentions succeeded, with the aid of a
number of officers, in overthrowing a Sultan whose tyranny seemed
insupportable. Having acquired our robust Latin faith in the
magic power of formulae, they thought they could establish the
representative system in a country half-civilised, profoundly
divided by religious hatred, and peopled by divers races.
The attempt has not prospered hitherto. The authors of the
reformation had to learn that despite their liberalism they were
forced to govern by methods very like those employed by the
government overthrown. They could neither prevent summary
executions nor wholesale massacres of Christians, nor could they
remedy a single abuse.
It would be unjust to reproach them. What in truth could they
have done to change a people whose traditions have been fixed so
long, whose religious passions are so intense, and whose
Mohammedans, although in the minority, legitimately claim to
govern the sacred city of their faith according to their code?
How prevent Islam from remaining the State religion in a country
where civil law and religious law are not yet plainly separated,
and where faith in the Koran is the only tie by which the idea of
nationality can be maintained?
It was difficult to destroy such a state of affairs, so that we
were bound to see the re-establishment of an autocratic
organisation with an appearance of constitutionalism--that is to
say, practically the old system once again. Such attempts afford
a good example of the fact that a people cannot choose its
institutions until it has transformed its mind.
<>SOCIAL ELEMENTS WHICH SURVIVE THE CHANGES OF GOVERNMENT AFTER REVOLUTION What we shall say later on as to the stable foundation of the
national soul will enable us to appreciate the force of systems
of government that have been long established, such as ancient
monarchies. A monarch may easily be overthrown by conspirators,
but these latter are powerless against the principles which the
monarch represents. Napoleon at his fall was replaced not by his
natural heir, but by the heir of kings. The latter incarnated an
ancient principle, while the son of the Emperor personified ideas
that were as yet imperfectly established in men's minds.
For the same reason a minister, however able, however great the
services he has rendered to his country, can very rarely
overthrow his Sovereign. Bismarck himself could not have done
so. This great minister had single-handed created the unity of
he vanished. A man is as nothing before a principle supported by
But even when, for various reasons, the principle incarnated by a
government is annihilated with that government, as happened at
the time of the French Revolution, all the elements of social
organisation do not perish at the same time.
If we knew nothing of
hundred years and more we might suppose the country to live in a
state of profound anarchy. Now her economic, industrial, and
even her political life manifests, on the contrary, a continuity
that seems to be independent of all revolutions and governments.
The fact is that beside the great events of which history treats
are the little facts of daily life which the books neglect to
tell. They are ruled by imperious necessities which halt for no
man. Their total mass forms the real framework of the life of
While the study of great events shows us that the nominal
a century, an examination of the little daily events will prove,
on the contrary, that her real government has been little
Who in truth are the real rulers of a people? Kings and
ministers, no doubt, in the great crises of national life, but
they play no part whatever in the little realities which make up
the life of every day. The real directing forces of a country
are the administrations, composed of impersonal elements which
are never affected by the changes of government. Conservative of
traditions, they are anonymous and lasting, and constitute an
occult power before which all others must eventually bow. Their
action has even increased to such a degree that, as we shall
presently show, there is a danger that they may form an anonymous
State more powerful than the official State.
come to be governed by heads of departments and government
clerks. The more we study the history of revolutions the more we
discover that they change practically nothing but the label. To
create a revolution is easy, but to change the soul of a people
is difficult indeed.
STABILITY AND MALLEABILITY OF THE NATIONAL MIND The knowledge of a people
at any given moment of its history
involves an understanding of its environment and above all of its
past. Theoretically one may deny that past, as did the men of
the Revolution, as many men of the present day have done, but its
influence remains indestructible.
In the past, built up by slow accumulations of centuries, was
formed the aggregation of thoughts, sentiments, traditions, and
prejudices constituting the national mind which makes the
strength of a race. Without it no progress is possible. Each
generation would necessitate a fresh beginning.
The aggregate composing the soul of a people is solidly
established only if it possesses a certain rigidity, but this
rigidity must not pass a certain limit, or there would be no such
thing as malleability.
Without rigidity the ancestral soul would have no fixity, and
without malleability it could not adapt itself to the changes of
environment resulting from the progress of civilization.
Excessive malleability of the national mind impels a people to
incessant revolutions. Excess of rigidity leads it to
decadence. Living species, like the races of humanity, disappear
when, too fixedly established by a long past, they become
incapable of adapting themselves to new conditions of existence.
Few peoples have succeeded in effecting a just equilibrium
between these two contrary qualities of stability and
malleability. The Romans in antiquity and the English in modern
times may be cited among those who have best attained it.
The peoples whose mind is most fixed and established often effect
the most violent revolutions. Not having succeeded in evolving
progressively, in adapting themselves to changes of environment,
they are forced to adapt themselves violently when such
adaptation becomes indispensable.
Stability is only acquired very slowly. The history of a race is
above all the story of its long efforts to establish its mind.
So long as it has not succeeded it forms a horde of barbarians
without cohesion and strength. After the invasions of the end of
the Roman Empire France took several centuries to form a national
She finally achieved one; but in the course of centuries this
soul finally became too rigid. With a little more malleability,
the ancient monarchy would have been slowly transformed as it was
elsewhere, and we should have avoided, together with the
Revolution and its consequences, the heavy task of remaking a
The preceding considerations show us the part of race in the
genesis of revolutions, and explain why the same revolutions will
produce such different effects in different countries; why, for
example, the ideas of the French Revolution, welcomed with
such enthusiasm by some peoples, were rejected by others.
two revolutions and slain a king; but the mould of her mental
armour was at once stable enough to retain the acquisitions of
the past and malleable enough to modify them only within the
necessary limits. Never did
French Revolution, of destroying the ancestral heritage in order
to erect a new society in the name of reason.
``While the Frenchman,'' writes M. A. Sorel, ``despised his
government, detested his clergy, hated the nobility, and revolted
against the laws, the Englishman was proud of his religion, his
constitution, his aristocracy, his House of Lords. These were
like so many towers of the formidable Bastille in which he
entrenched himself, under the British standard, to judge
and cover her with contempt. He admitted that the command was
disputed inside the fort, but no stranger must approach.''
The influence of race in the destiny of the peoples appears
plainly in the history of the perpetual revolutions of the
Spanish republics of
that is to say, of individuals whose diverse heredities have
dissociated their ancestral characteristics, these populations
have no national soul and therefore no stability. A people of
half-castes is always ungovernable.
If we would learn more of the differences of political capacity
which the racial factor creates we must examine the same nation
as governed by two races successively.
The event is not rare in history. It has been manifested in a
striking manner of late in
suddenly from the rule of
We know in what anarchy and poverty
rule; we know, too, to what a degree of prosperity the island was
brought in a few years when it fell into the hands of the
The same experience was repeated in the
centuries had been governed by
more than a vast jungle, the home of epidemics of every kind,
where a miserable population vegetated without commerce or
industry. After a few years of American rule the country was
entirely transformed: malaria, yellow fever, plague and cholera
had entirely disappeared. The swamps were drained; the country
was covered with railways, factories and schools. In thirteen
years the mortality was reduced by two-thirds.
It is to such examples that we must refer the theorist who has
not yet grasped the profound significance of the word race, and
how far the ancestral soul of a people rules over its destiny.
<>HOW THE PEOPLE REGARDS REVOLUTION The part of the people has been the same in all revolutions. It
is never the people that conceives them nor directs them. Its
activity is released by means of leaders.
Only when the direct interests of the people are involved do we
see, as recently in
spontaneously. A movement thus localised constitutes a mere
Revolution is easy when the leaders are very influential. Of
ideas penetrate the people very slowly indeed. Generally it
accepts a revolution without knowing why, and when by chance it
does succeed in understanding why, the revolution is over long
The people will create a revolution because it is persuaded to do
so, but it does not understand very much of the ideas of its
leaders; it interprets them in its own fashion, and this fashion
is by no means that of the true authors of the revolution. The
French Revolution furnished a striking example of this fact.
The Revolution of 1789 had as its real object the substitution of
the power of the nobility by that of the bourgeoisie; that is,
an old elite which had become incapable was to be replaced
by a new elite which did possess capacity.
There was little question of the people in this first phase of
the Revolution. The sovereignty of the people was proclaimed,
but it amounted only to the right of electing its
Extremely illiterate, not hoping, like the middle classes, to
ascend the social scale, not in any way feeling itself the equal
of the nobles, and not aspiring ever to become their equal, the
people had views and interests very different to those of the
upper classes of society.
The struggles of the assembly with the royal power led it to call
for the intervention of the people in these struggles. It
intervened more and more, and the bourgeois revolution rapidly
became a popular revolution.
An idea having no force of its own, and acting only by virtue of
possessing an affective and mystic substratum which supports it,
the theoretical ideas of the bourgeoisie, before they could act
on the people, had to be transformed into a new and very definite
faith, springing from obvious practical interests.
This transformation was rapidly effected when the people heard
the men envisaged by it as the Government assuring it that it was
the equal of its former masters. It began to regard itself as a
victim, and proceeded to pillage, burn, and massacre, imagining
that in so doing it was exercising a right.
The great strength of the revolutionary principles was that they
gave a free course to the instincts of primitive barbarity which
had been restrained by the secular and inhibitory action of
environment, tradition, and law.
All the social bonds that formerly contained the multitude were
day by day dissolving, so that it conceived a notion of unlimited
power, and the joy of seeing its ancient masters ferreted out and
despoiled. Having become the sovereign people, were not all
things permissible to it?
The motto of
of hope and faith at the beginning of the Revolution, soon merely
served to cover a legal justification of the sentiments of
jealousy, cupidity, and hatred of superiors, the true motives of
crowds unrestrained by discipline. This is why the Revolution so
soon ended in disorder, violence, and anarchy.
From the moment when the Revolution descended from the middle to
the lower classes of society, it ceased to be a domination of the
instinctive by the rational, and became, on the contrary,
the effort of the instinctive to overpower the rational.
This legal triumph of the atavistic instincts was terrible. The
whole effort of societies an effort indispensable to their
continued existence--had always been to restrain, thanks to the
power of tradition, customs, and codes, certain natural instincts
which man has inherited from his primitive animality. It is
possible to dominate them--and the more a people does overcome
them the more civilised it is--but they cannot be destroyed. The
influence of various exciting causes will readily result in their
This is why the liberation of popular passions is so dangerous.
The torrent, once escaped from its bed, does not return until it
has spread devastation far and wide. ``Woe to him who stirs up
the dregs of a nation,'' said Rivarol at the beginning of the
Revolution. ``There is no age of enlightenment for the
<>THE SUPPOSED PART OF THE PEOPLE DURING REVOLUTION The laws of the psychology of crowds show us that the people
never acts without leaders, and that although it plays a
considerable part in revolutions by following and exaggerating
the impulses received, it never directs its own movements.
In all political revolutions we discover the action of leaders.
They do not create the ideas which serve as the basis of
revolutions, but they utilise them as a means of action. Ideas,
leaders, armies, and crowds constitute four elements which all
have their part to play in revolutions.
The crowd, roused by the leaders, acts especially by means of its
mass. Its action is comparable to that of the shell which
perforates an armour-plate by the momentum of a force it did not
create. Rarely does the crowd understand anything of the
revolutions accomplished with its assistance. It obediently
follows its leaders without even trying to find out what they
want. It overthrew Charles X. because of his Ordinances without
having any idea of the contents of the latter, and would have
been greatly embarrassed had it been asked at a later date why it
Deceived by appearances, many authors, from Michelet to Aulard,
have supposed that the people effected our great Revolution.
``The principal actor,'' said Michelet, ``is the people.''
``It is an error to say,'' writes M. Aulard, ``that the French
Revolution was effected by a few distinguished people or a few
heroes. . . . I believe that in the whole history of the period
included between 1789 and 1799 not a single person stands out who
led or shaped events: neither Louis XVI. nor Mirabeau nor Danton
nor Robespierre. Must we say that it was the French people that
was the real hero of the French Revolution? Yes--provided we see
the French people not as a multitude but as a number of organised
And in a recent work M. A. Cochin insists on this conception of
``And here is the wonder: Michelet is right. In proportion as
we know them better the facts seem to consecrate the fiction:
this crowd, without chiefs and without laws, the very image of
chaos, did for five years govern and command, speak and act, with
a precision, a consistency, and an entirety that were
marvellous. Anarchy gave lessons in order and discipline to the
defeated party of order . . . twenty-five millions of men, spread
over an area of 30,000 square leagues, acted as one.''
Certainly if this simultaneous conduct of the people had been
spontaneous, as the author supposes, it would have been
marvellous. M. Aulard himself understands very well the
impossibilities of such a phenomenon, for he is careful, in
speaking of the people, to say that he is speaking of groups, and
that these groups may have been guided by leaders:--
``And what, then, cemented the national unity? Who saved this
nation, attacked by the king and rent by civil war? Was it
Danton? Was it Robespierre? Was it Carnot? Certainly these
individual men were of service: but unity was in fact maintained
and independence assured by the grouping of the French into
communes and popular societies--people's clubs. It was the
municipal and Jacobin organisation of
more closely, there were two or three individuals more capable
than the rest, who, whether leaders or led, executed decisions
and had the appearance of leaders, but who (if, for instance, we
read the proceedings of the people's clubs) seem to us to have
drawn their strength far more from their group than from
M. Aulard's mistake consists in supposing that all these groups
were derived ``from a spontaneous movement of fraternity and
little clubs, receiving a single impulsion from the great
Jacobin Club of Paris, and obeying it with perfect docility.
This is what reality teaches us, though the illusions of the
Jacobins do not permit them to accept the fact.
 In the historical manuals which M. Aulard has prepared for
the use of classes in collaboration with M. Debidour the
role attributed to the people as an entity is even more
marked. We see it intervening continually and spontaneously;
here are a few examples:--
The ``Day'' of June the 20th: ``The king dismissed the
Girondist members. The people of
spontaneously and invaded the Tuileries.''
The ``Day'' of August 10th: ``The Legislative Assembly dared
not overthrow it; it was the people of
Federals of the Departments, who effected this revolution at the
price of its blood.''
The conflict of the Girondists and the Mountain: ``This
discord in the face of the enemy was dangerous. The people put
an end to it on the days of the 31st of May and the 2nd of June,
1793, when it forced the Convention to expel the leaders of the
Gironde from its midst and to decree their arrest.''
<>THE POPULAR ENTITY AND ITS CONSTITUENT ELEMENTS In order to answer to certain theoretical conceptions the people
was erected into a mystic entity, endowed with all the powers and
all the virtues, incessantly praised by the politicians, and
overwhelmed with flattery. We shall see what we are to make of
this conception of the part played by the people in the French
To the Jacobins of this epoch, as to those of our own days, this
popular entity constitutes a superior personality possessing the
attributes, peculiar to divinities, of never having to answer for
its actions and never making a mistake. Its wishes must be
humbly acceded. The people may kill, burn, ravage, commit the
most frightful cruelties, glorify its hero to-day and throw him
into the gutter to-morrow; it is all one; the politicians will
not cease to vaunt its virtues, its high wisdom, and to bow to
its every decision.
 These pretensions do at least seem to be growing untenable to
the more advanced republicans.
``The rage with the socialists'' writes M. Clemenceau, ``is to
endow with all the virtues, as though by a superhuman reason, the
crowd whose reason cannot be much to boast of.'' The famous
statesman might say more correctly that reason not only cannot be
prominent in the crowd but is practically nonexistent.
Now in what does this entity really consist, this mysterious
fetich which revolutionists have revered for more than a century?
It may be decomposed into two distinct categories. The first
includes the peasants, traders, and workers of all sorts who need
tranquillity and order that they may exercise their calling.
This people forms the majority, but a majority which never caused
a revolution. Living in laborious silence, it is ignored by the
The second category, which plays a capital part in all national
disturbances, consists of a subversive social residue dominated
by a criminal mentality. Degenerates of alcoholism and poverty,
thieves, beggars, destitute ``casuals,'' indifferent workers
without employment--these constitute the dangerous bulk of the
armies of insurrection.
The fear of punishment prevents many of them from becoming
criminals at ordinary times, but they do become criminals as soon
as they can exercise their evil instincts without danger.
To this sinister substratum are due the massacres which stain all
It was this class which, guided by its leaders, continually
invaded the great revolutionary Assemblies. These regiments of
disorder had no other ideal than that of massacre, pillage, and
incendiarism. Their indifference to theories and principles was
To the elements recruited from the lowest dregs of the populace
are added, by way of contagion, a host of idle and indifferent
persons who are simply drawn into the movement. They shout
because there are men shouting, and revolt because there is a
revolt, without having the vaguest idea of the cause of shouting
or revolution. The suggestive power of their environment
absolutely hypnotises them, and impels them to action.
These noisy and maleficent crowds, the kernel of all
insurrections, from antiquity to our own times, are the only
crowds known to the orator. To the orator they are the sovereign
people. As a matter of fact this sovereign people is principally
composed of the lower populace of whom Thiers said:--
``Since the time when Tacitus saw it applaud the crimes of the
emperors the vile populace has not changed. These barbarians who
swarm at the bottom of societies are always ready to stain the
people with every crime, at the beck of every power, and to the
dishonour of every cause.''
At no period of history was the role of the lowest elements
of the population exercised in such a lasting fashion as in the
The massacres began as soon as the beast was unchained--that is,
from 1789, long before the Convention. They were carried
out with all possible refinements of cruelty. During the killing
of September the prisoners were slowly chopped to bits by sabre-
cuts in order to prolong their agonies and amuse the spectators,
who experienced the greatest delight before the spectacle of the
convulsions of the victims and their shrieks of agony.
Similar scenes were observed all over
days of the Revolution, although the foreign war did not excuse
them then, nor any other pretext.
From March to September a whole series of burnings, killings, and
pillagings drenched all
and twenty such cases.
the power of the populace.
The Mayor of Troyes, his eyes destroyed by blows of scissors, was
murdered after hours of suffering. The Colonel of Dragoons
Belzuce was cut to pieces while living. In many places the
hearts of the victims were torn out and carried about the cities
on the point of a pike.
Such is the behaviour of the base populace so soon as imprudent
hands have broken the network of constraints which binds its
ancestral savagery. It meets with every indulgence because it is
in the interests of the politicians to flatter it. But let us
for a moment suppose the thousands of beings who constitute it
condensed into one single being. The personality thus formed
would appear as a cruel and narrow and abominable monster, more
horrible than the bloodiest tyrants of history.
This impulsive and ferocious people has always been easily
dominated so soon as a strong power has opposed it. If its
violence is unlimited, so is its servility. All the despotisms
have had it for their servant. The Caesars are certain of
being acclaimed by it, whether they are named Caligula, Nero,
Marat, Robespierre, or Boulanger.
Beside these destructive hordes whose action during revolution is
capital, there exists, as we have already remarked, the mass of
the true people, which asks only the right to labour. It
sometimes benefits by revolutions, but never causes them. The
revolutionary theorists know little of it and distrust it, aware
of its traditional and conservative basis. The resistant nucleus
of a country, it makes the strength and continuity of the latter.
Extremely docile through fear, easily influenced by its leaders,
it will momentarily commit every excess while under their
influence, but the ancestral inertia of the race will soon take
charge again, which is the reason why it so quickly tires of
revolution. Its traditional soul quickly incites it to oppose
itself to anarchy when the latter goes too far. At such times it
seeks the leader who will restore order.
This people, resigned and peaceable, has evidently no very lofty
nor complicated political conceptions. Its governmental ideal is
always very simple, is something very like dictatorship. This is
why, from the times of the Greeks to our own, dictatorship has
always followed anarchy. It followed it after the first
Revolution, when Bonaparte was acclaimed, and again when, despite
opposition, four successive plebiscites raised Louis Napoleon to
the head of the republic, ratified his coup d'etat,
re-established the Empire, and in 1870, before the war, approved
of his rule.
Doubtless in these last instances the people was deceived. But
without the revolutionary conspiracies which led to disorder, it
would not have been impelled to seek the means of escape
The facts recalled in this chapter must not be forgotten if we
wish fully to comprehend the various roles of the people
during revolution. Its action is considerable, but very unlike
that imagined by the legends whose repetition alone constitutes
OF PERSONALITY I have dwelt at length elsewhere upon a certain theory of
character, without which it is absolutely impossible to
understand divers transformations or inconsistencies of conduct
which occur at certain moments, notably in time of revolution.
Here are the principal points of this theory:
Every individual possesses, besides his habitual mentality,
which, when the environment does not alter, is almost constant,
various possibilities of character which may be evoked by passing
The people who surround us are the creatures of certain
circumstances, but not of all circumstances. Our ego consists of
the association of innumerable cellular egos, the residues of
ancestral personalities. By their combination they form an
equilibrium which is fairly permanent when the social environment
does not vary. As soon as this environment is considerably
modified, as in time of insurrection, this equilibrium is broken,
and the dissociated elements constitute, by a fresh aggregation,
a new personality, which is manifested by ideas, feelings, and
actions very different from those formerly observed in the same
individual. Thus it is that during the Terror we see honest
bourgeois and peaceful magistrates who were noted for their
kindness turned into bloodthirsty fanatics.
Under the influence of environment the old personality may
therefore give place to one entirely new. For this reason the
actors in great religious and political crises often seem of a
different essence to ourselves; yet they do not differ from us;
the repetition of the same events would bring back the same men.
Napoleon perfectly understood these possibilities of character
when he said, in Saint Helena:--
``It is because I know just how great a part chance plays in our
political decisions, that I have always been without prejudices,
and very indulgent as to the part men have taken during our
disturbances. . . . In time of revolution one can only say what
one has done; it would not be wise to say that one could not have
done otherwise. . . . Men are difficult to understand if we want
to be just. . . . Do they know themselves? Do they account for
themselves very clearly? There are virtues and vices of
When the normal personality has been disaggregated under the
influence of certain events, how does the new personality form
itself? By several means, the most active of which is the
acquisition of a strong belief. This orientates all the elements
of the understanding, as the magnet collects into regular
curves the filings of a magnetic metal.
Thus were formed the personalities observed in times of great
crises: the Crusades, the Reformation, the Revolution notably.
At normal times the environment varies little, so that as a rule
we see only a single personality in the individuals that surround
us. Sometimes, however, it happens that we observe several,
which in certain circumstances may replace one another.
These personalities may be contradictory and even inimical. This
phenomenon, exceptional under normal conditions, is considerably
accentuated in certain pathological conditions. Morbid
psychology has recorded several examples of multiple personality
in a single subject, such as the cases cited by Morton Prince and
In all these variations of personality it is not the intelligence
which is modified, but the feelings, whose association forms the
<>ELEMENTS OF CHARACTER PREDOMINANT IN TIME OF REVOLUTION During revolution we see several sentiments developed which are
commonly repressed, but to which the destruction of social
constraints gives a free vent.
These constraints, consisting of the law, morality, and
tradition, are not always completely broken. Some survive the
upheaval and serve to some extent to damp the explosion of
The most powerful of these restraints is the soul of the race.
This determines a manner of seeing, feeling, and willing
common to the majority of the individuals of the same people; it
constitutes a hereditary custom, and nothing is more powerful
than the ties of custom.
This racial influence limits the variations of a people and
determines its destiny within certain limits in spite of all
For example, to take only the instances of history, it would seem
that the mentality of
single century. In a few years it passed from the Revolution to
Caesarism, returned to the monarchy, effected another
Revolution, and then summoned a new Caesar. In reality only
the outsides of things had changed.
We cannot insist further here on the limits of national
variability, but must now consider the influence of certain
affective elements, whose development during revolution
contributes to modify individual or collective personalities. In
particular I will mention hatred, fear, ambition, jealousy or
envy, vanity, and enthusiasm. We observe their influence during
several of the upheavals of history, notably during the course of
the French Revolution, which will furnish us with most of our
Hatred.--The hatred of persons, institutions, and things which
animated the men of the Revolution is one of these affective
phenomena which are the more striking the more one studies their
psychology. They detested, not only their enemies, but the
members of their own party. ``If one were to accept
unreservedly,'' said a recent writer, ``the judgments which they
expressed of one another, we should have to conclude that they
were all traitors and boasters, all incapable and corrupt,
all assassins or tyrants.'' We know with what hatred, scarcely
appeased by the death of their enemies, men persecuted the
Girondists, Dantonists, Hebertists, Robespierrists, &c.
One of the chief causes of this feeling resided in the fact that
these furious sectaries, being apostles in possession of the
absolute verity, were unable, like all believers, to tolerate the
sight of infidels. A mystic or sentimental certitude is always
accompanied by the need of forcing itself on others, is never
convinced, and does not shrink from wholesale slaughter when it
has the power to commit it.
If the hatreds that divided the men of the Revolution had been of
rational origin they would not have lasted long, but, arising
from affective and mystic factors, men could neither forget nor
forgive. Their sources being identical in the different parties,
they manifested themselves on every hand with identical violence.
It has been proved, by means of documents, that the Girondists
were no less sanguinary than the Montagnards. They were the
first to declare, with Petion, that the vanquished parties
should perish. They also, according to M. Aulard, attempted to
justify the massacres of September. The Terror must not be
considered simply as a means of defence, but as the general
process of destruction to which triumphant believers have always
treated their detested enemies. Men who can put up with the
greatest divergence of ideas cannot tolerate differences of
In religious or political warfare the vanquished can hope for no
quarter. From Sulla, who cut the throats of two hundred senators
and five or six thousand Romans, to the men who suppressed the
Commune, and shot down more than twenty thousand after
their victory, this bloody law has never failed. Proved over and
over again in the past, it will doubtless be so in the future.
The hatreds of the Revolution did not arise entirely from
divergence of belief. Other sentiments--envy, ambition, and
self-love--also engendered them. The rivalry of individuals
aspiring to power led the chiefs of the various groups in
succession to the scaffold.
We must remember, moreover, that the need of division and the
hatred resulting therefrom seem to be constituent elements of the
Latin mind. They cost our Gaulish ancestors their independence,
and had already struck Caesar.
``No city,'' he said, ``but was divided into two factions; no
canton, no village, no house in which the spirit of party did not
breathe. It was very rarely that a year went by without a city
taking up arms to attack or repulse its neighbours.''
As man has only recently entered upon the age of knowledge, and
has always hitherto been guided by sentiments and beliefs, we may
conceive the vast importance of hatred as a factor of his
Commandant Colin, professor at the College of War, remarks in the
following terms on the importance of this feeling during certain
``In war more than at any other time there is no better inspiring
force than hatred; it was hatred that made Blucher victorious
over Napoleon. Analyse the most wonderful manoeuvres, the most
decisive operations, and if they are not the work of an
exceptional man, a Frederick or a Napoleon, you will find they
are inspired by passion more than by calculation. What
would the war of 1870 have been without the hatred which we bore
The writer might have added that the intense hatred of the
Japanese for the Russians, who had so humiliated them, might be
classed among the causes of their success. The Russian soldiers,
ignorant of the very existence of the Japanese, had no animosity
against them, which was one of the reasons of their failure.
There was assuredly a good deal of talk of fraternity at the time
of the Revolution, and there is even more to-day. Pacificism,
humanitarianism, and solidarity have become catchwords of the
advanced parties, but we know how profound are the hatreds
concealed beneath these terms, and what dangers overhang our
Fear.--Fear plays almost as large a part in revolutions as
hatred. During the French Revolution there were many examples of
great individual courage and many exhibitions of collective
Facing the scaffold, the men of the Convention were always brave
in the extreme; but before the threats of the rioters who invaded
the Assembly they constantly exhibited an excessive
pusillanimity, obeying the most absurd injunctions, as we shall
see if we re-read the history of the revolutionary Assemblies.
All the forms of fear were observed at this period. One of the
most widespread was the fear of appearing moderate. Members of
the Assemblies, public prosecutors, representatives ``on
mission,'' judges of the revolutionary tribunals, &c., all sought
to appear more advanced than their rivals. Fear was one of the
principal elements of the crimes committed at this period.
If by some miracle it could have been eliminated from the
revolutionary Assemblies, their conduct would have been quite
other than it was, and the Revolution itself would have taken a
very different direction.
Ambition, Envy, Vanity, &c.--In normal times the influence of
these various affective elements is forcibly contained by social
necessities. Ambition, for instance, is necessarily limited in a
hierarchical form of society. Although the soldier does
sometimes become a general, it is only after a long term of
service. In time of revolution, on the other hand, there is no
need to wait. Every one may reach the upper ranks almost
immediately, so that all ambitions are violently aroused. The
humblest man believes himself fitted for the highest employments,
and by this very fact his vanity grows out of all measure.
All the passions being more or less aroused, including ambition
and vanity, we see the development of jealousy and envy of those
who have succeeded more quickly than others.
The effect of jealousy, always important in times of revolution,
was especially so during the great French Revolution. Jealousy
of the nobility constituted one of its most important factors.
The middle classes had increased in capacity and wealth, to the
point of surpassing the nobility. Although they mingled with the
nobles more and more, they felt, none the less, that they were
held at a distance, and this they keenly resented. This frame of
mind had unconsciously made the bourgeoisie keen supporters of
the philosophic doctrine of equality.
Wounded self-love and jealousy were thus the causes of
hatreds that we can scarcely conceive today, when the social
influence of the nobility is so small. Many members of the
Convention--Carrier, Marat, and others--remembered with anger
that they had once occupied subordinate positions in the
establishments of great nobles. Mme. Roland was never able to
forget that, when she and her mother were invited to the house of
a great lady under the ancien regime, they had been sent to
dine in the servants' quarters.
The philosopher Rivarol has very well described in the following
passage, already cited by Taine, the influence of wounded self-
love and jealousy upon the revolutionary hatreds:--
``It is not,'' he writes, ``the taxes, nor the lettres de
cachet, nor any of the other abuses of authority; it is not the
sins of the intendants, nor the long and ruinous delays of
justice, that has most angered the nation; it is the prejudices
of the nobility for which it has exhibited the greatest hatred.
What proves this clearly is the fact that it is the bourgeois,
the men of letters, the men of money, in fact all those who are
jealous of the nobility, who have raised the poorer inhabitants
of the cities against them, and the peasants in the country
This very true statement partly justifies the saying of Napoleon:
``Vanity made the Revolution; liberty was only the pretext.''
Enthusiasm.--The enthusiasm of the founders of the Revolution
equalled that of the apostles of the faith of Mohammed. And it
was really a religion that the bourgeois of the first Assembly
thought to found. They thought to have destroyed an old
world, and to have built a new one upon its ruins. Never
did illusion more seductive fire the hearts of men. Equality and
fraternity, proclaimed by the new dogmas, were to bring the reign
of eternal happiness to all the peoples. Man had broken for ever
with a past of barbarity and darkness. The regenerated world
would in future be illuminated by the lucid radiance of pure
reason. On all hands the most brilliant oratorical formulae
saluted the expected dawn.
That this enthusiasm was so soon replaced by violence was due to
the fact that the awakening was speedy and terrible. One can
readily conceive the indignant fury with which the apostles of
the Revolution attacked the daily obstacles opposed to the
realisation of their dreams. They had sought to reject the past,
to forget tradition, to make man over again. But the past
reappeared incessantly, and men refused to change. The
reformers, checked in their onward march, would not give in.
They sought to impose by force a dictatorship which speedily made
men regret the system abolished, and finally led to its return.
It is to be remarked that although the enthusiasm of the first
days did not last in the revolutionary Assemblies, it survived
very much longer in the armies, and constituted their chief
strength. To tell the truth, the armies of the Revolution were
republican long before
The variations of character considered in this chapter, being
conditioned by certain common aspirations and identical changes
of environment, finally became concrete in a small number
of fairly homogeneous mentalities. Speaking only of the more
characteristic, we may refer them to four types: the Jacobin,
mystic, revolutionary, and criminal mentalities.
OF MENTALITIES PREDOMINANT IN TIME OF REVOLUTION The classifications
without which the study of the sciences is
impossible must necessarily establish the discontinuous in the
continuous, and for that reason are to a certain extent
artificial. But they are necessary, since the continuous is only
accessible in the form of the discontinuous.
To create broad distinctions between the various mentalities
observable in time of revolution, as we are about to do, is
obviously to separate elements which encroach upon one another,
which are fused or superimposed. We must resign ourselves to
losing a little in exactitude in order to gain in lucidity. The
fundamental types enumerated at the end of the preceding chapter,
and which we are about to describe, synthetise groups which would
escape analysis were we to attempt to study them in all their
We have shown that man is influenced by different logics, which
under normal conditions exist in juxtaposition, without mutually
influencing one another. Under the action of various events they
enter into mutual conflict, and the irreducible differences
which divide them are visibly manifested, involving considerable
individual and social upheavals.
Mystic logic, which we shall presently consider as it appears in
the Jacobin mind, plays a very important part. But it is not
alone in its action. The other forms of logic--affective logic,
collective logic, and rational logic--may predominate according
<>THE MYSTIC MENTALITY Leaving aside for the moment the influence of affective,
rational, and collective logic, we will occupy ourselves solely
with the considerable part played by the mystic elements which
have prevailed in so many revolutions, and notably in the French
The chief characteristic of the mystic temperament consists in
the attribution of a mysterious power to superior beings or
forces, which are incarnated in the form of idols, fetiches,
words, or formulae.
The mystic spirit is at the bottom of all the religious and most
political beliefs. These latter would often vanish could we
deprive them of the mystic elements which are their chief
Grafted on the sentiments and passionate impulses which it
directs, mystic logic constitutes the might of the great popular
movements. Men who would be by no means ready to allow
themselves to be killed for the best of reasons will readily
sacrifice their lives to a mystic ideal which has become an
object of adoration.
The principles of the Revolution speedily inspired a wave of
mystic enthusiasm analogous to those provoked by the various
religious beliefs which had preceded it. All they did was to
change the orientation of a mental ancestry which the
centuries had solidified.
So there is nothing astonishing in the savage zeal of the men of
the Convention. Their mystic mentality was the same as that of
the Protestants at the time of the Reformation. The principal
heroes of the Terror--Couthon, Saint-Just, Robespierre, &c.--were
Apostles. Like Polyeuctes, destroying the altars of the false
gods to propagate his faith, they dreamed of converting the
globe. Their enthusiasm spilled itself over the earth.
Persuaded that their magnificent formulae were sufficient to
overturn thrones, they did not hesitate to declare war upon
kings. And as a strong faith is always superior to a doubtful
faith, they victoriously faced all
The mystic spirit of the leaders of the Revolution was betrayed
in the least details of their public life. Robespierre,
convinced that he was supported by the Almighty, assured his
hearers in a speech that the Supreme Being had ``decreed the
Republic since the beginning of time.'' In his quality of High
Pontiff of a State religion he made the Convention vote a decree
declaring that ``the French People recognises the existence of
the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul.'' At the
festival of this Supreme Being, seated on a kind of throne, he
preached a lengthy sermon.
The Jacobin Club, directed by Robespierre, finally assumed all
the functions of a council. There Maximilien proclaimed ``the
idea of a Great Being who watches over oppressed innocence and
who punishes triumphant crime.''
All the heretics who criticised the Jacobin orthodoxy were
excommunicated--that is, were sent to the Revolutionary Tribunal,
which they left only for the scaffold.
The mystic mentality of which Robespierre was the most celebrated
representative did not die with him. Men of identical mentality
are to be found among the French politicians of to-day. The old
religious beliefs no longer rule their minds, but they are the
creatures of political creeds which they would very soon force on
others, as did Robespierre, if they had the chance of so doing.
Always ready to kill if killing would spread their faith, the
mystics of all ages have employed the same means of persuasion as
soon as they have become the masters.
It is therefore quite natural that Robespierre should still have
many admirers. Minds moulded like his are to be met with in
their thousands. His conceptions were not guillotined with him.
Old as humanity, they will only disappear with the last believer.
This mystic aspect of all revolutions has escaped the majority of
the historians. They will persist for a long time yet in trying
to explain by means of rational logic a host of phenomena which
have nothing to do with reason. I have already cited a passage
from the history of MM. Lavisse and Rambaud, in which the
Reformation is explained as ``the result of the free individual
reflections suggested to simple folk by an extremely pious
conscience, and a bold and courageous reason.''
Such movements are never comprehended by those who imagine that
their origin is rational. Political or religious, the beliefs
which have moved the world possess a common origin and
follow the same laws. They are formed, not by the reason, but
more often contrary to reason. Buddhism, Christianity, Islamism,
the Reformation, sorcery, Jacobinism, socialism, spiritualism,
&c., seem very different forms of belief, but they have, I
repeat, identical mystic and affective bases, and obey forms of
logic which have no affinity with rational logic. Their might
resides precisely in the fact that reason has as little power to
create them as to transform them.
The mystic mentality of our modern political apostles is strongly
marked in an article dealing with one of our recent ministers,
which I cite from a leading journal:
``One may ask into what category does M. A----fall? Could we
say, for instance, that he belongs to the group of unbelievers?
Far from it! Certainly M. A---- has not adopted any positive
faith; certainly he curses
traditional dogmas and all the known Churches. But if he makes a
clean sweep it is in order to found his own Church on the ground
so cleared, a Church more dogmatic than all the rest; and his own
inquisition, whose brutal intolerance would have no reason to
envy the most notorious of Torquemadas.
`` `We cannot,' he says, `allow such a thing as scholastic
neutrality. We demand lay instruction in all its plenitude, and
are consequently the enemies of educational liberty.' If he does
not suggest erecting the stake and the pyre, it is only on
account of the evolution of manners, which he is forced to take
into account to a certain extent, whether he will or no. But,
not being able to commit men to the torture, he invokes the
secular arm to condemn their doctrines to death. This is exactly
the point of view of the great inquisitors. It is the same
attack upon thought. This freethinker has so free a spirit that
every philosophy he does not accept appears to him, not only
ridiculous and grotesque, but criminal. He flatters himself that
he alone is in possession of the absolute truth. Of this he is
so entirely sure that everyone who contradicts him seems to him
an execrable monster and a public enemy. He does not suspect for
a moment that after all his personal views are only hypotheses,
and that he is all the more laughable for claiming a Divine right
for them precisely because they deny divinity. Or, at least,
they profess to do so; but they re-establish it in another shape,
which immediately makes one regret the old. M. A---- is a
sectary of the goddess Reason, of whom he has made a Moloch, an
oppressive deity hungry for sacrifice. No more liberty of
thought for any one except for himself and his friends; such is
the free thought of M. A----. The outlook is truly attractive.
But perhaps too many idols have been cast down during the last
few centuries for men to bow before this one.''
We must hope for the sake of liberty that these gloomy fanatics
will never finally become our masters.
