Democracy and Political
Translated by
David Macey
This English translation copyright © Polity Press 198K
First published as Essais sur Ie poliliqul copyright © Editions du Seuil 1986.
First puhlished in English 1988 by Polity Press in association with Basil Blackwell.
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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
Lefort, Claude
Democracy and PQiiticai theory
1. Democracy
I. Title II. Essais sur Ie politique.
321.8 JC423
ISBN 0-74SfHl437-4
Typeset in Times 10 on 12 pt
by Photo' graphics. Honiton. Devon
Printed in Great Britain by Billing & Sons Ltd, Worcester
Trans|ator`s Notc
Part I On Modcrn Dcmocracy
I Thc Qucstion of Dcmocracy
2 Human Rights and thc Wc|farc Statc
3 Hannah Arcndt and thc Qucstion of thc Po|itica|
Part II On Rcvo|ution
4 Thc Rcvo|utionary Tcrror 59
5 Intcrprcting Rcvo|ution within thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution 89
6 Edgar Quinct: Thc RcvoIution ThatFai|cd 115
7 Thc Rcvo|ution as Princip|c and as Individua| 1J5
8 Rcrcading The Communist Manifesto 149
Part III On Frccdom
9 Rcvcrsibi|ity
Political Freedom and the Freedom of the Individual 165
!0 From Equa|ity to Frccdom
Fragments of an Interpretation of Democracy in America 18J
Part IV On thc Irrcducib|c E|cmcnt
1| Thc Pcrmancncc of thc Thco|ogico-Po|itica|?
I2 Thc Dcath of Immorta|ity7
Translator's Note
Thccssays in thisvo|umcwcrc ñrst co||cctcd inC|audcLcfort, Essais
sur Ie politique (X/xc-XXc siee/es) (Faris. Scui|, I986). Dctai|s of
prcvious pub|ication arc givcn bc|ow.
`Thc Qucstion ofDcmocracy` origina||y pub|ishcd as `La Qucstion
dc |a dcmocratic' in Dcnis Kambouchncr ct aI. , Le Retrait du
politique (Faris. Ga|i|cc, 198J).
'Human Rights and thc Wc|farcStatc` origina||ypub|ishcd as ` Lcs
Droits dc |`hommc ct |`Etat-providcncc`, Revue interdisciplillaire
d·ttudes juridiques, !J (I984).
'Hannah +rcndt and thc Qucstion of thc Fo|itica|`, origina||y
pub|ishcd as ` Hannah Arcndt ct |a qucstion du po|itiquc`, Cahiers
du Forum pour !independence et la paix, 5(March I985). Thc cssay
is thc tcxt ofa |ccturc givcn at thc Ccntrc Rachi.
`Thc Rcvo|utionary Tcrror`, origina||y pub|ishcd as 'La Tcrrcur
rcvo|utionnairc` Passe-Present, 2 (I98J).
' Intcrprcting Rcvo|ution within thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution`, origina||y
pub|ishcd as 'Fcnscr |a rcvo|ution dans |a Rcvo|ution Fran�aisc` ,
Annales, 2 (I980).
'EdgarQuinct. ThcRcvo|utionThatFai|cd',origina||ypub|ishcdas
'Edgar Quinct. La Rcvo|ution manqucc',Pase-Present 2 (198J).
'ThcRcvo|utionasFrincip|candasIndividual origina|Iypub|ishcd
valeurs, hierarchie: Melanges offerrs a Louis Dumont (Faris. Eco|c
dcs Hautcs Etudcs cn Scicnccs Socia|cs. I984).
`Rcrcading The Communist Manifesto" origina||y pub|ishcd as
The Question of Democracy
My purposc hcrc is to cncouragc and to contributc to a rcviva| of
po|itica| phi|osophy. I am not a|onc in working to that cnd. Our
numbcrsarc, nodoubt,sma||, butthcyhavcbccnincrcasingfor somc
timc,a|thoughitmustbc admittcd that thcrc isasyct |itt|c cnthusiasm
forthc task. What surpriscs mc is thatmostofthoscwhooughttobc
which inc|incs thcm to brcak with dogmatic bc|icfs, bccausc of thcir
phi|osophica| cu|turc, bccausc of thcir dcsirc to ñnd some mcaning
bchind thc cvcuts, confuscd as thcy may bc, that takc p|acc in our
withthcriva|dominantidco|ogicsto wantto disccrn thcprcconditions
forthc dcvc|opmcnt offrccdom, or at |ast to shcd somc |ight on thc
obstac|cs that stand initsway, arc and rcmain stubborn|y b|ind to thc
po|itica|. 'Frccdom`, thc simp|c word I havc just uscd, is usua||y
banishcdfromscicntiñc|anguagcorrc|cgatcdtothcvcrnacu|ar, whcn,
that is, it docs not bccomc a s|ogan forsma|| groups of intc||cctua|s
whodccIarc thatthcyhavctakcnsidcsand who arccontcntwith anti-
communism. Thcy can bc ignorcd. no mattcr how much noisc thcy
makc, as wc havc sccn thcir kind bcforc. | am morc conccrncd with
thosc intc||cctua|s aud phi|osophcrswho c|aim to bc|ongto thc |cftor
thc far |cft. A|though thcy |ivc in an cra in which a ncw form of
socicty hascmcrgcd undcrthc banncroffascism on thconc handand
undcr that of socia|ism on thc othcr, thcy rcfusc to contcmp|atc or
cvcn pcrccivc that momcntous cvcnt. In ordcr to do so, thcy wou|d
ofcoursc havc to givc ncw mcaning to thc idca of frccdom. Andyct
thcy abandou it to thc vagarics of pub|ic opinion, apparcnt|y on thc
grounds that cvcryonc dcñncs it in accordancc with thcirown wishcs
or intcrcsts. By doing so. thcy cut thcmsc|vcs off, not from pub|ic
opiniou, but from po|itica|phi|osophy. cvcn though thcy c|aim to bc
in scarch of rigorous know|cdgc. For thc so|c motivation bchind
po|itica| phi|osophy has a|ways bccn a dcsirc tocscapc thc scrvitudc
ofco||cctivcbc|icfsand towin thcfrccdom to thinkabout frccdom in
I0 all Modem Democracy
socicty, it has aIways bornc in mind thc csscntiaI diffcrcncc bctwccn
thc rcgimc of frccdom and dcspotism. or indccd tyranny. Yct now
that wc arc faccd with thc risc of a ncw typc of dcspotism (which
diffcrs. Ict it bc notcd. from ancicnt dcsµotism as much as modcrn
arc you taIking about7 Is it a conccpt? How do you dchnc it7 Docs
not dcmocracy mask thc domination and cxpIoitation of onc cIass by
anothcr, thc standardization of coIIcctivc Iifc and mass conformism7
Evcn ifwc do agrcc that history has givcn birth to a monstcr. what
causcd thcmutation?Wasitancconomiccausc.atcchnoIogicaIcausc,
or docs it rcIatc to thc risc of statc burcaucracy7` I am, as I said,
surpriscd. how can thcy handIc ontoIogicaI diffcrcnccs with such
subtIcty, vic with onc anothcrincxpIoitingthc combincd rcsourccs of
Hcidcggcr, Lacan, !akobsonand Lcvi-Strauss,andthcnfaIIback upon
such crass rcaIism whcn thc qucstion of poIitics ariscs7 Marxism, of
that oncc cxistcd bctwccn phiIosoµhy and naivcty by tcaching us that
thc cstabIishmcnt of a conccntration-camp systcm. thc cxtcrmination
of miIIions of mcn and womcn, thc supprcssion of frccdom of
association and frccdom ofcxprcssion, and thc aboIition of univcrsaI
suffragc or its convcrsion into a farcc which givcs onc µarty nincty-
ninc pcr ccnt ofthc votc, tcIIs us nothing about thc naturc ofSovict
ofthat idcoIogyhasdonc IittIc tosct thoughtfrccorto hcIpitrcturn
toµoIiticaIphiIosophy. It maywcIIbc admittcdthatitis notsociaIism,
or'truc`sociaIismasthcyquaintIysay, thatisbcingconstructcd in thc
ISSR, in Eastcrn Europc. in China, Victnam. Cambodia. or Cuba,
but how many intcIIcctuaIs arc stiII hauntcd by thc spcctrc of thc
corrcct thcory, by thc bcIicf that it wiII rcvcaI thc Iaws that govcrn
thc dcvcIopmcnt of socictics and that itwiIIcnabIc thcm to dcducc a
formuIa for a rationaI practicc7 At bcst. wc nnd cxprcssions of
symµathyfor thc dissidcnts pcrsccutcd by communist rcgimcs or for
popuIar uprisings. But such fccIings havc no Iasting intcIIcctuaIcffcct.
ThcyarcunabIcto disccrnfrccdom in dcmocracy, bccausc dcmocracy
is dcnncd as bourgcois. Thcy arc unabIc to disccrn scrvitudc in
It wouId. howcvcr, bc a mistakc to rcstrict ourscIvcs to a critiquc
of Marxism. Ifwc arc to rcintcrprct thc µoIiticaI. wc mustbrcak with
scicntihcpointsofvicwingcncraI andwith thc point ofvicw that has
comctodominatcwhatarcknown asthcµoIiticaIscicnccsandµoIiticaI
socioIogy in particuIar.
FoIiticaIsocioIogists and scicntists.forthcir part. do not attcmpt to
dchnc poIitics as a suµcrstructurc whosc basc is to bc found at thc
supposcdIy rcaI IcvcI of rcIations of production. Thcy obtain thcir
The Questioll of Democracy I I
rcgard as particuIar facts and as distinct from othcr µarticuIar
sociaI facts, such as thc cconomic, thc juridicaI, thc acsthctic. thc
scicntihc or thc purcIy sociaI. 'sociaI` bcing dchncd as dcsignating
modcs of rcIations bctwccn groups orcIasscs. This approach imµIics
a surrcptitious rcfcrcncc to thc spacc that is dcsignatcd as socicty. It
cIaimsto bc abIc to providca dctaiIcdsurvcy orrcconstruction ofthat
spacc byµositingandarticuIatingtcrms, byforgingsµccihcsystcms of
thc obscrvations and constructs did not thcmscIvcs dcrivc from thc
ncc of sociaI Iifc, an cxµcricncc which is at oncc primordiaI
and umqucIyshapcdbyour inscrtion into a historicaIIyandpoIiticaIIy

rmincd framcwork. Onc cffcct of this hction is immcdiatcIy
obvious. modcrn dcmocratic socictics arc charactcrizcd by. among
othcr things. thc dcIimitation of a sphcrc ofinstitutions. rcIationsand
activitics which appcarstobc µoIiticaI, asdistinct from othcrsphcrcs
whichappcartobccconomic,juridicaI.andsoon. FoIiticaIsocioIogists
and scicntists hnd thc prcconditions that dchnc thcir objcct and thcir
apµroach to knowIcdgc in this modc of appcarancc of thc µoIiticaI,
without cvcr cxamining thc form of socicty within which thc division
ofrcaIityintovariousscctors aµpcarsandis Icgitimatcd. Thcfactthat
somcthing Iikc politics shouId havc bccn circumscribcd within sociaI
Iifc at a givcn timc has in itscIf a poIiticaI mcaning, and a mcaning
which is not
articuIar, but gcncraI. This cvcn raiscs thc qucstion of
thc constitution of thc sociaI spacc, of thc form of socicty, of thc
csscncc of what was oncc tcrmcd thc 'city`. Thc poIiticaI is thus
rcvcaIcd, not in what wc caII poIiticaI activity, but in thc doubIc
movcmcnt whcrcby thc modc of institution of socicty appcars and is
obscurcd. It apµcars in ¡hc scnsc that thc µroccss whcrcby socicty is
ordcrcd and unihcd across itsdivisionsbccomcs visibIc. Itis obscurcd
in thc scnsc that thc Iocus of poIitics (thc Iocus in which partics
compctc and in which a gcncraI agcncy of powcr takcs shapc and is
rcproduccd) bccomcs dchncd as particuIar, whiIc thc principIc which
gcncratcs thc ovcraII conhguration is conccaIcd.
This obscrvation is in itscIfan invitation to rcturn to thc qucstion
that oncc inspircd poIiticaI phiIosophy. what is thc naturc of thc
diffcrcncc bctwccn forms ofsocicty7 Intcrprcting thc poIiticaI mcans
brcaking with thc vicwpoint of µoIiticaI scicncc, bccausc poIiticaI
scicncccmcrgcsfromthcsupprcssionofthisqucstion. Itcmcrgcsfrom
a dcsirc to objcctify, and it forgcts that no cIcmcnts, no cIcmcntary
structurcs, no cntitics (cIasscsorscgmcntsofcIasscs).nocconomicor
tcchnicaIdctcrminations, and no dimcnsionsofsociaIspacc cxist untiI
thcy havc bccngivcn a form. Givingthcm a form impIicsboth giving
thcm mcaning (mise en seils) and staging thcm (mise ell scene). Thcy
arc givcn mcaning in that thc sociaI spacc unfoIds as a spacc of
intcIIigibiIity articulatcd in accordancc with a spccihc modc of
distinguishing bctwccn thc rcaI and thc imaginary, thc truc and thc
faIsc, thc just and thc unjust, thc pcrmissibIc and thc forbiddcn. thc
! 2
011 Modern Democracy
norma|andthc patho|ogica|.Thcy arc stagcd in that thisspacccontains
dcspotic, dcmocraticortota|itarian. As wc know, thc coro||aryof thc
dcsirctoobjcctifyis thcpositioningofasubjcctcapab|c ofpcrforming
intc||cctua| opcrations which owc nothing to its invo|vcmcnt in socia|
|ifc. Such a ncutra| subjcct is conccrncd on|y with dctccting causa|
thc organization and thc workings of socia| systcms or sub-systcms.
Thc hction of this subjcct is vu|ncrab|c to morc than thc argumcnts
of critica| socio|ogists and Marxists who objcct to thc distinction
bctwccnfactua|judgcmcntsandva|ucj udgcmcnts, andwhoshow that
thc ana|yst is working within a pcrspcctivc forccd upon him by thc
nccdto dcfcnd hiscconomic or cu|tura| intcrcsts. Wc||-foundcd as it
may bc, this argumcnt itsc|f comcs up against |imitations which wi||
not bc cxamincd hcrc. Itfai|sto rccognizc thatanysystcm ofthought
thatisboundupwithanyformofsocia||ifc isgrapp|ingwithasubjcct-
mattcr which contains within it its own intcrprctation, and whosc
mcaning isa constitucnt c|cmcnt ofits naturc. Byascribingncutra|ity
to thc subjcct, it dcprivcs thc subjcct of thc mcans to grasp an
cxpcricncc gcncratcd and ordcrcd by an imp|icit conccption of thc
rc|ations bctwccn human bcings andofthcirrc|ationswiththcwor|d.
It prcvcnts thc subjcct from grasping thc onc thing that has bccn
graspcd in cvcry human socicty, thc onc thing that givcsit its status
as human socicty. namc|y thc diffcrcncc bctwccn |cgitimacy and
bctwccn thc pursuit of powcr or of privatc intcrcsts and thc pursuit
of thc common good. LcoStrauss`sattacks on what might bc tcrmcd
thc castration of po|itica| thought as a rcsu|t of thc risc of thc socia|
scicnccs and of Marxism arc sufhcicnt|y c|oqucnt for us not to dwc||
on thc issuc hcrc, wc havc on|y to turn to thc critiquc that opcns
Natural Right and History. ' Lct mc say simp|y that if wc ignorc
that wc cannot supp|y thcir critcria, and if wc c|aim to bc ab|c to
rcduccknow|cdgc to thc |imitsofobjcctivcscicncc, wc brcak with thc
phi|osophica| tradition. If wc rcfusc to risk making judgcmcnts, wc
|osc a|| scnsc ofthcdiffcrcncc bctwccnformsofsocicty. Wc thcn fa||
back on va|uc judgcmcnts, cithcr hypocritica||y, bcncath thc c|oak of
a hicrarchy in thc dctcrminants of what wc takc to bc thc rca|, or
arbitrari|y, in thc crudc statcmcnt of prcfcrcnccs.
mcans in our timcs.
Thc riscoftota|itarianism,both in its fascist variant (which hasfor
thc momcnt bccndcstroycd, though wc havcno groundsto thinkthat
Thc widcsprcad vicw to thc contrary notwithstanding, tota|itarianism
The Questioll of Democracy IJ
docs not rcsu|t from a transformation ofthc modc of production. In
thc casc ofGcrman or Ita|ianfascisms, thcpointdocsnothavctobc
strcsscd, as thcy adaptcd thcmsc|vcs to thc maintcnancc of capita|ist
structurcs, whatcvcr changcs thcy may havc undcrgonc as a rcsu|t of
incrcascd statc intcrvcntion into thc cconomy. But it is important at
|cast to rcca|| that thc Sovict rcgimc acquircd itsdistinctivc fcaturcs
bcforc thc cra of thc socia|ization ofthc mcans ofproduction and of
from a mutation of a symbo|icordcr, and thc changc in thc status of
powcris its c|carcst cxprcssion. What infacthappcns is that a party
ariscs, c|aiming to bc by its vcry naturc diffcrcnt from traditiona|
a|cgitimacywhich p|accs it abovc thc|aw.Ittakcspowcrbydcstroyìng
a|| opposition, thc ncwpowcr is accountab|c to noonc and is bcyond
a|| |cga| contro|. But forour purposcs, thc coursc ofcvcntsisof|itt|c
import, wc arc conccrncd with thc most charactcristicfcaturcs ofthc
ncw form of socicty. A condcnsation takcs p|acc bct
ccn thc sphcrc
ofpowcr, thc sphcrcof|aw and thcsphcrcofknow|cdgc. Know|cdgc
ofthc u|timatc goa|sofsocicty andofthc normswhich rcgu|atc socia|
practiccsbccomcsthc propcrty ofpowcr, and at thc samc timc powcr
itsc|f c|aims to bc thc organ of a discoursc which articu|atcs thc rca|
as such. Fowcr is cmbodicd in a group and, at its highcst |cvc|, in a
sing|c individua|, and it mcrgcs with a know|cdgc which is a|so
cmbodicd, insuch a way that nothingcan sp|it it apart. Thc thcory-
or if not thc thcory, thc spirit of thc movcmcnt, as in Nazism - may
wc|| turn cvcrything to account as circumstanccs dcmand, but it can
ncvcrbc cha||cngcdbycxpcricncc. Statc andcivi|socictyarcassumcd
to havc mcrgcd, this is brought about through thc agcncy of thc
ubiquitous party which pcrmcatcs cvcrything with thc dominant
idco|ogy and hands down powcr`s ordcrs, as circumstanccs dcmand,
of a|| kinds in which an artihcia| socia|ization and rc|ations of powcr
conforming to thc gcncra| modc| arc rcproduccd). A |ogic of
idcntihcation is sct in motion, and is govcrncd by thc rcprcscntation
of powcr as cmbodimcnt. Thc pro|ctariat and thc pcop|c arconc, thc
party and thc pro|ctariat arconc,thc po|itburcau and, u|timatc|y, thc
egocrat, andthc partyarc onc. Whi|stthcrcdcvc|opsa rcprcscntation
of a homogcncous and sc|f-transparcnt socicty, of a Fcop|c-as-Onc,
socia| division, in a|| its modcs, is dcnicd, and at thc samc timc a||
signs of diffcrcnccs of opinion, bc|icf or morcs arc condcmncd. Wc
can usc thc tcrm dcspotism to charactcrizc this rcgimc, buton|y ifwc
spccify that it is modcrn and diffcrs from a|| thc forms that prcccdc
it. Fowcr makcs no rcfcrcncc to anything bcyond thc socia|, it ru|cs
asthough nothing cxistcd outsidc thcsocia|,as thoughithad no |imits
(thcscarc thc |imitscstab|ishcdbythc idca ofa |awor a truththatis
va|id in itsc|f), it rc|atcs to a socicty bcyondwhich thcrc is nothing,
which is assumcd to bc a socicty fu|h||ing its dcstiny as a socicty
I4 011 Modern Democracy
produccdbythc pcopIc who Iivc in it.Thc distinctivcIymodcrnfcaturc
of totaIitarianism is that it combincs a radicaIIy artiñciaIist idcaI with
a radicaIIy organicist idcaI. Thc imagc of thc body comcs to bc
combincd with thc imagc of thc machinc. Socicty appcars to bc a
community aII of whosc mcmbcrs arc strictIy intcrdcpcndcnt, at thc
samc timc it is assumcd to bc constructing itscIf day by day, to bc
striving towards a goaI - thc crcation of thc ncw man - and to bc
Iiving in a statc ofpcrmancnt mobiIization.
Wc can ignorc othcr fcaturcs, which I havc dcscribcd at Icngth
cIscwhcrc, such as thc phcnomcnon of thc production-cIimination of
thc cncmy (thc cncmy within bcingdcñncd asanagcnt of thc cncmy
without, as a parasitc on thc body, or as an intcrfcrcncc with thc
workings of thc machinc). Nor am I trying hcrc to rcvcaI thc
contradictionstotaIitarianism comcsup against. EvcnthisbricfoutIinc
of totaIitarianism, it acquircs a ncw dcpth and cannot bc rcduccd to
a systcm of institutions. In its turn, dcmocracy too is sccn to bc a
form of socicty, and our task is to undcrstand what constitutcs its
uniqucncss, and what it is about it that Icads to its ovcrthrow and to
thc advcnt of totaIitarianism.
Anyonc who undcrtakcssuch a projcctcan Icarn a grcat dcaI from
TocqucviIIc. Thc thingthat marks him out from his contcmporarics is
in fact his rcaIization that dcmocracy is a form of socicty, and hc
arrivcs at that concIusion bccausc, in his vicw, dcmocracy stands out
againsta background. thcsocictyfrom whichitcmcrgcs andwhichhc
caIIsaristocraticsocicty- atcrmwhichit wouId notbc appropriatc to
dcmocracybycncouragingustoIookbackatwhatcamcbcforc itand,
at thcsamctimc, to Iookahcadtowhatiscmcrging,ormaycmcrgc,
in its wakc. His invcstigations arcimportant to us in scvcraI rcspccts.
Hcpositsthc idca that agrcat historicaI mutation istaking pIacc, cvcn
though its prcmisscs had Iong bccn cstabIishcd, and hc puts forward
thc idca of an irrcvcrsibIc dynamic. AIthough hc attcmpts to Iocatc
thc fundamcntaI principIc ofdcmocracy in a sociaI statc- cquaIityof
condition- hccxpIorcs changc in cvcry dircction, takcs an intcrcst in
sociaI bonds and poIiticaI institutions, in thc individuaI, in thc
mcchanisms of pubIic opinion, in forms of scnsibiIity and forms of
knowIcdgc, in rcIigion, Iaw, Ianguagc, Iitcraturc, history, ctc. His
cxpIorations Icad him to dctcct thc ambiguitics of thc democratic
revolution incvcrydomain,tomakc,asitwcrc,an cxpIoratoryincision
into thcfl esh ofthc sociaI. Atcvcry momcntofhis anaIysis, hc Iooks
atthingsfrombothsidcs, movcsfrom onc sidcofthc phcnomcnon to
thc othcr, and rcvcaIs thc undcrsidc of both thc positivc - ncw signs
offrccdom - and thc ncgativc - ncw signs ofscrvitudc.
that hc hasbccndcñncd as thcpionccringthcoristofmodcrn poIiticaI
IibcraIism. But his intuitivc vision of a socictyfaccd with thc gcncraI
The Question of Democracy I5
contradiction that ariscs whcn thc sociaI ordcr no Iongcr has a basis
sccmsto mctobc muchmorc important thanhisrcputation. Hctraccs
thiscontradiction by cxamining thc individuaI, who has bccn rcIcascd
to thinkandactinaccordancc withhisown norms. butwho is, on thc
othcr hand, isoIatcd, impovcrishcd and at thc samc timc trappcd by
thc imagc ofhisfcI|ows, now that aggIutination with thcm providcs a
mcansofcscapingthc thrcatofthcdissoIutionofhisidcntity. Hcthcn
cxamincs pubIic opinion as it conqucrs thc right to cxprcssion and
communication and atthcsamctimc bccomcsa forcc initsown right,
as itbccomcsdctachcdfrom subjccts, thinksandspcaksforitscIf, and
bccomcs an anonymous powcrstandingovcr thcm. Hc cxamincs Iaw
which, bccausc it is drawn to thc poIc of thc coIIcctivc wiII, acccpts
thcncwdcmandsthatarcbornofchangcsin mcntaIiticsandpracticcs,
andwhich,asarcsuItofcquaIityofcondition, isincrcasingIydcdicatcd
to thc task of standardizing norms of bchaviour and, ñnaIIy, hc
cxamincs powcr, which has bccn sct frcc from thc arbitrarincss of
pcrsonaIruIc, but which, prcciscIy bccausc itdcstroys aIIthcindividuaI
instanccs of authority, appcars to bcIong to no onc, cxccpt to thc
pcopIc in thc abstract, and which thrcatcns to bccomc unIimitcd,
omnipotcnt, to acquirc anambition to takc chargc ofcvcryaspcctof
sociaI Iifc.
I am not saying that TocqucviIIc`s anaIysis of this contradiction,
which is inhcrcnt in dcmocracy, is irrcfutabIc, but it docs opcn up a
vcry fruitfuI Iinc of rcscarch which has not bccn pursucd. Without
wishingtodiscuss thcdifñcuIticsintowhichhcstumbIcs- I havcgivcn
somc indication of thcsc cIscwhcrc' - Ict mc simpIy obscrvc that his
cxpIorationsarcusuaIIyrcstrictcd towhatI havctcrmcdthcundcrsidc
of thc phcnomcna hc bcIicvcs to bc charactcristicofthc ncwsocicty,
of thc undcrsidc. Truc, a ccntury and a haIf havc gonc by sincc thc
pubIicationofDemocracy in America. Wcthcrcforccnjoythc bcncñts
of cxpcricncc and havc thc capacity to dcciphcr things that its author
couIdonIy gIimpsc. But it is notsimpIy his Iack ofcxpcricncc which
rcstricts his intcrprctation, thcrc is aIso, [ bcIicvc, an intcIIcctuaI
rcIuctancc (which is bound up with a poIiticaI prcjudicc) to confront
thcunknowncIcmcntindcmocracy. As[ cannotdcvcIopmycriticisms
hcrc, I wiIImcrcIystatc that inhis attcmpt to bringout thcambiguous
cffccts of cquaIity of condition, TocqucviIIc usuaIIy trics to uncovcr
an invcrsion ofmcaning. thc ncwasscrtion ofsinguIarityfadcs in thc
facc of thc ruIc of anonymity, thc asscrtion of diffcrcncc (of bcIicf,
opinionormoraIs)fadcsinthcfaccofthcruIc ofuniformity,thcspirit
of innovation is stcriIizcd by thc immcdiatc cnjoymcnt of matcriaI
goods andby thc puIvcrizationofhistoricaItimc, thc rccognition that
human bcingsarc madc inonc anothcr`sIikcncssis dcstroycd by thc
riscof socicty as abstract cntity, andsoon. What hcfaiIs to scc, and
what wc arc in a position to obscrvc, is that anothcr inßucncc or
On Modem Democracy
countcr-inñucncc is a|ways at work and that it countcracts thc
pctriñcation of socia| |ifc. Its chccts arc rcvca|cd by thc appcarancc
ofways of thinking and modcs ofcxprcssionthat arc won in thc facc
of anonymity, of thc stcrcotypcd |anguagc of opinion, by
thc nsc of
dcmands and strugg|cs for rights that p|acc thc
vtcwpoint of
thc |aw in chcck,by thc irruption ofa ncw mcaning ofh:story,by thc
unfo|ding ofmu|tip|c pcrspcctivcs o

historica| kno
|cdgc as a rcsu|t
ofthc disso|ution ofana|most organicscnsc ofduratton thatwasoncc
apprchcndcd through customs and traditions, by
thc incrcasing
hctcrogcncity ofsocia||ifcthat accompanics thcdominan

c ofso

and statc ovcrindividua|s. Wc wou|d ofcoursc a|so bc mistakcn if, in
our turn wc c|aimcd to bc ab|c to |imit our cxp|orations to thc
undcrsid� of thc undcrsidc. On thc contrary,wc must rccognizc that,
so |ong as thc dcmocratic advcnturc continucs, so |ong
as thc tcrms
ofthc contradiction continuc to bc disp|accd, thc mcaning of what is
coming into bcing rcmains in suspcnsc. Dcmocra
cy thus provcs to bc
thc historica| socicty par excellence, a soctcty which, in its vcry form,
contrastwith tota|itarianismwhich, bccausc itisconstructcd undcrthc
s|ogan of crcating a ncw man, c|aims to undcrstand thc |aw of its
organization and dcvc|opmcnt, and which, in thc modcrn wor|d,
s¤crct|y dcsignatcsitsc|f as a society without history.
. .
Wc wi||, howcvcr, rcmain within thc |imits of a dcscnption if wc
simp|y cxtcnd Tocqucvi||c`s ana|yscs, as thcy thcmsc|vcs urgc u


Thc indctcrminacy wc wcrc discussing docs not pcrtain to thc or�cr
ofcmpirica|facts, to thc ordcrofcconomtc orsocta|facts which, |ikc
thc gradua|cxtcnsionofcqua|ity ofcondition, can bc sccntobcborn
ofothcrfacts.!ustasthcbirth oftota|itarianismdcñcsa||cxp|anattons
which attcmpt to rcducc that cvcnt to thc |cvc| ofcmpirica| history,
sothc birth ofdcmocracy signa|s a mutatton ofth� symbo|icordcr, as
is most c|car|y attcstcd to by thc ncwpositionof
. .
I havc tricd onscvcra| occasions to draw attcntion to this mutation.
Hcrc, it wi|| bc cnough to strcssccrtainofitsaspccts. Thc singu|arity
ofdcmocracy on|y bccomcs fu||y apparcnt if wc rcca|| thc naturc of
thc monarchica| systcm of thc Ancicn Rcgimc. This is not in fact a
mattcrof·ccovcringfroma|ossofmcmory but, rathcr, ofrcccntcnng
our invcstigations on somcthing that wc fai|cd to rccognizc bccausc
wc |ost a|| scnsc of thc po|itica|. It is in cffcct within thc framcwork
of thc monarchy, or that of a particu|ar typc of monarchy which,
origina||y dcvc|opcd in a thco|ogico-po|itica| matrix, gavc thc pnn
sovcrcign powcr within thc boundarics of a tcmtory and madc him
both a sccu|ar agcncy and a rcprcscntativc ofGod, that thc fcaturcs¸
of statc and socicty wcrc ñrst out|incd, and that thc nrst scparation
of statc and civi| socicty occurrcd. Far from bcing rcducib|c to a
supcrstructura| institution whosc function can bc dcrivcd from thc
naturc of a modc of production, thc monarchy wasthc agcncy which,
The Question of Democracy 17
by |cvc||ing and unifying thc socia| Iìc|d and. simu|tancous|y, by
inscribing itsc|f in that nc|d, madc possib|c thc dcvc|opmcnt of
commodityrc|ations and rationa|izcd activiticsin a manncrthatpavcd
thc way for thc risc ofcapita|ism.
Undcr thc monarchy, powcr was cmbodicd in thc pcrson of thc
princc. Thisdocsnot mcan thathchc|dun|imitcdpowcr.Thc rcgimc
was not dcspotic. Thc princc was a mcdiator bctwccn morta|s and
gods or, as po|itica| activity bccamcsccu|arizcd and |aicizcd, bctwccn
morta|s and thc transccndcnta| agcncics rcprcscntcd by a sovcrcign
!usticc and a sovcrcign Rcason. Bcing at oncc subjcct to thc |aw and
p|accd abovc |aws, hccondcnscd within hisbody,which wasat oncc
morta| and immorta|, thc princip|c that gcncratcd thc ordcr of thc
kingdom. His powcr pointcd towards an unconditiona|, othcr-wor|d|y
po|c, whi|c at thcsamc timc hc was, inhisown pcrson, thc guarantor
and rcprcscntativc of thc unity of thc kingdom. Thc kingdom itsc|f
was rcprcscntcd as a body, as a substantia| unity, in such a way that
appcarcd to rcst upon an unconditiona| basis.
Fowcr was cmbodicd in thc princc, and it thcrcforc gavc socicty a
body. And bccausc of this

, a |atcnt but cffcctivc know|cdgc of what
one mcant to thc other cxistcd throughout thc socia|. This modc|
rcvca|s thc rcvo|utionary and unprcccdcntcd fcaturc of dcmocracy.
Thc|ocusofpowcrbccomcsan empty place. Thcrcisno nccdtodwc||
on thc dctai|s of thc institutiona| apparatus. Thc important point is
that this apparatus prcvcnts govcrnmcnts from appropriating powcr
ofpowcr is subjcct to thc proccdurcs ofpcriodica| rcdistributions. It
rcprcscnts thc outcomc ofa contro||cd contcst with pcrmancnt ru|cs.
This phcnomcnon imp|icsan institutiona|ization ofconñict. Thc |ocus
of powcr is ancmpty p|acc, itcannot bc occupicd- itissuch that no
individua| and nogroupcan bc consubstantia| with it- and it cannot
bc rcprcscntcd. On|y thc mcchanisms of thc cxcrcisc of powcr arc
Wc wou|d bc wrongtoconc|udcthatpowcrnowrcsidcsin socictyon
thc grounds that it cmanatcs from popu|ar suffragc, it rcmains thc
agcncy by virtuc of which socicty apprchcnds itsc|f in its unity and
rc|atcstoitsc|fintimcandspacc. Butthisagcncy isno|ongcrrcfcrrcd
to anunconditiona|po|c,andinthatscnsc,itmarksadivision bctwccn
thc inside and thc outside of thc socia|, institutcs rc|ations bcwccn
thosc dimcnsions, and is tacit|y rccognizcd as bcing purc|y symbo|ic.
Such a transformation imp|icsascricsofothcrtransformations. and
thcycannotbc rcgardcdmcrc|yascffccts. ascausc andcffcct rc|ations
havc no pcrtincncc in thc ordcr of thc symbo|ic. On thc onc hand,
thc phcnomcnon ofdisincorporation. which wc mcntioncd car|icr. is
accompanicd by thc discntang|ing of thc sphcrc ofpowcr, thc sphcrc
of |aw and thc sphcrc of know|cdgc. Oncc powcrccascs to manifcst
thc princip|c which gcncratcs and organizcs a socia| body. oncc it
I8 all Modern Democracy
ccascsto condcnscwithin it virtucsdcrivingfrom transccndcnt rcason
andjusticc,|awand know|cdgcasscrtthcmsc|vcsasscparatcfrom and
irrcducib|c to powcr. Andjust as thc hgurcofpowcrin its matcria|ity
and its substantia|ity disappcars,j ust as thc cxcrcisc ofpowcr provcs
to bc bound up with thc tcmpora|ity of its rcproduction and to bc
subordinatcd to thc conñictofco||cctivcwi||s,so thc autonomyof|aw
is bound up with thc impossibi|ity of cstab|ishing its csscncc. Thc
dimcnsion ofthc dcvc|opmcnt ofright unfo|dsinitscntircty, and it is
a|waysdcpcndcntupon a dcbatc as to its foundations, and as to thc
|cgitimacy of what has bccn cstab|ishcd and of what ought to bc
cstab|ishcd. Simi|ar|y, rccognitionofthc autonomyofknow|cdgc gocs
hand in hand with a continua| rcshaping ofthc proccsscs of acquiring
know|cdgc and with an invcstigation into thc foundationsoftruth. As
powcr, |aw and know|cdgc bccomc discntang|cd,ancwrc|ationto thc
rca| is cstab|ishcd, to bc morc accuratc, this rc|ation is guarantccd
within thc |imits of nctworks of socia|ization and of spccihc domains
ofactivity. Economic,tcchnica|,scicntihc,pcdagogicandmcdica|facts,
for cxamp|c, tcnd to bc asscrtcd, to bc dchncd undcr thc acgis of
know|cdgc and in accordancc with normsthatarcspccihcto thcm. A
dia|cctic which cxtcrna|izcs cvcry sphcrc of activity is at work
throughout thc socia|. Thc young Marx sawthis on|y too wc||, but hc
mistakcn|y rcduccd it to a dia|cctic of a|icnation. Thc fact that it
opcratcs within thc dcnsity ofc|ass rc|ations, which arc rc|ations of
domination and cxp|oitation, shou|d not makc us forgct that it stcms
froma ncwsymbo|icconstitutionofthcsocia|. Thcrc|ationcstab|ishcd
bctwccn thc compctition mobi|izcd by thc cxcrcisc of powcr and
conñict in socicty is no |css rcmarkab|c. Thc crcction of a po|itica|
stagc on whichcompctition can takc p|accshowsthatdivision is, in a
gcncra| way, constitutivc of thc vcry unity of socicty. Or to put it
anothcrway, thc|cgitimationofpurc|y po|itica|conñictcontainswithin
it thc princip|c of a |cgitimation of socia| conñict in a|| its forms. If
wc bcar in mind thc monarchica| modc| of thc Ancicn Rcgimc, thc
socicty is institutcd as a socicty without a body, as a socicty which
that it thcrcforc has no unity or no dchnitc idcntity, on thc contrary,
thc disappcarancc of natura| dctcrmination, which wasoncc |inkcd to
thc pcrson ofthc princc orto thc cxistcncc of anobi|ity, |cads to thc
cmcrgcncc ofa purc|ysocia|socicty in which thc pcop|c, thc nation
andthcstatctakcon thcstatusofunivcrsa|cntitics, andinwhich any
individua| or group can bc accordcd thc samc status. But ncithcr thc
statc, thc pcop|c nor thc nation rcprcscnt substantia| cntitics. Thcir
rcprcscntation is itsc|f, in its dcpcndcncc upon a po|itica| discoursc
and upon a socio|ogica| and historica| c|aboration, a|ways bound up
with idco|ogica| dcbatc.
Nothing, morcovcr, makcsthcparadoxofdcmocracymorcpa|pab|c
than thc institution of univcrsa| suffragc. It is at thc vcry momcnt
The QuesTioll of Democracy l9
whcn popu|ar sovcrcignty is assumcd to manifcst itsc|f, whcn thc
cop|c is assumcd to actua|izc itsc|fby cxprcssing itswi||, that socia|
intcrdcpcndcncc brcaks down and that thc citizcn is abstractcd from
a|| thc nctworks in which hissocia| |ifc dcvc|ops and bccomcs a mcrc
statistic. Numbcr rcp|accs substancc. It is a|so signihcant that in thc
mnctccnthccnturythis institution wasfora|ongtimcrcsistcd noton|y
by conscrvat:vcs and bourgcois |ibcra|s, but a|so by socia|ists - and
this rcsistancc cannot simp|y bc imputcd to thc dcfcncc of c|ass
intcrcsts. Itwas provokcd by thc idca of a socicty which had now to
acccpt that which cannot bc rcprcscntcd.
In this bricf skctch of dcmocracy, I havc bccn forccd to ignorc a
majoraspcctofthc cmpirica| dcvc|opmcnt ofthoscsocicticswhich arc
organizcd in accordancc with its princip|cs - a dcvc|opmcnt which
justihcd socia|ist-inspircdcriticisms. I amccrtain|y not forgctting that
dcmocraticinstitutions havc constant|y bccn uscd to rcstrict mcans of
acccsstopowcr, know|cdgc andthccnjoymcntofrights to aminority.
Nor am I forgctting- and thiswou|d mcrit a |cngthy ana|ysis - that,
as Tocqucvi||c forcsaw, thc cmcrgcncc of an anonymous powcr
faci|itatcd thc cxpansion of statc powcr (and, morc gcncra||y, thc
powcr of burcaucracics). I havc, on thc othcr hand, choscn to
conccntratc upon a rangc of phcnomcna which arc, it sccms to mc,
usua||y misundcrstood. In my vicw, thc important point is that
dcmocracyisinstitutcdand sustaincdbythcdissolutioll of the .markers
of certainty. It inauguratcs a history in which pcop|c cxpcricncc a
and as to thc basis ofrc|ations bctwcc|self and other, at cvcry |cvc|
ofsocia||ifc(atcvcry|cvc|whcrcdivision, andcspccia||ythc division
bctwccn thosc who hc|d powcrand thosc who wcrcsubjcct to thcm,
cou|d oncc bc articu|atcd as a rcsu|t ofa bc|icfin thcnaturc ofthings
or in a supcrnatura| princip|c). It is this which |cads mc to takc thc
vicwthat,withoutthcactorsbcingawarcofit, aproccssofqucstioning
that arisc. and that thc work ofidco|ogy, which is a|ways dcdicatcd
to thc task of rcstoring ccrtainty, cannot put an cnd to this practicc.
And that in turn |cads mc to at |cast idcntify, ifnot to cxp|ain, thc
conditions for thc formation of tota|itarianism. Thcrc is a|ways a
possibi|ity that thc |ogic ofdcmocracywi|| bc disruptcd in a socicty in
in which that which has bccn cstab|ishcd ncvcr bcars thc sca| of fu||
|cgitimacy, inwhich diffcrcnccs ofrank no |ongcrgo uncha||cngcd, in
which right provcs to dcpcnd upon thc discoursc which articu|atcs it,
and in which thc cxcrcisc of powcr dcpcnds upon conñict. Whcn
individua|s arc incrcasing|y insccurc as a rcsu|t of an cconomic crisis
orofthc ravagcs ofwar, whcn conñict bctwccn c|asscs and groups is
cxaccrbatcd and can no |ongcr bc symbo|ica||y rcso|vcd within thc
po|itica| sphcrc, whcn powcr appcars to havc sunk to thc |cvc| of
rca|ity and to bc no morc than an instrumcnt for thc promotion of
20 011 Modem Democracy
thc intcrcsts and appctitcs ofvu|gar ambition and whcn, in a word, it
appcars il socicty, and whcn at thc samc timc socicty appcars to bc
fragmcntcd. thcn wc scc thcdcvc|opmcntofthc fantasy ofthc Fcop|c-
as-Onc, thcbcginningsofaqucstforasubstantia|idcntity,forasocia|
body which is wc|dcd to its hcad, for an cmbodying powcr, for a
statc frcc from division.
It is somctimcs said that dcmocracy itsc|f a|rcady makcs room
for tota|itarian institutions, modcs of organization and modcs of
rcprcscntation. Whi|st this is ccrtain|y truc. it is a|so sti|| truc to say
that a changc in thc cconomy of powcr is rcquircd ifthc tota|itarian
form of socicty is to arisc.
In conc|usion, I rcturntomy initia| considcratìons. Itsccmsstrangc
to mc that most of our contcmporarics havc no scnsc of how much
its matrix or takc it as a thcmc for thcir rcñcctions, that thcy fai| to
rccognizc itasthcmatrixofthcirinvcstigations. Whcnoncrcca||show
ccrtain grcat phi|osophcrs wcrc drawn to Nazism, at |cast in its car|y
stagcs, and, to a much grcatcr and |asting cxtcnt, to Sta|inism. onc
bcginsto wondcrwhcthcr, inmodcrnphi|osophy, thc abi|itytobrcak
with thc i||usions of both thco|ogy and cightccnth- and ninctccnth-
ccnturyrationa|ismdocsnotcarrywithit, inturn,quasi-rc|igiousfaith,
a nosta|giafor thc imagc of a socicty which is at onc with itsc|fand
But can wc rcstrict discussion to thc idca of a scparation bctwccn
oncc thcy havc comc intocontact? Itappcars to mc that thc qucstion
is worth asking, and that wc might bc ab|c to shcd somc |ight on it
byfo||owingthc cvo|ution ofthcthoughtofMcr|cau-Fonty A simi|ar
ncccssity |cd him to movc from thc idca of thc body to thc idca of
thc ñcsh and dispc||cd thc attractions of thc Communist modc| by
a||owing him to rcdiscovcr thc indctcrminacy of history and of thc
bcing of thc socia|.
Human Rights and The Welfare
As soon as wc bcgin to ask oursc|vcs about human rights, wc ñnd
oursc|vcs drawn into a |abyrinth of qucstions.1 Wc must ñrst ask
to a human naturc. Or, if wc rcjcct thc notion of human naturc,
without surrcndcring to a tc|co|ogica| visionofhistory. Forcan wc in
fact say that human bcings havc cmbarkcd upon a voyagc of sc|f-
discovcry, that thcy crcatc thcmsc|vcs by discovcring and instituting
rightsinthc abscnccofany princip|c that might a||ow us todccidc as
to thcir truc naturc and as to whcthcr thcir cvo|ution docs or docs
not conform to thcir csscncc? Evcn at this car|y stagc, wc cannot
ignorc thcqucstion. Evcnifwc attcmpttoavoiditandsimp|ycxaminc
thc import of an cvcnt such as thc proc|amation at thc cnd of thc
cightccnth ccntury of thc rights known as thc rights of man, othcr
difñcu|tics|icinstorc. Ifwcadoptthc|attcrcoursc,ourinvcstigations
appcar to bc guidcd, if not by obscrvation, at |cast by a rcading and
intcrprctation of thc facts. Wc bcgin by asking oursc|vcs about thc
mcaning of thc mutation that occurrcd in thc rcprcscntation of thc
individua| and of socicty. That qucstion |cads to anothcr. can thc
timc? To bc morc spcciñc. is it thc casc that human rights mcrc|y
scrvcd to disguisc rc|ations cstab|ishcd in bourgcois socicty, or did
thcymakcpossib|c,orcvcngivc risc to,dcmandsandstrugg|cswhich
of thc tcrms of thc a|tcrnativc. Evcn if - and I bc|icvc that thc
organizcrs ofthisdcbatcwou|dacccptthc hypothcsis- wc agrcc that
thc institution of human rights has comc to support a dynamic of
rights, dowcnot havc to invcstigatc thc cffccts ofthat dcvc|opmcnt?
Itis onc thingtosaythatsocia|,cconomicandcu|tura|rights (notab|y
thosc mcntioncd in thc Lnitcd NationsChartcr)arisc as an cxtcnsion
ofthoscorigina| rights. Itisquitcanothcrtosay thatthcy dcrivcfrom
thc samc inspiration, and it is yct anothcr to takc thc vicw that thcy
promotcfrccdom. Thcqucstiontakcsusfurthcrsti||ifwc askwhcthcr
22 all Modem Democracy
thc risc ofncw rights might not signa| a pcrvcrsion of thc princip|c
human rights, or might not cvcn undcrminc thc who|c dcmocratic
cdihcc. Wc cannot |cavc mattcrs thcrc. A|| thcsc qucstions conccrn
on|y thc formation and thc transformations of Wcstcrn socictics. No
onccan bc unawarc ofthcfact that ovcrthcgrcat part ofourp|anct,
thcidcaofhumanrightsiscithcrunknown- bccauscitisincompatib|c
with communa| traditions which in somc cascs datc from timc
immcmoria| - or is furious|y dcnicd. How can anyonc bc unawarcof
that? Itis in myvicwimpossib|c to invcstigatc thc mcaningofhuman
rightsif, atthcsamctimc,wcignorcthcspcctac|cprovidcdbyccrtam
dictatoria| rcgimcs that havc bccn cstabhshcd m somc of thc grcat
countricsofthcmodcrnwor|d,notab|yinLatin Amcrica,and bythosc
tota|itarian rcgimcs that arc dcscribcd as socia|ist.
A Iabyrinth of qucstions, thcn. I am quitc prcparcd to admit that

but|ctus at|castnotconhncoursc|vcsto asing|cqucstion,for,wht|st
it may wc|| bc a distinct qucstion, it isinscparab|c from

|| thc rcst.
In thcir prcparatory documcnt, M. Fran�ois Ost and his asso


invitc us tocxaminc 'thc |imitationsofthc cxp|anatory and mobthzmg
powcr of this catcgory [human rights] in thc
contcxt of currcnt
transformatìons` and 'thc cxtcnt towhich this notion can bc cxtcndcd
without bcing distortcd or cvcn ncgatcd`. Thc qucstion sccms t

to bc fu||ypcrtincnt and timc|y. Itis onc of thc qucstionsto whtch I
havc just a||udcd. But it cannot, of coursc, bc comp|ctc|y divorccd
from a morc gcncra| invcstigation which is at oncc phi|osophica| and
po|itica|. Indccd, thc documcnt wi|| not |ct us forgct that. At onc
point, it raiscs thc possibi|ity that a sc|f-managcmcnt modc| might
invo|vc thcriskoftota|itarian opprcssion. And thc hna| scctionwarns
us that 'Thcmutations affccting thc notion ofhuman nghtsdchmtc|
mcan that thc phi|osophica| qucstion of thcir anthropo|ogica| basis
must bc raiscd oncc morc. ` It cvcn gocs so far as to ask 'To what
cxtcntcan thc ncw historicistbasisrcp|accthcorigina| natura|ist basis
without disso|ving thc vcry catcgory of human rights7` I takc this as
an invitation to p|acc thc principa| thcmc of thc dcbatc wtthm a
broadcr contcxt.
'Thc topica|ityof human rightsin thc wc|farc statc` is

c on
which wc havc bccn invitcd to rcñcct Asscssmg its toptcahty
prcsupposcs, howcvcr, that wc agrccas to thc mcaningthat has bccn
givcn to thc cstab|ishmcnt of human rights in thc past, and as to thc
naturc of thc transformations that havc takcn p|acc m thc statc. And
itisbynomcanssc|f-cvidcnt thatwcarcin agrccmcnt hcrc. `Itsccms
provcn`,wc arc to|d, 'thatourWcstcrn socicticsdcvc|opcdoutofthc
modc| ofthc|ibcra|hat de droit, andthatthcynowcorrcspondtothc
modc| ofthc wc|farc statc. ` Withoutwishingto rcjcct thishypothcsis,
I wondcr to what cxtcnt wc can rc|y on an opposition bctwccn two
modc| statcs, and if wc might not bc rcstricting thc scop

of our
invcstigationsbydccidingtoapprchcnd humanrightsfrom avtcwpomt
Humall Rights alld The Welare State 23
which circumscribcs within thc prcscnt on|y thc cconomic and socia|
functions of thc statc. 'Hcnccforth. its primary task is to cnsurc thc
wc||-bcing of its citizcns, it is assumcd to havc bccomc 'an cnab|ing
statc` which is rcsponsib|c for 'cnsuring frcc acccss to thc various
markcts for matcria| and symbo|ic goods` . If wc acccpt this dcñnition
sayingthathuman rightswou|dno|ongcrcountfor anything,orwou|d
rcprcscnt no morc than thc surviva| of an outdatcd modc|, if thc
authority of thc statc wcrc mcasurcd so|c|y in tcrms of its abi|ity to
ifcitizcns` dcmands wcrc rcducib|c to a dcmand for wc||-bcing. But
wc can qucstion thc va|idity of thc hypothcsis bccausc it |cavcs asidc
thc naturc of thc po|itica| systcm, which is not rcducib|c to thc
managcmcntofthc nccds. or supposcd nccds, ofthc popu|ation. And
wccan a|soqucstionthc va|idity ofthc rcprcscntation associatcd with
thc o|d modc| ofthc statc,which has bccn dcñncd as a |ibcra| hat de
Lct usbcginbydcvc|opingmy |astrcmark.Thc |ibcra|statcbccamc,
in thcory, thc guardian of civi| |ibcrtics, but, in practicc, it cnsurcd
thcprotcctionof dominant ru|ingintcrcstswith aconsistcncy that was
shakcn on|y whcn thc masscs wcrc mobi|izcd and bcgan thcir |ong
norfrccdom ofopinionandcxprcssion, nor thcfrccdomofmovcmcnt
mcntioncd in thc grcat Dcc|arations wcrc judgcd sacrcd by most of
thosc who ca||cd thcmsc|vcs |ibcra|s, so |ong as thcy app|icd to thc
poor,orso|ongasthcydamagcdthcintcrcstsofthcrich orthrcatcncd
thc stabi|ity of a po|itica| ordcr bascd upon thc powcr of c|itcs, of,
that is, thoscwhoposscsscd'honours, richcs and intc||igcncc`,asthcy
said in Francc unti| thc midd|c of thc ninctccnth ccntury.
A|though Marx fai|cd to rccognizc thc mcaning of thc mutation
as I mysc|fhavc tricd to show, hc fc|| into thc trap of thc dominant
idco|ogy by dcscribing thc rights of man as a disguiscd form of
bourgcois cgotism, hc was pcrfcct|y corrcct to dcnouncc thc rc|ations
of frccdom, cqua|ity and justicc. And if. whi|c discussing thc |ibcra|
statc, wc think, hna||y, of thc cra whcn thc right of cvcryonc to
participatc in pub|ic affairs was cffcctivc|y institutcd by univcrsa|
suffragc, and whcn frccdom of opinion combincd with frccdom of
association to givc workcrs thc right to strikc - and it appcars to us
that thcsc phcnomcna havc bccomc inscparab|c from thc dcmocratic
systcm - wc havc to admit that it was on|y thanks to a combination
In othcr words. thc |ibcra| statc cannot bc vicwcd simp|y as a statc
whosc function is to guarantcc thc rights of individua|s and citizcns
andto grantcivi|socictyfu|| autonomy. Itis atonccdistinctfromcivi|
socicty, is shapcd by it, and is a forcc which shapcs it.
24 Ott Modern Democracy
Thc namc of Bcnjamin Constant is oftcn mcntioncd in discussions
about thc birth of po|itica| |ibcra|ism. And it is ofcoursc truc that no
othcr thinkcr so c|car|y dc|incatcd. in thcory, thc prcrogativcs of
ccntra| govcrnmcnt, so Iìrm|y asscrtcd thc sovcrcignty of right as
opposcdtothc sovcrcigntyofoncman,onc grouporcvcn thcpcop|c,
orsocxto||cdthcfrccdom ofthcindividua|. But, ifwc|ookat Francc,
Guizot proc|aims thc sovcrcignty of right j ust as |oud|y. but at thc
samc timc hc attcmpts to forgc a stronggovcrnmcnt which wi|| both
cmanatc from thc bourgcois c|itc and bccomc thc agcncy which
transforms it from bcing a potcntia| aristocracy to bcing a rca|
aristocracy - a|though it wi|| of coursc bc a ncw kind of aristocracy,
as mcn wí|| no |ongcrbc rankcd accordingto birth. butin accordancc
withthcirfunctionsandthcirmcrits. And Idonotthink Iam mistakcn
in taking thc vicw that Guizot`s |ibcra|ism a|rcady imp|ics thc notion
of a statc bascduponthcpowcrofnormsandcontro|s.Thathis statc
isvcrydiffcrcnt from ours nccdscarcc|ybcstrcsscd. Butthctcndcncy
whosc cffccts wc arc asscssingisa|rcadyvisib|c, and it is important to
notc that it takcs shapc on a tru|y po|itica| rcgistcr as a rcsu|t of thc
accc|cration of what Tocqucvi||c wi|| tcrm thc democratic revolution.
It sccms tomc thatwhat Constant fai|s to scc isthatthc incrcasc in
powcrisnotthc rcsu|tofahistorica| accidcnt,ofan actofusurpation
that givcs risc to an arbitrary govcrnmcnt. but that it gocs hand in
hand withthc irrcvcrsib|c movcmcnt which brings intobcinga uniñcd
socicty or, morc accuratc|y, society as such from thc ruinsofthc o|d
hicrarchics- and thatthismovcmcnt itsc|fgocshand inhand with thc
cmcrgcncc ofindividua|swho arc dchncd both as bcing indcpcndcnt
and as bcing shapcd in onc anothcr`s |ikcncss. And what appcars to
havc cscapcd Guizot is that thc conspicuous ramparts hc wantcd to
crcct around thc ru|ing stratum, primari|y by rcstricting thc cxcrcisc
of po|itica| rights, and thc distinction hc madc bctwccn citizcns,
bctwccn thc mcnwhowcrcworthyof that namc and thoscwhocou|d
bc rankcd on a sca|c rangingfrom mcdiocrity to pcnury, formcd an
cdiñcc which wou|d not bc ab|c to withstand thc gradua| ons|aughts
of thc cxc|udcd - assau|ts which wou|d bc |cd by thosc mcmbcrs of
thc bourgcoisic hc cxc|udcs. Thc man who did so much to bring
bourgcois socicty into thc wor|d did not undcrstand that it rcquircd
divisions that wcrc much |css conspicuous and much |css rigid, for,
a|though it was a c|asssocicty, it had thcfcaturcsof dcmocracy.
Guizot and Constant arc |ibcra|s who scc dcmocracy simp|y as a
form of govcrnmcnt. For thcm dcmocracy is what itwasforAristot|c
and what it wasfor Montcsquicu. a rcgimc in which thc sovcrcignty
of thc pcop|c. Ncithcr of thcm has any idca that it imp|ics an
unprcccdcntcd historica| advcnturc whosc causcs and cffccts cannot
bc|oca|izcd within thc sphcrc that isconvcntiona||y dcñncd as thatof
Human Rights lind The Welfare State 25
Lct us not. thcn. succumb to thc i||usions of |ibcra|ism. or to thc
i||usionthat a modc|ofthcstatcis sufncicnt to indicatcthc diffcrcncc
bctwccnthc O|d and thc Ncw that wasintroduccdbythccstab|ishmcnt
ofthcrightsofman.Thc |ibcra|statc maywc||bccomcan abstraction
if wc try to cxtract it from thc conñguration of thc ncw dcmocratic
socictybyiso|atingccrtainofitspcrtincntfcaturcs. Lctusturn.instcad,
toTocqucvi||c, whoscworkstcachus thatthc qucstionswcarc asking
had a|rcady ariscn in thc ñrst ha|f of thc ninctccnth ccntury. If wc
c|ing to thc convcntiona| imagc of thc |ibcra| statc. wc wi|| fai| to
undcrstand that hc was a|rcady cxprcssing thc fcars that wc arc
formu|ating, that hc forcsaw thc possibi|itythat thc rcgimcoffrccdom
might turn into dcspotism or. rathcr- and sincc hcu|timatc|y rcjccts
thattcrm- intoasystcm ofopprcssion ofa ncw kindwhich hc cannot
Hc writcs.
I think, thcn, that thcspccicsofopprcssion by whichdcmocratic
nations arc mcnaccd is un|ikc anything that cvcr bcforc cxistcd
in thc wor|d, our contcmporarics wi|| ñnd no prototypc ofit in
convcy thc who|c ofthc idca I havcformcd of it. thc o|d words
despotism and tyranny arc inappropriatc. thc thing itsc|f is ncw.
and sincc I cannot namc, I must attcmpt to dcñnc it
Tocqucvi||c`s work ccrtain|y a|crts us to thcsc qucstions, as it mcans
thatwc musttry toundcrstand how. knowingnothingofthccconomic
and socia| uphcava|s wc associatc with thc formation of thc wc|farc
statc, hc was ab|c to conccivc of individua|s bcing subjugatcd by an
a||-powcrfu| statc and of frccdoms bcing |ost bchind a facadc of

Iam thinkingin particu|arofthcpicturc hc paintsinthcñna|scction
of Democracy in America, whcrc hc invitcs us to imaginc 'thc novc|
fcaturcs undcr which dcspotism may appcar in thc wor|d`. Having
mcntioncd thc iso|ation of citizcns ('Each of thcm. |iving apart. is as
a strangcr to thc fatc of a|| thc rcst' ). hc gocson.
Abovc thisracc ofmcnstands an immcnsc andtutc|ary powcr.
whichtakcsuponitsc|fa|onc to sccurc thcirgratiñcations and to
watch ovcr thcir fatc. That powcr is abso|utc, minutc. rcgu|ar.
providcntand mi|d. Itwou|dbc |ikcthcauthorityofaparcntif,
|ikc that authority, its objcct wcrc to prcparc mcn formanhood,
it is wc|| contcnt that thc pcop|c shou|d rcjoicc, providcd thcy
think of nothing but rcjoicing. For thcir happincss such a
govcrnmcnt wi||ing|y |abours. but itchooscsto bc thcso|c agcnt
and thc on|y arbitcr of that happincss: it providcs for thcir
sccurity, forcsccs and supp|ics thcir ncccssitics, managcs thcir
26 On Modem Democracy
princiµa| conccrns,dirccts thcir industry, rcgu|atcsthcdcsccnt of
µropcrty, and subdividcsthcirinhcritanccs. what rcmains, but to
sparc thcm a|| thc carc ofthinking and a|| thc troub|c of|iving7`
Hc thcndcscribcsthispowcras covcringthc cntirc surfacc of socicty
with a nctworkofsma||,comp|icatcd ru|cs, andspcciñca||ystatcsthat.
'It docs not tyrannizc, butitcomprcsscs, cncrvatcs, cxtinguishcs and
stupiñcs.` Fina||y, Tocqucvi||c sums up his vicws. ' I havc a|ways
thought that scrvitudc of thc rcgu|ar, quict and gcnt|c kind which I
havc just dcscribcd might bc combincd morc casi|y than is common|y
bc|icvcdwithsomc ofthcoutwardformsoffrccdom,andthatit might
cvcncstab|ish itsc|fundcrthcwingofthc sovcrcignty ofthc pcop|c.`'
Thcsc |incsarc wc|| known, but I citc thcm in myturnbccausc thcy
arc singu|ar|y pcrtincntto ourµrcscnt invcstigationsintothctopica|ity
of human rights in thc wc|farc statc. Do thcy not tcach us that thc
|ibcra| stagc contains within it thc sccds of what wc arc ca||ing thc
wc|farc statc and ofwhat Tocqucvi||c ca||s tutc|ary powcr? And docs
not hisabi|itytosccintothcfuturcstcmfromhiscxcmp|aryscnsitivity
tothc cnigma ofdcmocracy7 And arcwc notsti||faccdwiththc samc
As wc a|| know, Tocqucvi||c dcvotcd himsc|f to cxp|oring thc
ambiguitics of dcmocracy and, morc spccihca||y, thc ambiguitics of
what hc rcgardcd as thc mainspring of thc dcmocratic rcvo|ution.
cqua|ity of condition. I wou|d mcrc|y add that this phcnomcnon (or
t�cinscriptionon thcrcvcrsc sidc. thcdcstructionofthcranks,ordcrs
andprincip|cswhichhadprcvious|ybccnuscdtoc|assifyhuman bcings)
sccms to him to havc a doub|c cffcct. On thc onc hand, thcrc is thc
fu|| afñrmation of thc individua|, which is bound upwith 'thc wish to
rcmain frcc`, and, on thc othcr, thc subjugation of thc individua| to
an anonymousor sovcrcign µowcr, which hc tcrms `socia| powcr` and
which hc associatcs with thc 'nccd to bc |cd`.
Contrary to thc vicws advanccd by ccrtain critics, Tocqucvi||c
ccrtain|y docs not rcgard thc indcµcndcncc of thc individua| as a
dc|usion. Hc ncvcr dcridcs it. On thc contrary, inaµassagcin L 'Etat
social et polilique de la France, hc uncquivoca||y statcs his bc|icf in
thc dcmocratic conccption of frccdom. 'According to thc modcrn
dcmocratic and, I wou|d vcnturc to say, corrcct notion of frccdom,
cvcry man, bcing prcsumcd to havc rcccivcd from naturc sufncicnt
intc||igcncc to conduct his own affairs, is born with an cqua| and
imprcscriptib|c right to|ivcindcpcndcnt|yofhisfc||ows in a|| mattcrs
that rcgard him a|onc and to govcrn his dcstiny as hc sccs ñt.` Our
author docs, howcvcr, notc that thc samc proccss |cads both to
indcpcndcncc and to a ncw subjugation of thc individua| - and his
subjugation is, and wc must not bc afraid of saying so, now morc
fcarfu| than cvcr. It sccmstoTocqucvi||c that whcn man isfrccdfrom
thc o|d nctworks ofpcrsona|dcµcndcncy (which mcantthat hca|ways
rccognizcd authority in thc shapc of somconc µ|accd abovc him, or
Human Rights and The Welfare State 27
that hc cmbodicd authority for somconc p|accd bcncath him) hc is
thrcatcncd with insignincancc in a uniform socicty which condcnscs
what wcrc o
cc mu|tip|c and disparatc forccs Thissocicty is invcstcd
with � for
idab|c authority - an authority which is simu|tancous|y
actua|izcd in µub|icopinion by thcfantasticasscrtion ofunanimity, in
|aw by thc fantasticasscrtionofuniformity, and in statc powcr by thc
fantastic asscrtion ofrcg|cmcntation. Thcrc is no nccd to go into thc
dctai|s ofTocqucvi||c`s intcrprctation, and it is not my intcntion to do
so. Sufñcc it to say that hc is acutc|y awarc of thc socia| naturc of
man, as an individua|, man may wc||wishto bc thcmastcrofhisown
thoughts, to shapc his own |ifc and cvcn to dctcrminc what is mcant
upon rcccivcd idcasandprincip|csofbchaviourwhich arc bcyondthc
of hiswi|| and know|cdgc. As a rcsu|t, thc passion withwhich
withsocia|authority- thcpassionforcqua|ity|cadinghimtocha||cngc
thc hgurc of thc mastcr - cannot makc him bis own mastcr.