Given the silent power of reason over mystic beliefs, it is quite
useless to seek to discuss, as is so often done, the rational
value of revolutionary or political ideas. Only their influence
can interest us. It matters little that the theories of the
supposed equality of men, the original goodness of mankind, the
possibility of re-making society by means of laws, have
been given the lie by observation and experience. These empty
illusions must be counted among the most potent motives of action
that humanity has known.
<>THE JACOBIN MENTALITY Although the term ``Jacobin mentality'' does not really belong to
any true classification, I employ it here because it sums up a
clearly defined combination which constitutes a veritable
This mentality dominates the men of the French Revolution, but is
not peculiar to them, as it still represents one of the most
active elements in our politics.
The mystic mentality which we have already considered is an
essential factor of the Jacobin mind, but it is not in itself
enough to constitute that mind. Other elements, which we shall
now examine, must be added.
The Jacobins do not in the least suspect their mysticism. On the
contrary, they profess to be guided solely by pure reason.
During the Revolution they invoked reason incessantly, and
considered it as their only guide to conduct.
The majority of historians have adopted this rationalist
conception of the Jacobin mind, and Taine fell into the same
error. It is in the abuse of rationalism that he seeks the
origin of a great proportion of the acts of the Jacobins. The
pages in which he has dealt with the subject contain many truths,
however, and as they are in other ways very remarkable, I
reproduce the most important passages here:--
``Neither exaggerated self-love nor dogmatic reasoning is
rare in the human species. In all countries these two roots of
the Jacobin spirit subsist, secret and indestructible. . . . At
twenty years of age, when a young man is entering into the world,
his reason is stimulated simultaneously with his pride. In the
first place, whatever society he may move in, it is contemptible
to pure reason, for it has not been constructed by a philosophic
legislator according to a principle, but successive generations
have arranged it according to their multiple and ever-changing
needs. It is not the work of logic, but of history, and the
young reasoner shrugs his shoulders at the sight of this old
building, whose site is arbitrary, whose architecture is
incoherent, and whose inconveniences are obvious. . . . The
majority of young people, above all those who have their way to
make, are more or less Jacobin on leaving college. . . .
Jacobinism is born of social decomposition just as mushrooms are
born of a fermenting soil. Consider the authentic monuments of
its thought--the speeches of Robespierre and Saint-Just, the
debates of the Legislative Assembly and the Convention, the
harangues, addresses, and reports of Girondists and Montagnards.
Never did men speak so much to say so little; the empty verbiage
and swollen emphasis swamp any truth there may be beneath their
monotony and their turgidity. The Jacobin is full of respect for
the phantoms of his reasoning brain; in his eyes they are more
real than living men, and their suffrage is the only suffrage he
recognises--he will march onward in all sincerity at the head of
a procession of imaginary followers. The millions of
metaphysical wills which he has created in the image of his own
will sustain him by their unanimous assent, and he will
project outwards, like a chorus of triumph and acclamation, the
inward echo of his own voice.''
While admiring Taine's description, I think he has not exactly
grasped the psychology of the Jacobin.
The mind of the true Jacobin, at the time of the Revolution as
now, was composed of elements which we must analyse if we are to
understand its function.
This analysis will show in the first place that the Jacobin is
not a rationalist, but a believer. Far from building his belief
on reason, he moulds reason to his belief, and although his
speeches are steeped in rationalism he employs it very little in
his thoughts and his conduct.
A Jacobin who reasoned as much as he is accused of reasoning
would be sometimes accessible to the voice of reason. Now,
observation proves, from the time of the Revolution to our own
days, that the Jacobin is never influenced by reasoning, however
just, and it is precisely here that his strength resides.
And why is he not accessible to reason? Simply because his
vision of things, always extremely limited, does not permit of
his resisting the powerful and passionate impulses which guide
These two elements, feeble reason and strong passions, would not
of themselves constitute the Jacobin mind. There is another.
Passion supports convictions, but hardly ever creates them. Now,
the true Jacobin has forcible convictions. What is to sustain
them? Here the mystic elements whose action we have already
studied come into play. The Jacobin is a mystic who has
replaced the old divinities by new gods. Imbued with the power
of words and formulae, he attributes to these a mysterious
power. To serve these exigent divinities he does not shrink from
the most violent measures. The laws voted by our modern Jacobins
furnish a proof of this fact.
The Jacobin mentality is found especially in narrow and
passionate characters. It implies, in fact, a narrow and rigid
mind, inaccessible to all criticism and to all considerations but
those of faith.
The mystic and affective elements which dominate the mind of the
Jacobin condemn him to an extreme simplicity. Grasping only the
superficial relations of things, nothing prevents him from taking
for realities the chimerical images which are born of his
imagination. The sequence of phenomena and their results escape
him. He never raises his eyes from his dream.
As we may see, it is not by the development of his logical reason
that the Jacobin exceeds. He possesses very little logic of this
kind, and therefore he often becomes dangerous. Where a superior
man would hesitate or halt the Jacobin, who has placed his feeble
reason at the service of his impulses, goes forward with
So that although the Jacobin is a great reasoner, this does not
mean that he is in the least guided by reason. When he imagines
he is being led by reason it is really his passions and his
mysticism that lead him. Like all those who are convinced and
hemmed in by the walls of faith, he can never escape therefrom.
A true aggressive theologian, he is astonishingly like the
disciples of Calvin described in a previous chapter. Hypnotised
by their faith, nothing could deter them from their object. All
those who contradicted their articles of faith were considered
worthy of death. They too seemed to be powerful reasoners.
Ignorant, like the Jacobins, of the secret forces that led them,
they believed that reason was their sole guide, while in reality
they were the slaves of mysticism and passion.
The truly rationalistic Jacobin would be incomprehensible, and
would merely make reason despair. The passionate and mystical
Jacobin is, on the contrary, easily intelligible.
With these three elements--a very weak reasoning power, very
strong passions, and an intense mysticism--we have the true
psychological components of the mind of the Jacobin.
REVOLUTIONARY MENTALITY We have just seen that the mystic elements are one
components of the Jacobin mentality. We shall now see that they
enter into another form of mentality which is also clearly
defined, the revolutionary mentality.
In all ages societies have contained a certain number of restless
spirits, unstable and discontented, ready to rebel against any
established order of affairs. They are actuated by the mere love
of revolt, and if some magic power could realise all their
desires they would simply revolt again.
This special mentality often results from a faulty adaptation of
the individual to his surroundings, or from an excess of
mysticism, but it may also be merely a question of temperament or
arise from pathological disturbances.
The need of revolt presents very different degrees of intensity,
from simple discontent expressed in words directed against men
and things to the need of destroying them. Sometimes the
individual turns upon himself the revolutionary frenzy that he
cannot otherwise exercise.
who, not content with committing arson or throwing bombs at
hazard into the crowd, finally mutilate themselves, like the
Skopzis and other analogous sects.
These perpetual rebels are generally highly suggestible beings,
whose mystic mentality is obsessed by fixed ideas. Despite the
apparent energy indicated by their actions they are really weak
characters, and are incapable of mastering themselves
sufficiently to resist the impulses that rule them. The mystic
spirit which animates them furnishes pretexts for their violence,
and enables them to regard themselves as great reformers.
In normal times the rebels which every society contains are
restrained by the laws, by their environment--in short, by all
the usual social constraints, and therefore remain undetected.
But as soon as a time of disturbance begins these constraints
grow weaker, and the rebel can give a free reign to his
instincts. He then becomes the accredited leader of a movement.
The motive of the revolution matters little to him; he will give
his life indifferently for the red flag or the white, or for the
liberation of a country which he has heard vaguely mentioned.
The revolutionary spirit is not always pushed to the extremes
which render it dangerous. When, instead of deriving from
affective or mystic impulses, it has an intellectual origin, it
may become a source of progress. It is thanks to those spirits
who are sufficiently independent to be intellectually
revolutionary that a civilisation is able to escape from the yoke
of tradition and habit when this becomes too heavy. The
sciences, arts, and industries especially have progressed by
the aid of such men. Galileo, Lavoisier, Darwin, and Pasteur
were such revolutionaries.
Although it is not necessary that a nation should possess any
large number of such spirits, it is very necessary that it should
possess some. Without them men would still be living in caves.
The revolutionary audacity which results in discoveries implies
very rare faculties. It necessitates notably an independence of
mind sufficient to escape from the influence of current opinions,
and a judgement that can grasp, under superficial analogies, the
hidden realities. This form of revolutionary spirit is creative,
while that examined above is destructive.
The revolutionary mentality may, therefore, be compared to
certain physiological states in the life of the individual which
are normally useful, but which, when exaggerated, take a
pathological form which is always hurtful.
<>THE CRIMINAL MENTALITY All the civilised societies inevitably drag behind them a residue
of degenerates, of the unadapted, of persons affected by various
taints. Vagabonds, beggars, fugitives from justice, thieves,
assassins, and starving creatures that live from day to day, may
constitute the criminal population of the great cities. In
ordinary times these waste products of civilisation are more or
less restrained by the police. During revolution nothing
restrains them, and they can easily gratify their instincts to
murder and plunder. In the dregs of society the revolutionaries
of all times are sure of finding recruits. Eager only to kill
and to plunder, little matters to them the cause they are
sworn to defend. If the chances of murder and pillage are better
in the party attacked, they will promptly change their colours.
To these criminals, properly so called, the incurable plague of
all societies, we must add the class of semi-criminals.
Wrongdoers on occasion, they never rebel so long as the fear of
the established order restrains them, but as soon as it weakens
they enrol themselves in the army of revolution.
These two categories--habitual and occasional criminals--form an
army of disorder which is fit for nothing but the creation of
disorder. All the revolutionaries, all the founders of religious
or political leagues, have constantly counted on their support.
We have already stated that this population, with its criminal
mentality, exercised a considerable influence during the French
Revolution. It always figured in the front rank of the riots
which occurred almost daily. Certain historians have spoken with
respect and emotion of the way in which the sovereign people
enforced its will upon the Convention, invading the hall armed
with pikes, the points of which were sometimes decorated with
newly severed heads. If we analyse the elements composing the
pretended delegations of the sovereign people, we shall find
that, apart from a small number of simple souls who submitted to
the impulses of the leaders, the mass was almost entirely formed
of the bandits of whom I have been speaking. To them were due
the innumerable murders of which the massacres of September and
the killing of the Princesse de Lamballe were merely typical.
They terrorised all the great Assemblies, from the Constituent
Assembly to the Convention, and for ten years they helped to
have been eliminated, the progress of the Revolution would have
been very different. They stained it with blood from its dawn to
its decline. Reason could do nothing with them but they could do
much against reason.
CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CROWD Whatever their origin, revolutions do not
produce their full
effects until they have penetrated the soul of the multitude.
They therefore represent a consequence of the psychology of
Although I have studied collective psychology at length in
another volume, I must here recall its principal laws.
Man, as part of a multitude, is a very different being from the
same man as an isolated individual. His conscious individuality
vanishes in the unconscious personality of the crowd.
Material contact is not absolutely necessary to produce in the
individual the mentality of the crowd. Common passions and
sentiments, provoked by certain events, are often sufficient to
The collective mind, momentarily formed, represents a very
special kind of aggregate. Its chief peculiarity is that it is
entirely dominated by unconscious elements, and is subject to a
peculiar collective logic.
Among the other characteristics of crowds, we must note their
infinite credulity and exaggerated sensibility, their short-
sightedness, and their incapacity to respond to the influences of
reason. Affirmation, contagion, repetition, and prestige
constitute almost the only means of persuading them. Reality and
experience have no effect upon them. The multitude will admit
anything; nothing is impossible in the eyes of the crowd.
By reason of the extreme sensibility of crowds, their sentiments,
good or bad, are always exaggerated. This exaggeration increases
still further in times of revolution. The least excitement will
then lead the multitude to act with the utmost fury. Their
credulity, so great even in the normal state, is still further
increased; the most improbable statements are accepted. Arthur
Young relates that when he visited the springs near Clermont, at
the time of the French Revolution, his guide was stopped by the
people, who were persuaded that he had come by order of the Queen
to mine and blow up the town. The most horrible tales concerning
the Royal Family were circulated, depicting it as a nest of
ghouls and vampires.
These various characteristics show that man in the crowd descends
to a very low degree in the scale of civilisation. He becomes a
savage, with all a savage's faults and qualities, with all his
momentary violence, enthusiasm, and heroism. In the intellectual
domain a crowd is always inferior to the isolated unit. In the
moral and sentimental domain it may be his superior. A crowd
will commit a crime as readily as an act of abnegation.
Personal characteristics vanish in the crowd, which exerts an
extraordinary influence upon the individuals which form it. The
miser becomes generous, the sceptic a believer, the honest
man a criminal, the coward a hero. Examples of such
transformations abounded during the great Revolution.
As part of a jury or a parliament, the collective man renders
verdicts or passes laws of which he would never have dreamed in
his isolated condition.
One of the most notable consequences of the influence of a
collectivity upon the individuals who compose it is the
unification of their sentiments and wills. This psychological
unity confers a remarkable force upon crowds.
The formation of such a mental unity results chiefly from the
fact that in a crowd gestures and actions are extremely
contagious. Acclamations of hatred, fury, or love are
immediately approved and repeated.
What is the origin of these common sentiments, this common will?
They are propagated by contagion, but a point of departure is
necessary before this contagion can take effect. Without a
leader the crowd is an amorphous entity incapable of action.
A knowledge of the laws relating to the psychology of crowds is
indispensable to the interpretation of the elements of our
Revolution, and to a comprehension of the conduct of
revolutionary assemblies, and the singular transformations of the
individuals who form part of them. Pushed by the unconscious
forces of the collective soul, they more often than not say what
they did not intend, and vote what they would not have wished to
Although the laws of collective psychology have sometimes been
divined instinctively by superior statesmen, the majority of
Governments have not understood and do not understand
them. It is because they do not understand them that so many of
them have fallen so easily. When we see the facility with which
certain Governments were overthrown by an insignificant riot--as
happened in the case of the monarchy of Louis-Philippe--the
dangers of an ignorance of collective psychology are evident.
The marshal in command of the troops in 1848, which were more
than sufficient to defend the king, certainly did not understand
that the moment he allowed the crowd to mingle with the troops
the latter, paralysed by suggestion and contagion, would cease to
do their duty. Neither did he know that as the multitude is
extremely sensible to prestige it needs a great display of force
to impress it, and that such a display will at once suppress
hostile demonstrations. He was equally ignorant of the fact that
all gatherings should be dispersed immediately. All these things
have been taught by experience, but in 1848 these lessons had not
been grasped. At the time of the great Revolution the psychology
of crowds was even less understood.
<>HOW THE STABILITY OF THE RACIAL MIND LIMITS THE OSCILLATIONS OF THE MIND OF THE CROWD A people can in a sense be likened to a crowd. It possesses
certain characteristics, but the oscillations of these
characteristics are limited by the soul or mind of the race. The
mind of the race has a fixity unknown to the transitory mind of
When a people possesses an ancestral soul established by a long
past the soul of the crowd is always dominated thereby.
A people differs from a crowd also in that it is composed of a
collection of groups, each having different interests and
passions. In a crowd properly so-called--a popular assembly, for
example--there are unities which may belong to very different
A people sometimes seems as mobile as a crowd, but we must not
forget that behind its mobility, its enthusiasms, its violence
and destructiveness, the extremely tenacious and conservative
instincts of the racial mind persist. The history of the
Revolution and the century which has followed shows how the
conservative spirit finally overcomes the spirit of destruction.
More than one system of government which the people has shattered
has been restored by the people.
It is not as easy to work upon the mind of the people--that is,
the mind of the race--as on the mind of a crowd. The means of
action are indirect and slower (journals, conferences, speeches,
books, &c.). The elements of persuasion always come under the
headings already given: affirmation, repetition, prestige, and
Mental contagion may affect a whole people instantaneously, but
more often it operates slowly, creeping from group to group.
Thus was the Reformation propagated in
A people is far less excitable than a crowd; but certain events--
national insults, threats of invasion, &c.--may arouse it
instantly. Such a phenomenon was observed on several occasions
during the Revolution, notably at the time of the insolent
manifesto issued by the Duke of Brunswick. The Duke knew little
indeed of the psychology of the French race when he
proffered his threats. Not only did he considerably prejudice
the cause of Louis XVI.; but he also damaged his own, since his
intervention raised from the soil an army eager to fight him.
This sudden explosion of feeling throughout a whole race has been
observed in all nations. Napoleon did not understand the power
of such explosions when he invaded
easily disaggregate the facile mind of a crowd, but one can do
nothing before the permanent soul of a race. Certainly the
Russian peasant is a very indifferent being, gross and narrow by
nature, yet at the first news of invasion he was transformed.
One may judge of this fact on reading a letter written by
Elizabeth, wife of the Emperor Alexander I.
``From the moment when Napoleon had crossed our frontiers it was
as though an electric spark had spread through all Russia; and if
the immensity of its area had made it possible for the news to
penetrate simultaneously to every corner of the Empire a cry of
indignation would have arisen so terrible that I believe it would
have resounded to the ends of the earth. As Napoleon advances
this feeling is growing yet stronger. Old men who have lost all
or nearly all their goods are saying: `We shall find a way of
living. Anything is preferable to a shameful peace.' Women all
of whose kin are in the army regard the dangers they are running
as secondary, and fear nothing but peace. Happily this peace,
which would be the death-warrant of
negotiated; the Emperor does not conceive of such an idea, and
even if he would he could not. This is the heroic side of our
The Empress describes to her mother the two following traits,
which give some idea of the degree of resistance of which the
soul of the Russian is capable:--
``The Frenchmen had caught some unhappy peasants in Moscow, whom
they thought to force to serve in their ranks, and in order that
they should not be able to escape they branded their hands as one
brands horses in the stud. One of them asked what this mark
meant; he was told it signified that he was a French soldier.
`What! I am a soldier of the Emperor of the French!' he said.
And immediately he took his hatchet, cut off his hand, and threw
it at the feet of those present, saying, `Take it--there's your
``At Moscow, too, the French had taken a score of peasants of
whom they wished to make an example in order to frighten the
villagers, who were picking off the French foraging parties and
were making war as well as the detachments of regular troops.
They ranged them against a wall and read their sentence in
Russian. They waited for them to beg for mercy: instead of that
they took farewell of one another and made their sign of the
cross. The French fired on the first of them; they waited for
the rest to beg for pardon in their terror, and to promise to
change their conduct. They fired on the second, and on the
third, and so on all the twenty, without a single one having
attempted to implore the clemency of the enemy. Napoleon has
not once had the pleasure of profaning this word in
Among the characteristics of the popular mind we must mention
that in all peoples and all ages it has been saturated
with mysticism. The people will always be convinced that
superior beings--divinities, Governments, or great men--have the
power to change things at will. This mystic side produces an
intense need of adoration. The people must have a fetich, either
a man or a doctrine. This is why, when threatened with anarchy,
it calls for a Messiah to save it.
Like the crowd, but more slowly, the people readily passes from
adoration to hatred. A man may be the hero of the people at one
period, and finally earn its curses. These variations of popular
opinion concerning political personalities may be observed in all
times. The history of Cromwell furnishes us with a very curious
 After having overthrown a dynasty and refused a crown he was
buried like a king among kings. Two years later his body was
torn from the tomb, and his head, cut off by the executioner, was
exposed above the gate of the House of Parliament. A little
while ago a statue was raised to him. The old anarchist turned
autocrat now figures in the gallery of demigods.
<>THE ROLE OF THE LEADER IN REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS All the varieties of crowds--homogeneous and heterogeneous,
assemblies, peoples, clubs, &c.--are, as we have often repeated,
aggregates incapable of unity and action so long as they find no
master to lead them.
I have shown elsewhere, making use of certain physiological
experiments, that the unconscious collective mind of the crowd
seems bound up with the mind of the leader. The latter gives it
a single will and imposes absolute obedience.
The leader acts especially through suggestion. His success
depends on his fashion of provoking this suggestion. Many
experiments have shown to what point a collectivity may be
subjected to suggestion.
 Among the numerous experiments made to prove this fact one of
the most remarkable was performed on the pupils of his class by
Professor Glosson and published in the Revue Scientifique for
October 28, 1899.
``I prepared a bottle filled with distilled water carefully
wrapped in cotton and packed in a box. After several other
experiments I stated that I wished to measure the rapidity with
which an odour would diffuse itself through the air, and asked
those present to raise their hands the moment they perceived the
odour. . . . I took out the bottle and poured the water on the
cotton, turning my head away during the operation, then took up a
stop-watch and awaited the result. . . . I explained that I was
absolutely sure that no one present had ever smelt the odour of
the chemical composition I had spilt. . . . At the end of
fifteen seconds the majority of those in front had held up their
hands, and in forty seconds the odour had reached the back of the
hall by fairly regular waves. About three-quarters of those
present declared that they perceived the odour. A larger number
would doubtless have succumbed to suggestion, if at the end of a
minute I had not been forced to stop the experiment, some of
those in the front rows being unpleasantly affected by the odour,
and wishing to leave the hall.''
According to the suggestions of the leaders, the multitude will
be calm, furious, criminal, or heroic. These various suggestions
may sometimes appear to present a rational aspect, but they will
only appear to be reasonable. A crowd is in reality inaccessible
to reason; the only ideas capable of influencing it will always
be sentiments evoked in the form of images.
The history of the Revolution shows on every page how easily the
multitude follows the most contradictory impulses given by
its different leaders. We see it applaud just as vigorously at
the triumph of the Girondists, the Hebertists, the Dantonists,
and the Terrorists as at their successive downfalls. One may be
quite sure, also, that the crowd understood nothing of these
At a distance one can only confusedly perceive the part played by
the leaders, for they commonly work in the shade. To grasp this
clearly we must study them in contemporary events. We shall then
see how readily the leader can provoke the most violent popular
movements. We are not thinking here of the strikes of the
postmen or railway men, in which the discontent of the employees
might intervene, but of events in which the crowd was not in the
least interested. Such, for example, was the popular rising
provoked by a few Socialist leaders amidst the Parisian populace
on the morrow of the execution of Ferrer, in
crowd had never heard of Ferrer. In
almost unnoticed. In
sufficed to hurl a regular popular army upon the Spanish Embassy,
with the intention of burning it. Part of the garrison had to be
employed to protect it. Energetically repulsed, the assailants
contented themselves with sacking a few shops and building some
At the same time, the leaders gave another proof of their
influence. Finally understanding that the burning of a foreign
embassy might be extremely dangerous, they ordered a pacific
demonstration for the following day, and were as faithfully
obeyed as if they had ordered the most violent riot. No
example could better show the importance of leaders and the
submission of the crowd
The historians who, from Michelet to M. Aulard, have represented
the revolutionary crowd as having acted on its own initiative,
without leaders, do not comprehend its psychology.
<>PSYCHOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE
GREAT REVOLUTIONARY ASSEMBLIES A great political assembly, a parliament for
example, is a crowd,
but a crowd which sometimes fails in effectual action on account
of the contrary sentiments of the hostile groups composing it.
The presence of these groups, actuated by different interests,
must make us consider an assembly as formed of superimposed and
heterogeneous crowds, each obeying its particular leaders. The
law of the mental unity of crowds is manifested only in each
group, and it is only as a result of exceptional circumstances
that the different groups act with a single intention.
Each group in an assembly represents a single being. The
individuals contributing to the formation of this being are no
longer themselves, and will unhesitatingly vote against their
convictions and their wishes. On the eve of the day when Louis
XVI. was to be condemned Vergniaud protested with indignation
against the suggestion that he should vote for his death; but he
did so vote on the following day.
The action of a group consists chiefly in fortifying hesitating
opinions. All feeble individual convictions become confirmed
upon becoming collective.
Leaders of great repute or unusual violence can sometimes, by
acting on all the groups of an assembly, make them a single
crowd. The majority of the members of the Convention enacted
measures entirely contrary to their opinions under the influence
of a very small number of such leaders.
Collectivities have always given way before active sectaries.
The history of the revolutionary Assemblies shows how
pusillanimous they were, despite the boldness of their language
respecting kings, before the leaders of the popular riots. The
invasion of a band of energumens commanded by an imperious leader
was enough to make them vote then and there the most absurd and
An assembly, having the characteristics of a crowd, will, like a
crowd, be extreme in its sentiments. Excessive in its violence,
it will be excessive in its cowardice. In general it will be
insolent to the weak and servile before the strong.
We remember the fearful humility of the Parliament when the
youthful Louis XIV. entered, whip in hand, to pronounce his brief
speech. We know with what increasing impertinence the
Constituent Assembly treated Louis XVI. as it felt that he was
becoming defenceless. Finally, we recall the terror of the
Convention under the reign of Robespierre.
This characteristic of assemblies being a general law, the
convocation of an assembly by a sovereign when his power is
failing must be regarded as a gross error in psychology. The
assembling of the States General cost the life of Louis
XVI. It all but lost Henry III. his throne, when, obliged to
once spoke as masters of the situation, modifying taxes,
dismissing officials, and claiming that their decisions should
have the force of law.
This progressive exaggeration of sentiments was plainly
demonstrated in all the assemblies of the Revolution. The
Constituent Assembly, at first extremely respectful toward the
royal authority and its prerogatives, finally proclaimed itself a
sovereign Assembly, and treated Louis XVI as a mere official.
The Convention, after relatively moderate beginnings, ended with
a preliminary form of the Terror, when judgments were still
surrounded by certain legal guarantees: then, quickly increasing
its powers, it enacted a law depriving all accused persons of the
right of defence, permitting their condemnation upon the mere
suspicion of being suspect. Yielding more and more to its
sanguinary frenzy, it finally decimated itself. Girondists,
Hebertists, Dantonists, and Robespierrists successively ended
their careers at the hands of the executioner.
This exaggeration of the sentiments of assemblies explains why
they were always so little able to control their own destinies
and why they so often arrived at conclusions exactly contrary to
the ends proposed. Catholic and royalist, the Constituent
Assembly, instead of the constitutional monarchy it wished to
establish and the religion it wished to defend, rapidly led
Political assemblies are composed, as we have seen, of
heterogeneous groups, but they have sometimes been formed of
homogeneous groups, as, for instance, certain of the clubs, which
played so enormous a part during the Revolution, and whose
psychology deserves a special examination.
<>THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY CLUBS Small assemblies of men possessing the same opinions, the same
beliefs, and the same interests, which eliminate all dissentient
voices, differ from the great assemblies by the unity of their
sentiments and therefore their wills. Such were the communes,
the religious congregations, the corporations, and the clubs
during the Revolution, the secret societies during the first half
of the nineteenth century, and the Freemasons and syndicalists of
The points of difference between a heterogeneous assembly and a
homogeneous club must be thoroughly grasped if we are to
comprehend the progress of the French Revolution. Until the
Directory and especially during the Convention the Revolution was
directed by the clubs.
Despite the unity of will due to the absence of dissident parties
the clubs obey the laws of the psychology of crowds. They are
consequently subjugated by leaders. This we see especially in
the Jacobin Club, which was dominated by Robespierre.
The function of the leader of a club, a homogeneous crowd, is far
more difficult than that of a leader of a heterogeneous crowd.
The latter may easily be led by harping on a small number of
strings, but in a homogeneous group like a club, whose
sentiments and interests are identical, the leader must
know how to humour them and is often himself led.
Part of the strength of homogeneous agglomerations resides in
their anonymity. We know that during the Commune of 1871 a few
anonymous orders sufficed to effect the burning of the finest
Cour des Comptes, the buildings of the Legion of Honour, &c. A
brief order from the anonymous committees, ``Burn Finances, burn
Tuileries,'' &c., was immediately executed. An unlooked-for
chance only saved the Louvre and its collections. We know too
what religious attention is in our days accorded to the most
absurd injunctions of the anonymous leaders of the trades unions.
The clubs of Paris and the insurrectionary Commune were not less
scrupulously obeyed at the time of the Revolution. An order
emanating from these was sufficient to hurl upon the Assembly a
popular army which dictated its wishes.
Summing up the history of the Convention in another chapter, we
shall see how frequent were these irruptions, and with what
servility the Assembly, which according to the legends was so
powerful bowed itself before the most imperative injunctions of a
handful of rioters. Instructed by experience, the Directory
closed the clubs and put an end to the invasion of the populace
by energetically shooting them down.
The Convention had early grasped the superiority of homogeneous
groups over heterogeneous assemblies in matters of government,
which is why it subdivided itself into committees composed each
of a limited number of individuals. These committees--of
Public Safety, of Finance, &c.--formed small sovereign assemblies
in the midst of the larger Assembly. Their power was held in
check only by that of the clubs.
The preceding considerations show the power of groups over the
wills of the members composing them. If the group is
homogeneous, this action is considerable; if it is heterogeneous,
it is less considerable but may still become important, either
because the more powerful groups of an assembly will dominate
those whose cohesion is weaker or because certain contagious
sentiments will often extend themselves to all the members of an
A memorable example of this influence of groups occurred at the
time of the Revolution, when, on the night of the 4th of August,
the nobles voted, on the proposition of one of their members, the
abandonment of feudal privileges. Yet we know that the
Revolution resulted in part from the refusal of the clergy and
the nobles to renounce their privileges. Why did they refuse to
renounce them at first? Simply because men in a crowd do not act
as the same men singly. Individually no member of the nobility
would ever have abandoned his rights.
Of this influence of assemblies upon their members Napoleon at
common than to meet with men at this period quite unlike the
reputation that their acts and words would seem to justify. For
instance, one might have supposed Monge to be a terrible fellow;
when war was decided upon he mounted the tribune of the Jacobins
and declared that he would give his two daughters to the two
first soldiers to be wounded by the enemy. He wanted the
nobles to be killed, &c. Now, Monge was the most gentle and
feeble of men, and wouldn't have had a chicken killed if he had
had to do it with his own hands, or even to have it done in his
<>A SUGGESTED EXPLANATION OF THE PROGRESSIVE EXAGGERATION OF SENTIMENTS IN ASSEMBLIES If collective sentiments were susceptible of exact quantitative
measurement, we might translate them by a curve which, after a
first gradual ascent, runs upward with extreme rapidity and then
falls almost vertically. The equation of this curve might be
called the equation of the variations of collective sentiments
subjected to a constant excitation.
It is not always easy to explain the acceleration of certain
sentiments under the influence of a constant exciting cause.
Perhaps, however, one may say that if the laws of psychology are
comparable to those of mechanics, a cause of invariable
dimensions acting in a continuous fashion will rapidly increase
the intensity of a sentiment. We know, for example, that a force
which is constant in dimension and direction, such as gravity
acting upon a mass, will cause an accelerated movement. The
speed of a free object falling in space under the influence of
gravity will be about 32 feet during the first second, 64 feet
during the next, 96 feet during the next, &c. It would be easy,
were the moving body allowed to fall from a sufficient height, to
give it a velocity sufficient to perforate a plate of steel.
But although this explanation is applicable to the acceleration
of a sentiment subjected to a constant exciting cause, it
does not tell us why the effects of acceleration finally and
suddenly cease. Such a fall is only comprehensible if we bring
in physiological factors--that is, if we remember that pleasure,
like pain, cannot exceed certain limits, and that all sensations,
when too violent, result in the paralysis of sensation. Our
organism can only support a certain maximum of joy, pain, or
effort, and it cannot support that maximum for long together.
The hand which grasps a dynamometer soon exhausts its effort, and
is obliged suddenly to let go.
The study of the causes of the rapid disappearance of certain
groups of sentiments in assemblies will remind us of the fact
that beside the party which is predominant by means of its
strength or prestige there are others whose sentiments,
restrained by this force or prestige, have not reached their full
development. Some chance circumstance may somewhat weaken the
prevailing party, when immediately the suppressed sentiments of
the adverse parties may become preponderant. The Mountain
learned this lesson after Thermidor.
All analogies that we may seek to establish between the laws of
material phenomena and those which condition the evolution of
affective and mystic factors are evidently extremely rough. They
must be so until the mechanism of the cerebral functions is
better understood than it is to-day.
HISTORIANS OF THE REVOLUTION The most contradictory opinions have been
the French Revolution, and although only a century separates us
from the period in question it seems impossible as yet to judge
it calmly. For de Maistre it was ``a satanic piece of work,''
and ``never was the action of the spirit of darkness so evidently
manifested.'' For the modern Jacobins it has regenerated the
Foreigners who live in
avoided in conversation.
``Everywhere,'' writes Barrett Wendell, ``this memory and these
traditions are still endowed with such vitality that few persons
are capable of considering them dispassionately. They still
excite both enthusiasm and resentment; they are still regarded
with a loyal and ardent spirit of partisanship. The better you
come to understand France the more clearly you see that even to-
day no study of the Revolution strikes any Frenchman as
having been impartial.''
This observation is perfectly correct. To be interpretable with
equity, the events of the past must no longer be productive of
results and must not touch the religious or political beliefs
whose inevitable intolerance I have denoted.
We must not therefore be surprised that historians express very
different ideas respecting the Revolution. For a long time to
come some will still see in it one of the most sinister events of
history, while to others it will remain one of the most glorious.
All writers on the subject have believed that they have related
its course with impartiality, but in general they have merely
supported contradictory theories of peculiar simplicity. The
documents being innumerable and contradictory, their conscious or
unconscious choice has readily enabled them to justify their
The older historians of the Revolution--Thiers, Quinet, and,
despite his talent, Michelet himself, are somewhat eclipsed to-
day. Their doctrines were by no means complicated; a historic
fatalism prevails generally in their work. Thiers regarded the
Revolution as the result of several centuries of absolute
monarchy, and the Terror as the necessary consequence of foreign
invasion. Quinet described the excesses of 1793 as the result of
a long-continued despotism, but declared that the tyranny of the
Convention was unnecessary, and hampered the work of the
Revolution. Michelet saw in this last merely the work of the
people, whom he blindly admired, and commenced the glorification
continued by other historians.
The former reputation of all these historians has been to a great
extent effaced by that of Taine. Although equally impassioned,
he threw a brilliant light upon the revolutionary period, and it
will doubtless be long before his work is superseded.
Work so important is bound to show faults. Taine is admirable in
the representation of facts and persons, but he attempts to judge
by the standard of rational logic events which were not dictated
by reason, and which, therefore, he cannot interpret. His
psychology, excellent when it is merely descriptive, is very weak
as soon as it becomes explanatory. To affirm that Robespierre
was a pedantic ``swotter'' is not to reveal the causes of his
absolute power over the Convention, at a time when he had spent
several months in decimating it with perfect impunity. It has
very justly been said of Taine that he saw well and understood
Despite these restrictions his work is highly remarkable and has
not been equalled. We may judge of his immense influence by the
exasperation which he causes among the faithful defenders of
Jacobin orthodoxy, of which M. Aulard, professor at the Sorbonne,
is to-day the high priest. The latter has devoted two years to
writing a pamphlet against Taine, every line of which is steeped
in passion. All this time spent in rectifying a few material
errors which are not really significant has only resulted in the
perpetration of the very same errors.
Reviewing his work, M. A. Cochin shows that M. Aulard has at
least on every other occasion been deceived by his quotations,
whereas Taine erred far more rarely. The same historian shows
also that we must not trust M. Aulard's sources.
``These sources--proceedings, pamphlets, journals, and the
speeches and writings of patriots--are precisely the authentic
publications of patriotism, edited by patriots, and edited, as a
rule, for the benefit of the public. He ought to have seen in
all this simply the special pleading of the defendant: he had,
before his eyes, a ready-made history of the Revolution, which
presents, side by side with each of the acts of the `People,'
from the massacres of September to the law of Prairial, a ready-
made explanation according to the republican system of defence.''
Perhaps the fairest criticism that one can make of the work of
Taine is that it was left incomplete. He studied more especially
the role of the populace and its leaders during the
revolutionary period. This inspired him with pages vibrating
with an indignation which we can still admire, but several
important aspects of the Revolution escaped him.
Whatever one may think of the Revolution, an irreducible
difference will always exist between historians of the
the sovereign people as admirable, while the former shows us that
when abandoned to its instincts and liberated from all social
restraint it relapses into primitive savagery. The conception of
M. Aulard, entirely contrary to the lessons of the psychology of
crowds, is none the less a religious dogma in the eyes of modern
Jacobins. They write of the Revolution according to the methods
of believers, and take for learned works the arguments of virtual
<>THE THEORY OF FATALISM IN RESPECT OF THE REVOLUTION Advocates and detractors of the Revolution often admit the
fatality of revolutionary events. This theory is well
synthetised in the following passage from the History of the
Revolution, by Emile Olivier:--
``No man could oppose it. The blame belongs neither to those who
perished nor to those who survived; there was no individual force
capable of changing the elements and of foreseeing the events
which were born of the nature of things and circumstances.''
Taine himself inclines to this idea:--
``At the moment when the States General were opened the course of
ideas and events was not only determined but even visible. Each
generation unwittingly bears within itself its future and its
past; from the latter its destinies might have been foretold long
before the issue.''
Other modern authors, who profess no more indulgence for the
violence of the revolutionaries than did Taine, are equally
convinced of this fatality. M. Sorel, after recalling the saying
of Bossuet concerning the revolutions of antiquity: ``Everything
is surprising if we only consider particular causes, and yet
everything goes forward in regular sequence,'' expresses an
intention which he very imperfectly realises: ``to show in the
Revolution, which seems to some the subversion and to others the
regeneration of the old European world, the natural and necessary
result of the history of Europe, and to show, moreover, that this
revolution had no result--not even the most unexpected--that did
not ensue from this history, and was not explained by the
precedents of the ancien regime.''
Guizot also had formerly attempted to prove that our Revolution,
which he quite wrongly compared to that of England, was perfectly
natural and effected no innovations:--
``Far from having broken with the natural course of events in
Europe, neither the English revolution nor our own did, intended,
or said anything that had not been said, intended, and done a
hundred years before its outbreak.
`` . . . Whether we regard the general doctrines of the two
revolutions or the application made of them--whether we deal with
the government of the State or with the civil legislation, with
property or with persons, with liberty or with power, we shall
find nothing of which the invention can be attributed to them,
nothing that will not be encountered elsewhere, or that was not
at least originated in times which we qualify as normal.''
All these assertions merely recall the banal law that a
phenomenon is simply the consequence of previous phenomena. Such
very general propositions do not teach us much.