radoxica||y, thc passions hc dirccts against thc visib|c mastcr forcc
him to submit to a facc|css domination. As Tocqucvi||c oncc put it.
'Evcryman a||owshimsc|ftobcputin |cading-strings,bccausc hcsccs
that it is not a pcrson or a c|ass of µcrsons, but thc pcop|c at |argc
who ho|d thc cnd ofhis chain. `
This scntcncc has |ong sccmcd to mc t o bc onc of thc c|carcst
cxprcssions of Tocqucvi||c`s thought, it is a scntcncc which shcds thc
grcatcst pos

ib|c |ight on thc µaradoxcs of dcmocracy. Lct us notc in
µassingthatitisnowmorc pcrtincnt thancvcr.For,whcnthisscntcncc
was writtcn, and for a |ong timc aftcrwards - basica||y, unti| vcry
rcccnt|y - c|ass divisions wcrc sufñcicnt|y acutc to makc thc fcaturcs
of c|ass domination at |cast part|y visib|c. As c|ass divisions bccomc
b|urrcd, howcvcr, domination tcnds incrcasing|y to dctach itsc|ffrom
any visib|c rcprcscntativc. It is cvcn morc imµortant to notc thc
distinctionTocqucvi||cmakcsbctwccn pcrsona|powcrandimpcrsona|

and his rcprcscntation of thc |attcr as an omniprcscnt µowcr
which is dcstincd by its vcry invisibi|ity constant|y to incrcasc its ho|d

mcn. Iwou|dadd,howcvcr,thatdcmocraticpowcrisnotrcducib|c
to impcrsona| powcr or, to bc morc accuratc, that it masks two
µhcnomcna which, whi|st thcy arc inscparab|c, arc a|so quitc distinct.
Wc must not, thcrcforc, |osc sight of thc fact that thc dcstruction of
pcrsona| monarchica|powcrhasthccffcct ofcrcatingavacuum at thc
vcry spot whcrc thc substancc of thc community was apµarcnt|y
rcprcscntcd by thc king, by his body. In vicw of this phcnomcnon,
thc oµcration of ncgativity andthc institution ofpo|itica|frccdom arc
onc and thc samc. And thc fact is that po|itica| frccdom survivcs so
|ong as it is rccognizcd that thc guardians of pub|ic authority arc
forbiddcn to apµropriatc powcr, so |ongasit is dccmcd impossib|c to
occupy thc |ocus of powcr. Fowcr bccomcs and rcmains dcmocratic
whcn it provcs to bc|ong to no onc. It is, I bc|icvc, this which |cd
28 011 Modern Democracy
Tocqucvi||c to rcjcct thc o|d words `dcspotism` and `tyranny` in his
dcscription of thc ncw kind ofopprcssion which mcnaccd dcmocratic
socictics. Anditisthiswhich|cadsmctocriticizconcofthcjudgcmcnts
wc havc mcntioncd, itis inappropriatc to spcakofaformofscrvitudc
bcing combincd with thc outward forms of frccdom So |ong as
institutions arc so rcgu|atcd to makc it impossib|c for thc ru|cr or
ru|crs to appropriatc powcr, wc cannot say that thcy arc a mattcrof
purc form. What I havc tcrmcd thc opcrationofncgativity is no |css
constitutivcofthc dcmocratic spacc than thc crcction of thc statc into
atutc|ary powcr. Thcsystcm thrivcs on this contradiction and,so |ong
as thc systcm is pcrpctuatcd, ncithcrofitstcrmscan |osc itscfhcacy.
It is in fact quitc c|car that Tocqucvi||c himsc|f saw that it was
impossib|c to rcso|vc orabo|ish this contradiction, dcspitc thc impu|sc
that |cdhim to imaginc asortofdcmocraticdcspotism ofaprcvious|y
unknown kind. Commcntators whodwc|| on that imagctcndto forgct
its conc|usion.
A constitution rcpub|ican inits hcad andu|tra-monarchica| in a||
its othcr parts has a|ways appcarcd to mc to bc a short|ivcd
monstcr. Thc viccs of ru|crs and thc incptitudc of thc pcop|c
wou|d spccdi|y bringabout its ruin, and thc nation, wcary of its
rcprcscntativcs and of itsc|f, wou|d crcatc frccr institutions or
soon rcturn to strctch itsc|fat thc fcct of a sing|c monstcrº
This idca is obvious|y of grcat importancc to Tocqucvi||c, as hc
thc hna| scction of L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution. Having fu||y
rc-cstab|ishcdthcdistanccthatscparatcsdcmocracyfrom anabso|utist
govcrnmcntwhich ru|cs'by |aw, and inthc midstofinstitutionswhich
favour thc condition of thc pcop|c`, hc statcs. 'Its mcaning [that of
dcmocracy] is intimatc|y bound up with thc idca of po|itica| frccdom.
To app|y thc cpithct ¨dcmocratic govcrnmcnt¨ to a govcrnmcnt in
which thcrc isnopo|itica| frccdom is a pa|pab|c absurdity`. Thc point
nccd scarcc|y bc strcsscd. thc frccdom hc is ta|king about is not
rcducib|c to thc outward forms offrccdom.
Why do I attach such importancc to this |ast point7 My audicncc
wi||, I suspcct, havc a|rcady rca|izcd why. In our day wc oftcn hcard
itsaid thatthcon|y diffcrcncc bctwccn dcmocracy andthc tota|itarian
systcmisthcdcgrccofopprcssion. Ccrtain critics cvcn go so farasto
ta|k about 'tota|itarian dcmocracy`. To citc Tocqucvi||c again, this is
a palpable absurdity. Wc do of coursc havc good rc�son to bc|icvc
that thc cvo|ution of dcmocracy hasmadc possib|c thc appcarancc of
a ncwsystcmofdomination- bc itfascism, Nazismorwhat is known
as socia|ism - whosc fcaturcs wcrc prcvious|y inconccivab|c. But wc
must at |cast rccognizc that thc formation of that systcm imp|ics thc
ruinofdcmocracy. Itdocsnot rcprcscntthccu|mination ofthchistoric
advcnturc inauguratcd by dcmocracy, it invcrts its mcaning. Thc
Human Rights alld The Welfare State 29
ambiguitics ofdcmocracycannot bc rcso|vcd by furthcring onc ofthc
tcndcncicsthat cocxist within it, namc|ythc tcndcncytorcinforcc thc
for thc bcncñt of thc party apparatus, and thc aim of thc party is
ccrtain|ynot to cnsurc thcwc||-bcingofcitizcns. Wc must ncvcr tirc
of considcring this fact. tota|itarianism docs not simp|y mark thc
dcstruction of po|itica| frccdom, it dcstroys thc basis of thc tutc|ary
bc itfascist,NaziorSta|inist,andnomattcrwhcthcritwascstab|ishcd
in thc wakc of Sovict socia|ism or undcr thc inñucncc of that modc|
in Europc, China, Korca, Victnam or Cuba, itis not thc princip|c of
wc||-bcing that govcrnsthc dcvc|opmcnt of thc statc.
'Isn`t thc wc|farc statc |ikc !anus?` somconc wi|| ask. `Docsn`t it
havc a hiddcn facc. that of thc po|icc statc7` This is a |cgitimatc
qucstion. Thcrc isgood rcasontosuspcct noton|y thatthc rcprcssion
dircctcd against stratacrodcd bythccconomiccrisis mayincrcasc, but
that it is in thc vcry naturc of thc wc|farc statc to 'ncutra|izc thc
cxprcssion of socia| conßicts`. But |ct us not forgct that it docs havc
twofaccs, and that asonc bccomcsharshcr, thc othcrbccomcs morc
bcnign. And nor shou|dwcforgctto |ookatthcobstac|cswhich b|ock
which prcvcntsthc agcncicsofpowcr, |awandknow|cdgcfrom fusing
into a sing|c |cading organ. If wc fai| to rcmcmbcr that, wc wi|| fai|
to rccognizc thc spcciñcdimcnsion of thc po|itica| in oursocictics. If
wc conccntratc our attcntion upon thc incrcasing prcrogativcs of thc
administration and, morc gcncra||y, on thc strcngthcning of pub|ic
authoritics,wc wi|| no |ongcrbc ab|c to disccrn thc spccihcnaturc of
a powcr whosc cxcrcisc a|ways dcpcnds upon compctition bctwccn
partics- with a|| that compctition imp|ics- and upon a dcbatc which
issustaincdbypub|ic|ibcrticsandwhich prcscrvcs thcm. Itisprimari|y
bccausc thcrc is no mastcr that thc wc|farc statc docs not bccomc a
po|icc-statc. Ifamastcrdid appcar, thcstatcwou|d|oscthcdisturbing
ambiguity which charactcrizcs it in a dcmocracy. And thc fact that
thcrc is no mastcr mcans that thcrc is a gap, which is dccmcd to bc
intangib|c, bctwccn administrativc powcr and po|itica| authority. Thc
cfñcacious. L|timatc|y, that impcrativc is incompatib|c with thc fu||
imp|cmcntationofthcnormfortworcasons. First, itboth ncccssitatcs
and|cgitimatcsthc cxprcssionofamu|tip|icityofpositions on thc part
of both individua| and co||cctivc socia| agcnts. Sccond|y, itp:ovcs to
bc indissociab|c from frccdom of opinion, of association and of
movcmcnt, and from thc frccdom to cxprcss conßict throughout
socicty. Wc may ccrtain|y wondcr as to thc currcnt abi|ity of po|itica|
partics to cnsurc that rcprcscntation is corrcct|y cxcrciscd. Wc may
cvcn |ookfor signs ofncwapparatuscs capab|c of rcgcncrating thcir
abi|ity to do so. But wc cannot cscapc thc nccd to comparc thc
J0 On Modem Democracy
ofthcstatcbcingtransformcdun|csswc takc thc po|itica|intoaccount.
Lct it not bc thought that I havc straycd away from thc objcct of
our discussion. Thcsc |ast obscrvations arc dcsigncd to rcca|| our
attcntion to what. in ancssaypub|ishcda fcw ycarsago. I tcrmcdthc
objcctions to which I am not inscnsitivc, notab|yfrom Ficrrc Mancnt,
whocriticizcdmcontwocounts. First,hcbc|icvcs. I fai|cdto mcasurc
thccxtcnt ofthcgu|fopcncd upbctwccnstatc and civi|socictybythc
modcrn conccption of right - an argumcnt which |cads him to
rchabi|itatc thc ana|ysis madc by Marx in On The iewish Question.
Sccond|y. hc bc|icvcs that I fai|cd to rccognizc thcconstant bcnchts
that accruc to thc statc from thc cxtcnsion of socia| and cconomic
rightswhich rcinforcc its statutorypowcrs- an argumcntwhich |cads
him, un|ikc Marx, to dctcct thc cffcct of thc changc that has takcn
Fcrhaps I was wrong not to givc sufhcicnt wcight to thc |attcr
intcrprctation which rcduccs human rights to individua| rights, and
which simu|tancous|y rcduccs dcmocracy to a rc|ationship bctwccn
on|y two tcrms. thc statc and thc individua|. But I rcmain convinccd
that it is on|y by rccognizing in thc institution of human rights signs
of thc cmcrgcncc of a ncw typc of |cgitimacy and ofa pub|ic spacc,
on|y by rccognizing that individua|s arc both thc products and thc
instigators of that spacc, and on|y by rccognizing that it cannot bc
swa||owcd up by thc statc without a vio|cnt mutation giving birth to
a ncw form of socicty, that wc can possib|y hopc to cva|uatc thc
dcvc|opmcnt ofdcmocracy and thc |ikc|y fatc offrccdom.
A||ow mc, thcn, to rcturn bricñy to thc intcrprctation of thc l79I
Dcc|aration, asitsccmstomctoinva|idatc thc conccption I havcjust
Having proc|aimcd thc cnd of socia| distinctions (art. | ). thc
right (art. 2) ; itthcnstatcsthat thc princip|c ofa|| sovcrcignty rcsidcs
thatdocsnotcmanatcfromit(art. J). Itthcnmakcs|awthccxprcssion
of thc gcncra| wi|| and furthcr statcs that `A|| citizcns havc thc right
to contributc to its formation, cithcr pcrsona||y or through thcir
rcprcscntativcs`. ThcDcc|aration is ofcoursc govcrncd bythc idcaof
natura| rights, of rights which rcsidc within cvcry individua|. As wc
know, itrcfcrstopo|itica|socictyasa `po|itica| association` anddchncs
itsgoa| as thc prcscrvationofthoscrights. Buthowcanwcfai| toscc
that, bchind thc mask of its |anguagc, it makcs usc of notions which
arc mcaningfu| on|y if thcy arc contrastcd with thosc that govcrncd
thc princip|c of thc o|d po|itica| ordcr, thc ordcr of thc monarchy.
Sovcrcignty. thc nation. authority, thc gcncra| wi|| and thc |aw«hich
is assumcd to bc its cxprcssion arc a|| dcscribcd in such a way as to
Human Rights and The Welare State JI
but thc nation can no |ongcr bc cmbodicd by anyonc, simi|ar|y,
authority can on|y bc cxcrciscd in accordancc with ru|cs w

known in |aw, and thc c|aboratton of |aw tmp|ics thc parttctpatton of
This body of propositions docs not. |ct us notc, dcpcnd for tts
cohcrcncc on a rcfcrcncc to human naturc. or on thc tdca that cvcry
individua| is born with ina|icnab|c rights. Its cohcrcncc is cnsurcd by
thc princip|c of po|itica| frccdom. What wc rcf

r to in positivc t


as`po|itica| frccdom`canofcourscbc ca||cd'rcststancctoopprcsston .
And it is truc that thc |attcr conccpt ts mc|udcd, a|ong wtth frccdom,
propcrty and sccurity, within thc catcgory of univ

rsa| natura� and
imprcscriptib|c rights, and that a|| po|itica| assoctattons
arc dcstgncd
to protcct thosc rights. But, oncc again, wc must bcar m mmd what
mightbccomcofthcprincip|cofrcsistanccinthc rca|.ThcC

Asscmb|y bc|icvcd,ofcoursc,thatthisprincip|chadtts
roots mhuman
naturc. But it formu|atcd it inopposition to a rcgtmc m whtch powcr
dcnicsitssubjcctsthc abi|itytoopposcanythingthcydccmi||cgitimatc,
and c|aims to havc thc right to forcc thcm to obcy. In short, thc
formu|ation ofthc rights ofman at thc cnd of thc cightccnth ccntury
of powcr as standing abovc socicty and as posscssmg
an abso|utc
|cgitimacy, cithcrbccauscitdcnvcsfrom Godorbccausc ttrcprcscnts
a suprcmc wisdom or justicc which can bc cmbodtcd by thc monarch
of right and powcr. Right andpowcrarc no |ongcrcondcnscdaround
thcsamcpo|c. Ifitistobc|cgitimatc,

crmusthcnccforth conform
to right but it docs not contro| thc pnnctp|c ofnght.
Wc �rc to|d that frccdom, propcrty and sccurity arc rights of
individua|s, that thc statc acquircs thc function of prcscrving thcm,
and that this function a|rcady indicatcs its potcntia| strcngth - whtch
wi|| soon bc grcat|y incrcascd by thc risc of ncw rights ~ bccausc its
apparcnt ncutra|ity, its position as a guarantor or arbttcr, mcan that
itcan dcvc|opwithout, apparcnt|y. doinganythmgmorcthan rcspond
to its citizcns` cxpcctations. As I havc a|rcady notcd, thts argumcnt
ignorcs onc othcr phcnomcnon. an asscrtion of right which has thc
cffcct of cha||cnging thc omnipotcncc of powcr.
. . .
Whi|st thc Dcc|aration stipu|atcs thc right to rcstst opprcsston,tt ts
inconccivab|c that it shou|d givc thc statc rcsponstbt|ity for cnsunng
that that right is rcspcctcd. It is ccrtain|y thc t

sk of thc statc to
guarantcc thc propcrty, sccurity and frccdom of tts ctttzcns. but thc
thrcat of opprcssion poscs a diffcrcnt prob|cm
A|though thc thrcat
maycmanatcfromoncindividua|andmaybc dtrcct

individua|, itcu|minatcs, ofcoursc,inthchypothcstsof an assau|ton
thc sovcrcignty ofthc nation. And thcrcforc no appca| is

adc to thc
statc to guarantcc thc right to rcsist, that is thc rcs

onsibt|ity of thc
citizcnsthcmsc|vcs.Lctusnotcin passing thatwhcnjunsts arguc that
32 On Moder Democracy
rightcxistson|y ifits ho|dcr can bcdchncdand on|y ifitisdcmurrab|c,
thcy arc bcing vcry forma|istic. In thc prcscnt instancc, thc ho|dcr`s
idcntityisunccrtain,andthctribuna| bcforcwhichhisrightisasscrtcd
is not visib|c.
If wc now cxamincd thosc rights which appcar to rcfcr so|c|y to
individua|s, wcwou|d ñnd that thcy too havc a po|itica| import.
It is,howcvcr, truc, thatwc wi|| not disccrn thatimport ifwcstick
to thc |cttcr of thc grcat Dcc|arations, wc must a|so invcstigatc thc
cffccts of thc cxcrcisc ofthcsc ncw rights insocia| |ifc. Critics of thc
rights of man a|ways conccntratc upon thc form in which thcy arc
statcd. Thisiscspccia||ytrucofthcirmostviru|cntcritic,namc|yMarx,
who pursucs cvcry sign of individua|ism and natura|ism in ordcr to
assignto itanidco|ogica| function. Marxsccsinthcfrccdom ofaction
andthcfrccdom ofopiniongrantcdtocvcryonc.andinthcguarantccs
ofindividua| sccurity, nomorcthan thc cstab|ishmcntofa ncw modc|
whichcnshrincs`thc scparation of manfrom man` or. at a morcbasic
|cvc| sti||, `bourgcoiscgotism` .
Marx docs of coursc disp|ay hcrc a charactcristic fcaturc of thc
thinkingof histimc, but whcn hcdismisscsthc uphcava| insocia| and
po|itica| rc|ations imp|icit in thc bourgcois rcprcscntation of thcsc
rights, hc sti|| occupics thc idco|ogica| tcrrain hc c|aims to bc
undcrmining. Thc author of On the Jewish Question is trappcd bythis
rcprcscntation, and hc is convinccd that it rcvca|sthc cffcctivc rca|ity
ofcivi|socicty- a socicty shattcrcdinto adivcrsityofprivatcintcrcsts
and individua|s - a rca|ity whosc formation coincidcswith that ofits
countcrpart. a statc dcstincd to cmbody a hctitious sovcrcignty. If
Marx is to bc bc|ivcd, wc havc on|y to tcar away thc vci| to rcvca|
thc `trivia| facc` ofthat socicty. But thc rightsof man arc not a vci|.
Far from havingthcfunction ofmasking adisso|ution ofsocia| bonds
which makcs cvcryonc a monad, thcy both tcstify to thc cxistcncc of
a ncw nctwork.ofhuman rc|ations andbring it into cxistcncc.
Without going into thc dctai|s of thc argumcnt in thc cssay I
mcntioncd car|icr, I wi|| put forward thrcc points to support this
I Thc dcc|aration that frccdom consists in bcing ab|c to do
cvcrything which docs not harm othcrs docs not imp|y that thc
formu|a 'which docs not harm` , upon which Marx conccntratcs, is
indissociab|c from thc positivc 'bcing ab|c to do cvcrything`. This
artic|c givcs fu|| rccognition to thc right offrccdom of movcmcnt, it
cnshrincs thc |ifting of thc prohibitions which rcstrictcd that right
undcrthc Ancicn Rcgimc,anditthcrcforcfaci|itatcsthcmu|tip|ication
of human rc|ations. Evcryonc now has thc right to sctt|c whcrc thcy
wish, to travc| as thcywish across thctcrritoryofthc nation. tocntcr
p|accswhichwcrc prcvious|y thc prcscrvc ofprivi|cgcd catcgorics. to
cmbark upon any carccrforwhich thcy bc|icvc thcy arc qua|iIìcd.
Human Rights and The Welfare State 33
2 Frccdom of opinion docs not transform opinion into privatc
propcrty, and it is not modc||cd on thc owncrship of matcria| goods,
itisarc|ationa|frccdom. Accordingtothctcxtofthc 1791 Dcc|aration,
'Thc frcc communication ofthoughtsandopinions isonc ofthc most
prccious rights of man, cvcry citizcn may thcrcforc spcak. writc and
frcc|y print, un|css what hc docs constitutcs an abusc of that |ibcrty
in thc particu|ar cascs |aid down by |aw.` As cvcryonc acquircs thc
right to addrcss othcrs and to |istcn to thcm, a symbo|ic spacc is
cstab|ishcd, it has nodchnitc fronticrs, andno authority can c|aim to
contro| it or to dccidc what can and what cannot bc thought. what
can and cannot bc said. Spccch as such and thought as such provc to
cxist indcpcndcnt|y of any givcn individua|, and bc|ong to no onc.
3 Thc guarantccs of sccurity - in which Marx sccson|y thc most
sordid cxprcssion of civi| socicty, a `conccpt of police" dcsigncd to
protcct thc bourgcois- tcach us thatjusticc has bccn scparatcd from
powcr,thatit hasitsownprincip|candthat,byprotcctingthcindividua|
thc cxistcncc of thc nation. From Constant to Fcguy, it wi|| thcrcforc
bc asscrtcd again and again that aninjusticc doncto anindividua| not
on|y harms thc individua|, but dcgradcs thc nation itsc|f, not bccausc
cvcryonc fcars that thcy wi|| fa|| victim to arbitrarincss if thcir
ncighbour`s rights arc vio|atcd, but bccausc thc vcry fabric of socia|
rc|ations in a po|itica| community dcpcnds upon thc citizcn`s trust in
a justicc which is indcpcndcnt of a|| mastcrs.
Ficrrc Mancnt criticizcs mc for fai|ing to rccognizc thc paradox
which Marx sccs so c|car|y. `At thc vcry momcnt whcn thc mcn of
thc Rcvo|ution gavc thc po|itica| instancc a|| powcrs and rights, and
gavc thcmsc|vcsthoscpowcrs andrights as ru|crs,` hc obscrvcs, 'thcy
justihcdpo|iticsassuchasa mcanstobc uscdbycgotisticmcnincivi|
socicty. ' And, having citcd On the Jewish Question, hc statcs that
Marxsccsquitc c|car|y that `Whcncircumstanccs makcitawarcofits
of its own and no opinions of its own, cannot but takc thc form of
purc ncgation, and cannot but turn against thc conditions of its
possibi|ity, namc|y thc bourgcois socicty ofwhich it is sti||, initsown
vicw, no morc than an instrumcnt.`Butis thc contradictionfacingthc
mcnofthc Rcvo|ution thc contradiction ofthcrights ofman?
Marxcxcc|s, aswcknow, atdia|cctica|argumcntswhichturnoppositcs
into comp|cmcntarics. Thc i||usion of po|itics is, hc notcs inthc car|y
On the Jewish Question, twinncdwiththci||usionofthcrightsofman.
not sharcd by Mancnt, that communism wi|| mark thc abo|ition of
c|ass divisions, and that thc distinctiçn bctwccn thc cconomic, thc
juridica| and thcpo|itica|wi|| thcrcforc bc abo|ishcdwithin thcçurity
of thc socia|. If that thcsis provcs to bc inaccuratc. and it sccms to
mc that history in fact dcmonstratcs that thc thcsis cu|minatcs in thc
34 011 Modern Democracy
rcvca| tcrror to bc thc hiddcn facc of thc rights of man. But docs
tcrror stcm from a rca|ization of thc vanity of a socicty which, as a


uµ7 Or is this Marxist imagc of civi| socicty no morc than a ñction7
And, fa
from co

p|cmcntingcivi| socicty, docs not tcrror signa| thc
and Quinct wi|| show, a surrcptitious rcturn to thc tradition of
abso|utism, thc cmcrgcncc of a socicty whosc faith in thc monarch
and in rc|igion hasco||apscd, and of an insancpowcrwhich c|aims to
bcthccarth|ycmbodimcntof|awandknow|cdgc7 Itsccmstomcthat
it is a|| thc morc difñcu|t to acccpt thc argumcnt put forward by

ho fo||ows Marx hcrc. in that it prcvcnts us from
undcrstandmg why dcmocracy succccdcd in frccing itsc|f from tcrror
and in basing itsc|f upon thc rightsofman.
I quitc rca|izc that thc principa| thcsis is thatdcmocracy cou|d not
havc triumµhcd
instituting a scparation bctwccn civi| socicty
- a |ocus for opmions with no powcr - and thc sccu|ar |ibcra| statc -
a |ocus for powcr with no opinions. It is c|aimcd that. as a rcsu|t of
this systcm, thc statc grows strongcr bchind its mask of ncutra|ity,

ivn socicty grows wcakcr, but rcmains a thcatrc for thc noisy



ssion ofoµinions which. bccausc thcy arc mcrc|ythc opinionsof
mdividua|s,ncutrahzconcanothcr.And yctthisthcsissccmsuni|atcra|,
to say thc |cast, in that it |cads us to ignorc thc grcat cvcnt which
dctcrmincd both thc formation of a ncutra| powcr and that of frcc
opinions,I rcfcrto thc disappcaranccofanauthoritywhich subjugatcd
cach and cvcry mdividua|, to thc disappcarancc of thc natura| or

tura| basis which, it was c|aimcd, gavc that authority an
unassai|ab|c|cgitimacyandan undcrstandingbothofthcu|timatccnds

ocicty and of thc bchaviour of thc pcop|c it assigncd to spcciñc
stations and functions.
Thcµo|itica|origina|ityofdcmocracy- anditappcarsto mctohavc
gonc unrccognizcd -
is signa||cd by a doub|c µhcnomcnon. a powcr
which is hcnccforth mvo|vcd in a constant scarch for a basis bccausc
|aw and know|cdgc arc no |ongcr cmbodicd in thc µcrson or pcrsons
who cxcrcisc it, and a socicty which acccpts conñicting opinions and
dcbatcs ovcr rights bc

ausc thc markcrs which oncc a||owcd pcop|c
to situatc thcmsc|vcs m rc|ation to onc anothcr in a dctcrminatc
manncr havc disappcarcd. Thisdoub|c µhcnomcnon is itsc|fasign of
divorccd from compctition bctwccn partics, if not by ñnding a basis
in opinion. Now comµctition stcms from, sustains or cvcn stimu|atcs
thc cxcrcisc of civi| |ibcrtics. Thc statc docs, it is truc, appcar to bc
ncutra|, to havc no opinions or to bc abovc opinion, but thc fact

mamsthat thc transformations ithasundcrgonc inthc |ast 150 ycars
(mc|udmgthc transformationwhich, byscµaratingitfrom thc Church,
constitutcd it as a sccu|ar statc), occurrcd as a rcsu|t of changcs in
Humall Rights alld The Welfare State 35
pub|ic opinion, or in rcsponsc to thcm.
Thccar|y|ibcra|sandthcSaint -Simonianswcrcwrong tosccpub|ic
opinion as a comp|ctc|y ncw forcc - 'thc sovcrcign of thc wor|d` , as
thcy |ikcd to ca|| it - whichwou|dgradua||ydisarm thc o|d prcjudiccs
and arbitrary powcr. Tocqucvi||c camc c|oscr to thc truth in that hc
rca|izcd that thcproccssofthc condcnsation ofopinion might subjcct
pcop|c to ncw norms of thought and conduct, and might cncouragc
thcm to takc a passivc attitudc towards thc statc. And yct, I rcpcat,
thc dcmocratic proccss has morc than onc mcaning. Wc shou|d bc
ab|c to idcntify a ncw `tyranny of opinion`, to usc Tocqucvi||c`s
cxprcssion, a ncw frccdom tocxprcssopinions which arc, as Mancnt
puts it, dcstincd to ncutra|izc onc anothcr, and a ncwfrccdomwhich
has thc cffcct of undcrmining prcjudicc and of modifying thc gcncra|
fcc|ing as to what is or is not socia||y acccptab|c and |cgitimatc and
as to what can or cannot bc dcmandcd.
I am not confusing rights and opinions. On thc contrary, and as I
am about to cxp|ain, thc confusion of thc two appcars to mc to mc
to stcm from a pcrvcrsion of thc notionofright. Myprimaryconccrn
isto promotc rccognition ofapub|icspacc,whichisa|waysingcstation
and whosc cxistcncc b|urs thc convcntiona| boundarics bctwccn thc
po|itica| and thc non-po|itica|. From this point of vicw, thc distinction
bctwccncivi|socictyandstatc,towhich Imysc|fhavcrcfcrrcd,cannot
fu||y account for what comcs into bcing with thc formation of
dcmocracy. Lct us say that it is pcrtincnt on|y if wc rcfusc to scc it
as a purc division. Marx, it wi|| bc rcca||cd, did dcñnc itin that way.
Hccontrastcd thc modc| offcuda| socicty, inwhichpo|itica|rc|ations
appcarcd to him to bc intcrwovcn in socio-cconomic rc|ations, with
thc modc| of bourgcois socicty, in which thc sphcrc of thc po|itica|
tcnds to coincidc with that of thc statc and in which it is divorccd
from a spcciñca||y civi| sphcrc charactcrizcd by thc fragmcntation of
intcrcsts and by conñicts bcwccn thcir agcnts. Hc forgot on|y onc
thing, namc|y that thc Ancicn Rcgimc had to a |argc cxtcnt a|rcady
dcstroycd thc fcuda| systcm, and that thc statc appropriatcd thc
princip|c ofauthority bcforc it wasinapositionto makccffcctivc usc
of a|| its mcchanisms. What hc ca||s bourgcois socicty is ccrtain|y
charactcrizcd by thc strcngthcning of thc powcr of thc statc, but itis
a|so charactcrizcd by thc rcprcscntativc systcm and by thc fact that
thc govcrnmcnt must cmanatc from socicty as a who|c. Thcsc two
fcaturcs arc of coursc indissociab|c, a|though wc may choosc to
cmphasizc onc rathcr than thc othcr, thcy cannot bc ana|yscd
It must bc admittcd that, a|| too oftcn, wc fai| to rccognizc thc
importofthcconstitution according to whosc tcrmsapub|icauthority
compctition and thc import of thc conñicts which, thanks to that
compctition, ñnd thcir cxprcssion in socia| |ifc
It is truc that thc
cfñcacy of this rcprcscntation is marrcdby thc pcrmancncc of astatc
36 all Modern Democracy
apparatus ofincrcasingcomp|cxity, and that wc arcthcrcforc tcmptcd
to ignorc it. But wc must rcsist that tcmptation.
Itmust a|sobc pointcd outthat thc formationofatota|itariantypc
ofpowcrwhichisnotsubjcct to compctition signihcsnoton|ythc cnd
ofpo|itica| frccdoms, but a|so thc cnd ofcivi| |ibcrtics thcmsc|vcs.
It is thcrcforc impossib|c to rcstrict thc tcrms of our argumcnt to
statc and civi| socicty. Civi| socicty (if wc arc to rctain thc tcrm) is
itsc|finscribcd within a po|itica| constitution, and it isbound up with
thc systcm ofdcmocratic powcr. Morcovcr, and rcgard|css of its sizc
and comp|cxity, thcstatc apparatuscannot bc unihcdso |ongas cvcry
scctorwithin it rcmainssubjcctto prcssurc from spccihccatcgoricsof
citizcnsorfrom socia| actors dcfcnding thcautonomyofthcirsphcrcs
ofcompctcncc, and so |ongas thc managcria| |ogicwhich ofhcia|s try
to imposc comcs into conñict with thc |ogic of rcprcscntation which
imposcs itsc|f upon thc c|cctcd authoritics. In short, thc samc factors
which makc it impossib|c for thc statc to bccomc a c|oscd systcm, to
bccomc a grcat organ contro||ing thc socia| body`s cvcry movcmcnt,
thc princip|cofthcconductofpub|ic affairs to pcriodiccontcsts.
It is at this point in my argumcnt that I rcturn to thc qucstion
around which our dcbatc ccntrcs. My argumcnt is not dcsigncd to
inva|idatc thcqucstion, buttorcformu|atcitinsuchawayastomakc
it impossib|c to answcr it whi|st avoiding its po|itica| imp|ications. In
factI acccptthatthcncw rights thatcmcrgcasa rcsu|tofthccxcrcisc
of po|itica| frccdoms hc|p to incrcasc thc statc`s statutory powcrs.
Indccd, it sccms to mc that thc po|itica| systcm |cnds itsc|fto that
sccm to thcm to bc popu|ar so as to sanction thcir own |cgitimacy,
thcy modify |cgis|ation according|y, and |cgis|ation givcstho adminis-
for cocrcion. Natura||y' But wc cannot |cavc mattcrs thcrc. It is not
cnough for this or that dcmand to hnd a sympathctic hcaring in thc
uppcr cchc|ons of thc statc for ncw rights to rcccivc j uridica|
rccognition. Evcn if a dcmand conccrns on|y a sing|c catcgory of
citizcns, it must hrst mcct with at |cast tacit approva| from a broad
scction of pub|ic opinion, in othcr words, it must bc inscribcd within
what wc havc ca||cd thc pub|ic spacc. Wc must obvious|y not
undcrcstimatc thc articu|ation offorcc and right- no mattcrwhcthcr
thc forcc in qucstion cmanatcs from intcrcsts capab|c of mobi|izing
cffcctivc mcans of prcssurc or whcthcr it is to bc asscsscd in purc|y
numcrica| tcrms. But onc ofthc prcconditionsfor thc succcss ofany
dcmand is thc widcsprcad conviction that thc ncw right conforms to
thc dcmand for frccdom cnshrincd in cxisting rights. Thus,in thc
ninctccnth ccntury, thc rightofworkcrs to associatc and thc right to
strikcrcsu|tcdfrom achangcin thcba|anccofpowcr,butatthc samc
timc cvcn thosc who did not instigatc thosc rights rccognizcd thcm as
a |cgitimatc cxtcnsion of thc right to frccdom of cxprcssion or thc
Human Rights and The Welfare State 37
rightto rcsist opprcssion. Simi|ar|y, in thc twcnticthccntury, thc right
ofwomcn to votc and a numbcr of socia| orcconomic rights sccm in
thcir turn to bc an cxtcnsion of car|icr rights, and so-ca||cd cu|tura|
rightssccmto bc ancxtcnsion ofthcright tocducation. Itisasthough
ncw rights sccmcdinrctrospcctto bc |inkcd organica||ywith whatarc
considcrcd to bc constitucnt c|cmcnts of pub|ic frccdoms.
It is, howcvcr, to bc notcd that this fcc|ing initia||y inspircs thosc
who takc thc initiativc in formu|ating thc dcmand. In formu|ating it,
thcyarc ofcoursc dcfcnding thcir own intcrcsts but,so|ong asthcir
voiccs arc not hcard, thcy arc a|so awarc of bcing thc victims of a
wrong rathcr than an injury.
This obscrvation mcrits scrious considcration. Thc dcmocratic
apprchcnsionofrightimp|icsthcafhrmationofspccch- bcitindividua|
or co||cctivc - which, whi|st it is not guarantccd by cxisting |aws or
by a monarch`s promisc, can asscrt its authority inthc cxpcctation of
pub|icconhrmationbccausc it appca|sto thcconscicncc ofthc pub|ic.
Wc cannot ignorc thc novc|ty of this phcnomcnon. Whi|stspccch of
thistypcis intimatc|yboundupwitha dcmandaddrcsscdto thcstatc,
itisa|sodistinctfromthatdcmand. Inthatrcspcct, acomparison with
thc tota|itarian rcgimc is oncc morc instructivc. Thcrc is, |ct us notc,
noroom in a tota|itarian rcgimcforthc wc|farc statc modc|, but that
docs not prcvcnt it from taking count|css mcasurcs conccrning
cmp|oymcnt, pub|ic hca|th, cducation, housingand|cisurc in ordcrto
mcct ccrtain of thc popu|ation`s nccds. But it is not a guarantor of
rights in any strict scnsc. Thc discoursc of powcr is sc|f-sufhcicnt, it
ignorcs any spccch which |cavcsitsorbit.Fowcr dccidcsand bcstows,
butitis a|ways arbitrary, itisa|wayssc|cctivc, choosingbctwccnthosc
towhomitgivcsthcbcnchtofits|awsandthoscitcxc|udcs. Individua|s
rcccivc no morc than rcquisitcs disguiscd as rights bccausc thcy arc
trcatcd as dcpcndcnts and not as citizcns.
to conc|udc that no distinctioncan bc madc bctwccnrightswhich arc
rcgardcd as fundamcnta| - thosc which camc into bcing as thc rights
of man- and othcr rights which havc bccn acquircd with thc passagc
of timc. And, in a scnsc which I am about to dchnc, I bc|icvc that
this is indccd thc casc.
Docsthis mcan that wc havc to abandon a natura|ist thcsison|yto
adopt a historicist thcsis7 On thc contrary, it mcans that wc havc to
rcjcct both thcsc tcrms. Thc idca of human naturc. which was so
vigorous|y proc|aimcd at thc cnd of thc cightccnth ccntury, cou|d
ncvcrcapturcthcmcaningofthc undcrtakinginauguratcdbythcgrcat
Amcrican andFrcnchdcc|arations. By rcducingthcsourccofright to
thc human uttcranccofright, thcy madc ancnigma ofboth humanity
and right. Spccihc statcmcnts asidc, thcy grantcd rccognition of the
right to have rights (thc cxprcssion is borrowcd from Hannah Arcndt,
a|though shc uscs it in a rathcrdiffcrcnt scnsc), andthusgavc risc to
an advcnturc whosc outcomc is unprcdictab|c. In othcr words, thc
38 On Modern Democracy
natura|ist conccption of right maskcd an cxtraordinary cvcnt. a
dcc|aration which was in fact a sc|f-dcc|aration, that is, a dcc|aration
by which human bcings, spcaking through thcir rcprcscntativcs,
rcvca|cd thcmsc|vcs to bc both thc subjcct and thc objcct of thc
uttcrancc in which thcy namcd thc human c|cmcnts in onc anothcr,
'spokc to` onc anothcr, appcarcd bcforc onc anothcr, and thcrcforc
crcctcd thcmsc|vcs into thcir own j udgcs, thcirown witncsscs.
Thc rcprcscntationofhuman nature is not an iso|atcd aspcct ofthis
_ cvcnt. Whatcvcrits distinguishingmark maybc,itcannotbc divorccd
from thc ascriptionofa 'naturc` tothcsc|f, thcsc|f bcing, ifI can put
it this way, at oncc individua|, p|ura| and communa|; its cxistcncc
bcingindicatcdatoncc incvcryindividua|,inthcindividua|`src|ations
with othcrs, and in thc pcop|c. For thc samc rcason, wc can ncithcr
dchnc thcnotionofhuman naturc, scc it asa naturc-in-itsc|f- un|css
wc |apsc into thc imaginary - nor subscribc to any critiquc of thc
rights of man which c|aims to dcny thcir univcrsa| import on thc
grounds that wc must turn from hction to rca|ity. Faradoxica||y, thc
criticisms of natura|ism put forward by thinkcrs as diffcrcnt as Marx
and Burkc invokc historica| rca|ity, yct thcy fai| to scc that thc
phi|osophica|i||usionwhich ignorcs 'concrctc` human bcings infavour
of an abstract bcing bccomcs somcthing that is abso|utc|y ncw as a
rcsu|tofthcafhrmationofhumanity. Ncithcrofthcmactua||ypcrccivcs
that thc idca of thc rights of man is a cha||cngc to thc dchnition of
powcr has having rights, to thc notion of a |cgitimacy whosc basis is
bcyond thc grasp of human bcings, and, at thc samc timc, to thc
rcprcscntation of an ordcrcd wor|d in which human bcings arc
humanity,dcnounccthchctiona|univcrsa|softhcFrcnch Dcc|aration,
but fai| to scc what it bcqucathcs us. thc univcrsa|ityof thc princip|c
bc anncxcd by historicism; it imp|ics that thc institution of thc rights
of man is much morc than an cvcnt, as wc dcscribcd it car|icr, it is
morc than somcthingwhich appcarswithin timc and which isdcstincd
to disappcar into timc. A princip|c ariscs, and hcnccforth wc cannot
undcrstand thc individua|, socicty or historyun|csswc go back to it.
And yct, thc vicw that natura|ism and historicism arc cqua||y
inappropriatc too|s for conccptua|izing thc rights of man docs not
simp|ify thc basic prob|cm, it comp|icatcs it. It wou|d sccm that wc
can ncithcr say that thcsc origina| rights makc up a bcdrock bccausc
wc havc rcjcctcd a|| bc|icf in human naturc. nor that thcy and thc
rights that wcrc subscqucnt|y won form a chain cach |ink of which is
simi|ar|y markcd bycircumstanccs, bccauscwc havcdiscovcrcd inthc
institution of thosc hrst rights a foundation, thc cmcrgcncc of a
princip|c of univcrsa|ity. And norcanwc tracc a dividing |inc bctwccn
hrst rights and ncw rights. bccausc wc havc rccognizcd that thc |attcr
arc bascd upon thc formcr.
It sccms, howcvcr, ncccssary to comp|icatc thc argumcnt in this
Human Rights and The Welfare State J9
manncr. Thcadvantagcofdoingsois thatwc do not |osc sightofthc
distinction wc must constant|y invcstigatc. that bctwccn a dcmocratic
and a tota|itarian rcgimc. It wou|d bc a mistakc to trans|atc this
distinction into onc bctwccn a rcgimc govcrncd by |awsand a rcgimc
without |aws (to usc thc tcrmino|ogy of c|assica| phi|osophy). or into
onc bctwccn a rcgimc in which powcr is |cgitimatc, and a rcgimc in
which it is arbitrary.
As Hannah Arcndt quitc right|y obscrvcs, tota|itarianism is indccd
charactcrizcd by its scorn for positivc rights, but it is sti|| organizcd
bcncath thc acgis of thc Law, which, |ikc powcr. is fantastica||y
asscrtcd to bc abovc human bcings, at thc vcry momcnt whcn it is
positcd as bcing thc |aw of thc human wor|d, as having bccn brought
downfrom hcavcn to carth.
Thcdistinguishingfcaturcofdcmocracyisthat,whi|stit inauguratcs
a historywhich abo|ishcsthc p|acc ofthc rcfcrcntfromwhich thc |aw
within thc ordcr of thc wor|d, nor, by thc samc critcrion, docs it
confusc thc ru|c of |aw with thc ru|c of powcr. It makcs thc |aw
somcthingwhich,whi|stitisa|waysirrcducib|cto humanartihcc,givcs
mcaning to human actionson|yon condition that human bcings dcsirc
it, that thcy apprchcnd it as thc rcason for thcir cocxistcncc and as
thc condition of possibi|ity of thcir judging and bcing judgcd. Thc
division bctwccn |cgitimatc and i||cgitimatc is not matcria|izcd within
thcsocia|spacc, itissimp|yrcmovcdfrom thc rca|m ofccrtainty, now
that no onc can takc thc p|acc of thc suprcmc judgc, now that this
cmpty p|acc sustains thc dcmand to know. In othcr words, modcrn
dcmocracy invitcs us to rcp|acc thc notion of a rcgimc govcrncd by
|aws, of a |cgitimatc powcr, by thc notion of a rcgimc foundcd upon
the legitimacy of a debate as t what is legitimate and what is illegitimate
- a dcbatcwhich is ncccssari|ywithout any guarantorandwithoutany
cnd. Thc inspiration bchind both thc rights ofman andthcsprcad of
rights in our day bcars witncss to that dcbatc.
But, if wc acccpt that this dcbatc pcrtains to thc csscncc of
importofthc rightsstipu|atcd in thchrst Dcc|arationswithout making
anyconccssions to thc opposition bctwccn historicism andnatura|ism,
andwithoutmisrccognizingthccontinuitybctwccn cvcrythingthathas
bccn afhrmcd from thc origina| Dcc|arations to ourown timcs.
Thcsingu|arthingaboutthc frccdoms proc|aimcd at thc cnd ofthc
ofthc dcmocratic dcbatc. Indccd, thcygcncratc it. Wcthcrcforchavc
to acccpt that whcncvcr thcsc frccdoms arc undcrmincd, thc cntirc
dcmocratic cdihcc is thrcatcncd with co||apsc, and that, whcrc thcy
do not cxist, wc |ook in vain for thc s|ightcst tracc of it. Whi|st
cconomic, socia| and cu|tura| rights, on thc othcr hand, arc not
contingcnt, thcy mayccascto bc guarantccd orcvcn to bc rccognizcd
(I can in fact think of no country - not cvcn Mrs Thatchcr`s Britain
40 011 Modern Democracy
or Mr Rcagan`s Amcrica - whcrc thcy havc bccn abo|ishcd in
princip|c), without that causing a fata| |csion, thc proccss is sti||
rcvcrsib|candthcfabricofdcmocracycansti||bcrcpaircd,not simp|y
bccausc condtttons may makc 11 possib|c to improvc thc |ot of thc
majority, but prccisc|y bccausc thc conditions that a||ow protcsts to
bc madc arc sti|| intact.
I can anticipatcthcobjcctionsthatwi||bc raiscd. Itwi||bc saidthat
of cmp|oymcnt, and dcstitution in thc facc of i||ncss. I hnd thc
argumcnt untcnab|c. Whcn app|icd to Wcstcrn socictics, itignorcsthc
fact that thcsc forma| frccdoms madc it possib|c to raisc dcmands
which succccdcd in improvingthc human condition. Itpasscs ovcr in
st|cncc thc status of thc hrst frccdoms which rcsu|tcd from workcrs`

hts to a

and to strikc, thc fact that thcy arc so bound up
wtththcongma|nghtsofmanthatthcirsupprcssionwou|dnow imp|y
thc dcstruction of dcmocracy, and thc fact that thcy arc bound up
with cconomic and socia| rights.

proportion of thc popu|ation is thc victim of savagc cxp|oitation, it
can a|| too casi|y bc turncd against thosc who invokc it. What, thcy
ask, is thc point ofta|king abouthuman rightsinthiscontcxt? Human
rightsarcsccnasa|uxurythatcannotbccovctcdbypcop|cwho havc
to facc thc dram

of pcnury, faminc, cpidcmics or infant morta|ity.
Thoscwho usc thtsargumcntforgct on|y onc thing. insuchcountrics
thc opprcsscd arc dcnicd frccdom of spccch, frccdom of association
andoftcnfrccdomofmovcmcnt itsc|f. In othcrwords,thcyarc dcnicd
cvcrythingthatmight givcthcm|cgitimatcandcffcctivcwaystoprotcst
and to rcstst opprcsston. And cxpcricncc tcachcs us on|y too c|car|y
that scorn for human rights cncouragcs wou|d-bc rcvo|utionarics to
construct tota|itarian-sty|c rcgimcs,or to drcam ofdoingso. Itmasks
an undcr|ytng .rcfusa| to grant individua|s, pcasant communitics,
workcrs, and pcop|cs in gcncra|the right t have rights.
It is truc that whcn wc arguc that dcmocracy cstab|ishcs a dcbatc
as to thc |cgitimatc andthc i||cgitimatc, wc arc gctting tothc hcartof
rob|cm. This princip|c in
fact suggcsts that whatcvcr is judgcd
tnthchcrcandnowtshcnccforth |cgitimatc. Butuponwhat
cntcnon ts that judgcmcnt bascd? Wc cou|d of coursc say that it

s in thcconformity bctwccn thc ncw right andthc spirit of thc
|dnghts. I mysc|fwou|d suggcstthat thisisso. thcfcc|ing that thcrc
ìs such a conncctton motivatcs thosc who arc or wi|| bccomc thc
dckndcrsofunprcccdcntcddcmands. Ita|somotivatcspub|icopinion,
whtch acc

pts thosc dcmands, and thc agcncics which providc thcm
wtth a jundtca| out|ct. But this answcr docs not rcmovc a|| doubt.
Fundamcnta| rights may wc|| bc constitutivc of a pub|ic dcbatc, but
thcy cannot bc constraincd by a dchnition, and wc thcrcforc cannot
agrccon anyunivcrsa|basis as to whatconforms ordocsnotconform
to thc |cttcr or thc spirit of thosc rights. Wc thcrcforc |ay oursc|vcs
Human Rights and The Welfare State 41
opcn to thc argumcnt that what is judgcd |cgitimatc i nthc hcrc and
now may bc |cgitimatc on|y in tcrms of thc critcria of thc majority.
But,inordcrtosupport thatthcsis,wcwou|dhavc to forgct whatwc
havc a|rcady said, namc|y that right cannot bc immancnt within thc
socia| ordcr without thc vcry idca of right bcing dcbascd. At thc
bcginning of thc ninctccnth ccntury a paradox had a|rcady bccn
pcrcctvcd, not on|y by hbcra|s rcso|utc|y hosti|c to thc cstab|ishmcnt
ofdcmocracy, but a|so by thinkcrssuch as Michc|ct and Quirct, who
wcrc c

attachcd to thcsovcrcigntyofthc pcop|c- which was in

tcw tmphctt 10 socta| and cconomic progrcss - an� to thc
sovcrctgntyofnght. Thcparadoxwasthatrights arcnamcdbyhuman
· andthatthisinitsc|findicatcsthcirabi|itytonamcthcmsc|vcs,
to dcstgnatc thcmsc|vcs in thcir humanity, in thcir cxistcncc as
individua|s, and to dcsignatc thcir humanity in thcir modc of
cocxistcncc, in thc ma
nncr ofthcir |iving togcthcr in thc 'city` - and
that nght ts not rcductb|c to human artihcc.
Thc |cgitimacy of thc dcbatc as to what is |cgitimatc and what is
i||cgitimatc prcsupposcs, I rcpcat, that no onc can takc thc p|acc of
thcsuprcmcjudgc. `noonc`mcansnoindividua|,notcvcnanindividua|
invcstcdwith? suprc

ncgattvc iscffccttv. ttdocsawaywiththcjudgc,butita|sorc|atcs
justtcc to thc cxtstcncc
f a pub|ic spacc - a spacc which is so
constttutcd that cvcryonc tscncouragcd to spcak and to |istcnwithuot
bcng subjcct to thc authority of anothcr, that cvcryonc is urgcd to
-dl thc
powcr hc has

bccn givcn. This spacc, which is a|ways
tndctcrmtnatc, has thc vtrtuc of bc|onging to no onc, of bcing |argc
cnough to accommodatc on|y thoscwhorccognizc onc anothcr within
itand whogivc it a mcaning, and ofa||owingthc qucstioningof right
tosprcad.Asa rcsu|t,noartiñcccanprcvcntamajorityfromcmcrging
In the here and now or from giving an answcr which can stand in for
thc truth. And thc fact that cvcry sing|c individua| has thc right to
dcnouncc that answcr as ho||ow or wrong is thc onc thing which

onhrms t�c vahdtty of thc articu|ation of right and opinion, of thc
trrcductbthty of consctcncc to thc right to havc an opinion, in thc
cvcnt, thc majonty may provcto bc wrong, butnot thc pub|icspacc.
If, 10 thc abscncc of thc dcbatc it imp|ics. it provcd to bc thc casc
that a compact, constant body of mass opinion took dccisions undcr
covcr of darkncss instcad of majoritics bcing madc and unmadc,
instcadofthcturmoi|ofcxchangc andconñictstimu|atingunccrtainty
and a happy divcrsity of convictions, thc dcbascmcnt of right wou|d
stcm, not from thc crrors of thc majority, but from thc dcbascmcnt
of thc pub|ic spacc itsc|f.
thcrcforc havc to ask whcthcr this spacc is shrinking or cvcn
tthcnng away. Is tt, as somc c|aim, no |ongcr anything morc than a
stmu|acrum whtch thc statc uscs to furthcr its c|aims to bcing
dcmocratic? Can wc now scc anything morc than a gathcring
groundswc||ofopinionwhich is bccoming morccompactandwhich is
42 On Modern Democracy
powcr7 Lct us posc thc qucstion, by a|| mcans, but |ct us a|so agrcc
that this is a qucstion ofpo|itics and that it wou|d bc rash to rcso|vc
it in onc way or anothcr.
Thc paradoxwhich I havc dcscribcd and which pcrtains, I bc|icvc,
to thc csscncc of dcmocracy, has in our day bccn considcrab|y
acccntuatcd by thc cntry into whatwasonccconstitutcd as thc pub|ic
spacc ofa mass of pcop|c who wcrc formcr|ycxc|udcd from it. How
arc wc to asscss thc cffccts of this changc with any accuracy? Thc
statc`sincrcasing|ystrongposition as thcguarantorofsocia|,cconomic
and cu|tura| rightsccrtain|y tcnds to rcducc thc |cgitimacy of right to
thc sanctioning of opinion by an agcncy which appcars to bc a
condcnsation of socia| powcr. At thc samc timc, opinions tcnd
incrcasing|yto hnd acommondcnominator, rcgard|cssofthcfactthat
thcy cmanatc from diffcrcnt catcgorics, bccausc thcy cxpcct to bc
sanctioncd and bccausc thcy arc in cffcct virtua||y |cgitimizcd if thcy
havc forcc of numbcrs of thcir sidc.
Thcrcis,in myvicw, no doubtastothcva|idityofthisobscrvation.
Butitmustnotbc a||owcdtoobscurcthcfactthat, farfrom abo|ishing
it, thc intcrvcntion of thc masscs into thc pub|ic spacc has cxtcndcd
its boundaricsconsidcrab|yand has|cd to anincrcascin itsnctworks.
Contcmporary nco-|ibcra|ism (which is at thc momcnt rcgaining an
astonishing prcstigc) rcfuscs to scc thc mcaning of this advcnturc
bccausc it sti||c|ings to thc thcory that an c|itc can maintain itsc|fin
powcr by dcnying thc morc popu|ous - and cspccia||y thc poorcst -
strata ofsocicty thc rightto spcak. It thusb|inds itsc|fto thcprob|cms
that now confront us, as no rcturn to thc past is conccivab|c within
thc framcwork ofdcmocracy. And it makcsitimpossib|c to spcak out
in dcfcncc ofthc causc of right, as thc gcncra|ization ofthc right to
spcak is inscparab|c from thc diffusion of thc meaning of right
throughout socicty. It is a|| thc morc important to invcstigatc thc
cffccts of ncw rights, to rcvca| thcir ambiguitics and to attcmpt to
makc thc corrcct distinctionbcwtccnright andopinion- a distinction
which many no |ongcr scc - in that it sccms point|css to dcny that,
for mi||ionsofpcop|c,b|indobcdicncc to normswhich scrvcd on|yto
mcct thc nccds of a minority or to maintain its dominancc ovcr
numcrous rcgistcrs, has givcn way to a wi||ingncss to cha||cngc thc
notion of thc |cgitimatc and thc i||cgitimatc.
Think, for cxamp|c, of thc dcmands which |cd to ncw conditions
forwomcn. Who cou|dc|aim in goodfaith thatthosc dcmands simp|y
rcñcctcd achangc inpub|icopinion, or that thcywcrc govcrncd by a
mcrc dcmand for wc||-bcing? Thc dcbatc ovcr contraccption, in
particu|ar.or thatovcr abortion, broughtintop|ay an idcaoffrccdom
which somc may ccrtain|y cha||cngc, but which touchcs upon thc
csscncc of thc individua|, of intcrpcrsona| rc|ationships and ofsocia|
|ifc. That is ofcoursc thc mostc|oqucnt cxamp|c. But ifwc think of
rights asdivcrsc as thosc ofwagc-carncrswho havc |ostthcirjobs, of
Human Rights and The Welfare State 4J
cntrcprcncurs faccd with managcmcnt prob|cms, of socia| sccurity
c|aimants, of immigrants, prisoncrs, conscicntious objcctors, so|dicrs
(who arc currcnt|y dcnicd frccdom of cxprcssion), or thosc of
homoscxua|s- and a|| thcsc rights havc for ycars bccn thc subjcct of
constant dcbatc, cspccia||y in Francc - wc havc to admit that thcy
cxprcss ascnscofrightwhichis incomparab|ymorcacutcthan itoncc
was. It isoftcn said that thc powcr ofthc statcis incrcasingas arcsu|t
of thcsc ncw dcmands, but thc cxtcnt to which it is bcing cha||cngcd
tcnds to bc forgottcn.
Rcccnt dcbatcsovcrcmp|oymcnt, socia| sccurity, rcforms inpub|ic
hca|th and mcdica| carc, and ovcr thcstatusofprivatc schoo|s - and
thcy havc a|| provokcd strikcs and massivc conñicts - provc that
indiffcrcncc and passivity arc not thc ru|c. It wi|| bc objcctcd that
thcsc dcbatcs rcprcscnt conñicts bctwccn coa|itions of intcrcsts,
corporatc rcsistancc to thrcats, or thc rcawakcning of prcjudicc. But
wasthc dcfcncc ofrightscvcrfrcc from thcinñucncc ofintcrcsts and
opinions inthcpast?Whcn thcrc arc, forcxamp|c,quarrc|s ovcr thc
organization ofmcdicincorcducation,dowcnot hcarsomcthingmorc
than thc c|ash ofintcrcsts?Somccriticssti|| bc|icvc that thccconomic
crisis is thc driving forcc bchind thc ncw cxpansion of tcchnocratic
burcaucracy. But isitnot thc casc that, on thc contrary, it rcvca|s, in
an uncxpcctcd way, a conñict ofrights, that it cxposcs thc undcrsidc
ofccrtain cvi|swhich arc sti|| cvi|s, andofccrtaingainswhich arc sti||
I havc said that thc surviva| and cxtcnsion of thc pub|ic spacc is a
po|itica| qucstion. I mcan by that that itis thc qucstion that |icsatthc
hcart ofdcmocracy. I do not prctcnd to havc ananswcr. To |ook for
cvcn thc out|inc of an answcr wou|d rcquirc a scparatc dcbatc. I wi||
rcstrict mysc|fto thisconc|usion. thcrcis no institutionwhich can, by
its vcry naturc, guarantcc thc cxìstcncc of a pub|ìc spacc in whìch ìt
is possib|c to qucstion right on an incrcasing|y broad basis. But,
convcrsc|y, that spacc prcsupposcs that thc imagc of its |cgitimacy is
rcñcctcd on a stagc crcctcd by distinct institutions, on a stagc upon
which actors cntrustcd with po|itica| rcsponsibi|itics can bc sccn to
movc. And whcn partics and Far|iamcnt no |ongcr assumc thcir
rcsponsibi|itics, it is to bc fcarcd that, in thc abscncc of a ncw form
of rcprcscntation capab|c of rcsponding to socicty`s cxpcctations, thc
dcmocratic rcgimc may|osc itscrcdibi|ity. It must a|so bc fcarcd that
whatI havctcrmcdthcdistinctionbctwccnpowcr,|awandknow|cdgc,
which |ics at thc origins of thc modcrn consciousncss of right, may
|osc itssymbo|iccfhcacywhcnthccxcrcisc ofjusticc onthconchand
and thc disscmination of information through thc prcss, radio and
ofoncanothcr. Inothcrwords,whcnpo|itica|,juridica|andintc||cctua|
actorsso oftcn appcarto bc actingin accordancc withordcrsdictatcd
byintcrcsts, bythc nccd for group discip|inc or bythc nccd tocourt
44 On Modern Democracy
pub|ic opinion, wc havc good causc to worry about thc corruption
thcy arc sprcading.
Inordcrtodcmonstratc thc ro|cofthoscwhoappcaron thc pub|ic
stagc, |ct mc cnd with a simp|cobscrvation borrowcdfrom an artic|c
by Ficrrc Fachct." Whcn A|ain Fcyrchttc was Ministcr of !usticc hc
said in substancc that, spcaking as an individua|, hc was not opposcd
to thcabo|itionofthcdcath pcna|ty, but pub|icopinion wasnot rcady
for it. In sayingso, hc both c|cvatcd bad tcmpcr, fcars and a |ust for
vcngcancc to thc consistcncy ofopinion, and |cgitimizcd thcm. Thcrc
can havc bccnfcwmorc striking cxamp|cs of thcdcgradationof right
at thc hands of thc authority which is supposcd to guarantcc it. His
succcssor, Robcrt Badintcr, had on|y to spcak thc |anguagcofjusticc
oncc morc to makc thc spcctrc of thc omnipotcncc of opinion
Hannah Arendt and The Question
of the Political
In thc Unitcd Statcs Hannah Arcndt was rccognizcd to bc a major
po|itica| thinkcr at a vcrycar|y stagc in hcrcarccr, cvcn though hcr
writings did at timcs provokc vio|cnt po|cmics. In Francc, howcvcr,
onc isstruck by thc fact that shc was ignorcdfor so |ong, cspccia||y
by thc |cft-wing intc||igcntsia, cvcn though many of hcr works had
bccn trans|atcd. RaymondAronwasthcmanwho p|aycdthcdccisivc
ro|c in introducing hcr to thc Frcnch pub|ic. Inonc scnsc, this is not
surprising. Raymond Aron was an authcntic |ibcra|, a|though his
|ibcra|ism diffcrcd from that of Arcndt, thcy sharcd a common
undcrstanding of fascist and Sta|inist rcgimcs, and thcy both c|udcd
convcntiona| dchnitions of|cft and right. Thc fact that thcrc arc sti||
grcat diffcrcnccs bctwccn Aron`s |ibcra|ism and that of Arcndt is
indicatcdbythc way Arcndtwasdrawnto thc rcvo|utionary phcnom-
cnon and, morc spccihca||y, by thc intcrcstshc took inthc formation
ofthcworkcrs`counci|sduringthcHungarian rcvo|ution. ForArcndt,
arcvo|utionwasnotanobjcctofcuriosity. For hcr,itwasthcmomcnt
ofbeginning, orofbeginning again.
It sccms in fact that thc ignorancc, ncg|cct and cvcn hosti|ity to
whichHannah Arcndt wassubjcctcd in Francc rc|atc to thc inñucncc
of Marxism, which was an obvious obstac|c to thc rcccption of hcr
idcas. But wc now |ivc in an agcinwhich a ccrtain discnchantmcnt is
apparcnt, inwhichaccrtainnumbcrofncwqucstionsarcbcingaskcd
morc andmorc frcqucnt|y. Forsomcycars, it has,forcxamp|c, bccn
possib|c to notc thc prcscncc of a critiquc of rationa|ism which is
dircctcd not on|y against modcrn scicncc and its dcstructivc cffccts,
but a|so against thc idca| of rcason itsc|f. And it is not on|y thc
phi|osophy of thc En|ightcnmcnt which has comc undcr attack; it is
a|so thc phi|osophy of history as such. Thc phi|osophy of history is
now sccn as an cxtcnsion of thc phi|osophy of thc En|ightcnmcnt,
whcrcas it was oncc sccn as its critiquc, ifnot asits ncgation. Marx
is no |ongcr rcgardcd as thc thinkcr who ovcrthrcw rationa|ism, but
as thc thinkcr who did most to furthcr thc projcct ofsubjcctivity by
46 On Moder Democracy
cmbodying it in history and most to furthcr thc projcct of man`s
domination ovcrnaturc, and as thc thinkcrwhofostcrcd thc i||usion
of thc Onc, thc i||usion that humanity can bccomc c|oscd in upon
This critiquc, and this appcars to bc worthy of notc, cvcn gocsso
far astoca|| into qucstion thc vcry notion ofhistory itsc|f, not simp|y
thcnotionofhistory asthc 'tribuna|ofrcason` , but a|sothcnotionof
history as thc advcnt of mcaning, as a mi|icu within which wc arc
situatcd, by which wc arc shapcd, and upon which wc dcpcnd for
acccss to our past. This critiquc is a|so oftcn dircctcd against thc vcry
notionofsocia|rca|ity, ofthc rca|itywhich was, itwasoncc assumcd,
to bc found at thc |cvc| ofrc|ations ofproduction.
Thcsccriticisms ûnd thcir c|carcstcxprcssion in thc critiquc of thc
statc, which is rcgardcd as an organ for thc homogcnization of thc
socia| and for domination, as an organ which acquircs incrcasing
powcrs as a rcsu|t of thc dcmand and thc satisfaction of co||cctivc
Thc mood of a scction of thc contcmporary intc||igcntsia, as
comparcd with that ofthc immcdiatc post-war pcriod, |cads thcm to
discrcdit cvcrything to do with thc rca|m of vio|cncc, and to rcjcct
po|iticsasthoughpo|iticsand vio|cnccwcrconcandthcsamc. Anyonc
who now rcads Hannah Arcndt for thc hrst timc cannot fai| to scc
thcvigorwith whichshc pavcsthcwayforthcqucstionsthat arcnow
to answcr thcm. This docs not ncccssari|y mcan that thc answcrs shc
givcs wi|| mcct ourcxpcctations. But thcspiritofinvcstigationwhich
inspircs hcr in hcr task mcrits ourfu|| attcntion.
I wou|d |ikc hcrc to bring out thc dcmand for thought which is
apparcnt throughout hcrwork.
This dcmand was born of an cncountcr with an event, of hcr |ivcd
cxpcricnccofancvcntwhichovcrwhc|mcdhcr andwhichsccmcd, at
thc samc timc, to bc 'thc ccntra| cvcnt of our timcs`. thc victory of
Nazism in 1933.
Shc says that hcr intcrcst in po|itics and history datcs from 1933.
Much morc spccihca||y, shc cvokcs 27 Fcbruary, thc day of thc
Rcichstag hrc. 'For mc, it was an immcdiatc shock, and from that
momcnt onwards I fc|t that I was rcsponsib|c.I This is ncithcr an
anccdota| fact nor a biographica| dctai|. Thc fcc|ing that shc was
rcsponsib|c, that shc had to rcspond to thc fcarfu| cha||cngc of
tota|itarianismmadc hcr awarc ofthc motorforcc bchind a|| thought.
InhcrprcfacctoBetween Past and Future, shcwritcs.'Myassumption
is that thought itsc|f ariscs out of incidcnts of |iving cxpcricncc and
must rcmain bound to thcm as thc on|y guidcposts by which to takc
its bcarings.`' Arcndt was ccrtain|y a woman ofgrcatcrudition. Shc
of !asprs and Hcidcggcr. Whcn shc writcs that 'thought arìscs`
Hannah Arendt and the Political 47
'thinking` docsnotsimp|ymcanmovingthroughthcrca|mofwhat has
already been thought; it mcans making a ncw bcginning and, morc
spccihca||y sti||, beginning again on the basis of events. Thcsc hncs
from Mcr|cau-Fonty`s prcfacc to Adventures of the Dialectic arc
pcrfcct|y in kccping with thc thought of Hannah Arcndt.
|n thc crucib|c of cvcnts wc bccomc awarc of what is not
acccptab|c to us, and it is this cxpcricncc as intcrprctcd that
bccomcs both thcsis and phi|osophy. Wc arc thus a||owcd to
itsdisparitics, andwiththcpossibi|ityofrcvisionsata|atcrdatc.
By doing so wc managc to avoid thc prctcncc of systcmatic
works,which,just |ikc a|| othcrs, arc born ofourcxpcricncc but
c|aim to spring from nothing and thcrcforc appcar, at thc vcry
momcnt whcn thcy catch upwith currcnt prob|cms, to disp|ay a
supcrhuman undcrstanding whcn, in rca|ity, thcy arc on|y
rcturning to thcir origins in a |carncd manncr.3
No othcr writcr idcntihcd thc |ink bctwccn thought and cvcnts morc
rigorous|y than Arcndt. Nowritcrsaw morc c|car|y thatthcunknown,
thcuncxpcctcdc|cmcnt that irrupts intoourbc|icfs, andthc univcrsc
thatwcsharcwithourfc||ows, arc thcvcrybirthp|acc ofthought, thc
forccs that gcncratc thought. Facing up to thc unknown, which was
Arcndt`s attitudc, takcs on its fu|| mcaning ifwc rcca|| thc wcakncss
disp|aycd by Gcrman intc||cctua|s in 1933 - by thc intc||cctua|s who
dcdicatcd thc most dcccitfu| and fa||aciousconstructions to a 'rcfusa|
to think` and who, as shc says, madc hcr rcso|vc to turn hcr back on
intc||cctua|s for cvcr bccausc shc kncw that shc had nothing to |carn
from thcm.
Wccannotfu||y apprcciatc Arcndt`swork un|csswcgraspboth this
dcmandforthought and thc nccdto rcmain faithfu|to it. Arcndtwas
indccd a thcorist, cvcn a phi|osophcr, but it is no accidcnt that shc
a|ways rcjcctcd that |abc|,forwc hnd in hcrwork a consta

t tcnsion
bctwccn a dcsirc to c|aboratc a thcory and a wish to rcmam frcc to
rcact to cvcnts. Simi|ar|y, hcrcritiqucof thc history of thc historians
bccomcs c|carcr in thc |ight of hcr conccrn not to disso|vc thc ncw
into a tcmpora| continuum which makcs it sccm, a postcriori, to bc
no morc than an cffcct of a dcvc|opmcnt imp|icit in its prcmisscs.
and thc high thcorywhich, in onc way oranothcr, a|ways attcmpts to
subordinatc thc particu|ar to thc ru|c of a princip|c, and bctwccn
undcrstanding and thc cxp|anations of thc historian, which consist of
chains ofcausa| rc|ations.
ca| undcrstanding, uponcommonscnsc°Anddocs �otcommonscn

infact spontancous|ydistinguishbctwccntruth and hcs,goodandcvi|,
48 On Modern Democracy
tyranny and frccdom? And docs not a rc|iancc upon this non-critica|
undcrstanding in itsc|f hc|p us to g|impsc somcthing that poscs a
cha||cngc to thought? It is, howcvcr, truc that this prccomprchcnsion
givcs us on|y a partia| insight into thc unknown. As Arcndt notcs,
common scnsc rcgards tota|itarianism as tyranny. whcrcas it is of
coursc somcthing vcry diffcrcnt, it is ncithcr a ncw art of |ying nor a
ncw modc of an cvi| that has a|rcady bccn idcntiñcd.
But, for Arcndt, understanding a|so mcans bcing rcccptivc to thc
happcns, but attcmptingto reconcile ourselves t time and, u|timatc|y,
understanding ourselves, thatisattcmptingtoundcrstandhowsomcthing
|ikc tota|itarianism cou|d comc into bcing in thc wor|d in which wc
|ivc, givcn thatitwasnot,aftcr a||, born ofnothing and did,aftcra||,
spring from within a cu|turc with which wcwcrc fami|iar.
Thc words 'thoughtariscs out ofincidcntsof |ivingcxpcricncc and
must rcmain bound to thcm` convincc mc that thc grcatcr part of
Arcndt`s work is bound up with hcr cxpcricncc and intcrprctation of
thctota|itarianphcnomcnon. A|thoughshc docsnotmakccxp|icitthc
articu|ation bctwccn hcr conccption ofpo|itics and of history and hcr
bctwccn hcr conccption of mctaphysics and, morc gcncra||y, of thc
human condition, and that ana|ysis), it is in my vicw a rigorous
articu|ation. and I wou|d |ikc to bcgin by bringing it to |ight.
First|y, tota|itarianism is a rcgimc, it sccms, in which cvcrything
appcars to bc po|itica|. thc j uridica|, thc cconomic, thc scicntiñc and
thc pcdagogic. Wc obscrvc how thc party pcnctratcs cvcry domain
and distributcs its ordcrs. Sccond|y, tota|itarianism appcars to bc a
rcgimc in which cvcrything bccomcs pub|ic. Third|y, and this is why
wc cannot confusc tota|itarianism with a vu|gar tyranny, itcannot bc
rcgardcd as an arbitrarytypc ofgovcrnmcnt insofar as itdocsrcfcrto
a |aw, or at |cast to thc idca of an abso|utc |aw which owcs nothing
to human intcrprctation in thc hcrc and now. thc |aw of history in
communist-sty|c tota|itarianism, and thc |aw of |ifc in Nazi-sty|c
tota|itarianism. In this rcgimc, action appcars to bc thc dominant
va|uc, in that thc pcop|c must bc mobi|izcd and must a|ways bc
invo|vcd in tasks scrving thc gcncra| intcrcst. It is a|so a rcgimc in
which discoursc ru|cs. Fina||y, it is a rcgimc which appcars to bc
rcvo|utionary, which swccps away thc past and dcvotcs itsc|f to thc
crcation of a 'ncw man`.
Thc othcr sidc of this fu|| afñrmation of po|itics is, howcvcr, a
ncgation. It is not simp|y that wc may discovcr that thc idca| of
mastcring socicty in fact ñnds its cxprcssion in tota| domination, that
itinvo|vcsthc cxcrciscofpowcrs whichowcnothingto anycthica| or
rc|igious rcfcrcncc, powcrs which rccognizc no |imits to thc rca|m of
thc possib|c, and which mcan that thc crcation of thc famous 'ncw
Hannah Arendt and the Political 49
thc dignity of thc human condition. It is not simp|y that thc fantastic
c|cvation of thc |aw to supcrhuman status has in rca|ity thc cffcct of
supprcssing cntirc|y thc va|idity of positivc |aws and of a|| juridica|
guarantccs. Itis not simp|y that thcmystiqucofthc Onc, of asortof
If wc |cavc mattcrs thcrc, wc arc mcrc|y stating thc obvious. But if
wc go bcyond appcaranccs, wc discovcr that tota|itarianism is in no
scnsc a mattcr of po|itics, pub|ic |ifc, |aw, action or spccch, or of
rcvo|ution as bcginning. Wc must rccognizc, rathcr, that thcsc
rcfcrcnccs wcrc dcstroycd to a||ow thc projcct of tota| domination to
bc rca|izcd.
Ifthcrcis no boundarybctwccnpo|iticsand thatwhichisnot po|itica|,
po|iticsitsc|fdisappcars, bccausc po|iticshasa|waysimp|icd adcñnitc
rc|ationship bctwccn human bcings, a rc|ationship govcrncd by thc
nccd to answcr thc qucstions on which thcircommon fatc dcpcnds.
Fo|itics can cxist on|y in thc prcscncc of a spacc in which human
bcings rccognizc thcmsc|vcs as citizcns, in which thcy situatc onc
anothcr within thc |imits of a common world; and socia| |ifc cannot
cxist in any truc scnsc un|css human bcings cxpcricncc thcir mutua|
intcrdcpcndcnccso|c|yasa rcsu|tofthc division of |abour and of thc
ncccssity of satisfying thcir nccds. This is tantamount to saying that
thc apparcnt cxpansion of thc pub|ic sphcrc or (and this amounts to
thc samc thing) thc tcndcncyforthcpub|icto swa||ow up thc privatc
- andwcoftcnhcaritsaid thatthisishappcning- arccqua||yi||usory.
Thc truth of thc mattcr is that, whcn thc distinction bctwccn pub|ic
and privatcdisappcars, both thc pub|ic rca|m and thc privatc rca|m
disappcar. What appcars in thcir p|acc is somcthing that might bc
Itis said that intota|itarianism thc |awproc|aimsitsc|fto bc supcrior
to human bcings. In a scnsc, this phcnomcnon tcstiñcs to thc
but it is cqua||y c|car that thc vcry idca of |aw is dcstroycd, and not
Whcn thc |aw is bc|icvcd to havc matcria|izcd in thc supposcd
movcmcnt of history, or in thc movcmcnt of |ifc, thc notion of thc
transccndancc of |aw is indccd |ost, thc critcria for distinguishing
bctwccn thc pcrmissib|c and thc prohibitcd vanish, thcrc is no
samc rcason,thc idca|ofaction, ofwhichwchcarso much and which
is a |urc, as is thc idca| of an cfñcacious wordwhich can transmit to
thc who|c of socicty know|cdgc of its u|timatc cnds and immcdiatc
Whatwcca||'action`isnot'action`whcnthcrcarcno actors,whcn,
50 On Modern Democracy
that is, no initiativc is takcn in rcsponsc to novc| situations, whcn a
mcrc dccision on thc part of a |cadcr is prcscntcd as an cffoct ofthc
movcmcntofhistoryorof|ifc,whcn thc ro|c ofcontingcncyisdcnicd,
andwhcnthc |cadcr`son|yrcquircmcnt ofothcrsis that thcirconduct
sha|| conform to norms and ordcrs. Simi|ar|y, what wc ca|| 'spccch` is
notspccch whcn spccch no |ongcrcircu|atcs,whcn a|| traccofdia|oguc
disappcars, whcn on|y onc mastcr has thc right to spcak, and whcn
cvcryonc c|sc isrcduccdto thc function ofhcaringand transmitting.
This is a|so why thc vcry idca of rcvo|ution disappcars bchind thc
imp|ics thc appcarancc ofthc majority on thc pub|icstagc or, rathcr,
thc bui|ding of that stagc as a rcsu|t of thc agitation which brought
human bcings into contact with onc anothcr bybringing thcm out of
thcir privatc univcrsc, by mobi|izing thcir initiativc and by instituting
acommondcbatc. Morcovcr,rcvo|ution`scharactcristicabi|itytobegin
is not onc of thc distinguishing fcaturcs of tota|itarianism. On thc
contrary, thc distinguishing mark of tota|itarianism is thc triumph of
an idco|ogy, which has an answcr to cvcry qucstion, to any qucstion
which uscs princip|cs to manufacturc cffccts, as though thought had
bccndisconncctcd from thccxpcricncc ofthcrca|.
Arcndt`s rcading of tota|itarianism, in both its Nazi and Sta|inist
variants, govcrns thc subscqucnt c|aboration of hcrthcoryofpo|itics.
Shc conccptua|izcs po|itics by invcrting thc imagc of tota|itarianism,
andthis |cads hcrto |ook, notfora modc| ofpo|itics- thc usc ofthc
tcrm'modc|`wou|dbcabctraya|ofhcrintcntions- butfor arcfcrcncc
to po|itics in ccrtain privi|cgcd momcnts whcn its fcaturcs arc most
c|car|y disccrnab|c. thc momcnt of thc Grcck City in Antiquity and,
Thc momcnt of thc workcrs` counci|s in Russia in 1917, and that of
thc Hungarian workcrs` counci|s of 1956, might a|so bc addcd to thc
Inthcpurcstcasc, thatofGrcccc,wcscc, accordingto Arcndt, thc
organization or cmcrgcncc of a 'spacc` within which mcn rccognizc
onc anothcr as cqua|s, and discuss and dcbatc togcthcr, a spacc
whcrcin thcy arc rcmovcd from thc privatc mattcrs charactcristic of
thc bounds of thc oikos - a domcstic unit ofproduction govcrncd by
Within this spacc mcn can, asArcndt puts it. vic with onc anothcr in
attcmpting to attractpub|icattcntion orto imprint thcirimagc on thc
pub|ic mcmorywith thcir 'hnc words` and thcir `cxp|oits`.
Hcrc, powcr iscxcrciscdwithin an intcr-pcrsona| rc|ationship, and
words arc cxchangcd in an attcmpt to rcach dccisions that conccrn
cvcryonc. Thc vcry cxistcncc of this spacc is a prccondition for thc
appcarancc of a 'common wor|d` , of a wor|d which is not one, but
which is thc samc bccausc it is opcn to mu|tip|c pcrspcctivcs. This is
a tru|y human wor|d,which ncithcrpcrccptìon a|onc nor|aboura|onc
Hannah Arendt and the Political 51
cou|dcstab|ish bccausc, again according to Arcndt, it isquitc obvious
that thc mcrc usc of |ifc cannot transccnd nccds that havc to bc
satishcdandthcconstraintsthcyimposc, andcannotgivcbirth to this
vcry diffcrcnt nccd- but thcword is inappropriatc- to the desire for
a human world which transcends the contingency of institutions.
It is impossib|c to cmphasizc too strong|y thc idca that it is by
participating inthisspacc, byacccdingtothcvisibility ofapub|icstagc
than mcn dchnc and apprchcnd onc anothcr as cqua|s. A|tcrnativc|y,
wc might say that it is by apprchcnding onc anothcr as cqua|s that
thcy gain acccss to thc stagc. According to Arcndt, thcrc is a vcry
c|osc conncction bctwccn cqua|ity and visibi|ity. Thc possibi|ity, or
cvcnthcrca|ity,ofcqua|ityimp|icsthatcachpcrson canappcarbcforc
othcrs in this spacc, and that othcrs can appcar bcforc thcm. Whcn
powcr is circumscribcd within an organ or an individua|, it cscapcs
cvcryonc`s gazc. Incqua|ity and invisibi|ity go hand in hand.
This in itsc|fis cnough to suggcst that, for Arcndt, cqua|ity is not
an cnd in itsc|f. It is not, for cxamp|c, that at a givcn momcnt in
history mcn makc thc discovcry that thcy arc born cqua|. Equa|ity is
an invcntion, it is an cffcct or simp|y a sign of thc momcnt which
raiscs mcn abovc |ifc and opcns thcm upto a common world.
This bricf cvocation of Grcck po|itics a||ows us to bring out thc
oppositions which govcrn a|| Hannah Arcndt`sana|yscs. Thc primary
objcct of hcr book The Human Condition is thc opposition bctwccn
action and work or |abour.` Shc makcs furthcr oppositions bctwccn
thc pub|ic and thc privatc rca|m, bctwccn thc rca|m of po|itics and
thc rca|m ofsocia| |ifc, bctwccn powcr and vio|cncc, bctwccn unity
and p|ura|ity, and bctwccn thc activc |ifc and thc contcmp|ativc |ifc.
With rcgard to thc |attcr opposition, Hannah Arcndt takcs thc
vicw - and u|timatc|y this is why shc rcfuscs to ca|| hcrsc|f a
phi|osophcr - that phi|osophy originatcs in F|ato`s misrccognition or
disavowa|ofpo|itics.Thc frccdom thathad oncc bccn found in action,
inthcdcmocraticCity, indcbatc andinmanifestation wasrcjcctcd by
phi|osophy and was transfcrrcd to thought, which bccamc divorccd
from thc human wor|d, a wor|d which was disparagcd as a rca|m of
confusion. According to Arcndt, thc birth of phi|osophy gavc a ncw
|ocatcd thc sacrcd or cnchantmcnt in thc rca|m of thc visib|c, in thc
appcarancc of thc pub|ic spacc, bccausc for phi|osophy it was thc
that was invcstcd with thc nobi|ity charactcristic of intcriority, whi|st
po|itica| activity fc|| into disrcputc.
Thc strcngth of thc tradition inauguratcd by F|ato is, according to
Arcndt, such that its cffccts can sti|| bc sccn in Marx, who attcmpts
to rcvivc po|itica| activity simp|y by realizing phi|osophy, in othcr
wordsby projcctingon to ancmpirica|historyandancmpirìca|socicty
52 On Modern Democracy
naturc ofaction has bccn forgottcn.
Wcnowhavcto askhowArcndtarticu|atcsthisidcaofpo|iticswith
but thc |ack ofprccision can bc imputcd to Arcndthcrsc|f- arc, shc
suggcsts, thc thcatrc of a considcrab|c changc. In Antiquity, in thc
timcofthcpolis, socicty did notcxist, thc wor|d wasdividcdbctwccn
thcaffairsofthccityandthcaffairsofthcoikos, whcrcasthcdistinctivc
fcaturc ofmodcrnity pcrtains to thc advcnt ofthc socia|.
In othcr words, growth, tcchno|ogy and thc division of |abour,
togcthcrwiththcriscofmodcrnscicncc- whichaimstocontro|naturc
- had thccffcct ofcstab|ishingagcncra| nctworkofdcpcndcncc. This
nctwork binds togcthcr individua|s, activitics and nccds, and imp|ics
incrcasing|ycomp|cxorganizationa|tasks;it|cadsto thc cmcrgcncc of
rc|ationsofdomination on a ncw sca|c. that of thc nation.
Thc proccss of thc cxpansion of thc socia| and of thc dcbascmcnt
ofpo|itics was bricñy intcrruptcd - at a point whcn, it is truc, itwas
sti|| in its car|y stagcs- by thc Amcrican Rcvo|ution and thc Frcnch
Rcvo|ution, but ncithcr had any |asting cffcct. Indccd, Arcndt notcs
that thc |attcr was a|most immcdiatc|y pcrvcrtcd by thc risc of thc
'socia| qucstion`.
Thc prob|cm was, shc says in substancc, that po|itica| cqua|ity
incvitab|y bccamc confuscd with socia| cqua|ity. This is a tragic
confusion,ascqua|itycanon|ybcpo|itica|,and itfoundaphi|osophica|
cxprcssion in thc inscnsatc idca that individua|s arc cqua| by birth, in
thc chimcra ofthc rights ofman. It must bc notcd that for Hannah
Arcndt, asforBurkc, on|y thc rightsofcitizcns arcrca|, thc rights of
man arc a hction.
A g|ancc at thc way socictics dcvc|opcd in thc ninctccnth and
rcsponsib|c for thc administration of thc socia|. At thc samc timc,
po|itics tcnds incrcasing|y to |osc its status, whi|st thc pub|ic spacc
withcrs away and whi|st privatc spacc bccomcs atrophicd. In thcir
p|acc, wc scc thc cmcrgcncc of, on thc onc hand, socia| organization
and, onthcothcr, thc|itt|cwor|dofthc individua|,which ArcndtcaI|s
thc wor|dofintimacy. As a rcsu|tofthc standardizationofmorcs and
bchaviour, thc |attcr bccomc a trompe fadl painting.
a phcnomcnon which Arcndtdcscribcs as bcingwithoutany historica|
prcccdcnt and as having dcstroycd thc catcgorics of thc Wcstcrn
trdition. Whi|st shc stubborn|y rcfuscs to assign a causc to it, shc
dcscribcs how it cmcrgcs from within modcrn socictics, and docs so
in tcrms which |cavcs us in no doubt as to its raison d'ttre.
inwhich thcrcarcno |ongcr any|imitstoindiffcrcncc to pub|icaffairs,
toatomization,toindividua|ismorto unbrid|cd compctition. A|though
Hannah Arendt and the Political 5J
shc a|so rccognizcs that bourgcois individua|ism is an obstac|c to thc
strong man`s scizurc of powcr, shc is not afraid to say that 'in this
scnsc, thc bourgoisic`spo|itica|phi|osophywasa|ways ¨tota|itarian``` ;''
thc bourgoisic had a|waysassumcd thc idcntity of po|itics. cconomics
and a socicty inwhich po|itica| institutionsscrvcdon|yasa façadc for
privatc intcrcsts.
Nor is shc afraid to writc.
Thc phi|istinc`s rctircmcnt into privatc |ifc, his sing|c-mindcd
dcgcncratcd, product of thc bourgcoisic`s bc|icf in thc primacy
of privatc intcrcst. Thc phi|istinc is thc bourgcois iso|atcd from
his own c|ass, thc atomizcd individua| who is produccd by thc
co||apsc of thc bourgcois c|ass itsc|f. Thc mass man whom
Himm|crorganizcdforthcgrcatcst masscrimcs cvcrcommittcd
in history borc thc fcaturcs of thc phi|istinc rathcr than of thc
mob man, and was thc bourgcois who in thc midst of thc ruins
and was rcady to sacrihcc cvcrything - bc|icf, honor, dignity -
on thc s|ightcst provocation.'
Arcndtdocsinfact rcfusc tocstab|ish acontinuitybctwccn bourgcois
dcmocracy and tota|itarianism, but that is bccausc shc hnds in thc
criscs that fo||owcd thc war (thc FirstWor|dWar) adccisivc accidcnt,
namc|y thcco||apscof a c|asssystcmand thc |ibcration ofthc masscs
from what had by thcn bccomc traditiona| bonds. thc cmcrgcncc of
pcop|c who wcrc quitc |itcra||y disinterested bccausc thcy no |ongcr
had any intcrcsts to dcfcnd, and who wcrc in that scnsc rcady for
anything, inc|uding dcath.
Hannah Arcndt`s intcrprctation ca||sfor numcrous commcnts. Thc
hrst conccrns thc c|car-cut distinction shc cstab|ishcs bctwccn thc
po|itica| rca|m and thc privatc rca|m, and thc rc|atcd distinction
bctwccn po|itica| cqua|ity and socia| incqua|ity.
in Grcccc, l as Moscs Fin|ay suggcsts," it is worth asking which
circumstanccs, which conñicts- and thcycan on|y havc bccn socia|-
�and which aims - and thcy can on|y havc bccn mi|itary - |cd high|y
diffcrcntiatcd and hicrarchica| socictics to acccpt that pcasants,
shopkccpcrs and artisans shou|d bc udmittcd to asscmb|ics in which
dccisionsconccrning pub|ic affairs wcrc takcn.
Wc must a|so ask how dccisions wcrc actua||y takcn bchind thc
maskofpo|itica|cqua|ity, andwcmustaskoursc|vcsaboutthcnaturc
of thc mcans by which ccrtain mcn succccdcd in cxcrcising a |asting
authorityovcronc orothcrscction ofthc pcop|c. Thc |attcrqucstion
is ncvcr raiscd by Arcndt, who is convinccd, on thc onc hand, that
spccch is thc so|c mcdium ofpcrsuasion and, on thcothcr- which is
cqua||y naivc- that thc cxchangcofwords is in itsc|fcga|itarian, that
54 On Modern Democracy
of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution, it is difhcu|t to scc how shc can makc a
distinction bctwccn po|itica| cqua|ity and thc strugg|c that was wagcd
against thc hicrarchy of thc Ancicn Rcgimc. This strugg|c, as
Tocqucvi||c cxp|ains, was inscribcd within thc proccss of 'cqua|ity of
but which, as Tocqucvi||c again dcmonstratcs, cou|d not fai| to havc
both socia| and po|itica| cffccts. It was a strugg|c both for frccdom
and for thc rccognition that human bcings arc madc in onc anothcr`s
In tcrms of Arcndt`s critiquc of thc conccpt of thc rights of man
and hcr c|aim that it dcrivcs from thc hction of human naturc, it is
difhcu|ttosccthcphi|osophica|basisforthc argumcntthatthcmutua|
stop at thc gatcs of thc City. If that wcrc indccd thc casc, it is
oftota|itarianism, cxccpton thc crudc and a|most accidcnta| grounds
that its conqucsts arc a thrcat to our socicty.
Hannah Arcndtsccsthcprojcctoftota|dominationasancxprcssion
of a wish to cxp|orc thc |imits of thc possib|c, and as rcvca|ing thc
u|timatc possibi|ity of changing human naturc itsc|f. I do not wish to
dwc|| upon thc purc|y forma| contradiction bctwccn thc rcjcction of
thc idca ofhuman naturc andthc assumption that human naturc can
bc changcd, but I think it importantto strcss'that ifwc do not rcgard
thc distinction bctwccn truth and |ics, good and cvi|,just and unjust,
and rca| andimaginaryas constitutivc of po|itica| thought, orcvcn of
thoughtin gcncra|,wcu|timatc|y |cndcrcdcncc to thc hypothcsis that
thcon|yobstac|ctotota|itarianism is thcpowcrofitsadvcrsarics, and
to thc vicw that, in itsc|f, it is frcc from a|| intcrna| contradictions.
Arcndt`s formu|a `Thc powcr of man is so grcat that hc can bc
whatcvcrhcwantsto bc` isdcrivcdfromhistoricismorfrom whatLco
Lct us notc, hna||y, that thc way in which shc dchncs po|itics
prcscntsuswitharadica|a|tcrnativc. Fo|itics,so tospcak,cithcrcxists
or docs not cxist. Wc cannot cxp|ain which po|itics cmcrgcs in any
givcn contcxt, it is thc sign of a radica| bcginning and, morcovcr, it
appcarsandthcndisappcarswithout tracc. Whcn.forcxamp|c,Arcndt
spcaksin thc prcfacc to Between Past and Future ofthc Rcsistancc as
a '|ost trcasurc` - an cxprcssion shc borrows from Rcnc Char - shc
Thc mcn ofthc Europcan Rcsistancc wcrc ncithcr thc hrst nor
thc |ast to |osc thcirtrcasurc. Thc history ofRcvo|utions- from
thc summcr of 1776 in Fhi|adc|phia and thc summcr of 1789 in
Faristothcautumnof1956 inBudapcst- which po|itica||yspc||s
out thc inncrmost story of thc modcrn agc, cou|d bc to|d in
parab|c formas thc ta|c of an agc-o|d trcasurc which, undcr thc
Hannah Arendt and the Political
most varicd circumstanccs, appcars abrupt|y, uncxpcctcd|y, and
itwcrc a fata morgana`
bchind thc work of ccrtain grcat contcmporary thinkcrs. For Lco
Strauss,thcpossibi|itythatarcgimcconformingto naturc- thcrcgimc
conccivcd by F|ato - might ncvcr cxist in no way discrcdits it. For
Hcidcggcr, whosc conccrns arc rathcr diffcrcnt, thc grcatcr thc
occu|tation of Bcing, thc grcatcr thc dangcr, but as thc dangcr
incrcascs, wc arc in a bcttcr position to undcrstand thc qucstion of
Bcing with grcatcracuity. Arcndt, for hcr part, suggcsts that cvcn if
po|itics, asshcundcrstandspo|itics, can no|ongcrbccmbodicd inthc
rca|, it is sti|| po|itics, and shc a|so |cads us to supposc that, as thc
shadow oftota|itarianism sprcads, wcarcbcttcr p|accd todisccrn its
Dcspitc thc diffcrcnccs bctwccn thcm, a|| thrcc thinkcrsconcur in
ca||ing modcrnity into qucstion. From a political point of view, the
questioning of moderity means the questioning of democracy.
Thc disturbing thing about Hannah Arcndt - and it is a sign of a
shortcoming - is that, whi|st shc right|y criticizcs capita|ism and
bourgcoisindividua|ism, shc ncvcrshowsany intcrcstindcmocracy as
such, in modcrn dcmocracy. Cou|d it bc that this is bccausc modcrn
dcmocracy is rcprcscntativc and bccausc thc notion of rcprcscntation
is a|icn or cvcn rcpugnant to hcr? Yct ifthcrc is onc thing that Nazi
tota|itarianism and Sta|inist-sty|c tota|itarianism havc incommon, it is
to rcstorc p|ura|ity, as opposcd to thc Onc, shc fai|s to scc that thc
fantasticattcmpttoturnsocictyintoaunihcdbody wc|dcdtoitshcad
- thc Fuhrcr, thc suprcmc guidc - stcms from thc ovcrthrow ofthc
rcgimc which cstab|ishcd itsc|fthus, by making a distinction bctwccn
thc po|c ofpowcr, thc po|c of|aw and thc po|c ofknow|cdgc, andby
acccpting socia| division and conñict, by acccpting a hctcrogcncity of
morcs and opinions, and by distancing itsc|f, as no prcvious rcgimc
had donc, from thc fantasy of an organic socicty. '"
The Revolutionary Terror
Lctuscxamincaspccch byRobcspicrrc. Lctuscxaminc,forcxamp|c,
thcspccch hc madc on I I Gcrmina| Ycar II (JI March I794). To tc||
thc truth, itis noaccidcnt that I shou|d havc choscn this spccch. Thc
circumstanccswcrccxccptiona|. Onthatday,itsccms,thcConvcntion
a|most frustratcd a bid for powcr by thc Committcc of Fub|ic Safcty.
Had it donc so, rcvo|utionary po|itics might havc changcd abrupt|y.
'Almost frustratcd . . .? Thcdccisivcfactorwasofcoursc Robcspicrrc`s
intcrvcntion. Lct usbricßy rcca|| thcfacts. Danton had bccn arrcstcd
thc prcvious night, togcthcr with Cami||c Dcsmou|ins, Lacroix and
Fhi|ippcau. For |css than a ycar, thcrc had bccn an incrcasc in thc
ratcofmajorpurgcs. Thc faH ofthc |cadcrsofthc Girondc had bccn
fo||owcd in turn by thc faH ofthc Enragcs, thc Hcbcrtistcs and thcn
thc o|d |cadcrs of thc Faris Communc. Thc victims wcrc aH
distinguishcd, but nonc ofthcm had cnjoycd Danton`s prcstigc. Not
onc of thcm had cmbodicd thc spirit of thc Rcvo|ution to thc samc
cxtcnt, and, un|ikc Cami||c, nonc of thcm cou|d havc c|aimcd to bc
thcfathcrofthcRcpub|ic.Thistimc,Robcspicrrc andthcCommittccs
wcrcstrikingvcryc|oscto homc. Thc|aunchingofanoffcnsivc against
whatwastcrmcdthc Indu|gcntfactionhadofcourscbccnannounccd,
notab|y to thc Jacobins, but thc ncwsof thc arrcsts, which had bccn
ordcrcd without thc know|cdgc of thc Convcntion, sti|| camc as a
surprisc. Thc bid forpowcrwas a|so a coup de theatre; it providcd a
sign that thc Tcrror had rcachcd a paroxysm.
Thcfactis- |ct usnotc in passing- that thc c|iminationof Danton
andhisfricndsappcars,with hindsight, tohavcmarkcdaturningpoint
inthccourscofthc Rcvo|ution. Fcrhaps, as hassomctimcsbccn said,
hisopponcnts, thc Gcrmina| cvcnts pavcd thc wayforthc crcation of
thcBurcaudcpo|iccgcncra|candfor thcadoption,somctwomonths
60 On Revolution
|atcr,ofthcdccrccof22Fraira| andthcrcorganizationofrcvo|utionary
And yct it is not rca||y bccausc of its circumstanccs, its timing or
its import that I havc sing|cdout Robcspicrrc`s spccch forattcntion.
Itstandsoutbccausc ofitssty|c,itstoncanditscomposition, bccausc
docs not attcmpt to provc that Danton and his fricnds arc gui|ty, hc
says not a word to that cffcct. Nor docs hc try to convincc thc
Asscmb|y ofthc nccd to maintain thc Tcrror, hcon|y uscs thc word
oncc, and thcn it is to cvokc thc fcar his advcrsarics wish to inspirc
in him. His art is thc art of disp|acing thc objcct of thc dcbatc, hc
torccognizcasthcirown. Hcsimu|tancous|yimposcshimsc|fasmastcr
andob|itcratcsthcp|acc ofthc mastcr. Fina||y, hcuscsa||thcartihccs
of spccch to do away with spccch itsc|f, thc rcvo|utionary truth of
whichhcisthcorgansi|cnccsa||dcbatc. Inshort,Robcspicrrc`sspccch
docs not takc thc Tcrror as its objcct, it cxcrciscs thc Tcrror, it
rcprcscnts an important momcnt of thc Tcrror in action. It spcaks
OnI I Gcrmina|,thcn,thcsittingofthcConvcntionopcnsinaccordancc
with thc usua| proccdurcs, but thc Asscmb|y is a|ivc with rumours
about thc night`sarrcsts. Thc mcmbcrsofthcCommittccshavc yctto
arrivc. Rcprcscntativc Lcgcndrc immcdiatc|yasks|cavcto spcak. Hc
dcc|arcsthat hc isastoundcd, asscrts thatDantonisaspurc as hc is,
thanksto his cncrgy dcscrvcs to bc hcard, and must havc thc right to
put his casc if hc is to bc accuscd of bctraying thc Fathcr|and. ` His
how can it rcfusc onc of its most i||ustrious mcmbcrs thc right to
dcfcnd himsc|f bcforc it? Thc dcbatc is a|rcady undcr way whcn
Robcspicrrcappcars,ahcadofhisco||cagucson thcCommittccs, and
cagcr, wc can assumc, to know thc Asscmb|y`srcactions. Hcriscsto
spcak, and with his vcry hrstwords hc uncovcrs thc hiddcn motivcs
bchindLcgcndrc`sinitia|argumcnts. 'Itiscasytotc||from thcturmoi|
thatprcvai|sinthisAsscmb|y, a turmoi| thathas|ongbccnunknown,
and from thc agitation provokcd by thc opcning rcmarks of thc |ast
spcakcr but onc, that a major issuc is at stakc hcrc. thc issuc is
Thcobjcctofthcdcbatc isimmcdiatc|ydisp|accd. Indccd, thc orator
ignorcsits manifcstobjcct, and invitcs his|istcncrsto|ook at thc rca|
issuc. Notcontcntwith dcnouncing thc p|ansofDanton`ssupportcrs,
hc thcn givcs voicc to a suspicion which wcighs upon thc who|c
Asscmb|y. 'What, thcn, isthcchangcthat appcarstohavc manifcstcd
itsc|finthc princip|cs ofthc mcmbcrsofthis Asscmb|y,andcspccia||y
in thc princip|cs of thosc who sit on thc sidc which pridcs itsc|f on
having givcn rcfugc to thc most intrcpid dcfcndcrs of |ibcrty?`
The Revolutionary Terror 61
Whatwasthc objcct ofthcdcbatc?- Thc right ofmcmbcrs ofthc
conductbcforc thcirpccrs. Imp|icit|y, ittouchcdupon thc guarantccs
accordcd to thc rcprcscntativcs of thc pcop|c. Robcspicrrc is carcfu|
nottocondcmnthoscguarantccsinprincip|c, anddocsnotcvcncvokc
timcs, hccxp|oits ana||usion to thc Mountain to praisc thc 'rcfugc of
|ibcrty` but, basing his argumcnt upon thc fact that Bazirc, Chabot
and Fabrcd`Eg|antincwcrc rcccnt|y dcnicd a rightwhich thc accuscd
Danton dcmandcd on thcir bcha|f- and his intcr|ocutors cannothavc
forgottcn thc fact - hc cxprcsscs his surprisc that a princip|c shou|d
havc bccn abandoncd. This wou|d bc a wcak argumcnt if it mcrc|y
rcvca|cdthcinstabi|ityofthcAsscmb|y, particu|ar|yinthatasovcrcign
asscmb|y is not bound by its prcvious dccisions. and in that thc
immunity of deputes cannot, as a mattcr of princip|c, bc cha||cngcd.
Robcspicrrc`s qucstion docs not, thcn, ccntrc upon thc fact that thc
Convcntion has rcvcrscd its position, hc asksfor thc rcasonsfor thc
changc, hcaskswhysomcshou|dbcgrantcda rightrcfuscd toothcrs.
His why is thc instrumcnt of suspicion. And thc answcr is obvious
from thc qucstion itsc|f. 'Thc issuc is whcthcr or not thc intcrcsts of
a fcw ambitious hypocritcs arc to prcvai| against thc intcrcsts of thc
Frcnch pcop|c. ` Robcspicrrc, whoisin no hurry to namc Danton and
his fricnds, is, thcn, pointingout to thc Asscmb|y that itis according
privi|cgcd trcatmcnt to ccrtain individua|s.
Thc individua|s in qucstion arc, it is truc, dcscribcd as ambitious
hypocritcs,andthcoratornowasks, 'Whcthcrwc havc madcso many
hcroicsacrihccs,amongstwhichwc mustnumbcrccrtainactsofpainfu|
scvcrity, . . . on|ytocomcundcrthcyokcofafcwp|ottcrswhowantcd
powcr.` A forccfu|, and pcrhapssurprising, phrasc. Andso, gucssing
what cvcryonc is thinkingashcspcaks, hcdismisscs thc idca that thc
accuscd havc rcndcrcd thc Rcpub|ic scrviccs, thc vcry scrviccs which
Danton and Cami||cwou|d not fai| tocnumcratc with such c|oqucncc
bcforc thc Asscmb|y, had thcy thc opportunity to do so. 'What do
hnc spccchcs mattcr to mc?` crics Robcspicrrc, as though hc had
hcard thcm. What do tributcs to oncsc|f or to onc`s fricnds mattcr?
Wchavc|carncdfrom|ongandpainfu|cxpcricnccwhatwc mustthink
of such oratorica| phrascs. Wc no |ongcr ask what a man and his
fricnds boast of having donc at a particu|ar timc, in particu|ar
circumstanccs of thc Rcvo|ution, wc ask what thcy havc donc
throughoutthcirpo|itica|carccrs. ` Withoutcvcngivinghisadvcrsarics
any rca| crcditfor thcir past scrviccs- hc mcntions on|y thc scrviccs
thcy c|aim to havc rcndcrcd - hc is obvious|y attacking thc vcry
princip|c that thcrc can bc objcctivc proofs of rcvo|utionary conduct
(and thus anticipatcs thc spirit of thc Fraira| |aw). But hc docs not
mcntion his advcrsarics dircct|y. It is not his intcntion to discuss thc
casc of thc accuscd in any dcpth, to do so wou|d cxposc him to
objcctions, dcnia|s or simp|y qucstions. What is his intcntion7 Hc
62 On Revolution
wishcs to makcthc Asscmb|y awarcofitsimagc of Danton and, morc
gcncra||y, ofits imagc of thc cxccptiona| individua|, of thc spc|| cast
by thc namc ofDanton, by a name.
thcdcbatc. 'Lcgcndrcsccmstobc unawarcofthc namcsofthoscwho
havc bccn arrcstcd. His fricnd Lacroix is onc of thcir numbcr. Why
docs hc fcign not to know that? Bccausc hc wc|| knows that no onc
candcfcnd Lacroixshamc|css|y. ` Thca||usiontoLcgcndrc`simmora|ity
rcvca|sthc orator`srcmarkab|ccunning,foratthcvcrysamcmomcnt
whcn hc criticizcs Lcgcndrc for not mcntioning Lacroix`s namc, hc
himsc|f fai|s to mcntion othcr namcs, notab|y thc namc of Cami||c.
Hc cxp|oits Lcgcndrc`s si|cncc in ordcr to dcnouncc thc privi|cgcs
grantcd to Danton. Lcgcndrc,hcgocson, 'hasspokcn of Danton, no
doubt bccausc hc bc|icvcs that a ccrtain privi|cgc attachcs to that
namc, no. wc want noprivi|cgcs, no, wc want no ido|s.` Hc has now
scorcd a dircct hit on thc targct hc sct up at thc bcginning of his
spccch. Andthchitappcarstohavcbccnapprcciatcd,asthctranscript
ofthc sitting spcaksofapp|ausc from thcAsscmb|y. Hcwi|| rcturn to
thc samc targct a momcnt |atcr by asking, 'Who arc . . . thcsc mcn
who sacrihcc thc intcrcsts ofthc Fathcr|and to pcrsona| |oya|tics, or
pcrhapstofcar?,who,at the very moment when equality has triumphed
dare to try to destroy it inside this Assembly?
(cmphasis addcd). Thc
initia|qucstion- 'Whcthcr ornotafcwmcn arc to prcvai| against thc
Fathcr|and today`, 'Whcthcr or not thc intcrcsts of a fcw ambitious
hypocritcsarc to prcvai| against thc intcrcsts of thc Frcnch pcop|c`-
was too c|osc|y bound up with thc charactcr ofthc dctainccs. It now
provcs to havc bccn supcrscdcd. Thc sccond qucstion conccrns on|y
a univcrsa| princip|c. cqua|ity. Thc accusation is no |ongcr dircctcd
so|c|y against thc Dantonistcs assuch, but a|so againstthosc who arc
trying to sct individua|s abovc thc common |aw by focusing thc
Convcntion`sattcntionon thcm. Wcshou|da|sonotchowRobcspicrrc
contro|s thc thoughts of his audicncc - thoughts which cannot, of
coursc, bc cxprcsscd but whichcou|d thwart his p|ans. 'No, wc want
no ido|s`, hc crics, a happy cxprcssion and, apparcnt|y, onc dcsigncd
to p|casc, but it has thc disadvantagc of suggcsting that Danton is
indccd an ido| of thc pcop|c, and thcrcforc of rcawakcning fcars as
towhat wi|| happcnifhcisattackcd, ithasthc disadvantagcofgiving
him a ncw prcstigc which no princip|c wi|| bc ab|c to cxpungc from
thc pub|ic imagination. And so hc adds, 'Wc wi|| scc today whcthcr
thcConvcntionwi||darc to brcak a so-called idol which has long been
rotten, or whcthcr that ido| wi|| crush thc Convcntion and thc Frcnch
pcop|cwhcnitfa||s`(cmphasisaddcd). Hccondcnscsawho|cargumcnt
into thrcc words. Thc substancc of thc argumcntis as fo||ows. do not
to|cratc an ido|, as you must vcncratc cqua|ity a|onc, and do not bc
dcccivcdbyrumours: Dantonis not anobjcctofworship, andbcsidcs,
hisimagc isbankruptand rottcn. Hccannotofcoursc actua||ydcp|oy
such an argumcnt; thc thrcc statcmcnts arc incompatib|c, but that is
The Revolutionary Terror 63
of |itt|c importancc, and thc strcngth of thc discoursc of tcrror |ics
prccisc|yin its abi|ity toabo|ish anyarticu|ation that might |cnd itsc|f
tocontradiction,andtosimu|atcaconc|usionwhich |cavcsthcaudicncc
with no choicc. In thc prcscnt contcxt, it is not a mattcr of rcso|ving
whcthcr thc Asscmb|y shou|d or shou|d not dcstroy Danton, hc is a
rottcn ido| and wi|| fa|| of his own accord. Thc on|y issuc at stakc is
wi|| abandonhim inordcrtosavcitsc|f.Thcrc is, thcn, no a|tcrnativc,
particu|ar|y as thc Convcntion isnotconfrontcd with a ncw situation.
thcfa|| ofDanton,wcarc nowto|d, issimp|ythc|atcstcpisodcinthc
scricsofcvcntswhichdcstroycd Brissot, Fction,Chabot and Hcbcrt.
Evcrythingthat is bcingsaidofDantoncou|d havc bccn said ofthcm
too. thcy a|| 'madc Francc ring with thc ostcntatious sound of thcir
dcccitfu| patriotism`.
Robcspicrrc, itwi|| bc notcd,sti|| rcfrains from producingcvcn thc
s|ightcstproofofDanton`s gui|t; hc uscs thc fashionab|c argumcntof
gui|t by association by comparing him with traitors who havc a|rcady
bccnstruckdown. 'In whatscnscisDantonbcttcrthanhisco||cagucs?
And what privi|cgcs docs hc havc?` And hc combincs this argumcnt
with a dcfcncc ofcqua|ity. 'In what scnsc ishc bcttcr than hisfc||ow
citizcns?` That is cnough. Thc namcofDanton wi|| not bc mcntioncd
Thc qucstion is now disp|accd for a third timc. Hcrc, wc must
prcsumab|y imaginc a pausc, a sharpintakc of brcath or a changcof
tonc. Suspicionnowfa||sonthcAsscmb|y.Robcspicrrcnowaddrcsscs
its mcmbcrs dircct|y, somcthinghc hasnotdonc bcforc. 'Citizcns, thc
momcnt has comc to spcak thc truth.` Thc cha||cngc is ca|cu|atcd to
makchisaudicnccshuddcr. Hcbcginsbysayingthathchasrccognizcd
'a sinistcr omcn of thc dcstruction and dccadcncc of princip|cs` (a
momcnt |atcr, hc wi|| ask, 'Who arc thc mcn who wish to dcstroy
cqua|ity?`),butthatrc|atcstohiscar|icrargumcnt. Hisncxtdcc|aration
introduccs somcthing ncw.
Thcywant to makc you fcar(all veut vous faire craindre) abuscs
of powcr, of thc nationa| powcr you havc cxcrciscd and which
docs not rcsidcwith on|y a fcw mcn. What havc you donc that
you havc notdoncfrcc|y, that has notsavcd thc Rcpub|ic, that
has not bccn approvcd by thc who|c of Francc? Thcy want to
makc us fcar (on veut nous faire craindre) that thc pcop|c wi||
fa|| victim to thc Committccs, to thc Committccs which havc
won thc pcop|c`s trust, which cmanatc from thc nationa|
Convcntion, and whichthcy (on) wanttodivorcc from it,fora||
fcar (on craint) that thc prisoncrs arc bcing opprcsscd, and
thcrcforcthcydistrust our nationa| justicc, andthc mc whohavc
64 On Revolution
which gavc thcm that trust, and thc pub|ic opinion which
sanctioncd it.
Thc basic argumcnt sccms c|car. thc Convcntion and thc nation arc
onc, thc Convcntion`s dccisions arc sovcrcign, and arc madc tn
accordancc with thc wi|| of thc pcop|c; thc Commìttccs and thc
Convcntionarconc,bccausc thcyarcmcrc|yitscmanation. Simi|ar|y,
and itfo||ows thatanysuspicions dircctcdagainstthc Committccsand
thcir j usticc arc a|so dircctcd against thc Convcnt!on itsc|f, that
it from its own organs. In short, cvcrything is dcduccd from thc
princip|c that thcpcop|c, thc Convcntion, thc <: ommittccsandjusticc
arc onc and thc samc, thc |cgitimacy and pcrttncncc of thc dcctstons
thathavc bccntakcn thcrcforc cannotbcqucstioncd.Thccxp|oitation
of |anguagc is, it shou|d bc notcd, as rcmarkab|c as thc argumcnt
itsc|f. Somcthing is bcing imp|icd without bcing statcd cxp|icit|y; thc
cxp|icit condcmnation of thc abominab|c suspicions that havc bccn
dircctcd against thc Committccs and which arc attributab|c to an
cncmygivcsrisc toa much morcscrious suspicion. thcoratorsuspccts
thc Convcntion. It isby s|ippingfrom on to vous, from vous to nous,
and thcn back to on that Robcspicrrc causcs an i||-dchncd thrcat to
hang ovcr his audicncc. Hc bcgan by cvoking 'mcn who sacrihcc thc
intcrcsts of thc Fathcr|and to pcrsona| |oya|tics, or pcrhaps to fcar`.
Thcy havc not, of coursc, bccn namcd, but thcycou|d bc. Thc on is
thcn uscd to indicatc thc cxistcncc of ananonymouswi||, it rcfcrs to
a powcr which wants to inspirc far, and not to individua|s who arc
perhaps motivatcd by fcar. But at |cast thc on sti|| sccms to bc
unrc|atcd to thosc Robcspicrrc is addrcssing; hc is suggcsting th,at
'thcy arc manipu|ating you` [on vous manipuleJ. And, as though to
win ovcr his intcr|ocutors, hc thcn convcrts thc vous into nous. Hc
himsc|f is onc of thc cncmy`s targcts. on veut vous faire eraindre
bccomcs on veut nous faire craindre. Thc nous condcnscs thc
Committccs and thc Asscmb|y, which thcy [onJ want todivorcc. But
at thc samc timc, an impcrccptib|c shift in thc position of thc on
insinuatcsitintothcConvcntionitsc|f,al veut nous faire craindre now
bccomcsal craint (thatthcprisoncrs arcbcingopprcsscd),on se defe
done . . .Thccncmyis no |ongcrstirringupfcarsoutsidcthcAsscmb|y,
us [entre nous J, among thosc Robcspic
rrc is ad�rcssing.
Thcrccanbc no mistakc astowhat tshappcntngwhcn Robcsptcrrc
suddcn|y abandons nous to hur| thc thundcrbo|t ofje: '1 say Ue disJ
thatanyonc who trcmb|csatthismomcntisgui|ty;forinnoccnccncvcr
fcars pub|ic scrutiny.`Hcrc, thc mastcr appcars. His gazc takcs in a||
thc deputes. Of coursc, no onc is namcd. Thc point is that 'anyonc'
hasnodchnitc p|acc, thathcis hcrc,thcrcandcvcrywhcrc.Thcword
sccksout thctrcmb|ìngitcauscs,and thcwordisatoncwiththc gazc
The Revolutionary Terror
thatdctcctsthc trcmb|ingoffcar. Fcar and gui|tarconcandthc samc;
fcaris notsimp|y a bctraya| of gui|t. he who is afraid is guilty.
Thc mastcrappcars, I said, but itis a|so truc that thcsuddcn distancc
bctwccn sc|fand othcr that is imprintcd on thc 'I say` is immcdiatc|y
transfcrrcd from cach |istcncr to thc ncxt. For thcy can a|| scc cach
othcr, andcanbcsccnbyoncanothcr. Robcspicrrc`swords thcrcforc
institutc an ordca| by mutua| gazc, anordca| in which cvcryonc must
without dropping his cycs bcforc his pcnctrating gazc. Thc mastcr`s
'anyonc' thus diffuscs throughout thc who|c Asscmb|y thc distinction
bctwccn thosc who arc afraid and thosc who arc not afraid, and that
And so, whcn Robcspicrrc adds in thc samc brcath that 'innoccncc
ncvcr fcars pub|ic scrutiny`, hc is not simp|y cvoking thc scrutiny of
thcCommittccs,butthcmutua|scrutinyofcachby a||. Itisthatwhich
givcsthcAsscmb|yand a||its mcmbcrsaphysica|prcscncc,andwhich
indicatcs thc a||-sccing gazc of thc Asscmb|y, indccd, it is that which
indicatcs thc gazc of thc pub|ic, which coincidcs, u|timatc|y, with
shrinks bcncath his gazc, hccscapcs its gazc. Anothcrofthc orator`s
rcmarkab|c artiñccs is to bc notcd. At thc vcry momcnt whcn hc
assumcs thc position of thc mastcr, and whcn his gazc bccomcs thc
organ of thc pub|ic`s vision, hcinhisturncxposcs himsc|fto thcgazc
of his co||cagucs as onc individua| among othcrs. Hc has, hc admits,
bccn cntrustcd with 'aparticu|arduty' to dcfcnd princip|cs. In short,
hc, |ikccvcryoncc|sc, hasbccnsubjcct tointimidatorymanouvrcsor
to fricnd|y prcssurcs.
Thcyhavc tricd to inspirctcrrorinmc too, to makc mcfcc| that
ifI associatcdwith Danton, I mightbc in dangcrtoo.Thcy(on)
dcscribcd him to mcasa manbywhom I muststand, as ashic|d
that cou|d dcfcnd mc, as a rampart whosc dcstruction wou|d
|cavc mc cxposcd to thc shafts of my cncmics. Thcy wrotc to
mc, thc fricnds of Danton scnt mc |cttcrs and importuncd mc
with thcir spccchcs.
Bcttcr sti||, hc rcca||s that hc was Danton`s fricnd, that hc was oncc
Fction`s fricnd, cvcn that hc had |inks with Ro|and. Oncc again, wc
havc hcrc a sign of thc pcrspicacity wc saw car|icr. hc can rcad thc
thoughts of his audicncc. And thcy of coursc arc thinking of his
rc|ationship with Danton, and ofthc vu|ncrabi|ityof a powcrfu| man
who has |ost hisc|oscst supportcrs. Evcryonc is tormcntcd by doubts
andqucstions. aftcrDanton,whynotmc7Whynothim,thc man who
is now dcmanding Danton`s dcath7
Robcspicrrc drawsattcntiontohimsc|fso|c|y inordcrto dcmonstratc
that hc ìs not afraid to comc undcr scrutiny. It is ccrtain|y not that hc
66 On Revolution
c|aims to bc invu|ncrab|c. No, hc acccpts that the danger that threatens
Danton could in future threaten him too; itissimp|ythathc docs not scc
thatpossibi|ity as a 'pub|icca|amity`. Thc imp|ication is that itwou|d bc
a pcrsona| accidcnt, that it wou|d not count for anything. `What docs
dangcr mattcr to mc7 My |ifc bc|ongs to thc Fathcr|and; my hcart is
frcc from fcar, and if I wcrc to dic, I wou|d do so without rcproach
and without ignominy.` In othcr words, thc rcason why Robcspicrrc
is not afraid, why hc can both |ct his gazc rcst on othcrs and cxposc
himsc|f to thcir gazc is not that hc fcc|s himsc|f to bc rcmovcd from
dangcr, orthathc rcfuscstoadmitthathc can bc attackcd ('Thcywi||
not darc to` said Danton, whcn his fricndswarncd that hc was about
tobc arrcstcd) , on thccontrary, hcdc|ightsincxposinghimsc|fto thc
cncmy. It is bccausc hc is not afraid of dcath that hc is so scrcnc.
Othcrs do not frightcn him bccausc dcath docs not frightcn him,
bccausc his|ifc is not his. it bc|ongs tothcFathcr|and.Thctranscript
of thc scssion tc||s us that this dcc|aration was punctuatcd with
of prcsumption, for hc cnds this confcssion by s|ipping back into thc
bosom of nous.
Thc spccch now takcs on a prccious inñcction.
Itisat this point that wc nodoubt rcquirc accrtaincouragcand
a ccrtain fortitudc (two virtucs which, bc it notcd, hc is carcfu|
not to c|aim cxp|icit|y for his own). Vu|gar sou|s or gui|ty mcn
arc a|ways afraid of sccing thcir fc||ows fa||, for whcn thcy arc
no |ongcr protcctcd byarampartofgui|ty mcn,thcyarccxposcd
to thc |ight of thc truth, but whi|st such vu|gar sou|s do cxist,
thcrc arc a|so hcroic sou|s in this Asscmb|y, for it govcrns thc
dcstinicsofthc wor|d and annu|s a|| factions.
A subt|c appca| to thc sub|imc, thcn. But in ordcr to apprcciatc it
fu||y, wc havc to rcca|| thc origina| objcct of thc dcbatc, thc rcfusa|
to hcar Danton and hisfricnds invo|vcsavchcmcnt dcnia| ofthc right
of individua|s- who arc, as it happcns, rcprcscntativcs ofthc pcop|c
- to bc rccognizcd as subjects. Thcy arc dcscribcd as bcing gui|ty in
thcabscnccofanyproofofthcir gui|t,thcyarcsymbo|ica||y dcstroycd
cannot concca| thc fact that thc rcvo|utionary hcro dcpcnds for hts
cxistcncc on thc words that namc him as such. Or. to put it morc
accuratc|y, that thcpowcrofspccchisbound upwiththcspc||itcasts,
and its spc|| is such that, whcn it is uttcrcd by thc orator, it appcars
to bc morc than thc spccch of a sing|c man. it is thc spccch of thc
co||cctivchcro,oftbc Asscmb|yorofthcpcop|cwhichspcaksthrough
it. Yct thc sourcc of this powcr`s strcngth is a|so thc sourcc of its
fragi|ity. Ifthc audicncc is not comp|ctc|y won ovcr, or ifa

rcmains unconvinccd, it bccomcs apparcnt that nothmg m what
The Revolutionary Terror 67
Robcspicrrc is saying can ward off thc possibi|ity of a ncw torrcnt of
accusations, thc possibi|ity that today`s hcrocs may bc tomorrow`s
gui|ty mcn. If thc Asscmb|y is to bc convinccd, thc prcscnt must
rcprcscnt a p|cnitudc. Frcccdcnts havc of coursc bccn invokcd, but
thcy havc on|y scrvcd to makc thc prcscnt morc intcnsc; thc wi|| to
dcstroy cncmics is supportcd by thc rc-prcscntation of thc wi|| that
dcstroycd ycstcrday`scncmics, and thosc ofthc day bcforc ycstcrday.
thc Hcbcrtistcs, thc Brissotins. But how can mcn fai| to bc hauntcd
bythc unknownfuturc7 As wc havca|rcadynotcd, cach ofthcm can
say to himsc|f. `aftcr Danton, why not mc7
Oncc again, Robcspicrrc has of coursc gucsscd what his |istcncrs
arc thinking. Abandoning tho rcgistcr of thc sub|imc, hc thcrcforc
movcs without transition to thc rcgistcr ofthc trivia|. I say 'without
transition`, but wc arc rcading his words, and wc cannot scc or hcar
him. Again, wc must imaginc a pausc, a changc of tonc or offacia|
cxprcssion. Hc thcn gocs on. `Thc numbcr of gui|ty mcn is not so
grcat, patriotism andthc Nationa| Convcntioncan distinguish bctwccn
crrors and crimcs, bctwccn wcakncss and conspiracy. Wc wc|| know
that pub|icopinionandthcNationa| Convcntionattackfaction|cadcrs
dircct|y, and that thcydonot strikcindiscriminatc|y.` And inordcrto
hcightcn thc cffcct of his words, hc rcpcats. 'Thc numbcr of gui|ty
mcn is not so grcat; I ca|| as my witncss thc unanimity or thc ncar-
unanimity with which you havc votcd for thcsc princip|cs in rcccnt
months. ` In short, hc rcassurcs his audicncc. Having cricd, 'Anyonc
whotrcmb|csatthismomcntisgui|ty`, hcnowrcmovcsthcknifc.
not trcmb|c so,` hc murmurs, 'wc to|cratc your fai|ings.` Having
condcmncd thc vu|garsou|s and thc mcn whofcar thc dcath of thcir
ncighbours bccausc thcy fcarthcirown dcath, hcnowstatcs inquitc
vu|gar tcrms. 'You wi|| not dic.` But cvcn this promisc contains a
vci|cd thrcat for, by invoking thc unanimity or ncar-unanimity of
rcccnt months, hc |cts it bc undcrstood that thc conscnsus of thc day
wi|| dctcrminc how many arc to dic.
Aftcr this, Robcspicrrc can a||ow himsc|f thc timc to rcca|| thc
to cxto|thciractionsinrcprcscntingthcnation, andtoshowthatthcy
arc at thisvcrymomcntwatchingovcritssafcty.Thc prcconditionfor
safcty is si|cncc. And such is that si|cncc, wc arc ñna||y to|d, that it
shou|d ncvcr havc bccn brokcn. 'Morcovcr, thc discussion which has
justbcgun rcprcscnts a thrcattothcFathcr|and; it isin itsc|fa gui|ty
b|ow against |ibcrty, for it is an outragc to |ibcrty to havc raiscd thc
issuc of whcthcr onc citizcn shou|d bc grantcd morc favours than
anothcr .. .` Whatbcttcrconc|usioncou|donchopc for7 Discussion is
supcrñuous. Evcn Robcspicrrc`s words arc supcrñuous. Spccch itsc|f
is gui|ty. Libcrty imp|ics si|cncc.
It is as though Robcspicrrc had rcp|acc his `Anyonc who trcmb|cs
at this momcnt is gui|ty' with thc words 'Anyonc who spcaks at this
momcnt is gui|ty.`
68 On Revolution
In conccntratingupona spccch byRobcspicrrc,I am not c|aimingthat
athcoryofthcTcrrorcanbcfoundwithinitsconhncs. Othcrspccchcs
or tcxts by Robcspicrrc himsc|f, or by Marat, Saint-!ust, Bi||aud-
Varcnnc or Barrcrc wou|d a|so providc csscntia| c|cmcnts of that
thcory. Nor am I bcing inßucnccd by somcvaguc thcory of |anguagc
that might a||owustoignorccconomic, socia|andidco|ogica|conßicts.
Fina||y, I do not wish to cxp|ain cvcry fcaturcofthc Tcrror in tcrms
thc Asscmb|y |cnds itsc|ftohisart. Imaginc thcsc mcn; somc ofthcm
may fcar thc popu|arity which thc orator, thc Committccs and thc
Scctions sti|| cnjoy at this point, whi|st othcrs may drcad a tria| of
strcngth whosc outcomc wou|d dccidc not on|y thc fatc of thc
Dantonistcs, but a|so that of thc Convcntion, or cvcn thc fatc ofthc
Rcvo|ution itsc|f. Many of thcm arc ccrtain|y rc|uctant to rcvcrsc a
po|icy which wasonccthcirs and tohnd thcmsc|vcs trappcdby a|ogic
supportcd unti| now. Robcspicrrc is in fact quick to rcmind thcm of
thcir past dccisions, hc makcs much of his surprisc at sccing thcm
rcvcrsc what had bccn a joint po|icy. Whi|st it might havc bccn
dangcroustocvokc thcro|cDantonorCami||c Dcsmou|insp|aycd in
thc c|imination ofthc Girondins, thc Enragcsand thc Hcbcrtistcs, or
thc ro|c of thc Girondins in thc c|imination of thc Parfi moden, hc
cou|d right|y havc pointcd out that ncithcr party had bccn undu|y
conccrncd with thc forma|itics of justicc. I am not, thcn, giving
Robcspicrrc so|c rcsponsibi|ity for thc Tcrror. Many othcrs uscd thc
samc mcans bcforc fa||ing victim to it. And whcn, for cxamp|c, hc
and thc wordshcuscsarc a|| thcmorcstrikingin that thc |attcr wrotc
thcm at thc timc whcn hc wascampaigning in Le Vieux Cordelier for
an cnd to thc Tcrror, or at |cast for a tcmporary ha|t. But it is sti||
tructosay that,un|ikcmanyfactswhicharcthcsubjcctofintcrminab|c
controvcrsics, Robcspicrrc`s intcrvcntion of I I Gcrmina| docs a||ow
us to grasp ccrtain ofthc mcchanisms of thcworkingsofthc Tcrror,
which convcrts thc univcrsa|ist princip|cs of |ibcrty and cqua|ity into
princip|cs of dcath, which forgcs a co||cctivc wi|| out ofthc diffusion
of fcar, and which concca|s thc position ofpowcr bchind a façadc of
dcmocratic hcroism. It is a|so truc to say that its workings rcvca|
Robcspicrrc to bc a virtuoso organizcr of tcrror. In that scnsc. thc
ncvcr-cnding dcbatc as to his intcntions, in which thc imagc of thc
apprcnticc tyrant is contrastcd with indications of prudcncc and
c|cmcncy, suddcn|y appcars to bc point|css. Evcn if thc indications
arc irrcfutab|c, thcyprovidcnoproof, and donot a||owthcdcbatc to
bc conc|udcd in any dchnitc way. Thcy can bc intcrprctcd both as
cvidcncc that hc had scrup|cs and as cvidcncc that hc was mcrc|y
ca|cu|ating. Whcn, for cxamp|c, thc dcposition of thc king and thc
transfcr of cxccutivc powcr to thc Lcgis|ativc Asscmb|y wcrc bcing
The Revolutionary Terror 69
discusscd in !u|y I792, Robcspicrrc to|d thc !acobins. '1 scc in this
confusion ofpowcrs on|y thc most unbcarab|c dcspotism. No mattcr
whcthcr thc dcspot has onc hcad or scvcn hundrcd hcads, dcspotism
issti|| dcspotism. I knowofnothingmorcfcarfu|thanun|imitcdpowcr
bcing givcn to a |argc asscmb|y which is abovc thc |aw, cvcn if it is
an asscmb|y of sagcs.` But this dcc|aration tc||s us nothing about his
convictions,or aboutthc manncrin which hisvicwshavc changcd. It
cou|dquitc right|y bcpointcdout that his advcrsaricshc|d a majority
in thc Asscmb|ywhoscdcspotismhc is dcnouncing, and that hc fcars
ancxtcnsionofitspowcrs. I mysc|ftakc thatvicw. Butsuchcommcnts,
can providc ccrtainty, cvcn if it is takcn in contcxt. Our bcst sourcc
of information |ics inan argumcnt whosc workings rcvca| thc position
from which Robcspicrrc isspcaking,thc mcans hcuscstoconcca|that
position, and thc art withwhich hc rcduccsothcrsto si|cncc.
Why did thc rcvo|utionary Tcrror givc risc to such a |cngthy
historiographica| and po|itica| dcbatc? Thcrc a|ways havc bccn, and
surprisc at thcspc||itcasts,andwhohavcfound itsuspect. Aftcr a||,
thcTcrror didnot |ast |ong, nomattcrwhat starting pointwcascribc
to it. If, |ikc Tainc, wc suggcst that its bcginnings coincidc with thc
bcginnings of thc Rcvo|ution itsc|f (Tainc invokcs thc opinion of
constiruanl 1a|ouct. who c|aims that it bcgan on l 4Ju|y I789, but
Burkc`s vicws cou|d a|so uscfu||y bc takcn into account), wc may as
wc|| say that criticizing thc Tcrror mcans criticizing thc Rcvo|ution.'
If, |ikc Mortimcr-Tcrnaux, wcscc thcjournee of20Junc l79J, whcn
thc Lcgis|ativc Asscmb|y rcsigncd in thc facc of mass action. as thc
hrst cpisodc in thc Tcrror, wc may as wc|| admit to drcaming of a
po|iccdrcvo|utionfromwhichthcpcop|candthcirfuricsarc cxc|udcd.
And,oncc again, wc attack thc Rcvo|ution itsc|f,forthc workof thc
Constituant Asscmb|y had bccn in gcstation sincc bcforc I789, and it
didnottakc such a grcat po|itica| uphcava| toobtainfu|| rccognition
ofcqua|ity and civi| |ibcrtics. If, on thc othcr hand, wc rcscrvc thc
tcrm 'thcTcrror`forthcmcasurcsdictatcdbythc Committcc ofFub|ic
|aw, makc a distinction bctwccn thc dynamic of thc Rcvo|otion and
what Thicrs ca||s 'thc Extrcmc Tcrror`, andrcgard thc Tcrror simp|y
as asignthat a rcprcssivc machincwhoscmcchanismswcrcorigina||y
dcsigncd as a rcsponsc to ncccssity had skiddcd out of contro|. thcn
wc havc to admit that a fcvcr which |astcd for |css than six months
and which rcsu|tcd from a nationa| crisis docs not dcscrvc to bc
discusscd atsuch |cngth. According to sochvicws, thc spc|| cxcrciscd
by thc Tcrror is suspcct in that it is an indcx of thc artihcia| or cvcn
70 On Revolution
hyp�critical con

n of an object which does not designate anything
specific or consIstent In the real; it is an index of a desire to claim
that the Revolution invented some evil system or that it was carried
away by some mysterious passion for murder, and an index of a desire
to distract attention from the violence unleashed by the other regimes
history has called upon us to witness.
It is in fact true that if we restrict the argument to the number of
atrocities and
murders committed during the French Revolution, the
balance sheet IS modest, compared with the cumulative crimes of the
despots of the Orient and the tyrants of Greece and Rome, or, to turn