We must not try to explain too many events by the principle of
fatality adopted by so many historians. I have elsewhere
discussed the significance of such fatalities, and have shown
that the whole effort of civilisation consists in trying to
escape therefrom. Certainly history is full of necessities, but
it is also full of contingent facts which were, and might not
have been. Napoleon himself, on
circumstances which might have checked his prodigious career. He
related, notably, that on taking a bath at Auxonne, in 1786, he
only escaped death by the fortuitous presence of a sandbank. If
Bonaparte had died, then we may admit that another general would
have arisen, and might have become dictator. But what would have
become of the Imperial epic and its consequences without
the man of genius who led our victorious armies into all the
It is permissible to consider the Revolution as being partly a
necessity, but it was above all--which is what the fatalistic
writers already cited do not show us--a permanent struggle
between theorists who were imbued with a new ideal, and the
economic, social, and political laws which ruled mankind, and
which they did not understand. Not understanding them, they
sought in vain to direct the course of events, were exasperated
at their failure, and finally committed every species of
violence. They decreed that the paper money known as assignats
should be accepted as the equivalent of gold, and all their
threats could not prevent the fictitious value of such money
falling almost to nothing. They decreed the law of the maximum,
and it merely increased the evils it was intended to remedy.
Robespierre declared before the Convention ``that all the sans-
culottes will be paid at the expense of the public treasury,
which will be fed by the rich,'' and in spite of requisitions and
the guillotine the treasury remained empty.
Having broken all human restraints, the men of the Revolution
finally discovered that a society cannot live without them; but
when they sought to create them anew they saw that even the
strongest society, though supported by the fear of the
guillotine, could not replace the discipline which the past had
slowly built up in the minds of men. As for understanding the
evolution of society, or judging men's hearts and minds, or
foreseeing the consequences of the laws they enacted, they
scarcely attempted to do so.
The events of the Revolution did not ensue from
irreducible necessities. They were far more the consequence of
Jacobin principles than of circumstances, and might have been
quite other than they were. Would the Revolution have followed
the same path if Louis XVI. had been better advised, or if the
Constituent Assembly had been less cowardly in times of popular
insurrection? The theory of revolutionary fatality is only
useful to justify violence by presenting it as inevitable.
Whether we are dealing with science or with history we must
beware of the ignorance which takes shelter under the shibboleth
of fatalism Nature was formerly full of a host of fatalities
which science is slowly contriving to avoid. The function of the
superior man is, as I have shown elsewhere, to avert such
<>THE HESITATIONS OF RECENT HISTORIANS OF THE REVOLUTION The historians whose ideas we have examined in the preceding
chapter were extremely positive in their special pleading.
Confined within the limits of belief, they did not attempt to
penetrate the domain of knowledge. A monarchical writer was
violently hostile to the Revolution, and a liberal writer was its
At the present time we can see the commencement of a movement
which will surely lead to the study of the Revolution as one of
those scientific phenomena into which the opinions and beliefs of
a writer enter so little that the reader does not even suspect
This period has not yet come into being; we are still in the
period of doubt. The liberal writers who used to be so positive
are now so no longer. One may judge of this new state of
mind by the following extracts from recent authors:--
M. Hanotaux, having vaunted the utility of the Revolution, asks
whether its results were not bought too dearly, and adds:--
``History hesitates, and will, for a long time yet, hesitate to
M. Madelin is equally dubious in the book he has recently
``I have never felt sufficient authority to form, even in my
inmost conscience, a categorical judgment on so complex a
phenomenon as the French Revolution. To-day I find it even more
difficult to form a brief judgement. Causes, facts, and
consequences seem to me to be still extremely debatable
One may obtain a still better idea of the transformation of the
old ideas concerning the Revolution by perusing the latest
writings of its official defenders. While they professed
formerly to justify every act of violence by representing it as a
simple act of defence, they now confine themselves to pleading
extenuating circumstances. I find a striking proof of this new
frame of mind in the history of
published by MM. Aulard and Debidour. Concerning the Terror we
read the following lines:--
``Blood flowed in waves; there were acts of injustice and crimes
which were useless from the point of view of national defence,
and odious. But men had lost their heads in the tempest, and,
harassed by a thousand dangers, the patriots struck out in their
We shall see in another part of this work that the first of the
two authors whom I have cited is, in spite of his
uncompromising Jacobinism, by no means indulgent toward the men
formerly qualified as the ``Giants of the Convention.''
The judgments of foreigners upon our Revolution are usually
distinctly severe, and we cannot be surprised when we remember
The Germans in particular have been most severe. Their opinion
is summed up in the following lines by M. Faguet:--
``Let us say it courageously and patriotically, for patriotism
consists above all in telling the truth to one's own country:
Germany sees in France, with regard to the past, a people who,
with the great words `liberty' and `fraternity' in its mouth,
oppressed, trampled, murdered, pillaged, and fleeced her for
fifteen years; and with regard to the present, a people who, with
the same words on its banners, is organising a despotic,
oppressive, mischievous, and ruinous democracy, which none would
seek to imitate. This is what Germany may well see in France;
and this, according to her books and journals, is, we may assure
ourselves, what she does see.''
For the rest, whatever the worth of the verdicts pronounced upon
the French Revolution, we may be certain that the writers of the
future will consider it as an event as passionately interesting
as it is instructive.
A Government bloodthirsty enough to guillotine old men of eighty
years, young girls, and little children: which covered France
with ruins, and yet succeeded in repulsing Europe in arms; an
archduchess of Austria, Queen of France, dying on the
scaffold, and a few years later another archduchess, her
relative, replacing her on the same throne and marrying a sub-
lieutenant, turned Emperor--here are tragedies unique in human
history. The psychologists, above all, will derive lessons from
a history hitherto so little studied by them. No doubt they will
finally discover that psychology can make no progress until it
renounces chimerical theories and laboratory experiments in order
to study the events and the men who surround us.
 This advice is far from being banal. The psychologists of
the day pay very little attention to the world about them, and
are even surprised that any one should study it. I have come
across an interesting proof of this indifferent frame of mind in
a review of one of my books which appeared in the Revue
philosophique and was inspired by the editor of the review. The
author reproaches me with ``exploring the world and the
newspapers rather than books.''
I most gladly accept this reproach. The manifold facts of the
journals and the realities of the world are far more instructive
than philosophical lucubrations such as the Revue is stuffed
Philosophers are beginning to see the puerility of such
reproaches. It was certainly of the forty volumes of this
fastidious publication that Mr. William James was thinking when
he wrote that all these dissertations simply represented ``a
string of facts clumsily observed and a few quarrelsome
discussions.'' Although he is the author of the best known
treatise on psychology extant, the eminent thinker realises ``the
fragility of a science that oozes metaphysical criticism at every
joint.'' For more than twenty years I have tried to interest
psychologists in the study of realities, but the stream of
university metaphysics is hardly yet turned aside, although it
has lost its former force
<>IMPARTIALITY IN HISTORY Impartiality has always been considered as the most essential
quality of the historian. All historians since Tacitus have
assured us that they are impartial.
In reality the writer sees events as the painter sees a
landscape--that is, through his own temperament; through his
character and the mind of the race.
A number of artists, placed before the same landscape, would
necessarily interpret it in as many different fashions. Some
would lay stress upon details neglected by others. Each
reproduction would thus be a personal work--that is to say, would
be interpreted by a certain form of sensibility.
It is the same with the writer. We can no more speak of the
impartiality of the historian than we can speak of the
impartiality of the painter.
Certainly the historian may confine himself to the reproduction
of documents, and this is the present tendency. But these
documents, for periods as near us as the Revolution, are so
abundant that a man's whole life would not suffice to go through
them. Therefore the historian must make a choice.
Consciously sometimes, but more often unconsciously, the author
will select the material which best corresponds with his
political, moral, and social opinions.
It is therefore impossible, unless he contents himself with
simple chronologies summing up each event with a few words and a
date, to produce a truly impartial volume of history. No author
could be impartial; and it is not to be regretted. The claim to
impartiality, so common to-day, results in those flat, gloomy,
and prodigiously wearisome works which render the comprehension
of a period completely impossible.
Should the historian, under a pretext of impartiality, abstain
from judging men--that is, from speaking in tones of admiration
This question, I admit, allows of two very different solutions,
each of which is perfectly correct, according to the point of
view assumed--that of the moralist or that of the psychologist.
The moralist must think exclusively of the interest of society,
and must judge men only according to that interest. By the very
fact that it exists and wishes to continue to exist a society is
obliged to admit a certain number of rules, to have an
indestructible standard of good and evil, and consequently to
create very definite distinctions between vice and virtue. It
thus finally creates average types, to which the man of the
period approaches more or less closely, and from which he cannot
depart very widely without peril to society.
It is by such similar types and the rules derived from social
necessities that the moralist must judge the men of the past.
Praising those which were useful and blaming the rest, he thus
helps to form the moral types which are indispensable to the
progress of civilisation and which may serve others as models.
Poets such as Corneille, for example, create heroes superior to
the majority of men, and possibly inimitable; but they thereby
help greatly to stimulate our efforts. The example of heroes
must always be set before a people in order to ennoble its mind.
Such is the moralist's point of view. That of the psychologist
would be quite different. While a society has no right to be
tolerant, because its first duty is to live, the psychologist may
remain indifferent. Considering things as a scientist, he no
longer asks their utilitarian value, but seeks merely to explain
His situation is that of the observer before any phenomenon. It
is obviously difficult to read in cold blood that Carrier ordered
his victims to be buried up to the neck so that they might then
be blinded and subjected to horrible torments. Yet if we wish to
comprehend such acts we must be no more indignant than the
naturalist before the spider slowly devouring a fly. As soon as
the reason is moved it is no longer reason, and can explain
The functions of the historian and the psychologist are not, as
we see, identical, but of both we may demand the endeavour, by a
wise interpretation of the facts, to discover, under the visible
evidences, the invisible forces which determine them.
MONARCHY AND THE BASES OF THE ANCIEN REGIME Many historians assure us that
the Revolution was directed
against the autocracy of the monarchy. In reality the kings of
Only very late in history--not until the reign of Louis XIV.--did
they finally obtain incontestable power. All the preceding
sovereigns, even the most powerful, such as Francis I., for
example, had to sustain a constant struggle either against the
seigneurs, or the clergy, or the parliaments, and they did not
always win. Francis himself had not sufficient power to protect
his most intimate friends against the Sorbonne and the
Parliament. His friend and councillor Berquin, having offended
the Sorbonne, was arrested upon the order of the latter body.
The king ordered his release, which was refused. He was obliged
to send archers to remove him from the Conciergerie, and could
find no other means of protecting him than that of keeping him
beside him in the Louvre. The Sorbonne by no means considered
itself beaten. Profiting by the king's absence, it
arrested Berquin again and had him tried by Parliament.
Condemned at ten in the morning, he was burned alive at .
Built up very gradually, the power of the kings of
absolute until the time of Louis XIV. It then rapidly declined,
and it would be truly difficult to speak of the absolutism of
This pretended master was the slave of his court, his ministers,
the clergy, and the nobles. He did what they forced him to do
and rarely what he wished. Perhaps no Frenchman was so little
free as the king.
The great power of the monarchy resided originally in the Divine
origin which was attributed to it, and in the traditions which
had accumulated during the ages. These formed the real social
framework of the country.
The true cause of the disappearance of the ancien regime was
simply the weakening of the traditions which served as its
foundations. When after repeated criticism it could find no more
defenders, the ancien regime crumbled like a building whose
foundations have been destroyed.
<>THE INCONVENIENCES OF THE ANCIEN REGIME A long-established system of government will always finally seem
acceptable to the people governed. Habit masks its
inconveniences, which appear only when men begin to think. Then
they ask how they could ever have supported them. The truly
unhappy man is the man who believes himself miserable.
It was precisely this belief which was gaining ground at the time
of the Revolution, under the influence of the writers whose work
we shall presently study. Then the imperfections of the
ancien regime stared all men in the face. They were
numerous; it is enough to mention a few.
Despite the apparent authority of the central power, the kingdom,
formed by the successive conquest of independent provinces, was
divided into territories each of which had its own laws and
customs, and each of which paid different imposts. Internal
customs-houses separated them. The unity of
somewhat artificial. It represented an aggregate of various
countries which the repeated efforts of the kings, including
Louis XIV., had not succeeded in wholly unifying. The most
useful effect of the Revolution was this very unification.
To such material divisions were added social divisions
constituted by different classes--nobles, clergy, and the Third
Estate, whose rigid barriers could only with the utmost
difficulty be crossed.
Regarding the division of the classes as one of its sources of
power, the ancien regime had rigorously maintained that
division. This became the principal cause of the hatreds which
the system inspired. Much of the violence of the triumphant
bourgeoisie represented vengeance for a long past of disdain
and oppression. The wounds of self-love are the most difficult
of all to forget. The Third Estate had suffered many such
wounds. At a meeting of the States General in 1614, at which its
representatives were obliged to remain bareheaded on their knees,
one member of the Third Estate having dared to say that the three
orders were like three brothers, the spokesman of the nobles
replied ``that there was no fraternity between it and the Third;
that the nobles did not wish the children of cobblers and
tanners to call them their brothers.''
Despite the march of enlightenment the nobles and the clergy
obstinately preserved their privileges and their demands, no
longer justifiable now that these classes had ceased to render
Kept from the exercise of public functions by the royal power,
which distrusted them, and progressively replaced by a
bourgeoisie which was more and more learned and capable, the
social role of nobility and clergy was only an empty show.
This point has been luminously expounded by Taine:--
``Since the nobility, having lost its special capacity, and the
Third Estate, having acquired general capacity, were now on a
level in respect of education and aptitudes, the inequality which
divided them had become hurtful and useless. Instituted by
custom, it was no longer ratified by the consciousness, and the
Third Estate was with reason angered by privileges which nothing
justified, neither the capacity of the nobles nor the incapacity
of the bourgeoisie.''
By reason of the rigidity of castes established by a long past we
cannot see what could have persuaded the nobles and the clergy to
renounce their privileges. Certainly they did finally abandon
them one memorable evening, when events forced them to do so; but
then it was too late, and the Revolution, unchained, was pursuing
It is certain that modern progress would successively have
established all that the Revolution effected--the equality of
citizens before the law, the suppression of the privileges of
birth, &c. Despite the conservative spirit of the Latins, these
things would have been won, as they were by the majority
of the peoples. We might in this manner have been saved twenty
years of warfare and devastation; but we must have had a
different mental constitution, and, above all, different
The profound hostility of the bourgeoisie against the classes
maintained above it by tradition was one of the great factors of
the Revolution, and perfectly explains why, after its triumph,
the first class despoiled the vanquished of their wealth. They
behaved as conquerors--like William the Conqueror, who, after the
But although the bourgeoisie detested the nobility they had no
hatred for royalty, and did not regard it as revocable. The
maladdress of the king and his appeals to foreign powers only
very gradually made him unpopular.
The first Assembly never dreamed of founding a republic.
Extremely royalist, in fact, it thought simply to substitute a
constitutional for an absolute monarchy. Only the consciousness
of its increasing power exasperated it against the resistance of
the king; but it dared not overthrow him.
<>LIFE UNDER THE ANCIEN REGIME It is difficult to form a very clear idea of life under the
ancien regime, and, above all, of the real situation of the
The writers who defend the Revolution as theologians defend
religious dogmas draw such gloomy pictures of the existence of
the peasants under the ancien regime that we ask ourselves
how it was that all these unhappy creatures had not died
of hunger long before. A good example of this style of writing
may be found in a book by M. A. Rambaud, formerly professor at
the Sorbonne, published under the title History of the French
Revolution. One notices especially an engraving bearing the
legend, Poverty of Peasants under Louis XIV. In the foreground
a man is fighting some dogs for some bones, which for that matter
are already quite fleshless. Beside him a wretched fellow is
twisting himself and compressing his stomach. Farther back a
woman lying on the ground is eating grass. At the back of the
landscape figures of which one cannot say whether they are
corpses or persons starving are also stretched on the soil. As
an example of the administration of the ancien regime the
same author assures us that ``a place in the police cost 300
livres and brought in 400,000.'' Such figures surely indicate a
great disinterestedness on the part of those who sold such
productive employment! He also informs us ``that it cost only
120 livres to get people arrested,'' and that ``under Louis XV.
more than 150,000 lettres de cachet were distributed.''
The majority of books dealing with the Revolution are conceived
with as little impartiality and critical spirit, which is one
reason why this period is really so little known to us.
Certainly there is no lack of documents, but they are absolutely
contradictory. To the celebrated description of La Bruyere we
may oppose the enthusiastic picture drawn by the English
traveller Young of the prosperous condition of the peasants of
some of the French provinces.
Were they really crushed by taxation, and did they, as has been
stated, pay four-fifths of their revenue instead of a fifth as
to-day? Impossible to say with certainty. One capital fact,
however, seems to prove that under the ancien regime the
situation of the inhabitants of the rural districts could not
have been so very wretched, since it seems established that more
than a third of the soil had been bought by peasants.
We are better informed as to the financial system. It was very
oppressive and extremely complicated. The budgets usually showed
deficits, and the imposts of all kinds were raised by tyrannical
farmers-general. At the very moment of the Revolution this
condition of the finances became the cause of universal
discontent, which is expressed in the cahiers of the States
General. Let us remark that these cahiers did not represent a
previous state of affairs, but an actual condition due to a
crisis of poverty produced by the bad harvest of 1788 and the
hard winter of 1789. What would these cahiers have told us had
they been written ten years earlier?
Despite these unfavourable circumstances the cahiers contained
no revolutionary ideas. The most advanced merely asked that
taxes should be imposed only with the consent of the States
General and paid by all alike. The same cahiers sometimes
expressed a wish that the power of the king should be limited by
a Constitution defining his rights and those of the nation. If
these wishes had been granted a constitutional monarchy could
very easily have been substituted for the absolute monarchy, and
the Revolution would probably have been avoided.
Unhappily, the nobility and the clergy were too strong and Louis
XVI. too weak for such a solution to be possible.
Moreover, it would have been rendered extremely difficult by the
demands of the bourgeoisie, who claimed to substitute themselves
for the nobles, and were the real authors of the Revolution. The
movement started by the middle classes rapidly exceeded their
hopes, needs, and aspirations. They had claimed equality for
their own profit, but the people also demanded equality. The
Revolution thus finally became the popular government which it
was not and had no intention of becoming at the outset.
<>EVOLUTION OF MONARCHICAL FEELING DURING THE REVOLUTION Despite the slow evolution of the affective elements, it is
certain that during the Revolution the sentiments, not of the
people only, but also of the revolutionary Assemblies with regard
to the monarchy, underwent a very rapid change. Between the
moment when the legislators of the first Assembly surrounded
Louis XVI. with respect and the moment when his head was cut off
a very few years had elapsed.
These changes, superficial rather than profound, were in reality
a mere transposition of sentiments of the same order. The love
which the men of this period professed for the king was
transferred to the new Government which had inherited his power.
The mechanism of such a transfer may easily be demonstrated.
Under the ancien regime, the sovereign, holding his power by
Divine right, was for this reason invested with a kind of
supernatural power. His people looked up to him from every
corner of the country.
This mystic belief in the absolute power of royalty was shattered
only when repeated experience proved that the power attributed to
the adored being was fictitious. He then lost his prestige.
Now, when prestige is lost the crowd will not forgive the fallen
idol for deluding them, and seek anew the idol without which they
From the outset of the Revolution numerous facts, which were
daily repeated, revealed to the most fervent believers the fact
that royalty no longer possessed any power, and that there were
other powers capable, not only of contending with royalty, but
possessed of superior force.
What, for instance, was thought of the royal power by the
multitudes who saw the king held in check by the Assembly, and
incapable, in the heart of
fortress against the attacks of armed bands?
The royal weakness thus being obvious, the power of the Assembly
was increasing. Now, in the eyes of the crowd weakness has no
prestige; it turns always to force.
In the Assemblies feeling was very fluid, but did not evolve very
rapidly, for which reason the monarchical faith survived the
taking of the Bastille the flight of the king, and his
understanding with foreign sovereigns.
The royalist faith was still so powerful that the Parisian riots
and the events which led to the execution of Louis XVI. were not
enough finally to destroy, in the provinces, the species
of secular piety which enveloped the old monarchy.
 As an instance of the depth of this hereditary love of the
people for its kings, Michelet relates the following fact, which
occurred in the reign of Louis XV.: ``When it was known in Paris
that Louis XV., who had left for the army, was detained ill at
Metz, it was night. People got up and ran tumultuously hither
and thither without knowing where they were going; the churches
were opened in the middle of the night . . . people assembled at
every cross-road, jostling and questioning one another without
knowing what they were after. In several churches the priest who
was reciting the prayer for the king's health was stopped by his
tears, and the people replied by sobs and cries. . . . The
courier who brought the news of his convalescence was embraced
and almost stifled; people kissed his horse, and led him in
triumph. . . . Every street resounded with a cry of joy: `The
king is healed.' ''
It persisted in a great part of
Revolution, and was the origin of the royalist conspiracies and
insurrections in various departments which the Convention had
such trouble to suppress. The royalist faith had disappeared in
but in the provinces the royal power, representing God on earth,
still retained its prestige.
The royalist sentiments of the people must have been deeply
rooted to survive the guillotine. The royalist movements
persisted, indeed, during the whole of the Revolution, and were
accentuated under the Directory, when forty-nine departments sent
royalist deputies to
coup d'etat of Fructidor.
This monarchical-feeling, with difficulty repressed by the
Revolution, contributed to the success of Bonaparte when he came
to occupy the throne of the ancient kings, and in great measure
to re-establish the ancien regime.
PROPAGATION OF REVOLUTIONARY IDEAS The outward life of men in every age is
moulded upon an inward
life consisting of a framework of traditions, sentiments, and
moral influences which direct their conduct and maintain certain
fundamental notions which they accept without discussion.
Let the resistance of this social framework weaken, and ideas
which could have had no force before will germinate and develop.
Certain theories whose success was enormous at the time of the
Revolution would have encountered an impregnable wall two
The aim of these considerations is to recall to the reader the
fact that the outward events of revolutions are always a
consequence of invisible transformations which have slowly gone
forward in men's minds. Any profound study of a revolution
necessitates a study of the mental soil upon which the ideas that
direct its course have to germinate.
Generally slow in the extreme, the evolution of ideas is often
invisible for a whole generation. Its extent can only be grasped
by comparing the mental condition of the same social
classes at the two extremities of the curve which the mind has
followed. To realise the different conceptions of royalty
entertained by educated men under Louis XIV. and Louis XVI., we
must compare the political theories of Bossuet and Turgot.
Bossuet expressed the general conceptions of his time concerning
the absolute monarchy when he based the authority of a Government
upon the will of God, ``sole judge of the actions of kings,
always irresponsible before men.'' Religious faith was then as
strong as the monarchical faith from which it seemed inseparable,
and no philosopher could have shaken it.
The writings of the reforming ministers of Louis XVI., those of
Turgot, for instance, are animated by quite another spirit. Of
the Divine right of kings there is hardly a word, and the rights
of the peoples begin to be clearly defined.
Many events had contributed to prepare for such an evolution--
unfortunate wars, famines, imposts, general poverty at the end of
the reign of Louis XV., &c. Slowly destroyed, respect for
monarchical authority was replaced by a mental revolt which was
ready to manifest itself as soon as occasion should arise.
When once the mental framework commences to crumble the end comes
rapidly. This is why at the time of the Revolution ideas were so
quickly propagated which were by no means new, but which until
then had exerted no influence, as they had not fallen on fruitful
Yet the ideas which were then so attractive and effectual had
often been expressed. For a long time they had inspired the
Latin authors had written in defence of liberty, had
cursed tyrants, and proclaimed the rights of popular sovereignty.
The middle classes who effected the Revolution, although, like
their fathers, they had learned all these things in text-books,
were not in any degree moved by them, because the moment when
such ideas could move them had not arrived. How should the
people have been impressed by them at a time when all men were
accustomed to regard all hierarchies as natural necessities?
The actual influence of the philosophers in the genesis of the
Revolution was not that which was attributed to them. They
revealed nothing new, but they developed the critical spirit
which no dogma can resist once the way is prepared for its
Under the influence of this developing critical spirit things
which were no longer very greatly respected came to be respected
less and less. When tradition and prestige had disappeared the
social edifice suddenly fell.
This progressive disaggregation finally descended to the people,
but was not commenced by the people. The people follows
examples, but never sets them.
The philosophers, who could not have exerted any influence over
the people, did exert a great influence over the enlightened
portion of the nation. The unemployed nobility, who had long
been ousted from their old functions, and who were consequently
inclined to be censorious, followed their leadership. Incapable
of foresight, the nobles were the first to break with the
traditions that were their only raison d'etre. As steeped
in humanitarianism and rationalism as the bourgeoisie of to-
day, they continually sapped their own privileges by their
criticisms. As to-day, the most ardent reformers were found
among the favourites of fortune. The aristocracy encouraged
dissertations on the social contract, the rights of man, and the
equality of citizens. At the theatre it applauded plays which
criticised privileges, the arbitrariness and the incapacity of
men in high places, and abuses of all kinds.
As soon as men lose confidence in the foundations of the mental
framework which guides their conduct they feel at first uneasy
and then discontented. All classes felt their old motives of
action gradually disappearing. Things that had seemed sacred for
centuries were now sacred no longer.
The censorious spirit of the nobility and of the writers of the
day would not have sufficed to move the heavy load of tradition,
but that its action was added to that of other powerful
influences. We have already stated, in citing Bossuet, that
under the ancien regime the religious and civil governments,
widely separated in our days, were intimately connected. To
injure one was inevitably to injure the other. Now, even before
the monarchical idea was shaken the force of religious tradition
was greatly diminished among cultivated men. The constant
progress of knowledge had sent an increasing number of minds from
theology to science by opposing the truth observed to the truth
This mental evolution, although as yet very vague, was sufficient
to show that the traditions which for so many centuries had
guided men had not the value which had been attributed to them,
and that it would soon be necessary to replace them.
But where discover the new elements which might; take the place
of tradition? Where seek the magic ring which would raise a new
social edifice on the remains of that which no longer contented
Men were agreed in attributing to reason the power that tradition
and the gods seemed to have lost. How could its force be
doubted? Its discoveries having been innumerable, was it not
legitimate to suppose that by applying it to the construction of
societies it would entirely transform them? Its possible
function increased very rapidly in the thoughts of the more
enlightened, in proportion as tradition seemed more and more to
The sovereign power attributed to reason must be regarded as the
culminating idea which not only engendered the Revolution but
governed it throughout. During the whole Revolution men gave
themselves up to the most persevering efforts to break with the
past, and to erect society upon a new plan dictated by logic.
Slowly filtering downward, the rationalistic theories of the
philosophers meant to the people simply that all the things which
had been regarded as worthy of respect were now no longer worthy.
Men being declared equal, the old masters need no longer be
The multitude easily succeeded in ceasing to respect what the
upper classes themselves no longer respected. When the barrier
of respect was down the Revolution was accomplished.
The first result of this new mentality was a general
insubordination. Mme. Vigee Lebrun relates that on the
promenade at Longchamps men of the people leaped on the
footboards of the carriages, saying, ``Next year you will be
behind and we shall be inside.''
The populace was not alone in manifesting insubordination and
discontent. These sentiments were general on the eve of the
Revolution. ``The lesser clergy,'' says Taine, ``are hostile to
the prelates; the provincial gentry to the nobility of the court;
the vassals to the seigneurs; the peasants to the townsmen,'' &c.
This state of mind, which had been communicated from the nobles
and clergy to the people, also invaded the army. At the moment
the States General were opened Necker said: ``We are not sure of
the troops.'' The officers were becoming humanitarian and
philosophical. The soldiers, recruited from the lowest class of
the population, did not philosophise, but they no longer obeyed.
In their feeble minds the ideas of equality meant simply the
suppression of all leaders and masters, and therefore of all
obedience. In 1790 more than twenty regiments threatened their
officers, and sometimes, as at
The mental anarchy which, after spreading through all the classes
of society, finally invaded the army was the principal cause of
the disappearance of the ancien regime. ``It was the
defection of the army affected by the ideas of the Third
Estate,'' wrote Rivarol, ``that destroyed royalty.''
<>THE SUPPOSED INFLUENCE OF THE PHILOSOPHERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY UPON THE GENESIS OF THE REVOLUTION--THEIR DISLIKE OF DEMOCRACY Although the philosophers who have been supposed the inspirers of
the French Revolution did attack certain privileges and
abuses, we must not for that reason regard them as partisans of
popular government. Democracy, whose role in Greek history
was familiar to them, was generally highly antipathetic to them.
They were not ignorant of the destruction and violence which are
its invariable accompaniments, and knew that in the time of
Aristotle it was already defined as ``a State in which
everything, even the law, depends on the multitude set up as a
tyrant and governed by a few declamatory speakers.''
Pierre Bayle, the true forerunner of Voltaire, recalled in the
following terms the consequences of popular government in
``If one considers this history, which displays at great length
the tumult of the assemblies, the factions dividing the city, the
seditious disturbing it, the most illustrious subjects
persecuted, exiled, and punished by death at the will of a
violent windbag, one would conclude that this people, which so
prided itself on its liberty, was really the slave of a small
number of caballers, whom they called demagogues, and who made it
turn now in this direction, now in that, as their passions
changed, almost as the sea heaps the waves now one way, now
another, according to the winds which trouble it. You will seek
in vain in
of tyranny as Athenian history will afford.''
Montesquieu had no greater admiration for the democracy. Having
described the three forms of government--republican, monarchical,
and despotic--he shows very clearly what popular government may
``Men were free with laws; men would fain be free without
them; what was a maxim is called severity; what was order is
called hindrance. Formerly the welfare of individuals
constituted the public wealth, but now the public wealth becomes
the patrimony of individuals. The republic is spoil, and its
strength is merely the power of a few citizens and the licence of
``. . . Little petty tyrants spring up who have all the vices of
a single tyrant. Very soon what is left of liberty becomes
untenable; a single tyrant arises, and the people loses all, even
the advantages of corruption.
``Democracy has therefore two extremes to avoid; the extreme of
the spirit of equality leads to the despotism of a single person,
as the despotism of a single person leads to conquest.''
The ideal of Montesquieu was the English constitutional
government, which prevented the monarchy from degenerating into
despotism. Otherwise the influence of this philosopher at the
moment of the Revolution was very slight.
As for the Encyclopaedists, to whom such a considerable
role is attributed, they hardly dealt with politics,
excepting d'Holbach, a liberal monarchist like Voltaire and
Diderot. They wrote chiefly in defence of individual liberty,
opposing the encroachments of the Church, at that time extremely
intolerant and inimical to philosophers. Being neither
Socialists nor democrats, the Revolution could not utilise any of
Voltaire himself was by no means a partisan of democracy.
``Democracy,'' he said, ``seems only to suit a very small
country, and even then it must be fortunately situated.
Little as it may be, it will make many mistakes, because it will
be composed of men. Discord will prevail there as in a convent
full of monks; but there will be no St. Bartholomew's day, no
Irish massacres, no Sicilian Vespers, no Inquisition, no
condemnation to the galleys for having taken water from the sea
without paying for it; unless we suppose this republic to be
composed of devils in a corner of hell.''
All these men who are supposed to have inspired the Revolution
had opinions which were far from subversive, and it is really
difficult to see that they had any real influence on the
development of the revolutionary movement. Rousseau was one of
the very few democratic philosophers of his age, which is why his
Contrat Social became the Bible of the men of the Terror. It
seemed to furnish the rational justification necessary to excuse
the acts deriving from unconscious mystic and affective impulses
which no philosophy had inspired.
To be quite truthful, the democratic instincts of Rousseau were
by no means above suspicion. He himself considered that his
projects for social reorganisation, based upon popular
sovereignty, could be applied only to a very small State; and
when the Poles asked him for a draft democratic Constitution he
advised them to choose a hereditary monarch.
Among the theories of Rousseau that relating to the perfection of
the primitive social state had a great success. He asserted,
together with various writers of his time, that primitive mankind
was perfect; it was corrupted only by society. By modifying
society by means of good laws one might bring back the
happiness of the early world. Ignorant of all psychology, he
believed that men were the same throughout time and space and
that they could all be ruled by the same laws and institutions.
This was then the general belief. ``The vices and virtues of the
people,'' wrote Helvetius, ``are always a necessary effect of its
legislation. . . . How can we doubt that virtue is in the case
of all peoples the result of the wisdom, more or less perfect, of
There could be no greater mistake.
<>THE PHILOSOPHICAL IDEAS OF THE BOURGEOISIE AT THE TIME OF THE REVOLUTION It is by no means easy to say just what were the social and
political conceptions of a Frenchman of the middle classes at the
moment of the Revolution. They might be reduced to a few
formulae concerning fraternity, equality, and popular
government, summed up in the celebrated Declaration of the Rights
of Man, of which we shall have occasion to quote a few passages.
The philosophers of the eighteenth century do not seem to have
been very highly rated by the men of the Revolution. Rarely are
they quoted in the speeches of the time. Hypnotised by their
classical memories of
read their Plato and their Plutarch. They wished to revive the
Lycurgus, Solon, Miltiades, Manlius Torquatus, Brutus, Mucius
Scaevola, even the fabulous Minos himself, became as familiar
in the tribune as in the theatre, and the public went crazy over
them. The shades of the heroes of antiquity hovered over
the revolutionary assemblies. Posterity alone has replaced them
by the shades of the philosophers of the eighteenth century.
We shall see that in reality the men of this period, generally
represented as bold innovators guided by subtle philosophers,
professed to effect no innovations whatever, but to return to a
past long buried in the mists of history, and which, moreover,
they scarcely ever in the least understood.
The more reasonable, who did not go so far back for their models,
aimed merely at adopting the English constitutional system, of
which Montesquieu and Voltaire had sung the praises, and which
all nations were finally to imitate without violent crises.
Their ambitions were confined to a desire to perfect the existing
monarchy, not to overthrow it. But in time of revolution men
often take a very different path from that they propose to take.
At the time of the convocation of the States General no one would
ever have supposed that a revolution of peaceful bourgeoisie
and men of letters would rapidly be transformed into one of the
most sanguinary dictatorships of history.
RESPECTING PRIMITIVE MAN, THE RETURN TO A STATE OF NATURE, AND THE PSYCHOLOGY
OF THE PEOPLE We have already repeated, and shall again repeat, that the
of a doctrine do not hinder its propagation, so that all we have
to consider here is its influence upon men's minds.
But although the criticism of erroneous doctrines is seldom of
practical utility, it is extremely interesting from a
psychological point of view. The philosopher who wishes to
understand the working of men's minds should always carefully
consider the illusions which they live with. Never, perhaps, in
the course of history have these illusions appeared so profound
and so numerous as during the Revolution.
One of the most prominent was the singular conception of the
nature of our first ancestors and primitive societies.
Anthropology not having as yet revealed the conditions of our
remoter forbears, men supposed, being influenced by the legends
of the Bible, that man had issued perfect from the hands of the
Creator. The first societies were models which were afterwards
ruined by civilisation, but to which mankind must return.
The return to the state of nature was very soon the general cry.
``The fundamental principle of all morality, of which I have
treated in my writings,'' said Rousseau, ``is that man is a being
naturally good, loving justice and order.''
Modern science, by determining, from the surviving remnants, the
conditions of life of our first ancestors, has long ago shown the
error of this doctrine. Primitive man has become an ignorant and
ferocious brute, as ignorant as the modern savage of goodness,
morality, and pity. Governed only by his instinctive impulses,
he throws himself on his prey when hunger drives him from his
cave, and falls upon his enemy the moment he is aroused by
hatred. Reason, not being born, could have no hold over his
The aim of civilisation, contrary to all revolutionary beliefs,
has been not to return to the state of nature but to escape from
it. It was precisely because the Jacobins led mankind back to
the primitive condition by destroying all the social restraints
without which no civilisation can exist that they transformed a
political society into a barbarian horde.
The ideas of these theorists concerning the nature of man were
about as valuable as those of a Roman general concerning the
power of omens. Yet their influence as motives of action was
considerable. The Convention was always inspired by such ideas.
The errors concerning our primitive ancestors were excusable
enough, since before modern discoveries had shown us the real
conditions of their existence these were absolutely unknown. But
the absolute ignorance of human psychology displayed by the men
of the Revolution is far less easy to understand.
It would really seem as though the philosophers and writers of
the eighteenth century must have been totally deficient in the
smallest faculty of observation. They lived amidst their
contemporaries without seeing them and without understanding
them. Above all, they had not a suspicion of the true nature of
the popular mind. The man of the people always appeared to them
in the likeness of the chimerical model created by their dreams.
As ignorant of psychology as of the teachings of history, they
considered the plebeian man as naturally good, affectionate,
grateful, and always ready to listen to reason.
The speeches delivered by members of the Assembly show how
profound were these illusions. When the peasants began to burn
the chateaux they were greatly astonished, and addressed
them in sentimental harangues, praying them to cease, in order
not to ``give pain to their good king,'' and adjured them ``to
surprise him by their virtues.''
<>ILLUSIONS RESPECTING THE POSSIBILITY OF SEPARATING MAN FROM HIS PAST AND THE POWER OF TRANSFORMATION ATTRIBUTED TO THE LAW One of the principles which served as a foundation for the
revolutionary institutions was that man may readily be cut off
from his past, and that a society may be re-made in all its parts
by means of institutions. Persuaded in the light of reason that,
except for the primitive ages which were to serve as models, the
past represented an inheritance of errors and superstitions, the
legislators of the day resolved to break entirely with that past.
The better to emphasise their intention, they founded a
new era, transformed the calendar, and changed the names of the
months and seasons.
Supposing all men to be alike, they thought they could legislate
for the human race. Condorcet imagined that he was expressing an
evident truth when he said: ``A good law must be good for all
men, just as a geometrical proposition is true for all.''
The theorists of the Revolution never perceived, behind the world
of visible things, the secret springs which moved them. A
century of biological progress was needed to show how grievous
were their mistakes, and how wholly a being of whatever species
depends on its past.
With the influence of the past, the reformers of the Revolution
were always clashing, without ever understanding it. They wanted
to annihilate it, but were annihilated by it instead.
The faith of law-makers in the absolute power of laws and
institutions, rudely shaken by the end of the Revolution, was
absolute at its outbreak. Gregoire said from the tribune of
the Constituent Assembly, without provoking the least
astonishment: ``We could if we would change religion, but we do
not want to.'' We know that they did want to later, and we know
how miserably their attempt failed.
Yet the Jacobins had in their hands all the elements of success.