Europe, of the Inquisition and the divine-right monarchy.
ThIs IS sllll the case even If we are careful not to underestimate the
number of victims who �ell to the revolutionary Terror: over forty
thousand, If we are to beheve Georges Lefebvre, who uses, with some
corrections, the data collected by an American historian! Whatever
the statistical truth may be, no one can claim that the use of terror as
a system of government or as a temporary means of enslavement was
an invention of the French Revolution; in previous centuries, the same
system had been used against groups who were deemed to be heretical,
or who sImply refused to pay taxes. It might also be added that in
1793 or 1794 we do not fnd the refned tortures which were so often
the pride and joy of the great masters of punishment.
We would, however, attempt in vain to reduce the Revolutionary
Terror to th

level of historical banality. The primary reason why it
poses a partIcular problem, and why it has exercised - and still does
- such fascination over those who have studied the event is that it was
combined with a quest for liberty. And there is, I believe, a second
and related reason: its actions cannot be dissociated from the workings
of speech.
The Revolutionary Terror speaks. It implies self-justifcation, a
debate as to its function, its ends and even its limits. It also implies
that It can be challenged. It can, that is, be challenged by the men
who took part in it.
Listen to Saint-Just; speaking in the name of the Committee of
Public S
fety, he is addressing the Convention on 'the necessity of
Impnsomng persons who have been found guilty'. The speech was
made on 8 Vent6se Year II (26 February 1794), just over two months
before Robespierre made the intervention analysed above. Like
Robesplerre, the orator takes as his target the indulgent party, those
who are calling for an investigation into the arrests and for the release
of th
se who have been arrested without proof. Although he never
mentIOns hIm by name, his main target is in fact Camille Oesmoulins.
He declares:
You wanted a Republic. If you want nothing of the means needed
to constitute it, the people will be buried beneath its rubble;
what constitutes a republic is the total destruction of everything
The Revolutionary Terror
opposed to it. We hear complaints about revolutionary measures!
Yet we are moderates compared with all other governments. In
I788, Louis XVI massacred 8,000 people of all ages and both
sexes in the rue Meslay and on the Pont-Neuf. The court repeated
these scenes on the Champ-de-Mars. The court hanged people
in the prisons; the drowned bodies found in the Seine were its
victims. Every year, I5,000 smugglers were hanged, and J,000
men were broken on the wheel. There were more prisoners in
Paris then than there are today. In times of famine, regiments
marched against the people. Cast your eyes across Europe: there
are more than four million prisoners in Europe; you do not hear
their cries, yet your parricidal moderation allows all the enemies
of your government to triumph. Fools that we are! We take a
metaphysical delight in faunting our principles; the kings are a
thousand times more cruel than we are, but their crimes do not
prevent them from sleeping.s
There is no need to cite mOre. But we should at least note that in the
same passage Saint-Just evokes the Spanish Inquisition, and that he
twice draws a parallel between the Terror exercised by revolutionaries
and that exercised by oppressors: 'Do you not have the right to treat
the supporters of tyranny in the same way that the supporters of liberty
are treated elsewhere?' He later adds: 'Being jealOUS of its authority,
the monarchy waded through the blood of thirty generations, and you
hesitate to treat a handful of guilty men harshly.'
What is particularly striking about these vehement statements
is the link that is established between the requirements of
foundation-destruction, the argument used to justify it, and the idea
of the folly of speech: 'Fools that we are!' In a fash, Saint-Just
perceives the contradiction inherent in revolutionary terror, in the
alliance between terror and liberty. But he is powerless to overcome
it. He can only dream of 'kings whose crimes do not prevent them
from sleeping'. This is in fact an astonishing association, and one which
suggests more than he dares to say or think; it is as though he were
nostalgic for a world in which it was possible to kill without feeling
guilty. And yet his speech displays signs of the very folly he is
denouncing. For no one took more 'metaphysical delight in faunting
principles' than Saint-Just. No one else forces himself to explain that
'what constitutes a republic is the complete destruction of everything
opposed to it'. No one else feels obliged to justify himself in this
manner: 'Do you not have the right to treat the supporters of tyranny
in the same way that the supporters of liberty are treated elsewhere?'
We have mentioned the views of those who have doubts about seeing
the Revolutionary Terror as a special case, and who argue that seeing
it in that light is a device to mask the terror exercised by oppressive
regimes. If we accept that argument. the Revolutionary Terror is
merely a counter-terror which is temporary and, ultimately, quite
72 On Revolution
moderate. and it is a mistake to exhibit it as though it were a historical
monstrosity. But this argument was not born post Iestum; it is part of
the discourse of the Terror. It is impossible to overlook the articulation
between the theory and the practice of terror which appears during
the Revolution; it is the actors and not the historians who discover the
singularity of the Revolutionary Terror.
Saint-Just would like to be able to act in silence; he would like
everything opposed to the Republic to be destroyed in the name of a
certainty that can do without words. but that is not possible. The
Convention has doubts. and is raising questions as to the reasons for
the Terror. and as to its limitations. Saint-Just wants to convince it
that it is acting within its rights. but all rights must be shown to be
well founded. The Terror poses a question because it has to be
founded. Saint-Just does not. we must note. say: 'Do you not have
the right to treat the supporters of tyranny as others acting elsewhere
have the right to treat the supporters of liberty?' He merely says: 'are
treated elsewhere. Paradoxically. the statement of right is paralleled
by an absence of right. And the paradox reveals that. despite the
apparent symmetry which makes the terror of liberation seem to be a
response to the terror used by tyrants. there is a hiatus between them,
and that Saint-Just is aware of it. The former has no consistency of its
own; it is consubstantial with a system of government; it raises no
questions that have not already been formulated by an analysis of that
system. What is referred to as 'terror' designates. in this case, no more
than the intensifcation of a mode of repression. a concentration of
the means of coercion. or the exacerbation of an authority in which it
was already potentially present. Indeed, the word 'terror' could without
difculty be replaced by some other expression such as 'extreme fear'.
'widespread fear'. or 'the unleashing of arbitary violence'. depending
on whether we take into consideration its victims or the actions of the
government. But when the Convention places Terror on the agenda
(and it is impossible to imagine a tyrant or his advisers pronouncing
that formula). it creates a new political 'pace, and gives substance to
what was no more than an attribute of arbitrary power. When it is
named and. so to speak. exposed to the gaze of all or sanctioned. the
Terror is set free. It is now impossible to assign it a master. The
individual now has no alternative but to serve it. to will it. just as one
wills virtue or wills freedom.
In the speech we are discussing, Saint-Just. who is alarmed to observe
that 'the rise of the revolutionary government which established the
dictatorship of justice' has slowed down. exclaims; 'One might think
that each person was afraid of his own conscience and of the inflexibility
of the laws. and had said to himself: "We are not suffciently virtuous
to be so terrible",' And shortly afterwards. when he addresses the
Convention again on 2J Ventose. he asks: 'What do you want. you
who do not want virtue in order to be happy? What do you want. you
The Revolutionary Terror 7J
who do not want the Terror to be used against the wicked?' He does
of course add: 'What do you want, you who are without virtue. you
who turn the Terror against liberty?' Nor should we forget his other
statement: 'The Terror is a doubled-edged weapon,' Virtue and terror
therefore do not have the same status. But the fact that they can be
bracketed together suggests that the latter is much more than an
instrument. When it becomes an instrument of liberty rather than of
tyranny. it does not simply change hands; it does not simply have a
good and a bad side to it. When it is revolutionary. it conforms to its
essence; in other circumstances. it becomes perverted. When it is
revolutionary, it is - to use expressions which are contradictory but
which also point to the impossibility of localizing it - both the
'dictatorship of liberty' and the 'sword of the law'. Alternatively. we
might say that it is the law in action. the law which makes the sharp
distinction between good and evil. between being and nothingness.
The terror of the tyrant. in contrast. does not have this great ability
to discriminate; the tyrant suppresses that which resists. disturbs Or
displeases him. Having no knowledge of good and evil. he can have
no knowledge of the nature of society; he strikes cruelly, but at
random, without even knowing who the enemy is. In that sense. the
revolutionary Terror seems to have converted the terror of old into a
truth or. more accurately. to have elevated it to the status of truth. It
has mastered the principle of eliminating the evil that remained
concealed beneath the arbitary rule of the criminal prince. What other
meaning can we ascribe to the formula Robespierre uses on more than
one occasion: 'the despotism of liberty'? He even uses a similar formula
in his fnal . speech of 8 Thermidor when. transposing its terms. he
declares himself to be the 'slave of liberty' . The Terror. then. is not
a means; it is imprinted upon liberty just as. for Saint-Just. it is
imprinted upon virtue.
And yet, once it has been enunciated. the idea outstrips the
certainties of the revolutionaries. of the very men who are calling for
the nation to be purged. for the guilty. or the suspects. to be hunted
down. who approve and even provoke 'the vengeance of the people' .
For. once the despotism of liberty is exercised by men against men.
the dividing line between crime and virtue, between oppression and
liberty. must be visible in the here and now. at the level of the facts.
No doubt the Girondins. the Dantonistes and the Enrages did. like
the Robespierristes. at some point succumb to a representation of
absolute terror as liberty and as virtue, to the representation of an
excess which raises man to superhuman status. anp to the status of a
principle that can generate a social order. But. at some point they also
notice that they have lapsed into barbarism. into vulgar despotism.
and realize that a void has opened up at their feet. That they should
be assailed by doubts when they feel themselves to be threatened is
not irrelevant, but it is ultimately of secondary importance. The
Girondins. for example, adopt the loi de police generale of 10 August.
74 On Revolution
which invites citizens to denounce conspirators and suspects and which
gives the municipal authorities power to take prisoners into custody,
but, as soon as they have taken that step, they attempt to give legally
recognized agents responsibility for administering the Terror, and
Brissot condemns 'the chambres ardentes which certain men seem to
want to borrow from despotism'." At the same time, Danton's friend
Thuriot vehemently rejects the link between liberty and crime: 'I love
liberty and I love the Revolution, but if it took a crime to secure it,
I would rather stab myself.'7
The rifts that appeared in the Convention after the September
massacres were much more serious. At the time. the massacres did
not result in any interventions or protests from the deputes, or even
from the Girondins themselves, but they subsequently gave rise to a
bitter debate that lasted for months, and were denounced as murders
disguised as measures of public safety. In general, those who shared
responsibility for the terrorist laws were trapped in a contradiction.
Over a period of only a few days the same Thuriot who, in the autumn
of I79J, was calling for the arraignment of the Girondins" - in other
words for their execution - declared that Throughout the Republic,
the idea is being put about that it can survive only if all positions are
given to the men of blood, to the men who. since the beginning of
the Revolution, have distinguished themselves only by their love of
carnage to the party of rogues and villains', and stated that 'We must
halt this impetuous torrent which is sweeping us towards barbarism;
we must halt the triumph of tyranny.'" The Convention greeted this
appeal with applause, as though Thuriot were voicing its fears. At the
time, those who had been denounced as extremists. as enrages, were
in prison. But, because they themselves had used terror, they could
foresee the danger of a return to the barbarism of old. Jacques Roux
wrote in his newspaper: 'We cannot make men love and cherish a
government if we rule them through terror'. and 'It is not by casting
men into prison, by overturning everything and setting it ablaze. by
staining everything with blood or by turning France into one huge
Bastille that our Revolution will conquer the world. To accuse a man
of crimes because of the circumstances of his birth is to revive
fanaticism; there are more prisoners than there are guilty men. '1
It will of course be said that everyone naturally wants to direct the
Terror against their adversaries or rivals, and that, in order to
understand why the actors changed their views, we must therefore
make a detailed reconstruction of the social and ideological confict.
But, whilst such an analysis may be necessary. it may lead us to
overlook the doubts which subtend the Terror. These doubts imply
questions, and they make the actors talk. The image of ' a terrible
virtue', of 'the despotism of liberty' casts its spell over everyone, but
it also reveals a void in which the markers of social reality and of
history are destroyed, in which, in other words. the distinction between
revolution and oppression disappears.
The Revolutionary Terror 75
No one saw this void more clearly than Camille Desmoulins. and
no one did more to try to restore a sense of reality. Witness the
campaign he launched in Le Vieux Cordelier. " ' Do you want to
exterminate all your enemies with the guillotine?' he asks in the fourth
issue. 'Has there ever been a greater folly than this? Can you put one
person to death on the scaffold without making ten enemies among
his family and friends? Do you believe that it is the women, the old
men, the dodderers, the egotists and the sluggards of the Revolution
whom you are imprisoning that are dangerous?' Camille began his
previous article by praising democratic virtue, but he did so in very
different terms to Saint-Just: 'One difference between the monarchy
and the republic . . . is that, whilst the people may be mistaken, they
do at least love virtue, and believe that they are giving positions to
men who merit them, and not to the rogues who are the essence of
the monarchy. ' He thus refutes in advance the idea that what constitutes
the republic is the destruction of everything opposed to it (this is not
a reply to Saint-Just; but in his Vent6se report, Saint-Just does attack
Camille). If Camille is to be believed, the principle of virtue cannot
be embodied in society; it merely gives it form, and the evil therefore
cannot be extirpated. Attempts to exterminate the wicked merely
create more enemies for the republic. But the greatest folly of all is
to try to drive a wedge between the camp of virtue and the camp of
crime, as though all cowards and all those who are irresolute or
indifferent were to be found in the latter. And it is precisely that folly
which inspires Saint-Just to go so far as to denounce the judges for
colluding with the guilty, with the men who say, 'We are not virtuous
enough to be so terrible'. But the folly is not his alone. The same folly
lies at the heart of the loi des suspects of I7 September I79J, and the
Paris Commune's comite de surveillance takes it still further with the
directive which defnes as suspects 'those who. having done nothing
against liberty, have done nothing for liberty either'." The directive
predates the Prairal decree by seven months.
How can one distinguish revolutionary power from despotic power
when the notion of 'suspect' becomes allied with that of 'guilty'. when
it takes on a fantastic extension and applies not only to those who are
suspected of being implicated in a conspiracy but also to those who
may, it is imagined, join it, not only to those whose opinions or
intentions seem dangerous but also to those who show no sign of being
real or potential enemies? In the third issue of Le Vieux Cordelier,
Camille Desmoulihs does more than formulate this question; he invites
his reader to formulate it for himself by describing Tacitus' picture of
the perverse reign of the Roman Emperors, and showing how it was
based upon the hunt for suspects. He begins cleverly by stating that
the picture is designed to make the Republic's adversaries see things
in their true proportions. But he in fact paints it in such a way as to
confuse revolutionary terror with despotic terror rather than to justify
76 On Revolution
it. When he enumerates the crimes of lese-majesll that were committed
under the Roman Empire, he deliberately calls them 'counter­
revolutionary crimes', and when he describes One tyrant's victim, he
paints him as a new Brutus; he is worrying 'because of his pallor and
his Jacobin wig'. He thus blurs the markers of history before fnally
declaring: 'And let no one tell me that an ill-disposed reader will fnd
in this third issue and in my translations of Tacitus similarities between
those deplorable times and the times in which we live. I know that
only too well, and it is in order to put an end to such comparisons
and to ensure that liberty does not resemble despotism that I have
armed myself with my pen.'
The suspect is a product of the delusions of despotism. With the
help of numerous quotations from Tacitus, Camille displays his portraits
of the suspect: the man who is made conspicuous by his popularity or
by his aversion to popularity, by his wealth or his poverty, by his
melancholy humour or by his love of pleasure, by the austerity of his
morals, by his literary renown, by his military successes. And he
punctuates each portrait with the same word: 'suspect'. Robespierre
spoke of the despotism of liberty. The author of Le Vieux Cordelier
brings imaginations that have been infamed by the idea of sacrifcing
the individual to the service of the new sovereign back to the realistic
discovery that liberty disappears when despotism is resurrected. And
in his next article he destroys the illusion that liberty can use the
methods of despotism on a provisional basis. He asks if his adversaries
think they can refute him or justify themselves 'simply by saying: we
know that our present state is not a state of liberty; but, be patient,
one day you will be free. ' Without mentioning him by name, ' he uses
La Boetie's language to dismiss their arguments: 'They believe that
liberty, like a child, must go through a stage of tears and weeping in
order to reach maturity. On the contrary, the nature of liberty is such
that we need only desire it in order to enjoy it: (emphasis added). In
the face of the stupidity of men who say that they are willing to die
for the Republic, like the 'Vendeean fanatics . . . . for the delights of
paradise, which they will never enjoy', he argues that liberty is not an
unknown God: 'We are fghting to defend our gains, and liberty will
ensure that those 'who invoke her name will enjoy them now.'
Yet if these texts are worthy of our attention, it is not simply because
they represent the most radical challenge to the Terror, but because
they are the work of a major actor in the Revolutionary Terror. It is
not enough to recall his role in all the bids for power that punctuated
the elimination of the enemies of the people, as that might simply lead
us to conclude that he has changed his opinion. The remarkable thing
is that he is determined to remain true to his past behaviour. He does
of course exploit his reputation for being an infexible revolutionary
who has denounced very plot and even his own friends to further the
appeal for clemency he is making to the Committee, it is because he
showed enemies no pity that he has the right to speak out against the
The Revolutionary Terror 77
Terror. And yet, we can detect something else in this plea. He is torn
between the idea that 'it was less dangerous and better to carry the
Revolution to extremes than to hold back' (an idea which is, he says,
shared by Danton), and the idea that liberty knows no restrictions.
He maintains that the statue of liberty must be veiled, but tries to
make a distinction between a 'veil of transparent gauze' and 'the
shroud beneath which it was impossible to recognize the principles that
lay in the coffn'. Even when he displays the most acute awareness of
the immoderation of the Terror, he is still trying to fnd a formula for
a gap, for an excess which will not go beyond acceptable limits. This
is an astonishing contradiction, for he is familiar with every register of
terror. At one point, he evokes the time of Nero and remarks that
'Men were afraid that their very fear would make them guilty' . On
another occasion, he recalls one of Robespierre's sayings ('What
difference is there between me and Le Pelletier, except death?'), and
denounces the rhetoric of the sublime: 'I am not Robespierre; but
although it disfgures a man's features, death does not in my view
embellish his shade, and it does not heighten the lustre of his patriotism
suffciently to make me believe that I have served the Republic better
than Le Pelletier, even though he lies in the Pantheon, and even
though I have been expelled from the Club des Cordeliers. '
The Terror speaks: this does not simply mean that it requires mOre
than police
directives, that it implies laws which are the products of
public debates, or that the actors must discuss, explain and justify it.
What can be said in the discourse of the Terror reveals a trace of what
cannot be said, The unspeakable usually remains concealed, but it
sometimes becomes imminent, and it reveals to us the mouth of the
Terror, which both generates and swallows up speech. This may escape
us if we look only at the circumstances in which arguments are
formulated, if we attempt to fnd a theory in statements of principle
- the foundation of the body politic, the absolute sovereignty of the
people, the reign of virtue, of liberty or of equality - or if we see
effects - the endless elimination of enemies - as explanations. And
yet the obsessive fear of revolutionary silence which accompanies the
fowering of eloquence, and which is so obvious in Robespierre and
more obvious still in Saint-Just, should alert uS to this fact, for it does
more than express the dream of a coincidence between feelings and
action: it testifes to a vague realization that the causes of speech
cannot enter into language.
Robespierre's formula 'the despotism of liberty', which we noted
earlier, and his fnal declaration, 'I am the slave of liberty' imply
something that cannot be said. We glossed over these words too quickly
when we said that they revealed the depths of the oppression of old
78 On Revolution
and the danger of lapsing back into the darkness of the past. They
open up a new abyss for thought: the absolute assertion of liberty
merges with its negation; meaning empties into meaninglessness. What
can be said in this case is that the establishment of a free regime
implies recourse to terrible means, to the methods of despotism, if the
roots of despotism are to be extirpated. But Robespierre's words reveal
a trace of something that cannot be said; they burn his lips
as he
speaks; articulation breaks down, and the Terror speaks amidst the
ruins of human speech. A moment later, the same speech provides an
answer to another of Saint-lust's formulations ('What constitutes the
Republic is the total destruction of everything that is opposed to it'):
'The liberty of a people can scarcely be established by the sword
alone. ' This time, he does not go beyond the limits of what can be
said. That the establishment of liberty requires extraordinary violence,
and that the principle of the republic and the principle of other regimes
are incompatible is certainly debatable; it could be argued that the
distinguishing feature of a republic is precisely its ability to accommodate
opposition without allowing it to destroy it. That. however, is
unimportant, as it can, apparently, be articulated; at most we have to
ask what remains unsaid. Even if it were in fact true that the constitution
of the Republic requires the destruction of everything that is opposed
to it, why remain silent about the problem posed by the gestatipn of
the body politic in reality? Why conceal the identity of its founder?
What does 'what constitutes' mean when it has to be related to the
fgure of an actor? And if that actor is the people, or the Convention
which represents the people, how can one defne or circumscribe
everything that is opposed to it, how can we relate that to the specifc
fgure of an adversary? Could it be, one begins to wonder, that what
has been left unsaid cannot be said? When an attempt is made to
conceptualize the foundation of the republic, what can be said
sometimes obviously gives way beneath the weight of what cannot be
said. Listen, for example, to Billaud-Varenne as he expounds 'the
theory of democratic government' to the Convention during a sitting
on 1 Floreal year II (20 April 1794) in a report on behalf of the
Committee of Public Safety. Not content with criticizing the old
monarchy, he demonstrates that it had plunged its roots into the
people: 'The habit of wallowing in slavery for centuries, the passions
it generates, the prejudices it allows to take root, the vices it propagates
and the misery it exacerbates became, in the hands of despotism, so
many mechanisms to make the people crush the people'" (emphasis
added). The picture he paints clearly reveals the diffculty inherent in
constituting a new body politic. The diffculties are in fact at this point
obvious to all from the real society's stubborn resistance to attempts
to inculcate new principles. When Billaud-Varenne tries to provide a
solution, his words contradict one another as they come under the
infuence of fantasy:
The Revolutionary Terror
The French people have set you a task which is as vast as it is
diffcult to carry out. The establishment of a democracy in a
nation that has languished in chains for so long might be compared
to the efforts made by nature during the astonishing transition
from nothingness to existence, and those efforts were no doubt
greater than those involved in the transition from life to
annihilation. We must, so to speak, recreate the people we wish
to restore to freedom.
His words are an attempt to justify the Terror, but Terror as object
of discourse - the extermination of enemies - cannot be divorced from
the Terror that is imprinted on speech. Birth and death cannot be
represented or conceptualized; and nor can the foundation of the body
politic, the establishment of democracy or the annihilation of what
once existed; the workings of politics are comparable with the workings
of nature. In other words, they are inhuman. That is what Billaud
means. But that too can be said, provided that no attempt is made to
penetrate the mystery or to draw conclusions. What destroys the
consistency of what can be said is, however, the thought of the people
entrusting the Convention with the task of their re-creation. This idea
is doubly absurd: the people ask their delegation to give birth to them,
but the delegation is part of the people. In fact it is triply absurd, for
if it is true that the people crushed itself, how could they wish to be
restored to liberty . . . to a liberty they have never known?
We can only grasp the function of what we have termed a fantasy
- and we are, I believe, using the word in its true sense, as we are
dealing with something which contains contradictory representations
and which cannot itself be represented - if we take into consideration
all that it allows us to disavow. Billaud-Varenne ignores the freedoms
that existed in the past: under the monarchy, servitude must have been
total if the Revolution is to usher in a new era, if its foundations are
to be absolute, and if the people are to be re-created. And although
he speaks of restoring the people to liberty, he refuses to accept that
there might be a distinction between liberty and the will of the people,
as that would oblige him to examine its will and its possible weaknesses,
and to look for guarantees of liberty. Similarly, the very idea that
power might be disassociated from the people is dismissed; the
Convention derives its ability to re-create the people from the people.
And it is because of these disavowals that a policy of terror can be
outlined. As the people must be extracted from within the people, the
only means to extract them from themselves is to make a distinction
between being and nothingness. The term 'means' is, however,
ambiguous, and it would be more accurate to say that the gestation
of the people implies that those who respond to their call from, so to
speak, within must undertake a labour of creation-destruction.
Let us look more closely at what Billaud-Varenne is saying in his
80 On Revolution
historic speech. Whatever one may think of it, his argument appears
to be logical insofar as he evokes the battle between the revolutionaries
and the enemies of the people, whose sole aim is 'to reduce the people
to servitude through terror and devastation. ' Skilfully, but like so many
others before him, the orator points to the terror the enemy wants to
unleash in order to justify a democratic terror. On the one hand, we
have an attempt to destroy the social body; on the other an attempt
to destroy those who would destroy it at birth. 'Only the death of the
conspirators can prevent the premeditated murder of the body politic.
We are killing a murderer so as not to fall victim to his blows, The
Revolution has won a major victory in this battle because it has been
able to strike at the leaders of two equally powerful coalitions' - by
which he means the Exageres and the Indulge/lfs, the Hebertistes and
the Dantonistes, But at the very moment when he mentions the
Revolution's latest victory and names its adversaries, he denies that
there is any criterion we can use to measure the progress it has made
in eliminating its adversaries, and gives the enemy a power that can
be neither localized nor defned. 'It is not', he says, 'that malevolence
falls silent when it has less room than ever to mancuvre. It watches
over every political nuance in order to turn it to its advantage, dreams
only of the chaos and disorder which will ensure it victory, and
constantly spies on both good and bad actions in order to poison good
and exacerbate evil' (emphasis added). In other words, we must
abandon the idea of being able to identify the conspirators, of being
able to identify the murderer whose death we are demanding. They
are the straw men of an invisible force, of a force which has no
empirical existence: malevolence. Malevolence is everywhere or, and
this amounts to the same thing, nowhere, And, whilst it is invisible,
it has eyes and is constantly spying on us. This enriches the fantasy
considerably. The murder of the social body is now associated with
the evil powers of eyes which can see through everything. Implicitly,
the gestation of the social body now means the gestation of the eye
of the people, of the eye of innocence which can unmask the evil eye.
I noted earlier that the Revolutionary Terror differs from the terror
exercised by tyrants in that it is assumed to understand the principle
behind the distinction between good and evil, whereas the latter is
delivered over to the arbitrary will of the prince. But we must now
add that the Revolutionary Terror constructs a symmetrical enemy
The symmetry can be seen most clearly in Saint-Just's speech of
2J Ventose Year II. Saint-Just denounces all plots and traces them
back to a primary plot that has been fomented abroad by the English
government. Its agents are everywhere, disguised as the exiled victims
of persecution in their own countries (in Paris, its agents are 'Italians,
bankers, Neapolitans and Englishmen'), or as patriots (,Mimicry is the
hallmark of crime). And what are they doing? 'They spy on everything. '
Having dwelt at length on the art of dissimulation, Saint-J ust appeals
The Revolutionary Terror 8I
to revolutionaries to be vigilant: 'Let us draw aside the veil which
conceals their plots; let us spy upon the words, the gestures and the
mind of everyone.' The image is important to him. He returns to it;
keeping one's eyes open is not enough for, while he is spying, the
enemy can make himself invisible, and hides behind seemingly rival
factions: 'The aim of this policy is to let them tear themselves apart
and to deceive the vigilant eye of popular justice' (emphasis added).
The task, then, is to penetrate something invisible.
What is the meaning of this appeal? In theory, it means that one
power is behind the entire mechanism of conspiracy: perfdious Albion
and its execrable genius, Pitt. In fact, something else is at stake: from
now on, each person must watch the other, as his revolutionary garb
may conceal a possible scoundrel. The closer the other, the more
similar the other, the greater the need for suspicion. No obvious sign
and no established proof is enough to identify the enemy. He can be
recognized only at the moment when he is unmasked, at the moment
when someone has the power to unmask him. The power to do so
certainly presupposes that the man who has it is not motivated by
private interests; when he uses it, he is a vehicle for the suspicions of
the people, for the vision of the people. But the fact remains that it
is his desire to be suspicious and to see, a desire which others do not
have, that gives him the ability to know; it is his ability 'to watch
everyone's consistency', to use Saint-Just's striking formula, his ability
to fnd signs of an adverse will in modes of behaviour, gestures and
words. In other words, it is only his knowledge of the enemy that
designates him a revolutionary, both to himself and to others, but that
is something. that cannot be said. To put it another way, it is the
enemy who gives the revolutionary his identity.
The Terror thus leads to the construction of a social space organized
around the twin poles of a desire for good and a desire for evil, but
the nature of that space is such that it consists of a network of dual
relations. The revolutionary's correct position is established only in
relation to the position of the other, and he can keep it only if he
does not finch before the gaze of the other. As we know, the decree
of 22Prarial brings to a paroxysm the image of a struggle to the death.
The struggle is assumed to involve all citizens on an individual basis,
but at the some time it in practice dissolves the criteria of guilt and
the criteria of judgement. A struggle to the death: Article 8stipulates
that 'The penalty for any offence within the cognizance of the
revolutionary tribunal is death. ' Involving all citizens: Article 9
stipulates that 'Any citizen has the right to seize conspirators and
counter-revolutionaries, and to bring them before the magistrates. The
citizen is expected t denounce them as soon as he discovers them'
(emphasis added). Dissolution of the criteria of guilt: the extent of
punishable offences is such that no one can be certain to escape
revolutionary justice. Article 6, which lists the enemies of the people,
82 On Revolution
mentions 'those who have tried to sow despondency, and even those
who have spread false rumours or hav
e tri

d to le
public opinion
astray with counter-revolutionary or ms

wntmgs, or
other machinations' (emphasis added) . Dls

olutlOn of the cnten
a of
judgement: according to Article 8, matenal

roof IS not req

moral proof is suffcient. 'Sentences wIll be decided by the consclenc
of the jurors, as guided by their love of the Fatherland; the

oal IS
the triumph of the Republi


he ru

n of ItS
enemies. The
preliminary interrogation of pnsoners IS abohshed, as IS the role of the
defence. We thus have an extraordmary face-to-face encounter, and
the revolutionary and the other come into intimate

mtact with
another. At the same time, we see the quasl-abohtlOn of the time
which was previously allowed for suspicion and for the spectacle of
punishment. As Couthon, who reported on the bill, put It so brutally,
'The time prescribed for punishing the ene

les of the Fatherland must
be reduced to the time it takes to recogmze them; It IS a matter of
annihilating them rather than of punishing them.'
. . .
With the Prairal decree, the Terror declares that It knows no hml

the very dimension of law disappears. The reference w the reahty
which is supposed to justify the Terror also tend
s to vamsh. Eve
n at
this early stage, the threat posed by foreign arml
�� can no l
nger be
invoked. In the coming months, the country's mlhtary posItIon IS to
become consolidated. But, far from rejoicing at this, Robespierre IS
worried. In his view, the removal of the external threat merely
exacerbates another threat: the threat born of insecurity. To the very
end he goes on denouncing the illusion of trusting in the future. On
the eve of his fall, he asks in his speech of 8 Thermldor, 'Why do
those who once said, "We are walking on volcanoes" now believe they
are walking on a bed of roses? Yesterday, they belie

d in con

I state that I believe in them at this very moment. HIs objective IS
to maintain the climate of fear: 'They talk to you at length and With
academic frivolity of your victories. What have they done to turn our
military victories to the advantage of oU
r principks, to ward off the
dangers of victory or to secure ItS frUIts? (em

hasls added). He goes
on: 'Our enemies are withdrawing and leavmg us to our mternal
divisions. Think of the end of the campaign. Fear internal factIOns;
fear the intrigues that exile in a foreign land promotes. ' Behind th
usual rhetoric, it is possible to perceive
this 'truth': the Ter

or IS
interminable. It must not end; Without It, the RevolutIon wIll be
nothing. Obviously, that conclusion cannot be formulated. That leaves
Robespierre at a loss for words and so, whe

he emphatIcally rec�l!s
the testament he once read to the ConventIOn, he can only say. I
bequeath you the terrible truth and death'
(emphasis added).
Whilst it is true that arrests and executIOns became more frequent
between Prairal and Thermidor, it would be a mistake to imagine that
there was a major break in the course of the Terror
Certain historians
try to convince us that there was such a break. Thlers, who IS one of
The Revolutionary Terror
the frst to take this line, tries to identify a period of 'extreme terror'
in order to distinguish between that an 'ordinary terror' - in other
words functional terror. That is the meaning of his comments on the
events of June 1 794: 'Now that the danger was over and that the"
Revolution was victorious, they no longer killed out of indignation,
but because they had contracted the fateful habit of killing. The fearful
machine which they had been obliged to construct to resist enemies
of all kinds was beginning to be unnecessary; but once it had been set
in motion, no one could stop it. Any government must have its moment
of excess, and no government perishes until it has reached its moment
of excess. ' 1 5
In other words, passion and a sense of necessity combine until the
practice of extermination becomes a habit or an automatic reaction.
This is a convenient way of clearing up anything that cannot be
explained in terms of positive causes. The September massacres were
perpetrated nineteen months before the Prairal law; they were not the
result of popular indignation, and still less did they correspond to any
necessity. Can anyone seriously claim - as did a circular issued by the
Commune calling for similar carnage in other communes across France
- that the prisoners were preparing to attack the Parisians in the rear
at a moment when they were being threatened by the enemy without?
We know that the massacres were planned by a small group of men,
that the killers were to have been paid - and in some cases were paid
- and that there were very few witnesses. I" From this point onwards,
it is ludicrous to rationalize the Terror. The purges in the prisons were,
like the great purges Saint-Just was later to call for, motivated by a
desire to furnish proof of the reality of the Revolution in the shape of
the death of its enemies, to conjure up an actor and to give him a
face by exploiting an event which indicated the existence of an absolute
There are also broader rationalizations, and it is tempting to succumb
to them, even though they conceal rather than reveal the basis of the
Terror. One of the most important is the rationalization of Public
Safety. In August 1 792, Danton likens the Revolution to a ship which
is in danger of sinking; he calls upon the nation to 'cast out from its
bosom anything that might hurt it', just as 'a ship's crew casts into the
sea anything that might expose them to death. '1 7 The idea that a major
amputation will restore the social body to health is a further
rationalization. Baudot expresses this best: 'The egotists, the insouci­
ants, the enemies of the city and the enemies of nature herself cannot
be numbered among its children. Even if they number a million, would
you not sacrifce eight tenths of yourself in order to destroy a gangrene
which might infect the rest of your body?'' ' And yet this language,
and even the language of Marat, who is regarded as the most resolute
of the terrorists - the language of vengeance and punishment, the
language of a dictatorship which is ready to sacrifce '26,000 persons'
- always falls short of the requirements of the Terror, of what we have
84 011 Revolutioll
termed the absolute gap. The reference to the real, which allegedly
makes the Terror inevitable - foreign invasion - and the reference to
knowledge - of the nature of the social body - are always there to
ward off the question which haunts the thought of the Terror: without
the operation of the Terror, what would become of the real, of the
level at which they see the need for a struggle to the death, and what
would become of the knowledge in whose name that struggle takes on
its full meaning? It is simply because this question becomes more and
more pressing that the Terror intensifes. The image of a society which
is at one with itself and which has been delivered from its divisions
can only be grasped during the administration of the purge, or, better
still, during the work of extermination. Severing virtue from crime,
the people from their enemies, is not a means of instituting the
Republic; it is a way of making the social visible and conceivable.
More accurately, it is the act which generates vision and knowledge.
In that sense, the Terror threatened from the outset to be interminable.
It is as though the terrorists constantly had to create the gro,!nd in
which they want the Republic to take root. Their fascination with
being is at the same time a fascination with the abyss. This is why
they all call down death upon their own heads in an attempt to fnd
a sign of their inscription in the people, in nature and in history.
The interminable ordeal of the Terror did in fact come to an end. Is
it enough to say that the vague consciousness of the threat it posed to
the terrorists themselves became suffciently acute for their instincts
for self-preservation to bring them back to a sense of reality? In general
terms, the argument is convinCing. The fact is that, although the
Dantonistes and especially Camille Desmoulins failed in their attempt
to moderate the course of revolutionary politics, they did have a
considerable impact, and the Thermidoreans, who were united (despite
the factions that existed in their ranks) by a fear of being annihilated
one after another, did succeed in changing it. And it is possible that
the memory of Danton's execution was still alive. When the Assembly
turned against him on 8 Thermidor, Robespierre is . said to have
murmured in stupefaction: 'Ah, you want to avenge Danton: The
reasons why what had appeared impossible now proved to be possible
seem in themselves to be clear. Between Germinal and Thermidor,
the Prairal decree had, at least implicitly, given the Committees a new
and exorbitant power: the power to arrest members of the Assembly
and to bring them before the reVOlutionary tribunal without its consent.
The Assembly did, of course, adopt the decree. But the next day,
having been alerted to a threat it had not previously noticed, it again
debated the article which worried it. It was only the pressure brought
to bear by Robespierre during its next sitting that put an end to this
The Revolutionary Terror 85
unaccustomed resistance. Although it submitted to terrible measures,
the Convention was now on the alert. There is also one other, and
more important, factor: as we have noted, the intensifcation of the
Terror after Prairal coincided with the restoration of security throughout
the country; the rebellions appeared to have been defeated, and the
French armies were victorious on every front. One of the great
justifcations for the Terror - fctIonal as it may have been - had now
been removed. Other factors support this hypothesis and make it still
more pertinent, but they take us on to a different register.
Without going into a detailed account of the events themselves, it must
be recalled that, since the end of Germinal, a profound change had
taken place in the organization of the government. ' 9 The Committee
of Public Safety was trying to take all power into its own hands. The
number of administrative commissions acting under its orders increased.
The provisional Executive Council, which had been made up of
ministers appointed by the Convention, was abolished; it was replaced
by twelve commissions whose agents were appointed by the Committee
of Public Safety. Whilst the administrative organs were being purged
of elements suspected of having Hebertiste sympathies, an offensive
was launched against the popular Sections, and they were fnally forced
to disband. Representatives like Fouche in Lyons and Tallien in
Bordeaux, who had previously distinguished themselves in the service
of the Terror but who now seemed to be displaying moderate leanings,
were suspended from their missions. Repression became increasingly
centralized; most provincial revolutionary tribunals were abolished,
and revolutionary justice was concentrated in Paris. All these measures
reveal the hand of Robespierre and that of close associates like Saint­
Just and Couthon. It was of course the Committee of Public Safety
which created the new organ known as the Bureau de police genera Ie
at the beginning of Floreal, but it was administered by the triumvirate.
That the Prairal decree was drafted by Robespierre and Couthon
without the knowledge of the other members of the Committee is an
indication of the divisions that were beginning to tear the Committee
apart. The activities of the Bureau, which tended to overlap with those
of the Comite de surete generale, and its attempts to take responsibility
for matters that appeared to be in the latter's remit, further reveal the
existence of a power struggle which had previously been carefully
contained. The most telling signs of the new tension are provided by
Robespierre's refusal to appear before the Committee of Public Safety
and by the incidents that occurred during the Feast of the Supreme
Being, which was organized at his instigation. Having become separated
from the head of the procession, he was insulted by certain representants
who showed no qualms about describing him as a tyrant.
These facts shed a new light on the crisis which put an end to the
policy of Terror, if not to violent repression which, as we know, began
again under the Directory. We must, then, re-examine the way in
86 On Revolution
which the use of Terror was combined with the search for a position
of power. It was in order to reveal the link between the two that we
began by analysing a speech by Robespierre. We noted his remarkable
ability to bend the Assembly to his will - his will to exterminate the
Dantonistes - by using devices which allowed him both to appear to
be in possession of knowledge, speech and vision, and to conceal the
position from within which he was using them. He did not call for a
decision, but revealed that there was nothing to decide that had not
already been decided by virtue of the logic of principles and by virtue
of the essence of the Convention as representation of the people. He
did not take part in the debate, but revealed that the debate should
never have taken place, and even condemned himself to silence. Whilst
his words caused a terrible threat to hang over the Assembly, he
offered its members the means to escape it by turning on one another.
By transferring suspicion, he effected a transfer of power.
The events we thought we observed taking place within the space
of the Convention are a refection of what had been happening on a
larger scale throughout society since August 1792. The Terror gave
rise to a multiplicity of positions of power by giving those who had
won them an opportunity to conceal from others and, if need by, from
themselves the fact that they were exercising their omnipotence. That,
however, would have been a banal phenomenon, had it been solely a
matter of using principles for purposes of dissimulation. It becomes
extraordinary if we note that the dissimulation is a result of the
obligation, which is incumbent upon everyone, to leave the place of
power apparently empty. Robespierre's ploys are no more psychological
than those of the other terrorists, great or small. The Terror is
revolutionary in that it forbids anyone to occupy the place of power;
and in that sense, it has a democratic character. Only Marat called
openly for a dictatorship (and even he thought of it as a temporary
measure). The accusation hurled against factions one wishes to destroy
and against men one wishes to discredit is always that of wanting to
establish a dictatorship - Louvet, Guadet, Barbaroux and even Camille
himself use it against Robespierre in the autumn of 1792, and his
adversaries will use it again in the spring of 1794. In other words, the
Terror implies that the terrorists must recognize one another as
individuals who are equal before the law - the law of which the Terror
is said to be the sword, but which it embodies in fantasy. These
individuals are therefore confronted with a terrible imperative: they
are all required to take responsibility for the Terror, but the strength
they derive from it always lacks the cement that might have been
provided by an institution guaranteed by a defnite, reliable and general
power. It is, perhaps, Saint-Just himself who best perceives the role
played by individuals, even though he expresses it badly, when he
imagines the magistrates secretly admitting that ' We are IlOt sufciently
virtuous t be so terrible'. It would be more accurate to imagine them
saying 'Fearful as it may be, our power is too hollow to be so terrible',
The Revolutionary Terror
but that would have been inconceivable to him.
The fact is that the organization of the Terror was never such that
its agents could free themselves from their own will or imprint
themselves in a body whose cohesion was ensured by the existence of
its head. In short, they could not act as bureaucrats. This observation
means that we cannot be content with the arguments mentioned above.
It is not simply an instinct for self-preservation which restores a sense
of reality; paradoxically, it is Robespierre's very attempt to consolidate
the sy

tem of the Terror which makes it unviable. Far from giving the
terronsts the secunty they lack - the real security of a life free from
danger and the sym bolic security of a mind free from doubts - his
attempts to do so in fact result in the destruction of what remains of
the unity of terrorism, the unity it had acquired with the collusion of
the furies of repression and as a result of the egalitarian fction.
Robespierre, we must note, is the frst to promote that fction, and
he cannot both escape it and attempt to acquire a total mastery of
power. Historians have discussed the possibility that he could have
mobilized the forces of the streets against his adversaries in Thermidor.
It has rightly been noted that the measures he took against the
Hebertistes and then against the Paris Sections deprived him of mass
support when the time came for the fnal confict with the Convention.
But it cannot be denied that he did have considerable forces in Paris,
and that he did not use them. His objective was to take control of the
police and revolutionary justice into his own hands, and to use them
to ensure that the convention would agree to his wishes. In other
words, Robespierre was constantly obliged to cover up the paths that
had brought
·him to power, but this was not because of some character
trait; as we said above, it was because everyone who sought power
was under an obligation to disappear as an individual. The means
Robespierre used to institutionalize the Terror were - apart from the
administrative measures described above - essentially of a symbolic
nature; he had to provide a criterion which could fnally reveal the
doctrinal unity of terrorism. The project never went beyond the outline
stage, but there can be no doubt about its meaning. In Robespierre's
view, belief in the Supreme Being is, in this fnal period, the vital and
ultimate guarantee of public safety - of, that is, a terrorist dictatorship.
It is therefore no accident that the Feast of the Supreme Being, which
he organized and which was so staged as to designate him the most
Important fgure in the state, took place on 10 Prairal and almost
coincided with the new legislation on the Terror (22 Prairal). His
praises of the Supreme Being ring so hollow that historians have been
tempted to see the invention of the new cult as no more than a whim
or as a sign of a naivety which is in stark contrast with its author's
implacable severity, and which might even excuse it. They fail to see
the function of Robespierre's invention: to articulate the Terror with
an orthodoxy. From the end of Prairal onwards, Robespierre continues
to speak of the virtue and happiness of the people, and of the unity
88 all Revolution
of the body politic, but he also constantly denounces atheism,
naturalism, materialism and philosophism.
A programme is being outlined for a split between those who know
why they are killing and those who do not. Chaumette and the
Hebertistes are numbered amongst the former, but so are the
Dantonistes who, because they do not know why they kill, have gone
over to the party of indulgence, and who are now the most dangerous
of all the adversaries plotting against Robespierre. To take an example
of his strategy: in his fnal speech on 8 Thermidor, he exclaims in
indignation: 'People of France, do not allow your enemies to degrade
your souls and sap your virtues with their doctrine of despair! No,
Chaumette, no, death is not an eternal sleep.' Now no one could be
unaware of the fact that it was Fouche, the enemy of the moment,
who had suggested marking graves with a statue of sleep rather than
with a cross. Turning to the real terrorists, he calls upon them to free
themselves from their own will (to employ a phrase we have already
used) and to rely upon a tribunal that is higher than the tribunals of
mere mortals; they must love only the Terror, and can perform their
duties in all innocence. Robespierre hides behind the mask of the
Supreme Being in order to promote a dictatorship. But the mask
betrays the new face of the inquisitor rather than concealing it. Nothing
could be more menacing than an orthodoxy which will in future make
it possible to introduce divisions into the body of terrorism, which, in
order to resolve the unknown elements in the Terror, places it under
divine authority and thereby turns revolutionaries into the executive
agents of the man or the Bureau who represents it.
When the enemy of the people becomes the enemy of God,
everything changes. Robespierre may well go on denouncing the
conspiracies that are being hatched in secret, but the whole economy
of evil has been overturned. The interminable has come to an end.
Revolutionary Terror Or modern terror cannot accommodate itself to
a theocratic institution (not to mention the fact that the Supreme Being
lacks the support of any religion).
As the future will reveal, Robespierre's dream is false. It is in
philosophism, naturalism, materialism and in perverted visions of
science - a science which succeeds in merging with the representation
of a people which wins its identity by ridding its body of enemies -
that the Terror will fnd new formulae for its institution, and that it
will anchor the desire for an absolute gap and the fantasy of the
interminable in an organization.
Interpreting Revolution within the
French Revolution
In the introduciton to his L 'Ancien Regime et la Revolution, Tocqueville
declares: 'The book I am publishing at this time is not a history of the
Revolution; its history has been written with such distinction that I
would not dream of rewriting it. This is a study of that Revolution.'
And he adds in a fragment: 'I am talking about history; I am not
recounting it. ' Fran�ois Furet has been able to make these words his
own. In his latest work he does not attempt to make a further
contribution to our knowledge of the facts, to exhume previously
unknown documents, to redistribute the roles of individual and
collective actors or to modify their accents,' Or even (and this is where
he differs from Tocqueville) to reassess the balance sheet of the
Revolution. ' None of these projects is, of course, alien to his concerns,
as is evident from the book he wrote in collaboration with Denis
Richet, where he does touch upon these questions in passing.o His
purpose here is of a different order: he is 'talking about history' or,
to be more accurate, trying to reorient revolutionary historiography
by making it meet a demand that is usually neglected; he demands
that it must be an interpretation of the French Revolution.
How are we to defne this demand? What does interpretation mean
in this context? The reader may think that he will fnd the answer in
a passage in which the author complains that the history of the
Revolution has been the last to adopt a method that 'history in general'
adopted long ago. The latter, we are reminded, 'has ceased to be a
body of knowledge where the "facts" are supposed to speak for
themselves, once they have been established according to the rules. It
must state the problems it seeks to analyse, the data it uses, its working
hypotheses and the conclusions at which it arrives.'; Such formulations
are certainly worthy of attention. It is not that they are strikingly
original: they are simply a condensed statement of principles which
have long been recognized by the best historians, but they also
represent a welcome invitation to subject events to the common law
90 On Revolution
of science. He displays here a boldness which is borne out by his entire
'Event-bound' history [histoire evenementie/le] cannot, Furet suggests,
be deduced from the specifcity of its object. Being concerned with
reconstructing sequences of events on the basis of accurate observation,
it is a naive and dogmatic history, which believes that the meaning is
inscribed within the picture, and which conceals the effects . of
perspective. It is because of these prejudices, and not because it deals
with events, that a distinction must be made between event-bound
history and the history of modes of production, technologies, mentalities
and morals, or the history of structures and long time-spans, always
assuming that event-bound history does not in its turn fall into the
trap of objectivism. The widespread view to the contrary notwithstand­
ing (and, curiously enough, this view is shared by the supporters of
different schools), it is not because of the nature of their objects that
there is a difference between the two modes of historical knowledge;
the difference is one between two ways of conceiving knowledge's
relationship with its object. In one case, knowledge knows nothing of
its own operations; in the other, it understands how much it owes to
its operations, and tests its own resistances. Events do of course appear
to resist conceptualization, but that is merely because the historian
apprehends them as something which has already been named, which
has already been invested with meaning by actors or witnesses. That
is because the historian, perhaps more than anyone else, is a prisoner
of the illusion that appearance coincides with being, and because, in
order to construct his object, he must begin by 'deconstructing' it on
the basis of the position he has adopted.
Important as this revalorization of the history of the event may be,
it does not allow us to understand fully the injunction to interpret the
French Revolution. Indeed, to restrict it to a demand for a new
'conceptual' history would, I believe, perpetuate an ambiguity. Furet's
formula is of course designed to win the support of a new school of
historians, but it tends to obscure a project which breaks with most
contemporary work. Furet is in fact trying to redirect history towards
a path from which it has, on the whole, strayed: the path which links
it to a refection on politics.
He himself signals his intentions in his frst essay when he concludes
a lengthy argument which contains the essentials of his problematic
with the words: 'The frst task of the historiography of the French
Revolution must be to rediscover the analysis of its political dimension
(p. 27). It must immediately be pointed out that, when the author
refers to 'the analysis of the political dimension', he does not mean
the analysis of a category of particular facts, of those facts which are
normally described as political or which are assumed to be more
pertinent than others, such as the economic and social facts that have
long been privileged by historians. On the contrary, he wishes to break
with the idea of politics as a regional science. This is now a conventional
Revolution within the French Revolution 9I
idea, but i t frst appeared i n the modern era - and indeed i t was a
late development - as a result of the rise of the social sciences (which
went hand in hand with a fracturing of the objects of knowledge): and
as a result of the rise of Marxism, which has always primarily been
concerned with circumscribing relations of production in order to
accord them the status of the real, and with relegating politics to a
superstructural level. His statement of intent testifes to a return to
the sources of classical political thought: he wishes to uncover a schema
or a body of schemata of actions and representations which govern
both the shaping [mise en forme] and staging [mise en scene] of a
society, and, at the same time, its dynamic. And, if power seems to
him to be the central object of any refection on politics, it is not
because he regards as decisive the relations established between actors
whose aim it is to win or keep power, to appropriate or modify its
exercise, or because he regards property relations and class relations
as being less important. It is because the position and representation
of power, and the fguration of its locus are, in his view, constitutive
of the social space, of its form and of its stage. In other words, he
recognizes that, quite apart from its real functions and the effective
modalities of its exercise, power has a symbolic status, and claims that
the Revolution becomes intelligible only if we examine the way that
status changes or, as he puts it, how 'the site of power is displaced' .
If we fail to grasp his intentions, we will fail to recognize the meaning
of his interpretation of the Revolution, raise irrelevant objections, or
fail to answer the questions it raises. One would, for instance, reproach
him in vain for underestimating the conficts which, on the eve of the
Revolution,. resulted from a mode of exploitation and class domination,
from the expansion of the bourgeoisie and from the obstacles it
encountered, from the increasing burden of taxation imposed upon the
peasantry, from the redistribution of property and from economic
crises; or for ignoring conficts of interest during the revolutionary
period. Our historian certainly does not neglect the analysis of social
divisions; he merely challenges the view that they in themselves can
explain the outbreak of the Revolution or the specifc course it took.
Although they are not always explicit, the principles behind his
reasoning can easily be reconstructed. Firstly, he believes that class
oppositions or, more broadly, socio-economic oppositions, are not fully
signifcant at their own level. Social actors do not see their behaviour
as being strictly determined either by their material condition or by
the mutual relationships which defne them in relation to one another.
They decipher their condition and relationships in the context of the
common situation imposed upon them by the fact of belonging to the
same society, and that situation itself cannot be disassociated from a
general system of representation. In other words classes do not
represent small societies within a wider society - what could be the
meaning of such a global term? - and they are not bound up with one
another simply because they are inserted into a network of economic
92 On Revollllion
operations. They are, by their very division, constitutive of a single
social space, and are generated within that space. The relationships
they establish with one another are caught up in a more general
relationship - society's relationship with itself - and it is that which
decides their nature. This in itself implies that the outbreak of a
revolution cannot be deduced from a degree of class domination or
exploitation, or from a degree ' of confict between interests. If a
revolution is to occur, either there has been a shift in the markers of
the common situation, which once allowed it to be represented and
apprehended as natural (painful and confictual as it may well have
been), or new markers have become at least partially visible.
Secondly, this general relationship implies a division between power
and society as a whole. Paradoxically, power is established and
represented as being distanced from every part of the social whole, as
though it existed outside society; and yet it is consubstantial with it,
and therefore assumes the function of guaranteeing its integrity, no
matter who is invested with it or who exercises it. It provides society
with a reference point which allows it to become potentially visible to
itself, which allows social articulations within a common space to be
deciphered, and which allows actual conditions to appear within the
register of the real and the legitimate. When, therefore, it becomes
generalized, opposition to power is not directed solely against those
who control the decision-making and coercive apparatus, who are an
obstacle to the destruction of certain hierarchies and who defend the
interests of dominant groups. It is directed against the reality principle
and the legitimacy principle which support the established order. It is
not only political authority which is shaken; it is the validity of
conditions of existence, and the modes of behaviour, beliefs and norms
which affect every detail of social life. It follows that revolutions are
not born of an internal confict between the oppressed and their
oppressors; they occur at the moment when the transcendance of
power vanishes, and when its symbolic effcacy is destroyed.
Thirdly, it therefore proves impossible to establish a boundary
between that which pertains to the realm of action and that which
pertains to the realm of representation. At a certain level, such a
distinction is of course well founded, but no political analysis worthy
of the name can be restricted to the manifest, specifc aspects of actions
and representations. It cannot be confused with an analysis of what
are commonly termed political facts, and must be combined with the
study of behaviour and institutions; with the study of the discourses
and ideas they vehicle; and with a search for the system within which
they are ordered, for the logic which animates them. And that logic
cannot be said to be either a logic of action or a logic of representation,
as it operates on both registers.
Furet does, it is true, speak of the system of action and the system
of representation which appear with the Revolution, but he does not
disassociate the two. And when he describes the dynamic of the
Revolution within the French Revolution 93
Revolution as being at once 'political, ideological or cultural' (p. 27),
he is attempting to use the latter terms to reinforce the meaning of
the former, and not to disassociate them. The political character of
the Revolution becomes perceptible only if we grasp, on the one hand,
the signs of the imaginary elaboration by virtue of which social relations
are assumed to be organized, to escape indeterminacy, and to be
subject to the will and understanding of human beings, and, on the
other hand, the signs of a new intellectual, moral, religious or
metaphysical experience of the world.
The revolutionary phenomenon is in fact the most convincing proof
that an analysis of the political implies not only an analysis of ideology,
but also an analysis of the experience of the world, and of modes of
thought and belief which are conventionally assigned to the realm of
culture. Until such time as a fracture appears in society, it is tempting
to study the structure of power, class structure, the workings of
institutions, and social actors' modes of behaviour as though they were
meaningful in themselves, and to overlook the imaginary and symbolic
foundations of their 'reality'. It is because representations are, so to
speak, so enkysted in social practice that they are so easily overlooked;
that we identify them only when they appear at a certain remove from
that practice in discourses which are explicitly religious, philosophical,
literary or aesthetic and that we fail to grasp their political signifcance.
The French Revolution is, however, the moment when all discourse
acquires an import within the generality of the social, when its political
dimension becomes explicit, and it therefore enables the historian to
recognize the political dimension in areas where it was invisible under
the Ancien Regime. This does not, of course, mean that representations,
as defned by their manifest content, now render reality transparent.
Furet even claims that their opacity is at its height in revolutionary
ideology. But this opacity is, he should point out, an effect of the
dissimulation of something that has entered the register of the thinkable
for the frst time. Misrecognition and recognition go hand in hand, as
do the occultation of practice and an opening on to the question of
the real. We therefore cannot decipher ideology unless we simul­
taneously relate to the new requirements of thought the new
representations of history and society, of the power of the people, of
its enemies' plots, of citizens and suspects, and of equality and privilege.
And nor can we detect mutations in knowledge or the requirement to
redefne the condition of everything that affects the establishment of
the social unless we examine the advent of a new idea of time, of the
division between past and present, true and false, visible and invisible,
real and imaginary, just and unjust, between that which conforms to
nature and that which goes against nature, between possible and
impossible. This is precisely why our author says that the historian
must rediscover the analysis of the political dimension. By this, he
means an analysis which does not circumscribe the political within the
boundaries of power relations, or within the boundaries of the social;
94 Ott Revolution
hc mcans. that

is, a mctasocio|ogica| ana|ysis. But hc might add that
thc Rcvo|ution is thc vcry phcnomcnon which promotcs such an
ana|ysis, that it forccs usto intcrprct thc po|itica|. �
No doubt such a history cou|d bc dcscribcd as 'conccptua|` insofar
asitisinscribcd undcrthcsignofthc po|itica|. But.aswc havc a|rcady
said, thc tcrm issti||ambiguous, itscxtcnsionis so widcthatitcannot
imp|ics a rcßcction upon socicty and cu|turc, it is a phi|osophica|
historyor(tousca tcrmwhichccrtainofourcontcmporaricsmay hnd
|css disturbing), an intcrprctativc history, in thc scnsc that it cannot
c|aim simp|yto bc inspircdby thcidca|ofobjcctivity, in thatit cannot
bc vcrihcd by quantitativc mcans, and in that it asks thc rcadcr to
mobi|izc his or hcr cxpcricncc of socia| |ifc in ordcr to shrug off thc
wcightof hisor hcropinions, and to combinc know|cdgc ofthc past
with know|cdgc ofthc prcscnt.
Lctus|ookathowFurct procccds withhisana|ysis. Hc bcgins by
dcmonstratinghowthc history ofthc Rcvo|utionwasprcsscd intothc
thc ninctccnthccnturyand, morcspccihca||y,duringthcformationof
thc Third Rcpub|ic. Not contcnt with showing that most historians
idcntihcd with thc actors of thc Rcvo|ution and appropriatcd thcir
discourscs instcad of invcstigating thcm, hc rcvca|s thc mcchanisms
bchind that idcntihcation. thcirdcsirc to havcrootsinthc nation and
tohavc|inkswitharca|pointoforiginrcproduccsthc rcvo|utionarics`
dcsirc to found thc nation, to situatc thcmsc|vcs at a point oforigin,
and to wipc out cvcry tracc of an car|icr usurping pco

|c which
pcrpctuatcd its domination by disguising itsc|f as a nobthty. Thc
dcnunciation of thc i||usions of |cgacy and foundation is inscparab|c
from thisinitia| argumcnt, andthc rcadcrcannotsubscribc toitun|css
hc or shc can cscapc myths of idcntity and origins. Furct thcn |ooks
at thc disp|accmcnt thc history of thc Rcvo|ution undcrwcnt whcn it
wasprcsscdintothcscrviccofsocia|istidco|ogy. Onccagain,postcrity`s
i||usions arc shown to bc bound up with an imagc promotcd by thc
rcvo|utionarics thcmsc|vcs. 'Thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution,` hc notcs 'is not
on|y thc Rcpub|ic. It is a|so an un|imitcd promisc of cqua|ity, and a
spccia| form of changc. Onc on|y has to scc in it not a natio

institution, but a matrix ofunivcrsa| history, in ordcrtorccapturc tts
dynamic forcc and its fascinating appca|. Thc ninctccnth ccntury
bc|icvcd in thc Rcpub|ic. Thc twcnticth ccntury bc|icvcs in the
Rcvo|ution. Thc samc founding cvcnt is prcscnt in both imagcs`
(p. 5). Fcrsona||y, I am particu|ar|y imprcsscd by thc wisdom of an
intcrprctation which, having dcscribcd thc cffccts of thc Russtan
Rcvo|ution on thc historyof thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution, notcs in passing
that. 'Thc idcaofa ncwbcginning andofa nation in thc vanguard of
history' was graftcd on to thc Sovict phcnomcnon (pp. 1 1-12). This
rcmark both i||uminatcs thc hiddcn conncction bctwccn nationa|
ìdco|ogy and socia|ist idco|ogy, and showshow thc cfhcacy ofa |ogic
Revolution within the French Revolution 95
of rcprcscntation can out|ivc thc disp|accmcnt of its contcnts. But it
is sti|| truc to say that this typc of ana|ysis is not and cannot bc
supportcdbythc mcchanismsofproof, itimp|icsthatthc rcadcrcnjoys
thcfrccdomtorcjcctboththcimagcofthcRcvo|ution asthcabso|utc
bcginning of history and thc imagc of thc USSR as a modc| for thc
good socicty.

Thc princip|cs bchindFurct`sapproachbccomcfu||y apparcnt whcn
hc dcscribcs thc conditions which now makc it possib|c to vicw thc
Frcnch Rcvo|ution from a critica| distancc. Thc ncw factor is, hc
obscrvcs, thatthc hopcs thatwcrc oncc invcstcd in thc rcgimc which
cmcrgcd from thc Rcvo|ution havc fadcd. So |ong as thc right has a
monopo|y on thc indictmcnt of thc rcgimc, thcrc can bc no ncw
rcßcctìon of po|itics, for ìn ordcr to indict it, thc right 'has no nccd
to adjustanypartofitshcritagc andcansimp|ystaywithinthcbounds
of countcr-rcvo|utionary thought'¸(p. 1 1). On thc othcr hand, 'What
docsmattcr is that a |cft-wing cu|turc,oncc it has madc up its mind
to think about thc facts - namc|y, thc disastrous cxpcricncc of
twcnticth-ccntury communism - in tcrmsof itsown va|ucs, has comc
to takc a critica| vicw of its own idco|ogy, intcrprctations, hopcs and
rationa|isations' (p. 1 1 ) . Onc cou|d not hopc for a morc c|oqucnt
dcscription of how thc rc|ationships wc cstab|ish with thc past arc
ofhistory isgovcrncd by thccxpcricnccofhistory. Thisccrtain|ydocs
not mcan that wc havc to invcrt our idcntihcations. rcdiscovcr
tota|itarianism in thc idca| of!acobinism orconfusc thc systcm of thc
Tcrror with that of thc Gu|ag, and I do not think that this is what
Furct is saying. But, and this is a considcrab|c stcp in thc right
dircction, hc docs cncouragc us to qucstion rcvo|utionary discoursc
rathcr than taking it |itcra||y, to dctcct thc contradiction that arosc
bctwccn ìdco|ogy and practìcc, and. hna||y, to |ook for a mcanìng in
thc historica| proccss which |cd to thc cmcrgcncc of a rcgimc of
of thc Rcvo|ution in tcrms of 'circumstanccs`. Thc author docs of
coursca|sopointoutthatthc`disinvcstmcnt`ofthc Frcnch Rcvo|ution
or, to usc Lcvi-Strauss`s tcrmino|ogy, 'thc ¨coo|ing off¨ of thc objcct
¨Frcnch Rcvo|ution`' (p. 10) is imp|icit in thc mutations in historica|
know|cdgc' (p. 1 1 ). Hc bc|icvcs that thc timc has comc