Thanks to the completest of tyrannies, all obstacles were
removed, and the laws which it pleased them to impose were always
accepted. After ten years of violence, of destruction and
burning and pillage and massacre and general upheaval,
their impotence was revealed so startlingly that they fell into
universal reprobation. The dictator then invoked by the whole of
had been destroyed.
The attempt of the Jacobins to re-fashion society in the name of
pure reason constitutes an experiment of the highest interest.
Probably mankind will never have occasion to repeat it on so vast
Although the lesson was a terrible one, it does not seem to have
been sufficient for a considerable class of minds, since even in
our days we hear Socialists propose to rebuild society from top
to bottom according to their chimerical plans.
<>ILLUSIONS RESPECTING THE THEORETICAL VALUE OF THE GREAT REVOLUTIONARY PRINCIPLES The fundamental principles on which the Revolution was based in
order to create a new dispensation are contained in the
Declarations of Rights which were formulated successively in
1789, 1793, and 1795. All three Declarations agree in
proclaiming that ``the principle of sovereignty resides in the
For the rest, the three Declarations differ on several points,
notably in the matter of equality. That of 1789 simply states
(Article 1): ``Men are born and remain free and having equal
rights.'' That of 1793 goes farther, and assures us (Article 3):
``All men are equal by nature.'' That of 1795 is more modest and
says (Article 3): ``Equality consists in the law being the same
for all.'' Besides this, having mentioned rights, the third
Declaration considers it useful to speak of duties. Its
morality is simply that of the Gospel. Article 2 says: ``All
the duties of a man and a citizen derive from these two
principles engraved on all hearts by nature: do not do unto
others that which you would not they should do unto you; do
constantly unto others the good you would wish to receive from
The essential portions of these proclamations, the only portions
which have really survived, were those relating to equality and
Despite the weakness of its rational meaning, the part played by
the Republican device,
This magic formula, which is still left engraven on many of our
walls until it shall be engraven on our hearts, has really
possessed the supernatural power attributed to certain words by
the old sorcerers.
Thanks to the new hopes excited by its promises, its power of
expansion was considerable. Thousands of men lost their lives
for it. Even in our days, when a revolution breaks out in any
part of the world, the same formula is always invoked.
Its choice was happy in the extreme. It belongs to the category
of indefinite dream-evoking sentences, which every one is free to
interpret according to his own desires, hatreds, and hopes. In
matters of faith the real sense of words matters very little; it
is the meaning attached to them that makes their importance.
Of the three principles of the revolutionary device, equality was
most fruitful of consequences. We shall see in another part of
this book that it is almost the only one which still
survives, and is still productive of effects.
It was certainly not the Revolution that introduced the idea of
equality into the world. Without going back even to the Greek
republics, we may remark that the theory of equality was taught
in the clearest fashion by Christianity and Islamism. All men,
subjects of the one God, were equal before Him, and judged solely
according to their merits. The dogma of the equality of souls
before God was an essential dogma with Mohammedans as well as
But to proclaim a principle is not enough to secure its
observation. The Christian Church soon renounced its theoretical
equality, and the men of the Revolution only remembered it in
The sense of the term ``equality'' varies according to the
persons using it. It often conceals sentiments very contrary to
its real sense, and then represents the imperious need of having
no one above one, joined to the no less lively desire to feel
above others. With the Jacobins of the Revolution, as with those
of our days, the word ``equality'' simply involves a jealous
hatred of all superiority. To efface superiority, such men
pretend to unify manners, customs, and situations. All
despotisms but that exercised by themselves seem odious.
Not being able to avoid the natural inequalities, they deny them.
The second Declaration of Rights, that of 1793, affirms, contrary
to the evidence, that ``all men are equal by nature.''
It would seem that in many of the men of the Revolution
the ardent desire for equality merely concealed an intense need
of inequalities. Napoleon was obliged to re-establish titles of
nobility and decorations for their benefit. Having shown that it
was among the most rabid revolutionists that he found the most
docile instruments of domination, Taine continues:--
``Suddenly, through all their preaching of liberty and equality,
appeared their authoritative instincts, their need of commanding,
even as subordinates, and also, in most cases, an appetite for
money or for pleasure. Between the delegate of the Committee of
Public Safety and the minister, prefect, or subprefect of the
Empire the difference is small: it is the same man under the two
costumes, first en carmagnole, then in the braided coat.''
The dogma of equality had as its first consequence the
proclamation of popular sovereignty by the bourgeoisie. This
sovereignty remained otherwise highly theoretical during the
The principle of authority was the lasting legacy of the
Revolution. The two terms ``liberty'' and ``fraternity'' which
accompany it in the republican device had never much influence.
We may even say that they had none during the Revolution and the
Empire, but merely served to decorate men's speeches.
Their influence was hardly more considerable later. Fraternity
was never practised and the peoples have never cared much for
liberty. To-day our working-men have completely surrendered it
to their unions.
To sum up: although the Republican motto has been little
applied it has exerted a very great influence. Of the French
Revolution practically nothing has remained in the popular mind
but the three celebrated words which sum up its gospel, and which
its armies spread over
INFLUENCES ACTIVE DURING THE FRENCH REVOLUTION The genesis of the French
Revolution, as well as its duration,
was conditioned by elements of a rational, affective, mystic, and
collective nature, each category of which was ruled by a
different logic. It is, as I have said, because they have not
been able to dissociate the respective influences of these
factors that so many historians have interpreted this period so
The rational element usually invoked as an explanation exerted in
reality but a very slight influence. It prepared the way for the
Revolution, but maintained it only at the outset, while it was
still exclusively middle-class. Its action was manifested by
many measures of the time, such as the proposals to reform the
taxes, the suppression of the privileges of a useless nobility,
As soon as the Revolution reached the people, the influence of
the rational elements speedily vanished before that of the
affective and collective elements. As for the mystic elements,
the foundation of the revolutionary faith, they made the army
fanatical and propagated the new belief throughout the world.
We shall see these various elements as they appeared in events
and in the psychology of individuals. Perhaps the most important
was the mystic element. The Revolution cannot be clearly
comprehended--we cannot repeat it too often--unless it is
considered as the formation of a religious belief. What I have
said elsewhere of all beliefs applies equally to the Revolution.
Referring, for instance, to the chapter on the Reformation, the
reader will see that it presents more than one analogy with the
Having wasted so much time in demonstrating the slight rational
value of beliefs, the philosophers are to-day beginning to
understand their function better. They have been forced to admit
that these are the only factors which possess an influence
sufficient to transform all the elements of a civilisation.
They impose themselves on men apart from reason and have the
power to polarise men's thoughts and feelings in one direction.
Pure reason had never such a power, for men were never
impassioned by reason.
The religious form rapidly assumed by the Revolution explains its
power of expansion and the prestige which it possessed and has
Few historians have understood that this great monument ought to
be regarded as the foundation of a new religion. The penetrating
mind of Tocqueville, I believe, was the first to perceive as
``The French Revolution,'' he wrote, ``was a political revolution
which operated in the manner of and assumed something of the
aspect of a religious revolution. See by what regular and
characteristic traits it finally resembled the latter: not only
did it spread itself far and wide like a religious revolution,
but, like the latter, it spread itself by means of preaching and
propaganda. A political revolution which inspires proselytes,
which is preached as passionately to foreigners as it is
accomplished at home: consider what a novel spectacle was this.''
The religious side of the Revolution being granted, the
accompanying fury and devastation are easily explained. History
shows us that such are always the accompaniments of the birth of
religions. The Revolution was therefore certain to provoke the
violence and intolerance the triumphant deities demand from their
adepts. It overturned all
several invasions: but it is as a rule only at the cost of such
catastrophes that a people can change its beliefs.
Although the mystic element is always the foundation of beliefs,
certain affective and rational elements are quickly added
thereto. A belief thus serves to group sentiments and passions
and interests which belong to the affective domain. Reason then
envelops the whole, seeking to justify events in which, however,
it played no part whatever.
At the moment of the Revolution every one, according to his
aspirations, dressed the new belief in a different rational
vesture. The peoples saw in it only the suppression of the
religious and political despotisms and hierarchies under
which they had so often suffered. Writers like Goethe and
thinkers like Kant imagined that they saw in it the triumph of
reason. Foreigners like Humboldt came to
air of liberty and to assist at the obsequies of despotism.''
These intellectual illusions did not last long. The evolution of
the drama soon revealed the true foundations of the dream.
<>DISSOLUTION OF THE ANCIEN REGIME. THE ASSEMBLING OF THE STATES GENERAL Before they are realised in action, revolutions are sketched out
in men's thoughts. Prepared by the causes already studied, the
French Revolution commenced in reality with the reign of Louis
XVI. More discontented and censorious every day, the middle
classes added claim to claim. Everybody was calling for reform.
Louis XVI. thoroughly understood the utility of reform, but he
was too weak to impose it on the clergy and the nobility. He
could not even retain his reforming ministers, Malesherbes and
Turgot. What with famines and increased taxation, the poverty of
all classes increased, and the huge pensions drawn by the Court
formed a shocking contrast to the general distress.
The notables convoked to attempt to remedy the financial
situation refused a system of equal taxation, and granted only
insignificant reforms which the Parliament did not even consent
to register. It had to be dissolved. The provincial Parliaments
made common cause with that of
But they led opinion, and in all parts of
the demand for a meeting of the States General, which had not
been convoked for nearly two hundred years.
The decision was taken: 5,000,000 Frenchmen, of whom 100,000
were ecclesiastics and 150,000 nobles, sent their
representatives. There were in all 1,200 deputies, of whom 578
were of the Third Estate, consisting chiefly of magistrates,
advocates, and physicians. Of the 300 deputies of the clergy,
200, of plebeian origin, threw in their lot with the Third Estate
against the nobility and clergy.
From the first sessions a psychological conflict broke out
between the deputies of different social conditions and
(therefore) different mentalities. The magnificent costumes of
the privileged deputies contrasted in a humiliating fashion with
the sombre fashions of the Third Estate.
At the first session the members of the nobility and the clergy
were covered, according to the prerogatives of their class,
before the king. Those of the Third Estate wished to imitate
them, but the privileged members protested. On the following day
more protests of wounded self-love were heard. The deputies of
the Third Estate invited those of the nobility and the clergy who
were sitting in separate halls to join them for the verification
of their powers. The nobles refused. The negotiations lasted
more than a month. Finally, the deputies of the Third Estate, on
the proposition of the Abbe Sieyes, considering that
they represented 95 per cent. of the nation, declared themselves
constituted as a National Assembly. From that moment the
Revolution pursued its course.
<>THE CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY The power of a political assembly resides, above all, in the
weakness of its adversaries. Astonished by the slight resistance
encountered, and carried away by the ascendancy of a handful of
orators, the Constituent Assembly, from its earliest sessions,
spoke and acted as a sovereign body. Notably it arrogated to
itself the power of decreeing imposts, a serious encroachment
upon the prerogatives of the royal power.
The resistance of Louis XVI. was feeble enough. He simply had
the hall in which the States assembled closed. The deputies then
met in the hall of the tennis-court, and took the oath that they
would not separate until the Constitution of the kingdom was an
The majority of the deputies of the clergy went with them. The
king revoked the decision of the Assembly, and ordered the
deputies to retire. The Marquis de Dreux-Breze, the Grand
Master of Ceremonies, having invited them to obey the order of
the sovereign, the President of the Assembly declared ``that the
nation assembled cannot receive orders,'' and Mirabeau replied to
the envoy of the sovereign that, being united by the will of the
people, the Assembly would only withdraw at the point of the
bayonet. Again the king gave way.
On the 9th of June the meeting of deputies took the title of the
Constituent Assembly. For the first time in centuries the king
was forced to recognise the existence of a new power, formerly
ignored--that of the people, represented by its elected
representatives. The absolute monarchy was no more.
Feeling himself more and more seriously threatened, Louis XVI.
mercenaries. The Assembly demanded the withdrawal of the troops.
The king refused, and dismissed Necker, replacing him by the
Marshal de Broglie, reputed to be an extremely authoritative
But the Assembly had able supporters. Camille Desmoulins and
others harangued the crowd in all directions, calling it to the
defence of liberty. They sounded the tocsin, organised a militia
of 12,000 men, took muskets and cannon from the Invalides, and on
the 14th of July the armed bands marched upon the Bastille. The
fortress, barely defended, capitulated in a few hours. Seven
prisoners were found within it, of whom one was an idiot and four
were accused of forgery.
The Bastille, the prison of many victims of arbitrary power,
symbolised the royal power to many minds; but the people who
demolished it had not suffered by it. Scarcely any but members
of the nobility were imprisoned there.
The influence exercised by the taking of this fortress has
continued to our days. Serious historians like M. Rambaud assure
us that ``the taking of the Bastille is a culminating fact in the
history, not of
new epoch in the history of the world.''
Such credulity is a little excessive. The importance of the
event lay simply in the psychological fact that for the first
time the people received an obvious proof of the weakness of an
authority which had lately been formidable.
When the principle of authority is injured in the public mind it
dissolves very rapidly. What might not one demand of a king who
could not defend his principal fortress against popular attacks?
The master regarded as all-powerful had ceased to be so.
The taking of the Bastille was the beginning of one of those
phenomena of mental contagion which abound in the history of the
Revolution. The foreign mercenary troops, although they could
scarcely be interested in the movement, began to show symptoms of
mutiny. Louis XVI. was reduced to accepting their disbandment.
He recalled Necker, went to the Hotel de Ville, sanctioned by
his presence the accomplished facts, and accepted from La
Fayette, commandant of the National Guard, the new cockade of
red, white, and blue which allied the colours of
of the king.
Although the riot which ended in the taking of the Bastille can
by no means be regarded as ``a culminating fact in history,'' it
does mark the precise moment of the commencement of popular
government. The armed people thenceforth intervened daily in the
deliberations of the revolutionary Assemblies, and seriously
influenced their conduct.
This intervention of the people in conformity with the dogma of
its sovereignty has provoked the respectful admiration of many
historians of the Revolution. Even a superficial study of the
psychology of crowds would speedily have shown them that the
mystic entity which they call the people was merely translating
the will of a few leaders. It is not correct to say that the
people took the Bastille, attacked the Tuileries, invaded the
Convention, &c., but that certain leaders--generally by
means of the clubs--united armed bands of the populace, which
they led against the Bastille, the Tuileries, &c. During the
Revolution the same crowds attacked or defended the most contrary
parties, according to the leaders who happened to be at their
heads. A crowd never has any opinion but that of its leaders.
Example constituting one of the most potent forms of suggestion,
the taking of the Bastille was inevitably followed by the
destruction of other fortresses. Many chateaux were regarded as
so many little Bastilles, and in order to imitate the Parisians
who had destroyed theirs the peasants began to burn them. They
did so with the greater fury because the seigneurial homes
contained the titles of feudal dues. It was a species of
The Constituent Assembly, so proud and haughty towards the king,
was, like all the revolutionary assemblies which followed it,
extremely pusillanimous before the people.
Hoping to put an end to the disorders of the night of August 4th,
it voted, on the proposition of a member of the nobility, the
Comte de Noailles, the abolition of seigneurial rights. Although
this measure suppressed at one stroke the privileges of the
nobles, it was voted with tears and embracings. Such accesses of
sentimental enthusiasm are readily explained when we recall how
contagious emotion is in a crowd, above all in an assembly
oppressed by fear.
If the renunciation of their rights had been effected by the
nobility a few years earlier, the Revolution would doubtless have
been avoided, but it was now too late. To give way only when one
is forced to do so merely increases the demands of those
to whom one yields. In politics one should always look ahead and
give way long before one is forced to do so.
Louis XVI. hesitated for two months to ratify the decisions voted
by the Assembly on the night of the 4th of August. He had
or 8,000 men and women of the people, assuring them that the
royal residence contained great stores of bread. The railings of
the palace were forced, some of the bodyguard were killed, and
the king and all his family were led back to
of a shrieking crowd, many of whom bore on the ends of their
pikes the heads of the soldiers massacred. The dreadful journey
lasted six hours. These events constituted what are known as the
``days'' of October.
The popular power increased, and in reality the king, like the
whole assembly, was henceforth in the hands of the people--that
is, at the mercy of the clubs and their leaders. This popular
power was to prevail for nearly ten years, and the Revolution was
to be almost entirely its work.
While proclaiming that the people constituted the only sovereign,
the Assembly was greatly embarrassed by riots which went far
beyond its theoretical expectations. It had supposed that order
would be restored while it fabricated a Constitution destined to
assure the eternal happiness of mankind.
We know that during the whole duration of the Revolution one of
the chief occupations of the assemblies was to make, unmake, and
remake Constitutions. The theorists attributed to them then, as
they do to-day, the power of transforming society; the
Assembly, therefore, could not neglect its task. In the meantime
it published a solemn Declaration of the Rights of Man which
summarised its principles.
The Constitution, proclamations, declarations, and speeches had
not the slightest effect on the popular movements, nor on the
dissentients who daily increased in number in the heart of the
Assembly. The latter became more and more subjected to the
ascendancy of the advanced party, which was supported by the
clubs. Danton, Camille Desmoulins, and later Marat and
Hebert, violently excited the populace by their harangues and
their journals. The Assembly was rapidly going down the slope
that leads to extremes.
During all these disorders the finances of the country were not
improving. Finally convinced that philanthropic speeches would
not alter their lamentable condition, and seeing that bankruptcy
threatened, the Assembly decreed, on
the confiscation of the goods of the Church. Their revenues,
consisting of the tithes collected from the faithful, amounted to
some L8,000,000, and their value was estimated at about
L120,000,000. They were divided among some hundreds of
prelates, Court abbes, &c., who owned a quarter of all
These goods, henceforth entitled is ``national domains,'' formed
the guarantee of the assignats, the first issue of which was
for 400,000,000 francs (L16,000,000 sterling). The public
accepted them at the outset, but they multiplied so under the
Directory and the Convention, which issued 45,000,000,000 francs
in this form (L1,800,000,000 sterling), that an assignat of
100 livres was finally worth only a few halfpence.
Stimulated by his advisers, the feeble Louis attempted in
vain to struggle against the decrees of the Assembly by refusing
to sanction them.
Under the influence of the daily suggestions of the leaders and
the power of mental contagion the revolutionary movement was
spreading everywhere independently of the Assembly and often even
In the towns and villages revolutionary municipalities were
instituted, protected by the local National Guards. Those of
neighbouring towns commenced to make mutual arrangements to
defend themselves should need arise. Thus federations were
formed, which were soon rolled into one; this sent 14,000
National Guards to Paris, who assembled on the Champ-de-Mars on
Constitution decreed by the National Assembly.
Despite this vain oath it became more evident every day that no
agreement was possible between the hereditary principles of the
monarchy and those proclaimed by the Assembly.
Feeling himself completely powerless, the king thought only of
flight. Arrested at Varennes and brought back a prisoner to
still extremely royalist, suspended him from power, and decided
to assume the sole charge of the government.
Never did sovereign find himself in a position so difficult as
that of Louis at the time of his flight. The genius of a
defence on which he could have relied had from the beginning
absolutely failed him.
During the whole duration of the Constituent Assembly the
immense majority of Frenchmen and of the Assembly remained
royalist, so that had the sovereign accepted a liberal monarchy
he could perhaps have remained in power. It would seem that
Louis had little to promise in order to come to an agreement with
Little, perhaps, but with his structure of mind that little was
strictly impossible. All the shades of his forbears would have
risen up in front of him had he consented to modify the mechanism
of the monarchy inherited from so many ancestors. And even had
he attempted to do so, the opposition of his family, the clergy,
the nobles, and the Court could never have been surmounted. The
ancient castes on which the monarchy rested, the nobility and the
clergy, were then almost as powerful as the monarch himself.
Every time it seemed as though he might yield to the injunctions
of the Assembly it was because he was constrained to do so by
force, and to attempt to gain time. His appeals to alien Powers
represented the resolution of a desperate man who had seen all
his natural defences fail him.
He, and especially the queen, entertained the strangest illusions
as to the possible assistance of
it was only in the hope of receiving a great reward. Mercy gave
him to understand that the payment expected consisted of
The leaders of the clubs, finding the Assembly too royalist, sent
the people against it. A petition was signed, inviting the
Assembly to convoke a new constituent power to proceed to the
trial of Louis XVI.
Monarchical in spite of all, and finding that the Revolution was
assuming a character far too demagogic, the Assembly resolved to
defend itself against the actions of the people. A battalion of
the National Guard, commanded by La Fayette, was sent to the
Champ-de-Mars, where the crowd was assembled, to disperse it.
Fifty of those present were killed.
The Assembly did not long persist in its feeble resistance.
Extremely fearful of the people, it increased its arrogance
towards the king, depriving him every day of some part of his
prerogatives and authority. He was now scarcely more than a mere
official obliged to execute the wishes of others.
The Assembly had imagined that it would be able to exercise the
authority of which it had deprived the king, but such a task was
infinitely above its resources. A power so divided is always
weak. ``I know nothing more terrible,'' said Mirabeau, ``than
the sovereign authority of six hundred persons.''
Having flattered itself that it could combine in itself all the
powers of the State, and exercise them as Louis XVI. had done,
the Assembly very soon exercised none whatever.
As its authority failed anarchy increased. The popular leaders
continually stirred up the people. Riot and insurrection became
the sole power. Every day the Assembly was invaded by rowdy and
imperious delegations which operated by means of threats and
All these popular movements, which the Assembly, under the stress
of fear, invariably obeyed, had nothing spontaneous about them.
They simply represented the manifestations of new powers--the
clubs and the Commune--which had been set up beside the
The most powerful of these clubs was the Jacobin, which had
quickly created more than five hundred branches in the country,
all of which were under the orders of the central body. Its
influence remained preponderant during the whole duration of the
Revolution. It was the master of the Assembly, and then of
France, its only rival the insurrectionary Commune, whose power
was exercised only in
The weakness of the national Assembly and all its failures had
made it extremely unpopular. It became conscious of this, and,
feeling that it was every day more powerless, decided to hasten
the creation of the new Constitution in order that it might
dissolve. Its last action, which was tactless enough, was to
decree that no member of the Constituent Assembly should be
elected to the Legislative Assembly. The members of the latter
were thus deprived of the experience acquired by their
The Constitution was completed on
accepted on the 13th by the king, to whom the Assembly had
restored his powers.
This Constitution organised a representative Government,
delegating the legislative power to deputies elected by the
people, and the executive power to the king, whose right of veto
over the decrees of the Assembly was recognised. New
departmental divisions were substituted for the old provinces.
The imposts were abolished, and replaced by direct and indirect
taxes, which are still in force.
The Assembly, which had just altered the territorial divisions
and overthrown all the old social organisation, thought
itself powerful enough to transform the religious organisation of
the country also. It claimed notably that the members of the
clergy should be elected by the people, and should be thus
withdrawn from the influence of their supreme head, the Pope.
This civil constitution of the clergy was the origin of religious
struggles and persecutions which lasted until the days of the
Consulate. Two-thirds of the priests refused the oath demanded
During the three years which represented the life of the
Constituent Assembly the Revolution had produced considerable
results. The principal result was perhaps the beginning of the
transference to the Third Estate of the riches of the privileged
classes. In this way while interests were created to be defended
fervent adherents were raised up to the new regime. A
Revolution supported by the gratification of acquired appetites
is bound to be powerful. The Third Estate, which had supplanted
the nobles, and the peasants, who had bought the national
domains, would readily understand that the restoration of the
ancien regime would despoil them of all their advantages.
The energetic defence of the Revolution was merely the defence of
their own fortunes.
This is why we see, during part of the Revolution, nearly half
the departments vainly rising against the despotism that crushed
them. The Republicans triumphed over all opposition. They were
extremely powerful in that they had to defend, not only a new
ideal, but new material interests. We shall see that the
influence of these two factors lasted during the whole of the
Revolution, and contributed powerfully to the establishment of
EVENTS DURING THE LIFE OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY Before examining the
mental characteristics of the Legislative
Assembly let us briefly sum up the considerable political events
which marked its short year's life. They naturally played an
important part in respect of its psychological manifestations.
Extremely monarchical, the Legislative Assembly had no more idea
than its predecessor of destroying the monarchy. The king
appeared to it to be slightly suspect, but it still hoped to be
able to retain him on the throne.
Unhappily for him, Louis was incessantly begging for intervention
from abroad. Shut up in the Tuileries, defended only by his
Swiss Guards, the timid sovereign was drifting among contrary
influences. He subsidised journals intended to modify public
opinion, but the obscure ``penny-a-liners'' who edited them knew
nothing of acting on the mind of the crowd. Their only means of
persuasion was to menace with the gallows all the partisans of
the Revolution, and to predict the invasion of
which would rescue the king.
Royalty no longer counted on anything but the foreign
Courts. The nobles were emigrating.
favoured their lead. To the coalition of the three kings against
The Girondists were then, with the Jacobins, at the head of the
revolutionary movement. They incited the masses to arm
themselves--600,000 volunteers were equipped. The Court accepted
a Girondist minister. Dominated by him, Louis XVI. was obliged
to propose to the Assembly a war against
immediately agreed to.
In declaring war the king was not sincere. The queen revealed
the French plans of campaign and the secret deliberations of the
Council to the Austrians.
The beginnings of the struggle were disastrous. Several columns
of troops, attacked by panic, disbanded. Stimulated by the
clubs, and persuaded--justly, for that matter--that the king was
conspiring with the enemies of
faubourgs rose in insurrection. Its leaders, the Jacobins, and
above all Danton, sent to the Tuileries on the 20th of June a
petition threatening the king with revocation. It then invaded
the Tuileries, heaping invectives on the sovereign.
Fatality impelled Louis toward his tragic destiny. While the
threats of the Jacobins against royalty had roused many of the
departments to indignation, it was learned that a Prussian army
had arrived on the frontiers of
The hope of the king and queen respecting the help to be obtained
from abroad was highly chimerical. Marie-Antoinette
suffered from an absolute illusion as to the psychology of the
Austrian and the French peoples. Seeing
few energumens, she supposed that it would be equally easy to
terrify the Parisians, and by means of threats to lead them back
under the king's authority. Inspired by her, Fersen undertook to
publish the manifesto of the Duke of Brunswick, threatening
with ``total subversion if the royal family were molested.''
The effect produced was diametrically opposite to that intended.
The manifesto aroused indignation against the monarch, who was
regarded as an accomplice, and increased his unpopularity. From
that day he was marked for the scaffold.
Carried away by Danton, the delegates of the sections installed
themselves at the Hotel de Ville as an insurrectionary
Commune, which arrested the commandant of the National Guard, who
was devoted to the king, sounded the tocsin, equipped the
National Guard, and on the 10th of August hurled them, with the
populace, against the Tuileries. The regiments called in by
Louis disbanded themselves. Soon none were left to defend him
but his Swiss and a few gentlemen. Nearly all were killed. Left
alone, the king took refuge with the Assembly. The crowds
demanded his denouncement. The Legislative Assembly decreed his
suspension and left a future Assembly, the Convention, to decide
upon his fate.
<>MENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY The Legislative Assembly, formed of new men, presented quite a
special interest from the psychological point of view.
Few assemblies have offered in such a degree the characteristics
of the political collectivity.
It comprised seven hundred and fifty deputies, divided into pure
royalists, constitutional royalists, republicans, Girondists, and
Montagnards. Advocates and men of letters formed the majority.
It also contained, but in smaller numbers, superior officers,
priests, and a very few scientists.
The philosophical conceptions of the members of this Assembly
seem rudimentary enough. Many were imbued with Rousseau's idea
of a return to a state of nature. But all, like their
predecessors, were dominated more especially by recollections of
Greek and Latin antiquity. Cato, Brutus, Gracchus, Plutarch,
Marcus Aurelius, and Plato, continually evoked, furnished the
images of their speech. When the orator wished to insult Louis
XVI. he called him Caligula.
In hoping to destroy tradition they were revolutionaries, but in
claiming to return to a remote past they showed themselves
For the rest, all these theories had very little influence on
their conduct. Reason was continually figuring in their
speeches, but never in their actions. These were always
dominated by those affective and mystic elements whose potency we
have so often demonstrated.
The psychological characteristics of the Legislative Assembly
were those of the Constituent Assembly, but were greatly
accentuated. They may be summed up in four words:
impressionability, mobility, timidity, and weakness.
This mobility and impressionability are revealed in the constant
variability of their conduct. One day they exchange noisy
invective and blows. On the following day we see them ``throwing
themselves into one another's arms with torrents of tears.''
They eagerly applaud an address demanding the punishment of those
who have petitioned for the king's dethronement, and the same day
accord the honours of the session to a delegation which has come
to demand his downfall.
The pusillanimity and weakness of the Assembly in the face of
threats was extreme. Although royalist it voted the suspension
of the king, and on the demand of the Commune delivered him, with
his family, to be imprisoned in the Temple,
Thanks to its weakness, it was as incapable as the Constituent
Assembly of exercising any power, and allowed itself to be
dominated by the Commune and the clubs, which were directed by
such influential leaders as Hebert, Tallien, Rossignol, Marat,
Until Thermidor, 1794, the insurrectionary Commune constituted
the chief power in the State, and behaved precisely as if it had
been charged with the government of Paris.
It was the Commune that demanded the imprisonment of Louis XVI.
in the tower of the
him in the palace of the
that filled the prisons with suspects, and then ordered them to
We know with what refinements of cruelty a handful of some 150
bandits, paid at the rate of 24 livres a day, and directed by a
few members of the Commune, exterminated some 1,200 persons in
four days. This crime was known as the massacre of September.
The mayor of
respect, and gave them drink. A few Girondists protested
somewhat, but the Jacobins were silent.
The terrorised Assembly affected at first to ignore the
massacres, which were encouraged by several of its more
influential deputies, notably Couthon and Billaud-Varenne. When
at last it decided to condemn them it was without attempting to
prevent their continuation.
Conscious of its impotence, the Legislative Assembly dissolved
itself a fortnight later in order to give way to the Convention.
Its work was obviously disastrous, not in intention but in fact.
Royalist, it abandoned the monarchy; humanitarian, it allowed the
massacres of September; pacific, it pushed
formidable war, thus showing that a weak Government always ends
by bringing ruin upon its country.
The history of the two previous revolutionary Assemblies proves
once more to what point events carry within them their inevitable
consequences. They constitute a train of necessities of which we
can sometimes choose the first, but which then evolve without
consulting us. We are free to make a decision, but powerless to
avert its consequences.
The first measures of the Constituent Assembly were rational and
voluntary, but the results which followed were beyond all will or
reason or foresight.
Which of the men of 1789 would have ventured to desire or predict
the death of Louis XVI., the wars of La Vendee, the Terror, the
permanent guillotine and the final anarchy, or the ensuing return
to tradition and order, guided by the iron hand of a soldier?
In the development of events which ensued from the early actions
of the revolutionary Assemblies the most striking, perhaps, was
the rise and development of the government of the crowd--of mob
Behind the facts which we have been considering--the taking of
the Bastille, the invasion of Versailles, the massacres of
September, the attack on the Tuileries, the murder of the Swiss
Guards, and the downfall and imprisonment of the king--we can
readily perceive the laws affecting the psychology of crowds and
We shall now see that the power of the multitude will
progressively increase, overcome all other powers, and finally
OF THE CONVENTION The history of the Convention is not merely fertile in
psychological documents. It also shows how powerless the
witnesses of any period and even their immediate successors are
to form an exact idea of the events which they have witnessed,
and the men who have surrounded them.
More than a century has elapsed since the Revolution, and men are
only just beginning to form judgments concerning this period
which, if still often doubtful enough, are slightly more accurate
than of old.
This happens, not only because new documents are being drawn from
the archives, but because the legends which enveloped that
sanguinary period in a magical cloud are gradually vanishing with
the passage of time.
Perhaps the most tenacious legend of all was that which until
formerly used to surround the personages to whom our fathers
applied the glorious epithet, ``the Giants of the Convention.''
The struggles of the Convention against
this formidable struggle seemed to belong to a race of supermen
The epithet ``giant'' seemed justified so long as the events of
the period were confused and massed together. Regarded as
connected when it was simply simultaneous, the work of the armies
was confounded with that of the Convention. The glory of the
first recoiled upon the second, and served as an excuse for the
hecatombs of the Terror, the ferocity of the civil war, and the
devastation of France.
Under the penetrating scrutiny of modern criticism, the
heterogeneous mass of events has been slowly disentangled. The
armies of the Republic have retained their old prestige, but we
have been forced to recognise that the men of the Convention,
absorbed entirely by their intestine conflicts, had very little
to do with their victories. At the most two or three members of
the committees of the Assembly were concerned with the armies,
and the fact that they were victorious was due, apart from their
numbers and the talents of their young generals, to the
enthusiasm with which a new faith had inspired them.
In a later chapter, devoted to the revolutionary armies, we shall
see how they conquered
the ideas of liberty and equality which constituted the new
gospel, and once on the frontiers, which were to keep them so
long, they retained a special mentality, very different from that
of the Government, which they first knew nothing of and
Having no part whatever in their victories, the men of the
Convention contented themselves with legislating at hazard
according to the injunctions of the leaders who directed them,
and who claimed to be regenerating
But it was thanks to these valiant armies that the history of the
Convention was transformed into an apotheosis which affected
several generations with a religious respect which even to-day is
Studying in detail the psychology of the ``Giants'' of the
Convention, we find their magnitude shrink very rapidly. They
were in general extremely mediocre. Their most fervent
defenders, such as M. Aulard, are obliged to admit as much.
This is how M. Aulard puts it in his History of the French
``It has been said that the generation which from 1789 to 1799
did such great and terrible things was a generation of giants,
or, to put it more plainly, that it was a generation more
distinguished than that which preceded it or that which followed.
This is a retrospective illusion. The citizens who formed the
municipal and Jacobin or nationalist groups by which the
Revolution was effected do not seem to have been superior, either
in enlightenment or in talents, to the Frenchmen of the time of
Louis XV. or of Louis Philippe. Were those exceptionally gifted
whose names history has retained because they appeared on the
of the various revolutionary Assemblies? Mirabeau, up to a
certain point, deserved the title of genius; but as to the rest--
Robespierre, Danton, Vergniaud--had they truly more talent, for
example, than our modern orators? In 1793, in the time of the
supposed `giants,' Mme. Roland wrote in her memoirs: `
as though drained of men; their dearth during this revolution is
truly surprising; there have scarcely been any but pigmies.' ''
If after considering the men of the Convention individually we
consider them in a body, we may say that they did not shine
either by intelligence or by virtue or by courage. Never did a
body of men manifest such pusillanimity. They had no courage
save in their speeches or in respect of remote dangers. This
Assembly, so proud and threatening in its speech when addressing
royalty, was perhaps the most timid and docile political
collectivity that the world has ever known. We see it slavishly
obedient to the orders of the clubs and the Commune, trembling
before the popular delegations which invaded it daily, and
obeying the injunctions of the rioters to the point of handing
over to them its most brilliant members. The Convention affords
the world a melancholy spectacle, voting, at the popular behest,
laws so absurd that it is obliged to annul them as soon as the
rioters have quitted the hall.
Few Assemblies have given proof of such weakness. When we wish
to show how low a popular Government can fall we have only to
point to the Convention.
<>RESULTS OF THE TRIUMPH OF THE JACOBIN RELIGION Among the causes that gave the Convention its special
physiognomy, one of the most important was the definite
establishment of a revolutionary religion. A dogma which was at
first in process of formation was at last finally erected.
This dogma was composed of an aggregate of somewhat inconsistent
elements. Nature, the rights of man, liberty, equality, the
social contract, hatred of tyrants, and popular sovereignty
formed the articles of a gospel which, to its disciples, was
above discussion. The new truths had found apostles who were
certain of their power, and who finally, like believers all the
world over, sought to impose them by force. No heed should be
taken of the opinion of unbelievers; they all deserved to be
The hatred of heretics having been always, as we have seen, in
respect of the Reformation, an irreducible characteristic of
great beliefs, we can readily comprehend the intolerance of the
The history of the Reformation proves also that the conflict
between two allied beliefs is very bitter. We must not,
therefore, be astonished that in the Convention the Jacobins
fought furiously against the other republicans, whose faith
hardly differed from their own.
The propaganda of the new apostles was very energetic. To
convert the provinces they sent thither zealous disciples
escorted by guillotines. The inquisitors of the new faith would
have no paltering with error. As Robespierre said, ``The
republic is the destruction of everything that is opposed to
it.'' What matter that the country refused to be regenerated?
It should be regenerated despite itself. ``We will make a
regenerate it in our own way.''
The Jacobin policy derived from the new faith was very simple.
It consisted in a sort of equalitarian Socialism, directed by a
dictatorship which would brook no opposition.
Of practical ideas consistent with the economic necessities and
the true nature of man, the theorists who ruled
nothing to say. Speech and the guillotine sufficed them. Their
speeches were childish. ``Never a fact,'' says Taine, ``nothing
but abstractions, strings of sentences about Nature, reason, the
people, tyrants, liberty: like so many puffed-out balloons
uselessly jostling in space. If we did not know that it all
ended in practical and dreadful results, we should think they
were games of logic, school exercises, academical demonstrations,
The theories of the Jacobins amounted practically to an absolute
tyranny. To them it seemed evident that a sovereign State must
be obeyed without discussion by citizens rendered equal as to
conditions and fortune.
The power with which they invested themselves was far greater
than that of the monarchs who had preceded them. They fixed the
prices of merchandise and arrogated the right to dispose of the
life and property of citizens.
Their confidence in the regenerative virtues of the revolutionary
faith was such that after having declared war upon kings they
declared war upon the gods. A calendar was established from
which the saints were banished. They created a new divinity,
Reason, whose worship was celebrated in Notre-Dame, with
ceremonies which were in many ways identical with those of the
Catholic faith, upon the altar of the ``late Holy Virgin.'' This
cult lasted until Robespierre substituted a personal religion of
which he constituted himself the high priest.
The sole masters of France, the Jacobins and their
disciples were able to plunder the country with impunity,
although they were never in the majority anywhere.
Their numbers are not easy to determine exactly. We know only
that they were very small. Taine valued them at 5,000 in
among 700,000 inhabitants; in
``A small feudality of brigands, set over a conquered
according to the words of the same author, they were able, in
spite of their small numbers, to dominate the country, and this
for several reasons. In the first place, their faith gave them a
considerable strength. Then, because they represented the
Government, and for centuries the French had obeyed those who
were in command. Finally, because it was believed that to
overthrow them would be to bring back the ancien regime,
which was greatly dreaded by the numerous purchasers of the
national domains. Their tyranny must have grown frightful indeed
to force so many departments to rise against them.
The first factor of their power was very important. In the
conflict between powerful faiths and weak faiths victory never
falls to the latter. A powerful faith creates strong wills,
which will always overpower weak wills. That the Jacobins
themselves did finally perish was because their accumulated
violence had bound together thousands of weak wills whose united
weight overbalanced their own strong wills.
It is true that the Girondists, whom the Jacobins persecuted with
so much hatred, had also well-established beliefs, but in the
struggle which ensued their education told against them,
together with their respect for certain traditions and the rights
of others, scruples which did not in the least trouble their
``The majority of the sentiments of the Girondists,'' writes
Emile Ollivier, ``were delicate and generous; those of the
Jacobin mob were low, gross, and brutal. The name of Vergniaud,
compared with that of the `divine' Marat, measures a gulf which
nothing could span.''
Dominating the Convention at the outset by the superiority of
their talents and their eloquence, the Girondists soon fell under
the domination of the Montagnards--worthless energumens, who
carried little weight, but were always active, and who knew how
to excite the passions of the populace. It was violence and not
talent that impressed the Assemblies.
<>MENTAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CONVENTION Beside the characteristics common to all assemblies there are
some created by influences of environment and circumstances,
which give any particular assembly of men a special physiognomy.
Most of the characteristics observable in the Constituent and
Legislative Assemblies reappeared, in an exaggerated form, in the
This Assembly comprised about seven hundred and fifty deputies,
of whom rather more than a third had sat in the Constituent or
the Legislative Assembly. By terrorising the population the
Jacobins contrived to triumph at the elections. The majority of
the electors, six millions out of seven, preferred to abstain
As to the professions, the Assembly contained a large number of
lawyers, advocates, notaries, bailiffs, ex-magistrates, and a few
The mentality of the Convention was not homogeneous. Now, an
assembly composed of individuals of widely different characters
soon splits up into a number of groups. The Convention very
early contained three--the
The constitutional monarchists had almost disappeared.
a hundred members apiece, who successively became leaders. In
the Mountain were the most advanced members: Couthon, Herault
de Sechelles, Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Marat, Collot
d'Herbois, Billaud-Varennes, Barras, Saint-Just, Fouche,
Tallien, Carrier, Robespierre, &c. In the
Petion, Condorcet, Vergniaud, &c.
The five hundred other members of the Assembly--that is, the
great majority--constituted what was known as the Plain.
This latter formed a floating mass, silent, undecided, and timid;
ready to follow every impulse and to be carried away by the
excitement of the moment. It gave ear indifferently to the
stronger of the two preceding groups. After obeying the
for some time it allowed itself to be led away by the Mountain,
when the latter triumphed over its enemy. This was a natural
consequence of the law already stated, by which the weak
invariably fall under the dominion of the stronger wills.
The influence of great manipulators of men was displayed
in a high degree during the Convention. It was constantly led by
a violent minority of narrow minds, whose intense convictions
lent them great strength.
A brutal and audacious minority will always lead a fearful and
irresolute majority. This explains the constant tendency toward
extremes to be observed in all revolutionary assemblies. The
history of the Convention verifies once more the law of
acceleration studied in another chapter.
The men of the Convention were thus bound to pass from moderation
to greater and greater violence. Finally they decimated
themselves. Of the 180 Girondists who at the outset led the
Convention 140 were killed or fled, and finally the most
fanatical of the Terrorists, Robespierre, reigned alone over a
terrified crowd of servile representatives.
Yet it was among the five hundred members of the majority,
uncertain and floating as it was, that the intelligence and
experience were to be found. The technical committees to whom
the useful work of the Convention was due were recruited from the
More or less indifferent to politics, the members of the Plain
were chiefly anxious that no one should pay particular attention
to them. Shut up in their committees, they showed themselves as
little as possible in the Assembly, which explains why the
sessions of the Convention contained barely a third of the
Unhappily, as often happens, these intelligent and honest men
were completely devoid of character, and the fear which always
dominated them made them vote for the worst of the
measures introduced by their dreaded masters.
The men of the Plain voted for everything they were ordered to
vote for--the creation of the Revolutionary Tribunal, the Terror,
&c. It was with their assistance that the Mountain crushed the
Dantonists. Like all weak people, they followed the strong. The
gentle philanthropists who composed the Plain, and constituted
the majority of the Assembly, contributed, by their
pusillanimity, to bring about the frightful excesses of the
The psychological note always prevailing in the Convention was a
horrible fear. It was more especially through fear that men cut
off one another's heads, in the doubtful hope of keeping their
own on their shoulders.
Such a fear was, of course, very comprehensible. The unhappy
deputies deliberated amid the hootings and vociferations of the
tribunes. At every moment veritable savages, armed with pikes,
invaded the Assembly, and the majority of the members no longer
dared to attend the sessions. When by chance they did go it was
only to vote in silence according to the orders of the Mountain,
which was only a third as numerous.
The fear which dominated the latter, although less visible, was
just as profound. Men destroyed their enemies, not only because
they were shallow fanatics, but because they were convinced that
their own existence was threatened. The judges of the
revolutionary Tribunals trembled no less. They would have
willingly acquitted Danton, and the widow of Camille
Desmoulins, and many others. They dared not.
But it was above all when Robespierre became the sole master that
the phantom of fear oppressed the Assembly. It has truly been
said that a glance from the master made his colleagues shrink
with fear. On their faces one read ``the pallor of fear and the
abandon of despair.''
All feared Robespierre and Robespierre feared all. It was
because he feared conspiracies against him that he cut off men's
heads, and it was also through fear that others allowed him to do
The memoirs of members of the Convention show plainly what a
horrible memory they retained of this gloomy period. Questioned
twenty years later, says Taine, on the true aim and the intimate
thoughts of the Committee of Public Safety, Barrere replied:--
``We had only one feeling, that of self-preservation; only one
desire, that of preserving our lives, which each of us believed
to be threatened. You had your neighbour's head cut off so that
your neighbour should not have you yourself guillotined.''
The history of the Convention constitutes one of the most
striking examples that could be given of the influence of leaders
and of fear upon an assembly.
OF THE CLUBS AND THE COMMUNE DURING THE CONVENTION During the whole of its
existence the Convention was governed by
the leaders of the clubs and of the Commune.
We have already seen what was their influence on the preceding
Assemblies. It became overwhelming during the Convention. The
history of this latter is in reality that of the clubs and the
Commune which dominated it. They enslaved, not only the
Convention, but also all
clubs, directed by that of the capital, supervised magistrates,
denounced suspects, and undertook the execution of all the
When the clubs or the Commune had decided upon certain measures
they had them voted by the Assembly then and there. If the
Assembly resisted, they sent their armed delegations thither--
that is, armed bands recruited from the scum of the populace.
They conveyed injunctions which were always slavishly obeyed.
The Commune was so sure of its strength that it even demanded of
the Convention the immediate expulsion of deputies who displeased
While the Convention was composed generally of educated
men, the members of the Commune and the clubs comprised a
majority of small shopkeepers, labourers, and artisans, incapable
of personal opinions, and always guided by their leaders--Danton,
Camille Desmoulins, Robespierre, &c.
Of the two powers, clubs and insurrectionary Commune, the latter
exercised the greater influence in Paris, because it had made for
itself a revolutionary army. It held under its orders forty-
eight committees of National Guards, who asked nothing more than
to kill, sack, and, above all, plunder.
The tyranny with which the Commune crushed
For example, it delegated to a certain cobbler, Chalandon by
name, the right of surveillance over a portion of the capital--a
right implying the power to send to the Revolutionary Tribunal,
and therefore to the guillotine, all those whom he suspected.
Certain streets were thus almost depopulated by him.
The Convention struggled feebly against the Commune at the
outset, but did not prolong its resistance. The culminating
point of the conflict occurred when the Convention wished to
arrest Hebert, the friend of the Commune, and the latter sent
armed bands who threatened the Assembly and demanded the
expulsion of the Girondists who had provoked the measure. Upon
the Convention refusing the Commune besieged it on
by means of its revolutionary army, which was under the orders of
Hanriot. Terrified, the Assembly gave up twenty-seven of its
members. The Commune immediately sent a delegation ironically to
felicitate it upon its obedience.
After the fall of the Girondists the Convention submitted itself
completely to the injunctions of the omnipotent Commune. The
latter decreed the levy of a revolutionary army, to be
accompanied by a tribunal and a guillotine, which was to traverse
the whole of
Only towards the end of its existence, after the fall of
Robespierre, did the Convention contrive to escape from the yoke
of the Jacobins and the Commune. It closed the Jacobin club and
guillotined its leading members.
Despite such sanctions the leaders still continued to excite the
populace and hurl it against the Convention. In Germinal and
Prairial it underwent regular sieges. Armed delegations even
succeeded in forcing the Convention to vote the re-establishment
of the Commune and the convocation of a new Assembly, a measure
which the Convention hastened to annul the moment the insurgents
had withdrawn. Ashamed of its fear, it sent for regiments which
disarmed the faubourgs and made nearly ten thousand arrests.
Twenty-six leaders of the movement were put to death, and six
deputies who were concerned in the riot were guillotined.
But the Convention did not resist to any purpose. When it was no
longer led by the clubs and the Commune it obeyed the Committee
of Public Safety and voted its decrees without discussion.
``The Convention,'' writes H. Williams, ``which spoke of nothing
less than having all the princes and kings of Europe brought to
its feet loaded with chains, was made prisoner in its own
sanctuary by a handful of mercenaries.''
<>THE GOVERNMENT OF FRANCE DURING THE CONVENTION--THE TERROR As soon as it assembled in 1792 the Convention began by decreeing
the abolition of royalty, and in spite of the hesitation of a
great number of its members, who knew that the provinces were
royalist, it proclaimed the Republic.
Intimately persuaded that such a proclamation would transform the
civilised world, it instituted a new era and a new calendar. The
alone was to reign. It was inaugurated by the trial of Louis
XVI., a measure which was ordered by the Commune, but which the
majority of the Convention did not desire.
At its outset, in fact, the Convention was governed by its
relatively moderate elements, the Girondists. The president and
the secretaries had been chosen among the best known of this
party. Robespierre, who was later to become the absolute master
of the Convention, possessed so little influence at this time
that he obtained only six votes for the presidency, while
Petion received two hundred and thirty-five.
The Montagnards had at first only a very slight influence. Their
power was of later growth. When they were in power there was no
longer room in the Convention for moderate members.
Despite their minority the Montagnards found a way to force the
Assembly to bring Louis to trial. This was at once a victory
over the Girondists, the condemnation of all kings, and a final
divorce between the old order and the new.
To bring about the trial they manoeuvred very skilfully,
bombarding the Convention with petitions from the provinces, and
sending a deputation from the insurrectional Commune of Paris,
which demanded a trial.
According to a characteristic common to the Assemblies of the
Revolution, that of yielding to threats and always doing the
contrary of what they wished, the men of the Convention dared not
resist. The trial was decided upon.
The Girondists, who individually would not have wished for the
death of the king, voted for it out of fear once they were
assembled. Hoping to save his own head, the Duc d'Orleans,
Louis' cousin, voted with them. If, on mounting the scaffold on
we attribute to the gods, he would have seen following him, one
by one, the greater number of the Girondists whose weakness had
been unable to defend him.
Regarded only from the purely utilitarian point of view, the
execution of the king was one of the mistakes of the Revolution.
It engendered civil war and armed
Convention itself his death gave rise to intestine struggles,
which finally led to the triumph of the Montagnards and the
expulsion of the Girondists.
The measures passed under the influence of the Montagnards
finally became so despotic that sixty departments, comprising the
West and the South, revolted. The insurrection, which was headed
by many of the expelled deputies, would perhaps have succeeded
had not the compromising assistance of the royalists caused men
to fear the return of the ancien regime. At
insurgents acclaimed Louis XVII.
The civil war thus begun lasted during the greater part of the
life of the Revolution. It was fought with the utmost savagery.
Old men, women, children, all were massacred, and villages and
crops were burned. In the Vendee alone the number of the killed
was reckoned at something between half a million and a million.
Civil war was soon followed by foreign war. The Jacobins thought
to remedy all these ills by creating a new Constitution. It was
always a tradition with all the revolutionary assemblies to
believe in the magic virtues of formula. In
conviction has never been affected by the failure of experiments.
``A robust faith,'' writes one of the great admirers of the
Revolution, M. Rambaud, ``sustained the Convention in this
labour; it believed firmly that when it had formulated in a law
the principles of the Revolution its enemies would be confounded,
or, still better, converted, and that the advent of justice would
disarm the insurgents.''
During its lifetime the Convention drafted two Constitutions--
that of 1793, or the
The first was never applied, an absolute dictatorship very soon
replacing it; the second created the Directory.
The Convention contained a large number of lawyers and men of
affairs, who promptly comprehended the impossibility of
government by means of a large Assembly. They soon divided the
Convention into small committees, each of which had an
independent existence--business committees, committees of
legislation, finance, agriculture, arts, &c. These committees
prepared the laws which the Assembly usually voted with its eyes
Thanks to them, the work of the Convention was not purely
destructive. They drafted many very useful measures, creating
important colleges, establishing the metric system, &c. The
majority of the members of the Assembly, as we have already seen,
took refuge in these committees in order to evade the political
conflict which would have endangered their heads.
Above the business committees, which had nothing to do with
politics, was the Committee of Public Safety, instituted in
April, 1793, and composed of nine members. Directed at first by
Danton, and in the July of the same year by Robespierre, it
gradually absorbed all the powers of government, including that
of giving orders to ministers and generals. Carnot directed the
operations of the war, Cambon the finances, and Saint-Just and
Collot-d'Herbois the general policy.
Although the laws voted by the technical committees were often
very wise, and constituted the lasting work of the Convention,
those which the Assembly voted in a body under the threats of the
delegations which invaded it were manifestly ridiculous.
Among these laws, which were not greatly in the interests of the
public or of the Convention itself, were the law of the maximum,
voted in September, 1793, which pretended to fix the price of
provisions, and which merely established a continual dearth; the
destruction of the royal tombs at Saint-Denis; the trial
of the queen, the systematic devastation of the Vendee by
fire, the establishment of the Revolutionary Tribunal, &c.
The Terror was the chief means of government during the
Convention. Commencing in September, 1793, it reigned for six
months--that is, until the death of Robespierre. Vainly did
certain Jacobins-- Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Herault de
Sechelles, &c.--propose that clemency should be given a trial.
The only result of this proposition was that its authors were
sent to the scaffold. It was merely the lassitude of the public
that finally put an end to this shameful period.
The successive struggles of the various parties in the Convention
and its tendency towards extremes eliminated one by one the men
of importance who had once played their part therein. Finally it
fell under the exclusive domination of Robespierre. While the
Convention was disorganising and ravaging
winning brilliant victories. They had seized the left bank of
We have already mentioned, and we shall return to the matter
again, that the work of the armies must be considered absolutely
apart from that of the Convention. Contemporaries understood
this perfectly, but to-day it is often forgotten.
When the Convention was dissolved, in 1795, after lasting for
three years, it was regarded with universal distrust. The
perpetual plaything of popular caprice, it had not succeeded in
general opinion respecting the Convention is well summed up in a
letter written in July, 1799, by the Swedish charge
d'affaires, Baron Drinkmann: ``I venture to hope that no people
will ever be governed by the will of more cruel and imbecile
scoundrels than those that have ruled France since the beginning
of her new liberty.''
<>THE END OF THE CONVENTION. THE BEGINNINGS OF THE DIRECTORY At the end of its existence, the Convention, always trusting to
the power of formulae, drafted a new Constitution, that of the
year III., intended to replace that of 1793, which had never been
put into execution. The legislative power was to be shared by a
so-called Council of Ancients composed of 150 members, and a
council of deputies numbering 500. The executive power was
confided to a Directory of five members, who were appointed by
the Ancients upon nomination by the Five Hundred, and renewed
every year by the election of one of their number. It was
specified that two-thirds of the members of the new Assembly
should be chosen from among the deputies of the Convention. This
prudent measure was not very efficacious, as only ten departments
remained faithful to the Jacobins.
To avoid the election of royalists, the Convention had decided to
banish all emigres in perpetuity.
The announcement of this Constitution did not produce the
anticipated effect upon the public. It had no effect upon the
popular riots, which continued. One of the most important was
that which threatened the Convention on
The leaders hurled a veritable army upon the Assembly.
Before such provocation, the Convention finally decided to defend
itself, and sent for troops, entrusting the command to Barras.
Bonaparte, who was then beginning to emerge from obscurity, was
entrusted with the task of repression. With such a leader action
was swift and energetic. Vigorously pounded with ball near the
church at St. Roch, the insurgents fled, leaving some hundreds of
dead on the spot.
This action, which displayed a firmness to which the Convention
was little habituated, was only due to the celerity of the
military operations, for while these were being carried out the
insurgents had sent delegates to the Assembly, which, as usual,
showed itself quite ready to yield to them.
The repression of this riot constituted the last important act of
the Convention. On
mission terminated, and gave way to the Directory.
We have already laid stress upon some of the psychological
lessons furnished by the government of the Convention. One of
the most striking of these is the impotence of violence to
dominate men's minds in permanence.
Never did any Government possess such formidable means of action,
yet in spite of the permanent guillotine, despite the delegates
sent with the guillotine into the provinces, despite its
Draconian laws, the Convention had to struggle perpetually
against riots, insurrections, and conspiracies. The cities, the
departments, and the faubourgs of
in revolt, although heads were falling by the thousand.
This Assembly, which thought itself sovereign, fought against the
invincible forces which were fixed in men's minds, and which
material constraint was powerless to overcome. Of these hidden
motive forces it never understood the power, and it struggled
against them in vain. In the end the invisible forces triumphed.
CAUSES OF REVOLUTIONARY VIOLENCE We have shown in the course of the
preceding chapters that the
revolutionary theories constituted a new faith.
Humanitarian and sentimental, they exalted liberty and
fraternity. But, as in many religions, we can observe a complete
contradiction between doctrine and action. In practice no
liberty was tolerated, and fraternity was quickly replaced by
This opposition between principles and conduct results from the
intolerance which accompanies all beliefs. A religion may be
steeped in humanitarianism and forbearance, but its sectaries
will always want to impose it on others by force, so that
violence is the inevitable result.
The cruelties of the Revolution were thus the inherent results of
the propagation of the new dogmas. The Inquisition, the
religious wars of France, St. Bartholomew's Day, the revocation
of the Edict of Nantes, the ``Dragonnades,'' the persecution of
the Jansenists, &c., belonged to the same family as the Terror
and derived from the same psychological sources.
Louis XIV. was not a cruel king, yet under the impulse of
his faith he drove hundreds of thousands of Protestants out of
sending others to the galleys.
The methods of persuasion adopted by all believers are by no
means a consequence of their fear of the dissentient opposition.
Protestants and Jansenists were anything but dangerous under
Louis XIV. Intolerance arises above all from the indignation
experienced by a mind which is convinced that it possesses the
most dazzling verities against the men who deny those truths, and
who are surely not acting in good faith. How can one support
error when one has the necessary strength to wipe it out?
Thus have reasoned the believers of all ages. Thus reasoned
Louis XIV. and the men of the Terror. These latter also were
convinced that they were in possession of absolute truths, which
they believed to be obvious, and whose triumph was certain to
regenerate humanity. Could they be more tolerant toward their
adversaries than the Church and the kings of
We are forced to believe that terror is a method which all
believers regard as a necessity, since from the beginning of the
ages religious codes have always been based upon terror. To
force men to observe their prescriptions, believers have sought
to terrify them with threats of an eternal hell of torments.
The apostles of the Jacobin belief behaved as their fathers had
done, and employed the same methods. If similar events occurred
again we should see identical actions repeated. If a new
belief--Socialism, for example--were to triumph to-morrow, it
would be led to employ methods of propaganda like those of
the Inquisition and the Terror.
But were we to regard the Jacobin Terror solely as the result of
a religious movement, we should not completely apprehend it.
Around a triumphant religious belief, as we saw in the case of
the Reformation, gather a host of individual interests which are
dependent on that belief. The Terror was directed by a few
fanatical apostles, but beside this small number of ardent
proselytes, whose narrow minds dreamed of regenerating the world,
were great numbers of men who lived only to enrich themselves.
They rallied readily around the first victorious leader who
promised to enable them to enjoy the results of their pillage.
``The Terrorists of the Revolution,'' writes Albert Sorel,
``resorted to the Terror because they wished to remain in power,
and were incapable of doing so by other means. They employed it
for their own salvation, and after the event they stated that
their motive was the salvation of the State. Before it became a
system it was a means of government, and the system was only
invented to justify the means.''
We may thus fully agree with the following verdict on the Terror,
written by Emile Ollivier in his work on the Revolution: ``The
Terror was above all a Jacquerie, a regularised pillage, the
vastest enterprise of theft that any association of criminals has
<>THE REVOLUTIONARY TRIBUNALS The Revolutionary Tribunals constituted the principal means of
action of the Terror. Besides that of
instigation of Danton, and which a year afterwards sent
its founder to the guillotine,
``One hundred and seventy-eight tribunals,'' says Taine, ``of
which 40 were perambulant, pronounced death sentences in all
parts of the country, which were carried out instantly on the
spot. Between the 16th of April, 1793, and the 9th of Thermidor
in the year II. that of
provincial judges worked as hard as those of
little town of
the city of
to 1,684 executions. . . . The total number of these murders has
been put at 17,000, among whom were 1,200 women, of whom a number
Although the Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris claimed only 2,625
victims, it must not be forgotten that all the suspects had
already been summarily massacred during the ``days'' of
The Revolutionary Tribunal of Paris, a mere instrument of the
Committee of Public Safety, limited itself in reality, as
Fouquier-Tinville justly remarked during his trial, to executing
its orders. It surrounded itself at first with a few legal forms
which did not long survive. Interrogatory, defence, witnesses--
all were finally suppressed. Moral proof--that is, mere
suspicion--sufficed to procure condemnation. The president
usually contented himself with putting a vague question to the
accused. To work more rapidly still, Fouquier-Tinville proposed
to have the guillotine installed on the same premises as the
This Tribunal sent indiscriminately to the scaffold all the
accused persons arrested by reason of party hatred, and very
soon, in the hands of Robespierre, it constituted an instrument
of the bloodiest tyranny. When Danton, one of its founders,
became its victim, he justly asked pardon of God and men, before
mounting the scaffold for having assisted to create such a
Nothing found mercy before it: neither the genius of Lavoisier,
nor the gentleness of Lucile Desmoulins, nor the merit of
Malesherbes. ``So much talent,'' said Benjamin Constant,
``massacred by the most cowardly and brutish of men!''
To find any excuse for the Revolutionary Tribunal, we must return
to our conception of the religious mentality of the Jacobins, who
founded and directed it. It was a piece of work comparable in
its spirit and its aim to the Inquisition. The men who furnished
its victims--Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon--believed
themselves the benefactors of the human race in suppressing all
infidels, the enemies of the faith that was to regenerate the
The executions during the Terror did not affect the members of
the aristocracy only, since 4,000 peasants and 3,000 working-men
Given the emotion produced in
execution, one might suppose that the execution of so many
persons at one time would produce a very great emotion. But
habit had so dulled sensibility that people paid but little
attention to the matter at last. Mothers would take their
children to see people guillotined as to-day they take them to
the marionette theatre.
The daily spectacle of executions made the men of the time
very indifferent to death. All mounted the scaffold with perfect
tranquillity, the Girondists singing the Marseillaise as they
climbed the steps.
This resignation resulted from the law of habitude, which very
rapidly dulls emotion. To judge by the fact that royalist
risings were taking place daily, the prospect of the guillotine
no longer terrified men. Things happened as though the Terror
terrorised no one. Terror is an efficacious psychological
process so long as it does not last. The real terror resides far
more in threats than in their realisation.
<>THE TERROR IN THE PROVINCES The executions of the Revolutionary Tribunals in the provinces
represented only a portion of the massacres effected in the
departments during the Terror. The revolutionary army, composed
of vagabonds and brigands, marched through
pillaging. Its method of procedure is well indicated by the
following passage from Taine:--
``At Bedouin, a town of 2,000 inhabitants, where unknown hands
had cut down the tree of liberty, 433 houses were demolished or
fired, 16 persons were guillotined, and 47 shot down; all the
other inhabitants were expelled and reduced to living as
vagabonds in the mountains, and to taking shelter in caverns
which they hollowed out of the earth.''
The fate of the wretches sent before the Revolutionary Tribunals
was no better. The first mockery of trial was quickly
to his fancy nearly 5,000 persons--men, women, and children.
The details of these massacres figured in the Moniteur
after the reaction of Thermidor. I cite a few lines:--
``I saw,'' says Thomas, ``after the taking of Noirmoutier, men
and women and old people burned alive . . . women violated, girls
of fourteen and fifteen, and massacred afterward, and tender
babes thrown from bayonet to bayonet; children who were taken
from beside their mothers stretched out on the ground.''
In the same number we read a deposition by one Julien, relating
how Carrier forced his victims to dig their graves and to allow
themselves to be buried alive. The issue of October 15, 1794,
contained a report by Merlin de Thionville proving that the
captain of the vessel le Destin had received orders to embark
forty-one victims to be drowned--``among them a blind man of 78,
twelve women, twelve girls, and fourteen children, of whom ten
were from 10 to 6 and five at the breast.''
In the course of Carrier's trial (Moniteur, December 30, 1794)
it was proved that he ``had given orders to drown and shoot women
and children, and had ordered General Haxo to exterminate all the
inhabitants of La Vendee and to burn down their dwellings.''
Carrier, like all wholesale murderers, took an intense joy in
seeing his victims suffer. ``In the department in which I hunted
the priests,'' he said, ``I have never laughed so much or
experienced such pleasure as in watching their dying grimaces''
Carrier was tried to satisfy the reaction of Thermidor. But
the massacres of
Fouche slew more than 2,000 persons at
a few months.
We must say in defence of Carrier, Freron, Fouche and all
these sinister persons, that they were incessantly stimulated by
the Committee of Public Safety. Carrier gave proof of this
during his trial.
``I admit,'' said he (Moniteur,
or 200 prisoners were shot every day, but it was by order of the
commission. I informed the Convention that the brigands were
being shot down by hundreds, and it applauded this letter, and
ordered its insertion in the Bulletin. What were these deputies
doing then who are so furious against me now? They were
applauding. Why did they still keep me `on mission'? Because I
was then the saviour of the country, and now I am a bloodthirsty
Unhappily for him, Carrier did not know, as he remarked in the
same speech, that only seven or eight persons led the Convention.
But the terrorised Assembly approved of all that these seven or
eight ordered, so that they could say nothing in reply to
Carrier's argument. He certainly deserved to be guillotined, but
the whole Convention deserved to be guillotined with him, since
it had approved of the massacres.
The defence of Carrier, justified by the letters of the
Committee, by which the representatives ``on mission'' were
incessantly stimulated, shows that the violence of the Terror
resulted from a system, and not, as has sometimes been claimed,
from the initiative of a few individuals.
The thirst for destruction during the Terror was by no means
assuaged by the destruction of human beings only; there was an
even greater destruction of inanimate things. The true believer
is always an iconoclast. Once in power, he destroys with equal
zeal the enemies of his faith and the images, temples, and
symbols which recall the faith attacked.
We know that the first action of the Emperor Theodosius when
converted to the Christian religion was to break down the
majority of the temples which for six thousand years had been
built beside the
see the leaders of the Revolution attacking the monuments and
works of art which for them were the vestiges of an abhorred
Statues, manuscripts, stained glass windows, and plate were
frenziedly broken. When Fouche, the future Duke of Otranto
under Napoleon, and minister under Louis XVIII., was sent as
commissary of the Convention to the Nievre, he ordered the
demolition of all the towers of the chateaux and the
belfries of the churches ``because they wounded equality.''
Revolutionary vandalism expended itself even on the tomb.
Following a report read by Barrere to the Convention, the
magnificent royal tombs at Saint-Denis, among which was the
admirable mausoleum of Henri II., by Germain Pilon, were smashed
to pieces, the coffins emptied, and the body of Turenne sent to
the Museum as a curiosity, after one of the keepers had extracted
the teeth in order to sell them as curiosities. The moustache
and beard of Henri IV. were also torn out.
It is impossible to witness such comparatively enlightened
men consenting to the destruction of the artistic patriotism of
remember that intense beliefs give rise to the worst excesses,
and also that the Convention, almost daily invaded by rioters,
always yielded to the popular will.
This glowing record of devastation proves, not only the power of
fanaticism: it shows us what becomes of men who are liberated
from all social restraints, and of the country which falls into
REVOLUTIONARY ASSEMBLIES AND THE ARMIES If nothing were known of the
revolutionary Assemblies, and
notably of the Convention, beyond their internal dissensions,
their weakness, and their acts of violence, their memory would
indeed be a gloomy one.
But even for its enemies this bloodstained epoch must always
retain an undeniable glory, thanks to the success of its armies.
When the Convention dissolved
Regarding the Convention as a whole, it seems equitable to credit
it with the victories of the armies of
this whole in order to study each of its elements separately
their independence will at once be obvious. It is at once
apparent that the Convention had a very small share in the
military events of the time. The armies on the frontier and the
revolutionary Assemblies in
which had very little influence over one another, and which
regarded matters in a very different light.
We have seen that the Convention was a weak Government, which
changed its ideas daily, according to popular impulse; it was
really an example of the profoundest anarchy. It directed
nothing, but was itself continually directed; how, then, could it
have commanded armies?
Completely absorbed in its intestine quarrels, the Assembly had
abandoned all military questions to a special committee, which
was directed almost single-handed by Carnot, and whose real
function was to furnish the troops with provisions and
ammunition. The merit of Carnot consisted in the fact that
besides directing over 752,000 men at the disposal of
upon points which were strategically valuable, he also advised
the generals of the armies to take the offensive, and to preserve
a strict discipline.
The sole share of the Assembly in the defence of the country was
the decree of the general levy. In the face of the numerous
enemies then threatening
such a measure. For some little time, too, the Assembly had sent
representatives to the armies instructed to decapitate certain
generals, but this policy was soon abandoned.
As a matter of fact the military activities of the Assembly were
always extremely slight. The armies, thanks to their numbers,
their enthusiasm, and the tactics devised by their youthful
generals, achieved their victories unaided. They fought and
conquered independently of the Convention.
<>THE STRUGGLE OF EUROPE AGAINST THE REVOLUTION Before enumerating the various psychological factors which
contributed to the successes of the revolutionary armies, it will
be useful briefly to recall the origin and the development of the
war against Europe.
At the commencement of the Revolution the foreign sovereigns
regarded with satisfaction the difficulties of the French
monarchy, which they had long regarded as a rival power. The
thought to enrich himself at her expense, so he proposed to the
Emperor of Austria to help Louis on condition of receiving
an alliance against
anticipated attack by declaring war upon
influence of the Girondists. The French army was at the outset
subjected to several checks. The allies penetrated into
victory at Valmy forced them to retire.
Although 300 French and 200 Prussians only were killed in this
battle, it had very significant results. The fact that an army
reputed invincible had been forced to retreat gave boldness to
the young revolutionary troops, and everywhere they took the
offensive. In a few weeks the soldiers of Valmy had chased the
Austrians out of
But it was under the Convention that the war assumed such
importance. At the beginning of 1793 the Assembly declared that
Prussians were to seize
ambassador proposed to crush the Revolution by terror,
``by exterminating practically the whole of the party directing
the nation.'' In the face of such declarations
perforce to conquer or to perish.
During this first coalition, between 1793 and 1797,
fight on all her frontiers, from the
At the outset she lost her former conquests, and suffered several
reverses. The Spaniards took
Convention, towards the end of 1793, ordered a general levy of
all Frenchmen between the ages of eighteen and forty, and
succeeded in sending to the frontiers a total of some 750,000
men. The old regiments of the royal army were combined with
battalions of volunteers and conscripts.
The allies were repulsed, and Maubeuge was relieved after the
victory of Wattigny, which was gained by Jourdan. Hoche rescued
the left bank of the
Fleurus, drove them back upon the
themselves to suing for peace, and recognised the French
The successes of the French were favoured by the fact that the
enemy never put their whole heart into the affair, as they were
preoccupied by the partition of
1793-5. Each Power wished to be on the spot in order to obtain
more territory. This motive had already caused the
The hesitations of the allies and their mutual distrust were
extremely advantageous to the French. Had the Austrians marched
Thiebault, ``have lost a hundred times for one. They alone
saved us, by giving us time to make soldiers, officers, and
After the treaty of
the Continent, save the Austrians. It was then that the
with the charge of this campaign. After a year of fighting, from
April, 1796, to April, 1797, he forced the last enemies of
to demand peace.
<>PSYCHOLOGICAL AND MILITARY FACTORS WHICH DETERMINED THE SUCCESS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ARMIES To realise the causes of the success of the revolutionary armies
we must remember the prodigious enthusiasm, endurance, and
abnegation of these ragged and often barefoot troops. Thoroughly
steeped in revolutionary principles, they felt that they were the
apostles of a new religion, which was destined to regenerate the
The history of the armies of the Revolution recalls that of the
Mohammed, were transformed into formidable armies which rapidly
conquered a portion of the old Roman world. An analogous faith
endowed the Republican soldiers with a heroism and intrepidity
which never failed them, and which no reverse could shake
When the Convention gave place to the Directory they had
liberated the country, and had carried a war of invasion into the
enemy's territory. At this period the soldiers were the only
true Republicans left in
Faith is contagious, and the Revolution was regarded as a new
era, so that several of the nations invaded, oppressed by the
absolutism of their monarchs, welcomed the invaders as
liberators. The inhabitants of
At Mayence the crowd welcomed them with enthusiasm planted trees
of liberty, and formed a Convention in imitation of that of
So long as the armies of the Revolution had to deal with peoples
bent under the yoke of absolute monarchy, and having no personal
ideal to defend, their success was relatively easy. But when
they entered into conflict with peoples who had an ideal as
strong as their own victory became far more difficult.
The new ideal of liberty and equality was capable of seducing
peoples who had no precise convictions, and were suffering from
the despotism of their masters, but it was naturally powerless
against those who possessed a potent ideal of their own which had
been long established in their minds. For this reason Bretons
and Vendeeans, whose religious and monarchical sentiments were
extremely powerful, successfully struggled for years against the
armies of the Republic.
In March, 1793, the insurrections of the Vendee and Brittany
had spread to ten departments. The Vendeeans in
and the Chouans in
The conflicts between contrary ideals--that is, between beliefs
in which reason can play no part--are always pitiless, and the
struggle with the Vendee immediately assumed the ferocious
savagery always observable in religious wars. It lasted until
the end of 1795, when Hoche finally ``pacified'' the country.
This pacification was the simple result of the practical
extermination of its defenders.
``After two years of civil war,'' writes Molinari, ``the
Vendee was no more than a hideous heap of ruins. About
900,000 individuals--men, women, children, and aged people--had
perished, and the small number of those who had escaped massacre
could scarcely find food or shelter. The fields were devastated,
the hedges and walls destroyed, and the houses burned.''
Besides their faith, which so often rendered them invincible, the
soldiers of the Revolution had usually the advantage of being led
by remarkable generals, full of ardour and formed on the battle-
The majority of the former leaders of the army, being nobles, had
emigrated so that a new body of officers had to be organised.
The result was that those gifted with innate military aptitudes
had a chance of showing them, and passed through all the grades
of rank in a few months. Hoche, for instance, a corporal in
1789, was a general of division and commander of an army at the
age of twenty-five. The extreme youth of these leaders resulted
in a spirit of aggression to which the armies opposed to them
were not accustomed. Selected only according to merit,
and hampered by no traditions, no routine, they quickly succeeded
in working out a tactics suited to the new necessities.
Of soldiers without experience opposed to seasoned professional
troops, drilled and trained according to the methods in use
everywhere since the Seven Years' War, one could not expect
Attacks were delivered simply by great masses of troops. Thanks
to the numbers of the men at the disposal of their generals, the
considerable gaps provoked by this efficacious but barbarous
procedure could be rapidly filled.
Deep masses of men attacked the enemy with the bayonet, and
quickly routed men accustomed to methods which were more careful
of the lives of soldiers. The slow rate of fire in those days
rendered the French tactics relatively easy of employment. It
triumphed, but at the cost of enormous losses. It has been
calculated that between 1792 and 1800 the French army left more
than a third of its effective force on the battle-field (700,000
men out of 2,000,000).
Examining events from a psychological point of view, we shall
continue to elicit the consequences from the facts on which they
A study of the revolutionary crowds in
presents very different but readily interpreted pictures.
We have proved that crowds, unable to reason, obey simply their
impulses, which are always changing, but we have also seen that
they are readily capable of heroism, that their altruism is often
highly developed, and that it is easy to find thousands of
men ready to give their lives for a belief.
Psychological characteristics so diverse must naturally,
according to the circumstances, lead to dissimilar and even
absolutely contradictory actions. The history of the Convention
and its armies proves as much. It shows us crowds composed of
similar elements acting so differently in
frontiers that one can hardly believe the same people can be in
changeable in their demands as to make all government impossible.
In the armies the picture was entirely different. The same
multitudes of unaccustomed men, restrained by the orderly
elements of a laborious peasant population, standardised by
military discipline, and inspired by contagious enthusiasm,
heroically supported privations, disdained perils, and
contributed to form that fabulous strain which triumphed over the
most redoubtable troops in
These facts are among those which should always be invoked to
show the force of discipline. It transforms men. Liberated from
its influence, peoples and armies become barbarian hordes.
This truth is daily and increasingly forgotten. Ignoring the
fundamental laws of collective logic, we give way more and more
to shifting popular impulses, instead of learning to direct them.
The multitude must be shown the road to follow; it is not for
them to choose it.
THE MEN OF THE REVOLUTION. THE RESPECTIVE INFLUENCE OF VIOLENT AND FEEBLE
CHARACTERS Men judge with their intelligence, and are guided by their
characters. To understand a man fully one must separate these
During the great periods of activity--and the revolutionary
movements naturally belong to such periods--character always
takes the first rank.
Having in several chapters described the various mentalities
which predominate in times of disturbance, we need not return to
the subject now. They constitute general types which are
naturally modified by each man's inherited and acquired
We have seen what an important part was played by the mystic
element in the Jacobin mentality, and the ferocious fanaticism to
which it led the sectaries of the new faith.
We have also seen that all the members of the Assemblies were not
fanatics. These latter were even in the minority, since in the
most sanguinary of the revolutionary assemblies the great
majority was composed of timid and moderate men of neutral
character. Before Thermidor the members of this group
voted from fear with the violent and after Thermidor with the
In time of revolution, as at other times, these neutral
characters, obeying the most contrary impulses, are always the
most numerous. They are also as dangerous in reality as the
violent characters. The force of the latter is supported by the
weakness of the former.