o makc duc
a||owancc for `anothcr primum movens of thc htstonan, namc|y
intc||cctua| curiosity and thc frcc scarch for know|cd
c about thc
past' (p. 10). Hc is, thcn, right|y conccrncd not to fa|| mto thc trap
thchistoryofthought- whichwou|dsimp|yconcca|itsprcsuppositions
sti|| furthcr. Hc a|so wishcs to avoid divorcing thc critiquc of thc
i||usions that accompany our po|itica| convictions from thc qucst for
truth which is an intrinsic part of scicntihc cndcavour. It wou|d,
howcvcr, bc a mistakc to bc|icvc, as ccrtain of Furct's formu|ations
suggcst, that historica| scicncc wi|| sooncr or |atcr |cad to an
96 all Revolution
'intcrprctation` of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution as a rcsu|t ofsomc intcrna|
ncccssity,for, ifwcarctointcrprct it, wcmust do morc than divorcc
it from its hcritagc. Onc might cvcn vcnturc so far as to say that
dcvc|opmcnts in historica| scicncc havc |cd to a 'coo|ingoff of both
thc subjcct and thc objcct, that ìt ìs bccomìng incrcasìng|y rc|uctant
to rcñcct upon po|itics, and that it is attcmpting to adopt a position
which sparcs it thc cxpcricncc of thc mutua| imbrication of subjcct
and objcct. Indccd, thc vcry fact that Furct ca||sfor a rcdiscovcryof
thc po|itica| dimcnsion indicatcs that hc is awarc that, dcspitc thc
progrcss know|cdgc has madc, somcthing has bccn |ost or forgottcn,
and that this has nothing to do with thc immaturity of thc scicncc.
But hc is, pcrhaps, rc|uctant to makc a morc radica| critiquc of thc
idca of progrcss.
Wc scc an indication ofthis rc|uctancc in what appcars at timcs to
bc a simp|ihcation of rcvo|utionary historiography. Furct`s fai|urc to
cxaminc morc c|osc|y thc brcak in thc conccption of history that
occurrcd in thc |attcrpart of thc ninctccnth ccntury is a|| thc morc
rcgrcttab|c in thathiscritiqucofthcmythsofidcntityandorigins docs
sccmconvincing. Itisnoton|yTocqucvi||c whopcrccivcsadiscrcpancy
bctwccn thc actors` discoursc and thcir actions, Bcnjamin Constant
had a|rcady arrivcd at that pcrccption. as had Chatcaubriand and as
did, from vcry diffcrcnt pcrspcctivcs, Thicrry and Guizot, Michc|ct
and Quinct, and Lcroux and Froudhon. Thcy a|| pursuc thcir
invcstigations bcyond thc manifcstcvidcncc of an uphcava| in socicty
and cu|turc, and rcgard its mcaning as bcing at oncc po|itica|.
phi|osophica| and rc|igious. To rcstrict thc discussion to Michc|ct,
Furct contrasts him with Tocqucvi||c in rathcr dubious tcrms which,
morcovcr,havc|itt|cto dowith hisinspiration. 'Michc|ct`, hctc||sus,
thc discrcpancy hc dìsccrns bctwccn thc ìntcntìons of thc actors and
thc historica|ro|cthcyp|aycd. Michc|ctinsta||cdhimsc|fin thc visib|c
or transparcnt Rcvo|ution. hc cc|cbratcd thc mcmorab|c coincidcncc
bctwccn va|ucs, thc pcop|c and mcn's actions' (p. 16). Ifwc wish to
do Michc|ct justicc, wc shou|d, rathcr, bc |ooking at thc conñicting
vicws cxprcsscd in his work. It is quitc truc that hc docs communc,
but it isa|sotructosaythat hc idcntihcswith somcthing invisib|c. It
istructhat hcdocstakc ag|oba|vicwofthcRcvo|ution,butitisa|so
truc to say that hc brcaks down thc rcccivcd imagc ofthc scqucncc
of cvcnts, of its unity and of its positivity. It is truc that hc docs
commcmoratc, but it is a|so truc to say that hc bc|icvcs that thc
Rcvo|utioncannot bc commcmoratcd, that its monumcntshou|d bc a
void, as hc puts it in thc 1847 Frcfacc |its symbo| is thc Champ-dc-
Mars,with 'itssand, aswhitcasArabia`). It isa|sotructhathcc|aims
to bc ab|c to put himsc|fin thc actors' shocs, but it is not truc that
hc appropriatcs thcir discoursc, hc wants to rcconstruct thc work of
timc, which fragmcnts thcir actions andbc|icfs,which gradua||y takcs
thcm apart as though thcy wcrc puppcts. Thc idca that hccc|cbratcs
Revolution within the French Revolution 97
a coincidcncc bctwccn va|ucs, thc pcop|c andmcn`s actionssccms to
mc to bc cqua||y ground|css. Hc sccs thc pcop|c as an omniprcscnt
but |atcnt forcc, whosc namc is takcn in vain, and who arc c|cvatcd
to thc status ofa subjcct and a judgc. Again and again, hc obscrvcs
that thc pcop|c arc abscnt from thc thcatrc ofcvcnts, onc thinks, for
cxamp|c, of his commcnts on thc pcop|c`s abscncc from Faris from
thc cnd of 1792 onwards.° His critiquc of thc distancc scparating thc
pcop|c from thc mcn who spcak in thcir namc and who makc thcm
spcak, of thc 'hcrocs of convcntiona| history`, as hc ca||s thcm, is so
acutc that itisastonishingthatFurctdocsnot usc ittocutthc ground
from undcr thc fcct ofhis dctractors, whoaccusc him of using 'right-
wing` sourccs. For it is notTocqucvi||c, but Michc|ct who says ofthc
Gìrondinsand thc Montagnards that 'Thcsc doctors, j ust |ìkc thosc of
thc Midd|c Agcs, bc|icvcdthatthcy a|onc posscsscd thc giftofrcason,
thatitwasthcirpatrimony, thcya|sobc|icvcdthatrcasonhadtocomc
fromon high,inothcrwordsfromthcm. . . . Bothpartics . . tookthcir
inspirationfrom mcn of|cttcrs, from an intc||cctua| aristocracy.`
Hc a|so uscs an cvcn morc striking formu|a. 'Thcrc is a tcrrib|c
aristocracyamongthcscdcmocrats.''And itisnotCochinbutMichc|ct
who writcs. 'Thc !acobins frcqucnt|y appca|cd to thc vio|cncc of thc
pcop|c and to thcir physica| strcngth, thcy bribcd thc pcop|c. and
urgcdthcmon,butthcydidnotconsu|tthcpcop|c. . . A||thcmcasurcs
that wcrc votcd by thc c|ubs of 93 and by a|| thc departemellls wcrc
votcdon ordcrsfromthc ho|yofho|icsinthcrucSaint-Honorc.Thcy
bo|d|y pronounccd on nationa| issucs with on|y an impcrccptib|c
a wor|d of|iving mcn to itwithout anyrcmorsc` (pp. 300-1). Fina||y,
it was Michc|ctwho, |ongbcforc Furct,said of thc Tcrror. ` Ithad to
ovcrcomcìncrcdib|cobstac|cs, butthcmosttcrrib|cofthoscobstac|cs
wcrc ofits own making` (p. 29). But it is, pcrhaps, morc important
to rcca|| that thc basis of his intcrprctation is as po|itica| as that of
Tocqucvi||c`s,cvcnthoughthcyarcvcrydiffcrcnt. Hc wantcdtobring
out thc onc thing that cscapcd thc |attcr`s noticc, namc|y thc
constitution of socicty, which cannot bc adcquatc|y dchncd in tcrms
of socia| and cconomic rc|ations. It isthc princip|c ofan architccturc
which imbricatcs thc rcprcscntationofthc kinginthat ofthc nobi|ity,
thc ordcrs. and thc corporatc bodics and ranks, thc princip|c of an
architccturc whosc scaffo|ding was, dcspitc thc changcs that had
occurrcd,sti||thco|ogico-po|itica|. Itisto Michc|ctthatwcwcthcidca
that roya| authoritywastransfcrrcd to thc rcvo|utionary govcrnmcnt.
Whcn onc |ooks at thc work of Michc|ct and that of ccrtain of his
contcmporarics, onc bcgins towondcrwhcthcr, paradoxica||y. itmay
not havc bccn thc risc of a positivist-inspircd history (and I inc|udc
Marxist works in this catcgory
as thcy rcprcscnt a major variant on
thc samc thcmc) which sct thc sca| on thc myth of origins and of
98 On Revolution
nationa| or rcvo|utionary idcntity by partia||y masking it. If that is
indccd thccasc, it istcmptingtoscc Furcts projcct both as acritiquc
of a ccrtain historiographica|traditionand as a signofarcturnto thc
sourccof thc modcrn idca of history.
for thcyarc nota||obvious, inordcrto arrivcat abcttcrapprcciation
of thc subt|cty of his intcrprctation and to raisc ccrtain qucstions in
His starting point is, as has a|rcady bccn notcd, a critiquc of thc
historiography which bccamc dominant by thc cnd of thc ninctccnth
ccntury and which hnds its rationa|ization and its canonization in
ofcxp|anation and narrativc. Thcformcr is bascduponanana|ysisof
thc Rcvo|ution and of its ba|ancc shcct. Thc |attcr dca|s with thc
cvcnts that took p|acc bctwccn 1789 or 1787 and Thcrmidor or
18 Brumairc. Thc cxp|anation is dctcrmincd by thc narrativc in thc
scnsc that thc historian adoptsthc actors` imagcofan abso|utc brcak
bctwccn past and futurc, bctwccn thc Ancicn Rcgimc - dchncd in
tcrms ofthc ru|cofabso|utism and thc nobi|ity- and thc ncw Francc
- dchncd in tcrms of thc ru|c of |ibcrty and thc pcop|c (or of thc
bourgcoisic,withpopu|arsupport). Atthc samctimc,thc narrativc is
dctcrmincd by thc cxp|anation, for it is organizcd 'as if, oncc thc
causcs arc sct out, thc p|ay wcnton by itsc|f, propc||cd by thc initia|
uphcava|`. This'ming|ing ofgcnrcs' stcmsfrom thc confusion of two
irrcducib|c objccts. ' It fai|s to distinguish bctwccn thc Rcvo|ution as
a historica| proccss, a sctofcauscs and cffccts, and thc Rcvo|ution as
a modc ofchangc, aspccihcdynamicofco||cctivc action` (p. 1 8) . Thc
confusionariscsasarcsu|tofthc adoptionofapostu|atcwhoscva|idity
is ncvcr qucstioncd. thc postu|atc of a historica| ncccssity which
disso|vcs thc singu|arity ofthc cvcnts.
If it wcrc truc that objcctivc rcasons ncccssari|y - and cvcn
Rcgimc and to insta|| a ncw onc, thcn thcrcwou|d bc no nccd
and thc naturc of thc cvcnt itsc|f. For not on|y wou|d historica|
ncccssitycoincidcwithrcvo|utionary action, butthcrcwou|da|so
bc a pcrfcct ¨ht¨ [transparence] bctwccn that action and thc
thcy wcrc brcaking with thc past and founding a ncw history
(p. 19)
I acccpt Furcts commcnts, andwou|d mcrc|y add, for my part,that
anything that sccms to dcpart from what is assumcd to bc thc
prcdictab|c or, so to spcak, natura| coursc of thc Rcvo|ution is
cxp|aincd in tcrms of circumstanccs and that it can ncvcr a|tcr its
Revolution within the French Revolution 99
mcaning. thc cxccsscs ofthcTcrror arc cxp|aincd in tcrmsofthcwar,
and thc war is cxp|aincd in tcrmsof thc p|otsof thc cncmics of thc
i||usion of historica| consciousncss' (p. 19). What happcns sccms,
aftcr thc cvcnt, to havc bccn thc on|y possib|c futurc for thc past.
But, in thc casc of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution, this assumption ovcr|aps
with a sccond postu|atc, namc|y thc postu|atc that thc Rcvo|ution
marks an abso|utcbrcakinthchistoryofFrancc. As arcsu|t, thc ncw
is not simp|y sc�n as arising out of thc o|d, it contains within it thc
sccds of thc futurc. Bccausc it is |inkcd with thc postu|atc of thc
Rcvo|ution as dcstruction-advcnt, thc postu|atc of ncccssity has, in
othcr words, thc powcr 10 unify thc historica| and socia| proccss.
Marxism simp|ytakcsovcrthìs schcmawhcn it ìntroduccs thcconccpt
ofabourgeois revolution which'rcconci|csa|||cvc|sofhistorica|rca|ity
and cvcry aspcct of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution` (p. 19). Thc Rcvo|ution
is assumcd to havc bccn thc midwifc of capita|ism, which was sti||
cmbryonic in thc cightccnth ccntury, of thc bourgcoisic, whosc
ambitions had bccn thwartcd by thc nobi|ity, and of a sct of va|ucs
which arc bc|icvcd to bc consubstantia| with thc bourgcoisic. It is
assumcdto havcunvci|cdthcnaturcofthcAncicn Rcgimc as awho|c
by 'dchning it a contrario by thc ncw' (p.20). Fina||y, it is assumcd
to havc cstab|ishcd prcmisscs from which thc futurc wi|| draw thc
ncccssary conc|usions. From this point of vicw, thc dynamic of thc
fcuda| modc of production, it has an agcnt which is pcrfcct|y suitcd
to its task, and it spcaks thc |anguagc rcquircd of it by thc tasks of
thc day. It is by dcnouncing thc artihccs of this construct that Furct
advanccs towards his goa|. Thcrc is |itt|c point in dwc||ing on thc
dctai|s of his critiquc, which hc formu|atcs most c|car|y in an cssay
cntit|cd 'Thc Rcvo|utionary Catcchism` (pp. 81-131), but wc can at
|cast bringoutthc csscntia| pointsbysummarizingthc argumcnt. Thc
ana|ysis of history in tcrms of modcs of production is, hc imp|ics,
pcrtincnt on|y if it takcs thc |ong-tcrm vicw. If it is app|icd in thc
short tcrm, it is incapab|c of proving that any structura| changcs
occurrcd in Francc bctwccn thc timc of Louis XVI and that of
Napo|con. Ifwcc|ingtothis vicwandinsist upon sccingthc Rcvo|ution
as a mutation in thc cconomy which coincidcs with thc bourgcoisic`s
victory ovcrthc nobi|ity,wc incvitab|y havc to ovcr|ook thccconomic
by a fraction of thc nobi|ity in thc cxpansion of thc cconomy. and
cspccia||y in thc cxpansion of industry. lf wc rcmain trappcd by t
imagcof fcuda|ism, wc confusc thc fcaturcs of a fcuda| rcgìmc wìth
thosc of a scigncuria| rcgimc, and takc no noticc of how much thc
cxp|oitation of thc pcasantry owcs to a ncw form of cc
iomy. Wc
takc itfor grantcd, without proving thc point, that thc cxìstcncc ofa
nobi|ity was in itsc|f incompatib|c with thc dcvc|opmcnt oftradc and
I00 On Revolution
with a proñtcconomy,so |ongaswc rcmainb|indtosignsofcontinuity
bctwccn thc prc- and post-rcvo|utionary pcriods, wc fai| to ask how
thc brcak-up of propcrty, which was accc|cratcd by thc Rcvo|ution,
cncouragcd thc dcvc|opmcnt of capita|ism in Francc, or whcthcr it
might nothavc hindcrcd it. Sccond|y, an ana|ysis conductcd in tcrms
ofc|assstrugg|c not on|y fai|s to rccognizc thc vita|ity of onc scction
of thc nobi|ity, both in cconomic |ifc and in tcrms ofparticipation in
thc risc of a ncw cu|turc ccntrcd upon thc En|ightcnmcnt, it a|so
obscurcs thc mu|tip|c oppositions which dìvidcd thc nobi|ity, which
tcstify to itsincrcasinghctcrogcncity and which, insofaras thcy rc|atc
to thc conßict bctwccn thc ncw nobi|ity and thc o|d, rcvca| a division
which, a|though it takcs diffcrcnt forms, is no |csssigniñcant than a
c|ass division. In morc gcncra| tcrms, such an ana|ysis prcvcnts us
from sccing thc incrcasing|y comp|cx intcrp|ay bctwccn two systcms
of socia| c|assiñcation and idcntiñcation, bctwccn a |ong-standing
systcm bascd upon distinctions bctwccn ranks, ordcrs, anccstry, and
corps, and a systcm rcsu|tingfrom thcfusion withinthc c|itcofstrata
sharing thc va|ucs of wca|th, know|cdgc and powcr.
In ordcr to pcrccivc thc ambiguity ofthc Ancicn Rcgimc, wc havc
to takc into account thc ro|c thc abso|utc monarchy p|aycd in
cnnob|cmcnt, and through thc modcrnization of thc administration
and thc cncouragcmcnt of tradc. As Furct notcs.
Thc monarchy gradua||y undcrmincd, chippcd away at and
dcstroycd thcvcrtica| so|idarity ofthc various ordcrs, cspccia||y
thc nobi|ity, both socia||y and cu|tura||y. Socia||y, it crcatcd,
notab|y through its ofñccs, anothcr nobi|ity, which wasdiffcrcnt
from that of thc fcuda| pcriod and by thc cightccnth ccntury
constitutcd thc majorityofthc nobi|ity as a who|c. Cu|tura||y, it
attcmptcd to imbuc thc kingdom`s ru|ing c|asscs, hcnccforth
unitcd undcr its acgis, with a ncw systcm of va|ucs,no |ongcr
bascdonpcrsona| honourbuton thcfathcr|andandonthcStatc.
In short, as thc purvcyor of thc mcansforsocia| advanccmcnt,
thc monarchica| Statcbccamc a magnct attractingmoncy. As it
did so, and cvcn whi|c rctaining thc |cgacy of thc socicty of
ordcrs, it crcatcd a ncw socia| structurc that para||c|cd and
contradictcd thc traditiona| onc. Itcrcatcd a ncw c|itc orru|ing
c|ass. (p. I0J)
Fina||y, thc third c|cmcnt in Furcts critiquc conccrns thc ana|ysisof
thc rcvo|utionary dynamic. Marxism rcgards thc bourgcoisic as a
historica| subjcctwithouttroub|ingto dcñnc thcmodcofparticipation
of diffcrcnt groups in thc Rcvo|ution, and without asking why thosc
of capita|ism. It comcs up against thc fact that thcrc wcrc scvcra|
rcvo|utionswithin thc Rcvo|ution, notab|ya pcasant rcvo|ution and a
Revolution within the French Revolution I0I
rcvo|ution |cd by thc '|itt|c pcop|c` of thc towns, but, rathcr than
it prcscrvcs its schcma by imagining a bourgcoisic which was forccd
by cvcnts andby thc nccd to satisfy itsa||icsto radica|izc its mcthods
and objcctivcs in ordcr to dcfcndits rcvo|ution. Thc war is thcrcforc
sccn as an indcx ofcconomicconßict bctwccn thc Frcnch bourgcoisic
and its Eng|ish riva|, and thc Tcrror is sccn as a product of thc war,
as a 'P|cbcian way` of carrying through thc bourgcois rcvo|ution and
of c|iminating thc cncmics of thc bourgcoisic (p. I27), dcspitc thc
dcspitcthcfact thatitwason|y|atcrthatthcGirondinsca||cdforwar,
and dcspitc thcfact that war providcd thc rcvo|utionary|cadcrs with
an opportunity to rcprcscnt thc idca of thc nation, to |ink thc unity
around thc ncw statc by mobi|izing o|d mi|itary passions in thc namc
of a mission of univcrsa| cmancipation, dcspitc thc fact that, cvcn
though thc ñrst two cpisodcs of thc Tcrror wcrc indccd associatcd
with a conjuncturc of a thrcat to thc nation, it rcachcd its hcight in
thc spring of I794, whcn thc mi|itary situation had grcat|y improvcd.
That Furcts criticisms do not rcmovc thc nccd for a study of thc
gcncsis of thc modcrn bourgcoisic is not in disputc. Nor is thc fact
that, |ikc a|| historians, hc sccs thc Rcvo|ution as having |aid thc
foundations of bourgcoissocicty. What hc docscha||cngc is thc vicw
that wc can start out with thc idca that thc bourgcoisic is a c|ass
dcñncd by thc position it occupics in a systcm of production, that it
is opposcd to thc nobi|ity simp|y bccausc ofthc intcrcsts which givc
it that position, that itformsa tota|ity whosc cxtcrna| diffcrcnccs can
bc cxp|aincd purc|y in tcrms of thc divcrsity of thc functions - somc
practica|andothcrsidco|ogica| -pcrformcdbyitsmcmbcrs.Hcfurthcr
cha||cngcs thc notion that wc can construct a historic individua|
cndowcd with nccds, modcs of know|cdgc, a wi|| and passions, our
on|y proviso bcing that its bchaviour is dctcrmincd by its rc|ations
with othcr c|asscs and by thc inßucncc of cvcnts. No such individua|
can bc idcntiñcd, cithcr undcr thc Ancicn Rcgimc or during thc
Rcvo|ution. Undcr thc Ancicn Rcgimc, socia| division cannot bc
dcscribcd so|c|y in tcrms ofc|ass divisions. As wc havc pointcd out,
ascctionofthc nobi|ity mcrgcswith ascctionofthc common pcop|c,
both in tcrmsofintcrcsts andconditionsofcxistcncc,and in tcrmsof
ways of fcc|ing and thinking, a modc| of sociabi|ity which no |ongcr
had anything to do with thc norms of thc o|d aristocraticsocicty had
imposcd itsc|f. This modc| cou|d indccd bc said to contain within it
to thc initiativc of an actor. Asfor thc Rcvo|ution itsc|f, it may wc||
rcsu|tfrom a sp|it bctwccn thc third cstatc and thc nobi|ity, but wc
cannot conc|udc that it rcsu|tsfrom a historica|projcct drawn up by
102 On Revolution
thc bourgcoisic,orthatit pursucs thcimp|icationsofany such projcct,
as thc bourgcois groups which comc to thc forc arc acting within a
situation thcy do not dominatc. Thc powcr vacuum crcatcd by thc
co||apsc of thc monarchy and thc mobi|ization of thc popu|ar masscs
prcvcnts thcm from arriving at a formu|a for a ncw form of powcr
that is distinct from thc pcop|c, and rcmovcs thc markcrs which
a||owcd thcm to distinguish bctwccn |cgitimatc and i||cgitimatc, rca|
and imaginary, possib|c and dcsirab|c. How, indccd, canwc conc|udc
that thc Rcvo|ution was thc work of thc bourgcoisic. thc princip|cs
which thc bourgcoisic wi|| |atcr c|aim as its own wcrc cstab|ishcd as
car|y as I790, whcnthcRcvo|ution wason|y in its hrststagcs. In any
casc, thc taskofundcrstandingthcgcncsisofthc bourgcoisic mustbc
its gcncsis.
Marxist historiography appcars, as wc havc notcd, to bc govcrncd
bya rcprcscntationofabrcak in history andofa sp|it in socicty, that
rcprcscntation was origina||y c|aboratcd by thc rcvo|utionary actors,
and it was hrst out|incd in Sicyc`s pamph|ct. Thc criticisms it
has inspircd thcrcforc rcquirc us to rcmovc this hrst obstac|c to
intcrprctation. Furct is convinccd of thc nccd to do so, and hc urgcs
us to rcrcad Tocqucvi||c bccausc hccrcdits him with having bccn thc
hrsttoundcrtakc thc task. This, thcn,isthcsccondarticu|ationofhis
argumcnt. to dcmonstratc how Tocqucvi||c divorccd thc idca of thc
Rcvo|utionfrom bc|icfinthcRcvo|ution (a bc|icfwhich can, itshou|d
bc notcd, bc a sourcc of |oathing as wc|| as admiration). But, if wc
arc not to misjudgcthc |inc takcn byour historian,wc must hrst notc
that hc docs notcspousc a|| Tocqucvi||c`s thcscs, and that hc uscs his
work in two ways. Hc |carns both from what it saysand fromwhat it
docs not say, and hc can thcrcforc point to its shortcomings. Thc
criticismsaddrcsscdto thc authorofL 'ncien Regime et la Revolution
arc thcrcforc of a diffcrcnt ordcr to thosc |cvc||cd against Marxist
historiography.Thcy arc not,sotospcak, cxtcrna|, butintcrna|.Thcy
takc shapc within thc framcwork ofhis prob|cmatic and arc dcsigncd
toovcrcomc its |imitations.
Furct bcgins by strcssing Tocqucvi||c`s origina|ity and bo|dncss.
Tocqucvi||c casts doubts upon thc cxtcnt of thc innovations of thc
Rcvo|ution, hc docs notsimp|yrcgistcrsignsofanobviousbrcak, but
socicty,andbycqua|ityofcondition. Itwou|d bca mistakctobc|icvc
that hc mcrc|y providcs a ncw |ong-tcrm intcrprctation. Hc makcs a
distinctionbctwccn rcvo|ution asmodcofhistoricaction andwhatour
historian dcscribcs as rcvo|ution-as-proccss. Nor docs hc simp|y
substitutcprcvious|yunnoticcdcauscsforthccauscsthat arc norma||y
cvokcd to cxp|ain thc rcvo|utionary cvcnt, hisachicvcmcntconsistsin
rcvca|ing a dimcnsionofhistory which was not simp|yovcr|ookcd but
actua||yconcca|cd by thcactionsand rcprcscntationsofthc mcn who
Revolution within the French Revolution 103
thought thcy wcrc making a rcvo|ution. Wc must ofcoursc cxaminc
and rcctify thc dircction takcn by his ana|ysis. Furct points out thc
|acunac in hishistorica| data, andright|y dcnounccshisidca|izationof
thctraditiona| nobi|ity, hisfai|urc to rccognizc thc ro|c p|aycd by thc
ofa ncwru|ingc|itc. Wcdonotnccdtogo intohiscriticismsindctai|,
andwi||simp|ynotcin passingthat,whi|stthcyarc fu||y justihcd and
whi|stthcconc|usionshc draws as to thcnaturcofthcAncicnRcgimc
arcfu||yconvincing,thcydonotdofu||j usticctoTocqucvi||c`ssubt|cty.
statcmcnts,andcombincsthcidcaofde facto changcsinadministrativc
powcr with thc idca of a symbo|ic changc in thc status of thc statc,
thc idcaofcqua|ity and ofthcincrcasingsimi|arityofindividua|swith
thc idcaofan cvcrmorc pronounccdincqua|ityand dissimi|arity. Hc
|inks thc idca of thc standardization of thc socia| hc|d with thc idca
ofthc hctcrogcncityofmodcsofbchaviourandbc|icfs. Fina||y- and
ofthcRcvo|ution- hccombincsthc idcathatthcAncicnRcgimcwas
an immcnsc historic transition or a proccss which brokc down
aristocratic socicty withthc idcathatthc AncicnRcgimcwas a systcm
which,dcspitc itscontradictions,hc|dtogcthcrand disp|aycdana|most
organic intcrna| unity.
Thc manncr in which Furct cxp|oits Tocqucvi||c`s approach is
particu|ar|y notcworthy. Bcing convinccd that it is a |cgitimatc
approach, hc dcmands that it must bc pursucd, and that thc fact of
thc Rcvo|utionitsc|f, thc scqucnccofcvcntsthatwcrccxpcricnccd as
the French Revolution must bc constitutcd as a distinct objcct of
ana|ysis. InFurct`svicwthcrcis a 'b|ankpagc` thatTocqucvi||c ncvcr
h||cd cvcn though it wascsscntia| forhim to do so (p. 23). Hc avoids
thc vcry qucstion his own ana|ysis raiscs. why did thc proccss of
continuity bctwccn thc o|d rcgimc and thc ncw invo|vc a rcvo|ution7
ics` po|itica| commitmcnt?
Wc scc hcrc thc third articu|ation of thc argumcnt. Thc discovcry
aftcr thc Rcvo|ution had cndcd (thc rcvo|ution which Tocqucvi||c
initia||yca||sthc 'dcmocratic rcvo|ution` and which hc |atcr associatcs
with thcriscofstatc powcr) simp|y makcs thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution sti||
strangcr, and thc nccd to intcrprctitin a|| its strangcncss is thcrcforc
a||thcmorcurgcnt. Inothcrwords,thcmotorofknow|cdgcissurprisc,
ifIcanputitthatway. ItisbccauscTocqucvi||crcjcctsthcRcvo|ution`s
appcarancc of bcing a proccss of dcstruction-advcnt that hc cnab|cs
ustocxp|ainitsappcarancc.Thctwoidcashavcto bc takcn togcthcr.
thc Rcvo|utiondocs notcoincidcwith itssc|f-rcprcscntation,butthcrc
is in its conccpt somcthing 'that corrcsponds to its ¨cxpcricnccd¨
as-proccss, somcthingwhich docs notobcy thcscqucnccofcausc and
I04 On Revolution
cffcct, and Furct tc||s us that it is 'thc appcarancc on thc stagc of
history of a practica| and idco|ogica| modc of socia| action tota||y
unrc|atcd to anything that camc bcforc' (p. 2J).
Two difhcu|tics arisc at thispoint.Thcauthor scts himsc|fthc task
of intcrprcting thc cxorbitancc of thc Rcvo|ution but. ifhc is not to
rcnouncc thc idca| of historica| intc||igibi|ity, hc must a|so bcar in
mind a sccond task. thatofintcrprctingthc rc|ationship(andit isnot
onc ofcausa|ity) bctwccn thc o|d and thc ncw, which is in cxccss of
thc o|d. Thus, thc qucstion, 'And what . . . is thc signihcancc of thc
rcvo|utionarics` po|itica| commitmcnt' must not makc us forgct thc
car|icr, 'Why did thc proccss ofcontinuity . . . invo|vc a rcvo|ution?`
On thc othcr hand, intcrprctingthc Rcvo|ution assuchnowprovcsto
mcanintcrprctingìtboth initspractìca| moda|ityandinitsidco|ogìca|
moda|ity, it mcans intcrprcting thc ncw both undcr thc sign ofsocio-
historica|invcntion, and undcr thc sign ofthc birth ofancwimaginary
rcprcscntation of history and socicty.
Wc wi|| bcgin by cxamining thc scconddifhcu|ty bccausc, a|though
thcy arc rc|atcd, it is on|y with thc ncxt stagc in thc argumcnt that
thc hrst difhcu|ty wi|| bccomc fu||y apparcnt. In thc passagc wc arc
discussing,Furctformu|atcsthc nccd to apprcciatc thcdynamicofthc
Rcvo|ution. Hc againrcjcctsthccxp|anatoryschcmawhichmakcsthc
Rcvo|ution 'a natura| occurrcncc in thc history of thc opprcsscd` and
whichovcr|ooksthcfact that, inmostEuropcancountrics,ncithcrthc
Hc thcn makcsanuncquivoca|statcmcnt. 'ButFranccwasthccountry
to thc wor|d onc of thc basic forms of historica| consciousncss of
action' (p. 24). A fcw |incs |atcr, hc c|arihcs this statcmcnt by
cxamining thc circumstanccs which |cd to thc outbrcak of thc
Rcvo|ution. 'Thc Rcvo|ution tippcd thcsca|csagaìnstthc Statc and in
favour of socicty. For thc Rcvo|ution mobi|izcd socicty and disarmcd
thc Statc, itwas an cxccptiona| situation which providcdsocicty with
a spacc for dcvc|opmcnt to which it docs not norma||y havc acccss'
(p.24). Hc thcn adds thc fo||owing commcnt. 'Thc Rcvo|ution was
thchistorica|spacc that scparatcdtwo powcrs, thccmbodimcntofthc
idca that history is shapcd by human action rathcr than by thc
combination of cxisting institutions and forccs' (p. 25). Fina||y, hc
strcsscs thc univcrsa| impact of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution. Whcrcas thc
Eng|ish Rcvo|ution was 'tooprcoccupicd with rc|igious conccrns and
too intcntuponitsrcturn toorigins`, thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution dcvc|ops
'thc onc notion that madc Robcspicrrc`s |anguagc thc prophccy of a
ncw cra. that dcmocratic po|itics had comc to dccidc thc fatc of
individua|s and pcop|cs' (p.2o7).
This |ast formu|a docs, it is truc, sccm ambiguous. as it makcs it
impossib|c todistinguish thccffccts ofa dynamic o|socia| innovation
from thc cffccts of an idco|ogica| dynamic. What is ccrtain is that,
throughout thc passagcs wc havc bccndiscussing, thcthcmc ofsocia|
Revolution within the French Revolution I05
and historica| invcntion, of thc invcntion of a ncw wor|d of human
action and human communication, of thc invcntion of thc idca that
history and socicty arc thc spacc within which thc u|timatc mcaning
of human va|ucs is inscribcd, docs rcmainc|car|y dchncd, a|though it
docsa|sobccomc intcrtwincdwith thcthcmcofthcbirth ofidco|ogy,
can bcfrccofcontradictions In short,whatFurctis suggcsting is that
'thc momcnt of thc discovcry of thc po|itica|`- bywhich I mcan thc
momcnt ofthc diffusion of qucstions as to thc basisofpowcrand of
thc socia| ordcr, and thcrcforc, of cvcry qucstion pcrtaining to thc
foundations of truth, |cgitimacy and rca|ity, thc momcnt, that is. of
thc formation ofthc modcrnscnsibi|ityandofthcmodcrndcmocratic
spirit, thc momcnt of thc institution of a ncw socia| cxpcrìcncc - is,
to usc Marx`s cxprcssion, thc momcnt of thc political illusion. Furct
furthcr suggcsts that thc momcnt in which thc historic dimcnsion
bccomcsfu||y apparcnt and inwhich a qucstionofunivcrsa| import is
invcstcd in thc idca ofhistory - in thc idca that socicty is a purc|y
human socicty - coincidcs with a 'kind of hypcrtrophy of historica|
consciousncss`, and that 'From thc vcry bcginning it was cvcr rcady
to p|acc idcas abovc actua| history, as if it wcrc ca||cd upon to
rcstructurc afragmcntcd socicty by mcans of thc imaginary.` (p.25,
trans|ation modihcd)
In my vicw, thc idca that thc mcaning ofthc rcvo|utionary proccss
acquircs a doub|c mcaning is much morc fcrti|c than thc idca of our
historian prcvious|y advanccd in his attcmpt to |ocatc within timc thc
brcak bctwccn thc |ibcra| Rcvo|ution and thc tcrrorist Rcvo|ution,
namc|y thc idca that thc proccss 'skiddcd out ofcontro|`. For whi|st
hc is right to dctcct this brcak as a turning point in thc Rcvo|ution,
itiscvcnmorcimportantto rccognizc,ashcnowasksusto rccognizc,
thatthc Rcvo|utionwasfromitsvcryoriginscaught upinthc po|itica|
i||usion and that idcas wcrc p|accd abovc actua| history - as Burkc
saw so c|car|y in I79J, cvcn though hc rcmaincd b|ind to thc naturc
ofthcdcmocraticfoundation. Itiscqua||yimportanttorccognizc that
itwasunti|thcvcrycnd thcsourcc ofa pro|ifcrution ofinitiativcs, of
a mobi|ization of co||cctivc cncrgics which transformcd socicty`s
rc|ations with its institutions and which opcncd up a wor|d of
It is, howcvcr, to bc rcgrcttcd that Furct docs not pursuc thcsc
suggcstions, that hc conccntratcs thc who|c wcight of his ana|ysis on
thc idco|ogica| dynamic of thc Rcvo|ution and mcrc|y mcntions thc
invcntion of a 'dcmocratic cu|turc` or a 'dcmocratic po|itics` without
whatdistinguishcs thcscinvcntionsfrom thc fantasmagoriaofpopu|ar
and thc practicc, sty|c and contcnt of socia| conßicts owc to thc
Rcvo|ution. It is, howcvcr, undcrstandab|c that his main conccrn
shou|d bc to bring out thc |ogic of thc imaginary which subtcnds not
IO On Revolution
on|y thc actions and discourscs of its actors, and thc scqucncc of
strugg|cs bctwccn factions and groups, but a|so thc tang|cd wcb of
cvcntswhich historians norma||y rcgard as accidcntsthatintcrrupt thc
norma|coursc ofthc Rcvo|ution.Thc Rcvo|utionis irrcducib|cto that
|ogic, idco|ogycomcs into bcing on|y as a rcsu|t of a mutation of a
symbo|ic ordcr, thc po|itica| i||usion prcsupposcs an opcning on tothc
po|itica|,itprcsupposcsthat idcasarcp|accdabovc actua| history, and
that past and futurc havc acquircd a ncw mcaning. It imp|ics thc
fantasmagoria of|ibcrty, cqua|ity and powcr, ofthc pcop|cand ofthc
nation, ofthc cmancipation of bc|icfs from authority, from tradition,
from thc natura| or supcrnatura| foundations of cxisting hicrarchics,
and frommonarchica|powcr. Itis, howcvcr, a|sotruc to say that thc
Rcvo|ution can bc rcprcscntcd, that it can bc circumscribcd within
that has both a bcginning and an cnd on|y by virtuc of thc cruption
of rcprcscntation, and thc fantastic asscrtion that thc postu|atcs of
thught, discoursc and wi|| coincidcwith sc|f-bcing and with thc bcing
of socicty, history and humanity.
Furct bcst cxprcsscs thc changc in pcrspcctivc which govcrns his
rcading of thc Rcvo|ution whcn hc writcs. 'Evcry history of thc
Rcvo|ution must thcrcforc dca| not on|y with thc impact of ¨circum-
stanccs¨ on thc succcssivc po|itica| criscs but a|so, and abovc a||, with
arrangcd and uscd in thc imaginary of thc Rcvo|ution and in thc
various powcr strugg|cs` (p.6J, trans|ation modihcd). Hc adds. 'Thc
¨circumstanccs¨that propc||cd thc Rcvo|utionforwardwcrcthoscthat
sccmcd to ñt natura||y into thc pattcrn of rcvo|utionary cxpcctations.
ncss, thcy wcrcquick|y givcn thc ncccssary and appropriatc mcaning`
(p. 6J). Andhisana|ysisofthcwar,ofthcTcrrorandofthccomp|cxion
takcn on by thc dominancc of thc 1acobins docs indccd rcvca| thc
function thcy scrvc within thc systcm of rcprcscntations, and docs
show how thc usc madc ofthcm makcs thcm appcar ncccssary cvcn
whcn thcrc is no |ongcrany justihcationfor thcm in thc 'rca|`.
Rathcr than making an cmpirica| dcmonstration supportcd by thc
facts, |ctusdcscribcbricßythcfcaturcsofthcrcvo|utionaryimaginary.
For thc ñrst timc, thcrccomcs into bcing a rcprcscntation of socicty
as bcing po|itica|through and through. a|| activitics and a||institutions
arc assumcd to contributc to its gcncra| construction and to bcar

ss to it. This rcprcscntation prcsupposcs that cvcrything can, in
prmctp|c, bc'known` and 'transformcd`, that cvcrything dcrivcs from
thc samc va|ucs, it contains within it thc dchnition of a ncw man
whosc vocation it is to bccomc a univcrsa| historic agcnt, and whosc
pub|ic cxistcncc mcrgcs with his privatc cxistcncc. thc rcvo|utionary
mi|itant. But, at thc samc timc, it is a||icd with its oppositc. a
is thc victim ofthc cgotism of intcrcsts, and which must bc forccd to
Revolution within the French Revolution I07
bcgood, aswc|| as with a rcprcscntationofamu|titudcofcvi| bcings
who arc rcsponsib|c for a|| thc fai|urcs of rcvo|utionary po|itics. Thc

a|ongsidc that of thc
particu|ar man whosc vcry individua|ity poscs a
thrcat t
thc mtcgrity
of thc socia| body. Yct thcsc prc|iminary
ofthc i|!usion that asocicty can,idca||y,bcinharmonywith itsc|fand

hatan mdivtdua|canbcthc bcarcrofitscnds. Rcvo|utionaryidco|oy
is co
stttutcd by thc msanc asscrtion of thc unity, or indccd thc
i�cnttty, of thc pcop|c. Thc |cgitimacy, thc truth and thc crcativity of

gc contams a contradiction, for thc pcop|c appcar to conform to
thcircsscnccon|y ifthcy
arc distinguishcd from thc cmpirica| popu|ar
masscs, on|y

f thcy mstitutc thcmsc|vcs as - and disp|ay thcmsc|vcs
asbcmg- |cgis|ators,asactorsconsciousofthcircnds. Inothcrwords
thc idca of thc pcop|c imp|ics thc idca of a constant opcration, thc
pcop|cpcrformopcrationswhich a||owthcmtobc thcirownmidwivcs.
It a|so imp|ics thc idca that thc pcop|c must constant|y dcmonstratc
to thcmsc|vcs that thcy arc in posscssion of thcir own idcntity. On|y
m thiswaycan u|timatc va|ucscoincidcwith action. Thc combination
ofthctwo motifs which Furcthndsdccisivc- thatofpopular vigilance
and that of the plot - arc thc bcst cxprcssion of this imaginary
which is mtcr

a| to th
c pcop|c must bc madc pcrccptib|c, it must
thc pcop|cs` ccrtamty as to thciridcntitycan incrcascon|y ifthcy scc
sc|vcs, on|y if thcy ncvcr |osc sight of thcmsc|vcs as thcy |ook
for signs of trcason. Thc |attcr stcms from thc nccd to tracc trcason
to an cxtcrna| sourcc. thc pcop|c cannot conccivc of divisions that
cmanatc from within, thcycannot imaginc thc cxistcncc of obstac|cs
that cannot bc imput

d to thc cvi| wi|| of thc cncmy without.
To raisc thc qucstion of thc contcnt of thc rcprcscntation of thc
powcr. \aving drawn our attcntion to thc 'ccntra| notion of popu|ar
vigi|ancc ,Furctright|yobscrvcsthat. 'itwasa|waysraising-cspccia||y
whcn thc Rcvo|ution tooka ncwturn- thcinso|ub|cprob|cmofwhat
forms thc Rcvo|ution shou|d takc, and of who was spcaking in its
namc. Which group,which asscmb|y, which mccting,whichconscnsus
was thc trustcc of thc pcop|c`s word? That issuc, a mattcr of |ifc and
dcath, dctcrmincd thc coursc ofcvcnts and thcdistribution ofpowcr'
(p. 29).
Paradoxica||y, it bccomcsimpossib|c to dctcrminc whcrc powcr |ics
to dctcrminc who ho|ds powcr at thc vcry momcnt whcn thc
cxistcncc of afu||y |cgitimatc powcrisproc|aimcd, namc|y thc powcr
of a pcop|c with a univ¬sa| cxistcncc, which is fu||y activc, which
dcvotcs thc samc cncrgy to a|| its tasks, and which is fu||y conscious
of its goa|s. In onc scnsc, thc dchnition of powcr coincidcs with that
108 On Revolution
ofthc pcop|c. thc pcop|c arc assumcd not on|y to ho|d powcr, but to
bc powcr. And yct, as thc pcop|c arc what thcy arc on|y insofar as
thcy cxtract thcmsc|vcs, thanks to thcir vigi|ancc, from thc cmpirica|
socicty in which thcy arc cmbcddcd, it might a|so bc said that thc
pcop|c asscrt thciridcntitywhcn aunivcrsa|agcncy ofknow|cdgc and
cannot bc va|id,forwhcncvcr thcpcop|c arc cmbodicdinpowcr, and
whcncvcr anorgan iscrcatcdandc|aimstohavc bccn cntrustcdwith
thc wi|| ofthc pcop|c, orcvcn simp|y to bc cxcrcising it, it bccomcs
obviousthat thcrcisadiscrcpancywhichhasnode jure statusbctwccn
thc institution and thc institutor. On thc onc hand, wc havc thc
Asscmb|y whichc|aimsto rcprcscntthcpcop|cby making|awsinthcir
namc, on thc othcrwc havc thc mcn of thc Scctions and thc c|ubs,
or thc masscs who participatc in thc rcvo|utionaryjoumees and who
c|aim to cmbody thc pcop|c in action. Yct whcn thosc samc mcn
appcar for what thcy arc, namc|y minoritics, thcy cxposc thcmsc|vcs
to bcing dcnounccd as de facto groupswho arc bctrayingthc pcop|c,
simu|atingthciridcntityand acting as usurpcrs.
Without going into thc dctai|s ofFurct`s convincing ana|ysis of thc
scts for a|| its actors by ncvcr staying in any dchnitc p|acc and by
combiningthcpositionsofthc Asscmb|y, thcc|ubsandthcstrccts, |ct
us bringout thc csscntia|s of thc argumcnt. powcr bccomcscxccssivc
whcn itis invcstcdwiththcmightofthcRcvo|utionandofthcpcop|c,
shapc ofanorganorofmcn, itrcvca|sitsc|ftobc divorccdfrom, and
thcrcforccxtcrna|to,thcRcvo|utionandthcpcop|c. Itmustbcc|car|y
undcrstood that what is at stakc hcrc is not simp|y thc imagc of thc
individua|s who arc trying both to idcntify with powcr 'and through
its mcdiation. with thc pcop|c`, and to scizc powcr. lt isthc imagc of
powcritsc|f,whichispcrccivcdbothasaforccproduccdby thcpcop|c,
as thc forcc which makcs thc pcop|c what itmust bc, and as a forcc
which can bc divorccd from thc pcop|c, as a potcntia||y a|icn forcc
which cou|d turn against thc pcop|c.
Thc idca ofpowcr and thc idca of thc p|ot arc thcrcforc bound up
togcthcr in two ways. Fowcr is rccognizcd as rcvo|utionary and as
bcing intcrna| to thc pcop|c whcn it dcsignatcs thc cncmy position
whcrc aggrcssion is bcing fomcntcd. lt nccds thc aristocratic p|ot to
mask its own position bccausc it is a|waysthrcatcncd with having to
thc imagc ofthc Othcr-as-cncmy. Thc dangcr is now that that imagc
wi|| bc transfcrrcd on to powcr, that thc sitc of powcr wi|| appcar to
bc thc sitc of thc p|ot.
ln this rcspcct, thc fcw pagcs which Furct dcvotcs to thc riva|ry
bctwccn Robcspicrrc and Brissot during thc dcbatc on thc war arc
quitc rcmarkab|c. ltsccmsthatBrissotwasthcñrst to undcrstandthc
Revolution within the French Revolution 109
function of thc war within thc dynamic of thc Rcvo|ution, as wc can
sccfrom thc famous formu|a hc uscd in hisspccch to thc !acobins in
Dcccmbcr 1791 : 'Wc nccd grcat acts of trcason. thcrcin |ics our
sa|vation . . . grcat acts of trcason wi|| bc fata| on|y to thosc who
pcrpctratc thcm, thcy wi|| scrvc mankind.` Surprising|y cnough,
Robcsptcrrcob¡cctsto a machinationwhichhc and hissupportcrs wi||
|atcr usc to such grcat advantagc. But Brissot has on|y partia||y
undcrstood thc mcchanism ofthc Rcvo|ution. Hc thought thatsimp|y


gupthc h
gurc ofthc cncm

, hccou|darousc thc pcop|c`s
patnotìc faìth, makc it awarc ofìts umty and thcrcby fu||y |cgitimizc
thc powcr that was
|cading it in itsstrugg|c. Robcspicrrc disp|ays an
ìntìmatc undcrstandìng of thc Rcvo|ution. Not on|y docs hc suspcct
hìs advcrsary of dup|icity,ofp|anningtoscizc powcrwhi|st prctcnding
to dcfcndthc pcop|c. Ata morcprofound |cvc|- forthcrc can bc no
doubtsastohisownpo|itica|ambitions- hcrca|izcsthatthcRcvo|ution
wi|| not bc contcnt with any powcr or any trcason which can bc
circumscribcd or whichspcaksits namc. Hc rca|izcs that it rcquircs a
form oftrcason which ishiddcn, butwhich is cvcrywhcrc, and a form
of powcr which docs not show its facc. His grcat achicvcmcnt is to
suggcst that, in thc po|icy of thc Girondins, thc Rcvo|ution concca|s
powcr, and that powcr concca|s a p|ot. And so, as Furct puts it so
nicc|y, 'Hc pushcd his riva| into thc vcry trap Brissot had baitcd for
Louis XVl and his adviscrs' (p. 68). As for Robcspicrrc himsc|f, wc
arc givcn to undcrstand that. 'Thc war was to carry him to powcr, not
to thc ministcria| powcr of which Mirabcau and Brissot may havc
drcamt,butto thcmastcryovcropinionthatwasinscparab|cfrom thc
Tcrror' (p. 68).
Furct`s commcnts on thc mastcry of opinion bring us to thc hna|
a radica|distinctionbctwccnthatidco|ogyandthcimaginaryformations
ofthcpast. ltisnotcnoughtoidcntifythckcyrcprcscntationsaround
which it is organizcd. that of a socicty which is po|itica| through and
through, that of a socicty mobi|izcd inordcrto crcatc thc ncw man,
thatofthcmi|itantcntrustcdwithaunivcrsa| mission,thatofa pcop|c
who hnd unity in cqua|ity, and thcir idcntity in thc nation, and that
of a powcr which simp|y cxprcsscs thc wi|| of thc pcop|c. Nor is it
cnough to apprcciatc thc symbo|ic mutation which accompanics thcsc
rcprcscntations: thc fusion of thc princip|c of |aw, thc princip|c of
know|cdgcandthcprincip|cofpowcr,and thcrcsu|tanttransformation
of thc real into thc guarantor of thc�va|idity of thc systcm of
rcvo|utionary thought. Thcsc changcs must a|so bc rc|atcd to changcs
ìn thc status of spccch and in thc status of opinion.
Thc pcop|c, thc nation, cqua|ity, justicc and truth infactcxist on|y
byvirtucofthcspccchwhich isassumcdto cmanatcfromwithinthcm
andwhich atthc samc timc namcs thcm. lnthatscnsc,powcrbc|ongs
to thc individua| or individua|s who can spcak on thcir bcha|f or, to
bc morc accuratc, to thcindividua|orindividua|swho appcarto spcak
1 1 0 On Revolution
on thcir bcha|f, who spcak in thc namc ofthc pcop|c and givc thcm
thcir namc. Thc bcst i||ustration of thc `disp|accmcnt of powcr`, to
usc Furcts cxprcssiononcc morc, is not itscxp|icittransfcr from onc
focus of sovcrcignty to anothcr, but its migration from thc hxcd,
which is paradoxica||yunstab|c and indctcrminatc, whosc cxistcncc is
indicatcd on|y by thc inccssant work of its cnunciation, it bccomcs
dctachcd from thc body of thc king, which houscd socicty`s |cading
organs, and movcsintothcimpa|pab|c,univcrsa|andcsscntia||ypub|ic
c|cmcnt of spccch. This fundamcnta| changc marks thc birth of
idco|ogy. Thcusc ofspccchwas of coursc a|waysbound up with thc
cxcrcisc of powcr, and took thc modc of thc founding word. But
whcrcas it was oncc thc spccch ofpowcr which ru|cd, it is now thc
It must thcrcforc immcdiatc|y bc addcd that spccch can ru|c on|y
bccausc itconcca|s thcfact that itis powcr, mi|itantspccch or pub|ic
spcak of thc powcr it contains. Its powcr can on|y bc unmaskcd by
othcr mi|itantwordswhichtopp|citintothc trivia| rcgistcrofscditious
spccch and rob it of its symbo|ic function in ordcr to c|aim it as
thcir own., And so, whcncvcr a targct is hit, powcr undcrgocs a
mctamorphosis and rc-cstab|ishcs itsc|f by dropping on|y its support.
a particu|ar individua| or a group of particu|ar individua|s. As Furct
cxp|ains, thc concca|mcnt of thc powcr that rcsidcs in words is a
prcconditionforitsappropriation,andita|socrcatcsthc prcconditions
for an inccssant po|itica| compctition bascd upon thc dcnunciation of
thc advcrsary's sccrct ambitions. It is bccausc `Powcr rcsidcd in thc
word` that 'Fowcr was a|waysatstakc in thc conßict bctwccn words,
for powcrcou|d on|y bc appropriatcd through thcm, and so thcy had
to compctc forthcconqucstof that cvancsccnt yct primordia| cntity,
thc pcop|c's wi||` (p. 49).
Yct thc mcans whcrcby powcr is won and thc mcchanisms of
compctition rcmain obscurc ifwc do not a|so takc intoconsidcration
a ncw ñgurc. that ofopinion, which is not to bc confuscd with cithcr
powcrorthc pcop|c, but which providcsthc intcrmcdiarythat a||ows
thcm to bc rc|atcd to oncanothcrin thc imaginary. Onthconc hand,
opinion is a substitutc for thc pcop|c, for thc currcnt rca|ity of thc
pcop|c is ncvcrwhat itshou|dbc. This is not to say that it providcs
a fu||y dctcrmincd rcprcscntation of thc pcop|c, in ordcr to cxcrcisc
its function, it must, |ikc thc pcop|c, cscapc a|| givcn dchnitions, for
if it wcrc to bc dchncd, it wou|d ccasc to appcar to bc a sourcc of
mcaning and va|uc. But it docs at |cast havc thc abi|ity to manifcst
itsc|f and, providcd that it achicvcs a ccrtain dcgrcc ofhomogcncity,
thc capacity to providc signs of thc pcop|c`s prcscncc. On thc othcr
hand, thc rc|ationshipbctwccnpowcrand opinion iscxtrcmc|y c|car,
for, whcn it manifcsts itsc|f, opinion cithcr imposcs rca| constraints
upon what po|itica| actors can say or simp|y providcs thcm with a
Revolution Within the French Revolution

ords. If, thatis,somcindividua|orsomcgroupprovcsab|ctospcak

amcofthcpcop|c, itison|ybccausc thcirwordsarc acccptcd,
disscminatcd and rccogmzcd as thc words of thc pcop|c, or bccausc
y arc amphñcd by a voicc which appcars to bc|ong to no onc,
which appcarstobcdcvoidofanyparticu|arsocia|supportandwhich,
by its vcry anonymity, bcars witncss to thc prcscncc of a univcrsa|
Thc function ofopinion in thc Rcvo|ution ca||s for two commcnts.

thc onc hand, thc
owcr of thc word prcsupposcs that a po|c of
opinion has bccn constttutcd,and, bccausc ofthc co||apsc ofthcpo|c
ofthc mona

chy,thc |cgittmacyofthcpo|cofopinioncanbc asscrtcd
to bc unhmttcd

thc othcr hand, opinion rcmains shapc|css, it
cannot bc |ocahzcd in a body and it cannot bc rcduccd to a sct of
statcmcntsas it is constant|y bcingcrcatcd and rc-crcatcd, and as thc
powcr of thc word is conqucrcd through thc art of stimu|ating its

in ad hoc s
accs such as c|ubs or socictics through thc adoption of
motions which bcar no mark of individua| intcntions. In that scnsc,
powcrsuccccds inconcca|ingitsc|finthcword on|ytothccxtcnt that
rdhassuccccdcd ininsinuatingitsc|fintoopinionandinpassing
At this point in his ana|ysis, Furct bcginsto fo||ow thc trai| b|azcd
by Augustin Cochin (to whom thc ñna| cssay in thc book is dcvotcd
in its cntircty). Thcir paths havc, of coursc, crosscd bcforc bccausc,

Furct rcminds us, Cochin sct himsc|f thc vcry task hc out|incs in
his own cnttca| cxtcnsion of Tocqucvi||c`s projcct. Cochin docs not
cxp|ain thc Rcvo|ution in tcrms of its ba|ancc shcct, and nor docs hc
rcinscrt it into thc continuity of a |ong-tcrm proccss, hc scts himsc|f
thc task of intcrprcting 'thc rcnding ofthc historica| fabric` (p. 171)

dthc Io
icofthccxp|osivccharactcrofthc Rcvo|ution. Hcpursucs
his ana|ysis at thc |cvc| at which thc cxp|osion itsc|f occurrcd - thc
idco|ogica| and po|itica| |cvc| - and hc rcvca|s thc e ccts of a ncw
systcmof|cgitimacy which imp|icsthcidcntiñcationofpowcr with thc
pcop|c. But, according to Furct, onc of Cochin`s grcatcst mcrits is to
gy bydcmonstratingthcro|c 'phi|osophica|socictics`[societes de

seel p|aycd in thc production of opinion. Hc rcgards 1acobinism,
whìc� hcsccs
practicc and idco|ogy, as a combination of a systcm of action and a
systcm of rcprcscntation, as a hcritagc and as 'thc fu||y dcvc|opcd
form of a typc of po|itica| and socia| organization` (p. 173) that had
bccomc widcsprcad in thc sccond ha|f of thc cightccnth ccntury.

circ|cs and socictics, masonic |odgcs, acadcmics, and cu|tura|
or patnottc c|ubs wcrc a|| manifcstations of thc phcnomcnon.
1ustwhatwasa phi|osophica|socicty,according to Cochin,andjust
what wasits purposc? His intcrprctcr providcs thc answcr.
! l 2 On Revolution
It was a form of socia| |ifc bascd upon thc princip|c that its
mcmbcrs, in ordcr to participatc in it, must divcst thcmsc|vcsof
a|| concrctc distinctions and of thcir rca| socia| cxistcncc. It was
(corps), dcñncd by a community of occupationa| and socia|
intcrcsts . . . Thc purposc ofthc phi|osophica|socictywas not to
act, to dc|cgatcorto¨rcprcscnt¨. itwastodc|ibcratc andto cu||
from its mcmbcrs and from discussion a common opinion,
a consensus to bc subscqucnt|y cxprcsscd, propoundcd and
nor any rcprcscntativcs to c|cct on thc basis ofsharcd idcas or
as a voting b|ock, it scrvcd as a too| dcsigncd to producc
unanimous opinion . . . (p. !74)
givcn to undcrstand, thc fu||y dcvc|opcd modc| of thc phi|osophica|
socicty, as transformcd by thc disso|ution of thc modc| of thc corps
and by thc co||apsc of monarchica| powcr. Thc notion of thc abstract
individua|, of thc mcmbcr of thc phi|osophica| socicty thus bccomcs
thc notion of thc citizcn, thc notion ofunanimous opinion shorcs up
thc rcprcscntationofthc Pcop|c-as-Onc, anda||thcproccsscswhcrcby
dcbatcs arc manipu|atcd, and whcrcby mcmbcrs and mi|itants arc
sc|cctcd to furthcrthcproductionofhomogcncousdiscourscs acquirc
both a practica| and a symbo|ic cfhcacity. thc powcr which concca|s
itsc|f in words in ordcr to a||y itsc|f with opinion is convcrtcd into
po|itica| powcr.
It is, howcvcr, a|so at this point that wc ñnd thc hna| articu|ation
ofFurct`sargumcnt, andthatthcdifñcu|tywc a||udcdtocar|icrariscs.
Thc rcadcr may wc|| bc surpriscd at thc rcappcarancc of a qucstion
which had, itsccmcd, bccndisposcdof: thcqucstionofthcconditions
which a||owcd thc Rcvo|ution to cmcrgc from within thc Ancicn
Rcgimc,ifnotthatofitscauscs. HasFurctsimp|ytransfcrrcd thcidca
of thc continuity ofhistory, which othcrs thought thcy cou|d hnd in
thcrcgistcrofmodcsofproduction andc|assstrugg|c orinthcrcgistcr
ofthc growth ofthc statc and ofadministrativc ccntra|ization, to thc
of mcntion, not bccausc it inva|idatcs his intcrprctation, but bccausc
it is a furthcr rcason to admirc his approach. It is in fact quitc truc
that, in his turn, Furct docs |ook for signs of what wi|| bccomc
rcvo|utionaryidco|ogyinthc Ancicn Rcgimc. Buthisscarchforsigns,
and it is morc sophisticatcd and morc dctai|cd than I may havc
suggcstcd.docsnot|cadhimtoabandonhisprincip|cs. Hcargucsthat
wc must abandon thc ñctiona| vicwpoint which a||ows us to takc an
ovcrvicw of thc Rcvo|ution andwhich conhrms that thcncwsprings
from thco|djustascffcctsspringfromcauscs. Wc mustconccptua|izc
thc particu|ar po|itica| form thc Rcvo|ution takcs asit brcakswith thc
past. And itishiscxamination oftbat po|itica| form that |cadshim tç
Revolution within the French Revolution I l J
idcntify thc out|inc in which i t bcgan to takc shapc. U|timatc|y. hc
docsnotvicwthc Rcvo|ution asthc productofan car|icrhistory. and
hc docs not c|aim that, ifwcsimp|y rcp|acc it in. say. thc contcxt of
thc mid-cightccnth ccntury, wc wi|| scc its birth. It rcvca|s thc past,
butwhatitrcvca|sisnotthcwho|cofthcAncicnRcgimc- ahistorian
ofthcAncicn Rcgimccanpursuchisstudicsa|ongwaywithouthaving
to invcstigatc thc Rcvo|ution. What it docs rcvca| is thc intcrna|
thc crack which opcncd upin thosystcmof|cgitimacy, and thc abyss
which is at oncc rcvca|cd and concca|cd by abso|utism. It docs not
rcvca| thc sprcad of dcmocracy or of ncw idcas, which can bc sccn
throughout Europc and cspccia||y in Eng|and, but itdocs rcvca| how
much thc idca of thc cqua|ity of individua|s, and ofthc homogcncity
and transparcncc of thc socia|, owcs to a contcstcd rcfcrcncc to an
omnipotcnt and omniscicnt powcr.
It is not this which inspircs mc to cxprcss rcscrvations about thc
wisdom offo||owing in Cochin`s footstcps. Cochin saw thc advcnt of
which disso|vcs within it thc divcrsity of individua| points of vicw.
Whi|st it is truc that hc touchcs hcrc upon an cxtrcmc|y important
phcnomcnon - and thc crcation of modcrn rcvo|utionary partics was
to rcvca| its |atcr dcvc|opmcnts - hc fai|s to scc its obvcrsc. thc ncw
irrigation of thc socia| fabric by associations which took it upon
thcmsc|vcs to ana|yscthcprob|cmsofpo|itica| |ifc, thc brcaking down
ofthc barricrs bctwccn thc privatc spaccs circumscribcd by corporatc
cntitics, thc sprcad of critica| mcthods of know|cdgc and discussion,
and thc cstab|ishmcnt of thc cxchangc or communication of idcas
whichsubtcndsopinion. Un|ikcTocqucvi||c, hc docs notpcrccivc thc
ambiguity of individua|ism, which, for Tocqucvi||c imp|ics both
indcpcndcncc of thought, a scnsc of initiativc and thc truc form of
subjugation ofthcindividua|tothcpowcrwhichisassumcd tocmbody
socicty. Whi|st Furctobvious|y docsnotcspousc a|| Cochin`s thcscs-
hc cxp|icit|y criticizcs him for fai|ing to scc thc cmbryonic movcmcnt
towards rcprcscntativc dcmocracy which dcvc|opsatthc bcginningof
thc Rcvo|ution and which pcrsists, dcspitc its fai|urcs, undcr thc
Jacobin dictatorship itsc|f- his intcrprctation is marrcd by thc |acuna
which wc mcntioncd whcn wc notcd with surprisc that hc spcaks of
`thc invcntionofdcmocraticcu|turc`withouttryingtodchnc it. Furct
wou|d say that his projcct was to intcrprct thc Revolution within thc
Frcnch Rcvo|ution, that it is thc prcssurc ofidco|ogy which makcs it
a rcvo|ution, and that his primary conccrn was thcrcforc to strcss thc
importanccofidco|ogyand ofa||thcfactorsthat madc itso important,
rcquircarcvo|ution. Wc havc a|rcady said thatthisanswcr ispcrfcct|y

1 1 4 011 Revolution
|ustihab|c, and that Furct supports it with a rigorous ana|ysis of thc
dynamicofthcRcvo|ution. Butwc sti||havctorcturn tothcqucstion
of thc excesses of thc Rcvo|ution. Do wc not havc to rccognizc that
its 'cxccsscs` gobcyond thc |imits ofidco|ogy?Dowc nothavc to scc
thc symbo|icandthc rca|, ofthc indctcrminacyofboth- andofa gap
inthc bcingofthcwor|dwhich wc sti||cxpcricncc7Ourauthorright|y
to which itdocsnot norma||y havc acccss. ` Docsthis notsuggcst that
rcprcscntativc dcmocracy waspowcr|css tocstab|ish itsc|f, notsimp|y
bccausc thc po|itica| i||usion cstrangcd mcn from thcmsc|vcs, but
bccausc it is not in itsc|f cnough to prcscrvc an opcning on to that
spacc, and bccausc, whcn it c|aims to bc ab|c to do so, it appcars to
c|osc a spacc that has on|y |ust bccn c|carcd7 Our author a|so
pcrspicacious|y notcs that thc rcvo|utionarics fc|| undcr thc spc|| of
thc abso|utism thcywantcd to dcstroy, and that thcysccrct|yadoptcd
thc pro|cct of gaining comp|ctc mastcry ovcr thc socia| that was
bcqucathcdthcmbythc Ancicn Rcgimc,but, by rcvca|ingthcpo|itica|
dimcnsion of thc Rcvo|ution, hc a|so urgcs us to takc stock of thc
cxtraordinary cvcnt of thc cnd of thc monarchy, and of thc ncw
cxpcricncc of a socictywhich cou|d no |ongcr bc apprchcndcd in thc
form ofanorganic tota|ity. And docs not that cvcnt institutc anopcn-
cndcd dcbatc as to thc foundations of |cgitimacy, a dcbatc which
mcans that dcmocracy can ncvcr bc purc|y a mattcr ofinstitutions?
inthc samc words, ora|most thcsamcwords. Tocqucvi||c said that it
its ßight into thc imaginary. Quinct said that it gavc birth to 'faith in
thc impossib|c` , by which hc mcant that thc ncgation of what is
assumcdtobc thc rca| isconstitutivcofthc history of modcrn socicty.
Wc wou|d ccrtain|y bc wrong to divorcc thcsc notions.
Edgar Quinet: The Revolution
That Failed
Faou Bucnez1oMìcnete1
It is inthc prcfacc which opcns thc third vo|umc ofhis Histoire de la
revolution [ranqaise ('Dc |a mcthodc ct dc |`csprit dc cc |ivrc`) that
Michc|ct voiccs his most radica| criticisms ofthc Tcrror.
Far from honouring thc mcmory of thc Tcrror, I bc|icvc that it
cannot cvcn bc cxcuscd as a mcasurc of pub|ic safcty. I know
that it had to ovcrcomc inhnitc difhcu|tics, but thc c|umsy
vio|cnccofthcTcrror'shrst attcmptstoovcrcomcthcm hadthc
cffcct ofcrcating mi||ions ofncw cncmics forthc Rcvo|ution at
homc, of|osing it thc sympathicsofpcop|cs abroad, of making
a|| propaganda impossib|c, and of uniting pcop|cs and kings
against it in a c|osc a||iancc. It had incrcdib|c obstac|cs to
ovcrcomc but thc most tcrrìb|c of thosc obstac|cs wcrc of ìts
own maki�g. And itdid notovcrcomcthcm,thcy ovcrcamc it.I
Hc cxprcsscs this vicw in an attack on a tradition, which wc wou|d
now dcscribc as |cft-wing, which promotcd thc idca that thc Tcrror
was sa|utary and which hc|d up its agcnts for admiration. In thc
prcfacc, hc attacks Esquiros, Lamartinc and Louis B|anc, but his
primary targcts arc thc mcn who inspircd thcm. Buchcz and Roux,
thc authors of thc Histoire parlememaire de la Revolution Frallqaise,
towhomhcdcvotcsscvcra|pagcs. Thcirworkisnotsimp|yonctargct
among othcrs. 'I wou|d not dwc| in
this way on thc
parlememaire, wcrc it not that thìs casi|y-consu|tcd co||cctìo

ìs ,�
constant tcmptation for thc host of rcadcrs who havc |itt|c tìmc.
What arc his basic criticisms? Hc criticizcs thc authorsfor dcscrìbmg
thc Rcvo|ution as thc cu|minationofthchistoryofFrancc, forsccing
it, that is, as a scquc| to thc work bcgun by thc monarchy bcforc it
bccamccorrupt, andforconfusingthcspiritofthc Rcvo|utionandthc
spirìt of Catho|icìsm to a scanda|ous cxtcnt. Thcir vicws rcsu|t m a
I I 6 On Revolution
justihcation of both thc Inquisition and thc Tcrror
A cursory g|ancc at thccommcntarics, most of thcm inthcform of
prcfaccs, which Buchcz appcnds to thc rcvo|utionary documcnts
pub|ishcd in thc Histoire is in fact cnough to convincc onc that
Michc|ct's criticisms arc quitc justihcd.' Buchcz, a formcrdiscip|c of
Saint-Simonwhosawhimsc|fas thc grcat architcct of thc rcstoration
of thc Catho|ic tradition and, at thc samc timc, as an ardcnt
rcvo|utionary- thc dcfcndcr of'thcmostnumcrousandpoorcst c|ass'
- borrows from his mastcr thc idca of an opposition bctwccn organic
pcriods and critica| pcriods, and this providcs him with a kcy to thc
nation's history. Hcthcrcforcpraiscs thc kingswhohad, unti| thccra
ofLouisXIV, workcd to unify thc tcrritoryandthcsocia| body. Likc
hismastcr, hc bc|icvcs that no socicty canmaintain itsunity un|css it
isdu|y hicrarchica| and un|cssitismobi|izcd around an`activity goa|'
[but d·activitej . Buchcz`scontribution is to ascribc know|cdgc of that
rc|igionpar excellence and that itcou|dboth maintainordcrandinsti|
rcspcct for authority, hc sccs thc Rcformation as thc momcnt which
cxposcd thc socia| body to thc grcatcst of a|| dangcrs. thc thrcat of
with this princip|c, thc author of thc Histoire parlementaire hnds
nothing offundamcnta| va|ucin thc hrstpcriodofthc Rcvo|ution, in
his vicw, thc Dcc|aration ofthc Rights ofMan mcrc|y sanctions thc
triumphofindividua|ism, and, in morc gcncra| tcrms,thcworkofthc
Constitucnt Asscmb|y is simp|y a continuation ofthcncgativc critica|
work ofthcphilosophes of thc cightccnth ccntury.
Thc risc of thc ¸rca| rcvo|utionary movcmcnt, in contrast, bcgins
with thc rca|ization of thc importancc of pub|ic safcty. It is not that
Buchcz sccs thcTcrror as a causc for cc|cbration, hc sccs it, rathcr,
as rcsu|ting from thc statc of corruption which Frcnch socicty had
rcachcd.InhisvicwthcTcrrorwasunavoidab|c ifthccommunitywas
to bc savcd from thc thrcat ofdcstruction. Thc Scptcmbcr massacrcs
inparticu|arwcrcunavoidab|c- aswasthcSaint-Barthc|cmymassacrc
- bccausc ofthc nccd to put a stop to thcdcvc|opmcnt ofanti-socia|
forccs.On|yonccriticismisaddrcsscd tothcauthorsofthcscmassacrcs.
thcycou|dnotpub|ic|yjustifythcir actionsinthc namcofaprincip|c,
and thcrcforc gavc thc imprcssion that what was infacta mcasurcof
pub|icsafctywasacrimc. Inshort,Buchczcriticizcsthcmforknowing
nothing of thc phi|osophyofhistorytowhich hc hasat|ast foundthc
kcy. But at thc samc timc, hc attcmpts to cxp|ain thcir |ack of a
phi|osophy bymakingadistinction bctwccn history,whichisgovcrncd
by frccdom, and thc coursc of cvcnts, which is govcrncd by fata|ity.
Thc formcr unfo|ds bcncath thc acgis of anawarcncssofa goa|, and
prcsupposcs an active humanity, thc |attcr unfo|ds bcncath thc acgis
of b|ind ncccssity, of a scqucncc ofcausc and cffcct. Thc Scptcmbcr
massacrcs, |ikc thc Saint-Barthc|cmy massacrc, arc thus sccn as
incvìtab|ccvcnts, asthc product ofancra ofpassivity.thcyrcprcscnt
Quinet and the Revolution that Failed I I7
a hna|rcactioninthcfaccofan u|timatcthrcat,butthoscwhoinitiatcd
thcm cannot fu||y undcrstand thcm.
Thc most astonishing c|cmcnt in this construction is thc thcsis that
history is moving incxorab|y in thc samc dircction. rcgard|css of
whcthcr pcop|c arc conscious or unconscious of its goa|. On|y its
rhythm varics, pcop|c maycxcrcisc thcir frccdom and bccomc activc
subjccts, a|tcrnativc|y, thcy may rcmain passivc, in which casc thcy
arc forccd to undcrtakc tasks whosc u|timatc rationa|c thcy cannot
undcrstand. Ifthatisthccasc,rcsu|tswhichactioncou|dhavcachicvcd
inthc shorttcrm andwith anoptima|cconomyofmcansarc achicvcd
atthccostofgrcatsuffcring.Thcrccanbc no doubtasto thcfunction
of this hypothcsis. it a||ows Buchcz to bridgc thc gap bctwccn two
conccptions which appcar, rcspcctivc|y, to bc purc|y vo|untarist and
purc|y fata|istic. Fata|ity isdominant in that, no mattcrhow pcop|c
bchavc, thcy arc marching towards a ñna| goa|, and in that nothing
can rcmovc that goa|. Frccdom dominatcs in that, not on|ydo pcop|c
inthcory havcthcpowcrtoknow andtowi||thatgoa|andtomobi|izc
in ordcr to achicvc it, cvcn whcn thcyarc caught upin a b|ind causc
and cffcct scqucncc, thcy arc sti|| capab|c of choosing thc path that
|cads to sa|vation. From thispointofvicw, thchistoryofFrancc can,
dcspitc its twists and turns, bc sccn as a sing|c history which is
incvitab|c, but whosc goa| is constant|y amcnab|c to consciousncss.
From this point of vicw, thc Rcvo|ution a||ows us to g|impsc a sp|it
bctwccn a po|c ofactivity and know|cdgc which is associatcd with thc
risc of thc rcvo|utionary govcrnmcnt, and a po|c of activity and
thc indifferents. From this point ofvicw, ñna||y, thc Tcrror appcars
to bc onc ofthosc momcntswhcn, as a rcsu|tofconditionsgcncratcd
in passivity, it bccomcs possib|c to makc thc transition to activity,
to thc commongoa| cxist.
Whi|st it maysccmquitc a|icn to thc modcrn mind. ifon|y bccausc
it is constant|y bound up with a thco|ogy, it wou|d not bc difñcu|t to
show that Buchcz's |anguagc dcrivcs from catcgorics which for a |ong
timc govcrncd thc thought of a ccrtain rcvo|utionary |cft, and which
continuc to do so: activity and passivity, frccdom and ncccssity,
cohcsion and dispcrsa|, cgotisticintcrcstsand pub|ic safcty, a crcativc
powcr and masscs which dcpcnd upon its action. But thc rcadcr can
bc |cft to makc thc transpositions which suggcst thcmsc|vcs. Lct us
rcturn to Michc|ct.
His intcrprctation ofthc Rcvo|ution contradicts Buchcz's point by
point, but thcrc is sti|| a para||c| bctwccn thc two,for Michc|ct toois
intcrcstcd in situating thc cvcnts that took p|acc bctwccn l789 and
thc rc|ationship bctwccn thc rcvo|utionary govcrnmcnt and thc
monarchy. Hc too associatcsthcTcrrorwith thc idca ofpub|ic safcty,
l l 8 On Revolution
and, ûna||yand pcrhaps most signihcant|y, hc too attcmptstocxp|orc
thc rc|igious mcaning of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution.
bctwccn thc spirit of thc rcvo|ution and thc spirit of Catho|icism,
bctwccn thc princip|c ofjusticc and thc thco|ogico-po|itica| princip|c,
bctwccn thc tcrror of thc Inquisition and thc spirit of thc rights of
man, and bctwccnthcagcofauthorityandthcagcof|ibcrty. Forour
purposcs, it is morc intcrcsting to notc thc idca that thcbrcakwhich
ushcrcd in thcmodcrnwor|dcou|d not bc consummatcd. andthat thc
Rcvo|ution was markcd by thc rcturn of thc rcprcscntations and
practiccs ofthcpast. Inthcprcfacc wcarcdiscussing, Michc|ct docs
not simp|y cxprcss his annoyancc with a conccption which, in ordcr
to justify thc Tcrror, invokcs thc prcccdcnt of thc Inquisition, hc
himsc|f spcaksofa !acobin inquisition, and in hisvicw it is thc c|aim
that it rcvca|ssigns ofthc rcvo|utionary spirit that is tru|y scanda|ous.
Hc takcsdc|ight incomparingthc two inquisitions andobscrvcsthat,
if wc acccpt Buchcz's thcory, that of thc Midd|c Agcs shou|d havc
bccn victorious.
As aformoftcrror,itissupcriorbccauscitsrcpcrtoirc inc|udcs
thctormcntsofctcrnityaswc||ascphcmcra| torturcs. Asaform
of inquisition, it is supcrior bccausc it has prior know|cdgc of
thc objcct of its cnquirics, thc man whosc thoughts it is trying
to rcad was oncc thc boy it brought up, and it uscd a|| thc
cducationa| mcans at its disposa| to pcnctratc his mind, it uscd
thc practicc ofdai|y confcssion topcnctratc his mind ancw, and
cou|d cxcrcisc two systcms of torturc, onc vo|untary and thc
othcr invo|untary. Having nonc of thcsc mcans at its disposa|,
thc rcvo|utionary inquisition cou|d not distinguish thc innoccnt
from thc gui|ty, and was rcduccd to makinga gcncra| admission
ofits impotcncc, it app|icd thc adjcctivc ¨suspcct¨ to a||.'
Nordocs hccha||cngcthc vicw that thcTcrror stcmsfromthc idca
ofpub|icsafcty orsa|vation [salut public], andthatthatidcahadbccn
dccisivc in prcviousccnturics. But hc docsscc thcdoctrincof pub|ic
safcty as a dcnia| of justicc. In his vicw, it is thc rcpcatcd dcnia| of
justicc that signa|s a historica| continuity.
A|though thcy wcrc vcry couragcous and dcvotcd, thc mcn of
thc Rcvo|ution |ackcd thc spiritua| hcroism which cou|d havc
frccd thcm from thc o|d doctrinc of pub|ic safcty, from
thc thirtccnth ccntury onwards, this doctrinc was app|icd by
thco|ogians, and profcsscd and formu|atcd byjurists, notab|y by
Nogarctin l J00,who rcfcrrcdto itby its Romannamcof"pub|ic
safcty¨ , andthcn by thc ministcrsofthc kings, who rcfcrrcd to
it as State interests or raison d'Etat.:
Thc Tcrror - thc |ast avatar of thc thcory wc ûnd in Rousscau,
Quinet and the Revolution that Failed l l9
thc phi|osophcr who momcntari|y succccdcd in cstab|ishing thc
unconditiona| va|uc of right- ison thc agcnda whcn it is proc|aimcd
that `justicc wi|| bc bascd upon thc gcncra| intcrcst'. I am drawing
attcntion to Michc|ct`s vicws hcrc bccausc thcy |cad him to dctcct
signsofthc rc|igiousfai|urcofthc Rcvo|utioninthc vcry phcnom

which thc author ofthc Histoire parlementaire wou|dsccas rcvca|mg
its |ofticst inspiration. Hc writcs. 'Thosc who forccd thc Rcvo|ution
to dcsccnd from justicc to safcty, from a positivc idca to a ncgattvc
idca prcvcntcd it from bccoming a rc|igion. No ncgativc idca cvcr
foundcd a ncw faith. Thc o|d faith cou|d thcn triumph ovcr thc
rcvo|utionary faith.º And this fai|urc rcvca|s thc stcri|ity ofboth thc
1acobins and thc Montagnards, and cxp|ains why thcy wcrc swcpt
away by thc Tcrror.
Michc|ct hints atthis intcrprctation inthc prcfacc. but hc makcs tt
quitc cxp|icit in a chaptcr cntit|cd 'La Rcvo|ution n'ctait ricn
sans |a
rcvo|utionrc|igicusc' . Hcrc,hccriticizcsthc1acobmsandthcGtrondms
for bcing no morc than 'po|itica| |ogicians', hc obscrvcs that cvcn
Saint-1ust, thc most advanccd of a|| of thcm, 'did not darc to attack
cithcr rc|igion,cducationorthcbasisofsocia|doctrincs'. Hcdcscribcs
thc Rcvo|ution thcy |cd as 'po|itica| and supcrhcia|'. `No mattcr
whcthcr it spccdcd up or s|owcd down, no mattcr whcthcr it wcnt
morc rapid|y or morc s|ow|y a|ong1hc sing|c |inc it wasfo||owmg, tt
wasdoomcdtofoundcr.'Ithadnofoundations. 'It|ackcdthcrc|igious
rcvo|ution which cou|d havc assurcd its succcss, thc socia| rcvo|ution
from which it cou|d havc drawn support, strcngth and dcpth. Thus
thc rca| rcason for its fai|urc: its intc||cctua| stcri|ity. `It is a |aw of
|ifc,cithcritincrcascs,oritdcc|incs.Thc Rcvo|utiondid not incrcasc
thc patrimony of vita| idcas bcqucathcd it by thc phi|osophy of thc
ccntury. Andthc rcsu|t ofitsstcri|itywasthcTcrror. 'A||thcfuryof
thcparticscou|d notdcccivc anyoncastothc quantityof|ifccontaincd
within thcir doctrincs. Bcingboth ardcnt and scho|astic, thcy wcrc a||
thc morc rcady to proscribc onc anothcr in that thcrc was
no bastc
diffcrcncc bctwccn thcm, in that thcy cou|d on|y bc ccrtam of thc
nuanccs that dividcd thcm ifthcy introduccd thc distinguo of death:'
But why did thc rcvo|utionarics, Girondins and Montagnards a|i�c,
'havc ncithcrthctimcto|ookfor ncwthingsnoranythoughtofdomg