In all revolutions, and in particularly in the French Revolution,
we observe a small minority of narrow but decided minds which
imperiously dominate an immense majority of men who are often
very intelligent but are lacking in character
Besides the fanatical apostles and the feeble characters, a
revolution always produces individuals who merely think how to
profit thereby. These were numerous during the French
Revolution. Their aim was simply to utilise circumstances so as
to enrich themselves. Such were Barras, Tallien, Fouche,
Barrere, and many more. Their politics consisted simply in
serving the strong against the weak.
From the outset of the Revolution these ``arrivists,'' as one
would call them to-day, were numerous. Camille Desmoulins wrote
in 1792: ``Our Revolution has its roots only in the egotism and
self-love of each individual, of the combination of which the
general interest is composed.''
If we add to these indications the observations contained in
another chapter concerning the various forms of mentality to be
observed in times of political upheaval, we shall obtain a
general idea of the character of the men of the Revolution. We
shall now apply the principles already expounded to the
most remarkable personages of the revolutionary period.
<>PSYCHOLOGY OF THE COMMISSARIES OR REPRESENTATIVES ``ON
directed, restrained, or excited by the action of their
colleagues, and that of their environment.
To judge them properly we should observe them when left to
themselves and uncontrolled, when they possessed full liberty.
Such were the representatives who were sent ``on mission'' into
the departments by the Convention.
The power of these delegates was absolute. No censure
embarrassed them. Functionaries and magistrates had perforce to
A representative ``on mission'' ``requisitions,'' sequestrates,
or confiscates as seems good to him; taxes, imprisons, deports,
or decapitates as he thinks fit, and in his own district he is a
Regarding themselves as ``pashas,'' they displayed themselves
``drawn in carriages with six horses, surrounded by guards;
sitting at sumptuous tables with thirty covers, eating to the
sound of music, with a following of players, courtezans, and
mercenaries. . . .'' At
d'Herbois is like that of the
his presence without three repeated requests; a string of
apartments precedes his reception-room, and no one approaches
nearer than fifteen paces.''
One can picture the immense vanity of these dictators as
they solemnly entered the towns, surrounded by guards, men whose
gesture was enough to cause heads to fall.
Petty lawyers without clients, doctors without patients,
unfrocked clergymen, obscure attorneys, who had formerly known
the most colourless of lives, were suddenly made the equals of
the most powerful tyrants of history. Guillotining, drowning,
shooting without mercy, at the hazard of their fancy, they were
raised from their former humble condition to the level of the
most celebrated potentates.
Never did Nero or Heliogabalus surpass in tyranny the
representatives of the Convention. Laws and customs always
restrained the former to a certain extent. Nothing restrained
``Fouche,'' writes Taine, ``lorgnette in hand, watched the
butchery of 210 inhabitants of
Laporte, and Fouche feasted on days of execution (fusillades),
and at the sound of each discharge sprang up with cries of joy,
waving their hats.''
Among the representatives ``on mission'' who exhibit this
murderous mentality we may cite as a type the ex-cure Lebon,
who, having become possessed of supreme power, ravaged Arras and
Cambrai. His example, with that of Carrier, contributes to show
what man can become when he escapes from the yoke of law and
tradition. The cruelty of the ferocious commissary was
complicated by Sadism; the scaffold was raised under his windows,
so that he, his wife, and his helpers could rejoice in the
carnage. At the foot of the guillotine a drinking-booth was
established where the sans-culottes could come to drink.
To amuse them the executioner would group on the pavement, in
ridiculous attitudes, the naked bodies of the decapitated.
``The reading of the two volumes of his trial, printed at
in 1795, may be counted as a nightmare. During twenty sessions
the survivors of the hecatombs of
through the ancient hall of the bailiwick at
ex-member of the Convention was tried. What these phantoms in
mourning related is unheard of. Entire streets dispeopled;
nonagenarians and girls of sixteen decapitated after a mockery of
a trial; death buffeted, insulted, adorned, rejoiced in;
executions to music; battalions of children recruited to guard
the scaffold; the debauchery, the cynicism, the refinements of an
insane satrap; a romance by Sade turned epic; it seems, as we
watch the unpacking of these horrors, that a whole country, long
terrorised, is at last disgorging its terror and revenging itself
for its cowardice by overwhelming the wretch there, the scapegoat
of an abhorred and vanished system.''
The only defence of the ex-clergyman was that he had obeyed
orders. The facts with which he was reproached had long been
known, and the Convention had in no wise blamed him for them.
I have already spoken of the vanity of the deputies ``on
mission,'' who were suddenly endowed with a power greater than
that of the most powerful despots; but this vanity is not enough
to explain their ferocity.
That arose from other sources. Apostles of a severe faith, the
delegates of the Convention, like the inquisitors of the Holy
Office, could feel, can have felt, no pity for their victims.
Freed, moreover, from all the bonds of tradition and law,
they could give rein to the most savage instincts that primitive
animality has left in us.
Civilisation restrains these instincts, but they never die. The
need to kill which makes the hunter is a permanent proof of this.
M. Cunisset-Carnot has expressed in the following lines the grip
of this hereditary tendency, which, in the pursuit of the most
harmless game, re-awakens the barbarian in every hunter:--
``The pleasure of killing for killing's sake is, one may say,
universal; it is the basis of the hunting instinct, for it must
be admitted that at present, in civilised countries, the need to
live no longer counts for anything in its propagation. In
reality we are continuing an action which was imperiously imposed
upon our savage ancestors by the harsh necessities of existence,
during which they had either to kill or die of hunger, while to-
day there is no longer any legitimate excuse for it. But so it
is, and we can do nothing; probably we shall never break the
chains of a slavery which has bound us for so long. We cannot
prevent ourselves from feeling an intense, often passionate,
pleasure in shedding the blood of animals towards whom, when the
love of the chase possesses us, we lose all feeling of pity. The
gentlest and prettiest creatures, the song-birds, the charm of
our springtime, fall to our guns or are choked in our snares, and
not a shudder of pity troubles our pleasure at seeing them
terrified, bleeding, writhing in the horrible suffering we
inflict on them, seeking to flee on their poor broken paws or
desperately beating their wings, which can no longer support
them. . . . The excuse is the impulse of that imperious
atavism which the best of us have not the strength to resist.''
At ordinary times this singular atavism, restrained by fear of
the laws, can only be exercised on animals. When codes are no
longer operative it immediately applies itself to man, which is
why so many terrorists took an intense pleasure in killing.
Carrier's remark concerning the joy he felt in contemplating the
faces of his victims during their torment is very typical. In
many civilised men ferocity is a restrained instinct, but it is
by no means eliminated.
<>DANTON AND ROBESPIERRE Danton and Robespierre represented the two principal personages
of the Revolution. I shall say little of the former: his
psychology, besides being simple, is familiar. A club orator
firstly, impulsive and violent, he showed himself always ready to
excite the people. Cruel only in his speeches, he often
regretted their effects. From the outset he shone in the first
rank, while his future rival, Robespierre, was vegetating almost
in the lowest.
At one given moment Danton became the soul of the Revolution, but
he was deficient in tenacity and fixity of conduct. Moreover, he
was needy, while Robespierre was not. The continuous fanaticism
of the latter defeated the intermittent efforts of the former.
Nevertheless, it was an amazing spectacle to see so powerful a
tribune sent to the scaffold by his pale, venemous enemy and
Robespierre, the most influential man of the Revolution and the
most frequently studied, is yet the least explicable. It is
difficult to understand the prodigious influence which
gave him the power of life and death, not only over the enemies
of the Revolution but also over colleagues who could not have
been considered as enemies of the existing Government.
We certainly cannot explain the matter by saying with Taine that
Robespierre was a pedant lost in abstractions, nor by asserting
with the Michelet that he succeeded on account of his principles,
nor by repeating with his contemporary Williams that ``one of the
secrets of his government was to take men marked by opprobrium or
soiled with crime as stepping-stones to his ambition.''
It is impossible to regard his eloquence as the cause of his
success. His eyes protected by goggles, he painfully read his
speeches, which were composed of cold and indefinite
abstractions. The Assembly contained orators who possessed an
immensely superior talent, such as Danton and the Girondists; yet
it was Robespierre who destroyed them.
We have really no acceptable explanation of the ascendancy which
the dictator finally obtained. Without influence in the National
Assembly, he gradually became the master of the Convention and of
the Jacobins. ``When he reached the Committee of Public Safety
he was already,'' said Billaud-Varennes, ``the most important
``His history,'' writes Michelet, ``is prodigious, far more
marvellous than that of Bonaparte. The threads, the wheels, the
preparation of forces, are far less visible. It is an honest
man, an austere but pious figure, of middling talents, that
shoots up one morning, borne upward by I know not what cataclysm.
There is nothing like it in the Arabian Nights. And in a moment
he goes higher than the throne. He is set upon the altar.
Certainly circumstances helped him considerably. People turned
to him as to the master of whom all felt the need. But then he
was already there, and what we wish to discover is the cause of
his rapid ascent. I would willingly suppose in him the existence
of a species of personal fascination which escapes us to-day.
His successes with women might be quoted in support of this
theory. On the days when he speaks ``the passages are choked
with women . . . there are seven or eight hundred in the
tribunes, and with what transports they applaud! At the
Jacobins, when he speaks there are sobs and cries of emotion, and
men stamp as though they would bring the hall down.'' A young
widow, Mme. de Chalabre, possessed of sixteen hundred pounds a
year, sends him burning love-letters and is eager to marry him.
We cannot seek in his character for the causes of his popularity.
A hypochondriac by temperament, of mediocre intelligence,
incapable of grasping realities, confined to abstractions, crafty
and dissimulating, his prevailing note was an excessive pride
which increased until his last day. High priest of a new faith,
he believed himself sent on earth by God to establish the
reign of virtue. He received writings stating ``that he
was the Messiah whom the Eternal Being had promised to reform
Full of literary pretensions, he laboriously polished his
speeches. His profound jealousy of other orators or men of
letters, such as Camille Desmoulins, caused their death.
``Those who were particularly the objects of the tyrant's rage,''
writes the author already cited, ``were the men of letters. With
regard to them the jealousy of a colleague was mingled with the
fury of the oppressor; for the hatred with which he persecuted
them was caused less by their resistance to his despotism than by
their talents, which eclipsed his.''
The contempt of the dictator for his colleagues was immense and
almost unconcealed. Giving audience to Barras at the hour of his
toilet, he finished shaving, spitting in the direction of his
colleague as though he did not exist, and disdaining to reply to
He regarded the bourgeoisie and the deputies with the same
hateful disdain. Only the multitude found grace in his eyes.
``When the sovereign people exercises its power,'' he said, ``we
can only bow before it. In all it does all is virtue and truth,
and no excess, error, or crime is possible.''
Robespierre suffered from the persecution mania. That he had
others' heads cut off was not only because he had a mission as an
apostle, but because he believed himself hemmed in by enemies and
conspirators. ``Great as was the cowardice of his colleagues
where he was concerned,'' writes M. Sorel, ``the fear he had of
them was still greater.''
His dictatorship, absolute during five months, is a striking
example of the power of certain leaders. We can understand that
a tyrant backed by an army can easily destroy whom he pleases,
but that a single man should succeed in sending to death a large
number of his equals is a thing that is not easily explained.
The power of Robespierre was so absolute that he was able to send
to the Tribunal, and therefore to the scaffold, the most eminent
deputies: Desmoulins, Hebert, Danton, and many another. The
brilliant Girondists melted away before him. He attacked even
the terrible Commune, guillotined its leaders, and replaced it by
a new Commune obedient to his orders.
In order to rid himself more quickly of the men who displeased
him he induced the Convention to enact the law of Prairial, which
permitted the execution of mere suspects, and by means of which
he had 1,373 heads cut off in Paris in forty-nine days. His
colleagues, the victims of an insane terror, no longer slept at
home; scarcely a hundred deputies were present at sessions.
David said: ``I do not believe twenty of us members of the
Mountain will be left.''
It was his very excess of confidence in his own powers and in the
cowardice of the Convention that lost Robespierre his life.
Having attempted to make them vote a measure which would permit
deputies to be sent before the Revolutionary Tribunal, which
meant the scaffold, without the authorisation of the Assembly, on
an order from the governing Committee, several Montagnards
conspired with some members of the Plain to overthrow him.
Tallien, knowing himself marked down for early execution, and
having therefore nothing to lose, accused him loudly of tyranny.
Robespierre wished to defend himself by reading a speech which he
had long had in hand, but he learned to his cost that although it
is possible to destroy men in the name of logic it is not
possible to lead an assembly by means of logic. The
shouts of the conspirators drowned his voice; the cry ``Down with
the tyrant!'' quickly repeated, thanks to mental contagion, by
many of the members present, was enough to complete his downfall.
Without losing a moment the Assembly decreed his accusation.
The Commune having wished to save him, the Assembly outlawed him.
Struck by this magic formula, he was definitely lost.
``This cry of outlawry,'' writes Williams, ``at this period
produced the same effect on a Frenchman as the cry of pestilence;
the outlaw became civilly excommunicated, and it was as though
men believed that they would be contaminated passing through the
air which he had breathed. Such was the effect it produced upon
the gunners who had trained their cannon against the Convention.
Without receiving further orders, merely on hearing that the
Commune was `outside the law,' they immediately turned their
Robespierre and all his band--Saint-Just, the president of the
Revolutionary Tribunal, the mayor of the Commune, &c.,--were
guillotined on the 10th of Thermidor to the number of twenty-one.
Their execution was followed on the morrow by a fresh batch of
seventy Jacobins, and on the next day by thirteen. The Terror,
which had lasted ten months, was at an end.
The downfall of the Jacobin edifice in Thermidor is one of the
most curious psychological events of the revolutionary period.
None of the Montagnards who had worked for the downfall of
Robespierre had for a moment dreamed that it would mark the end
of the Terror.
Tallien, Barras, Fouche, &c., overthrew Robespierre as he had
overthrown Hebert, Danton, the Girondists, and many others.
But when the acclamations of the crowd told them that the death
of Robespierre was regarded as having put an end to the Terror
they acted as though such had been their intention. They were
the more obliged to do so in that the Plain--that is, the great
majority of the Assembly--which had allowed itself to be
decimated by Robespierre, now rebelled furiously against the
system it had so long acclaimed even while it abhorred it.
Nothing is more terrible than a body of men who have been afraid
and are afraid no longer. The Plain revenged itself for being
terrorised by the Mountain, and terrorised that body in turn.
The servility of the colleagues of Robespierre in the Convention
was by no means based upon any feeling of sympathy for him. The
dictator filled them with an unspeakable alarm, but beneath the
marks of admiration and enthusiasm which they lavished on him out
of fear was concealed an intense hatred. We can gather as much
by reading the reports of various deputies inserted in the
Moniteur of August 11, 15, and 29, 1794, and notably that on
``the conspiracy of the triumvirs, Robespierre, Couthon, and
Saint-Just.'' Never did slaves heap such invectives on a fallen
We learn that ``these monsters had for some time been renewing
the most horrible prescriptions of Marius and Sulla.''
Robespierre is represented as a most frightful scoundrel; we are
assured that ``like Caligula, he would soon have asked the French
people to worship his horse . . . He sought security in
the execution of all who aroused his slightest suspicion.''
These reports forget to add that the power of Robespierre
obtained no support, as did that of the Marius and Sulla to whom
they allude, from a powerful army, but merely from the repeated
adhesion of the members of the Convention. Without their
extreme timidity the power of the dictator could not have lasted
a single day.
Robespierre was one of the most odious tyrants of history, but he
is distinguished from all others in that he made himself a tyrant
We may sum up his doctrines by saying that he was the most
perfect incarnation, save perhaps Saint-Just, of the Jacobin
faith, in all its narrow logic, its intense mysticism, and its
inflexible rigidity. He has admirers even to-day. M. Hamel
describes him as ``the martyr of Thermidor.'' There has been
some talk of erecting a monument to him. I would willingly
subscribe to such a purpose, feeling that it is useful to
preserve proofs of the blindness of the crowd, and of the
extraordinary docility of which an assembly is capable when the
leader knows how to handle it. His statue would recall the
passionate cries of admiration and enthusiasm with which the
Convention acclaimed the most threatening measures of the
dictator, on the very eve of the day when it was about to cast
<>FOUQUIER-TINVILLE, MARAT, BILLAUD-VARENNE, &C I shall devote a paragraph to certain revolutionists who were
famous for the development of their most sanguinary instincts.
Their ferocity was complicated by other sentiments, by
fear and hatred, which could but fortify it.
Fouquier-Tinville, the public prosecutor of the Revolutionary
Tribunal, was one of those who have left the most sinister
memories. This magistrate, formerly reputed for his kindness,
and who became the bloodthirsty creature whose memory evokes such
repulsion, has already served me as an example in other works,
when I have wished to show the transformation of certain natures
in time of revolution.
Needy in the extreme at the moment of the fall of the monarchy,
he had everything to hope from a social upheaval and nothing to
lose. He was one of those men whom a period of disorder will
always find ready to sustain it.
The Convention abandoned its powers to him. He had to pronounce
upon the fate of nearly two thousand accused, among whom were
Marie-Antoinette, the Girondists, Danton, Hebert, &c. He had
all the suspects brought before him executed, and did not scruple
to betray his former protectors. As soon as one of them fell
into his power--Camille Desmoulins, Danton, or another--he would
plead against him.
Fouquier-Tinville had a very inferior mind, which the Revolution
brought to the top. Under normal conditions, hedged about by
professional rules, his destiny would have been that of a
peaceable and obscure magistrate. This was precisely the lot of
his deputy, or substitute, at the Tribunal, Gilbert-Liendon.
``He should,'' writes M. Durel, ``have inspired the same horror
as his colleague, yet he completed his career in the upper ranks
of the Imperial magistracy.''
One of the great benefits of an organised society is that it does
restrain these dangerous characters, whom nothing but social
restraints can hold.
Fouquier-Tinville died without understanding why he was
condemned, and from the revolutionary point of view his
condemnation was not justifiable. Had he not merely zealously
executed the orders of his superiors? It is impossible to class
him with the representatives who were sent into the provinces,
who could not be supervised. The delegates of the Convention
examined all his sentences and approved of them up to the last.
If his cruelty and his summary fashion of trying the prisoners
before him had not been encouraged by his chiefs, he could not
have remained in power. In condemning Fouquier-Tinville, the
Convention condemned its own frightful system of government. It
understood this fact, and sent to the scaffold a number of
Terrorists whom Fouquier-Tinville had merely served as a faithful
Beside Fouquier-Tinville we may set Dumas, who presided over the
Revolutionary Tribunal, and who also displayed an excessive
cruelty, which was whetted by an intense fear. He never went out
without two loaded pistols, barricaded himself in his house, and
only spoke to visitors through a wicket. His distrust of
everybody, including his own wife, was absolute. He even
imprisoned the latter, and was about to have her executed when
Among the men whom the Convention brought to light, Billaud-
Varenne was one of the wildest and, most brutal. He may be
regarded as a perfect type of bestial ferocity.
``In these hours of fruitful anger and heroic anguish he
remained calm, acquitting himself methodically of his task--and
it was a frightful task: he appeared officially at the massacres
of the Abbaye, congratulated the assassins, and promised them
money; upon which he went home as if he had merely been taking a
walk. We see him as president of the Jacobin Club, president of
the Convention, and member of the Committee of Public Safety; he
drags the Girondists to the scaffold: he drags the queen thither,
and his former patron, Danton, said of him, `Billaud has a dagger
under his tongue.' He approves of the cannonades at Lyons, the
drownings at Nantes, the massacres at Arras; he organises the
pitiless commission of Orange; he is concerned in the laws of
Prairial; he eggs on Fouquier-Tinville; on all decrees of death
is his name, often the first; he signs before his colleagues; he
is without pity, without emotion, without enthusiasm; when others
are frightened, hesitate, and draw back, he goes his way,
speaking in turgid sentences, `shaking his lion's mane'--for to
make his cold and impassive face more in harmony with the
exuberance that surrounds him he now decks himself in a yellow
wig which would make one laugh were it on any but the sinister
head of Billaud-Varenne. When Robespierre, Saint-Just, and
Couthon are threatened in turn, he deserts them and goes over to
the enemy, and pushes them under the knife. . . . Why? What is
his aim? No one knows; he is not in any way ambitious; he
desires neither power nor money.''
I do not think it would be difficult to answer why. The thirst
for blood, of which we have already spoken, and which is very
common among certain criminals, perfectly explains the
conduct of Billaud-Varennes. Bandits of this type kill for the
sake of killing, as sportsmen shoot game--for the very pleasure
of exercising their taste for destruction. In ordinary times men
endowed with these homicidal tendencies refrain, generally from
fear of the policeman and the scaffold. When they are able to
give them free vent nothing can stop them. Such was the case
with Billaud-Varenne and many others.
The psychology of Marat is rather more complicated, not only
because his craving for murder was combined with other elements--
wounded self-love, ambition, mystic beliefs, &c.--but also
because we must regard him as a semi-lunatic, affected by
megalomania, and haunted by fixed ideas.
Before the Revolution he had advanced great scientific
pretensions, but no one attached much importance to his
maunderings. Dreaming of place and honour, he had only obtained
a very subordinate situation in the household of a great noble.
The Revolution opened up an unhoped-for future. Swollen with
hatred of the old social system which had not recognised his
merits, he put himself at the head of the most violent section of
the people. Having publicly glorified the massacres of
September, he founded a journal which denounced everybody and
clamoured incessantly for executions.
Speaking continually of the interests of the people, Marat became
their idol. The majority of his colleagues heartily despised
him. Had he escaped the knife of Charlotte Corday, he certainly
would not have escaped that of the guillotine.
<>THE DESTINY OF THOSE MEMBERS OF THE CONVENTION WHO SURVIVED THE REVOLUTION Beside the members of the Convention whose psychology presents
particular characteristics there were others--Barras, Fouche,
Tallien, Merlin de Thionville, &c.--completely devoid of
principles or belief, who only sought to enrich themselves.
They sought to build up enormous fortunes out of the public
misery. In ordinary times they would have been qualified as
simple scoundrels, but in periods of revolution all standards
of vice and virtue seem to disappear.
Although a few Jacobins remained fanatics, the majority renounced
their convictions as soon as they had obtained riches, and became
the faithful courtiers of Napoleon. Cambaceres, who, on
addressing Louis XVI. in prison, called him Louis Capet, under
the Empire required his friends to call him ``Highness'' in
public and ``Monseigneur'' in private, thus displaying the
envious feeling which accompanied the craving for equality in
many of the Jacobins.
``The majority of the Jacobins,'' writes M. Madelin ``were
greatly enriched, and like Chabot, Bazire, Merlin, Barras,
Boursault, Tallien, Barrere, &c., possessed chateaux and
estates. Those who were not wealthy as yet were soon to become
so. . . In the Committee of the year III. alone the staff of the
Thermidorian party comprised a future prince, 13 future counts, 5
future barons, 7 future senators of the Empire, and 6 future
Councillors of State, and beside them in the Convention there
were, between the future Duke of Otranto to the future Count
Regnault, no less than 50 democrats who fifteen years
later possessed titles, coats of arms, plumes, carriages,
endowments, entailed estates, hotels, and chateaux.
Fouche died worth L600,000.''
The privileges of the ancien regime which had been so
bitterly decried were thus very soon re-established for the
benefit of the bourgeoisie. To arrive at this result it was
necessary to ruin
suffering, to plunge innumerable families into despair, to
the field of battle.
In closing this chapter we will recall what we have already said
concerning the possibility of judging the men of this period.
Although the moralist is forced to deal severely with certain
individuals, because he judges them by the types which society
must respect if it is to succeed in maintaining itself, the
psychologist is not in the same case. His aim is to understand,
and criticism vanishes before a complete comprehension.
The human mind is a very fragile mechanism, and the marionettes
which dance upon the stage of history are rarely able to resist
the imperious forces which impel them. Heredity, environment,
and circumstances are imperious masters. No one can say with
certainty what would have been his conduct in the place of the
men whose actions he endeavours to interpret.
PSYCHOLOGY OF THE DIRECTORY As the various revolutionary assemblies were
composed in part of
the same men, one might suppose that their psychology would be
At ordinary periods this would have been so, for a constant
environment means constancy of character. But when circumstances
change as rapidly as they did under the Revolution, character
must perforce transform itself to adapt itself thereto. Such was
the case with the Directory.
The Directory comprised several distinct assemblies: two large
chambers, consisting of different categories of deputies, and one
very small chamber, which consisted of the five Directors.
The two larger Assemblies remind one strongly of the Convention
by their weakness. They were no longer forced to obey popular
riots, as these were energetically prevented by the Directors,
but they yielded without discussion to the dictatorial
injunctions of the latter.
The first deputies to be elected were mostly moderates. Everyone
was weary of the Jacobin tyranny. The new Assembly dreamed of
rebuilding the ruins with which
establishing a liberal government without violence.
But by one of those fatalities which were a law of the
Revolution, and which prove that the course of events is often
superior to men's wills, these deputies, like their predecessors,
may be said always to have done the contrary of what they wished
to do. They hoped to be moderate, and they were violent; they
wanted to eliminate the influence of the Jacobins, and they
allowed themselves to be led by them; they thought to repair the
ruins of the country and they succeeded only in adding others to
them; they aspired to religious peace, and they finally
persecuted and massacred the priests with greater rigour than
during the Terror.
The psychology of the little assembly formed by the five
Directors was very different from that of the Chamber of
Deputies. Encountering fresh difficulties daily, the directors
were forced to resolve them, while the large Assemblies, without
contact with realities, had only their aspirations.
The prevailing thought of the Directors was very simple. Highly
indifferent to principles, they wished above all to remain the
from resorting to the most illegitimate measures, even annulling
the elections of a great number of the departments when these
Feeling themselves incapable of reorganising
her to herself. By their despotism they contrived to dominate
her, but they never governed her. Now, what
than anything at this juncture was to be governed.
The convention has left behind it the reputation of a strong
Government, and the Directory that of a weak Government. The
contrary is true: it was the Directory that was the strong
Psychologically we may readily explain the difference between the
Government of the Directory and that of the preceding Assemblies
by recalling the fact that a gathering of six hundred to seven
hundred persons may well suffer from waves of contagious
enthusiasm, as on the night of the 4th of August, or even
impulses of energetic will-power, such as that which launched
defiance against the kings of Europe. But such impulses are too
ephemeral to possess any great force. A committee of five
members, easily dominated by the will of one, is far more
susceptible of continuous resolution--that is, of perseverance in
a settled line of conduct.
The Government of the Directory proved to be always incapable of
governing, but it never lacked a strong will. Nothing
restraining it, neither respect for law nor consideration for the
citizens, nor love of the public welfare, it was able to impose
upon France a despotism more crushing than that of any Government
since the beginning of the Revolution, not excepting the Terror.
Although it utilised methods analogous to those of the
Convention, and ruled
Directory, no more than the Convention, was never the master of
This fact, which I have already noted, proves once more the
impotence of material constraint to dominate moral forces. It
cannot be too often repeated that the true guide of mankind is
the moral scaffolding erected by his ancestors.
Accustomed to live in an organised society, supported by codes
and respected traditions, we can with difficulty represent to
ourselves the condition of a nation deprived of such a basis. As
a general thing we only see the irksome side of our environment,
too readily forgetting that society can exist only on condition
of imposing certain restraints, and that laws, manners, and
custom constitute a check upon the natural instincts of barbarism
which never entirely perishes.
The history of the Convention and the Directory which followed it
shows plainly to what degree disorder may overcome a nation
deprived of its ancient structure, and having for guide only the
artificial combinations of an insufficient reason.
<>DESPOTIC GOVERNMENT OF THE DIRECTORY. RECRUDESCENCE OF THE TERROR With the object of diverting attention, occupying the army, and
obtaining resources by the pillage of neighbouring countries, the
Directors decided to resume the wars of conquest which had
succeeded under the Convention.
These continued during the life time of the Directory. The
armies won a rich booty, especially in
Some of the invaded populations were so simple as to suppose that
these invasions were undertaken in their interest. They were not
long in discovering that all military operations were
accompanied by crushing taxes and the pillage of churches, public
The final consequence of this policy of conquest was the
formation of a new coalition against
Indifferent to the state of the country and incapable of
reorganising it, the Directors were principally concerned in
struggling against an incessant series of conspiracies in order
to keep in power.
This task was enough to occupy their leisure, for the political
parties had not disarmed. Anarchy had reached such a point that
all were calling for a hand powerful enough to restore order.
Everyone felt, the Directors included, that the republican system
could not last much longer.
Some dreamed of re-establishing royalty, others the Terrorist
system, while others waited for a general. Only the purchasers
of the national property feared a change of Government.
The unpopularity of the Directory increased daily, and when in
May, 1797, the third part of the Assembly had to be renewed, the
majority of those elected were hostile to the system.
The Directors were not embarrassed by a little thing like that.
They annulled the elections in 49 departments; 154 of the new
deputies were invalidated and expelled, 53 condemned to
deportation. Among these latter figured the most illustrious
names of the Revolution: Portalis, Carnot, Tronson du Coudray,
To intimidate the electors, military commissions condemned to
death, rather at random, 160 persons, and sent to
whom half speedily died. The emigres and priests who
had returned to
as the coup d'etat of Fructidor.
This coup, which struck more especially at the moderates, was
not the only one of its kind; another quickly followed. The
Directors, finding the Jacobin deputies too numerous, annulled
the elections of sixty of them.
The preceding facts displayed the tyrannical temper of the
Directors, but this appeared even more plainly in the details of
their measures. The new masters of
bloodthirsty as the most ferocious deputies of the Terror.
The guillotine was not re-established as a permanency, but
replaced by deportation under conditions which left the victims
little chance of survival. Sent to Rochefort in cages of iron
bars, exposed to all the severities of the weather, they were
then packed into boats.
``Between the decks of the Decade and the Bayonnaise,''
says Taine, ``the miserable prisoners, suffocated by the lack of
air and the torrid heat, bullied and fleeced, died of hunger or
asphyxia, and Guiana completed the work of the voyage: of 193
taken thither by the Decade 39 were left alive at the end of
twenty-two months; of 120 taken by the Bayonnaise 1 remained.
Observing everywhere a Catholic renascence, and imagining that
the clergy were conspiring against them, the Directors deported
or sent to the galleys in one year 1,448 priests, to say nothing
of a large number who were summarily executed. The Terror was in
reality completely re-established.
The autocratic despotism of the Directory was exercised in all
the branches of the administration, notably the finances. Thus,
having need of six hundred million francs, it forced the
deputies, always docile, to vote a progressive impost, which
yielded, however, only twelve millions. Being presently in the
same condition, it decreed a forced loan of a hundred millions,
which resulted in the closing of workshops, the stoppage of
business, and the dismissal of domestics. It was only at the
price of absolute ruin that forty millions could be obtained.
To assure itself of domination in the provinces the Directory
caused a so-called law of hostages to be passed, according to
which a list of hostages, responsible for all offences, was drawn
up in each commune.
It is easy to understand what hatred such a system provoked. At
the end of 1799 fourteen departments were in revolt and forty-six
were ready to rise. If the Directory had lasted the dissolution
of society would have been complete.
For that matter, this dissolution was far advanced. Finances,
administration, everything was crumbling. The receipts of the
Treasury, consisting of depreciated assignats fallen to a
hundredth part of their original value, were negligible. Holders
of Government stock and officers could no longer obtain payment.
ravaged by war and abandoned by its inhabitants. The broken
bridges and dykes and ruined buildings made all traffic
impossible. The roads, long deserted, were infested by brigands.
Certain departments could only be crossed at the price of buying
a safe-conduct from the leaders of these bands. Industry
and commerce were annihilated. In
mills out of 15,000 had been forced to close.
and famine were general.
The moral disorganisation was no less terrible. Luxury and the
craving for pleasure, costly dinners, jewels, and extravagant
households were the appanage of a new society composed entirely
of stock-jobbers, army contractors, and shady financiers enriched
by pillage. They gave
and gaiety which has deluded so many historians of this period,
because the insolent prodigality displayed covered the general
The chronicles of the Directory as told in books help to show us
of what lies the web of history is woven. The theatre has lately
got hold of this period, of which the fashions are still
imitated. It has left the memory of a joyous period of re-birth
after the gloomy drama of the Terror. In reality the drama of
the Directory was hardly an improvement on the Terror and was
quite as sanguinary. Finally, it inspired such loathing that the
Directors, feeling that it could not last, sought themselves for
the dictator capable of replacing it and also of protecting them.
<>THE ADVENT OF BONAPARTE We have seen that at the end of the Directory the anarchy and
disorganisation were such that every one was desperately calling
for the man of energy capable of re-establishing order. As early
as 1795 a number of deputies had thought for a moment of re-
establishing royalty. Louis XVIII., having been tactless
enough to declare that he would restore the ancien regime in
its entirety, return all property to its original owners, and
punish the men of the Revolution, was immediately thrown over.
The senseless expedition of Quiberon finally alienated the
supporters of the future sovereign. The royalists gave a proof
during the whole of the Revolution of an incapacity and a
narrowness of mind which justified most of the measures taken
The monarchy being impossible, it was necessary to find a
general. Only one existed whose name carried weight--Bonaparte.
The campaign in
contributions. He then made towards
five leagues from its gates when the Emperor of Austria decided
to sue for peace.
But great as was his renown, the young general did not consider
it sufficient. To increase it he persuaded the Directory that
the power of
in May, 1798, he embarked at
This need of increasing his prestige arose from a very sound
psychological conception which he clearly expounded at
``The most influential and enlightened generals had long been
pressing the general of
the head of the Republic. He refused; he was not yet strong
enough to walk quite alone. He had ideas upon the art of
governing and upon what was necessary to a great nation
which were so different from those of the men of the
Revolution and the assemblies that, not being able to act alone,
he feared to compromise his character. He determined to set out
to render his presence useful or necessary.''
Bonaparte did not stay long in
he landed at Frejus, and the announcement of his return provoked
universal enthusiasm. There were illuminations everywhere.
by two Directors and the principal ministers. The plot was
organised in three weeks. Its execution on the 18th of Brumaire
was accomplished with the greatest ease.
All parties experienced the greatest delight at being rid of the
sinister gangs who had so long oppressed and exploited the
country. The French were doubtless about to enter upon a
despotic system of government, but it could not be so intolerable
as that which had been endured for so many years.
The history of the coup d'etat of Brumaire justifies all
that we have already said of the impossibility of forming exact
judgments of events which apparently are fully understood and
attested by no matter how many witnesses.
We know what ideas people had thirty years ago concerning the
coup of Brumaire. It was regarded as a crime committed by the
ambition of a man who was supported by his army. As a matter of
fact the army played no part whatever in the affair. The little
body of men who expelled the few recalcitrant deputies were not
soldiers even, but the gendarmes of the Assembly itself. The
true author of the coup d'etat was the Government itself, with
the complicity of all
<>CAUSES OF THE DURATION OF THE REVOLUTION If we limit the Revolution to the time necessary for the conquest
of its fundamental principles--equality before the law, free
access to public functions, popular sovereignty, control of
expenditures, &c.--we may say that it lasted only a few months.
Towards the middle of 1789 all this was accomplished, and during
the years that followed nothing was added to it, yet the
Revolution lasted much longer.
Confining the duration to the dates admitted by the official
historians, we see it persisting until the advent of Bonaparte, a
space of some ten years.
Why did this period of disorganisation and violence follow the
establishment of the new principles? We need not seek the cause
in the foreign war, which might on several occasions have been
terminated, thanks to the divisions of the allies and the
constant victories of the French; neither must we look for it in
the sympathy of Frenchmen for the revolutionary Government.
Never was rule more cordially hated and despised than that of the
Assemblies. By its revolts as well as by its repeated votes a
great part of the nation displayed the horror with which it
regarded the system.
This last point, the aversion of
regime, so long misunderstood, has been well displayed by
recent historians. The author of the last book published on the
Revolution, M. Madelin, has well summarised their opinion in the
``As early as 1793 a party by no means numerous had seized upon
delivered from its odious exploiters; but these held the unhappy
country by a thousand means. . . . As the Terror was essential
to them if they were to rule, they struck at whomsoever seemed at
any given moment to be opposed to the Terror, were they the best
servants of the Revolution.''
Up to the end of the Directory the government was exercised by
Jacobins, who merely desired to retain, along with the supreme
power, the riches they had accumulated by murder and pillage, and
were ready to surrender
them free possession of these. That they negotiated the coup
d'etat of Brumaire with Napoleon was simply to the fact that
they had not been able to realise their wishes with regard to
But how explain the fact that a Government so tyrannical and so
dishonoured was able to survive for so many years?
It was not merely because the revolutionary religion still
survived in men's minds, nor because it was forced on them by
means of persecution and bloodshed, but especially, as I have
already stated, on account of the great interest which a large
portion of the population had in maintaining it.
This point is fundamental. If the Revolution had remained a
theoretical religion, it would probably have been of short
duration. But the belief which had just been founded very
quickly emerged from the domain of pure theory.
The Revolution did not confine itself to despoiling the monarchy,
the nobility, and the clergy of their powers of government. In
throwing into the hands of the bourgeoisie and the large
numbers of peasantry the wealth and the employments of the old
privileged classes it had at the same stroke turned them into
obstinate supporters of the revolutionary system. All those who
had acquired the property of which the nobles and clergy had been
despoiled had obtained lands and chateaux at low prices, and
were terrified lest the restoration of the monarchy should force
them to make general restitution.
It was largely for these reasons that a Government which, at any
normal period, would never have been endured, was able to survive
until a master should re-establish order, while promising to
maintain not only the moral but also the material conquests of
the Revolution. Bonaparte realised these anxieties, and was
promptly and enthusiastically welcomed. Material conquests which
were still contestable and theoretical principles which were
still fragile were by him incorporated in institutions and the
laws. It is an error to say that the Revolution terminated with
his advent. Far from destroying it, he ratified and consolidated
WORK OF THE REVOLUTION WAS CONFIRMED BY THE CONSULATE The history of the
Consulate is as rich as the preceding period
in psychological material. In the first place it shows us that
the work of a powerful individual is superior to that of a
collectivity. Bonaparte immediately replaced the bloody anarchy
in which the Republic had for ten years been writhing by a period
of order. That which none of the four Assemblies of the
Revolution had been able to realise, despite the most violent
oppression, a single man accomplished in a very short space of
His authority immediately put an end to all the Parisian
insurrections and the attempts at monarchical resistance, and re-
established the moral unity of
intense hatreds. Bonaparte replaced an unorganised collective
despotism by a perfectly organised individual despotism.
Everyone gained thereby, for his tyranny was infinitely less
heavy than that which had been endured for ten long years. We
must suppose, moreover, that it was unwelcome to very few, as it
was very soon accepted with immense enthusiasm.
We know better to-day than to repeat with the old historians that
Bonaparte overthrew the Republic. On the contrary, he retained
of it all that could be retained, and never would have been
retained without him, by establishing all the practicable work of
the Revolution--the abolition of privileges, equality before the
law, &c.--in institutions and codes of law. The Consular
Government continued, moreover, to call itself the Republic.
It is infinitely probable that without the Consulate a
monarchical restoration would have terminated the Directory, and
would have wiped out the greater part of the work of the
Revolution. Let us suppose Bonaparte erased from history. No
one, I think, will imagine that the Directory could have survived
the universal weariness of its rule. It would certainly have
been overturned by the royalist conspiracies which were breaking
out daily, and Louis XVIII. would probably have ascended the
throne. Certainly he was to mount it sixteen years later, but
during this interval Bonaparte gave such force to the principles
of the Revolution, by establishing them in laws and customs, that
the restored sovereign dared not touch them, nor restore the
property of the returned emigres.
Matters would have been very different had Louis XVIII.
immediately followed the Directory. He would have brought with
him all the absolutism of the ancien regime, and fresh
revolutions would have been necessary to abolish it. We know
that a mere attempt to return to the past overthrew Charles X.
It would be a little ingenuous to complain of the tyranny
of Bonaparte. Under the ancien regime Frenchmen had
supported every species of tyranny, and the Republic had created
a despotism even heavier than that of the monarchy. Despotism
was then a normal condition, which aroused no protest save when
it was accompanied by disorder.
A constant law of the psychology of crowds shows them as creating
anarchy, and then seeking the master who will enable them to
emerge therefrom. Bonaparte was this master.
<>THE REORGANISATION OF FRANCE BY THE CONSULATE Upon assuming power Bonaparte undertook a colossal task. All was
in ruins; all was to be rebuilt. On the morrow of the coup of
Brumaire he drafted, almost single-handed, the Constitution
destined to give him the absolute power which was to enable him
to reorganise the country and to prevail over the factions. In a
month it was completed.
This Constitution, known as that of the year VIII., survived,
with slight modifications, until the end of his reign. The
executive power was the attribute of three Consuls, two of whom
possessed a consultative voice only. The first Consul,
Bonaparte, was therefore sole master of
ministers, councillors of state, ambassadors, magistrates, and
other officials, and decided upon peace or war. The legislative
power was his also, since only he could initiate the laws, which
were subsequently submitted to three Assemblies--the Council of
State, the Tribunate, and the Legislative Corps. A fourth
Assembly, the Senate, acted effectually as the guardian of
Despotic as he was and became, Bonaparte always called the other
Consuls about him before proceeding with the most trivial
measure. The Legislative Corps did not exercise much influence
during his reign, but he signed no decrees of any kind without
first discussing them with the Council of State. This Council,
composed of the most enlightened and learned men of France,
prepared laws, which were then presented to the Legislative
Corps, which could criticise them very freely, since voting was
secret. Presided over by Bonaparte, the Council of State was a
kind of sovereign tribunal, judging even the actions of
 Napoleon naturally often overruled the Council of State, but
by no means always did so. In one instance, reported in the
Memorial de Sainte-Helene, he was the only one of his own
opinion, and accepted that of the majority in the following
terms: ``Gentlemen, matters are decided here by majority, and
being alone, I must give way; but I declare that in my conscience
I yield only to form. You have reduced me to silence, but in no
way convinced me.''
Another day the Emperor, interrupted three times in the
expression of his opinion, addressed himself to the speaker who
had just interrupted him: ``Sir, I have not yet finished; I beg
you to allow me to continue. After all, it seems to me that
every one has a perfect right to express his opinion here.''
``The Emperor, contrary to the accepted opinion, was so far from
absolute, and so easy with his Council of State, that he often
resumed a discussion, or even annulled a decision, because one of
the members of the Council had since, in private, given him fresh
reasons, or had urged that the Emperor's personal opinion had
influenced the majority.''
The new master had great confidence in this Council, as it was
composed more particularly of eminent jurists, each of whom dealt
with his own speciality. He was too good a psychologist not to
entertain the greatest suspicion of large and incompetent
assemblies of popular origin, whose disastrous results had been
obvious to him during the whole of the Revolution.
Wishing to govern for the people, but never with its assistance,
Bonaparte accorded it no part in the government, reserving to it
only the right of voting, once for all, for or against the
adoption of the new Constitution. He only in rare instances had
recourse to universal suffrage. The members of the Legislative
Corps recruited themselves, and were not elected by the people.
In creating a Constitution intended solely to fortify his own
power, the First Consul had no illusion that it would serve to
restore the country. Consequently, while he was drafting it he
also undertook the enormous task of the administrative, judicial,
and financial reorganisation of
assisted by a consul-general; the arrondissement by a sub-
prefect, assisted by a council; the commune by a mayor, assisted
by a municipal council. All were appointed by the ministers, and
not by election, as under the Republic.
This system, which created the omnipotent State and a powerful
centralisation, was retained by all subsequent Governments and is
preserved to-day. Centralisation being, in spite of its
drawbacks, the only means of avoiding local tyrannies in a
country profoundly divided within itself, has always been
This organisation, based on a profound knowledge of the soul of
the French people, immediately restored that tranquillity and
order which had for so long been unknown.
To complete the mental pacification of the country, the political
exiles were recalled and the churches restored to the faithful.
Continuing to rebuild the social edifice, Bonaparte busied
himself also with the drafting of a code, the greater part of
which consisted of customs borrowed from the ancien regime.
It was, as has been said, a sort of transition or compromise
between the old law and the new.
Considering the enormous task accomplished by the First Consul in
so short a time, we realise that he had need, before all, of a
Constitution according him absolute power. If all the measures
by which he restored
attorneys, he could never have extricated the country from the
disorder into which it had fallen.
The Constitution of the year VIII. obviously transformed the
Republic into a monarchy at least as absolute as the ``Divine
right'' monarchy of Louis XIV. Being the only Constitution
adapted to the needs of the moment, it represented a
<>PSYCHOLOGICAL ELEMENTS WHICH DETERMINED THE SUCCESS OF THE WORK OF THE CONSULATE All the external forces which act upon men--economic, historical,
geographical, &c.--may be finally translated into psychological
forces. These psychological forces a ruler must understand in
order to govern. The Revolutionary Assemblies were completely
ignorant of them; Bonaparte knew how to employ them.
The various Assemblies, the Convention notably, were composed of
conflicting parties. Napoleon understood that to dominate them
he must not belong to any one of these parties. Very well aware
that the value of a country is disseminated among the superior
intelligences of the various parties, he tried to utilise them
all. His agents of government--ministers, priests, magistrates,
&c.--were taken indifferently from among the Liberals, Royalists,
Jacobites, &c., having regard only to their capacities.
While accepting the assistance of men of the ancien regime,
Bonaparte took care to make it understood that he intended to
maintain the fundamental principles of the Revolution.
Nevertheless many Royalists rallied round the new Government.
One of the most remarkable feats of the Consulate, from the
psychological point of view, was the restoration of religious
than by political differences. The systematic destruction of a
portion of the Vendee had almost completely terminated the
struggle by force of arms, but without pacifying men's minds. As
only one man, and he the head of Christianity, could assist in
this pacification, Bonaparte did not hesitate to treat with him.
His concordat was the work of a real psychologist, who knew that
moral forces do not use violence, and the great danger of
persecuting such. While conciliating the clergy he contrived to
place them under his own domination. The bishops were to
be appointed and remunerated by the State, so that he would still
The religious policy of Napoleon had a bearing which escapes our
modern Jacobins. Blinded by their narrow fanaticism, they do not
understand that to detach the Church from the Government is to
create a state within the State, so that they are liable to find
themselves opposed by a formidable caste, directed by a master
enemies a liberty they did not possess is extremely dangerous.
Never would Napoleon, nor any of the sovereigns who preceded him,
have consented to make the clergy independent of the State, as
they have become to-day.
The difficulties of Bonaparte the First Consul were far greater
than those he had to surmount after his coronation. Only a
profound knowledge of men enabled him to triumph over them. The
future master was far from being the master as yet. Many
departments were still in insurrection. Brigandage persisted,
Bonaparte, as Consul, had to conciliate and handle Talleyrand,
Fouche, and a number of generals who thought themselves his
equal. Even his brothers conspired against his power. Napoleon,
as Emperor, had no hostile party to face, but as Consul he
had to combat all the parties and to hold the balance equal among
them. This must indeed have been a difficult task, since during
the last century very few Governments have succeeded in
The success of such an undertaking demanded an extremely subtle
mixture of finesse, firmness, and diplomacy. Not feeling
himself powerful enough as yet, Bonaparte the Consul made a rule,
according to his own expression, ``of governing men as the
greater number wish to be governed.'' As Emperor he often
managed to govern them according to his own ideal.
We have travelled a long way since the time when historians, in
their singular blindness, and great poets, who possessed more
talent than psychology, would hold forth in indignant accents
against the coup d'etat of Brumaire. What profound
illusions underlay the assertion that ``
Messidor's great sun''! And other illusions no less profound
underlay such verdicts as that of Victor Hugo concerning this
period. We have seen that the ``Crime of Brumaire'' had as an
enthusiastic accomplice, not only the Government itself but the
One may wonder how intelligent men could so misjudge a period of
history which is nevertheless so clear. It was doubtless because
they saw events through their own convictions, and we know what
transformations the truth may suffer for the man who is
imprisoned in the valleys of belief. The most luminous facts are
obscured, and the history of events is the history of his dreams.
The psychologist who desires to understand the period which we
have so briefly sketched can only do so if, being attached to no
party, he stands clear of the passions which are the soul of
parties. He will never dream of recriminating a past which was
dictated by such imperious necessities. Certainly Napoleon has
there was yet to be a third, whose consequences are felt
even to-day, when the prestige which he exerted even from the
tomb set upon the throne the inheritor of his name.
All these events are narrowly connected in their origin. They
represent the price of that capital phenomenon in the evolution
of a people, a change of ideal. Man can never make the attempt
to break suddenly with his ancestors without profoundly affecting
the course of his own history.
<>THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CAUSES OF THE
CONTINUED REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENTS TO WHICH FRANCE HAS BEEN SUBJECT In
examining, in a subsequent chapter, the evolution of
revolutionary ideas during the last century, we shall see that
during more than fifty years they very slowly spread through the
various strata of society.
During the whole of this period the great majority of the people
and the bourgeoisie rejected them, and their diffusion was
effected only by a very limited number of apostles. But their
influence, thanks principally to the faults of Governments, was
sufficient to provoke several revolutions. We shall examine
these briefly when we have examined the psychological influences
which gave them birth.
The history of our political upheavals during the last century is
enough to prove, even if we did not yet realise the fact, that
men are governed by their mentalities far more than by the
institutions which their rulers endeavour to force upon them.
The successive revolutions which
the consequences of struggles between two portions of the
nation whose mentalities are different. One is religious and
monarchical and is dominated by long ancestral influences; the
other is subjected to the same influences, but gives them a
From the commencement of the Revolution the struggle between
contrary mentalities was plainly manifested. We have seen that
in spite of the most frightful repression insurrections and
conspiracies lasted until the end of the Directory. They proved
that the traditions of the past had left profound roots in the
popular soul. At a certain moment sixty departments were in
revolt against the new Government, and were only repressed by
repeated massacres on a vast scale.
To establish some sort of compromise between the ancien
regime and the new ideals was the most difficult of the
problems which Bonaparte had to resolve. He had to discover
institutions which would suit the two mentalities into which
conciliatory measures, and also by dressing very ancient things
in new names.
His reign was one of those rare periods of French history during
which the mental unity of
This unity could not outlive him. On the morrow of his fall all
the old parties reappeared, and have survived until the present
day. Some attach themselves to traditional influences; others
violently reject them.
If this long conflict had been between believers and the
indifferent, it could not have lasted, for indifference is
always tolerant; but the struggle was really between two
different beliefs. The lay Church very soon assumed a religious
aspect, and its pretended rationalism has become, especially in
recent years, a barely attenuated form of the narrowest clerical
spirit. Now, we have shown that no conciliation is possible
between dissimilar religious beliefs. The clericals when in
power could not therefore show themselves more tolerant towards
freethinkers than these latter are to-day toward the clericals.
These divisions, determined by differences of belief, were
complicated by the addition of the political conceptions derived
from those beliefs.
Many simple souls have for long believed that the real history of
conception is at last dying out. Even the most rigid
revolutionaries renounce it, and are quite willing to
recognise that the past was something better than an epoch of
black barbarism dominated by low superstitions.
 We may judge of the recent evolution of ideas upon this
point by the following passage from a speech by M. Jaures,
delivered in the Chamber of Deputies: ``The greatness of to-day
is built of the efforts of past centuries.
contained in a day nor in an epoch, but in the succession of all
days, all periods, all her twilights and all her dawns.''
The religious origin of most of the political beliefs held in
which always strikes foreigners with amazement.
``Nothing is more obvious, nothing is more certain,'' writes Mr.
Barret-Wendell, in his book on France, ``than this fact: that not
only have the royalists, revolutionaries, and Bonapartists
always been mortally opposed to one another, but that, owing to
the passionate ardour of the French character, they have always
entertained a profound intellectual horror for one another. Men
who believe themselves in possession of the truth cannot refrain
from affirming that those who do not think with them are
instruments of error.
``Each party will gravely inform you that the advocates of the
adverse cause are afflicted by a dense stupidity or are
consciously dishonest. Yet when you meet these latter, who will
say exactly the same things as their detractors, you cannot but
recognise, in all good faith, that they are neither stupid nor
This reciprocal execration of the believers of each party has
always facilitated the overthrow of Governments and ministers in
themselves against the triumphant party. We know that a great
number of revolutionary Socialists have been elected to the
present Chamber only by the aid of the monarchists, who are still
as unintelligent as they were at the time of the Revolution.
Our religious and political differences do not constitute the
only cause of dissension in
possessing that particular mentality which I have already
described under the name of the revolutionary mentality. We have
seen that each period always presents a certain number of
individuals ready to revolt against the established order of
things, whatever that may be, even though it may realise all
The intolerance of the parties in
seize upon power, are further favoured by the conviction, so
prevalent under the Revolution, that societies can be remade by
means of laws. The modern State, whatever its leader, has
inherited in the eyes of the multitudes and their leaders the
mystic power attributed to the ancient kings, when these latter
were regarded as an incarnation of the Divine will. Not only the
people is inspired by this confidence in the power of Government;
all our legislators entertain it also.
 After the publication of an article of mine concerning
legislative illusions, I received from one of our most eminent
politicians, M. Boudenot the senator, a letter from which I
extract the following passage: ``Twenty years passed in the
Chamber and the Senate have shown me how right you are. How many
times I have heard my colleagues say: `The Government ought to
prevent this, order that,' &c. What would you have? there are
fourteen centuries of monarchical atavism in our blood.''
Legislating always, politicians never realise that as
institutions are effects, and not causes, they have no virtue in
themselves. Heirs to the great revolutionary illusion, they do
not see that man is created by a past whose foundations we are
powerless to reshape.
The conflict between the principles dividing
lasted more than a century, will doubtless continue for a long
time yet, and no one can foresee what fresh upheavals it may
engender. No doubt if before our era the Athenians could have
divined that their social dissensions would have led to the
could they have foreseen as much? M. Guiraud justly writes: ``A
generation of men very rarely realises the task which it
is accomplishing. It is preparing for the future; but this
future is often the contrary of what it wishes.''
<>SUMMARY OF A CENTURY'S REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT IN FRANCE The psychological causes of the revolutionary movements which
France has seen during the past century having been explained, it
will now suffice to present a summary picture of these successive
The sovereigns in coalition having defeated Napoleon, they
only possible sovereign, on the throne.
By a special charter the new king accepted the position of a
constitutional monarch under a representative system of
government. He recognised all the conquests of the Revolution:
the civil Code, equality before the law, liberty of worship,
irrevocability of the sale of national property, &c. The right
of suffrage, however, was limited to those paying a certain
amount in taxes.
This liberal Constitution was opposed by the ultra-royalists.
Returned emigres, they wanted the restitution of the national
property, and the re-establishment of their ancient privileges.
Fearing that such a reaction might cause a new revolution, Louis
XVIII. was reduced to dissolving the Chamber. The election
having returned moderate deputies, he was able to continue to
govern with the same principles, understanding very well that any
attempt to govern the French by the ancien regime would be
enough to provoke a general rebellion.
Unfortunately, his death, in 1824, placed Charles X., formerly
Comte d'Artois, on the throne. Extremely narrow, incapable of
understanding the new world which surrounded him, and boasting
that he had not modified his ideas since 1789, he prepared a
series of reactionary laws--a law by which an indemnity of forty
millions sterling was to be paid to emigres; a law of sacrilege;
and laws establishing the rights of primogeniture, the
preponderance of the clergy, &c.
The majority of the deputies showing themselves daily more
opposed to his projects, in 1830 he enacted Ordinances dissolving
the Chamber, suppressing the liberty of the Press, and preparing
for the restoration of the ancien regime.
The effect was immediate. This autocratic action provoked a
coalition of the leaders of all parties. Republicans,
Bonapartists, Liberals, Royalists--all united in order to raise
the Parisian populace. Four days after the publication of the
Ordinances the insurgents were masters of the capital, and
Charles X. fled to
The leaders of the movement--Thiers, Casimir-Perier, La Fayette,
&c.--summoned to Paris Louis-Philippe, of whose existence the
people were scarcely aware, and declared him king of the French.
Between the indifference of the people and the hostility of the
nobles, who had remained faithful to the legitimate dynasty, the
new king relied chiefly upon the bourgeoisie. An electoral law
having reduced the electors to less than 200,000, this class
played an exclusive part in the government.
The situation of the sovereign was not easy. He had to struggle
simultaneously against the legitimist supporters of Henry
V. the grandson of Charles X., and the Bonapartists, who
recognised as their head Louis-Napoleon, the Emperor's nephew,
and finally against the republicans.
By means of their secret societies, analogous to the clubs of the
Revolution, the latter provoked numerous riots at various
intervals between 1830 and 1840, but these were easily repressed.
The clericals and legitimists, on their side, did not cease their
intrigues. The Duchess de Berry, the mother of Henry V., tried
in vain to raise the Vendee. As to the clergy, their demands
finally made them so intolerable that an insurrection broke out,
in the course of which the palace of the archbishop of
The republicans as a party were not very dangerous, as the
Chamber sided with the king in the struggle against them. The
minister Guizot, who advocated a strong central power, declared
that two things were indispensable to government--``reason and
cannon.'' The famous statesman was surely somewhat deluded as to
the necessity or efficacy of reason.
Despite this strong central power, which in reality was not
strong, the republicans, and above all the Socialists, continued
to agitate. One of the most influential, Louis Blanc, claimed
that it was the duty of the Government to procure work for every
citizen. The Catholic party, led by Lacordaire and Montalembert,
united with the Socialists--as to-day in
A campaign in favour of electoral reform ended in 1848 in a fresh
riot, which unexpectedly overthrew Louis-Philippe.
His fall was far less justifiable than that of Charles X. There
was little with which he could be reproached. Doubtless he was
suspicious of universal suffrage, but the French Revolution had
more than once been quite suspicious of it. Louis-Philippe not
being, like the Directory, an absolute ruler, could not, as the
latter had done, annul unfavourable elections.
A provisional Government was installed in the Hotel de Ville,
to replace the fallen monarchy. It proclaimed the Republic,
established universal suffrage, and decreed that the people
should proceed to the election of a National Assembly of nine
From the first days of its existence the new Government found
itself the victim of socialistic manoeuvres and riots.
The psychological phenomena observed during the first Revolution
were now to be witnessed again. Clubs were formed, whose leaders
sent the people from time to time against the Assembly, for
reasons which were generally quite devoid of common sense--for
example, to force the Government to support an insurrection in
In the hope of satisfying the Socialists, every day more noisy
and exigent, the Assembly organised national workshops, in which
the workers were occupied in various forms of labour. In these
100,000 men cost the State more than L40,000 weekly. Their
claim to receive pay without working for it forced the Assembly
to close the workshops.
This measure was the origin of a formidable insurrection, 50,000
workers revolting. The Assembly, terrified, confided all
the executive powers to General Cavaignac. There was a four-days
battle with the insurgents, during which three generals and the
Archbishop of Paris were killed; 3,000 prisoners were deported by
the Assembly to
annihilated for a space of fifty years.
These events brought Government stock down from 116 to 50 francs.
Business was at a standstill. The peasants, who thought
themselves threatened by the Socialists, and the bourgeois,
whose taxes the Assembly had increased by half, turned against
the Republic, and when Louis-Napoleon promised to re-establish
order he found himself welcomed with enthusiasm. A candidate for
the position of President of the Republic, who according to the
new Constitution must be elected by the whole body of citizens,
he was chosen by 5,500,000 votes.
Very soon at odds with the Chamber, the prince decided on a coup
d'etat. The Assembly was dissolved; 30,000 persons were
arrested, 10,000 deported, and a hundred deputies were exiled.
This coup d'etat, although summary, was very favourably
received, for when submitted to a plebiscite it received
7,500,000 votes out of 8,000,000.
by an even greater majority: The horror which the generality of
Frenchmen felt for demagogues and Socialists had restored the
In the first part of its existence it constituted an absolute
Government, and during the latter half a liberal Government.
After eighteen years of rule the Emperor was overthrown by the
Since that time revolutionary movements have been rare; the only
one of importance was the revolution of March, 1871, which
resulted in the burning of many of the monuments of
execution of about 20,000 insurgents.
After the war of 1870 the electors, who, amid so many disasters,
did not know which way to turn, sent a great number of Orleanist
and legitimist deputies to the Constituent Assembly. Unable to
agree upon the establishment of a monarchy, they appointed M.
Thiers President of the Republic, later replacing him by Marshal
MacMahon. In 1876 the new elections, like all those that have
followed, sent a majority of republicans to the Chamber.
The various assemblies which have succeeded to this have always
been divided into numerous parties, which have provoked
innumerable changes of ministry.
However, thanks to the equilibrium resulting from this division
of parties, we have for forty years enjoyed comparative quiet.
Four Presidents of the Republic have been overthrown without
revolution, and the riots that have occurred, such as those of
A great popular movement, in 1888, did nearly overthrow the
Republic for the benefit of General Boulanger, but it has
survived and triumphed over the attacks of all parties.
Various reasons contribute to the maintenance of the present
Republic. In the first place, of the conflicting factions
none is strong enough to crush the rest. In the second place,
the head of the State being purely decorative, and possessing no
power, it is impossible to attribute to him the evils from which
the country may suffer, and to feel sure that matters would be
different were he overthrown. Finally, as the supreme power is
distributed among thousands of hands, responsibilities are so
disseminated that it would be difficult to know where to begin.
A tyrant can be overthrown, but what can be done against a host
of little anonymous tyrannies?
If we wished to sum up in a word the great transformations which
have been effected in
revolutions, we might say that individual tyranny, which was weak
and therefore easily overthrown, has been replaced by collective
tyrannies, which are very strong and difficult to destroy. To a
people avid of equality and habituated to hold its Governments
responsible for every event individual tyranny seemed
insupportable, while a collective tyranny is readily endured,
although generally much more severe.
The extension of the tyranny of the State has therefore been the
final result of all our revolutions, and the common
characteristic of all systems of government which we have known
ideal, since successive upheavals of
it. Statism is the real political system of the Latin peoples,
and the only system that receives all suffrages. The other forms
of government--republic, monarchy, empire--represent empty
labels, powerless shadows.
Ideas which are firmly
established, incrusted, as it were, in
men's minds, continue to act for several generations. Those
which resulted from the French Revolution were, like others,
subject to this law.
Although the life of the Revolution as a Government was short,
the influence of its principles was, on the contrary, very long-
lived. Becoming a form of religious belief, they profoundly
modified the orientation of the sentiments and ideas of several
Despite a few intervals, the French Revolution has continued up
to the present, and still survives. The role of Napoleon
was not confined to overturning the world, changing the map of
of the people, created by the Revolution and established by its
institutions, have exercised a profound influence. The military
work of the conqueror was soon dissolved, but the revolutionary
principles which he contributed to propagate have survived him.
The various restorations which followed the Empire caused men at
first to become somewhat forgetful of the principles of the
Revolution. For fifty years this propagation was far from rapid.
One might almost have supposed that the people had forgotten
them. Only a small number of theorists maintained their
influence. Heirs to the ``simplicist'' spirit of the Jacobins,
believing, like them, that societies can be remade from top to
bottom by the laws, and persuaded that the Empire had only
interrupted the task of revolution, they wished to resume it.
While waiting until they could recommence, they attempted to
spread the principles of the Revolution by means of their
writings. Faithful imitators of the men of the Revolution, they
never stopped to ask if their schemes for reform were in
conformity with human nature. They too were erecting a
chimerical society for an ideal man, and were persuaded that the
application of their dreams would regenerate the human species.
Deprived of all constructive power, the theorists of all the ages
have always been very ready to destroy. Napoleon at
stated that ``if there existed a monarchy of granite the
idealists and theorists would manage to reduce it to powder.''
Among the galaxy of dreamers such as Saint-Simon, Fourier, Pierre
Leroux, Louis Blanc, Quinet, &c., we find that only Auguste Comte
understood that a transformation of manners and ideas must
precede political reorganisation.
Far from favouring the diffusion of democratic ideas, the
projects of reform of the theorists of this period merely impeded
their progress. Communistic Socialism, which several of
them professed would restore the Revolution, finally alarmed the
bourgeoisie and even the working-classes. We have already seen
that the fear of their ideas was one of the principal causes of
the restoration of the Empire.
If none of the chimerical lucubrations of the writers of the
first half of the nineteenth century deserve to be discussed, it
is none the less interesting to examine them in order to observe
the part played by religious and moral ideas which to-day are
regarded with contempt. Persuaded that a new society could not,
any more than the societies of old, be built up without religious
and moral beliefs, the reformers were always endeavouring to
found such beliefs.
But on what could they be based? Evidently on reason. By means
of reason men create complicated machines: why not therefore a
religion and a morality, things which are apparently so simple?
Not one of them suspected the fact that no religious or moral
belief ever had rational logic as its basis. Auguste Comte saw
no more clearly. We know that he founded a so-called positivist
religion, which still has a few followers. Scientists were to
form a clergy directed by a new Pope, who was to replace the
All these conceptions--political, religious, or moral--had, I
repeat, no other results for a long time than to turn the
multitude away from democratic principles.
If these principles did finally become widespread, it was not on
account of the theorists, but because new conditions of life had
arisen. Thanks to the discoveries of science, industry developed
and led to the erection of immense factories. Economic
necessities increasingly dominated the wills of Governments and
the people and finally created a favourable soil for the
extension of Socialism, and above all of Syndicalism, the modern
forms of democratic ideas.
The heritage of the Revolution
is summed up in its entirety in
the one phrase--
principle of equality, as we have seen, has exerted a powerful
influence, but the two others did not share its lot.
Although the sense of these terms seems clear enough, they were
comprehended in very different fashions according to men and
times. We know that the various interpretation of the same words
by persons of different mentality has been one of the most
frequent causes of the conflicts of history.
To the member of the Convention liberty signified merely the
exercise of its unlimited despotism. To a young modern
``intellectual'' the same word means a general release from
everything irksome: tradition, law, superiority, &c. To the
modern Jacobin liberty consists especially in the right to
persecute his adversaries.
Although political orators still occasionally mention liberty in
their speeches, they have generally ceased to evoke fraternity.
It is the conflict of the different classes and not their
alliance that they teach to-day. Never did a more profound
hatred divide the various strata of society and the political
parties which lead them.
But while liberty has become very doubtful and fraternity has
completely vanished, the principle of equality has grown
unchecked. It has been supreme in all the political upheavals of
reached such a development that our political and social life,
our laws, manners, and customs are at least in theory based on
this principle. It constitutes the real legacy of the
Revolution. The craving for equality, not only before the law,
but in position and fortune, is the very pivot of the last
product of democracy: Socialism. This craving is so powerful
that it is spreading in all directions, although in contradiction
with all biological and economic laws. It is a new phase of the
interrupted struggle of the sentiments against reason, in which
reason so rarely triumphs.
All ideas that have hitherto
caused an upheaval of the world of
men have been subject to two laws: they evolve slowly, and they
completely change their sense according to the mentalities in
which they find reception.
A doctrine may be compared to a living being. It subsists only
by process of transformation. The books are necessarily silent
upon these variations, so that the phase of things which they
establish belongs only to the past. They do not reflect the
image of the living, but of the dead. The written statement of a
doctrine often represents the most negligible side of that
I have shown in another work how institutions, arts, and
languages are modified in passing from one people to another, and
how the laws of these transformations differ from the truth as
stated in books. I allude to this matter now merely to show why,
in examining the subject of democratic ideas, we occupy ourselves
so little with the text of doctrines, and seek only for the
psychological elements of which they constitute the vestment, and
the reactions which they provoke in the various categories of men
who have accepted them.
Modified rapidly by men of different mentalities, the original
theory is soon no more than a label which denotes something quite
Applicable to religious beliefs, these principles are equally so
to political beliefs. When a man speaks of democracy, for
example, must we inquire what this word means to various peoples,
and also whether in the same people there is not a great
difference between the democracy of the ``intellectuals'' and
In confining ourselves now to the consideration of this latter
point we shall readily perceive that the democratic ideas to be
found in books and journals are purely the theories of literary
people, of which the people know nothing, and by the application
of which they would have nothing to gain. Although the working-
man possesses the theoretical right of passing the barriers which
separate him from the upper classes by a whole series of
competitions and examinations, his chance of reaching them is in
reality extremely slight.
The democracy of the lettered classes has no other object than to
set up a selection which shall recruit the directing classes
exclusively from themselves. I should have nothing to say
against this if the selection were real. It would then
constitute the application of the maxim of Napoleon: ``The true
method of government is to employ the aristocracy, but under the
forms of democracy.''
Unhappily the democracy of the ``intellectuals'' would simply
lead to the substitution of the Divine right of kings by the
Divine right of a petty oligarchy, which is too often narrow and
Popular democracy by no means aims at manufacturing rulers.
Dominated entirely by the spirit of equality and the desire to
ameliorate the lot of the workers, it rejects the idea of
fraternity, and exhibits no anxiety in respect of liberty. No
government is conceivable to popular democracy except in the form
of an autocracy. We see this, not only in history, which shows
us that since the Revolution all despotic Governments have been
vigorously acclaimed, but also in the autocratic fashion in which
the workers' trades unions are conducted.
This profound distinction between the democracy of the lettered
classes and popular democracy is far more obvious to the workers
than to the intellectuals. In their mentalities there is nothing
in common; the two classes do not speak the same language. The
syndicalists emphatically assert to-day that no alliance could
possibly exist between them and the politicians of the
bourgeoisie. This assertion is strictly true.
It was always so, and this, no doubt, is why popular
democracy, from Plato's to our own times, has never been defended
by the great thinkers.
This fact has greatly struck Emile Faguet. ``Almost all the
thinkers of the nineteenth century,'' he says, ``were not
democrats. When I was writing my Politiques et moralistes du
XIXe siecle this was my despair. I could not find one who had
been a democrat; yet I was extremely anxious to find one so that
I could give the democratic doctrine as formulated by him.''
The eminent writer might certainly have found plenty of
professional politicians, but these latter rarely belong to the
category of thinkers.
The difficulty of reconciling
democratic equalisation with
natural inequalities constitutes one of the most difficult
problems of the present hour. We know what are the desires of
democracy. Let us see what Nature replies to these demands.
The democratic ideas which have so often shaken the world from
the heroic ages of
with natural inequalities. Some observers have held, with
Helvetius, that the inequality between men is created by
As a matter of fact, Nature does not know such a thing as
equality. She distributes unevenly genius, beauty, health,
vigour, intelligence, and all the qualities which confer on their
possessors a superiority over their fellows.
No theory can alter these discrepancies, so that democratic
doctrines will remain confined to words until the laws of
heredity consent to unify the capacities of men.
Can we suppose that societies will ever succeed in establishing
artificially the equality refused by Nature?
A few theorists have believed for a long time that education
might effect a general levelling. Many years of experience have
shown the depth of this illusion.
It would not, however, be impossible for a triumphant Socialism
to establish equality for a time by rigorously eliminating all
superior individuals. One can easily foresee what would become
of a people that had suppressed its best individuals while
surrounded by other nations progressing by means of their best
Not only does Nature not know equality, but since the beginning
of the ages she has always realised progress by means of
successive differentiations--that is to say, by increasing
inequalities. These alone could raise the obscure cell of the
early geological periods to the superior beings whose inventions
were to change the face of the earth.
The same phenomenon is to be observed in societies. The forms of
democracy which select the better elements of the popular classes
finally result in the creation of an intellectual aristocracy, a
result the contrary of the dream of the pure theorists, to beat
down the superior elements of society to the level of the
On the side of natural law, which is hostile to theories of
equality, are the conditions of modern progress. Science and
industry demand more and more considerable intellectual
efforts, so that mental inequalities and the differences of
social condition which spring from them cannot but become
We therefore observe this striking phenomenon: as laws and
institutions seek to level individuals the progress of
civilisation tends still further to differentiate them. From the
peasant to the feudal baron the intellectual difference was not
great, but from the working-man to the engineer it is immense and
is increasing daily.
Capacity being the principal factor of progress, the capable of
each class rise while the mediocre remain stationary or sink.
What could laws do in the face of such inevitable necessities?
In vain do the incapable pretend that, representing number, they
also represent force. Deprived of the superior brains by whose
researches all workers profit, they would speedily sink into
poverty and anarchy.
The capital role of the elect in modern civilisation seems
too obvious to need pointing out. In the case of civilised
nations and barbarian peoples, which contain similar averages of
mediocrities, the superiority of the former arises solely from
the superior minds which they contain. The United States have
understood this so thoroughly that they forbid the immigration of
Chinese workers, whose capacity is identical with that of
American workers, and who, working for lower wages, tend to
create a formidable competition with the latter. Despite these
evidences we see the antagonism between the multitude and the
elect increasing day by day. At no period were the elect more
necessary, yet never were they supported with such difficulty.
One of the most solid foundations of Socialism is an intense
hatred of the elect. Its adepts always forget that scientific,
artistic, and industrial progress, which creates the strength of
a country and the prosperity of millions of workers, is due
solely to a small number of superior brains.
If the worker makes three times as much to-day as he did a
hundred years ago, and enjoys commodities then unknown to great
nobles, he owes it entirely to the elect.
Suppose that by some miracle Socialism had been universally
accepted a century ago. Risk, speculation, initiative--in a
word, all the stimulants of human activity--being suppressed, no
progress would have been possible, and the worker would have
remained as poor as he was. Men would merely have established
that equality in poverty desired by the jealousy and envy of a
host of mediocre minds. Humanity will never renounce the
progress of civilisation to satisfy so low an ideal.
We have seen that natural laws
do not agree with the aspirations
of democracy. We know, also, that such a statement has never
affected doctrines already in men's minds. The man led by a
belief never troubles about its real value.
The philosopher who studies a belief must obviously discuss its
rational content, but he is more concerned with its influences
upon the general mind.
Applied to the interpretation of all the great beliefs of
history, the importance of this distinction is at once evident.
Jupiter, Moloch, Vishnu, Allah, and so many other divinities,
were, no doubt, from the rational point of view, mere illusions,
yet their effect upon the life of the peoples has been
The same distinction is applicable to the beliefs which prevailed
during the Middle Ages. Equally illusory, they nevertheless
exercised as profound an influence as if they had corresponded
If any one doubts this, let him compare the domination of the
perfectly real and tangible, and implied no illusion. The
second, while its foundations were entirely chimerical, was fully
as powerful. Thanks to it, during the long night of the Middle
Ages, semi-barbarous peoples acquired those social bonds and
restraints and that national soul without which there is no
The power possessed by the Church proves, again, that the power
of certain illusions is sufficiently great to create, at least
momentarily, sentiments as contrary to the interests of the
individual as they are to that of society--such as the love of
the monastic life, the desire for martyrdom, the crusades, the
religious wars, &c.
The application to democratic and socialistic ideas of the
preceding considerations shows that it matters little that these
ideas have no defensible basis. They impress and influence men's
minds, and that is sufficient. Their results may be disastrous
in the extreme, but we cannot prevent them.
The apostles of the new doctrines are quite wrong in taking so
much trouble to find a rational basis for their aspirations.
They would be far more convincing were they to confine themselves
to making affirmations and awakening hopes. Their real strength
resides in the religious mentality which is inherent in the heart
of man, and which during the ages has only changed its object.
Later on we shall consider from a philosophical point of view
various consequences of the democratic evolution whose course we
see accelerating. We may say in respect of the Church in the
Middle Ages that it had the power of profoundly influencing the
mentality of men. Examining certain results of the
democratic doctrines, we shall see that the power of these is no
less than that of the Church.
Existing generations have
inherited, not only the revolutionary
principles but also the special mentality which achieves their
Describing this mentality when we were examining the Jacobin
spirit, we saw that it always endeavours to impose by force
illusions which it regards as the truth. The Jacobin spirit has
finally become so general in
that it has affected all political parties, even the most
conservative. The bourgeoisie is strongly affected by it, and
the people still more so.
This increase of the Jacobin spirit has resulted in the fact that
political conceptions, institutions, and laws tend to impose
themselves by force. Syndicalism, peaceful enough in other
countries, immediately assumed in
anarchical aspect, which betrayed itself in the shape of riots,
sabotage, and incendiarism.
Not to be repressed by timid Governments, the Jacobin spirit
produces melancholy ravages in minds of mediocre capacity. At a
recent congress of railway men a third of the delegates voted
approval of sabotage, and one of the secretaries of the
Congress began his speech by saying: ``I send all saboteurs my
fraternal greeting and all my admiration.''
This general mentality engenders an increasing anarchy. That
already remarked, due to the fact that the parties by which she
is divided produce something like equilibrium. They are animated
by a mortal hatred for one another, but none of them is strong
enough to enslave its rivals.