ofits instincts, and ncvcrdrcamt ofprobingits aspirations. Thcywcrc
a|| bourgcois. Thc Girondins wcrc scribcs and |awycrs who 'thought
thcy cou|d ru|c thc pcop|c through thc prcss', thc !acobms �chcvcd
thcmsc|vcs to bc infa||ib|c, andrcadi|yincitcd thcpcop|ctovto|cncc,
but thcy did not consu|t thc pcop|c'. `Thcy bo|d|y pronounccd on
nationa| issucs with on|y an impcrccptib|c minority, disp|aycd such
horrifyingscornforthc majority, and bc|icvcd with such un�hakcab|c
faithinthcirowninfa||ibi|itythatthcysacriûccd awor|dofhvmgmcn
to it without any rcmorsc. '"
I20 On Revolution
Thcir haughty c|aim to bc in posscssion of know|cdgc and powcr
indicatcs a rcturn to thc past, but far from tcstifying to a happy
historica| continuity, itsigna|s thc opprcssion ofthc monarchica| and
aristocratic tradition. It is no accidcnt that Michc|ct shou|d ñnd ' a
tcrrib|caristocracy'amongthcncwdcmocrats. Hcrccognizcsthcmark
of o|d mcnta|itics in ncw modcs of bchaviour, and docs not hcsitatc
to asscrt that 'thc monarchy was rcborn aftcr thc dcath of Danton'.
It is not cnough for him tosay that thc o|d faith triumphcdovcr thc
rcvo|utionary faith. thcirpo|itica|notion ofauthoritysccmsto him to
havc rc-cmcrgcd from thc dcpths of thc Ancicn Rcgimc. Hc docs,
howcvcr, suggcst thatsomcthingncw can bc dctcctcd in thc momcnt
of rcpctition. Wc noticcd this car|icr whcn wc |ookcd at thc ironic
comparison hcdrawsbctwccnthc!acobin inquisitionand thcCatho|ic
inquisition. Thc |attcr provcd supcrior, not bccausc it was bcttcr
groundcd in truth, but bccausc it dcrivcdfrom asystcmin which thc
inquisitor kncw his objcct in advancc. thc man hc had cducatcd.
Comparcd with that cra, thc tcrrorist rcvo|ution appcars to havc an
cxtcrna| rc|ationshipwith its objcct. an abstract objcctconstructcd in
thc namc ofafa|scscicnccofthcsocia| body. It adoptcd thcprincip|c
that, ifthcywcrcuscd propcr|y,amputationandpurgcscou|dprcscrvc
thc intcgrity ofthc nation, but thiswas thc scicncc of'incptsurgcons`
who 'in thcir profound ignorancc of thc naturc of thcir paticnt
[bc|icvcd] that thcy cou|d savc thc who|c body by app|ying thcir
sca|pc|s at random. ` " According to our author, thcn, thc doctrincof
pub|ic safcty thus mcrgcs with thc insanc idca that incisions must bc
madc intothcsocia|bodyifitisto bc savcd- with a rationa|ist myth.
ThisiswhyMichc|ct`s narrativcncvcrcxp|ainsthcTcrrorsimp|y in
tcrms of circumstanccs, no mattcr what importancc thcy may bc
accordcd. Thisiswhyhcsccsthat it bcgan or'tookitshrststcps'|ong
bcforc itsprcscnccwasdcc|arcd. Hc sccsitasbcginningcar|yin I792,
whcn thc !acobins rcso|vc to purgc thc prcss, to pcrsccutc thc
who dcnounccsconspirators`, and whcn thcy prcparcthcirhrst|awon
cmigrationwhich|cavcsahostofpcop|cwhohadnotunti|thcn takcn
sidcs, butwhowcrcnothosti!c to thc Rcvo|ution,withno a|tcrnativc
but to ßcc or to |ivc undcr thc constant thrcat ofdcnunciation. And
this is a|so why hc contrasts thc charactcrs of thc o|d tcrrorists and
of o|d, thc ncw surgica| scicncc can, if nccd bc, a||y itsc|f with thc
phi|anthropy, thc tcarfu| rhctoric and thc fanaticism of thc fai|cd
artist.[ I
Thc passagcsfrom Michc|ct which wc havc bccn discussing givc somc
tdca of thc dcbatc that took p|acc within thc rcvo|utionary |cft in thc
Quinet and the Revolution that Failed I2I
ninctccnth ccntury - bctwccn, that is, ccrtain writcrs who scnscd a
common nccd to dcfcnd thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution as a po|itica|, socia|
and rc|igious rcvo|ution, and who sharcd a dcsirc to givc it a ncw
futurc. And yct, |ct thcrc bc no mistakc about it, it is not Michc|ct
but Quinct who providcsthc most rigorous critiquc ofthc Tcrror and
ofthoscwhodcfcndit. Itis hisstudy,pub|ishcdin l865, whichbrings
out thc fu|| imp|ications of thc princip|cs hc sharcd with his fricnd-
so much so that thcy quarrc||cd bricßy- and which gocs so far as to
dcscribc thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution as a revolution that failed. Whatcvcr
criticisms Michc|ct may bc inspircd to makc of thc achicvcmcnts of
thcRcvo|ution,itisinhisvicwfu||ypositivcifitisvicwcdasa who|c,
his intcrprctation is intcndcd primari|y as an apo|ogia. Quinct takcs
thcoppositcvicw. Thcchangc oftonc radica||y a|tcrs thc mcaning of
thc picturc. Thcachicvcmcntsof thc Rcvo|ution do of coursc appcar
immcnsc to Quinct too, but hc sccs thc task as bcing onc of
rcdiscovcring somcthing of its origina| inspiration. But thcrc can bc
no doubt as to his ovcra|| vcrdict. thc Rcvo|ution changcd into its
oppositc, and its inabi|ity to cstab|ish |ibcrty |cd to thc rc-cmcrgcncc
ofscrvitudc. Thc primary task is, thcn, to undcrstandthc rcasons for
its fai|urc.
Quinct`sintcntionsarcc|carfrom thcvcryhrst|incsofLa Revolution:
¹hc Frcnch Rcvo|ution hasno nccdofapo|ogias, cithcr truc or fa|sc,
butourccnturyaboundsinapo|ogias. . . Whatrcmainstobcdiscovcrcd
and cxp|aincdiswhy thc immcnsc cfforts and thc manysacrihccs that
rcsu|ts that arc sti|| so incomp|ctc or so distortcd. A who|c pcop|c
cricd out in mi||ions of voiccs. 'Wc wi|| bc frcc or wc wi|| dic' . Why
wcrc mcn who wcrc ab|c to dic so admirab|y unab|c to bc frcc?`'
Quinct`s grcat projcct is to cva|uatc thc attraction scrvitudc cxcrtcd
ovcra pcop|cwhich did, cvcnso,makcancxtraordinarycffort to frcc
itsc|f, and to undcrstand how thc forcc of rcpctition dcstroycd hopcs
of innovation.
Itisthcrcforc not cnoughto abandonthcthcsisofancmanationof
popu|arfury,to rcfusc tocxp|ainthatfury intcrmsofafcarofforcign
invasion (hc shows c|car|y that thc Tcrror intcnsihcdwhcn thc dangcr
was ovcr), or to admit that, as Michc|ct says, thc Tcrror had to
ovcrcomc obstac|cs of its own making and was hna||y ovcrcomc by
thcm,wchavctoconc|udcthatthcmcaningof thc Rcvo|utionbccamc
invcrtcd, that a proccss of rcgrcssion towardsdcspotism was at work
within it. Wc havc hcrc morc than a simp|c statcmcnt of fact. It is
truc that wc mustdcnounccthc 'sophismof thc p|cbcians' , according
towhich cvi|bccomcsgoodifitisdoncinthcnamcofthc Rcvo|ution,
thatwcmustagrccthat 'p|cbcian dcspotism produccsthcsamc rcsu|ts
as monarchica| dcspotism. scrvi|c sou|s who bcgct yct morc scrvi|c
sou|s', and that wc must rca|izc what cffccts it has in thc contcxt of
'a pcop|c madc up ofdoci|c bourgcois and coward|y citizcns' , to usc
l22 On Revolution
a phrasc which Quinct quotcs from Tocqucvi||c (vo|. I , p. 20J). But
wc must a|so grasp thc spccihc charactcrof thc history ofFrancc. Its
charactcr is cruc||y undcr|incd in thchrstchaptcr of La Revolution;
'If wc arc to draw any conc|usion from thc abovc, it must bc this.
what wc ca||ordcr, inothcrwords obcdicncc to a mastcr and pcacc
undcr arbitrary ru|c, is inFranccrootcdinthcbcdrockofthc nation,
and it is a|most incvitab|yrcborn, both of itsc|f, and of immcmoria|
traditions. Ordcr, undcrstood in this scnsc, is protcctcd by thc agcs,
itsvcry antiquityworksinitsfavourandguarantccsitssafcty` (vo|. I ,
p. 9). Throughouthisbook, Quinctconstant|yrcitcratcsthisvicw and
supports it with factua| cvidcncc, muchofit rc|ating tothcTcrror.
It is bccausc thc Rcvo|ution is in his vicw csscntia||y po|itica| and
rc|igious thatthcTcrror issoccntra|tohisargumcnt. Foronccannot
thc rc|ations human bcingscstab|ish withonc anothcrand thcgcncra|
rc|ationship that cxists bctwccn thcm and powcr. In this rcspcct,
Quinctisvcryc|osctoTocqucvi||c(whomhchad rcadvcrycarcfu||y),
and hc makcs a simi|ardistinction bctwccn thc transformation ofthc
socia|statcand thcpo|itica|rcvo|ution. Whcn,forcxamp|c, hcspcaks
ofthc nightof4August, hcobscrvcs. 'Thc grcat |cvc||ingforcc which
had |ong drivc Frcnch socicty and which nothing cou|d ha|t now
fa|tcrcd. Thcrc rcmaincd thc prob|cm of |ibcrty, in othcr words thc
who|c prob|cm rcmaincd intact. ` Now thc prob|cm of|ibcrty and thc
prob|cm ofpowcr arc onc and thc samc. Inhis gcncra| survcy oftho
bcginnings of thc Rcvo|ution, hc notcs. 'So |ong as no attack was
madconpowcr,cvcrythingwascasy, andcvcrythingwasaccomp|ishcd
automatica||y. Things, p|accs, mcmorics, intcrcsts, privi|cgcs, kinship,
racia|hosti|itics andcvcn idiomsa|| gavc way. But on thc day that a
dcsirc for po|itica| frccdom was born, cvcrything changcd, and mcn
sccmcd tobcpittingthcmsc|vcsagainstthcimpossib|c` (vo|. I, p. I l9).
In a |atcr passagc in which hc dcscribcs thc progrcss that had bccn
madc in dividing up |andcdcstatcs (aproccsswhich bcganbcforc thc
Rcvo|ution) hc again cxprcsscs simi|ar vicws to Tocqucvi||c. 'Thc
division took p|acc dcspitc cvcnts simp|y bccausc it was a movcmcnt
which had bcgun outsidc po|itics, thc Rcvo|ution accc|cratcd it, but
thcrc was no nccd for a Rcvo|ution to authorisc somcthing that had
bccn prcparcd for without a Rcvo|ution . . .`. But thc conc|usion hc
of him. To rcgrct, as did Tocqucvi||c, thc fact 'that thc Rcvo|ution
was not accomp|ishcd in thc namc of an abso|utc powcr` or to think
that 'a dcspot wou|d havcdonc |cssto dcstroy thc spirit offrccdom
than didthcvcrygcniusofthcnation`is, hc c|aims, to bordcron thc
satirica| (vo|. I , p. I2I). No doubt wc can acccpt that 'if thc grcat
criscsofthc Rcvo|ution hadbccnavoidcd` , mcnwou|dhavc achicvcd
'rcsu|ts which thcy cou|d notfai| to havc achicvcdthroughthccffccts
of timc a|onc`, but if wc c|ing to that vicw wc |osc sight of thc
rcvo|utionary csscncc of thc Rcvo|ution, of thc vcry thing that sct
Quinet and the Revolution that Failed l2J
Francc ab|azc. 'And so, wc a|ways havc to comc back to thc samc
point. qucstions ofrc|igion and po|itics, that is, qucstionsof |ibcrty,
a|onc un|cashcd thc storms` (vo|. I , p. I2J).
Thc phcnomcnon ofthc Tcrror thcn bccomcs intc||igib|c on|y if it
is p|accd within its po|itica| and rc|igious contcxt. Quinct dcvotcs a
scctionofhisworktothcTcrror(Book 17: 'LaThcoricdc|atcrrcur`),
buthis intcrprctationgocsfarbcyondthc|imitsofthatscction,ita|so
informs his ana|ysis ofrc|igion (Books 5 and 16) and his ana|ysis of
dictatorship (Book l8).
Ifwc attcmpt toco||atc thcsc scattcrcd commcnts, fourargumcnts
cmcrgc, thcy arc intcr-rc|atcd, and a|| arc bound up with thc idca of
thc rcturn ofscrvitudc.
A substitute for a religious revolution
According to our author, whcn thc rcvo|utionarics rctrcatcd in thc
faccd with a spiritual void. In that scnsc, thcTcrror appcars to bc a
substitutcforthconcactionwhichcou|dhavc unitcdthcrcvo|utionary
actors in onc faith, and which cou|d havc rcvca|cd to thcm thc
rcspcctivc positionsofpast and prcscnt, thc idcntity ofthcircncmics,
thc naturcofthcirown causc andthcnaturcofthcirown idcntity. In
bctwccn sc|f and othcr orbctwccn thc pcop|c and its advcrsarics no
|ongcr had any rcfcrcnt in rca|ity. It was impossib|c to |ocatc thc
cncmy, who bccamc onc with thc suspcct, and thc rcvo|utionary
himsc|f |ost thc critcrion of nis own mora|ity. Hc sought it in thc
imaginary, in thc abi|ity to assumc thc riskofdcath in thc scrvicc of
thc Rcvo|ution but, having no undcrstanding of thc naturc of thc
Rcvo|ution,hccou|don|y rcsort to tcrror. Inothcrwords, andtousc
And thcyconcca|cd thcirfcar bchind a maskofhcroism whichmcant
on|y this. ovcrcoming dcath, with thcfcarofthc othcr andthc dcath
ofthc othcr as thcir guarantcc.
Quinct thus attacks most intcrprctcrs of thc Rcvo|ution from thc
rcar,forithadbccomcacommonp|acctosccthcTcrroras ancxccss,
as a sign of cxtrcmc audacity, rcgard|cssof whcthcr it was sccn as a
fo||yorancccssity. Hc, onthcothcrhand,sccsitasasignofwcakncss
in thc facc ofdifhcu|ty.
Thc authorpinpointsthc grcatcvcntwhichsccmsto inauguratc thc
cra of rc|igious frccdom (Book 5, chaptcr 6): 'Thc Constitution
guarantccs cvcry man thc right to practisc thc rc|igion of his choicc.
Such a grcat frccdom, which was thc vcry sou| of thc agc, must
ncccssari|y havc sccmcd to guarantcc a|| futurc frccdoms' (p. I99).
But hcimmcdiatc|ycasts doubts uponthccfhcacy of such a princip|c
inasocictyinwhichoncrc|igion- Catho|icism- wassodccp|yrootcd
124 On Revolution
that no onc cou|d imaginca changc. Undcrsuch conditions. hc notcs,
'Togrant frccdom ofbc|icfis to grant nothing' (p. 151). Onc may as
wc|| cstab|ish frccdom of conscicncc in Mccca, Tunis or !apan -
comparc thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution with thc rc|igious rcvo|ution of thc
sixtccnth ccntury. Thc |attcr attackcd cstab|ishcd rc|igion with thc
utmost vigour, itforgcd ncwinstitutions.changcd thc tcmpcramcntof
thc pcop|c, and itwason|y |atcr that `thc doorwas rc-opcncd to thc
o|d rc|igion which, having fa||cn into abcyancc. no |ongcr inspircd
fcar' (ibid). No othcr roadwas opn to it: 'It was in this way. andin
no othcr. thatEng|and. thcScandinavianstatcs. Ho||and. Switzcr|and
and thc Unitcd Statcs. and a|| thc othcr pcop|cs who wcrc born of
thc Rcformation wcrc ab|c toacquirc a ncwsou|. Withoutcxccption,
thcy a|| saw thc o|d rc|igion as thc cncmy' (ibid). In Francc, by
contrast, thc rcvo|utionarics wcrc conccrncd with on|y onc thing,
dcspitcthc murmurings ofthc ConstituantAsscmb|y: thcywantcd'to
brcak with tradition without appcaring to do so' (p. 161). This road
|cd nowhcrc. 'As soon as thcy bcgan to indu|gc in subt|ctics, thcy
wcrc|ost. lfthcsixtccnthccnturyhad adoptcd that tonc, itwou|dnot
havc conqucrcd a sing|c parish. An innovator givcs ordcrs, imposcs
his wi||, and strikcs, hc docs not pratt|c. It is impossib|c to makc a
rc|igiousrcvo|ution withoutadmittingthatoncisdoingso. Onccannot
disp|acc a god without making a noisc. (p. 162).
Quinct gocs against thc acccptcd rcprcscntation by rcvca|ing thc
rcvo|utionarics' 'timidityofmind',a timiditywhich contrastswith thcir
apparcnt fcrocity. But hc a|so says somcthing morc. thcir fcrocity
compcnsatcs for thcir timidity: `How cou|d a|| thc cxtcrna| vio|cncc,
a|| thc accumu|atcd fcrocity, compcnsatc for thcir timidity of mind7'
(p. 163).
Hc rcturns tothisthcmc on a numbcr ofoccasions. notab|y at thc
bcginning of Book 16, whcrc hc |cavcs us in no doubt as to thc
rc|ationship bctwccn tcrror and timidity. Thc author dcscribcs thc
indignation of thc !acobins whcn Vcrgniaud darcs to qucstion thc
status ofCatho|icism duringthc dcbatc on thc constitution in 1793: 'I
do not think thatwccan sanctionprincip|cs which arcabso|utc|y a|icn
to thc socia| ordcr in a dcc|aration of socia| rights. ` 'Having thc
tcmpcramcnt of ligueurs, thcy wcrc not man cnough to disp|acc thc
U|timatc GodofthcMidd|cAgcs' (vo|. II, p. 137). Afcw |incs|atcr,
hc adds. 'Cou|d it bc truc that, with a|| thcir co|ossa| bo|dncss. thcy
bc|icvcd thcmsc|vcs incapab|c ofbcnding a rccd in thc mora| rca|m7
... Thc|cssthcydarcd to attcmptin thc mora| rca|m, thc morc thcy
wcrc forccd to darc a|| in thc physica| rca|m. This was a stcri|c
bo|dncssl For a|| that thcy madc dcath into an ido|. that cou|d not
rcdccm thcir timidity ofmind' (p. 138).
Whcnccthctimidity7Quinctgivcsthc answcrin Book6: `Thc truth
is. if wc arc wi||ing to admit it, that not a day wcnt by, so to spcak,
without thcsc tcrrib|c mcn trcmb|ing bcforc thc gcnius of thc past.
Thcirscrvitudcrc|atcs|cssto thcirsubmission to thco|d Godthanto
Quillet and the Revolution that Failed 125
thcir fcar of making a brcak bctwccn past and prcscnt, of an cvcnt
that mcant that thcy wou|d havc to convincc thc pcop|c of a ncw
truth, rathcr than scducingthcm byßattcringthcir habits. Quinct thcn
rcca||s Cami||c Dcsmou|ins's words whcn hc rcbukcd Manuc| for
having obtaincd a dccrcc against thc Corpus Christi proccssion. `My
dcar Manuc|, thc kings arc ripc for thc picking, God is not' (p. 181).
Hcthcncommcnts. ¹hcfcarthctcrroristsfc|tisthcundcr|yingrcason
for thc fa|| of thc Rcvo|ution bccausc, bcing sccrct|y afraid of bcing
rcjcctcd by thc pcop|c, thcy darcd not tc|| thc pcop|c of anything in
advancc or prcparc thcm for anything' (p. 182). But, bcforc thc
Rcvo|utionco||apscd. thcTcrror wasun|cashcd as arcsu|tofthc |oss
of thc markcrs of mora|ity and truth. ¹hcsc mcn affcctcd a rc|igion
inwhich thcydidnot bc|icvc,and thcydcnicd thcphi|osophyinwhich
thcydid bc|icvc. Thcyfound thcmsc|vcsfarfromanyroad, without a
compass ora star to guidc thcm. Soon. a|| that rcmaincd was fcrocity
in thc darkncss. It is not surprising that thcy s|aughtcrcd onc anothcr
in thc dark' (p. 183).
Cami||c Dcsmou|ins, Danton, thc tcrrib|c Marat, Cambon, Bazirc,
Saint-!ustandcvcn Robcspicrrc himsc|fa||disp|aythcsamc prudcncc
orthc samccunningbccauscthcy arcafraidand havc no imagination.
But thc |ast, whosc rcvo|utionary intransigcncccauscdhim to bc both
admircd and dctcstcd, docssccm to mcrit thc harshcstcriticisms, for
no onc did morc to protcct Catho|icism than Robcspicrrc. Whi|st hc
prctcndsto bc|icvc that its authority has bccn wcakcncd, docs hc not
pay homagc to its princip|cs - notab|y in a spccch in which hc gocs
so far astodcc|arc that. `Litt|c rcmains in thc mindsofmcn but thosc
imposing doctrincs which |cnd thcir support to thc mora| idcas and to
thc sub|imc and touching doctrincs of virtuc and cqua|ity which thc
son of Mary oncc prcachcd to his fc||ow citizcns' (vo|. I , p. 185).
Robcspicrrc cvcnrcitcratcs this strangc vicw: `Takc conso|ation from
thc thoughtthat thc rc|igionwhosc ministcrsarc sti||paidby thc Statc
at|castoffcrs usa mora|ityana|ogousto ourown.Thcquotations hc
accumu|atcs |cad Quinct to thcfo||owing conc|usion: ¹hc void which
thc tcrrorist systcmcrcatcd inthcspiritua| rca|mìsfu||yvisib|chcrc`
And thc void is a|| thc morc conspicuous in that thc immunity of
Catho|icism isproc|aimcd at thcvcrymomcnt whcn prcparations arc
bcing madc to condcmn thc king. Thc rcvo|utionaricsprovc incapab|c
and thc thco|ogica| princip|c.
Quinct cxtcnds his criticisms in Book 16, whcrc hc cxamincs thc
dcchristianization movcmcnt. Bcing convinccd of thc popu|ar naturc
of thc rcvo|t against Christianity, hc rcca||s that it was `thosc who
dcvastatcd churchcs, brokc imagcs and p|undcrcd rc|iquarics' who
cnsurcdthcsucccssofthc Rcformation. Andhccontraststhcsinccrity
pcriod, which disarm protcsts and condcmn thc ncw faith in Rcason
to ridicu|c. ThcparodyorganizcdbyChaumcttc and Hcbcrt. Rcason,
I26 On Revolution
'thcybc|icvcd,cou|dbc rcprcscntcdbyabcautifu|womanwhop|aycd
thc ro|c ofwisdomon ap|atformforan hour.` Thcyimprovisc an act
of ido|atry, choosc an actrcss who, bornc on thc shou|dcrs of four
mcn,makcshcrappcarancc inthc Convcntion,thcConvcntionisthcn
forccd to proccss to Notrc-Damc, which is to bccomc thc tcmp|c of
Rcason. 'A roughstonc or a worm-catcn piccc ofwood wou|d havc
had a much grcatcr ho|d ovcr pcop|c's imagination than an actrcss
who wasstrippingoffhcr drcss an hour aftcr hcr dcihcation' (p. I44).
Quinct thcn commcnts. 'This stcri|itywastru|y disastrous, aswas thc
inabi|itytosccthc rc|igious rcvo|utionassomcthingmorc than afcast
for thc cycsanda coup de theatre.' Thcn thcrcwasthc sinistcr parody
organizcdby Robcspicrrc. 'Thchrstcu|tat|castrcprcscntcdp|casurc,
thccu|t Robcspicrrc dcdicatcdto thc Suprcmc Bcingwasbascd upon
fcar,andhchadtocrushthciconoc|asts` (p. I46). Thistimc, `Inordcr
to kccp thc pcop|c insidc thc doors of thc formcr church and to
prcvcnt thcm |caving, thc tcrrorists forccd thcm to stand bctwccn
scaffo|ds` (p. | 5I).
'Hcrc wcscc thc rca| void atthc hcart of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution`,
rcpcats Quinct.
Innoothcrrcvo|utiondidthc|cadcrsactina manncrsodircct|y
opposcdtothcir goa|s, thcyuscd a|| thcir mighttofrustratcthcir
own goa|s. It is this which givcs thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution its
charactcristicfcrocity,afcrocity unprcccdcntcdin human affairs.
It is asthoughwcwcrcwatchinga b|indnatura|catac|ysmrathcr
than an uphcava| dircctcd by thc wi|| of human bcings. (p. l52)
' The Theory of the Terror'
A vcry dìffcrcnt intcrprctation of thc Tcrror is advanccd ìn Book I7,
which is cntit|cd 'LaThcoric dc |a Tcrrcur'. Hcrc. Quinct sccks its
in 'a c|ash bctwccn two irrcconci|ab|c c|cmcnts. thc o|d Francc and
thcncw Francc` (vo|. I I , p. I8I), that 'this fcc|ing that thcrcwcrc two
abso|utc|y incompatib|c forccs incitcd mcn`s sou|s to fury`, and that,
as rcprisa|s |cd to furthcr rcprisa|s, angcr turncd to frcnzy. But hc
thcn immcdiatc|y pointsout thc changc that occurrcd whcn 'Ccrtain
mindsbcgantoscc thc rcprisa|s,which hadoccurrcdbccauscofforcc
ofcircumstanccs, asforminga systcm' (p. I8J). At thispoint, apo|icy
ofTcrror rcp|accd thcspira|ofrcprisa|s. 'Robcspicrrc, Saint-!ust and
Bi||aud-Varcnnc wantcd to turn what had bccn an accidcnt into a
pcrmancnt statc. Thcy turncd what had initia||y bccn aßash ofangcr,
orofdcspair, into aprincip|cofgovcrnmcnt . . . Thcyturncd fcrocity
into a co|d instrumcnt of govcrnmcnt and sa|vation.` This initia|
cxp|anation docs not, howcvcr, go to thcbottomof things, as it docs
not a||ow us to undcrstand why thc most tcrrib|c of thc 1acobins
acquìrcd a fo||owing. Quìnct hndsthccxp|anationinthcConvcntion's
Quinet and the Revolution that Failed l27
rca|ization that itwasdifhcu|t, ifnotimpossib|c, for a corrupt nation
'which hadgrown o|d in s|avcry` to acccdc to |ibcrty. Thcy thcrcforc
rcso|vcd to 'forcc thc Frcnch to bc frcc by using thc mcthods which
thc po|iticians ofAntiquity had app|icd in ana|ogous circumstanccs'.
But cvcn that is not in itsc|f an adcquatc cxp|anation. Wc sti|| havc
to |ookforthcoriginsofrcvo|utionaryvo|untarism. 'Thcthird causc,'
notcs Quinct, 'is thcir scorn for thc individua|, that sad |cgacy from
thc opprcssion ofo|d. "Bc |ikc naturc,¨ said Danton. ¨Shc |ooks to
thc prcscrvationofthcspccics, andis not conccrncdwith individua|s.`
If thc so-ca||cd tcrrorism of naturc is app|icd to human affairs, it
bccomcs ncccssary to bchcad humanity itsc|f (p. I84). Hcrc, wc scc
thc out|inc of onc of thc grcat thcmcs to which Quinct wi|| rcturn
|atcr: thc hction of a rcvo|utìon which is c|cvatcd to supcrhuman
status, which bccomcs an cntity in itsc|f and for itsc|f. 'From thc
outsct, wc turncd thc Rcvo|ution into an abstract bcing |ikc naturc,
into anido|which wc dcihcd andwhichnccdcdno onc, which cou|d,
withoutany dangcrto itsc|f, swa||ow up individua|soncaftcranothcr
and wax strongon thc annihi|ation ofa||.`This hction combincs with
anothcr, which docs morc to cxp|ain thc mcchanisms of thc Tcrror.
that of thc origina| goodncss of man, which is borrowcd from !can-
!acqucsRousscau. 'Who wou|dbc|icvc that phi|anthropy itsc|f cou|d
a|so|cadtoTcrror7'cxc|aimsQuinct(p. I85).Hisanswcrisrcmarkab|c
for its acuity. Thc bc|icf in thc goodncss of man can bc cha||cngcd
on|y by imputing thc difhcu|tics thc Rcvo|ution cncountcrcd to 'thc
dcsigns ofthc wickcd'. Thc rcvo|utionarics'bcgan by putting ¨manis
good¨ on thc agcnda and, whcn thcy cncountcrcd difhcu|tics in
cstab|ishingjusticc, thcyconc|udcd thatthcywcrc caughtupinavast
conspiracy, and failed t see that in most cases it was things themselvs
that conspired against them' (cmphasis addcd).
Quìnct`s cxp|oration of thc cffccts of phi|anthropy - thc u|timatc
rcasonforthcTcrror- is,I bc|icvc, unprcccdcntcd. Notcontcnt with
and thc !acobins', hc shows that it a|so gnawcd away at thc sou|s of
thc tcrrorists. 'Not on|y did thc ha|f-tamcd past roar around thcm,
thcy borc partofthatpast within thcm, without rca|izing it,thcytoo
wcrc imp|icatcd inthcconspiracy thcyhaduncovcrcd, andwhich thcy
dcnounccd in a|| things. Who, thcn, cou|d thcy trust, ifthcy borc thc
cncmy within thcm?'
Thcsc, thcn, arc thc c|cmcnts of thc `thcory of thc Tcrror`. It is,
howcvcr, to bc notcd that, a|thugh hc cxpounds thcm in thc hrst
scction of Book I6, in Book I7 Quinct rc|atcs what sccmcd to bc a
product of thc rcvo|utionary spirit to thc hcritagc bcqucathcd by thc
Ancicn Rcgimc. 'Inprivatc |ifc, `hcobscrvcs,`itisunjustthat thcsons
shou|d cxpiatc thc sins ofthcir fathcrs . . . But in thc |ifc of pcop|cs,
this phi|osophy docs not ho|d, and prcscntgcncrations must ccrtain|y
bc punishcd for thc sinsofprcviousgcncrations. This is the only way
in which we can fnd a moral explanation for the reign of the Terror'
128 On Revolution
(p. 189, cmphasis addcd). Hc adds. 'Thc sword struck at cvcry rank
in socicty bccausc scrvitudc had bccn thc work ofa||. In thcsc ycars
ofhorrorthchistoryofFrancc camc toitsfrcnzicdconc|usion. ' Quinct
thcnrcmindsusofwhosc footstcps thc rcvo|utionaricswcrc fo||owing.
Eachstagcwasmappcdoutinadvancc. Mcr|indcDouaifo||owcd
thc cxamp|cofLouvois(thc man rcsponsib|cforthcRcvocation
of thc Edict of Nantcs), and Fouquicr that of Bavi||c . . . Thc
at sca. Carricr took notc. Vi||ars thrcatcns to put who|c
communitics to thc sword, hc is a|rcady spcaking thc |anguagc
which Co||ot d`Hcrboiswi|| usc. Montrcvc| invcntcd thc hostagc
|aw, thc Dircctory had on|y to rcvivc it.
No doubt thc naturc ofscrvitudc didchangc with thc Rcvo|ution,
but its ncwcst fcaturcs wcrc a|rcady imprintcd on thc past. And, as
Quinctwasto ask atthccndof hiswork, 'Docsscrvitudcccascto bc
scrvitudc bccausc it is vo|untary7` (vo|. I I , p.560).
The Terror as farce
Thcrc is, thcn a c|osc afhnity bctwccn thc two argumcnts wc havc
bricßy rcconstructcd, a|though onc p|accs thc cmphasis primari|y on
thc rc|igious phcnomcnon, whi|st thc othcr strcsscs primari|y thc
po|itica| phcnomcnon. It wou|d bc a mistakc to assumc that thcrc is
anycontradictionbctwccnthcidcathatthcrcvo|utionaricswcrc afraid
ofthc Rcvo|ution, and thc idca that thcy madc an ido|ofit. Thc two
idcasarccomp|cmcntary. By dcifyingit, thcy pctrihcd it, bccauscthcy
wcrc afraid of bcing carricd away by a movcmcnt that might havc
and by making it an abstract bcing, thcy avoidcd thc task ofsctting
cvcryonc frcc, of a||owing cvcryonc thc abi|ity to basc thcir faith on
thc dictatcs ofconscicncc. Thc Tcrror is a sign of thcir inabi|ity to
brcak with thc past in cithcr thc po|itica| or thc rc|igious rca|m.
thc rcvo|utionarics as bcing unab|c to rcdiscovcr thc o|d mcaning of
dominancc. Wc arc to|d basica||y that, whcn thcy bc|icvc thcy arc
innovators, thcy rcmaintrappcdbythciridcntihcationwith a princip|c
of authority, and that, whcn thcy think thcy arc imitating thc past,
thcy |apsc into parody. Without thcir bcingawarc ofit, thc modcrn
spirit, thcdcmocraticspirit, undcrmincsthcir p|ans. Itisthcnnoton|y
thc Rcvo|ution that appcars to havc bccn a fai|urc. tbc Tcrror itsc|f
was a fai|urc. Itwas cruc|, but it was a|so absurd and dcrisory.
Thc samc argumcnt is app|icd to thc rca|m of thc rc|igious and thc
rca|m of thc po|itica|. But hcrc, thc mcandcring, ironic and subt|c
Quinet and the Revolution that Failed 129
approachofthc ana|yst isno|cssworthyofintcrcst than thc argumcnt
itsc|f. In a word, Quinct constructswhat wi|| |atcr comc to bc known
as an ideal type oftcrror as foundation, which hc sccs as csscntia||y
to invcstigatc thc rcvo|utionary Tcrror.
Lct us summarizc thc initia| argumcnt, which is madc quitc cxp|icit
inthchrstscction ofBook 16 (`LcTcrrorismcfran�aisctlctcrrorismc
hcbraïquc' ). Thc qucstion Quinct asks is asfo||ows. 'What in itsc|fis
asystcm ofTcrror whcnitis app|icdto thc rcgcncrationofapcop|c7`
Hc thcn immcdiatc|y cstab|ishcs its fcaturcs.
Thc idca| form of this systcm was conccivcd and pcrfcctcd by
Moscs. His pcop|c wcrc dyingins|avcry inEgypt. Hc undcrtook
to savc thcm by rcgcncrating thcm. In ordcr to do so, hc hrst
ob|igcd thcm to forcswcar thc o|d Egyptian ido|s, hc thcn
undcrtookthc rc-crcationofthcir traditions, andthcircducation.
To succccd in doing so, hc |cd thcm into thc dcscrt, and kcpt
govcrnmcnt through fcar. (vo|. II, p. 132)
Thc Frcnch Tcrror appcars to dcrivc from thc samc systcm as thc
HcbraicTcrror.thcrcis thcsamcdcsirc to`tcarthcpcop|cawayfrom
thcir o|d |oya|tics', and thc p|an to 'a|tcr cvcn thc most invctcratc
habits, thc namcs of thc months, thc days and thc scasons` rcvca|s a
simi|ar p|an 'to |cad thcm into thc dcscrt whcrc thcy bccamc |ost`, as
docs thc drcam of a comp|ctc|y ncw systcm of cducation. But at
thc samc timc, a comparison of thc two rcvca|s diffcrcnccs. Thc
rcvo|utionarics fai|cd to pcrform thc hrst task rcquircd of any |aw-
givcr. thcycou|d notinstitutc thcpcop|con arc|igiousbasis. IfMoscs
had actcd |ikc thcm, ifhc had consccratcd o|d ido|s `staincd with thc
Inthcsccondscction ofthcsamc book, Quinctdrawsa conc|usion
from thcsc criticisms. 'Fa|sity bcgcts absurdity, and absurdity bcgcts
horror` (p. I40). His conc|usion appcars to rcst upon thc conviction
that itwas on|y by bcinginto|crant that thc Rcvo|ution cou|d bccomc
rc|igious. Quinct acccpts that thc Convcntion of 1793 formu|atcd a
magnanimous princip|c, but hc a|sostatcs that 'it containcd thcsccds
of countcr-rcvo|ution' . This argumcnt appcars to convcrgc with that
out|incd abovc, but it soon bccomcs apparcnt that it has a vcry
diffcrcnt function. Thcrc is no suggcstion to thc cffcct that thc
Rcvo|utionshou|d havc takcn thc HcbraicTcrror as a modc|. Quinct
Hc notcs, for cxamp|c, in Book 5 that a choicc had to bc madc
bctwccn a po|icy ofto|crancc and a po|icy of proscription, and that
by proc|aimingonc andpractising thc othcr, thc rcvo|utionarics wcrc
doomcd to |osc on both counts (vo|. I , p. 125); in thc samc book, hc
points out that, as thc spirit of to|crancc is thc spirit of modcrnity
IJ0 On Revolution
itsc|f, tcmporary rccoursc to into|crant mcasurcs shou|d havc bccn
cnough tocnsurcits triumph. Hc cvcngocssofarastorcmark. 'Who
knows what offspring thc gcnius of Francc might havc produccd in
thisvoid,whcnitwas|ost in thc dcscrt, orwhata|| thc frcc cncrgics
of thc modcrn spirit might havc produccd to h|| thc gu|f opcncd up
by thc co||apsc of thc o|d wor|d7` Thc qucstion is |inkcd wìth this
commcnt. 'If thcy hadfc|tthcmsc|vcs to bc unitcd against a common
advcrsary [thc tcrrorists] wou|d not havc ki||cd onc anothcr` [vo|. I I ,
p. I70). Thcrc can, howcvcr, bcno doubtsasto whathci sthinking,
and Quinct himsc|fdispc|sany possib|c misundcrstandingin Book I6.
I bcg thc rcadcr not to prctcnd to misundcrstand mc hcrc. I
know aswc|| as anyonc that frccdomof worship is thc princip|c
that must prcvai|, and that it is thc basis of thc modcrn
wcrc bcing sc|f-contradictory whcn thcy rcvcrtcd to thc o|d |aw
oftcrror and, at thc samc timc, safcguardcd thc rights of thcir
cncmics. And that contradiction incvitab|y dcstroycd thcm.
(vo|. I I , p. I 78)
It is this contradiction that Quinct is striving to bring out. Hc is not
attcmpting to makc an imaginary rcconstruction of thc coursc thc
Rcvo|ution might havc takcn, hc is trying to dcstroy thc thcscs of
thosc historianswho scc thc Tcrror as thc incvitab|c outcomc ofthc
attcmpt to rcgcncratc thcsocia|bodyandtocnsurc pub|icsafcty. His
othcr purposc is to convincc his contcmporarics that thc Rcvo|ution
was a fai|urc, and to a|crt thcm to thc qucstion raiscd by any changc
which is at oncc po|itica|, socia| and rc|igious. (It shou|d not bc
was on thc thronc in Francc. )
Thcrc is obvious|y a Machiavc||ian inspiration bchind thc dccision
to construct a modc| of tcrror as foundation in ordcr to rcvca| thc
dcrisory c|cmcnts - thc c|cmcnt of fa|sity, absurdity and horror - in
thc rcvo|utionary Tcrror's attcmpt to imitatc that modc|. This is not
surprising. Quinct had rcad Machiavc||i morc attcntivc|y and with
hcwascnamourcd of|ibcrty, and ofncw idcasand ncwinstitutions-
principi nuovi - and hc too mocks wou|d-bc rca|ists and sagcs who
Hc too catchcsthcm inthc trapofthcconsistcncyofcnds and mcans.
Thus, having positcd thc hypothcsis of tcrror as foundation, hc asks
what conc|usions wc arc to dcducc from it, provokcs a scanda|ous
rcsponsc, and rcvca|s thc tcrrorists` 'timidity of mind` in thc vcry
actions which sccmcd to show thcir grcat bo|dncss. In doing so, hc
a|sorcvca|sthc `stupidity` ofthc historians.tousc ancxprcssion which
hcwi|| discussat |cngth at thc cnd of his book.
Quillet alld the Revolution that Failed
Any doubts

s toQuinct`s dcbt toMachiavc||i shou|d bcdispc||cd
hcrc. Thc comparìson h
c now draws bctwccn Rcvo|utionary tcrror
and d

spottc tcrror admìrab|y rcvca|s thc irony that |ics bchind thc
ob¡cctìvc argumcnt. Thc Frcnch tcrrorists fai|cd, hc writcs
To scc thc truc gc

ius of Tcrror, thcir popu|ar spirit prcvcntcd

ìnstrumcntofdominationwith thc rcquisitc
san�-frotd. It
thc grcatcst impassivity, Louis XIV,
Fhì|ip IIand Rtchc|icudìdnotprocccdwiththisoutwardvio|cncc
.. . On|y thc aristocracics and thc monarchics of o|d had
thc ncccssary ph|cgm t
usc thcsc wcapons without injuring
thcmsc|vcs. Dcmocracy is usc|css for thcsc purposcs, bcing too
ìmpctuous and too ìmmodcratc, it can insu|t, but it cannot
ca|umniatc,whcnitthinksitisstrikingatthccncmy itisstriking
at itsc|f. (pp. 2I I-I2)
Thc sc|f-dcstruction oftcrrorism isthcrcforc absurd. 'Thc Inquisition
ncvcr struck at thc Inquisitor. Discussions as to thc |imits of thc
Tcrror and thc attcmpts somc makc to modcratc it arc a|so absurd·
'Thc naturc ofthis govcr

t rcqui

cs anc|cmcntofunccrtainty, of
thc unknown, of cxtrcmìsm 10 a|| thtngs. It must bc unrcstraincd, it
mustknow no bounds` (p. 2IJ). Thc bc|icfina pcaccfu|futurc isa|so
absurd. ¹hc princip|c of this govcrnmcnt must bc thc dcstruction of
a||hopc. Thc torturcsapp|icd in I79Jand I794 arc.hna||y.wrctchcd,
Tcrror rcquìrcs
is ccrtain to bc fatcfu|, si|kcn nooscs in thc scrag|io; prisons
whìch no onc |cavcs a|ivc . . . thc ill pace ofthc Inquisition ovcr
thc |agoons. Onc cou|d a|so mcntion cxi|c in Sibcria, or thc
mmcsofthc Lra|s . . . Thcscarc thcpunishmcnts htforarcgimc
of horror, thcy h|| thc imagination without cxhausting it, and
thcy haunt ìt constant|y. Evi|s onc sccs and cannot grasp arc
fcarfu|. (p. 2I4)
Thc Frcnch tcrrorists who havc bccn so admircd and so cxccratcd
wcrc not up to thcir task.
Thc wor|d shrinks from cxcmp|ary dcaths, from pcrmancnt
scaffo|ds,and from b|oodthatisspi|tinbroadday|ightfora||to
scc. Hcwhodicsinthcmidstofthcpcop|cfcc|sthathc is |iving
to thc vcry cnd. Dcath in thc darkncss. far from thc |iving, an
unknown, forgottcn dcath which has no rcpcrcussions, that is
rca| Tcrror. That was not thc Tcrror of I79J. (p. 2I5)
On Revolution
Ignorance of the People, Scorn for the People
The three arguments we have discussed fnally combine with a fourth
which was outlined in Book l 7('La Theorie de la Terreur'), but which
fnds its clearest expression in the following Book ('La Dictature'). We
have already seen this argument in Michelet: the men who took it into
their heads to save the people, to force the people to be free,
were foreign to it. This criticism is primarily directed against the
Robespierristes. We must therefore modify the earlier thesis that they
systematized the ferocity of the people; it would be more accurate to
say that they wanted both to repress and exploit its ferocity so as to
replace it with a solemn and orderly programme for domination. This
idea is formulated in the frst section of Book 18: 'La Republique
classique et la republique prolttaire' . Here, Quinet examines the
episode of the elimination of the Hebertistes. He has no sympathy for
them, and we quickly learn that he does not regard them as being
spokesmen for the people. 'Hebert and his co-accused were' he writes,
'the inevitable product of the regime of the Terror: a sick imagination,
unbridled and deranged minds, who saw extreme measures as providing
the only hope of salvation' (p. 254). There are no grounds for believing
their rage to be sincere, or for forgetting their initial dependence upon
the Jacobins: ' . . . who removed the brake, who taught them their
ferocity, if not those who killed them?' But it is equally certain that,
in destroying them, Robespierre and Saint-Just were displaying their
hatred of a terrorism which had damaged the ideals in which, being
bourgeois men of letters, they believed:
In crushing the Hebertistes, Saint-Just was crushing the pleb, the
obscure masses . . . Men who have studied the classics know little
of the temperament of the masses, and it is characteristic of them
to see the blind passions of the mob as being inspired by foreign
agents. (vol. II, p. 253)
And Quinet adds a valuable comment:
No tribune in the world ever spoke a less popular, more learned
or more studied language than Robespierre and Saint-Just.
Anyone who tried to speak the language of the people immediately
and naturally seemed hateful to them; that language seemed to
them t debase the Revolution. They always saw the Revolution
in terms of the pomp of Cicero and the majesty of Tacitus.
(emphasis added)
His comment recalls his earlier remarks about the reasons for the
elimination of the Hebertistes:
Saint-Just punished them for replacing his Lacedaemonian
Quinet and the Revolution that Failed 133
formulae with the language of the crossroads. It was the classical
lettered revolution of the Jacobins which crushed the uneducated
and plebeia
n revolution of the Cordeliers. Robespierre was acting
out a c


ragedy. Anything that went beyond its orderly
nventlOns - hfe, s

ontaneity, popular instinct - appeared to
hIm to be a monstrosIty. And he attacked it with sword and fre.
(p. 225)
The same theme r
ns throughout this section, and it is particularly
clear In the descnptlon of the struggle between Saint-Just and Danton
and between Robespierre and Chaumette.
If Quinet is to be believed, the literary transposition of events, and
the erectIOn of an Ideal stage upon which actors perform carefully
rehearsed gestures and

�eeches, require the annihilation of everything
that chalknges th

noblhty of the revolutionary project. In that sense,
the conspIracy whIch haunts the imagination of the Jacobins can also

n abode in the triviality of the real, in the stubborn prose of the
But his criticisms do not stop there. It is to be noted that he does
not spare the language of the Hebertistes either: 'Anyone who takes

trouble to follow the saturnalia of Le Pere Duchene will see that
Hebert hImself could not gra

the true language of the people; he
adds an oath to every declaralIon,
and pretends that this gives him a
popular accent. Theatncal rags stitched together with sans-culottes
tatters.' We are, then, being asked to see a double idealization, which
at once c.mes
from above and from below - an idealization inspired
by a

emble WIll to deny the existence of the men and women who
effeclIvely make up the people in order to speak and act in the name
of the people.
Is Quine!'s last comment anything more than an extension of
Michekt's refections? Perhaps not. But it does help him to reach a

whIch takes �Im beyond Michelet, as it does not apply to
the JacobIns and the Hebe

tlstes alone, or even to the revolutionary
faclIons as a whole
It apphes to the very principle of the idealization
of the people, a pnnclple which, although it is used to different ends,
slIll governs the interpretations put forward by historians. The lesson
IS clear: the people should no more be deifed than should history, or
On the contrary, If we are to learn the truth about history,
the natlO

or the people, we must undertake the revolutionary task of

lfYIng them. Only then will we fnally be in a position to detect
the ongInS of the Terror and the power of the beliefs that are still
used to justify it.
They sacrifce everything to I know not what idea of a messianic
people which �emands blood sacrifces. But at that price, all
. pe

clalm to b

They all want their violence,
theIr InIqullIes and theIr savagery to be worshipped as though
On Revolution
thcy wcrcsacrcd . . . Lctushavcdonc with
|ct us at |cast sct history frcc. Fcrocity IS fcroctty, no mattcr
which pcop|c cxcrciscs it. It is no |ongcr pcrmissib|c to bc
ido|atrous. No morc prcjudiccs. No morc systcms ofb|ood. No
morcfctishization of history. Nomorc Cacsars or Robcsp:crrcs,
and no morc God-Fcop|c. Wou|d that our cxpcricnccs might
tcach us to rcmain human. (pp. l94-5)
Whcn hc crics 'No morc God-Fcop|c` and udds that ¹hc Tcrror
wasthc fata| |cgacy ofthc historyofFrancc' , Quinct |cnds hiscritiquc
a vigour which makcs him brc
ak with a|| thosc who c|aim to bc thc
No doubt it a|so hc|ps us to undcrtand why his work has bccn so
dc|ibcratc|y, so obstinatc|yforgotten.
The Revolution as Principle and as
Itwas in Ita|y, during thc |ast pcriod of his |ifc, that !oscph Fcrrari
acquircd a ccrtain rcputation as a po|itician. In Francc, whcrc hc
sctt|cd in l 8J8 and whcrc hc |ivcd for morc than twcnty ycars, thc
audicncc hc found as a phi|osophcr and writcr rcmaincd, howcvcr,
vcry rcstrictcd, cvcn though thc pub|ication of his major works and
his contributions to La Revue des deux mondes and La Revue
independente brought him somc rcnown. Bcing an cxi|c, hc was of
coursc ina difhcu|tposition,buthismainprob|cmwasthathcc|ashcd
with thc ncw 'intc||cctua| powcr`, which did its bcst to si|cncc him.
Hc was appointcd as a phi|osophy |ccturcr at thc Univcrsity of
Strasbourg, butwassoon dismisscd on ministcria| ordcrs. Hc did not
succccd in passing thc phi|osophy agregation. At thc cnd of l848, hc
was appointcd to a tcaching post in Bourgcs, but thc rcprcssion that
fo||owcd thc jouree of lJ !unc I849 forccd him to |cavc his post
prccipitatc|ybcforc hccou|d bcofñcia||ydismisscd. Hisindcpcndcncc
ofmind, thc strcngth ofhis rcpub|ican convictions and his rcfusa| to
comc to tcrms with Catho|icism won him thc hosti|ity of thc
cstab|ishmcnt. Thc fact is that, for his part, hc was scarcc|y tactfu| in
Cousin, who had momcntari|y |cnt him his support, and on thosc hc
ca||cd thc 'sa|aricd phi|osophcrs', to usc thc tit|c ofonc ofhiscssays.
A short passagc hc dcvotcs to thcm in his Machiavel juge des
revolutions, which is thc book wc wi|| bc discussing hcrc, givcs somc
idca ofthcforccofhiscriticisms. ' Whcnhccvokcs thcrcignofLouis-
Fhi|ippc, hc obscrvcs in passing that. 'Fhi|osophy had its po|iccmcn,
and thcir |cadcr. a sc|f-profcsscd advocatc of thc mcthodica| scarch
for succcss, forccd a ca|cu|atcd mixturc of crudition and scrvi|ity on
and as thc cncmy of cvcry frcc-thinkcr' (p. l I7). Truc, somc grcat
minds thought high|y of him. Hc cstab|ishcd |inks with Froudhon and
Lcroux, corrcspondcd with Quinct, won thc admiration of Barbcy
d'Aurcvi||y, and arouscd thc intcrcst of Baudc|airc. But thc gcncra|
136 al Revolution
pub|ic found |itt|c of intcrcst in a forcign phi|osophcr who rcpc||cd
somc rcadcrswith his apo|ogia forthc Rcvo|ution- which hc thought
wassti|| in progrcss- and othcrswith hispiti|cssana|ysisofthccrrors
ofthc rcvo|utionarics. His words wcrc not dcsigncd to p|casc.
Thc fatc that bcfc|| Fcrrari in his own |ifctimc is not surprising.
What is morc surprisingis that his Machiavel shou|d havc fa||cn into
ob|ivion, as it has morc than onc c|aim on postcrity`s attcntion. Thc
work has ncvcr bccn rcprintcd, and onc ncvcrsccsit mcntioncd, onc
wou|d |ook for it in vain in many grcat |ibrarics. Yct it hasa modcrn
ßavourwhich, whi|stitmightnot havc appca|cdtohiscontcmporarics,
wou|dhavcdc|ightcd thcirdcsccndants. thcrcadcrsStcndha|cxpcctcd
to hnd. Thc namc is not a random association. Did Fcrrari rcad
Stcndha|7 Wc do not know. Or did his training as a jurist, togcthcr
with his vocation as a writcr. mcan that hc sharcd Stcndha|`s |ovc of
thc Code civil? Or did hc inhcrit his frccdom of tonc, his tastc for
paradox and his |iking for surpriscs - and it is tcmpting to dcscribc
thcm as Stcndha|ian- from thc author of The Prince? Whatcvcr thc
truth ofthc mattcr, hissty|c is sobcr,concisc and sincwy. Hccschcws
cmphasis. and docs not |ingcr ovcr dcscriptions or argumcnts. His
cssay stands out from po|itica| |itcraturc ofthc pcriod. Hc docs not
indu|gc in hnc phrascs, |yricism or prophccy. Hc ncvcr uscs thc
rhctorica| dcviccs wc hnd cvcn in Constant. Tocqucvi||c`s grandiosc
and architcctura| usc of |anguagc docs not suit him. Hcaddrcsscs thc
rcadcr without, itsomctimcs sccms, cvcn troub|ing totry to convincc
him. Hc takcs no hccd of othcrs` objcctions, and scorns to takc thc
prccautions that might disarm his critics. Hc unpicks thc fabric of
Machiavc||i`s discoursc and that of thc cvcnts of his own agc with
cqua|dcxtcrity, cxtracts from thcm thcir `princip|c` and, oncc hc has
foundit, hurricstohisgoa|,andwritcswiththcrhythmsofaconqucring
hcro. His cxtcnsivc crudition is that of a historian, in thc scnsc in
which thc ncw schoo| undcrstands that tcrm, but his tcmpcramcnt is
that of an cssayist. Hc is not afraid to cram thc major cvcnts in thc
advcnturc Ita|y |ivcd through from thc Midd|c Agcs onwards into
twcnty-hvc pagcs, or, whcn hc is dca|ing with Francc, to thrcad
togcthcr Robcspicrrc, Bonapartc, Char|csX, Louis-Fhi|ippc, thc
rcpub|icansof1848 andLouis-Napo|con asthoughthcirnamcsformcd
aropcofpcar|s which hccanp|acc around thcncckofthc Rcvo|ution.
And, dcspitc thc brcvity and apparcnt |incarity of his argumcnts, hc
docscapturcthcattcntionofthcrcadcr,whoiscarricdaway bya sort
ofphi|osophico-po|itica| romancc which has a vcry diffcrcnt appca| to
a hctiona|izcd history or an i||ustratcd phi|osophy.
To promotc Machiavc||i to thc status of thc j udgc of modcrn
rcvo|utions may wc|| sccm a foo|hardy undcrtaking. Yct, dcspitc thc
objcctions thc argumcntcomcsup against, thc approachprovcsto bc
morc subt|c than thc tit|c might suggcst. Fcrrari wcavcsa mcditation
upon thc conditions of po|itica| action into his rcading of thc facts.
His work dcp|oysa vcry singu|arspacc inwhich cvcntsprovc to both
Revolution as Principle and Individual 137
rcvca| andgcncratcthc mcaningofthc Rcvo|ution,whi|stthc thought
which providcsthc kcy forthcirintcrprctation- that of Machiavc||i -
provcs to bc cmbcddcd in history and to bc disc|oscd by its futurc.
Thc intcrp|ay bctwccn narrativc and criticism supports thc idca that
thcapparcntirrationa|ityofhistoryprovidcs,a contrario, aconhrmation
of its |ogic.
Thc bri||iant unravc||ingofthc Ita|ian imbrog|iowhich takcs upthc
|ast |ong chaptcr of thc work is rcminisccnt of Marx`s Eighteenth
Brumaire. Both authors havc mastcrcd thc art ofdcmystifying cvcnts
by cxamining thc ins and outs of po|itica| intriguc, thc art of thc
virtuoso ana|yst who can swivc| thc stagc around to rcvca| what is
happcning bchind thc sccncs. Both usc irony to rcvca| thc comcdy
that |ics bchind thc tragcdy of history, to rcduccsupposcd hcrocs to
thcdimcnsionofthcirmcdiocrity,todisso|vcthc mcd|cyofidco|ogics
intothc grcy tona|ityofintcrcst and, at thcsamctimc,to rcvca|signs
oI thc inc|uctab|c gcstation of a ncw wor|d. IfFcrrari`s ana|yscs did
notcnjoythcsamcsucccss asthosc ofMarx, it isnotfor |ackofbrio
or subt|cty. It is probab|y bccausc hc docs not urgc his rcadcrs to
idcntify with a subjcct who wi|| bring about thc cmancipation of
humanity, bccausc hc docs not mobi|izc passions and bccausc, un|ikc
Marx, hc combincs a conviction that cvcnts do form an intc||igib|c
circumstanccs of thc Rcvo|ution.
Thc fo||owing cxamp|c wi|| i||ustratc his sty|c. In thc pcnu|timatc
chaptcr, Fcrrari addrcsscs Louis-Napo|con, who has just oustcd
Cavaignac from thc Prcsidcncy of thc Rcpub|ic. Machiavc||i prompts
thc argumcnt, but Fcrrari ccrtain|y makcs it his own. Evcrything is
dcsigncd to disconccrt thc rcadcr, bc hc |ibcra| or socia|ist. Listcn to
Fcrrari as hc suggcsts to thc apprcnticc dictator that hc shou|d basc
hisfortuncson an a||iancc with thc pcop|c: 'Imitatc thc Mcdicis, rc|y
upon thc drcgs of socicty, bc thc dictator of thc p|cbcians` (p. l2l).
Listcn to him again. `Thcy wi|| tc|| you that you wcrc c|cctcd bythc
forccs of rcaction, but you wcrc c|cctcd unanimous|y. Thcy wi|| tc||
you that a unanimous votc is an invitation to found an Empirc, that
it mcans thc proscription of thc Rcpub|ic, know thcn that thc votcs
of thc pcop|c arc instinctivc|y rcvo|utionary, but that ncccssity wi||
makc thcm p|cbcian. ` Thc hypothcsiswou|d bc |cssscanda|ous ifthc
authorsharcd Proudhon'smomcntaryi||usionsas to thcpcrsona|ityof
thc victor, onc might think him naivc. Hc has no such i||usions. A
momcnt |atcr, hc adds. 'Unfortunatc|y, wc havc bccndrcaming hcrc.
Louis-Napo|con was brought to powcr by thc forccs of rcaction`
(p. 123). Thc visiot¡of history in which cvcnts unfo|d |ogica||y, cvcn
ifthcydooffcnd mora|ity, isadrcam.Thcunnatura| a||iancchcbricßy
imagincsdocsofcourscscrvcthccauscofdcmocracy, and u|timatc|y,
wc arc to|d, thc princip|c of dcmocracy wi|| ovcrcomc a|| obstac|cs.
But can dcmocrats|istcn to a voiccwhich ming|csthc acccnts offaith
withthosc ofcynicism withouthndingitrcpc||cnt?Fcrrari tc||sLouis-
lJ8 On Revolution
Napo|con to frcc himsc|ffrom thc past.
Lcavc thcsc ruins a|onc . . . it is thc pcop|c who wi|| savc you.
You nccd a rc|igion, and itisthc pcop|cwhowi|| providc it . . .
What was oncc thc rc|igion of a fcw mcn of thc Rcnaissancc is
now thc rc|igion of His Majcsty thc Pcop|c, thc parvcnu wants
his succcss to bc worshippcd . . . Ho|d fastto thc rc|igion ofthc
pcop|c, it is in thc asccndancy, and thc ncw fortuncs of thc
Rcpub|ic wi|| hc|p you to risc. (pp. l22-J)
His conc|usion is sti|| morc surprising. 'If thc Princc forgcts his ro|c,
thcy havc bccn ca||ing a fo||y for cightccn ycars. Fcrrari offcrs no
so|ution, andissucsnoca||toaction,inhisvicw,thoscwhoundcrstand
thcprincip|corthcscicncc ofhistoryacccptthatthcyshou|dnotdraw
conc|usions or ask qucstions. 'Dcmocracy`s idcas arc sti|| confuscd,
thcyhavcnot yctwonovcrthc masscs, andthcyarc aspirationsrathcr
than doctrincs. Scck and yc sha|| hnd,strivc andyc sha|| arrivc at an
immutab|c systcm |ikc thc princip|cs of 89 or of l8J0 and thcn thc
mad wi|| triumph`. Thisstrangc|anguagcdocsnotimp|ythatwchavc
to distancc oursc|vcs from thc contcmporary wor|d, but nor docs it
sanctionthc hopcshumanbcingsp|acc inthcabi|ityofpo|itica|action
to comc to grips with thc prob|cms ofthc day. 'In thc mcantimc, no
i||cga|ity, noinsurrcction.`Donothing,hcsuggcsts,whichanadvcrsary
cou|d scizc upon as a provocation. And hna||y, nospccu|ationsabout
catastrophc. Thc advantagcs offcrcd by thc rcgimc you arc hghting
arc not, hc suggcsts, to bc ignorcd, but thc bcst onc can cxpcct of
thcm is that thcywi|| gcncratc thc conditionsforitsovcrthrow. 'Thcy
comp|ain at sccingroya|istsin contro| of a rcpub|ic; thcir prcscncc is
uscfu| if thcy havc thc mcans to rc-cstab|ish crcdit, it is csscntia| if
thcydcc|arc bankruptcy. Whcnthathappcns,thctimcwi||havccomc
fora rcpub|icwithoutroya|ists.`Fcrrarithuscombincsascrcncrca|ism
with aconhdcncc inthcincvitabi|ityofRcvo|ution, a ccrtain cynicism
with thc idca|s of dcmocracy and socia|ism, and a scarch for thc
mcaning that |ics bchind thc contingcncyofcvcnts with thc idca that
humanity has a dcstiny. Hc both condcmns cstab|ishcd rc|igion and
p|accs his hopcs in somcthing which hc sti|| ca||s a rc|igion - `thc
arc purc|y socia| or po|itica|, in thc truc scnsc of thc word. Hc wins
ovcrccrtaincatcgoricsofrcadcrs, and thcn turns thcm againsthimsc|f.
But, rathcr than cxamining thc cffccts Fcrrari's cssay had on its
rcadcrs, |ctus |ookatitsmorcunusua|fcaturcs,inboth historica|and
contcmporary tcrms .
Fcrrari hnds, thcn, thc princip|cs of contcmporary history in thc
work ofMachiavc||i, and thc crad|c of thc modcrn Rcvo|ution in thc
Ita|ian Rcnaissancc. Itwou|dsccm, athrsts|ght, thatthcrcisnothing
Revolution as Principle and Individual lJ9
particu|ar|y ncw in this. Machiavc||i hadfor ccnturics bccn cxp|oitcd
by thosc invo|vcd in po|itica| or po|itico-rc|igiousstrugg|cs, cithcr, as
was usua||y thc casc, in an attcmpt to discrcdit an cncmy faction or
thc cstab|ishcd authoritics by rcvca|ing thc pcrhdy of thcir supposcd
sourcc of inspiration, or, as happcncd morc rarc|y, in an attcmpt to
dcfcnd thc causc of |ibcrty or thc thcsis of raison d'etat. Thc tactic,
during thc Rcvo|ution and in subscqucntycars. Both Robcspicrrc and
Bonapartc wcrc 'Machiavc||ianizcd` in this way. Thcrc wcrc many
prcccdcnts for thc invocation of thc spirit of Machiavc||i, for thc
prctcncc that thc author was taking down his words or |istcning to
him as hcpromptcd thc actors from thcwings,Fcrrari uscs thc dcvicc
at timcs, and it was to bc uscd many timcs by |atcr writcrs.
Intcrprctations bascd upon a comparison bctwccn thc Frcnch Rcvo|-
ution and somc grcat cvcnt that was assumcd to havc prchgurcd it
had, by thc mid-ninctccnth ccntury, bccomc somcthing ofa tradition.
For somc writcrs,|ikc Ba||anchc and Lcroux, it was thc birth of
Christianity which prchgurcd thc Rcvo|ution, but formost it was thc
Rcformation that constitutcd thc hrst momcnt in thc brcak bctwccn
thc O|d and thc Ncw. Conscrvativcs and |ibcra|s who had rcad Dc
Maistrc and Bona|d, andcvcnMadamcdc S¡ac|,Constantand Guizot
or thcir dcfcncc of thc princip|cs of I789. Aftcr having bccn cxto||cd
thc Rcvo|ution hnds itsc|f imprintcd in history oncc morc. Fcrrari,
thcn, simp|y a|tcrsitsdatc of birth. Andycthisworkstandsoutfrom
thc majority of po|itica| pamph|cts, and from car|icr attcmpts to
rcconstruct history. Hc is not in fact contcnt with borrowing a fcw
striking formu|ac from Machiavc||i and with putting thcm into thc
mouthsofthc grcat mcn hc cxccratcsorvcncratcs; hc produccs what
is at timcs a dctai|cd intcrprctation of his work, and his intcntion is
to discovcr a |atcnt mcaning bcncath thc manifcst mcaning. His
rccoursc to Machiavc||i is not mcrc|y aprctcxtforpo|cmic, sixofthc
ninc chaptcrsarc dcvotcd to him. Thc critica| rcading imp|ics a ncw
awarcncssof thc tcmpora|ityofthought. Machiavc||iisno|ongcr sccn
as a spokcsman for ccrtain socia| forccs, or as thc originator of a
po|itica| stratcgy to bc uscd by spccihc actors, hc is shown to bc
travcrscd by thc contradiction affccting thc Ita|y of his day. In that
scnsc, it is possib|c to undcrstand Machiavc||i on|y if wc invcstigatc
thc pcriod of thc Rcnaissancc, thc momcnt whcn thc projcct of
|ibcrating Ita|yfrom thc thco|ogico-po|itica| modc| that had comc into
bcingundcrthc doub|c authorityofEmpcrorand Popc bcginstotakc
shapcinbothsocicty andcu|turc.Thcdup|icitythathasbccnascribcd
to thc author of The Prince docs not, as it has somctimcs wrong|y
bccnbc|icvcd, rc|atctohispcrsona|ity,itrcvca|shisthought's inabi|ity
to coincidc with itsc|f in a wor|d in which a dcmand for a ncw right
is bcginning to bc voiccd, but |nwhich a bc|icf |n thc mcdicva| ordcr
l40 Oti Revolution
sti|| pcrsists. That Machiavc||i shou|d dcvotc his book to thc art of
succcss, that hc shou|d bc indiffcrcnt to thc cnds pursucd by actors,
and that hc shou|d at thc samc timc drcam of thc indcpcndcncc and
unityofhisnativc Ita|y isnotasignofhishypocrisyorofhisvcrsati|ity.
of thc mcdicva| cdihcc and thc forccs capab|c of accomp|ishing it. It
was impossib|c forhimtograspthatconncction bccausc thcprincip|c
had yct to bc cmbodicd in rca|ity. A|though traditiona| va|ucs had
bccndcstroycd, anda|though a dcmandforfrccdomofaction, mora|s
and thought had ariscn, thc work of crcation had yct to bc takcn in
thc masscs, who wcrc to p|acc thcir faith in changc. Machiavc||i`s
undcrstandingofhisownpcriod cnab|cdhimtomakcprcdictions, but
that in itsc|fdidnot a||ow him to undcrstandthc princip|cbchind his
ownwork. RcnaissanccIta|ywasaprivi|cgcd arcnafora||thcconßicts
that wcrc |atcr to shakc thc wor|d- c|ass conßicts, po|itica| conßicts,
conßicts bctwccn va|ucs÷ but it was unab|c to cscapc thcyokc ofthc
doub|cauthorityofFopc andEmpcror. 'Atthatpoint,thcRcnaissancc
|cft Ita|ian soi| to bccomc thc Rcformation in Gcrmany and thc
Rcvo|ution in Francc. Its mcn, who wcrc usc|css undcr LcoX, arc
now our truc contcmporarics` (prcfacc). It was a mistakc to vicw
Machiavc||i as thc man who undcrstood thc po|itics of his own timc,
hchasbccomc thcmanwhoundcrstandsthcpo|iticsofFcrrari`stimc,
cvcn though hc is not in a position to grasp thc mcaningof his own
prcdictions. Hc posscsscd a know|cdgc which hc cou|d not cxtract
from his thought, but thc prcscnt can sct it frcc. Thc thcorics which
postcrityinsistson ascribing to him- andthcy arc contradictory- arc
of |itt|c importancc. Fcrrari statcs b|unt|y that. `Hc profcsscs no
princip|cs, hc is as a|icn to thc Midd|c Agcs hc dcspiscs as hc is to
thcmodcrnwor|dofwhichhcknowsnothing`(ibid). Buthiscxpcricncc
of thc mu|tip|c conßicts which arosc out of thc radica| opposition
bctwccn thc O|d and thcNcw cnab|cs him topcrccivc thc a|tcrnativcs
facing thc historica| actors, and to grasp thc |ogic which dctcrmincs
whcthcr thcy wi|| win or |osc- and it is this abi|itywhich makcs him
suggcsts that, insofar as it is thc momcnt of a ncw bcginning and
contains thc dcvc|opmcnta| |aw which wi|| govcrn subscqucnt
Hc furthcr suggcsts that thc ncw c|aboration of a rcvo|
discoursc had,for its part, thc cffcct of concca|ing thc prc-conditions
for a tru|y po|itica| strugg|c, whcrcas Machiavc||i cou|d discovcrthcm
at thc |cvc| of cxpcricncc a|onc. It is, hc imp|ics, sti|| possib|c to
discovcrthcmbyrcadingMachiavc||i. Likcmanyothcrwritcrs,Fcrrari
docsofcoursc invitc hisrcadcrstogo back to Machiavc||i inordcrto
hndthc kcythatwi||un|ockthcdoorsofthcprcscnt. But, aswchavc
sccn, that is not hison|y intcntion. It ismodcrn rcvo|utions that hc|p
Revolution as Principle and Individual 1 41
him to undcrstand thc work of thc F|orcntinc writcr, and that hc|p
him to discovcr thc princip|c thatguidcd himwithout his knowing it.
Andthcdctai|softhccoursctakcnbythosc rcvo|utionsarcc|ucidatcd
by thc princip|c thcy hc|p him to conccivc. Thc timc-diffcrcncc docs
not disappcar, thc intcrprctation is supportcd by a phi|osophy of
Whi|st thc fcrti|ity of this approach must bc rccognizcd, it is a|so
important to cva|uatc thc intcrprctation itsc|f. It rapid|y bccomcs
thc Rcvo|ution is thc modcrn princc. As wc know, Gramsci was |atcr
to idcntify thc princc with thc rcvo|utionary party. Hc cntrusts thc
party with thc missionof trans|ating thc aspirations of thc pro|ctariat
hcro carricd out on bcha|f of thc bourgcoisic. Fcrrari, who, un|ikc
Gramsci, rcfcrs frcqucnt|y to Machiavc||i's writings (and not on|y to
The Prince, buta|soto thc Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio)
sovcrcign who cxp|oits his ministcrs and thcn abandons thcm, who
for timc, and who, in a word, uscs cvcry mcans to achicvc his cnds.
Such a rcprcscntation is not unrc|atcd to thc rcprcscntation of
Frovidcncc that is to bc found in thc |itcraturc of thc pcriod, to that
of thc 'ruscs of rcason`, or cvcn that of thc hiddcn dia|cctic of
communism. Butithasavcryspccia|charactcr. Fcrrari is, aswcsha||
scc, inspircdbyMachiavc||i`saccount ofCcsarc Borgia`scruc|whims,
and hc sccms to crcct a stagc on which thc actors, thc hcrocs of
history, arc forccd to pcrform and disp|ay thcir ta|cnts or thcir |ack
of ta|cnt at thc rcqucst of a cruc| author-dircctor. To put it morc
accuratc|y, hc portrays thc Rcvo|ution both as an author inscarch of
charactcrs and of circumstanccs hc can usc for his p|ot, and as a
spcctator who watchcs thc pcrformancc. This is of coursc a strangc
hction, but itdocs rcvca| somcthingofthc spirit ofthc timcs, namc|y
thc fantasy that a visionary forcc or a vision cou|d crcatc a spcctac|c
and makc it |ast unti| thc timc hna||y camc for it to vanish with thc
dawn of dcmocracy or socia|ism. In that scnsc, |ogicism mcrgcs with
` Wc must thcn acccpt that it is bccausc thc Rcvo|ution itsc|fis thc
suprcmcjudgc that Machiuvc||i can bc dcscribcd as thc judgc of thc
rcvo|utions of our timcs. Hc mcrc|y |cnds thc Rcvo|ution his voicc
and, it must bc rcca||cd, hc docs so without rca|izing it, bccausc hc
docs not undcrstand its princip|c.
Lct us |ook at how Fcrraridcscribcs thc Napo|conic advcnturc in
oncofthc most bri||iant passagcs in hisana|ysis. 'WhoisNapo|con?`
hc asks, and immcdiatc|y rcp|ics, `Ask Machiavc||i` (p. l08). As hc
sccs it,Machiavc||ihasa|rcadyportraycdNapo|con. 'Hcrc,wcsccthc
ncwprincc. ` Oragain,'Thcgcncra|whomarchcsagainstthcfathcr|and
whcn hc has just won victorics on its bcha|f, is thc condotticrc who,
l42 On Revolution
by acting quick|y,

outwits thc suspicions of thc Rcpub|ic which,
accord109 to Machtavc|h,shou|dbc ungratcfu|, andwhich, according
toSicycs,should have him shot' (ibid).Napo|conknowshowtogovcrn,
howto makcth

pcop|c|ovcandfcarhim,how to forgc anarmythat
tsdcvotcd to htm, how to surround himsc|fwith goodadviscrs, and
how to rctain his frccdom to makcdccisions, but his position is such
that hc comcs up against thc grcatcst difhcu|ty that any princc can
cncountcr. hc appcars in thc midst of a pcop|c which is accustomcd
to |iving in a principa|ity. but which has suddcn|y bccomc frcc. His
fatc is bound up with thc Rcpub|ic, but hc can cxpcct nothing from
tts supportcrs, thc on|y way hc can rid himsc|f of his cncmics is to
cstab|ish an a|most roya| authority. Thatauthorityisconfcrrcd onhim
'by thc intcrcstsofthcncwfrccdom itsc|f` (p. l lO). Andso, 'His ro|c
is mappcd out in advancc. Napo|con wi|| march against both thc o|d
monarchyandthcncwrcpub|ic. . .`'Hcuscsthc|awsofthcRcvo|ution
(p. l | |) . Hc crcatcs ncw namcs, promotcs ncw mcn, crcatcs an
aristocracy,andfoundsan cmpirc. Butinthc |ongtcrm hcfa||svictim
to a

adiction. 'c is a princc who cannot ru|c un|css rc|igion
supphcs htm wtth anìmagc that wi|| rctainforhim thc rcspcct of thc
pcop|c, hctstornbctwccn thc ncwrc|igion ofthc Fathcr|and and thc
o|d rc|igionofthckings,hc bctraysonc bysigning thcConcordat and
bydcmanding to bccrowncd,and thcn bctraysthc othcrbyattacking
thc Popc.
By rc|ying on forcc of arms, hc can subduc Europc. But,
oncc agam, hc provcs unab|c to choosc bctwccn thc ro|c of thc

and thc mission of thc |ibcrator. Hc hcsitatcs to put
Machtavc|hs tcachmgs mto practtcc. Rathcr than cxtcrminating thc
dynastics of his cncmics and |aying wastc thcir kingdoms, hc |cavcs
thcm intact, and thcrcforcstokcsup thcñrcsofrcbc||ion cvcrywhcrc.
And whcn thc fortuncs of war turn against him, a univcrsa| coa|ition
tsformcd against him. 'Thisis a rcpub|ican and a monarchica| war, a
dcmocraticand roya|istwaragainst a man who is ncithcr a rcpub|ican
nor a tyrant` (pp. l ! J-l l4). Thc who|c ana|ysis is punctuatcd with
frcqucnt quotations. Machiavc||i sccms to bc spc||ingout thc a|tcrna-
ttvcs, to bc tracing a dividing |inc bctwccn thc possib|c and thc
Hc ts thcrcforc Napo|con`sjudgc. But ñna||y thc curtain
bcforc hìm, Napo|con fa||s from powcr. 'Who thcn, is thc abso|utc
mastcr, thc abstract princc to whom so many grcat victims wcrc
sacrihccd7` asks Fcrrari. 'Thc Rcvo|ution, whcncvcr an instrumcnt
bccomcs odious to it, it brcaks it in accordancc with Machiavc||i's
prcccpt that thc pcop|c shou|d bc appcascd and stupchcd (satisfaUi e
(p. l l4).