This Jacobin intolerance is spreading to such an extent that the
rulers themselves employ without scruple the most revolutionary
tactics with regard to their enemies, violently persecuting any
party that offers the least resistance, and even despoiling it of
its property. Our rulers to-day behave as the ancient conquerors
used; the vanquished have nothing to hope from the victors.
Far from being peculiar to the lower orders, intolerance is
equally prominent among the ruling classes. Michelet remarked
long ago that the violence of the cultivated classes is often
greater than that of the people. It is true that they do not
break the street lamps, but they are ready enough to cause heads
to be broken. The worst violence of the revolution was the work
of cultivated bourgeoisie--professors, lawyers, &c., possessors
of that classical education which is supposed to soften the
manners. It has not done so in these days, any more than it did
of old. One can make sure of this by reading the advanced
journals, whose contributors and editors are recruited chiefly
from among the professors of the University.
Their books are as violent as their articles, and one wonders how
such favourites of fortune can have secreted such stores of
One would find it hard to credit them did they assure us that
they were consumed by an intense passion for altruism. One
might more readily admit that apart from a narrow religious
mentality the hope of being remarked by the mighty ones of the
day, or of creating a profitable popularity, is the only
possible explanation of the violence recommended in their
I have already, in one of my preceding works, cited some passages
from a book written by a professor at the College of France, in
which the author incites the people to seize upon the riches of
the bourgeoisie, whom he furiously abuses, and have arrived at
the conclusion that a new revolution would readily find among the
authors of such books the Marats, Robespierres, and Carriers whom
it might require.
The Jacobin religion--above all in its Socialist form--has all
the power of the ancient faiths over feeble minds Blinded by
their faith, they believe that reason is their guide, but are
really actuated solely by their passions and their dreams.
The evolution of democratic ideas has thus produced not only the
political results already mentioned, but also a considerable
effect upon the mentality of modern men.
If the ancient dogmas have long ago exhausted their power, the
theories of democracy are far from having lost theirs, and we see
their consequences increasing daily. One of the chief results
has been the general hatred of superiority.
This hatred of whatever passes the average in social fortune or
intelligence is to-day general in all classes, from the working-
classes to the upper strata of the bourgeoisie. The results
are envy, detraction, and a love of attack, of raillery, of
persecution, and a habit of attributing all actions to low
motives, of refusing to believe in probity, disinterestedness,
Conversation, among the people as among the most cultivated
Frenchmen, is stamped with the craze for abasing and abusing
everything and everyone. Even the greatest of the dead do not
escape this tendency. Never were so many books written to
depreciate the merit of famous men, men who were formerly
regarded as the most precious patrimony of their country.
Envy and hatred seem from all time to have been inseparable from
democratic theories, but the spread of these sentiments has never
been so great as to-day. It strikes all observers.
``There is a low demagogic instinct,'' writes M. Bourdeau,
``without any moral inspiration, which dreams of pulling humanity
down to the lowest level, and for which any superiority, even of
culture, is an offence to society. . . it is the sentiment of
ignoble equality which animated the Jacobin butchers when they
struck off the head of a Lavoisier or a Chenier.
This hatred of superiority, the most prominent element in the
modern progress of Socialism, is not the only characteristic of
the new spirit created by democratic ideas.
Other consequences, although indirect, are not less profound.
Such, for example, are the progress of ``statism,'' the
diminution of the power of the bourgeoisie, the increasing
activity of financiers, the conflict of the classes, the
vanishing of the old social constraints, and the degradation
All these effects are displayed in a general insubordination and
anarchy. The son revolts against the father, the employee
against his patron, the soldier against his officers.
Discontent, hatred, and envy reign throughout.
A social movement which continues is necessarily like a machine
in movement which accelerates its motion. We shall therefore
find that the results of this mentality will become yet more
important. It is betrayed from time to time by incidents whose
gravity is daily increasing--railway strikes, postmen's strikes,
explosions on board ironclads, &c. A propos of the destruction
of the Liberte, which cost more than two million pounds and
slew two hundred men in the space of a minute, an ex-Minister of
Marine, M. de Lanessan, expresses himself as follows:--
''The evil that is gnawing at our fleet is the same as that which
is devouring our army, our public administrations, our
parliamentary system, our governmental system, and the whole
fabric of our society. This evil is anarchy--that is to say,
such a disorder of minds and things that nothing is done as
reason would dictate, and no one behaves as his professional or
moral duty should require him to behave.''
On the subject of the catastrophe of the Liberte, which
followed that of the Iena, M. Felix Roussel said, in a
speech delivered as president of the municipal council of
``The causes of the evil are not peculiar to our day. The evil
is more general, and bears a triple name: irresponsibility,
indiscipline, and anarchy.''
These quotations, which state facts with which everyone is
familiar, show that the staunchest upholders of the republican
system themselves recognise the progress of social
disorganisation. Everyone sees it, while he is conscious of
his own impotence to change anything. It results, in fact, from
mental influences whose power is greater than that of our wills.
 This disorder is the same in all the Government departments
Interesting examples will be found in a report of M. Dausset to
the Municipal Council:--
``The service of the public highways, which ought above all to be
noted for its rapid execution, is, on the contrary, the very type
of red-tape, bureaucratic, and ink-slinging administration,
possessing men and money and wasting both in tasks which are
often useless, for lack of order, initiative, and method--in a
word, of organisation.
Speaking then of the directors of departments, each of whom works
as he pleases, and after his own fashion, he adds:--
``These important persons completely ignore one another; they
prepare and execute their plans without knowing anything of what
their neighbours are doing; there is no one above them to group
and co-ordinate their work.'' This is why a road is often torn
up, repaired, and then torn up again a few days later, because
the departments dealing with the supply of water, gas,
electricity, and the sewers are mutually jealous, and never
attempt to work together. This anarchy and indiscipline
naturally cost enormous sums of money, and a private firm which
operated in this manner would soon find itself bankrupt.
Among the dogmas of democracy
perhaps the most fundamental of all
and the most attractive is that of universal suffrage. It gives
the masses the idea of equality, since for a moment at least rich
and poor, learned and ignorant, are equal before the electoral
urn. The minister elbows the least of his servants, and during
this brief moment the power of one is as great as the others.
All Governments, including that of the Revolution, have feared
universal suffrage. At a first glance, indeed, the objections
which suggests themselves are numerous. The idea that the
multitude could usefully choose the men capable of governing,
that individuals of indifferent morality, feeble knowledge, and
narrow minds should possess, by the sole fact of number, a
certain talent for judging the candidate proposed for its
selection is surely a shocking one.
From a rational point of view the suffrage of numbers is to a
certain extent justified if we think with Pascal.
``Plurality is the best way, because it is visible and has
strength to make itself obeyed; it is, however, the advice of the
As universal suffrage cannot in our times be replaced by any
other institution, we must accept it and try to adapt it. It is
accordingly useless to protest against it or to repeat with the
queen Marie Caroline, at the time of her struggle with Napoleon:
``Nothing is more dreadful than to govern men in this enlightened
century, when every cobbler reasons and criticises the
To tell the truth, the objections are not always as great as they
appear. The laws of the psychology of crowds being admitted, it
is very doubtful whether a limited suffrage would give a much
better choice of men than that obtained by universal suffrage.
These same psychological laws also show us that so-called
universal suffrage is in reality a pure fiction. The crowd, save
in very rare cases, has no opinion but that of its leaders.
Universal suffrage really represents the most limited of
There justly resides its real danger. Universal suffrage is made
dangerous by the fact that the leaders who are its masters are
the creatures of little local committees analogous to the clubs
of the Revolution. The leader who canvasses for a mandate is
chosen by them.
Once nominated, he exercises an absolute local power, on
condition of satisfying the interests of his committees. Before
this necessity the general interest of the country disappears
almost totally from the mind of the elected representative.
Naturally the committees, having need of docile servants, do not
choose for this task individuals gifted with a lofty intelligence
nor, above all, with a very high morality. They must have men
without character, without social position, and always docile.
By reason of these necessities the servility of the deputy in
respect of these little groups which patronise him, and without
which he would be no one, is absolute. He will speak and vote
just as his committee tells him. His political ideal may be
expressed in a few words: it is to obey, that he may retain his
Sometimes, rarely indeed, and only when by name or position or
wealth he has a great prestige, a superior character may impose
himself upon the popular vote by overcoming the tyranny of the
impudent minorities which constitute the local committees.
Democratic countries like
universal suffrage. For this reason is it that so many measures
are passed which do not interest the people and which the people
never demanded. Such were the purchase of the Western railways,
the laws respecting congregations, &c. These absurd
manifestations merely translated the demands of fanatical local
committees, and were imposed upon deputies whom they had chosen.
We may judge of the influence of these committees when we see
moderate deputies forced to patronise the anarchical
destroyers of arsenals, to ally themselves with anti-militarists,
and, in a word, to obey the most atrocious demands in order to
ensure re-election. The will of the lowest elements of democracy
has thus created among the elected representatives manners and a
morality which we can but recognise are of the lowest. The
politician is the man in public employment, and as Nietzsche
``Where public employment begins there begins also the clamour of
the great comedians and the buzzing of venomous flies. . . . The
comedian always believes in that which makes him obtain his best
effects, in that which impels the people to believe in him. To-
morrow he will have a new faith, and the day after to-morrow yet
another. . . . All that is great has its being far from public
employment and glory.''
The craze for reforms imposed
suddenly by means of decrees is one
of the most disastrous conceptions of the Jacobin spirit, one of
the formidable legacies left by the Revolution. It is among the
principal factors of all the incessant political upheavals of the
last century in
One of the psychological causes of this intense thirst for
reforms arises from the difficulty of determining the real causes
of the evils complained of. The need of explanation creates
fictitious causes of the simplest nature. Therefore the remedies
also appear simple.
For forty years we have incessantly been passing reforms, each of
which is a little revolution in itself. In spite of all these,
or rather because of them, the French have evolved almost
as little as any race in
The slowness of our actual evolution may be seen if we compare
the principal elements of our social life--commerce, industry,
&c.--with those of other nations. The progress of other
nations--of the Germans especially--then appears enormous, while
our own has been very slow.
Our administrative, industrial, and commercial organisation is
considerably out of date, and is no longer equal to our new
needs. Our industry is not prospering; our marine is declining.
Even in our own colonies we cannot compete with foreign
countries, despite the enormous pecuniary subventions accorded by
the State. M. Cruppi, an ex-Minister of Commerce, has insisted
on this melancholy decline in a recent book. Falling into the
usual errors, he believed it easy to remedy this inferiority by
All politicians share the same opinion, which is why we progress
so slowly. Each party is persuaded that by means of reforms all
evils could be remedied. This conviction results in struggles
such as have made
and the most subject to anarchy.
No one yet seems to understand that individuals and their
methods, not regulations, make the value of a people. The
efficacious reforms are not the revolutionary reforms but the
trifling ameliorations of every day accumulated in course of
time. The great social changes, like the great geological
changes, are effected by the daily addition of minute causes.
The economic history of
years proves in a striking manner the truth of this law.
Many important events which seem to depend more or less on
hazard--as battles, for example--are themselves subject to this
law of the accumulation of small causes. No doubt the decisive
struggle is sometimes terminated in a day or less, but many
minute efforts, slowly accumulated, are essential to victory. We
had a painful experience of this in 1870, and the Russians have
learned it more recently. Barely half an hour did Admiral
need to annihilate the Russian fleet, at the battle of
which finally decided the fate of
factors, small and remote, determined that success. Causes not
less numerous engendered the defeat of the Russians--a
bureaucracy as complicated as ours, and as irresponsible;
lamentable material, although paid for by its weight in gold; a
system of graft at every degree of the social hierarchy, and
general indifference to the interests of the country.
Unhappily the progress in little things which by their total make
up the greatness of a nation is rarely apparent, produces no
impression on the public, and cannot serve the interests of
politicians at elections. These latter care nothing for such
matters, and permit the accumulation, in the countries subject to
their influence, of the little successive disorganisations which
finally result in great downfalls.
When men were divided into
castes and differentiated chiefly by
birth, social distinctions were generally accepted as the
consequences of an unavoidable natural law.
As soon as the old social divisions were destroyed the
distinctions of the classes appeared artificial, and for that
reason ceased to be tolerated.
The necessity of equality being theoretical, we have seen among
democratic peoples the rapid development of artificial
inequalities, permitting their possessors to make for themselves
a plainly visible supremacy. Never was the thirst for titles and
decorations so general as to-day.
In really democratic countries, such as the
and decorations do not exert much influence, and fortune alone
creates distinctions. It is only by exception that we see
wealthy young American girls allying themselves to the old names
of the European aristocracy. They are then instinctively
employing the only means which will permit a young race to
acquire a past that will establish its moral framework.
But in a general fashion the aristocracy that we see springing up
Purely financial, it does not provoke much jealousy, because
every one hopes one day to form part of it.
When, in his book on democracy in
the general aspiration towards equality he did not realise that
the prophesied equality would end in the classification of men
founded exclusively on the number of dollars possessed by them.
No other exists in the
day be the same in
At present we cannot possibly regard France as a democratic
country save on paper, and here we feel the necessity, already
referred to, of examining the various ideas which in different
countries are expressed by the word ``democracy.''
Of truly democratic nations we can practically mention only
different forms, but the same principles are observed--notably, a
perfect toleration of all opinions. Religious persecutions are
unknown. Real superiority easily reveals itself in the various
professions which any one can enter at any age if he possesses
the necessary capacity. There is no barrier to individual
In such countries men believe themselves equal because all have
the idea that they are free to attain the same position. The
workman knows he can become foreman, and then engineer. Forced
to begin on the lower rungs of the ladder instead of high up the
scale, as in
of different stuff to the rest of mankind. It is the same in all
professions. This is why the class hatred, so intense in
is so little developed in
speeches. A system of competitions and examinations, which must
be worked through in youth, firmly closes the door upon the
liberal professions, and creates inimical and separate classes.
The Latin democracies are therefore purely theoretical. The
absolutism of the State has replaced monarchical absolutism, but
it is no less severe. The aristocracy of fortune has replaced
that of birth, and its privileges are no less considerable.
Monarchies and democracies differ far more in form than in
substance. It is only the variable mentality of men that varies
their effects. All the discussions as to various systems of
government are really of no interest, for these have no special
virtue of themselves. Their value will always depend on that of
the people governed. A people effects great and rapid progress
when it discovers that it is the sum of the personal efforts of
each individual and not the system of government that determines
the rank of a nation in the world.
While our legislators are
reforming and legislating at hazard,
the natural evolution of the world is slowly pursuing its course.
New interests arise, the economic competition between nation and
nation increases in severity, the working-classes are bestirring
themselves, and on all sides we see the birth of formidable
problems which the harangues of the politicians will never
Among these new problems one of the most complicated will be the
problem of the conflict between labour and capital. It is
becoming acute even in such a country of tradition as
Workingmen are ceasing to respect the collective contracts which
formerly constituted their charter, strikes are declared for
insignificant motives, and unemployment and pauperism are
attaining disquieting proportions.
industries but that the very excess of the evil created a remedy.
During the last ten years the industrial leaders have organised
great employers' federations, which have become powerful enough
to force the workers to submit to arbitration.
The labour question is complicated in France by the
intervention of numerous foreign workers, which the stagnation of
our population has rendered necessary. This stagnation will
also make it difficult for France to contend with her rivals,
whose soil will soon no longer be able to nourish its
inhabitants, who, following one of the oldest laws of history,
will necessarily invade the less densely peopled countries.
 Population of the Great Powers:--
Russia 28,000,000 129,000,000
Germany 28,000,000 57,000,000
Austria 18,000,000 44,000,000
England 12,000,000 40,000,000
France 26,000,000 39,000,000
These conflicts between the workers and employers of the same
nation will be rendered still more acute by the increasing
economic struggle between the Asiatics, whose needs are small,
and who can therefore produce manufactured articles at very low
prices, and the Europeans, whose needs are many. For twenty-five
years I have laid stress upon this point. General Hamilton, ex-
military attache to the Japanese army, who foresaw the
Japanese victories long before the outbreak of hostilities,
writes as follows in an essay translated by General Langlois:--
``The Chinaman, such as I have seen him in Manchuria, is capable
of destroying the present type of worker of the white races. He
will drive him off the face of the earth. The Socialists, who
preach equality to the labourer, are far from thinking what would
be the practical result of carrying out their theories. Is it,
then, the destiny of the white races to disappear in the long
run? In my humble opinion this destiny depends upon one
single factor: Shall we or shall we not have the good sense to
close our ears to speeches which present war and preparation for
war as a useless evil?
``I believe the workers must choose. Given the present
constitution of the world, they must cultivate in their children
the military ideal, and accept gracefully the cost and trouble
which militarism entails, or they will be let in for a cruel
struggle for life with a rival worker of whose success there is
not the slightest doubt. There is only one means of refusing
Asiatics the right to emigrate, to lower wages by competition,
and to live in our midst, and that is the sword. If Americans
and Europeans forget that their privileged position is held only
by force of arms,
We know that in
owing to the competition between them and the workers of white
race, has become a national calamity. In
commencing, but has not as yet gone far. But already Chinese
emigrants have formed important colonies in certain centres--
by working for low wages. Their appearance has always lowered
But these problems belong to the future, and those of the present
are so disquieting that it is useless at the moment to occupy
ourselves with others.
The most important democratic
problem of the day will perhaps
result from the recent development of the working-class
engendered by the Syndicalist or Trades Union movement.
The aggregation of similar interests known as Syndicalism has
rapidly assumed such enormous developments in all countries that
it may be called world-wide. Certain corporations have budgets
comparable to those of small States. Some German leagues have
been cited as having saved over three millions sterling in
The extension of the labour movement in all countries shows that
it is not, like Socialism, a dream of Utopian theorists, but the
result of economic necessities. In its aim, its means of action,
and its tendencies, Syndicalism presents no kinship with
Socialism. Having sufficiently explained it in my Political
Psychology, it will suffice here to recall in a few words the
difference between the two doctrines.
Socialism would obtain possession of all industries, and have
them managed by the State, which would distribute the products
equally between the citizens. Syndicalism, on the other hand,
would entirely eliminate the action of the State, and divide
society into small professional groups which would be
Although despised by the Syndicalists and violently attacked by
them, the Socialists are trying to ignore the conflict, but it is
rapidly becoming too obvious to be concealed. The political
influence which the Socialists still possess will soon escape
If Syndicalism is everywhere increasing at the expense of
Socialism, it is, I repeat, because this corporative movement,
although a renewal of the past, synthetises certain needs
born of the specialisation of modern industry.
We see its manifestations under a great variety of circumstances.
Having taken the revolutionary form already mentioned, it has
fallen, at least for the time being, into the hands of the
anarchists, who care as little for Syndicalism as for any sort of
organisation, and are simply using the new doctrine in an attempt
to destroy modern society. Socialists, Syndicalists, and
anarchists, although directed by entirely different conceptions,
are thus collaborating in the same eventual aim--the violent
suppression of the ruling classes and the pillage of their
The Syndicalist doctrine does not in any way derive from the
principles of Revolution. On many points it is entirely in
contradiction with the Revolution. Syndicalism represents rather
a return to certain forms of collective organisation similar to
the guilds or corporations proscribed by the Revolution. It thus
constitutes one of those federations which the Revolution
condemned. It entirely rejects the State centralisation which
the Revolution established.
Syndicalism cares nothing for the democratic principles of
liberty, equality, and fraternity. The Syndicalists demand of
their members an absolute discipline which eliminates all
Not being as yet strong enough to exercise mutual tyranny, the
syndicates so far profess sentiments in respect of one another
which might by a stretch be called fraternal. But as soon as
they are sufficiently powerful, when their contrary interests
will necessarily enter into conflict, as during the Syndicalist
period of the old Italian republics--
example--the present fraternity will speedily be forgotten, and
equality will be replaced by the despotism of the most powerful.
Such a future seems near at hand. The new power is increasing
very rapidly, and finds the Governments powerless before it, able
to defend themselves only by yielding to every demand--an odious
policy, which may serve for the moment, but which heavily
compromises the future.
It was, however, to this poor recourse that the English
Government recently resorted in its struggle against the Miners'
they were not bound to furnish a minimum of work.
Although such a demand was inadmissible, the Government agreed to
propose to Parliament a law to sanction such a measure. We may
profitably read the weighty words pronounced by Mr. Balfour
before the House of Commons:--
``The country has never in its so long and varied history had to
face a danger of this nature and this importance.
``We are confronted with the strange and sinister spectacle of a
mere organisation threatening to paralyse--and paralysing in a
large measure--the commerce and manufactures of a community which
lives by commerce and manufacture.
``The power possessed by the miners is in the present state of
the law almost unlimited. Have we ever seen the like of it? Did
ever feudal baron exert a comparable tyranny? Was there
ever an American trust which served the rights which it holds
from the law with such contempt of the general interest? The
very degree of perfection to which we have brought our laws, our
social organisation, the mutual relation between the various
professions and industries, exposes us more than our predecessors
in ruder ages to the grave peril which at present threatens
society. . . . We are witnesses at the present moment of the
first manifestation of the power of elements which, if we are not
heedful, will submerge the whole of society. . . . The attitude
of the Government in yielding to the injunction of the miners
gives some appearance of reality to the victory of those who are
pitting themselves against society.''
Anarchy and the social
conflicts resulting from democratic ideas
are to-day impelling some Governments towards an unforeseen
course of evolution which will end by leaving them only a nominal
power. This development, of which I shall briefly denote the
effects, is effected spontaneously under the stress of those
imperious necessities which are still the chief controlling power
The Governments of democratic countries to-day consist of the
representatives elected by universal suffrage. They vote laws,
and appoint and dismiss ministers chosen from themselves, and
provisionally entrusted with the executive power. These
ministers are naturally often replaced, since a vote will do
it. Those who follow them, belonging to a different
party, will govern according to different principles.
It might at first seem that a country thus pulled to and fro by
various influences could have no continuity or stability. But in
spite of all these conditions of instability a democratic
Government like that of
explain such a phenomenon?
Its interpretation, which is very simple, results from the fact
that the ministers who have the appearance of governing really
govern the country only to a very limited extent. Strictly
limited and circumscribed, their power is exercised principally
in speeches which are hardly noticed and in a few inorganic
But behind the superficial authority of ministers, without force
or duration, the playthings of every demand of the politician, an
anonymous power is secretly at work whose might is continually
increasing the administrations. Possessing traditions, a
hierarchy, and continuity, they are a power against which, as the
ministers quickly realise, they are incapable of struggling.
Responsibility is so divided in the administrative machine that a
minister may never find himself opposed by any person of
importance. His momentary impulses are checked by a network of
regulations, customs, and decrees, which are continually quoted
to him, and which he knows so little that he dare not infringe
 The impotence of ministers in their own departments has been
well described by one of them, M. Cruppi, in a recent book. The
most ardent wishes of the minister being immediately paralysed by
his department, he promptly ceases to struggle against it.
This diminution of the power of democratic Governments can
only develop. One of the most constant laws of history is that
of which I have already spoken: Immediately any one class
becomes preponderant--nobles, clergy, army, or the people--it
speedily tends to enslave others. Such were the Roman armies,
which finally appointed and overthrew the emperors; such were the
clergy, against whom the kings of old could hardly struggle; such
were the States General, which at the moment of Revolution
speedily absorbed all the powers of government, and supplanted
The caste of functionaries is destined to furnish a fresh proof
of the truth of this law. Preponderant already, they are
beginning to speak loudly, to make threats, and even to indulge
in strikes, such as that of the postmen, which was quickly
followed by that of the Government railway employees. The
administrative power thus forms a little State within the State,
and if its present rate of revolution continues it will soon
constitute the only power in the State. Under a Socialist
Government there would be no other power. All our revolutions
would then have resulted in stripping the king of his powers and
his throne in order to bestow them upon the irresponsible,
anonymous and despotic class of Government clerks.
To foresee the issue of all the conflicts which threaten to cloud
the future is impossible. We must steer clear of pessimism as of
optimism; all we can say is that necessity will always finally
bring things to an equilibrium. The world pursues its way
without bothering itself with our speeches, and sooner or later
we manage to adapt ourselves to the variations of our
environment. The difficulty is to do so without too much
friction, and above all to resist the chimerical conceptions of
dreamers. Always powerless to re-organise the world, they have
often contrived to upset it.
shone in history, were victims of these terrible theorists. The
results of their influence has always been the same--anarchy,
dictatorship, and decadence.
But such lessons will not affect the numerous Catilines of the
present day. They do not yet see that the movements unchained by
their ambitions threaten to submerge them. All these Utopians
have awakened impossible hopes in the mind of the crowd, excited
their appetites, and sapped the dykes which have been slowly
erected during the centuries to restrain them.
The struggle of the blind multitudes against the elect is one of
the continuous facts of history, and the triumph of popular
sovereignties without counterpoise has already marked the end of
more than one civilisation. The elect create, the plebs
destroys. As soon as the first lose their hold the latter begins
its precious work.
The great civilisations have only prospered by dominating their
lower elements. It is not only in
dictatorship, invasion, and, finally, the loss of independence
has resulted from the despotism of a democracy. Individual
tyranny is always born of collective tyranny. It ended the first
cycle of the greatness of
The principal revolutions of history have been studied in
volume. But we have dealt more especially with the most
important of all--that which for more than twenty years
The French Revolution is an inexhaustible mine of psychological
documents. No period of the life of humanity has presented such
a mass of experience, accumulated in so short a time.
On each page of this great drama we have found numerous
applications of the principles expounded in my various works,
concerning the transitory mentality of crowds and the permanent
soul of the peoples, the action of beliefs, the influence of
mystic, affective, and collective elements, and the conflict
between the various forms of logic.
The Revolutionary Assemblies illustrate all the known laws of the
psychology of crowds. Impulsive and timid, they are dominated by
a small number of leaders, and usually act in a sense contrary to
the wishes of their individual members.
The Royalist Constituent Assembly destroyed an ancient monarchy;
the humanitarian Legislative Assembly allowed the massacres of
September. The same pacific body led
There were similar contradictions during the Convention. The
immense majority of its members abhorred violence. Sentimental
philosophers, they exalted equality, fraternity, and liberty, yet
ended by exerting the most terrible despotism.
The same contradictions were visible during the Directory.
Extremely moderate in their intentions at the outset, the
Assemblies were continually effecting bloodthirsty coups
d'etat. They wished to re-establish religious peace, and
finally sent thousands of priests into imprisonment. They wished
to repair the ruins which covered
adding to them.
Thus there was always a complete contradiction between the
individual wills of the men of the revolutionary period and the
deeds of the Assemblies of which they were units.
The truth is that they obeyed invisible forces of which they were
not the masters. Believing that they acted in the name of pure
reason, they were really subject to mystic, affective, and
collective influences, incomprehensible to them, and which we are
only to-day beginning to understand.
Intelligence has progressed in the course of the ages, and has
opened a marvellous outlook to man, although his character, the
real foundation of his mind, and the sure motive of his actions,
has scarcely changed. Overthrown one moment, it reappears the
next. Human nature must be accepted as it is.
The founders of the Revolution did not resign themselves to the
facts of human nature. For the first time in the history
of humanity they attempted to transform men and society in the
name of reason.
Never was any undertaking commenced with such chances of success.
The theorists, who claimed to effect it, had a power in their
hands greater than that of any despot.
Yet, despite this power, despite the success of the armies,
despite Draconian laws and repeated coups d'etat, the
Revolution merely heaped ruin upon ruin, and ended in a
Such an attempt was not useless, since experience is necessary to
the education of the peoples. Without the Revolution it would
have been difficult to prove that pure reason does not enable us
to change human nature, and, consequently, that no society can be
rebuilt by the will of legislators, however absolute their power.
Commenced by the middle classes for their own profit, the
Revolution speedily became a popular movement, and at the same
time a struggle of the instinctive against the rational, a revolt
against all the constraints which make civilisation out of
barbarism. It was by relying on the principle of popular
sovereignty that the reformers attempted to impose their
doctrines. Guided by leaders, the people intervened incessantly
in the deliberations of the Assemblies, and committed the most
sanguinary acts of violence.
The history of the multitudes during the Revolution is eminently
instructive. It shows the error of the politicians who attribute
all the virtues to the popular soul.
The facts of the Revolution teach us, on the contrary, that a
people freed from social constraints, the foundations of
civilisation, and abandoned to its instinctive impulses, speedily
relapses into its ancestral savagery. Every popular revolution
which succeeds in triumphing is a temporary return to barbarism.
If the Commune of 1871 had lasted, it would have repeated the
Terror. Not having the power to kill so many people, it had to
confine itself to burning the principal monuments of the capital.
The Revolution represents the conflict of psychological forces
liberated from the bonds whose function it is to restrain them.
Popular instincts, Jacobin beliefs, ancestral influences,
appetites, and passions unloosed, all these various influences
engaged in a furious mutual conflict for the space of ten years,
during which time they soaked
land with ruins.
Seen from a distance, this seems to be the whole upshot of the
Revolution. There was nothing homogeneous about it. One must
resort to analysis before one can understand and grasp the great
drama and display the impulses which continually actuated its
heroes. In normal times we are guided by the various forms of
logic--rational, affective, collective, and mystic--which more or
less perfectly balance one another. During seasons of upheaval
they enter into conflict, and man is no longer himself.
We have by no means undervalued in this work the importance of
certain acquisitions of the Revolution in respect of the rights
of the people. But with many other historians, we are
forced to admit that the prize gained at the cost of such ruin
and bloodshed would have been obtained at a later date without
effort, by the mere progress of civilisation. For a few years
gained, what a load of material disaster, what moral
disintegration! We are still suffering as a result of the
latter. These brutal pages in the book of history will take long
to efface: they are not effaced as yet.
Our young men of to-day seem to prefer action to thought.
Disdaining the sterile dissertations of the philosophers, they
take no interest in vain speculation concerning matters whose
essential nature remains unknown.
Action is certainly an excellent thing, and all real progress is
a result of action, but it is only useful when properly directed.
The men of the Revolution were assuredly men of action, yet the
illusions which they accepted as guides led them to disaster.
Action is always hurtful when, despising realities, it professes
violently to change the course of events. One cannot experiment
with society as with apparatus in a laboratory. Our political
upheavals show us what such social errors may cost.
Although the lesson of the Revolution was extremely categorical,
many unpractical spirits, hallucinated by their dreams, are
hoping to recommence it. Socialism, the modern synthesis of this
hope, would be a regression to lower forms of evolution, for it
would paralyse the greatest sources of our activity. By
replacing individual initiative and responsibility by collective
initiative and responsibility mankind would descend several steps
on the scale of human values.
The present time is hardly favourable to such experiments. While
dreamers are pursuing their dreams, exciting appetites and the
passions of the multitude, the peoples are every day arming
themselves more powerfully. All feel that amid the universal
competition of the present time there is no room for weak
In the centre of
in strength, and aspiring to dominate the world, in order to find
outlets for its goods, and for an increasing population, which it
will soon be unable to nourish.
If we continue to shatter our cohesion by intestine struggles,
party rivalries, base religious persecutions, and laws which
fetter industrial development, our part in the world will soon be
over. We shall have to make room for peoples more solidly knit,
who have been able to adapt themselves to natural necessities
instead of pretending to turn back upon their course. The
present does not repeat the past, and the details of history are
full of unforeseen consequences; but in their main lines events
are conditioned by eternal laws.
Absolute monarchy, the
Acceleration of forces of violence
Administrations, real ruling forces
Affirmation, power of
Alexander I of Russia
Alsace loss of
Ambition, as a motive of revolution
Anarchy, followed by dictatorship; mental
Ancien regime, bases of the; inconveniences of; life under;
Ancients, Council of
Armies, of the Republic; character of; victories of; causes of
Army, role of, in revolution; in 1789
Assemblies, the Revolutionary; psychology of; obedient to the
clubs; see National, Constituent, Legislative Assemblies,
Austria, revolution in; royalist illusions as to her attitude;
attacks the Republic
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J., on coal strike
Bartholomew, St., Massacre of; European rejoicing over
Bastille, taking of the
Beaulieu, Edict of
Bedouin, executions at
Belgium, invasion of
Beliefs, affective and mystic origin of; intolerance of;
justification of; intolerance greatest between allied beliefs;
intolerance of democratic and socialistic beliefs
Berquin, executed by Sorbonne
Berry, Duchess de
Blois, States of
Bonaparte, see Napoleon
Bourgeoisie, their jealousy of the nobles causes the Revolution;
their thirst for revenge; the real authors of the Revolution;
philosophic ideas of
Brazilian Revolution, the
Britanny, revolt in
Brumaire, coup d'etat of
Brunswick, Duke of, his manifesto
Bureaucracy in France
Caesar, on division amid the Gauls
Caesars follow anarchy and dominate mobs
Calvin; compared to Robespierre
Carrier; crimes of, and trial
Catechism of the Scottish Presbyterians
Catherine de Medicis
Champ-de-Mars, affair of the
China, revolution in
Christian Revolution, the
Christians, mutual hatred of
Church, confiscation of goods of the
Clergy; civil constitution of
Clubs, the, 24- psychology of the; obeyed by the Assemblies;
closed; increasing power of the; see Jacobins
Collective ideas; collective logic
Commissaries of the Convention, psychology of
Committees, the Governmental
Commune of Paris, the; in insurrection; chief power in State;
orders massacre of September; tyranny of
Commune of 1871
Communes, the revolutionary
Constituent Assembly, the; psychology of the; its fear of the
people; temporarily resists the people; loses power; its last
Constitution of 1791; of 1793; of 1795; of the year VIII
Constitutions, faith in
Constraints, social, necessity of
Contagion, mental; causes of; in crowds
Contrat Social, the
Convention, giants of the; inconsistency of; decimates itself;
psychology of the; cowardice of; mental characteristics of;
composition of; fear in the; besieged by the Commune; surrenders
Girondists; Government of the; abolishes royalty; dissolved
Council of State
Crowd, Psychology of the
Crowds in the French Revolution
``Days,''of May 31; June 2; of June 20; of Aug. 10; of June 2; of
Declaration of Rights, the
Democracy; intellectual and popular
Dictatorship follows anarchy
Directory, the, failure of; closes clubs; psychology of the;
government of the; deportations under
Discontent, result of
Dubourg, Anne, burned
Dumas, President of the Revolutionary Tribunal
Ego, analysis of the
Elizabeth, Empress of Russia
Empire, the Second
England, coal strike in
English Revolution; Constitution
Fatalism, historians on
Ferrer, notes on anniversary of execution of
Five Hundred, the
France, kings of; artificial unity of
Freethinkers, intolerance of
French Revolution, the, revision of ideas concerning; generally
misunderstood; a new religious movement; origins of; religions
nature of; descends to lower classes; causes of; opinions of
historians concerning; becomes a popular government; causes of
democratisation; causes of the Revolution; a struggle of instinct
Fouche, at Lyons
``Giants'' of the Convention; mediocrity of
Girondists, the; late of the; surrendered by the Convention; vote
for Louis' death
Glosson, Professor, experiment in crowd psychology
Governments, feeble resistance of, to revolution; best tactics to
pursue; revolutions effected by
Guillotine, regeneration by
Guise, Duke of
Hatred, value of
Henry IV of Germany
Henry VIII of England
Historians, mistaken views of, re French Revolution; opinions of;
Holland, invasion of
Huguenots, massacre of
Hunter's ancestral instinct of carnage
Iena, explosion on board of
Impartiality, impossibility of
Incendiarism, of Commune of 1871
Inequality, craving for
Italy, revolution in
Jacobinism; failure of; modern; its craze for reforms
Jacobins, the; real protagonists of the Revolution; claim to
reorganise France in name of pure reason; they rule France;
results of their triumph; theories of; small numbers of; the
clubs closed,; downfall of
Latin mind, the
Leaders, popular, psychology of
Lebrun, Mme. Vigee
Legislation, faith in
Legislative Assembly, the psychology of; character of; timidity
Lettres de cachet
Liberte, the, explosion on board
``Liberty, Equality, Fraternity''
Logics, different species of
Louis XIV; poverty under
Louis XVI; flight and capture; his chance; powers restored,; a
prisoner;regarded as traitor; suspended; trial of;execution of, a
Marie Antoinette; influence of
Massacres, during wars of religion; during the French Revolution;
see September, Commissaries, &c.
Mentalities prevalent in time of revolution
Midi, revolt in the
Monarch, position of, under the Reformation
Moors in Spain
Nantes, Edict of; revoked
Nantes, massacres at
Napoleon; in Russia; on fatalism; on the 5th of October; in
Italy; in Egypt; returns; as Consul; reorganises France; defeated
National Assembly, the
Nature, return to, illusions respecting
Noailles, Comte de
Nobles renounce privileges; emigrate
October, ``days'' of
Opinions and Beliefs
Oppede, Baron d'
Orleans, Duc d'
Paris, her share in the Revolution. See People
Peasants, condition of, before Revolution; burn chateaux
People, the, in revolution; never directs itself; supposed part
of; the reality; analysis of; the base populace; commences to
terrorise the Assemblies; the sections rise
Peoples, the Psychology of
Personality, transformation of, during revolution
Peter the Great
Philosophers, influence of
Poissy, assembly of
Poland, decadence of; revolution in; partition of
Protestants, martyrs; persecute Catholics; exodus of; mentality
Prussia, invades France
Public safety, committee of
Racial mind, stability of the
Rational logic, seldom guides conduct; original motive in French
Reason, Goddess of
Reformation, the; rational poverty of doctrines
Reforms, Jacobin craving for
Religion, the French republic a form of
Religion, wars of, the
Repetition, value of
Republic, the first; the second; the third
Revision, necessity of
Revolution of 1789; see French Revolution; of 1836; of 1848; of
Revolutions, classification of; origin of; usual object of
Revolutions, political; results of
Robespierre; compared to Calvin; High Pontiff; pontiff; reigns
alone; sole master of the Convention; psychology of; his fall
Saint-Denis, destruction of tombs at
September, massacres of
Socialism; hates the elect
Spain, revolution in
Suspects, Law of
Taine; on Jacobinism; his work
Terror, the; motives of;psychology of; executions during;
stupefying effect of; in the provinces; in the departments
Thermidor, reaction of
Third Estate, jealousy of the
Tolerance, impossible between opposed or related beliefs
Toulon; fall of
Tuileries, attacked; Louis prisoner in; attacked by populace
Turkey, revolution in
Vanity, cause of revolution
Varennes, flight to
Versailles, attack on
Violence, causes of
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