princc is no |ongcr Napo|con, who was momcntari|y
tdcntìhcd wtth Machiavc||i`s crcation. And nor is thc princc a modc|
can bc rcprcscntcd by an idca| actor within thc po|itica| hc|d,
thc pnncc or thc truc mastcr stands outsidcthathc|d, and constructs
Revolution as Principle and Individual l4J
athcatrcinwhichthcpcrformcrsdcstroyoncanothcr.Thc fìna|imagc
of thc pcoplc bc
mg appcascd and stupchcd is quitc rcmarkab|c. It is
of coursc rcmtnìsccnt of an cpisodc in Borgia`s carccr which is so
famous that Fcrrari rcfrainsfrom mcntioning it, un|css. pcrhaps, it is
that hc ts rc|uctant to makc an cxp|icit comparison bctwccn thc
Rcvo|ution and that haughty, cynica| tyrant. Machiavc||i dcscribcs
how, having cntrustcd a cruc| and cfhcicnt man with thc mission of
rcstoring ordcr in thc Romagna - thc provincc had unti| thcn bccn
dominatcd by minor nob|cmcn and robbcr barons- Dukc Va|cntino
tookthcopportunityto ridhimsc|fofhishcnchmanbccauschcfcarcd
that his rcputation might damagc his own. Hc thcn rcstagcs thc
cxccutton sccnc for thc rcadcr. 'Ccsarc waitcd for his opportunity,
thcnonc morning, Rcmirro`sbodywasfoundcutin twopicccson thc
piazza at Ccscna, with a b|oody knifc bcsidc it. Thc bruta|ity of this
spcctac|c kcpt thc pcop|c of thc Romagna for a timc appcascd and
stupihcd.` Machiavc||i thus invitcs thc rcadcr to takc in at a g|ancc
both thc spcctac|c and thc stupchcd pub|ic, but hc a|so invitcs him to
imaginc Borgia, to imaginc thc prcscncc of thc mastcr as hc
contcmp|atcs thc picturc hc has crcatcd. Wc|| awarc of thc cffcct hc
is crcating, Fcrrari takcsthcp|accofMachiavc||i,rcp|accsBorgia with
ofi||ustriousvictimswho havc fa||cn sincc l789 Fina||y, hc |cavcs his
rcadcr to imaginc thc gazc of thc Rcvo|ution as it watchcs thc drama
it has stagcd.
Fcrrari`s critiquc of Machiavc||i appcarsto bc govcrncd by his dcsirc

lt ts bascd upon a rc-cva|uation of conßicts whosc mcaning thc
F|orcntincwritcrfai|cdtorccognizc,anditthcrcforc imp|icsan attack
on thc abstract thcory which, as a rcsu|t of that misrccognition,
subordinatcs action to thc individua|. And yct, thc dcnia|swhich our
authorforccs himsc|fto makc, hisomissions, and thc arbitrary naturc
of his rcconstruction of both thc history of lta|y and Machiavc||i`s
thought arc a|so worthy of attcntion. His proofs arc dcsigncd to
promotc an aim which hc docs not mcntion by namc. to providc a
hgurativc rcprcscntation of thc princip|c ofthc Rcvo|ution which wi||
makc concrctc thc dctcrminations of thc modcrn individua|. At thc
cnd of thc ana|ysis, thc Rcvo|ution is shown to bc morc than a forcc
in which thc Wor|d Spirit is cmbodicd. it is posscsscd of know|cdgc,
a wi|| and passions, and it acts in sccrct, motivatcd by thc ambitions
of thcparvenu.
ln his attcmpt to rcconstruct thc rca|ity of thc conßicts which. hc
for powcr, Fcrrari forcgrounds thc antagonism bctwccn thc Guc|phs
and thc Ghibc||incs, and makcs it thc motor-forcc bchind Ita|ian
history unti| thc ninctccnth ccntury. A|though hc notcs at onc point
that cvcryonc had bccomc a Guc|ph ty thc timc of thc Rcnaissancc,
l44 On Revolution
hc nccds thcsc imaginaryactors in ordcr totracc a |inc ofdcmarcation
bctwccn thc mcdicva| wor|d and thc modcrnwor|d, and to provc that
Machiavc||i undcrstood ncithcr. Hc cxp|oits thc strugg|c bctwccn thc
two factions to cxp|ain Ita|y's pro|ongcd subjcction to thc Fopcs and
Empcrors,anddocsnothcsitatcto dcscribconc Fopcasa Ghibc||inc
bccausc hc forms ana||ianccwith Spain orAustria, asthoughthco|d
princip|c survivcd unchangcd in thc ncw monarchics, and as though
thcy wcrc impcria| in namc on|y. A|though hc disp|ays a dctai|cd
undcrstanding of thc history of F|orcncc, hc rcfuscs to scc that thc
mcn whom thc dcfcndcrs of Guc|ph orthodoxy accuscd of bcing
Ghibc||incsin thcfourtccnthccnturywcrc`progrcssivc'c|cmcnts, that
thcy madc a forccfu| contribution to thc cmancipationofstatc powcr
that ccrtain of thcm formu|atcd thc grcat thcscs of civic humanism;
or,hna||y,thatmostofthcmwcrcuomini nuovi whohadon|yrcccnt|y
bccomc citizcns and who camc into conßict with thc conscrvativc
faction of thc o|d bourgcoisic. Indccd, Machiavc||i is criticizcd for
comparing thc uphcava| causcd by thc Ciompi with thc p|cbcian
uprisings of thc Roman Rcpub|ic, whcrcas hcshou|d havc sccn it as
an cxprcssion of a Ghibc||inc p|ot. This cxtraordinary judgcmcnt is
contradicts it whcn, in cvoking !unc l848, hc asks c|scwhcrc. `What
is this strugg|c? It is thc war bctwccn thc p|cbcians and thc big
bourgcoisic of F|orcncc, bctwccn thc thin pcop|c and thcfatpcop|c,
thc Ciompi and thc popolani' (p. l l9). It is a|so to bc notcd that,
dcspitc hisobstinatcdcsirc to discrcditMachiavc||i'svision ofhistory,
hc is atonc point quitc prcparcd to contrastit with Dantc`svision. If
Fcrrari is to bc bc|icvcd, Dantc undcrstood nothing of thc timcs in
which hc |ivcd, whcrcas `Machiavc||i . . . idcntiñcs with thc grcat
rcbc||ion . . . Hcundcrstandson|yrcpub|icsand|ords. . . Hcaddrcsscs
himsc|fto thc Rcnaissancc, hcwantsitto comp|ctc itsgrcat task, and
itiswith that cnd invicwthat hctcachcs itthc grcat art ofrcbc||ion`
(p. 5J).
Thcsc inconsistcncics wou|d bc of |itt|c intcrcst, wcrc it not that if
wc idcntify thcm, wc wi|| bc in a bcttcr position to dctcct thc artihcc
on which Fcrrari rc|icsbothforhis basiccriticisms and forhis ovcra||
projcct. Aswchavc a|rcadysaid, hisbasiccriticismisthatMachiavc||i
conhncshimsc|ftodchningthca|tcrnativcsthatarc avai|ab|ctoactors,
as though thcy cnjoycd comp|ctcfrccdom of action indcpcndcnt|y of
thc issucs which dctcrminc thcir rcspcctivc positions. 'Thousands of
dup|icitousadviscrsappcarcd. . .

Thcygavcconspirators advicc, thcy
informcd princcs about how conspiracicswcrcdcvc|oping,cvcrycivi|-
war situation was cxhaustcd by a sort of casuistry' (p. 2l ). Fcrrari
takcs this obscrvation much furthcr by dcnouncing thc i||usion that a
subjcct can frcc himsc|f, not on|y from thc constraints of any givcn
situation, but a|so from thc constraints imposcd on him by his own
Revolution as Principle and Individual l45
Thcartofsucccssforccsthcindividua|to bc byturns a |ibcrator
and a tyrant, to carcss and to ki||, to bc bcncvo|cnt and
b|oodthirsty, as though wc cou|d choosc to go against our own
naturc, our own passions and our own idcas, as though our ro|c
in thc wor|d wcrc not thc |ogica| outcomc of a primary givcn
which makcs it impossib|c to p|ay both ro|cs. (p. 29)
charms of a know|cdgc which abo|ishcs a|| thc dctcrminations of
human bcings and things.
Fcrrari borrowsfrom Machiavc||i on|y what hccan uscforhisown
purposcs: a thcory of action which hc wants to disprovc, but which,
paradoxica||y, hcrcinstatcsbytransposingitontoadiffcrcnt rcgistcr.
Hc dcnounccs thc vicw that thc individua| is thc mastcr ofhis actions
as a ñction, but takcs up thc idca of mastcry and associatcs it with
thcRcvo|ution. HavingdiscrcditcdthcartofsucccsswhichMachiavc||i
issupposcdto havctaughthispo|itica|actors, hcinfactrcappropriatcs
it in ordcr to rcvca| its hiddcn mcaning:
Thcrc is onc thing hc did not think of, onc goa| that hcdid not
forcscc,and it isthat goa|that hc attains. Machiavc||i`sgrcatart
is csscntia||y a sccrct art. Lct us divu|gc thc sccrct. It is an
individua| art, if wc brcak this symbo| of thc individua|, and
rcp|acc individua|s with princip|cs, wc hnd that Machiavc||i has
out|incd a thcory of princip|cs that havc succccdcd, by whtch I
mcan a thcory of a|| thc succcssfu| rcvo|utions that havc takcn
p|acc in thc wor|d. (ibid)
'Lct usdivu|gc thc sccrct` . . . thc formu|a has a|rcady bccn uscd to
rchabi|itatcthc authorof The Prince. 'Brcakthcsymbo|'- thìsimagc,
which is probab|y morc rcccnt, occurs in a vcry diffcrcnt rcgistcr in
thc work of writcrs who scc thc Gospc|s as a codcd history of thc
Frcnch Rcvo|ution, and 1csus Christ as thc thin|y disguiscd hgurc of
humanity coming into its own prcscncc. But Fcrrari docs not bc|icvc
that Machiavc||i knows thcsccrctof hisown art, un|ikc1can-1acqucs
Rousscau, hc docs not say that Machiavc||i cducatcd pcop|cs whi|st
prctcnding to givc |cssons to princcs. Nor docs hc invokc

spcaks through Machiavc||i without his rca|izing it, and it spcaks its
own namc whi|st wcaring thc mask of an individua|. Wc havc to
rccognizc that thc Rcvo|ution has thc pow¢r that is naivc|y as

to thc individua|. Thc Rcvo|ution is thc abso|utc mastcr, and it has
thc powcr to manipu|atc both hui
an bcin

s and things. It i

ab|c to
takc on any ro|c, and it can combtnc thc vtcwpotntofthc pnncc wìth
thatofthcconspirator, ascircumstanccsdcmand. A|thoug� thc hctio
of an individua| who isfrcc to carcss or to ki|| must bc rcjcctcd, ttIS
a fact, and it has to bc rccognizcd as such, that cvcry Rcvo|ution
l46 all Revolutioll
`inspircs |ovc bcforc it massacrcs its cncmics, towards thc midd|c of
thc cightccnth ccntury, thc Rcvo|ution was haunting thc courts and
was carcssing pcop|c, a fcw ycars |atcr it turncd to ki||ing` (ibid). It
is absurd to crcdit thc Frincc with having thc abi|ity to `disp|acc
ccntrcs, wca|th and mcn`, thc Rcvo|ution, on thc othcr hand, docs
indccd havc that abi|ity.
Our author obvious|y undcrstands thc qucstionformu|atcd at thc
bcginningof The Prince - 'How to win and rctain powcr`- to bc no
morc than an introduction to a discussion of thc art of succcss. Hc
has ofcoursc cxp|orcd thc who|c ofMachiavc||i`s work, andrcads it
with subt|cty. But hc wishcs to rcstrict thc discussion to this onc
qucstion. Hchasbccnscduccd bythcrcprcscntationofañc|dofforcc
which is objcctihcd by thc gazc ofthc individua| who ho|ds thc most
powcr, or who aspircs to doing so. Hc fa||s undcr thc spc|| of thc
scqucnccofhypothcscsand choiccs whichrcvca|sthcbri||ianccofthc
actor. But hc rcfuscs to cxp|orc thc basisof powcr, or thc institution
andcxcrciscofpowcr. Inhisvicw,thcdistinctionbctwccnthcrcpub|ic
and thc monarchy has no pcrtincncc within thc framcwork of
Machiavc||i`s thcory, it is, hc bc|icvcs, on|y thc individua| F|orcntinc
who prcfcrs thc formcr to thc |attcr. Hc is thcrcforc unab|c to
undcrstand that it is bccausc of his mcditations upon thc naturc of
thc ro|c of a princc is prcfcrab|c to that of a rcpub|ic, that, whcn a
ru|ing c|ass is at its most corrupt, thc cffccts of incqua|ity can bc
curbcd on|y by roya| or quasi-roya| authority, and that. for thc vcry
samc rcason, a rcpub|icissti|| thcbcst rcgimcbccauscon|ya rcpub|ic
can, whcn conditions arc favourab|c, a||ow thc cncrgicsofthc pcop|c
to bc mobi|izcd. Wc said that Fcrrari rcfuscs to undcrstand this, but
thc comparison drawn bctwccn diffcrcnt rcgimcs in thc Discorsi docs
not in fact cscapc his noticc. Hc docs, howcvcr, fai| to rccognizc its
import bccausc hc cannot grasp thc idca that any po|itica| socicty is
organizcd aroundaccntra|divisionbctwccn thcpcop|candthcgrcat,
bctwccnthcdcsircto command and to opprcss, and thc dcsirc not to
bc commandcd, not to bc opprcsscd. It is thcthought ofthisdivision
which somctimcs |cads Machiavc||i to cxprcss thc vicw that thc
opprcssion of a ru|ing Hass in a rcpub|ic may bc morc oncrous than
thc opprcssionofa princc, bccausc aprincccan curbthc inso|cncc of
thc nobi|ity. In morcgcncra| tcrms, it is thc idca of thisdivision and
thc critiquc of thc naivc bc|icf that a community of intcrcsts and
aspirations can bc cmbodicd in a goodgovcrnmcnt that |cads him to
|ook at thc variousmodcsofpowcr`s inscrtion into thc socia| who|c.
Fcrrari says nothingabout thcsc mcditations, about thc nccd forthc
princc to havc a popu|ar basc, or about thc possibi|ity ofan a||iancc
bctwccn thc princc`s dcsirc to dominatc, which can on|y bc rca|izcd
at thccxpcnscofthc Grcat, and thc pcop|c`sdcsircfor|ibcrty, which
ofthc Grcat. Hcvicws Machiavc||i`sconsidcrations as to thc qua|itics
Revolution a Principle and Individual l47
of thc princc simp|y as a |csson addrcsscd to an individua|. without
sccing that thc wi|cs of thc princc arc a rcsponsc to thc wi|cs which
thc pcop|c`sdcsircfor |ibcrty and at thc samc timc cmbody thc causc
of thc pub|ic good, and bccausc, bcing unab|c to dominatc without
ccasing to bc thc pcop|c, thc pcop|c arc doomcd to bc dcccivcd. A
simi|ar vci| is cast ovcr thc foundations of princc|y powcr and thc
foundations ofthc rcpub|ic. Fcrrari rcgards thc modc| of thc Roman
Rcpub|ic as a rctrogradc utopia. Hc thcrcforc cannot apprcciatc thc
and thc dcmand for |ibcrty as thc sourcc of thc grandcur of Romc,
whichdcstroys thc p|acc that is traditiona||y assigncd to thc |aw-givcr
- thc p|acc of an individua| who is bc|icvcd to posscss po|itica|
know|cdgc, and which rcvca|s thc virtucs of a powcr which is
cha||cngcd, which is condcmncd to an cnd|css scarch for its own
ThispartofMachiavc||i`sdiscourscrcmainsopaquc to him bccausc
of thc goa| hc has sct himsc|f. How cou|d hc invcst thc Rcvo|ution
to thc status ofabso|utc mastcr, ifhc had to addrcss thc qucstion of
socia| division, if hc had to acccpt thc idca that powcr is a|ways
implicated in thc division it ovcrcomcs? Thc on|y division Fcrrari
rccognizcs isa division bctwccntwoprincip|cs,andhcp|accsthcstagc
ofhistory undcr thc sign of thcir antagonism - an antagonism whosc
outcomc is, morcovcr, known in advancc, as thc princip|c of thc
Rcvo|utionisthcprincip|cofmodcrnity itsc|f,thcconqucring princip|c
in which thc truth ofthc futurc rcsidcs.
of thc contcnt of thc princip|c tcnds to vanish. Yct Fcrrari is most
ccrtain|y intcrcstcd in its contcnt. Hc hints at thc advcnt of a frcc
socicty, at thc disappcarancc not on|y of thc o|d monarchica| ordcr
but a|so of thc incqua|itics to which modcrn capita|ism givcs risc, at
thc advcnt of po|itica| and socia| dcmocracy, at its cxtcnsion bcyond
thc bourgcoisic, and at thc comp|ction of thc work bcgun by thc
proc|amation ofthc rightsofman. But adistinction is thcnintroduccd
bctcwcn thc mcaningofthcRcvo|ution and thc idcaofitsaction, and
it isthisthat makcsthc rcconstruction ofpost- l789 historysocurious.
Evcnts arc judgcd in tcrms ofthc critcrion of thc princip|c`s success,
but its cnds and its mcans arc not comparcd. Wc thus havc, for
cxamp|c, not an apo|ogia for thc Tcrror, but a co|d cvocation of thc
Tcrror asan opcration that can bcdcduccdfrom thc Rcvo|utìon, and
nodiscussion ofthc contradiction bctwccn !acobinopprcssion andthc
idca| of |ibcrty. At a morc gcncra| |cvc|, thisgivcs risc to thc idca of
an incvitab|c proccss in thc coursc of which mcn arc crushcd by thc
princip|c bccausc thcy cannot scrvc it to thc vcry cnd, or bccausc
circumstanccs rcstrict thc choiccs avai|ab|c to thcm. In thc coursc of
l48 011 Revoilltioll
his rcconstruction, Fcrrari somctimos gocs bcyond thc |imitations of
his thcory, and it wou|d thcrcforc bc wrong to rcstrict discussion to
that |cvc|. Thc pagcs hc dcvotcs to dcscribing how thc Frcnch
Rcvo|ution a|ways had to bc bcgun ancw, and how thc Ita|ian
Rcvo|ution was a|ways b|ockcd arc amongst thc hncst in hìs work,
and thcy a|onc justify its intcrcst. Hc is onc of thc vcry fcw writcrs
to scc thc scqucncc of rcvo|utions and coups d`ctat which bcgan in
l 789 as asing|chistorica|advcnturc andto |ookintoitsfuturc.Taking
his inspiration from Machiavc||i, hc admirab|y rcvca|s both thc
tosco thcu|timatcconscqucnccs ofthcchoiccsthcy madc. Bysi|cnt|y
adopting thc vcry approach hc c|aims to bc discrcditing, hc ironica||y
unvci|s thc miscry of a wor|d in which pcop|c can bc `ncithcr tota||y
good nor tota||y ovi|`. Onc scnscs that, having bccn struck by thc
mcdiocrity ofLouis-Fhi|ippc, hc sccs thcjuste milieu as a kcy notion
which can bc rc|atcd to that of thc via media
which Machiavc||i
dcnounccsso round|y, andthat it is thisthatinspircsbothFcrrari and
his modo| to makc such a corrosivc ana|ysis of rcgimcs which cannot
hnd any basc in thc pcop|c. A critiquc which pursucs thc historica|
actorsinto thcirowntcrritory in ordcr to pinpoint thc momcnt whcn
thcirundcrstandingofncccssity fai|sthcmcan thcrcforc cvcntua||ybc
combincd with an imagcofthc prcscnt asbcingunab|c to providc an
answcr to thc prob|cm ofdcmocracy, and with thc condcmnation of
both vo|untarism and activism in po|itics. But it is of coursc bccausc
of his outragcous thcory that thc Rcvo|ution dispc|s a|| doubts that
Fcrrari capturcs our attcntion so compc||ing|y.
Thc paradox of a history which is p|aycd out bchind thc backs of
human bcingsand yct sti||givcs thcm thcir |ibcrty, thc mytho|ogyof
ofthc Rcvo|ution arc u|timatc|y condcmncd intoso manysignsofthc
passagcofthc Rcvo|ution, thc proud rcso|vc to cntcr into a pact with
thc cvi|s of thc day - thcsc arc c|cmcnts in an acsthctics of po|itics
which wi|| haunt thc modcrn imagination for a |ong timc to comc. It
wi|| bc rcca||cd that Baudc|airo was onc of Fcrrari`s fcw admircrs.
cssayon |itcrary dandyism tohim.That initsc|frcvca|sthc modcrnity
of a thcorist who saw thc Rcvo|ution as a grcat individua|.
Rereading The Communist
Is is sti|| possib|c to rcad Marx7 ls it possib|c to rcad him without
adopting thc historian`s approach7 Is it sti|| possib|c to hnd in his
writings a stimu|us to thought, to cstab|ish a dia|oguc with him, and
dothcqucstionshc dcrivcdfrom thccxpcricnccofhistimccnrichthc
qucstions which thc cxpcricncc of our timc forccs us to addrcss? In
fact that Marxism is now in a statc of dccay docs not, as ccrtain
frivo|ouscriticsbc|icvc, mcun thatMarx`sworkno |ongcrhasanything
to say to us. Thc truth is that his thcscs arc |css important than thc
road hc travc||cd in his attcmpt to brcakwith thc various currcnts of
tradition andtotryto undcrstandthcncwwor|dthatwastakingshapc
in ninctccnth-ccntury Europc, |css important than his attcmpt to scc
bcyond cconomic and po|itica| institutions, bcyond phi|osophica|,
rc|igious and mora| rcprcscntations, to grasp thc mcaning of thc
practiccsonwhich thcy arc bascd, thc princip|c of thcirgcncsis, and,
atthcsamctimc, toacquircagcncra| undcrstandingofsocia| rc|ations
and historica| dcvc|opmcnt. Thcrc is ccrtain|y good rcason to bc|icvc
that thc undcrtaking bccamc cmbroi|cd in ccrtain contradictions, and
thatitgavc birthtoi||usionswhich |atcrfuc||cdatota|itarian idco|ogy.
Butwc cannotthcrcforcconc|udcthatthctaskwasundcrtakcninvain
or that on|y its fai|urc is instructivc. Evcn if it wcrc truc that Marx
cou|d do no morcthanosci||atcbctwccnrationa|ismandirrationa|ism,
vo|untarismand fata|ism, cxtrcmc subjcctivism and cxtrcmc objcctiv-
ism, wc wou|d sti|| bc faccd with thc task of asscssing his intcntions
and of discovcring how hc attcmpts to ovcrcomc thosc oppositions-
and thc task is a|| thc morc |cgitimatc in that othcrs who camc aftcr
him a|sotricd to hnd aformu|athatcou|dtransccnd thcm, and in that
wc arc sti|| |ookingfor it. Evcn ifitwcrc truc that hcdid not succccd
in conccptua|izing both thc spccihcity of thc human wor|d and its
imp|ication in thc wor|d of naturc, or in c|aborating a distinction
bctwccn thc rca| and thc imaginary that docs not divorcc onc from
thc othcr, wc wou|d sti|| havc toadmit that his work ofintcrprctation
l5O On Revolution
sti|| bcars thc imprint of this objcctivc. Evcn if wc must u|timatc|y
dcnouncc his fai|urc to rccognizc thc naturc ofpo|itics and conc|udc
that itisi||usory to rcduccittothccffccts ofc|assrc|ationswhich arc
that wc must rcturn to thc grcat wc||springs of po|itica| phi|osophy,
which had, in Marx`s vicw, dricd up, wc wou|d bc wrong to ignorc
thc fact that cvcn that rcso|vc owcs a grcat dca| to our acquaintancc
with his work, and that no scrious invcstigation into thc po|itica| can
cscapc thc qucstionofthc socia|.
Why do I makc thisdistinctionbctwccnMarx'sthcscsandthcbody
ofwork which contains thcm? Bccausc his work, |ikc any intc||cctua|
work, cannot bc rcduccd to thc asscrtions it contains. Bccausc wc
wouId |ook in vain for any signs of a rccti|incar path |cading from a
starting point to a conc|usion. His work rcvca|s thc mark of thc
obstac|cs thought crcatcs for itsc|fthrough thc cxcrcisc of thought, if
it rcsists thc tcmptations of forma| dcduction, ifit dcdicatcs itsc|f to
intcrprcting that which cxcccds it and rcsponds to thc attractions of
that which c|udcs its grasp. Whi|st thcscs, bccausc of thcir asscrtivc
powcr, ob|igc thc imp|icd rcadcr cithcr to acccpt thcm or to rcjcct
thcm,a work asks to bc rcad bccausc itopcnsupthc possibi|ityofan
intimatc dcbatc with thc thought that movcs through it. It is in that
scnsc that Marx'swork sti||spcaksto thc rcadcr. Or, to putitanothcr
way,itisbccausc Marxis notaMarxist(andwcknowthathcrcjcctcd
that dcscription with irritation) that hc is sti|| a|ivc. A Marxist knows
how to dchnc a modc ofproduction, socia| c|asscs, rc|ations bctwccn
basc and supcrstructurc, and thc scqucncc of socia| formations. But
for Marx, as hc is writing, thc signihcancc of thcsc conccpts is not
cstab|ishcdinadvancc, hcdiscovcrsitbyraisingqucstionsandthrough
thc work of intcrprctation. Thcir signihcancc is disp|accd from onc
booktoanothcr,orcvcnwithinthcspaccofasing|cbook- cspccia||y
in Capital, thc mostimportant ofa||. Hc is not afraid ofcxposing his
argumcnt to contradictions, and thc digrcssions hc is forccd to makc
whcn hc cxamincs ncw phcnomcna rcintroducc ambiguitics which
sccmcd to havc bccn dispc||cd. Thus, thc notion of thc modc of
production is shakcnbythcana|ysisoforicnta|dcspotism.Thc imagc
of a sing|c history govcrncd by thc dcvc|opmcnt of thc productivc
forccs brcaks down in thc facc of that of a brcak bctwccn modcrn
capita|ism and a|| prccapita|ist.forms. Thc idca that socia| rc|ations
hna||y bccomc transparcnt in thc bourgcois wor|d is contradictcd by
its organs, and by thc imagc of bourgcois rcvo|utionarics as bcing
hauntcd by ghosts which whispcr thcir |incs to thcm.·
Marx`s work docs not coincidc withitsc|f. Bccausc itopcns itsc|fup
to thc rcadcr in this way, it givcs him thc abi|ity to cxp|orc it, to
cxprcss doubts or objcctions, to rcturn to his own conccrns as hc
comcs to know it.
Rereading Thc Communist Manifcsto | 5l
Butdocs notthisdcfcncc ofthcwork ofMarxgivc risc to afurthcr
qucstion?Canwcsti||rcadthcManifesto? By `rcading`, Idonot mcan
cxamining it as a documcnt or trcating itas an cpisodc in thc history
of idcas (a vicw which its author wou|d ccrtain|y havc rcjcctcd) , I
to that attraction and forgctting thc distancc that scparatcs past from
prcscnt. It mightbcobjcctcdthatthcqucstionisfut¡|c,thatwca|rcady
knowthcanswcrin that,a|thoughitwasp|anncdinco||aborationwith
Engc|s and writtcn in thc namc of thc Communists, thc Manifesto is
vcry much part of Marx`s (uvre, and is, indccd, pcrhaps thc most
importantpartofit. Forcount|cssrcadcrsa||ovcrthcwor|d,itcontains
thc founding fathcr`s grcat mcssagc, mi||ions of mi|itants |ay c|aim to
thc scicncc ofCapital, but this isinfact thc on|y tcxt with which thcy
arc fami|iar. Not on|y did Marx ncvcr rcjcct it, at thc cnd of his |ifc
hc dcscribcd it asthc bcst introduction to his work. Yct this is not an
adcquatc answcr. For is it contradictory to acccpt, on thc onc hand,
that wccan rcad thc Manifesto and comparc it with Marx`s othcr
writings, providcd that wc pay attcntion to cvcrything wc hnd thcrc
that undcrmincs itsccrtaintics, and,on thcothcr hand, to say that, if
wc rcad on|y thc Manifesto and apprchcnd itinitsc|f, it no|ongcr has
thc powcr to takc ho|d ofus? Wc||, that is infact myvicw.
It is truc that this imp|ics that wc must rcvisc our initia| argumcnt.
It is, I said, bccausc hc is not a Marxist that Marx is sti|| a|ivc. I
obscrvcd that hc dcnicd bcing a Marxist, and thus suggcstcd that
Marxism is thc work of his cpigoncs. This is no morc than a ha|f-
truth. Oncc wc admit that his thought is irrcducib|c to what Lcnin-
Marxism, Sta|in-Marxism, Trotsky-Marxism and Mao-Marxism havc
madc of it, wc havc to acccpt that thcrc is such a thing as Marx-
Marxism, and that it hnds its purcstcxprcssion in thc Manifesto. Thc
Manifesto issc|f-containcd, it spcaks thc truth about thc truth, and it
|cavcs thc rcadcr outsidc. It is of coursc a monumcnt. But is it not
Marx`s spiritua| mauso|cum, thc mauso|cum hcbui|twith hispcn,and
bywhosc wa||son|ypi|grims may rcst?
A thinkcr's rcprcscntation of his, own work is indccd a strangc
phcnomcnon. Marx|ikcd tosay that he hadabandoncdthcmanuscript
of The German Ideology to `thc gnawingcriticism of thc micc`. Thc
micc ncvcr appcarcd, and thc book |ivcs on. On thc othcr hand, hc
cxpcctcd thc Manifesto to dcfy timc itsc|f (or at |cast to |ast as |ong
as pcop|c sti|| fc|t thc nccd to rcad it). Pcrhaps hc did givc dcath its
duc. Pcrhaps thc Manifesto simp|y owcs its succcss to thc work of
othcrmicc,whocarricd what hasbccomc thc ho|ygrai|ofCommunism
to micc thc wor|dovcr.
Invoicingthisopinion, I am notsuggcstingthat thcdoctrinc hasits
good sidc and its bad sidc. That suggcstion wou|d sti|| invo|vc us in a
Marxist dcbatc which has, I bc|icvc, |ost a|| its |cgitimacy. I am
suggcsting somcthing vcry diffcrcnt, namc|y that wc must rccognizc
thc cxistcncc of Marx thc thinkcr, without concca|ing thc fact that hc
I52 On Revolution
himsc|f stißcd his own thought in ordcr to attain an invu|ncrab|c
know|cdgcand that, inattcmptingtooccupythatposition, hcco||udcd
in thc advcnturc that bcfc|| him as Marxist scicncc bccamc conjoincd
with a powcrstriving to makc itsc|f invu|ncrab|c. In that rcspcct, thc
statusofthcManifesto sccmsquitcrcmarkab|c. Atthismomcnt,Marx
sccms momcntari|y to havc stoppcd thinking, as it wcrc, or cvcn to
havc tricd not to think inordcr to dcscribc things as thcy rca||y arc,
to dcscribc thc coursc ofhistory as though it wcrc simp|y waiting to
bc namcd. Thc powcr of i||usion is of coursc immcnsc. But oncc it
has bccn dispc||cd, wcsccon|ythcartihccsofa paintinginwhich wc
hnd no morc than signs of a sty|c and a pcriod.
In an car|y commcnt on thc dcc|inc of Marxism, Mcr|cau-Ponty
attcmptsto uncovcrthc thought that |icsburicd bcncath thcìdco|ogy.
In thc introduction to Signs, hc writcs:
Thc history of thought docs not summari|y pronouncc. This is
truc, this is fa|sc. Likc a|| history, it has its vci|cd dccisions. It
dismant|cs or cmba|ms ccrtain doctrincs, changing thcm into
"mcssagcs¨ormuscumpicccs.Thcrc arcothcrs,onthccontrary,
which it kccps activc . . . bccausc, as ob|igatory stcps for thosc
who want to go furthcr, thcy rctain an cxprcssivc powcr which
cxcccds thcir statcmcnts and propositions. Thcsc doctrincs arc
thc classics. Thcyarcrccognizab|c by thcfactthat no onc takcs
thcm |itcra||y, and yct ncw facts arc ncvcr abso|utc|y outsidc
thcir provincc but ca|| forth ncw cchocs from thcm and rcvca|
ncw|ustrcsinthcm. Wcarcsayingthatarc-cxaminationofMarx
wou|d bc a mcditationonac|assic,and thatitcou|dnotpossib|y
tcrminatc in a nihil obstat or a |isting on thc Indcx.I
Whcn I rcad thcsc |incs for thc hrst timc, I was immcdiatc|y
convinccd. Thcy sti|| sccm pcrtincnt today, subjcct to onc proviso.
history haschangcd Marx into a c|assic, but it hasa|so cmba|mcd thc
c|cmcnt of Marxism in his work. It has changcdthc Manifesto into a
muscum piccc.
Thc Manifesto opcns with a prcamh|c informing us asto itscharactcr
and function. Lct us rcca|| its starIing point. 'A spcctrc is haunting
Europc - thc spcctrc ·f Communism. A|| thc powcrs ofo|d Europc
havc cntcrcd intoaho|ya||ianccto cxcrciscthisspcctrc` (p. 80). `This
is apparcnt|y astatcmcnt offact. Marx drawstwo conc|usions. hrst|y,
that Communism is univcrsa||y rccognizcd as apowcr(thc hatrcd and
fcar it inspircs arc adcquatc proofof that - |ics and |cgcndscannot
concca| an incontrovcrtib|c fact) , and, sccond|y, that 'It is high timc
that thc Communists shou|d opcn|y, in thc facc of thc who|c wor|d,
pub|ish [offen dariegen ] thcir vicws, thcir aims, thcir tcndcncics . . . '
Marx docs not put forward thcsc conc|usions in his own namc. 'To
this cnd,' hc writcs, 'thc Communists of various nationa|itics havc
Rereading Thc Communist Manifcsto I5J
asscmb|cd in London, and skctchcd thcfo||owing manifcsto . . . ' Thc
author rcmains in thc background, hc is mcrc|y a mouthpiccc for thc
Communists. Thc rcadcr rcmains i||-dchncd. thc Communists arc
pub|ishing thcir vicws, thcir aims and thcir tcndcncics in thc facc of
thc who|c wor|d. Thc Manifesto c|aims to bc a purc cxposition. And
itisancxpositionina morcprofound scnsc than thcworditsc|fmight
suggcst. It is pub|ishcd in thc facc of thc who|c wor|d, and it is an
into thc fu|| |ight of day for thc hrst timc causcs thc wor|d itsc|f to
arc not formu|ating thcir vicws, aims and tcndcncics from within a
particu|ar position, a|though thcy arc pub|ishing in thc facc of thc
wor|d, thcy arc not, paradoxica||y cnough, distanccd from thc wor|d.
By appcaring in thc facc of thc wor|d, thcy can rcvca| thc wor|d as
csscncc, rcgard|css of what it may appcar to bc in thc imagination of
human bcings who hnd thcmsc|vcs in thc wor|d in a historica||y and
socia||ydctcrmincdmanncr. Asthcsccondpartofthcopuscu|cstatcs.
¹hc thcorctica| conc|usions of thc Communists arc in no way bascd
on idcas or princip|cs that havc bccn invcntcd, ordiscovcrcd, by this
or that wou|d-bc univcrsa| rcformcr.Thcy mcrc|ycxprcss, in gcncra|
tcrms, actua| rc|ationsspringingfrom an cxistingc|assstrugg|c, from
a historica| movcmcnt going on undcr our vcry cycs' (p. 80). Thc
Manifesto c|aims to bc an cxposition in thc most abso|utc of scnscs.
Marx is not cxpounding thc thcory ofthc Communists, and thcy arc
not cxprcssing thcir own vicws, it is thc wor|d and history which arc
cxprcssing thcmsc|vcs through thcm. Thc Manifesto simp|y asks us to
opcn our cycs and to |ook at what is happcning, at, that is, what is
coming into bcing and what is appcaring.
Thc hrst thrcc scctions sccm to corrcspond to a division bctwccn
thrcc momcnts in thc cxposition of thc Communists' position. vicws,
aimsand tcndcncics. But it rcquircsafurthcr twoscctionstocxpound
thcir so-ca||cd vicws, bccausc thcy arc intcndcd to bc a purc
rcprcscntation of what is visib|c in thc hcrc and now, and to makc
visib|c thc cntirc movcmcnt of history. Thc cxposition of thc
Communists' aims cannot but bc an cxposition of thc aims of thc
movcmcnt of history, and thc cxposition of thcir tcndcncics, which
diffcrcntiatc thcm fromothcr tcndcncics within socia|ism, cannot but
Thc visionofthat which cxists, ofthatwhich is coming into bcing,
swccps a|| bcforc itbccausc itmustcoincidc with thc actua|rca|ityof
thc cmcrging wor|d. It obscurcs Marx's spccihc position, but it a|so
obscurcs that ofthc pro|ctariat, as its so|c dcstiny is to providc asc|f-
rcprcscntationof its own appcarancc in history, to act in accordancc
with thc goa| that has bccn assigncd to it. Fina||y, this vision gocs so
far as to abo|ish thc position of thc c|ass cncmy, whosc |ics do not
indicatc its supposcd abi|ity to undcrstand thc rcasons bchind its
l54 011 Revolution
intcrcsts and its strugg|c, but thc fact that thc modc of its inscrtion
into history and its historica||y dctcrmincd condition do not a||ow it
to scc itsc|f, and condcmn it irrcdccmab|y to dwc|| in obscurity.
And so, in thc midd|c ofa passagc in thc sccond scction, in which
hc attcmpts to usc scorn and irony to dcmo|ish thc objcctions of thc
bourgcois, Marx suddcn|y brcaks offwhat sccmcd to bc a dia|oguc.
Butdon`t wrang|c with us as |ongas you app|y, to our intcndcd
abo|ition ofbourgcois propcrty, thc standard of your bourgcois
notions of frccdom, cu|turc, |aw, ctc. Your vcry idcas arc but
thc outgrowth of thc conditions of your bourgcois production
and bourgcoispropcrty,justasyourjurisprudcncc is butthc wi||
of your c|ass madc into a |aw for a||, a wi|| whosc csscntia|
charactcr and dircction arc dctcrmincd by thc cconomica|
that induccs you to transform into ctcrna| |aws of naturc and of
rcason thc socia| forccs springing from your prcscnt modc of
production and form of propcrty - historica| rc|ations that risc
and disappcarin thc progrcss ofproduction- this misconccption
you sharc with cvcry ru|ing c|ass that has prcccdcd you. What
you scc c|car|y in thc casc of ancicnt propcrty, what you wi||
admitinthccasc offcuda|propcrty,youarcofcourscforbiddcn
to admit in thc casc of your own bourgcois form of propcrty.
(p. 8J)
Thcrcis, thcn,no pointofvicwto dcfcnd,to putforward againstthat
of thc cncmy. Marx sccs thc rca|ity bchind thc bourgcois, hc sccs
what thc bourgcoiscannot scc, not bccausc hc hidcs itfrom himsc|f,
This is a|so onc ofthc fcw passagcs inwhich Marx a||ows himsc|f to
thattacticisthcrcforc a||thcmorcrcmarkab|c. Po|cmicandargumcnt
imp|ythcprcscnccofanintcr|ocutor,butthcManifesto, whichappcars
to cxpound thc Communists` thcory and which in fact makcs way for
an cxpositionofbourgcoissocicty,ofhistoryandof thc wor|d, cannot
with impunity admit thc prcscncc of thc word of anothcr, it cannot
cvokc anyonc who is a spcaking subjcct. Hcncc thc paradox wc
mcntioncd car|icr. a|though thc Manifesto is pub|ishcd in thc facc of
thc who|c wor|d, it is, dcspitc appcaranccs, addrcsscd to no onc. Its
discoursc is dcp|oycd in thc purc c|cmcnt of gcncra|ity. It is not
intcndcd to convincc, it cxhibits a truth which rcsidcs in things
thcmsc|vcs, in thcir dcvc|opmcnt.

Truc, this docs cxcmpt Marx from having to c|aim, cithcr on his
own bcha|f or on that of thc Communists, to bc thc |cador of thc
rcvo|utionary forccs, or from having to announcc thc formation of a
party which wi|| supp|ant othcr partics, and which can c|aim to havc
a monopo|y on po|itica| powcr. If Marx is to bc bc|icvcd, thc
Rereading Thc Communist Manifcsto 155
Communists arc in fact dcstincd to cxcrcisc no morc than a sort of

itua| powcr,


canuscthatsacri|cgious cxprcssion by way of
an t||uston toSamt-Stmon and Comtc. Asthcsccond scction tc||s us·
Communists do not form a scparatc party opposcd to othc;
workmg-c|ass parttcs
Thcy havc no intcrcsts scparatc and apart from
thosc ofthc pro|ctanata

� who|c`(p. 79). In thatscnsc, it has right|y
bccn notcd that thc Lcmmst conccption of thc party is quitc a|icn to
thc sput of Marx. But tt is sti|| truc to say that an unprcccdcntcd
advcnturc is bcing p|aycd out at thc |cvc| of know|cdgc, and that it
wou|d bc foo|ish todcnythatithascffccts atthc |cvc| ofaction. Thc
Manifesto posits a coincidcncc bctwccn thc rca| and thc rationa| and
ofHcgc|,whodocsnotconfusc whathctcrmsthcrca|withthcdctai|s
of ht

tonca| cvcnts, andwhodocsnotinvcst anysocia| actor with thc
functton ofc

bodymgthcunivcrsa|or ofrca|izingthc conccpt inthc
scnstb|c cxpcncnccofa c|ass. It has ofcoursc a|so bccn pointcd out
Thcorytsthcconccrnofthc Communists.Thcpro|ctariat a|onc is thc
arc n
t thcrc to t

ach it |cssons. But thcrc cannot, by dchnition, bc

n practtcc tha
cscapcs thcory, for practicc cncompasscs
thcoryasttsown cxprcsston. Whatthcorycannotdcsignatcisthc facc
of thc futurc, of thc socicty in which thc o|d rc|ations of domination

n wi|I bc abo|ishcd. Butitsrcfusa| to makc prcdictions
by no mcans tmp|ics that tt rccognizcs its own |imitations, for that
Thcpro|ctanat cannot gtvc birthtoa socicty whichdocs not conform
to tts naturc, and tts naturc is such that nothing within it rcmains
opaquc. Evcn supposing that thc pro|ctariatdocsfai| in its mission -
ahypothcsiswhichis notcvcnmcntioncd- thcon|ycffcctofits fai|urc
wi|| bc rcgrcssion.
unism is such an obvious fact that it cannot to|cratc any
dcscnpttonofwhattsto comc. But thcdcscription ofthcwor|dwhich
ts appcanng bcforc our vcry cycs |cavcs us in no doubt as to its
gcstation or as to its rcsu|ts. Thc primary objcctivc of thc rcfutation
ofbourgcois objcctions which takcs up most of thc sccond scction is
to show that, whi|st thcy scrvc to dcfcnd spccihc intcrcsts, thcy arc
ofCommunism. Marx`sironycchocsthcironyofhistory,whichmcans
that thc b
urgcois's cvcry ob¸icction rcbounds against him, and that
arc outragcd at thc idca of abo|ishing privatc propcrty. Marx rcp|ics
that, tfby `propcrty` thcy mcan thc fruit of a man's own |asbour or
�hc gro
ndworkof a|| p�rsona| frccdom,activity and indcpcndcncc.
Thcrc ts no nccd to abo|ish it, thc dcvc|opmcnt of industry has to a
grcatcxtcnta|rcadydcstroycd it,andissti||dcstroyingitdai|y`(p.80).
Ifthcy mcan modcrn bourgcois privatc propcrty, hc rcp|ics that it is
156 On Revolution
hc is thc agcnt ofcapita|, which is a socia| powcr, and it is on|y its
itispoint|css to criticizc thcmfor wanting to abo|ish privatcpropcrty,
for privatc propcrty is a|rcady donc away withforninc-tcnths of thc
popu|ation. Arcthcthcscsonabo|ishingthcfami|y,onthccommunity
ofwomcn oroncducationscanda|ous? Quitc apartfromthc factthat
thc bourgcois fami|y is bascd upon capita|, on privatc gain, and that
thisstatcofthingshndsitscomp|cmcntinthcpractica| abscncc ofthc
sccsinhiswifc amcrcinstrumcntofproduction,and bourgcoismarriagc
is in rca|ity a systcm ofwivcs in common. Asfor cducation, thc fact
that it is a|rcady dctcrmincd by socia| conditions provcs that thc
thcy arc conccrncdso|c|ywithrcscuingchi|drcnfrom thc inßucncc of
to abo|ish countrics and nationa|ity. But capita|ism hasgivcn birth to
thc pro|ctariat, to a c|asswhich has no country and no tics. How can
Communism bc criticizcd for takingawayfrom itwhat it has notgot?
Ina word, thcCommunists havc invcntcdnothing. Thcyarc simp|y
dcmonstrating how conscqucnccs arisc out of prcmisscs. Of coursc
thcy arc ca||ing for a rcvo|utionl But in doing so, thcy arc simp|y
saying what thcy havc to say bccausc ofa ncccssity whichisinhcrcnt
in |anguagc and thought, and which rcßccts thc ncccssity of socia|
production. Insofarasthcyarc agroup, it isnotforthcm tocommand
thc pro|ctariat, insofar as thcy arc individua|s, it is not for thcm to
ra||y to it, cnro| in its ranks or cspousc its causc. A|though hc is an
intc||cctua|, Marx has no ink|ing ofthcdrama intc||cctua|s wi|| havc
tofaccwhcn thcyarctornbctwccnthcfcc|ingthatthcybc|ongtothc
bourgcoisic, thcir awarcncss of bcing `bastards` [salauds), and thc
attractions of commitmcnt. It is bccausc hc is spcaking from within
thcory that hc knowswith much ccrtainty that hc is caught up in thc
practicc of thc pro|ctariat, j ust as it is through his own practicc that
thc workcrdiscovcrs himsc|ftobc a thcorist. Rcvo|utionaryspccch is
as natural as rcvo|utionary action, both arc invo|vcd in a natura|
A natural history? I t isindccd a proccss whoscdcvc|opmcnta| |aws
canbc known, but know|cdgc ispartofthc proccssitsc|f,andits|aws
account for thc fact that it bccomcs intc||igib|c at this momcnt in
history. As Marx asks.
Docs it rcquirc dccp intuition (Bedarf es tie fer Einsicht) to
comprchcnd that man`s idcas, vicws and mnccptions, in onc
word, man's consciousncss, changc with cvcry changc in thc
conditionsofhismatcria| cxistcncc, in hissocia|rc|ationsandin
his socia| |ifc? What c|sc docs thc history of idcas provc, than
thatintc||cctua|productionchangcsitscharactcrinproportion as
Rereading Thc Communist Manifcsto 157
matcria| production is changcd? Thc ru|ing idcas of cach agc
havc cvcr bccn thc idcas ofits ru|ing c|ass. (p. 85)
In othcr words, thcrc is nothing which is not visib|c, nothing is morc
profound than that which is manifcstcd matcria||y, mcn`s idcas arc a
skin which isproduccd and transformcdatthcsamc timc asthcsocia|
tissuc it covcrs. Thcrc is no nccd to probc into thc past, nothing in
thc past is concca|cd from contcmporarics bccausc, in cvcry agc,
cvcrythingformcdawho|c andwasgovcrncd by thcsamc movcmcnt,
andbccausc, as a rcsu|tofthatmovcmcnt, cvcrythingchangcdat thc
samc timc, and wasncccssari|y ordcrcd intoa ncwform.Thischangc
in formcanbc sccnon thcsurfacc ofthcprcscntbccauscthcmatcria|,
socia| andintc||cctua|organizationofthc prcscnt rcvca|sthc marksof
thc disso|ution of thc prcvious organization, and bccausc thc |attcr
itsc|frcsu|tcdfrom thcdisso|utionofthcorganizationthatwcntbcforc
Thosc who rcjcct thc imagc of a mctamorphosis in intc||cctua|
productionwi|| ofcoursc cvokc thcconstants ofthc human mind. For
thcm it is not cnough to admit that thc dcc|inc of thc ancicnt wor|d
and thc advcnt of fcuda| socicty cxp|ain thc risc of thc Christian
rc|igion, or that thc dcc|inc of that rc|igion and thc cxpansionof thc
bourgcoisiccxp|ain thcriscofthcidcaofthcEn|ightcnmcnt,or, morc
spccihca||y, that `thc idcas of rc|igious frccdom and frccdom of
conscicncc mcrc|y gavc cxprcssion to thc sway of frcc compctition
within thc domain of know|cdgc` (p. 85). Marx thcrcforc takcs thcir
argumcnt into considcration: 'Undoubtcd|y, it wi|| bc said, rc|igious,
mora|, phi|osophica| and juridica| idcas havc bccn modihcd in thc
coursc of historica| dcvc|opmcnt. But rc|igion, mora|ity, phi|osophy,
po|itica| scicncc and |aw constant|y survivcd this changc. Thcrc arc,
bcsidcs,ctcrna| truths,such asfrccdom,justicc,ctc. thatarccommon
to a|| statcs of socicty. But communism abo|ishcs ctcrna| truths . . . '
(pp.8H) Itsanswcri sthat,givcnthata||pastsocicticswcrcorganizcd
around c|ass antagonisms, it is 'no wondcr . . . that thc socia|
consciousncss of past agcs, dcspitc a|| thc mu|tip|icity and varicty it
disp|ays,movcswithinccrtaincommonforms, orgcncra|idcas, which
cannot comp|ctc|y vanish cxccpt with thc tota| disappcarancc ofc|ass
antagonism' (p. 86). Thc vision ofhistoryin which nothing rcmains in
having disp|accd thc tcrms of thc antagonism, now gcncratcs thc
conditions ofits rcso|ution.
So |ong as Marx was ironica||y rcfuting thc objcctions of his
advcrsarics, onc cou|d sti|| supposc that his rcfusa| to dchnc a non-
bourgcois |ibcrty, mora|ity or |aw was a prccautionary mcasurc. No
such doubts arc pcrmissib|cwhcn hc cxp|icit|y rcjccts what hc ca||s
ctcrna| truths. Hcdocs, ofcoursc,statc thatthco|d bourgcoissocicty
wi|| bc rcp|accd by 'an association, in which thc frcc dcvc|opmcnt of
cach is thc condition for thc frcc dcvc|opmcnt of a||` (p. 87). But at
158 On Revolution
this point, thc word 'frcc' is as mcaning|css as thc car|icr asscrtion
that a|| production wi|| bc conccntratcd 'in thc hands of a vast
association of thc who|c nation`. Onc wou|d attcmpt in vain to scizc
intcrprctation. Othcr tcxts may wc|| providc a basis for such an
intcrprctation, but not thc Manifesto. Whcn hc rcfcrs to thc 'frcc
dcvc|opmcnt of cach and a||', Marx simp|y mcans that thcrc wi|| bc
no rcstrictionson thcdcvc|opmcntofthc productivc forccs. Hcdocs
not acccpt that, in ordcr to bc frcc, onc must want to bc frcc, that
frccdom is somcthing othcr than a statc. And his conccption of
association - which is in fact quitc widcsprcad in so-ca||cd utopian
|itcraturc - |cavcs no room for individua|s who can apprchcnd
thcmsc|vcs as individua|s, who can dcmand thcrightto bc uniquc and
diffcrcnt from cvcryonc c|sc, Communist socicty appcars to bc a
natura| socicty, j ust as thc who|c ofhistory appcarcd to bc a natura|
history. It isfor prccisc|y thc samc rcason that thc idcas offrccdom
and |aw arc said to havc ariscn in ordcr to guarantcc and mask thc
practicc of a ru|ing c|ass, and that thcy arc said to bc dcstincd to
vanish in a wor|dwhich has bccn frccd from c|ass divisions. Wc arc,
thcn, |cft with a paradox: thc history of humanity, which unfo|ds in
its cntircty bcforc thc cycs of thc Communists, |cads to a socicty
without ideas, to asocicty which coincidcswith itsc|ftosuch ancxtcnt
as to prcc|udc thc possibi|ity ofjudgcmcnts bcing formu|atcd within
it. This is why Marx rcfuscs to imaginc what it wi|| |ook |ikc: its
cxistcncc issufñcicnt untoitsc|f. It prcc|udcsa|| sc|f-rcprcscntation, it
cannot bc said to bc frcc and just, and it cannot dcscribc itsc|f as
such. And this paradox rcvca|s thc Manifesto to bc a fantasmagoria,
forhow can Marx takc thc liberty ofconccivingofhumanity as bcing
onc, as rcmaining thc samc throughout its mctamorphoscs, and by
what right can hc spcak of opprcssors and opprcsso, ofthc strugg|c
of thc opprcsscd for thcir cmancipation, un|css hc rccognizcs that
|ibcrty and right arc at work in history?
bchind a dramaticcomposition. ThcManifesto docsnot, aswc know,
bcgin with a dcscription ofwhat anyonc with cycs to scc can scc at
of matcria| production is accompanicd by a scqucncc of socia| and
intc||cctua| transformations. Thc hrstscctionopcnswith a dcscription
ofa proccssionofc|asscswhich havc comc into conßict:
Thc history of a|| hithcrto cxisting socicty is thc history ofc|ass
strugg|cs. Frccman and s|avc, patrician and p|cbcian, |ord and
scrf, gui|dmastcr and journcyman, opprcssor and opprcsscd,
stood in constant opposition to onc anothcr, carricd out an
unintcrruptcd, now hiddcn, now opcn hght, a hght that cach
timc cndcd, cithcr ìn a rcvo|utionary rcconstìtutìon ofsocicty at
Rereading Thc Communist Manifcsto I59
|argc,orinthccommonruinofthccontcndingc|asscs. (pp. 67-8)
It has oftcn bccn pointcd out that c|cmcnts in Marx`s picturc arc
borrowcd from thc Saint-Simonians and that it is in many rcspccts
inaccuratc (thc most signihcant crror is thc dcscription of thc hrst
bourgcois as thc dcsccndants of scrfs), but wc wi|| not dwc|| on thc
dctai|shcrc ' Thcrcmarkab|cthingaboutitis thatMarxdcmonstratcs
thc unity of humanity and thc continuity of history by dcscribing a
war which has bccn going on sincc thc vcry car|icst timcs and which
is sti|| goingon. Thc protagonistschangc, but thc war a|ways has thc
samc charactcr. Indccd, if thc opprcsscd do not cmcrgc victorious
from thc batt|c and do not cstab|ish ancwordcr, orifthc advcrsarics
succccd on|y in cxhausting onc anothcr, thc war rcquircs ncw
combatants. Thc c|ass war is, thcn, a|ways bcginning ancw. It is a
sing|cwar fought out in many cpisodcs, and itis a sort ofcivi| war in
that itsoncthcatrcisthc human 'city`. Inmodcrn timcs, thc mcaning
ofthc drama bccomcs c|car, and, for thc hrst timc, thc mcaning of
ofthc past, bourgcois socicty rcvca|s thc conßict bctwccnopprcssors
and opprcsscd in that. 'It has but cstab|ishcd ncw c|asscs, ncw
conditions of opprcssion, ncw forms of strugg|c in p|acc of thc o|d
oncs' (p. 68). Thc rcason that wc can now say this is that what was
oncc hiddcn is now fu||y visib|c, that cvcrything isnow moving in thc
samc dircction and is govcrncd by thc samc antagonism. Whcrcas
socictics wcrc oncc hctcrogcncous, and whcrcas thc dividing |inc
bctwccn thc ru|ingc|ass and thc ru|cdwasoncc b|ur
cd by a tang|cd
wcbof|inksofdcpcndcncy,bourgcoissocicty 'hassimp|ihcdthc c|ass
antagonisms'. Socicty is `sp|itting into two grcat hosti|c camps`. From
now on, thc duc| wi|| bc fought out on thc forcstagc. In thc past,
socia| transformations took p|acc so s|ow|y that it was ìmpossib|c to
pcrccivc thcir scqucncc, but history is nowspccding up, and changc
is taking p|accbcforcourvcrycycs. Whcrcaschangconcc tookp|acc
to its accc|cratcd rhythms, and it has bccn sct ab|azc by thc c|ass
strugg|c. And whi|st thc bourgcoisic is mcrc|y a substitutc for thc
ru|ing c|asscsofo|d,itsbchaviouris radica||ydiffcrcnt. Onccthcyhad
cstab|ishcd thcmsc|vcs, thc o|d ru|ing c|asscs wcrc conccrncd so|c|y
with thcirown sc|f-prcscrvation, thcbourgcoisicis carricdawaybyits
cnthusiasmfordcstructionandinnovation. Itisofcoursc ac|asswhich
succccds othcrc|asscs in history, but historyis imprintcd on it, and it
has madc changc thc vcry princip|c of its cxistcncc. It is indccd thc
product of a rcvo|ution which was thc |ast |ink in a |ong chain of
rcvo|utions,but it has not |cft that rcvo|ution bchind it. Thc part it
p|aysis, as Marx notcs, `a most rcvo|utionary part`. no tradition can
withstand it. It has torn asundcr thcfcuda| tics which bound man to
his natura| supcriors. It rccognizcs on|y nakcd sc|f-intcrcst. 'It has
l60 On Revolution
cnthusiasm, ofphi|istincscntimcnta|ism, in thc icy watcr ofcgotistica|
ca|cu|ation` (p. 70). Thcrc arc no |imits to its conqucsts. As a rcsu|t,
mcn|oscthcirticswiththc |and, and withthcir nation, thcirrc|ations
arc rcduccd to thc samc common dcnominator. Evcn thc most
barbarian nations arc swcpt into thc
vortcx. 'In onc word, it crcatcs
a wor|d aftcr its own imagc' (p. 7l ).

Marx paints a vcritab|c portrait of thc bourgcoisic. This modcrn
conqucrordcstroys cvcrything that stands in its way, and it a||ows no
tracc of thc past to survivc, but at thc samc timc it un|cashcs thc
formidab|ccrcativc powcrwhichhumanityposscsscdwithoutrca|izing
it. Thebourgcoisic'has bccn thc hrstto showwhat man's activity can
bring about. It has accomp|ishcd wondcrs far surpassing Egyptian
pyramids, Roman aqucducts, and Gothic cathcdra|s, ithasconductcd
cxpcditions that put in thc shadc a|| formcr cxoduscs of nations and
crusadcs` (p. 70). 'Thc bourgcoisic, during its ru|c of scarcc onc
hundrcd ycars,hascrcatcd morc massivcandmorcco|ossa|productivc
forccs than havc a|| prcccding gcncrations togcthcr` (p. 72). As Marx
forccs s|umbcrcd in thc |ap ofsocia| |abour?' (p. 72).
Undcrthc ru|c ofthisconqucrorhumanityscrvcs itsapprcnticcship
in discnchantmcnt. Thc socia| itsc|f is rcvca|cd in a|| its p|asticity
bcncath thcapparcntrigidityofthcinstitutions whichassigncvcryonc
a position and a function, thc historica| itsc|f is rcvca|cd by thc
inccssant movcmcnt ofthc consumption of thc past. 'A|| that is so|id
mc|ts into air, a|| that is ho|yis profancd,andmanisat|astcompc||cd
tofacc with sobcrscnscs, his rca| conditionsof |ifc, and his rc|ations
withhiskind'(pp. 70l).Discnchantmcntandthcincvitab|ccxpcricncc
of rca|ity arc onc and thc samc. But sccing rca|ity docs not mcan
acccpting thc cstab|ishcd ordcr; it mcans dispc||ing thc ì||usion that
thc bourgcoisic can maintain its ru|c by pursuing its work of
crcation-dcstruction, that it can goon rctrcatingbchind c|ass barricrs
and continuc to cxc|udc thc cxp|oitcd masscs from thc proccss of
socia|ization at a timc whcn a|| hicrarchicsarc brcaking down.
Marx uscs his dcscription ofbourgcoissocicty to out|inc thc p|otof
a Bildungsroman. But it is a vcry strangc novc|, for if thc hcro is to
undcrstandits mora|, his naturcmust bcsuchthat nothinginthcpast
appca|s to him and that nothing in thc prcscntgivcs him thc i||usion
that hc cxists, his tcmpora|ity and hissociabi|ity must bc pu|vcrizcd.
Such is thc a|most unrcprcscntab|c hgurc of thc pro|ctariat. It is
bccausc it sinks dccpcr and dccpcrbc|ow thc conditions ofcxistcncc
of thc cxp|oitcd in car|icr socictics (and as it sinks, a|| intcrmcdiatc
tics, thatthcpro|ctariatcanhnd itsway to rcvo|ution and Communism
so|c|y as a rcsu|t of its strugg|c against thc thrcat of dcath. For our
purposcs thc historyofitsgradua| transformation intoa hghting, sc|f-
conscious and po|itica| c|ass is of ||tt|c import, wc wi|| simp|y notc
Rereading Thc Communist Manifcsto
that, un|ikc Capital, thc Manifesto docs not scc thc dcvc|opmcnt of
bourgcois socicty orits ro|c in |argc-sca|c industry asthc basisofthc
pro|ctariat`s strcngth. It is purc|y bccausc it is crushcd by its socia|
cxistcncc that it riscs, and whcn it docs risc, that wi|| bc sufhcicntto
bring about a tota| rcvo|ution. 'Thc pro|ctariat, thc |owcst stratumof
our prcscnt socicty, cannot stir, cannot raisc itsc|f up, without thc
who|c supcrincumbcnt strata ofofhcia| socicty bcingsprung into thc
air` (p. 78).
Marx`s natura|ism is, wc notcd, ha|f-concca|cd bchind a dramatic
composition. Butcou|d wc not a|so say that thc drama, thc p|ot and
thc hcro takcon a ccrtainconsistcncy on|y bccausc thc dcscription of
howrc|ations of production cmcrgc from thc natura| dcvc|opmcnt of
thc productivc forccs spcaks to our imagnation? Thus, in onc sing|c
passagc, Marx dcscribcs bourgcois socicty as having conjurcd up
gigantic mcans of production and of cxchangc - hc comparcs it to a
sorccrcr who is no |ongcr ab|c to contro| thc powcrs of thc ncthcr
wor|d hc has ca||cd up- and thcn, without any transition, rcvcrts to
thc |anguagc of strict dctcrminism, dcscribing thc c|ash of modcrn
productivc forccs against thc rc|ations of production as thc condition
for thc cxistcnccofthc bourgcoisic and its ru|c. Morc gcncra||y, thc
twodramastcnd toovcr|ap, anditis thcartihcia|para||c|ismbctwccn
thcm that fostcrs thc i||usion that history isvisib|c initscntircty. But
it takcs a grcat dca| of crcdu|ity to c|ing to that i||usion, for cach
drama has itsown |ogic, and cach contradicts thc truth of thc othcr.
In onc, thc bourgcoisic is transformcd intoa sorccrcr, in thc othcr it
Fina||y, wc cannot cxp|ain why thc Manifesto has such a |asting
appca| for such a widc audicncc ifwc do not takc into account thc
c|oqucncc ofitsauthor, whosocarcfu||ystandsbackfromhisdiscoursc
orpainting. Hcaccomp|ishcsa minormirac|c. hcsccmsto takc |n thc
who|cofhistory atag|ancc,and thctruthis hcard asasing|cscntcncc
Marx combincs a prodigious ta|cnt for vu|garizing know|cdgc with a
particu|ar gift for moving his rcadcr. Not that Marx is attcmpting to
makc anyonc sympathizc with thc suffcrings of thc pro|ctarians. Hc
on|y mcntions thcir suffcrings in passing, and in thc Iìna| scction hc
criticizcs utopians for caring chicßy for 'thc most suffcring c|ass`. Hc
wants to sct thc hcart of thc mind bcating to thc sound of thc drums
of know|cdgc. Hc dcscribcs a succcssion of contcnding c|asscs, thc
stagcs of capita|ism from thc discovcry of Amcrica to thc advcnt of
|argc-sca|c industry, thc succcssivc assau|ts madc by thc productivc
forccs on propcrty rc|ations (thc |attcr 'bccamc no |ongcr compatib|c
with thc a|rcady dcvc|opcd productivc forccs, thcy bccamc so many
fcttcrs. Thcy had to bc burst asundcr, thcy wcrc burst asundcr`,
(p. 72), and thc succcssivc forms of pro|ctarian organization ('And
thatunion,to attainwhichthcburghcrsofthcMidd|cAgcs,withthcir
miscrab|c highways, rcquircd ccnturics, thc modcrn pro|ctarians,
l62 Ott Revolutioll
thanksto rai|ways,achicvcinafcwycars`(p.76). At timcsthcrhythm
ofthc narrativcrcmindsoncofa mi|itary paradc, attimcsofthc ñow
of a rivcr, and at timcs of thc incxorab|c movcmcnt of a machinc.
Thc spc||bound rcadcr has no option but to fo||ow, or to bcat a
coward|y rctrcat into thc ruins of thc past. And Marx forcsccs cvcn
forbids thc rcadcr to fcc| any nostaIgia. Thc Manifesto procccds to
makc a rigorous purgc of a||c|aimants to a rcvo|utionarythcory that
is tingcd withscntimcnta|ity. Itcatcgorizcsthcm, ascribing tocachhis
dcgrcc ofimmaturity, i||usion or comp|icity withthc dccadcnt c|asscs,
and thcn rcmovcs thc |adcron which thcy sccm to havc pcrchcd. For
thc prcscnt words and thc prcscnt gazc can on|y bc born of thc vcry
spcctac|c, thc vcry discoursc of history.'
Political Freedom and the Freedom of the
Tocqucvi||c`s optnion of thc ro|c p|aycd by mcn of |cttcrs in thc
cightccnthccnturyandofthc rcsponsibi|ity thcybcarinprcparingfor
thc Rcvo|ution is wc|| known. As a rcsu|t of thcir inßucncc, 'Evcry
pub|icpassionwasdisguiscd. . . asa phi|osophy,in|itcraturc, po|itica|
|ifc was vio|cnt|y rcprcsscd' (AR, vo|. I , p. l9J) . ' Lcss attcntion has
bccn paid to |hc rcßcctions hc is inspircdto makc bythc appcarancc
ofa ncwcatcgoryofthcorists 'who arc common|y tcrmcd cconomists
or physiocrats`. Tocqucvi||c acccpts that thcy did not cxcrt thc samc
inßucncc as thc philosophes, but it is, hc bc|icvcs, in thcir writings
that 'wc can bcststudythc trucnaturc`ofthc Rcvo|ution. Indccd, hc
gocs furthcr.
l n thcir books, wc can a|rcady rccognizc thc rcvo|utionary and
dcmocratic tcmpcramcnt wc know so wc||, not on|y do thcy
|oathc ccrtain privi|cgcs, divcrsity itsc|f is hatcfu| to thcm, and
thcywou|dworship cqua|itycvcnifitmcantscrvitudc. Anything
thatstandsin thc wayofthcirprojcctsishton|yfordcstruction.
Contracts inspirc |itt|c rcspcct in thcm, thcy havc no rcgard for
privatc rights, or rathcr, and to spcak morc truthfu||y, privatc
rights arc, in thcir vicw, a|rcady a thing of thc past, a|| that
rcmains is pub|ic uti|ity. (Ibid., p. 2I0)
Thcydo not,wcarcto|d,wish tostirup thc pcop|c ortodcstroy thc
monarchy,onthccontrary,thcydisp|aya |ovc ofauthorityandordcr.
Our author happi|y dcscribcs thcm as 'mcn of gcnt|c and tranqui|
manncr, wca|thy mcn, honcst magistratcs and ski|fu| administrators`.
What |ics bchind thcir conccrn for pub|ic uti!ity? A comp|ctc
indiffcrcncc to po|itica| frccdoms. Thc rcmarkab|c thing is that this
indiffcrcncc gocs hand in hand with a strong attachmcnt to cconomic
frccdoms. 'Thcy arc, it is truc, vcry much in favour of frcc tradc in
goods, and of |aisscz-fairc or |aisscz-passcz po|icics in tradc and
industry, but as for po|itica| frccdoms in thc truc scnsc ofthc word,
I66 011 Freedom
thcy ncvcr think of thcm, and whcncvcr thcy impingc upon thcir
imaginations, thcy immcdiatc|y dismiss thcm` (ibid. ).
Thcrci snonccdtofo||owTocqucvi||c`sargumcntorto takcupthc
qucstion of thc kinship hc dctccts bctwccn thc conccptions of thcsc
wca|thy mcn and 'thc dcstructivc thcorics which, in our day, arc
dcsignatcd by thc namc of socia|ism' (p. 213). It is cnough to rcca||
that thcrc is an csscntia| diffcrcncc bctwccn po|itica| |ibcra|ism, as
formu|atcd by Tocqucvi||c, and cconomic |ibcra|ism. Hc docs not
hcsitatctorccognizc thatthc |attcr may a||yitsc|fwith dcspotism,thc
vicw that frcc institutions and rcspcct for thc rights ofindividua|s arc
indissociab|c is part of his critiquc of omnipotcnt powcr. In that
rcspcct, Tocqucvi||c's scnsibi|itics arc simi|ar to thosc of Bcnjamin
Constant or Madamcdc Stac| , or to thosc of a sma|| numbcrof hìs
his undcrstandingofthc dynamic ofthc modcrnstatc, andofthc ncw
charactcristics of dcspotism. Whcrcas Constant conñncs himsc|f to a
critiquc of thc abso|utc sovcrcignty of thc pcop|c, couchcs it in
spccu|ativc tcrms, and rcgards thc composition of a modc| in which
individua| intcrcsts disappcar bcforc thc gcncra| intcrcst simp|y as a
mistakc,oras asignofarcturnto thc past, Tocqucvi||cdctcctswithin
it aspcctsof'thc rcvo|utionary anddcmocratictcmpcramcntwc know
so wc||'. His obscrvations arc not rcstrictcd to thc commcnt that
'Finding nothingc|osc tohomcthatsccmstoconform to[thcir]idca|,
thcy [thc cconomists] |ook for it in distant Asia`. Hc c|aboratcs thc
idca of a form of powcr which is no |ongcr contcnt to dcmand
obcdicnccfrom a|| itscitizcns, whichtakcs ituponitsc|ftotransform
thcm or cvcn to producc thcm.
Accordingtothc cconomists, thc ro|cofthcStatcis notmcrc|y
to govcrn thc Nation, but to shapc it in a ccrtain fashion, it is
thc task of thc Statc to shapc thc minds of its citizcns in
accordancc with a modc| that has bccn proposcd in advancc, its
duty is to imbuc thcirmindswith ccrtain idcas, and to inspirc in¸
thcir hcarts such fcc|ings as it judgcs ncccssary. In rca|ity, no
rcstrictions arc p|accd upon its rights, andthcrc arc no |imits as
to what it can do, itdocs not mcrc|y rcform mcn, it transforms
thcm, and, if nccd bc, it wi|| simp|y crcatc othcr mcn. (Ibid.,
p. 212)
Thcsc rcmarksarcc|osc|y rc|atcd to thosc madcinthc|astscction of
Democracy in America, cvcnthough thc imagcofa tutc|arystatc and
with a prcconccivcd modc| do not ovcr|ap comp|ctc|y. Thc writcr is
convinccdthat thc cconomists` projcctis gradua||ybcingimprintcdon
thc rca|, aprojcctofabso|utc powcr isbcing combincd with a projcct
ofknow|cdgc andproductionwhich app|icsbothtosocictyas awho|c
and to individua|s. His intuitivc undcrstanding of thc proccss that is
atwork gocsfurthcr.
Reversibility 167
Thc immcnscsocia|powcrofwhichthccconomistsdrcam is not
on|ygrcatcrthananypowcrthcysccbcforc thcm, itsorigins and
itscharactcrarc diffcrcnt. Itdocsnotdcrivc dircct|y from God,
thc King, but thc Statc, it is not a fami|y hcir|oom, it is thc
product and thc rcprcscntativc ofa||,anditmust bcndthc rights
ofcach to thc wi|| of a||. (Ibid., p. 216)
Inmyvicw,thcrccanbcnodoubtaboutit. Tocqucvi||chaspinpointcd
an cvcnt which marks thc irruptionofanunprcccdcntcddomination,
onc which is so novc| that, as hcobscrvcs in Democracy in America,
'thc o|d words despotism and tyranny arc inappropriatc` (DA, vo|. II,
p. 318).' Thc abì|ity to transform thc mcn who attach thcmsc|vcs to
powcr provcs, paradoxica||y, to bc bound up with thc modc of its
gcncrationwithinsocicty. Inthatscnsc, itfu||ymcritsthc namcsocial
power. Whcn it isdivorccd from thc pcrson of thc princc, frccd from
thc transccndcnta| agcncy which madc thc princc thc guarantor of
ordcr and of thc pcrmancncc of thc body po|itic, and dcnicd thc
nourishmcnt ofthc duration which madc it a|most natura|, thispowcr
appcarstobc thc powcrsocictycxcrciscsovcritsc|f. Whcn socicty no
|ongcrrccognizcsthccxistcnccofanythingcxtcrna| to it, socia| powcr
knows no bounds. It is a product of socicty, but at thc samc timc it
mcan nothing to it bccausc itpurports to bc thc agcnt ofa||.
'a||`and 'cach`. Thc 'a||' is condcnscd into thcorgan ofpowcr, whi|st
'cach` individua| is dcñncd as bcing cqua| to cvcry othcr individua|,
and thcrcforc |oscs hisown individua|ity. Wc thcrcforc havc a picturc
of. 'A pcop|ccomposcdofindividua|swhoarca|mosta|ikcandcntirc|y
cqua|, an undìffcrcntiatcd mass whìch ìs rccognìzcd as thc so|c
|cgitimatcsovcrcign, but which is carcfu||y dcnicd a|| thcfacu|ticsthat
might a||ow it to dircct and supcrvisc its govcrnmcnt. Abovc it thcrc
stands a sing|c rcprcscntativc who is mandatcd to docvcrything in its
namc without consu|ting it` (AR, vo|. I, p. 213).
Towhom isTocqucvi||c addrcssing himsc|f whcn hc spc||s out thc
dangcr of modcrn dcspotism, whcn hc rcmarks in Democracy in
America that. ' I havc a|ways thought that scrvitudc of thc rcgu|ar,
quict and gcnt|c kind which I havcj ust dcscribcdmight bc combincd
of frccdom, and that it might cvcn cstab|ish itsc|f undcr thc wing of
thc sovcrcignty of thc pcop|c' (vo|. II, p. 319)? Frcsumab|y a writcr
is a|ways spcaking to an indctcrminatc rcadcr who cxists in both thc
prcscnt and thc futurc. It shou|d a|so bc notcd that wc now havc a
wca|th of cxpcricncc that a||ows us to undcrstand Tocqucvi||c bcttcr
than his contcmporarics cou|d undcrstand him, and that thc picturc
hcpaintsmust havcsccmcd a|| thc morc outragcous in hisdayinthat
thc signs ofthc cxtcnsion ofsocia| powcr and cqua|ity wcrc minima|,
ló8 011 Freedom
in comparison with thc spcctac|c offcrcd by thc socicty in which wc
|ivc. But it is sti|| truc to say that,cithcrconscious|yor unconscious|y,
any writcr privi|cgcs ccrtain intcr|ocutors or advcrsarics. Tocqucvi||c
is addrcssing himsc|f primari|y to mcn who thought thcy wcrc |ibcra|s
and who, |ikc him, bc|ongcd to an cn|ightcncd c|itc, who rcgardcd
thc uphcava| in propcrty owncrship that had bccn brought about by
thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution and by thc Rights of Man
as afail aecompli;
but who wcrc hauntcd by thc thrcat of thc cxtcnsion of po|itica|
frccdoms and individua| frccdoms, by thc fcar that thc socia| body
wou|d brcak up, by a fcar of anarchy, who bc|icvcd that a strong
govcrnmcnt wou|d protcct tranqui||ity, but who fai|cd to forcscc thc
risc of dcspotism. It is with thcm in mind that hc asks. 'Amid thc
ruins which surround mc sha|| I darc to say that rcvo|utions arc, not
what I most fcar forcoming gcncrations7` (DA, vo|. Il, p. J29), and
that hc statcs. '1 am convinccd . . . that anarchy is not thc principa|
cvi| that dcmocratic agcs havc to fcar, but thc |cast` (ibid. , p. 288).
Hc adds. 'Thc |ovc ofpub|ic tranqui||ity bccomcsatsuch timcs [aftcr
a rcvo|ution] an indiscriminatc passion, and thc mcmbcrs of thc
community arc apt to conccivc a most inordinatcdcvotion to ordcr`
(ibid. , p. J0l ) . With thcsamc pcop|c in mind, hc statcs. 'In our days,
mcn . . . attcnd on|y to thc amazing rcvo|ution that is taking p|acc
bcforc thcir cycs, and thcy imaginc that mankind is about to fa|| into
pcrpctua| anarchy. If thcy |ookcd to thc ñna| conscqucnccs of this
rcvo|ution,thcirfcars wou|dpcrhapsassumc a diffcrcnt shapc` (ibid. ,
pp. Jl4l5). And again. ' Agrcatmanypcrsonsat thcprcscnt day arc
quitc contcntcd with this sort ofcompromisc bctwccn administrativc
dcspotismand thcsovcrcigntyofthc pcop|c, andthcy think thcy havc
donc cnoughforthcprotcctionofindividua|frccdom whcn thcy havc
surrcndcrcd it to thc powcr of thc nation at |argc` (ibid. , p. JI9). It
nccd scarcc|y bc strcsscd that Tocqucvi||c had no sympathy for
rcvo|utions. As a racc, rcvo|utionarics sccmcd to him to bc hatcfu|.
In l848, hcsharcdthccmotionsofhisc|ass, and hcsawinthcorigins
ofthc pro|ctarianinsurrcctionnomorcthan 'amixturcofgrccdyidcas
and fa|sc thcorics.' His cncomia ofthc frccdom ofthc prcss, ofthc
civi| andpo|itica| associations and ofthc univcrsa|suffragc hcsccsin
Amcrica arc a|ways tcmpcrcd by cautious rcscrvations. His abi|ity to
brcak out of thc circ|c of his prcjudiccs is thcrcforc a|| thc morc
rcmarkab|c. In his vicw, dcmocracy`s primc virtuc is its charactcristic
agitation, and not its potcntia| abi|ity tofaci|itatc thc sc|cction of thc
bcstand to improvc thcgovcrnmcnt'sabi|itytoconduct pub|ic affairs.
hc docsnotsccthat assomcthingtobccondcmncd, sincc itsccmsto
him that thc agitation which rcigns in thc po|itica| sphcrc sprcads to
thc circu|ation ofidcasand by cxpanding cvcryonc`sñc|d ofcuriosity.
¹hisccasc|cssagitationwhich dcmocraticgovcrnmcnthasintroduccd
into thc po|itica| wor|d inßucnccs a|| socia|intcrcoursc. 1 am not surc
ReversibililY l ó9
that, on thc who|c, this is not thc grcatcst advantagc of dcmocracy,
and I am |css inc|incd to app|aud it forwhat it docs than forwhat it
causcsto bcdonc`(DA,vo|. I, p. 25l).A|atcrcommcntiscvcnmorc
but itproduccswhat thc ab|cstgovcrnmcntsarc frcqucnt|y unab|c to
crcatc. namc|y, ana||-pcrvadingand rcst|cssactivity,asupcrabundant
forcc, and an cncrgy which is inscparab|c from lt and which may,
howcvcrunfavourab|ccircumstanccs maybc,producc wondcrs` (ibi d. ,
p. 252). Hcdocs,ofcoursc, consistcnt|y contrast thc dcmocracy that
is to bcfoundin Europc,whcrcithasbccn'abandoncdto its |aw|css
passion' (ibid. , p. l l) with that to bc foundin Amcrica, whcrc 'it has
bccn ab|c tosprcad in pcrfcct frccdom` (ibid., p. IJ). Andyct, cvcn
assuming that thc function of thc initia| comparison is simp|y to win
ovcrhisrcadcrs- 'timidminds`whoarcafraid thatrcformsmight|cad
to anarchy - hc is so carricd away by thc |ogic of his princip|cs that
hc puts forward a formu|a which, in my vicw, cxprcsscs his thought
admirab|y. ¹hus itis by thc cnjoymcnt ofa dangcrousfrccdom that
thc Amcricans |carn thc art of rcndcring thc dangcrs of frccdom |css
formidab|c. ` (ibid. , p. l l9).Onccou|dnothopcforabcttcrdcscription
of thc uniquc charactcr of thc dcmocratic advcnturc. Tocqucvi||c
rcjccts thc hypothcsis that this advcnturc can bc mastcrcd thanks to
thccmcrgcncc ofa powcrwhich, bccausc itrcprcscnts thc wi|| of a||,
can subordinatc thc rights ofcach individua| to its idcaofthc pub|ic
good and of thc dircction that shou|d bc imprintcd on socicty. Nor,
dcspitc his conccssions to thc thcn-fashionab|c thcory of cn|ightcncd
sc|f-intcrcst (and, oncc again, wc havc to ask whcthcr thcy might not
bc purc|y tactica|), docs hc baschisjudgcmcntonthc princip|cofthc
natura| sc|f-rcgu|ation of intcrcsts. Thc hction thatharmonycan arisc
out of a combination of individua| passions is quitc a|icn to him. His
ana|ysissuggcststhat,inthccourscofhistory, individua|sdiscover that
thcyarca||indcpcndcntandshapcdincachothcr`s|ikcncssasa rcsu|t
of thcir incrcasing cqua|ity of condition, and it furthcr suggcsts that
citizcns discover that, as citizcns |ivingamongothcrcitizcns, thcy arc
a|| cqua||y dcstincd to cxcrcisc pub|ic authority or to supcrvisc its
cxcrcisc. Thisdiscovcrycannot bcintcrprctcdwithinthc |imitationsof
ahistoricistconccption,itis notacontingcntcvcntboundupwithonc
ofscvcra| cqua||y |cgitimatc modcs ofsocia|organization. Tocqucvi||c
makcshisvicwsonthispointpcrfcct|yc|carinL' £101 social el polilique
de la France: 'According to thc modcrn dcmocratic and, I vcnturc to
say,thccorrecl notion offrccdom,cvcry man,bcing prcsumcdtohavc
rcccivcd from naturc thc ncccssary intc||igcncc to conduct his own
affairs, acquircs at birth an cqua| and imprcscriptib|c right to |ivc
indcpcndcnt|y of his fc||ows in a|| rcspccts that conccrn him a|onc,
and to govcm his dcstiny as hc sccs ht` (AR, vo|. I, p. ó2, cmphasis
addcd). Thc notion ofindividua| frccdom is, wcarc givcn to bc|icvc,
both a product of history and corrcct. Onc wou|d objcct in vain that
mcnwith ascnsc of thcirindcpcndcncccxistcdpriorto thc advcntof
1 70 On Freedom
dcmocracy, no onc is morc awarc of thc strcngth of that fcc|ing in
aristocratic socictyorofthccxtraordinarycffccts it cou|d huvc; hc is
cvcn convinccd that thisstrcngth offcc|ingdiminishcswhcn indcpcn-
dcncc is not somcthing that is won by thc fcw, and is socia||y
rccognizcd. It is, howcvcr,truc to say that, whcn itis trans|atcd into
right, individua| indcpcndcncc ccascs to bc thc privi|cgc of thc fcw
and to bc cxcrciscd at thc cxpcnsc of thc subjugation of othos, it
bccomcs unconditiona| , it is a human attributc, and it rcvca|s thc
vocation ofhumanity. Thcrc is nothing in this rccognition of right to
sanction thc i||usionthat thc cxistcncc of individua|sprcccdcs that of
socicty, in a dcmocracy, individua|s cmcrgc from within socicty, and
thcy do not simp|y appcar to bc simi|ar: thcyarcdchncd as such and
candcc|arc thcmsc|vcsto bcsimi|ar. lnthcsamcpassagc,Tocqucvi||c
wasno morc thana matcria|fact,ancphcmcra|accidcnt. . . obcdicncc
is no |ongcr a mattcr of mora|ity. ` In othcrwords, a|though po|itica|
frccdom itsc|f is a product of history, it is not rcducib|c to a systcm
of institutions dcsigncd to protcct individua| frccdom, both frccdoms
stcm from thc samc causc, namc|y cmancipation from any pcrsona|
authority which can arrogatc thc powcr totakcdccisions affccting thc
dcstiny of a|| inaccordanccwith itsown cnds. Po|itica| frccdom inits
turn bccomcs unconditiona|. it rcvca|s thc csscncc of thc po|itica|. In
saying that, i ndcmocracy, mcn discovcr thcmsc|vcs to bc individua|s
and citizcns, wc arc a|so imp|ying that nothing can matcria|¡zc thcir
frccdom, rcgard|css of thc wcight of thc institutions that support it.
Andthisiswhyancwform ofscrvitudc mightbccompatib|c with thc
outward forms offrccdom (DA., vo|. I I , p. 319). Thc ncw scicncc of
po|itics which Tocqucvi||c appca|sforsostrong|y in thcopcningpagcs
of Democracy in America is, thcn, high|y unusua|. It is not conhncd
to an undcrstanding ofhow institutionsfunction, and sti|| |css docs it
havc anything to do with thc pscudo-scicncc prcachcd by thosc who
arguc thc casc for a socia| body whosc movcmcnts arc carcfu||y
rcgu|atcd, and in which cvcryonc is assigncd thcir rightfu| p|accin
ordcr to fu|h| thc function that is most bcnchcia| to a||. It is a
phi|osophyrathcrthanascicncc. Itavoidsthci||usionsoforganizationa|
thcory, and it isdcsigncd1o cducatc thc rcadcr about thc dangcrs of
frccdom, not in ordcr tomakcfrccdomsccm unattractivc, but inordcr
to makc its dangcrs acccptab|c, to show that risks havc to bc takcn
to ward off othcr thrcats. Thc cntirc ana|ysis of thc frccdom of thc
prcss, of civi| and po|itica| associations, and of univcrsa| suffragc is
govcrncd by this ovcr-riding conccrn.
Itisnotsimp|ybccausc individua| frccdom andpo|iticu|frccdom form
a happy combination and support onc anothcr thut, in Tocqucvi||c`s
vicw, thcy arc inscparab|c, it is bccausc frccdom cannot bc |oca|izcd,
bccausc it is not an attributc of human cxistcncc or cocxistcncc,
bccausc it is constitutivc of thcm, and bccausc it is indivisib|c. lt is
Reversibility 171
rcvca|cdi nwhatBcrgson ca||sa rctrogradc movcmcntofthc truth. A
and bo|dncss of Tocqucvi||c`s conccption. Tocqucvi||c docs of coursc
sharc Constants hatrcd of arbitrary powcr, and his idca of frccdom,
|ikc Constant`s, has nothing in common with thc thcory of cconomic
|ibcra|ism. It is, morcovcr, to Constant`s crcdit that hc not on|y
dcnounccs thc hction of an abso|utc sovcrcignty of thc pcop|c which
hnds its cxprcssion in thc right to constrain cvcry individua| in thc
namc ofa||, but that hc a|sodisccrnsthc diffcrcncc bctwccn thcspirit
of thc Modcrns and that of thc Ancicnts. It is to his crcdit that hc
shows that in thc citicsofAntiquity, which thc rcvo|utionarics of thc
cightccnth ccntury admircd so much, thc pricc of participation in
pub|ic affairs was thc rcnunciation o ìndividua| rìghts, whcrcas thc
cnjoymcntofthosc rights hasnowbccomc anirrcprcssib|c nccdwhich
But in his Principes politiques, Constant is not contcnt with asscrting
that 'thcrc isoncpartofhumancxistcncc which, ofncccssity, rcmains
individua|and indcpcndcnt, andwhich,byright,|icsbcyondanysocia|
compctcncy',° with contrasting thc ru|c of arbitrary powcr with thc
hxity of contracts, or with rccommcnding thc obscrvancc of forms -
thc 'tutc|ary divinitics which watch ovcrhuman associations`- bccausc
in thcir abscncc, cvcrything is `obscurc` and subjcct to 'thc |onc|y
dictatcs of conscicncc and thc vaci||ation of opinion` (p. 41 1 ) . His
argumcnt constant|y tcndsto makc individua|s both thccondition and
thc cnd of thc po|itica| ordcr. Having cnumcratcd thc modcrn civi|
frccdom`, hc statcs: ¹his individua| frccdom is in cffcct thc goa| of
a|| human associations` (p.408). Hc confuscs contracts with po|itica|
associationsthcmsc|vcs(p. 4l0). Hcdchncsformsas'th¢on|yrc|ations
bctwccn mcn' (p. 41 1 ) . Hc rcgardsthcvio|ation of individua| frccdom
as dcstroying a|| thosc guarantccs which arc `thc hrst condition and
thcon|ygoa|whicha||owmcnto unitcundcrthcru|cof|aw` (p. 4l2).
Simi|ar|y, it is not cnough todcmonstratc that individua| frccdom is
thc 'grcatcst of a|| modcrn nccds` and that 'wc must thcrcforc ncvcr
ask for it to bc sacrihccd in ordcr to cstab|ish po|itica| frccdom`
(p. 506). In his vicw, po|itica| frccdom is no morc than a guarantcc
(p. 509). Thc ncccssityofprcscrvingpo|itica|frccdom must not makc
us forgct that `thc morc timc thc cxcrcisc of po|itica| rights |cavcs us
for privatc intcrcsts, thc morc prccious frccdom bccomcs` (p. 152).
Thcrca|rcason whywcshou|d notcomp|ctc|y rcjcct thc'division of
po|itica| powcr` rc|atcs,thcn,tothc dangcrthat thosc who huvcbccn
cntrustcd with authority might takc advantagc of thc indiffcrcncc of
thosc who gavc thcm thcir mandatc and might disposc of thosc
guarantccs as thcy scc ht, it rc|atcs, that is. to thc dangcr that
individua|s might |osc thcir 'cnjoymcnt of privatc rights` Uouissances
priVes] ' (p. 513). Wc must not bc dcccivcd by thc fact that, at thc
cnd of his famous discoursc on `La libcrtc comparcc dcs ancicns ct
l72 011 Freedom
dcs modcrncs`, Constant suddcn|y adopts a diffcrcnt tonc and, in a
fcw cmphatic phrascs, rcjccts thc vicw that happincss is thc u|timatc
goa| of thc human racc, and dcscribcs po|itica| frccdom as 'thc most
powcrfu| and thc most forccfu| mcans of achicving pcrfcction that
Hcavcn has grantcd us'. His vision of modcrn dcmocracy is vcry
diffcrcnt from Tocqucvi||c`s. It is not that thc |attcr rcjccts thc
statcmcnt that 'Among thc modcrns . . . thc individua| is indcpcndcnt
in his privatc |ifc, but, cvcn in thc frccst statcs, hc is sovcrcign on|y
in appcarancc` (p. 496), or thc vicw that `his pcrsona| inßucncc is an
impcrccptib|c c|cmcnt in thcsocia|wi||whichimprintsitsdircctionon
thc govcrnmcnt` (p. 448). But that obscrvation - and wc know how
hc wi|| dcvc|op it - conccrns on|y onc aspcct of thc dynamic of
dcmocracy, and it docs not |cad him toignorc thc vita|ityofa socicty
thisobscrvationsimp|y supports thc idca ofan irrcvcrsib|cmovcmcnt
towards thc cnjoymcnt of privatc rights Uouissance priveesJ, for
Tocqucvi||c it rcvca|s thc void which appcars whcn cvcryonc rctrcats
into thcir own sphcrc- thc void in which socia| powcr is cngu|fcd.
Thc rcprcscntation of thc individua|thcrcforcbccomcsinconsistcnt
if it is cxtractcd from thc rcprcscntation of thc po|itica|. Fcrhaps it
wou|d bc morc accuratc to say that thc prob|cmatic ofthc individua|
iscomp|ctc|y transformcd bythc ncwnotionofthcpo|itica|. Constant
uscs that notion to dcsignatc a sphcrc of actions and rc|ations
govcrncdby thc impcrativc ofthccommon intcrcst. Fo|itica|powcris
ofa||,raisingthc forccsandfunds rcquircdforthcsmooth transaction
of a|| thc various typcs of busincss in which citizcns takc part, and
providing for dcfcncc against possib|c forcign aggrcssion. Constant
fo||ows tradition in that thc thrcc dcpartmcnts of thc statc - justicc,
hnancc and dcfcncc - arc cnough to dchnc its hc|d of intcrvcntion.
Thc pub|ic rca|m is scparatc from thc privatc rca|m, common goa|s
arc diffcrcnt toprivatc goa|s. At thc samc timc, powcris bcyond thc
rcach of individua|s, rcgard|css of thc inßucncc thcy may cxcrt on
It cou|d not, of coursc, bc said that Tocqucvi||c providcs a ncw
dchnition ofthc po|itica|. Thc fact is that in his ana|ysisof Amcrican
a distinction bctwccn thc socia| statc and its po|itica| conscqucnccs,
bctwccn civi| associationsand po|itica| associations, bctwccn adminis-
trativc powcr and po|itica| powcr, bctwccn idcas and fcc|ings, and
mora|s, and bctwccn dcspotism and po|itica| frccdom. But, dcspitc
thcsc distinctions - and thc critcria on which thcy arc bascd arc, in
thc cvcnt, oftcn unstab|c - thc rcadcr cannot fai| to pcrccivc in
dcmocracy aform of society whosc singu|arity bccomcs apparcnt if it
iscomparcd withadiffcrcntform, such as aristocraticsocicty. Dcspitc
his cfforts to scc cqua|ity of condition as thc fundamcnta| fact from
Reversibility l7J
whicha||othcrssccmtobcdcrivcd, hc |cavcsusin nodoubtthatthc
mcaning it acquircs in dcmocratic socicty is vcry diffcrcnt from thc
govcrnmcnta| action, hc givcs it a symbo|ic import and rcvca|s that,
quitc apart from thc tcchnica| modiñcations it imp|ics, its cffccts
pcrmcatc thc who|c of socicty, and inIIucncc both mcnta|itics and
mora|s. Hcisnotinvitingustorccognizc a modcofactivitywhichhas
its spccihcity at a ccrtain rcmovc from thc po|itica|, on thc contrary,
hc invcsts with a po|itica| mcaning somcthing thatcscapcd thc noticc
of car|icr mcditations thatwcrc conhncdtothc sphcrc ofgovcrnmcnt
and partics. Simi|ar|y,hcdocsnotandcannotconfusccivi|associations
withpo|itica| associations, andsti|| |cssdocshcconfusc thctcmporary
groupings that arc formcd to dcfcnd an intcrcst or a particu|ar right
with nationa| partics, but his ana|ysis docs rcvca| an indivisib|c truth
about associations as such. Onc wou|d attcmpt in vain, hc says in
substancc, to |imit frccdom of association to particu|ar activitics, if
mcn |osc thc frccdom to act togcthcr in grcat things, thcy wi|| |osc
thcir tastc for association in |itt|c things which conccrn thcm morc
c|osc|y. Convcrsc|y, if thcir intcrvcntions arc rcstrictcd to thc minor
dctai|sofsocia||ifc,thcywi||bcunab|ctothinkorfcc|for thcmsc|vcs.
'Formyownpart, Ishou|dbc inc|incdtothinkfrccdom|cssncccssary
ingrcat things than in |itt|c oncs, ifitwcrc possib|c tosccurc thc onc
without posscssing thc othcr` (DA, vo|. II, p. J2O). Hc immcdiatc|y
Subjcction in minor affairs brcaks out cvcry day and is fc|t by
thc who|c community indiscriminatc|y. It docs not drivc mcn to
rcsistancc, but it crosscs thcm at cvcry turn, ti|| thcy arc |cd to
surrcndcrthc cxcrcisc of thcirownwi|| . . . Itis vain tosummon
a pcop|c who havc bccn rcndcrcd sodcpcndcnt on thc ccntra|
powcr to choosc from timc to timc thc rcprcscntativcs of that
powcr, this rarc and bricfcxcrcisc ofthcirfrccchoicc, howcvcr
importantitmay bc, wi|| notprcvcntthcmfromgradua||y|osing
thc facu|tics ofthinking, fcc|ing and actingfor thcmsc|vcs, and
thus gradua||y fa||ing bc|ow thc |cvc| of humanity. (Ibid. ,
pp.J2O l )
Tocqucvi||ci sccrtain|ynot suggcstingthatcvcrythingis thc samc, but
hc is suggcsting that cvcrything in thc dcnsc fabric of socicty is
intcrdcpcndcnt, and that a |csion at any onc point in thc tissuc of
dcmocracy wi|| tcar it apart.
To convincc oursc|vcs that this is so, wc havc on|y to cxaminc thc
rcpctitivcand mcthodica| usc hc makcsofthcconccptofsocia|powcr.
Thc author of Democracy i11 America rcp|accs thc notion of a powcr
that can bc |oca|izcd, of a visib|c powcr whosc action dcpcnds upon
174 On Freedom
thosowhoarocntrustcdwithit,withthatofadiffuso, invisib|cpowor,
which is both intcrna| and cxtorna| to individua|s, which is produccd
by individua|s and which subjugatcs individua|s, which is asimaginary
as it is roa|, and which is imprintod on govornmont, administration
and opinion a|ikc. And so, a|though hc fo||ows Constant`s oxamp|o in
tho moro scrious dangcr that is inhoront in thc rcprcsontation of
socioty`s abso|utc right. Histono mayscomsimi|artothatofConstant
whcn, for oxamp|o hc statcs that. 'No citizcn is so obscuro that it is
not vory dangcroustoa||owhim toboopprcsscd` (DA vo|. II, p. 327).
But hispointofviowisnottho samc. Tho prob|cm is notsimp|y that,
by vio|ating tho rights of onc individua|, powcr undorminos tho
convontion which binds him to othcrs, and that ovcryono thoroforc
foars for his own safcty. Tho cvi| comcs from both abovo and bc|ow.
mcrgos with powcr. Tho fact that tho individua| no |ongor fcc|s that
an attack on his noighbour is an attack on him mcans that tho
rc|ationship bowcon sc|f and othor has disappoarcd, that individua|
oxistoncc has bccomc accidonta|, as comparcd with tho substantivo
tho idca ofsocia|powor dominatos tho imagination ofboth thosowho
govorn thc stato and thoso who obcy it. 'Tho notion thcy a|| havo of
govornmcntisthatofa so|c,simp|c, providontia|, andcrcativcpowor.
A||socondaryopinions inpo|iticsarounsott|od,thisoncrcmainshxcd,
invariab|o and consistont . . . thoso who govorn and thosc who aro
govcrnod agrcc topursuo itwithcqua| ardour` (ibid. , p-p. 291-2). Hc
rcpoats thisconvictionwhcnho ana|yscs thoncwtasto for uniformity.
'Thus thc govornmont |ikcs what thc citizcns |ikc and natura||y hatcs
constant|y unitc tho sovcroign and ovory mcmbor of thc community,
cstab|ish a socrct and |astingsympathybotwocn thom` (ibid. , p. 295).
No mattcr whcthcr ho is ta|king about thc ncw frcodom or tho ncw
sorvitudooftho individua|, ho socs itas boing cxcrciscd within aform
of po|itica| socicty - but, in his viow, thc institution of thc form of
that socicty can ncvor bc disassociatcd from tho institution of tho
Thc acuity of his vision of domocracy is, moroovor, such that it
a||ows him tograspnoton|ythccomp|icitybotwocn thoscwhogovcrn
and thosc who aro govcrnod, but a|so thc comp|icity botwcon tho
roso|utc supportcrs of ordcr, who aro prcparcd to incrcasc tho
who, inordorto furthcrthocausooftho pcoplo, cithcr ca|| fora ncw
rovo|ution or construct modo|s of a socioty in which a|| antagonisms
Evon thoso which aro most at varianco aro novcrtho|css agrood
on this hcad. Tho unity, tho ubiquity, thc omnipotoncc of tho
Reversibility 175
suprcmc powor, and thc uniformity of its ru|os constitutc tho
putforward inourago. Thoy rccur ovcn inthc wi|dostvisionsof
po|itica| rcgcncration, tho human mind pursuos thom in its
droams. (Ibid. , vo|. II, p. 291)
Tocquovi||o again opons upa difforont pcrspcctivo tothat adoptod by
Constant. Thc socia|ist utopia isinfact sustaincd by a truth which no
of individua|s can pcrccivo. Arguing against Constant, Saint-Simon
thorcforc dcnouncos thc idoa of a socicty whosc so|o justihcation is
tho protoction of individua|s. His profacc to Le Systeme industriel is
incvcrysonsothcantithosisofthodoctrino ofthc Principes politiques,
as out|inod in thc chaptcr on 'Dc |a |ibortc individuc||o`. Basica||y,
Saint-Simon doridcs thc idoa that frocdom is tho goa| of a|| human
associations. a human association is govornod by an activity goa| [but
d'activitej . In any givon pcriod,frocdomcan bo doñnod on|y in torms
of that goa|, tho goa| is primary, and frcodom is mcro|y tho abi|ity to
pursuoit. Thc idoa|izationofthonotionofcontractthorcforc concoa|s
a mystihcation. human bcings do not unito in a socicty in ordor to
mako|awsforonoanothcr,oncmay aswo||imagincindividua|scoming
togcthcr to draw up now convontions for tho gamc of choss, and
bo|ioving that this makos thom chcss-p|ayors. Thc juristswho sorvod
thc monarchy ta|kod a |ot about forms, but forms mask contont, and
thosc who contro| tho dostiny of modcrn socioty must considor thc
contcntofa|| things. Asforpo|itica|frocdom, ifit moansthooxcrcisc
of ovoryono's right to govorn or to contro| tho govornmont, it is
tantamount to |caving authority to chancc, orto donying that thorc is
such a thingascompctcncc in tho managcmont ofpub|ic affairs, ovon
though thcoxistoncoofcompctoncois rccognizod ina||othcr mattcrs.
A|though thoy aro obvious|ydifforont, thoargumcntsdo at |oast havc
a common basis. a critiquc of tho abstractions that charactorizo thc
|ibcra| thcory of tho individua|. Tocquovi||o`s writings aro not simp|y
boyond tho roach of this critiquc, hc wi|| in fact tako it into account
and wi|| rcvca| thc hiddon conncction bctwcon itandtho princip|os of
thc dcfondors of po|itica| roa|ism. Thoso criticisms do not affoct him
bccauso, as wo havc said, hc docsnot posit thc viowthat individua|s
arc thc hrst torms in an association whosc so|o justihcation is that it
for contracts and forms is that thcy cxp|ain and stabi|izo thosc
guarantoos. Thoy havc thc virtuc of maintaining and making visib|c
thc markcrs oftho difforontiation and articu|ation of socia| ro|ations,
which tond to bc dostroyod by tho bo|iof in tho abso|utc right of
socicty. A govcrnmont o|cctcd by univorsa| suffragc docs not onjoy
thc advantagos of compctcncc. it is to bo app|audcd |oss
or what II
does than for what it causes t be done. In short, Tocqucvt||o attacks
Saint-Simon on his homo ground. Ho is no |ossintcrostcd than Saint-
l76 Oti Freedom
Simon in thc risc of modcrn socicty. His purposc is to dcmonstratc,
using Amcrica asancxamp|c, that itis at its mostvigorous whcn thc
i||usion that its organization can bc mastcrcd is dispc||cd, whcn thc
activitics andopinions of human bcings cscapc statc contro|. Rathcr
than rcp|acingthcnotionofthcsovcrcigntyofthcindividua|with that
ofthc sovcrcigntyofsocicty,hc unmasks thchctionconcca|cd by thc
|attcr notion. thc hction of a co||cctivc individua|, of a grcat bcing
who can bc dchncd and whosc contours can bc out|incd, thc hction
that its content can bc sccn and that itsgoal can bc cstab|ishcd. And
hc dcmonstratcs that this hction is indissociab|c from thc imagc of
omnipotcntpowcr. Itisirrc|cvantthatinautopiathispowcrisassumcd
to do away with cocrcion, that it is p|accd undcr thc acgis ofscicncc,
thatitcanbc tcrmcdspiritua|,orthatitcanbcbascduponthcconscnt
ofits subjccts. it is sti|| csscntia||y dcspotic. Wc can thus undcrstand
at |cast rigorous|y subordinatcd to thc impcrativc ofsocia| cohcsion.
This is not simp|y a rcsu|t of thc primacy that is accordcd to organic
pcriods - in critica| pcriods, individua|ism can comc into p|ay on|y
bccausc o|d princip|cs havc bccndisso|vcd, and thcir disso|ution is a
prccondition for thc gcstation of a ncw form. Thc doub|c imagc ofa
socicty which has achicvcd sc|f-know|cdgc and of an organ which
actua|izcs socicty imp|ics that thc individua| is imprintcd on it, that
thc individua| is known. It might bc addcd that, givcn that on|y a
sma|| numbcr ofpcop|carc compctcnt, citizcnswou|dbc|cftto dwc||
in obscurity, ifthcgoodncssandrationa|ityofthc socia|organization,
and thcfunctions whichdcvo|vc upon thcm,wcrc not madc visib|c, if
citizcns thcmsc|vcs did not participatc in thc grcat spcctac|c of thc
carcfu| construction of thc socia| machinc. Thc individua| is, thcn,
p|uckcd from obscurity- thcdangcrofhisbccoming|ostinthccrowd
is wardcd off - whcn his gazc is conccntratcd on thc common goa|
thanks to thc numcrousccrcmonics and fcstiva|s which givc socicty a
facc, whichcc|cbratcthcvariousro|csofitsmcmbcrs,bothin industry
and in thc fami|y, and which cnsurc that cvcryonc is both visib|c to
cvcryonc c|sc and ab|c to scc cvcryonc c|sc.
than this modc|, which is its cxp|icit ncgation. Ifwc |ook bcyond thc
formu|ac that bcar thc ha||mark of c|assica| thcorics, wc hnd in
Tocqucvi||c a ncwconccptofthc individua| combincd with a critiquc
of thc ncw conjunction ofpowcrand scicncc, and of thc idca| of thc
tota|visibi|ityofsocicty. Hisacccptancc ofthcfrccdomofindividua|s,
of thc irrcducib|c c|cmcnt in cvcryindividua| gocshand in hand with
a va|orization of a po|itica| socicty that is institutcd through a ncw
awarcncss of what cannot bc known or mastcrcd. At thc samc timc,
thcundcr|yingtcndcncyofthissocicty- if,thatis,itisnotovcrthrown
by thc dangcrs it crcatcs- is to dcny thc possibi|ity ofafu|| vision of
thc bcing of thc socia| in which cvcryonc is inc|udcd. It is not that
Reversibility l77
or of thc ncw phcnomcnon of the man lost ill the crowd. Wc know
that hc sccs this as onc of thc twin cffccts of cqua|ity of condition -
thc othcr bcing a |ovc of indcpcndcncc - but hc docs rcgard thc
rcvcrsa| ofthc phcnomcnon into its oppositc as ancvcnt that cangivc
risc to dcspotism. Hc isso hrm|y convinccd that cqua|ityof condition
is irrcvcrsib|c that hc cannot conccivc of thc cstab|ishmcnt of a
community in which cvcryonc |ivcs bcncath thc gazc of a|| and in
which cvcryonc canscc cvcryonc c|sc. Aristocraticsocicty conformcd
to that modc|. It was organizcd in tcrms of mu|tip|c nctworks of
pcrsona| dcpcndcncy. Tocqucvi||c docs of coursc notc that a sing|c
chain bound thc |ast |ink to thc hrst, thc pcasant to thc king, but hc
a|so notcs that. 'Thc out|inc ofsocicty itsc|fwasnotcasi|ydisccrnib|c
and wasconstant|yconfoundcdwith thcdiffcrcntpowcrsbywhich thc
community was ru|cd` (DA, vo|.II, p. J28). It was in thc cast|c, thc
scigniory, thc communc and thc corporation that mcn rc|atcd to onc
anothcr, cvcryonc cou|d scc somconc abovc him or bc|ow him. Thc
disappcarancc of thc hgurc of thc othcr-as-fc||ow and thc co||apscof
an authority which guarantccd thc naturc of thc socia| bond in thc
hcrc and now has, howcvcr, a twofo|d cffcct. thc individua| acquircs
thc notion of a socicty in which hc is dchncd as bcing shapcd in thc
|ikcncss ofothcrs, but hc cannotscc it - hc can scc ncithcr himsc|f
nor its othcr mcmbcrs. And in that socicty hc incvitab|y |oscs thc
and a||ows himsc|f to bc absorbcd into an anonymous vision. `As thc
conditions of mcn bccomc cqua| among a pcop|c,' notcsTocqucvi||c,
`individua|ssccm of|cssand socicty ofgrcatcr importancc, or rathcr,
cvcry citizcn, bcing assimi|atcd to a|| thc rcst, is |ost amongst thc
crowd and nothing stands conspicuous [I'on n'ape,;oit plus que] but
thc grcat and imposing imagc of thc pcop|c at |argc' (ibid. ,

o|. I I ,
p. 290). His undcrstanding of thc a|icnation that accompanìcs thc
vision of thc pcop|c (and thc vision of socicty and powcr, whosc
imagcs rcp|acc thc imagc of thc pcop|c in subscqucnt |incs) is
rcmarkab|c. Whcn individua|s, who arc constitutcd as such by thc
opcration which iso|atcs thcm from onc anothcr, bccomc |ost in thc
crowd, thc vision that conjurcs up this grcat bcing supprcsscs thcm
and swa||ows thcm up in thc anonymity of on. It nccd scarcc|y bc
pointcd out that thc writcr'stargcthcrc is not Saint-Simon (tho

gh it
is not irrc|cvant that thc rcfcrcncc to 'drcams` shou|d appcar ìn thc
samc chaptcr), hcisana|ysing aproccss which is intimatc|y bound up
withthc dcmocraticcxpcricnccinordcrto rcvca| itsdangcrs. Noton|y
docs utopianism fai| to scc thc origins of thosc dangcrs, it trics to
actua|izc 'thc grcat and imposing imagc of thc pcop|c`, and it c
wants that imagc to accompany thc |ivcs of individua|s, bccausc ìt ìs
motivatcd by a dcsirc to p|uck individua|s from thcir anonymity and
to rc|ocatc thcm in thc bright |ight of a communa| spacc ìn whìch
cvcryonc and cvcrything can scc and bc sccn.
Tocqucvi||c docs not contrast thc drcam of a socicty which can
!78 all Freedom
acccdc to fu|| sc|f-visibi|ity with thc advantagcs ofa mcchanism which
a||ows cvcryonc to conduct his own affairs without bcing sccn by
othcrs, andwhichcnsurcsthccohcsionofsocictywithou anyoncbcing
ab|ctoformanidcaofsocicty. Whcnhcnotcsthatinaristocraticagcs
thc imagc ofsocicty was not casi|y disccrnib|c, hc is not singing thcir
praiscs. His rcmarks to thc cffcct that thc corrcct notion offrccdom
coincidcs with mcn`s rccognition that thcy arc shapcd in cach othcr's
|ikcncss andwiththcirfcc|ingofbc|ongingnot on|y to oncsocicty but
to onc humanity |cavc nodoubts as to his intcntions. Hcissuggcsting
that thc ncw mcaning of'fc||ow`, 'socicty` and 'humanity`can on|y bc
rcconci|cdwithfrccdomifthcrcprcscntationofthcirrca|izationin thc
rca| is hc|d in chcck. Thc dcsirc to rca|izc it wou|d rcsu|t in a ßight
a scission bctwccn, on thc onc hand, thc rca|ms of opinion, powcr
and scicncc and, on thc othcr, thc pcop|c who arc subjcct to thcm.
His cntirc work is dcsigncd to convincc thc rcadcr that thc idca of
cqua|ity, ofsocicty, or of humanity must rcmain |atcnt ifit is not to
bccomcatcrrifyingñction,and thatitcmcrgcsfromthccomingtogcthcr
of mu|tip|c individua| pcrspcctivcs. Thc truth of thc indcpcndcncc of
thc individua| is not, thcrcforc, that it is an indivisib|c unity but that
it providcs thc u|timatc symbo| ofsingu|arity.
thc harmfu| cffccts of dcmocracy, docs Tocqucvi||c prcc|udc thc
possibi|ity of thc furthcr pursuit of thc advcnturc of individua| and
in America, hc docs, it is truc, a|tcr thc imp|ications of an argumcnt
thatsccmcd to imp|ythc incvitabi|ity ofdcspotism. Havingnotcdthat
havc natura||y a tastc for indcpcndcncc`, hc rcviscs his car|icr vicws
and adds that. 'Thcy arc natura||y impaticnt of rcgu|ation, and thcy
arc wcaricd by thcpcrmancncccvcn ofthcconditionthcy thcmsc|vcs
prcfcr. Thcy urc fond of powcr, but arc pronc to dcspisc and hatc
thoscwhowic|dit, andthcycasi|yc|udcitsgraspbythcirown mobi|ity
andinsigniñcancc` (vo|. I I , p. JJ). Thcoptimismwhichñndscxprcssion
in thc conviction that 'thcsc propcnsitics . . . wi|| furnish ncwwcapons
tocachsuccccdinggcncration thatstrugg|csinfavourofthc |ibcrtyof
mankind` is not bascd upon obscrvation of thc facts a|onc, sincc,
a|though it sccms to Tocqucvi||c that thc individua| has acquircd a
tastc for indcpcndcncc, it must not bc forgottcn that that tastc itsc|f
is bound upwith a po|itica| cvcntwith a mctaphysica| signiñcancc. thc
co||apsc of an unconditiona| authority which, in onc or anothcr socia|
contcxt,someone cou|dc|aimtocmbody.ltmust,howcvcr,bcadmittcd
that Tocqucvi||c has |itt|c to say about thc naturc of this tastc for
indcpcndcncc, it appcars to rcsu|t from cqua|ity, but it imp|ics no
morc than 'a tastc for fo||owing in thcir [mcn`s] privatc actions no
othcr guidc than thcir own wi||` - a tastc which soon inspircs 'thc
Reversibility I79
notion and |ovc of po|itica| frccdom` (ibid., p. 287). Thc |ink hc
cstab|ishcs bctwccn thc ñgurc of someone and thc idca of an
unconditiona| authorityisno |css disappointing. Tocqucvi||c dcscribcs
thc phcnomcnon of pcrsona| dcpcndcncc which charactcrizcs thc
aristocratic wor|d wc||, but hc mcrc|y mcntions, without rca||y
cxaminingit, thcfunction thcmonarchpcrformcdwhcnhcmanifcstcd
|cgitimacy inhispcrson, whcn hcwas bc|icvcd tobc thccmbodimcnt
of thc nation, whcn his powcr was bc|icvcd to dcrivc from God or
from thc ncw sccu|ar divinitics known as Rcason and !usticc. Hc
thcrcforc docs not apprcciatc thc import ofthc cxtraordinary cvcnt
signa||cd by thc risc of modcrndcmocracy. thc formation of a powcr
which has |ost its abi|ity to bc cmbodicd and thc u|timatc basisofits
|cgitimacy, and thc simu|tancous cstab|ishmcnt of rc|ations with |aw
and know|cdgc which no |ongcr dcpcnd upon rc|ations with powcr,
andwhichimp|ythatitishcnccforthimpossib|ctorcfcrto asovcrcign
princip|c transccnding thc ordcrof human thought and human action.
- and right|y intcrprcts it as a pcrvcrsion - and a|though hc
simu|tancous|yrcjcctsthchypothcsisofarcturnotthcAncicn Rcgimc
and a thco|ogico-po|itica| ordcr, hc gocs no furthcr than that. Hc is
rc|uctant to conc|udc that thc cxpcricncc of po|itica| and individua|
frccdom, and thc advcnt of a ncw idca of powcr and right, coincidc
with a ncw cxpcricncc of know|cdgc, with thc advcnt of a ncw idca
of truth. lt must bc statcd that this mutation imp|ics that what was
onccnomorcthan thcsccdofanidcainthcmindsofasma|| numbcr
has gcrminatcd, sprcad and imprintcd itsc|f on socia| |ifc. A|though
hc is bo|d cnough to say that 'Hc who docs not scck frccdom for its
own sakc is doomcd to scrvc` (AR, vo|. J, p. I I4), Tocqucvi||c docs
not go so far as to say that hc who docs not scck truth for its own
sakc is doomcd to bc|icvc - and to scrvc. Fo||owing an inspiration
simi|ar to that of La Boétic, hc invitcs us to rccognizc that frccdom
cannot bc taught to anyonc who docs not dcsirc it, that it is not a
spcciñc commodity that can bc namcd, and that to dcsirc it is 10
posscss it. Yct for somc rcason hc ho|ds back from thc idca that thc
qucst fortruth and thc truth itsc|farc oncand thc samc, that modcrn
socicty and thc modcrn individua| arc constitutcd by thc cxpcricncc
of thc disso|ution of thc u|timatc markcrs of ccrtainty, that thcir
disso|ution inauguratcs an advcnturc - and it is constant|y thrcatcncd
bythc rcsistancc itprovokcs- inwhich thcfoundationsofpowcr, thc
foundations ofright and thc foundations of know|cdgc arc a|| ca||cd
into qucstion - a tru|y historica| advcnturc in thc scnsc that it can
ncvcr cnd, in that thc boundarics of thc possib|c and thc thinkab|c
constant|y rcccdc.
J havc attcmptcdc|scwhcrcto cxaminc thcconscqucnccsofthcncw
phcnomcnon of thc disincorporation of powcr, thc most important
bcing thc cxpcricncc of a socictywhich can no |ongcr bc rcprcscntcd
!80 On Freedom
by thc modc| of thc body, and which acccpts division and thc cffccts
of division in cvcry domain. Hcrc, I wi|| thcrcforc simp|y point out
that thc changcs that can bc idcntiñcd in thc modc of thc institution
of thc socia| can a|so bc sccn in thc modc of thc institution of thc
individua|. Itcannotsimp|ybcargucdthat, oncc thcindividua|cscapcs
thc authority thc other cmbodicd for him bccausc of his socia| prc-
cmincncc, thc on|y standard by which hc can judgc his conduct is
ofhis own conscicncc, and that his on|y ru|c of conduct in a|| things
is his wi||. This idca, which has so oftcn bccn formu|atcd by |ibcra|
discoursc, ina||itsvariants,a||owsus toovcr|ook thcfact that,whi|st
rcason and justicc bccomc so|cmn rcfcrcnccs which arc avai|ab|c to
a||, thcy arc subjcct to intcrprctation by a||, and arc |inkcd to a
discovcry which no individua| can disassociatc from thc mobi|ization
of his capacity for know|cdgc and spccch. Whcn hc is dcñncd as
indcpcndcnt, thc individua|docsnot, asTocqucvi||csccmsto assumc,
acquirc a ncw ccrtainty in p|acc of thc o|d - thc ncw ccrtainty bcing
onc hc dcrivcs from his autonomy or onc which binds him to thc
powcr ofopinion or ofscicncc. Hc isdoomcd to bc tormcntcd by a
sccrct unccrtainty. Oncc truth cannot bc divorccd from thc cxcrcisc
ofthought, and oncc thc |aw by which thc cxistcncc ofthc individua|
ispositcdprovcs to bc |inkcd to hisabi|ity to cnunciatc it, know|cdgc
and non-know|cdgc convcrgc, and it is impossib|c to scparatc thcm.
Evcn thc distinction bctwccn thoughtandrightcannotaccountfor thc
novc|ty of this cvcnt, for thc cxcrcisc of thought changcs whcn thc
right tothinkisasscrtcd, it isccrtain|ya right thatcannotbcdcñncd,
but it is onc which is constant|y bcing cxtcndcd into arcas that wcrc
formcr|y forbiddcn. Such a rightcannot bc circumscribcd within thc
withthcwor|dandwithothcrs,itaffccts hiscvcrythought,andfounds
thcm in thc scnsc that it brings thcm into bcing.
Evcrything that, in Tocqucvi||c`s day, was portraycd by thc novc|
and by |itcraturc asa who|c, is anindcxofthc individua|`s ncwmodc
of cxistcncc within thc horizons of dcmocracy. giving onc`s thoughts
thcir duc, agrccing to |ivc with thcm, acccptingconßict and intcrna|
contradictions, granting onc`s thoughts a kind of equality (no mattcr
whcthcr thcy arc nob|c or basc, no mattcr whcthcr thcy takc shapc
undcr thc acgis of know|cdgc orpassion, as a rcsu|t ofcontacts with
pcop|c or with things), and acccpting that thc inncr-outcrdistinction
hasbccomc b|urrcd. Thccmcrgcnccofthc individua| docs not mcrc|y
mcan that hc is dcstincd to contro| his own dcstiny, hc has a|so bccn
disposscsscd ofhisassuranccasto hisidcntity-ofthcassuranccwhich
hconccappcarcd to dcrivcfrom hisstation,from hissocia|condition,
or from thc possibi|ity of attaching himsc|f to a |cgitimatc authority.
To paraphrasc Tocqucvi||c`s dcscription of Amcrica, wc can rcadi|y
agrcc that thc individua| is prcy to a 'ccasc|css agitation`, that his
unccrtainty as to his idcntity produccs 'a rcst|css intc||cctua| activity`
Reversibility I8I
and a 'supcrabundant cncrgy` which hcwas `unab|c tocrcatc` whcn
hc govcrncd his passions in accordancc with a |cgitimatc modc|. Or,
to paraphrasc our critiquc of Saint-Simon`s utopia, wc can rcadi|y
agrcc that thc individua| discovcrs that hc is undcñncd, and has no
contours, no contcnt and no goa|.
Now ifwc agrcc that thc individua| is in part constitutcd bcncath
thcpo|cofa ncwindctcrminacywhichopcnshimuptohimsc|f,which
turnstruthinto aqucstiontowhichthcrcisno answcr,butwhicha|so
travcrscs him whcthcr hc rca|izcs it or not, wc havc to rcjcct thc
a|tcrnativc formu|atcd by Tocqucvi||c, or at |cast rcfrainfrom posing
it in abso|utc tcrms. If Tocqucvi||c is to bc bc|icvcd, thc individua|
cithcr appcars in thc fu||ncss of his sc|f-afñrmation, or disappcars
comp|ctc|yas a rcsu|tofhiswcakncss and iso|ation, and isswa||owcd
that his strcngth docs not rcsidc in his fu|| positivity as a subjcct, and
that any attcmpt, no mattcr how rcñncd, to cns|avc him wi|| fai|
bccausc thcrc is within him somcthing that cscapcs objcctiñcation.
Tocqucvi||c's idca that dcmocratic frccdom can bc transformcd into
scrvitudc sti|| survivcs in ourday. And notwithout good rcason. It is
not worth dcscribing yct again a|| thc signs of this trcnd, thc most
thc individua|. It is, howcvcr, truc to say that thosc who acccpt
Tocqucvi||c`s vicw andwhodcnounccthis thrcat most voca||y cvcn go
so far asto bc|icvc thatthc projcct can rcach comp|ction,thcyrcadi|y
conc|udcthat thc individua| wi||soon bc annihi|atcd, but thcy rcscrvc
thcmsc|vcs thc rightto conccivc ofthat cvcntua|ity, and thcy do so as
though thcy wcrc fu||y indcpcndcnt. Now, it is onc thing to pcrccivc
thc ambiguitics of thc dcmocratic advcnturc, it is quitc anothcr to
conc|udc that thc qucstion of thc individua|, bound up as it is with
is, for thosc who arc suffcring tota|itarian opprcssion, sti|| thc on|y
dcsirab|c form of socicty, bccausc it prcscrvcs thc doub|c idca of
po|itica| frccdom and thc frccdom of thc individua|.
Thc most rcmarkab|c fcaturc of critiqucs of dcmocracy is thc
durabi|ity of thc rcprcscntation ofthe man lost in the crowd. It fuc|s
botha horrorofanonymity and a|ongingforan imaginarycommunity
immunc tosuch |ongings. It is thcrcforc a|| thc morcstrikingthat his
avcrsion towards any form of popu|ar mobi|ization, which hc sharcd
with thc mcn ofhisc|ass, shou|d not havc prcvcntcd him from sccing
thc crowd asa signofthc dcgcncration ofthc individua|. And in that
rcspcct, isitnotworth notinganambiguity7 Isanonymity an abso|utc
cvi|7 Thosc who wish to makc thc individua| or thc community - or
both - an activc subjcct asscrt that it is. But if wc acccpt that thc
individua| cscapcs his own pcrccption in thc vcry act of rc|ating to
I82 On Freedom
himsc|f,thathc has tocomctotcrmswiththcunknownc|cmcntwithin
himsc|f, whydcnythatthcrcisa|inkbctwccnso|itudcandanonymity,
whydcnythatrccognition ofthcothcras bcingshapcdinour|ikcncss
imp|ics that wc must a|so acccpt that wc cannotknowthc othcr, and
why, ñna||ydivorcc thctruthofassociationfrom thctruthofiso|ation
whcn wc shou|d bc taking thcm togcthcr7 Thc answcr is obvious. it
is as though, for a|most two hundrcd ycars, wc had bccn forccd to
cbctwccnmakingan apo|ogiaforindividua|ismandmakingan
apo|ogtaformassdcmocracy,bctwccn disavowingoncanddisavowing
thc othcr.
From Equality to Freedom
Fragments of an Interpretation of Democracy
in America
Fcw authors havc cxpcricnccd thc fcc|ing of having discovcrcd and
namcdthc objcct on which thcirmcditations arcconccntratcd to thc
samc dcgrcc as Tocqucvi||c. His cxamination of Amcrican socicty
rcvca|s to him that cqua|ityof condition is 'thc fundamcnta|factfrom
which a|| othcrs sccm to bc dcrivcd` (vo|. I, p. J). ' Obscrving that
cqua|ity of condition has attaincd its cxtrcmc |imit in Amcrica, hc
bccomcsconvinccd that Europc isconstant|y approaching it. Equa|ity
of condition thcrcforc sccms to him to havc thc charactcr of a
`providcntia| fact` . `It is univcrsa|, it is |asting, it constant|y c|udcs a||
human intcrfcrcncc` (p. 6). Thc mcn ofhis timc must, hc asscrts, 'bc
convinccd . . . that thc gradua| and progrcssivc dcvc|opmcnt ofsocia|
cqua|ity is atoncc thcpast andthcfuturcofthcirhistory` (p. 7). And
what docs cqua|ity ofcondition mcan7 A 'socia| statc`. What docs its
gradua| and progrcssivc dcvc|opmcnt mcan7 A 'socia| movcmcnt` or
a `socia| rcvo|ution`. And what is this socia| statc; what is this socia|
movcmcnt7Dcmocracy,'thc dcmocraticrcvo|ution`.Inthcintroduction
to thc ñrst vo|umc of Democracy in America, thcrc is a constant
intcrp|ay bctwccn thc conccpt of cqua|ity of condition and that of
Equa|ity of condition is, howcvcr, no morc than a `fundamcnta|
fact` . In thc vcry ñrst |incs of his introduction, Tocqucvi||c dcscribcs
it as such: 'it cxcrciscs a prodigious inßucncc on thc who|c coursc of
socicty`, on pub|ic spirit and |aws. and has no |css cffccts on civi|
socicty thanon thcgovcrnmcnt (p. J). Wccanthcrcforcconc|udcthat
thc dcmocratic rcvo|ution is not rcducib|c to this fundamcnta| fact.

hatitcncompasscsboththatfact anditscffccts. If,howcvcr,itaffccts
socicty at cvcry |cvc|,itissti|| truc tosaythatthcnaturcofthc changc
dcpcnds upon thc mi|icu on which it is imprintcd, and that thc mi|icu
has bccn shapcd by history. How, thcn. can wc distinguish bctwccn
thc accidcnta| and thc ncccssary in history7
Thc answcrappcars tobc as fo||ows. Amcricansocictyfu||y rcvca|s
thc conncction bctwccn thc fundamcnta|factand itscffccts insofaras
l84 all Freedom
thc origins of thc nation coincidc with thc origins of dcmocracy. In
Amcrica, thcn, thc courscofhistoryhasnot bccn disruptcd. Amcrica
it is difûcu|t to distinguish bctwccn factors pcrtaining to thc csscncc
of dcmocracy and factors attributab|c to thc disordcrs rcsu|ting from
thc dcstructionofthc Ancicn Rcgimc, from, that is, thc cffcctsofthc
grcat Rcvo|ution. ln Francc, in particu|ar, dcmocracy
hasovcrthrownwhatcvcrcrosscd its path and has shakcn a|| that
ithasnotdcstroycd. Itscmpirchasnotbccngradua||yintroduccd
or pcaccab|y cstab|ishcd, but it has constant|y advanccd in thc
midstofthcdisordcrsandthc agitationsofa conßict. Inthchcat
ofthc strugg|c cach partisan is hurricd bcyond thc natura| |imits
unti| hc |oscs sight of thc cnd of his cxcrtions, and ho|ds forth
in a way which docs not corrcspond to his rca| scntimcnts or
sccrct instincts. (p. l l)
In Amcrica, by contrast, 'thcgrcatsocia| rcvo|ution . . . sccmsto havc
ncar|y rcachcd its natura| |imits. It has bccn cffcctcd with casc and
simp|icity, say rathcr that this country is rcaping thc fruits of thc
dcmocratic rcvo|ution which wc arc undcrgoing, without having had
thc rcvo|ution itsc|f` (p. lJ). Thc bcginning of thc sccond cha
appcars to conhrm our initia| answcr. Amcrica is thc on|y country in
'ithas bccn possib|c to witncssthc natura| and tranqui| growth
of soctcty, and whcrc thc mßucncc cxcrciscd on thc futurc condition
ofstatcs by thcir origin is c|car|y distinguishab|c` (p. 27) Tocqucvi||c
a|so statcs hcrc that. 'Amcrica, conscqucnt|y, cxhibits in thc broad
|ight ofdaythc phcnomcna which thcignoranccorrudcncss ofcar|icr
agcsconcca|sfrom our rcscarchcs` (p. 27).
Lctusa|soconsidcrTocqucvi||c`sinitia| approach.Chaptcr l , which
ts cnttt|cd 'Extcnor form ofNorth Amcrica`, obvious|yfunctionsas a
prcamb|c, thc author givcsa bricfaccount ofthc natura| cnvironmcnt
and of thc Indian communitics who occupicd ccrtain parts of thc
tcrmory bcf

rc thc arriva| of thc co|onists. Thc sccond chaptcr is
cnttt|cd 'Ongtnofthc Ang|o-Amcricans and importancc ofthisorigin
inrc|ationto thcirfuturc condition` . Itintroduccsustoahistorywhich
ts transparcnt bccausc thc birth of thc naiion is visib|c. 'Thc cntirc
man is,so to spcak, to bc sccn in thc crad|c ofthc chi|d` and, just as
wc condcmn oursc|vcs to ignorancc if wc bcgin to study thc man in
his maturity, so thcmcaningofhistory in gcncra| cscapcs us bccausc
thc origins ofpcop|csrcmain invisib|cto us (p. 26). An undcrstanding
of thc Amcrican starting point is so productivc thatTocqucvi||ccvcn
vcnturcs so far as to say. 'Thc rcadcrs of this book wi|| ûnd in thc
prcscntchaptcrthc gcrm of a|| that is tofo||ow and thc kcyto a|most
thc who|c work` (p. 28). Thc third chaptcr is dcvotcd to ¹hc socia|
condition of thc Ang|o-Amcricans. In a bricf introductory scction,
From Equalty to Freedom l85f
thc author notcs that socia| condition 'is common|y thc rcsu|t of
circumstanccs, somctimcs of |aws, oftcncr sti|| of thcsc two causcs
unitcd, butwhcnoncc cstab|ishcd,itmayjust|y bc considcrcd asitsc|f
thc sourcc of a|most a|| thc |aws, thc usagcs and thc idcas which
rcgu|atc thc conduct of nations. whatcvcr it docs not producc, it
modihcs` (p. 46). Thc scction which cnds this chaptcr (pp. 5J~4)
dcscribcs thc 'po|itica| conscqucnccs of thc socia| condition of thc
Ang|o-Amcricans`. it is gcncra| in scopc, and it contains a thcsis
which both stands as a prc|iminary conc|usion and anticipatcs |atcr
dcvc|opmcnts. Aftcr this, thc ana|ysis dca|swith po|itica| |aws (thc
princip|c ofpopu|arsovcrcignty), dcmocraticgovcrnmcnt(atthc |cvc|
and thc prcss), mora|s, idcas . . . Thc hrst thrcc chaptcrs, and morc
spccihca||y chaptcrs 2 and J, thcrcforc dchnitc|y form a who|c, and
providc us with thc mcans to undcrstand thc fo||owing chaptcrs. A
corrcct undcrstanding of thc historica| starting point and of thc
fundamcnta| socio|ogica| causc, which coincidc so happi|y, is assumcd
to faci|itatc an undcrstanding of thc articu|ations of thc dcmocratic
a sourcc of astonishmcnt. How docs hc bcgin? By dcscribing thc
Eng|ish cmigrants. A|though thcy 'diffcrcd from cach othcr in many
rcspccts`, thcy had 'ccrtain fcaturcs in common`, and 'wcrc a|| p|accd
tnanana|ogoussituation` (p. 28). Noton|ydidthcya||spcakthcsamc
|anguagc, and not on|y wcrc thcy chi|drcn of thc samc pcop|c, thcy
sharcd thc samc po|itica| hcritagc. /'Thcy wcrc morc convcrsant with
thc notionsofrightandthc princip|csoftrucfrccdomthanthcgrcatcr
partofthcirEuropcancontcmporarics` (p. 28). Morcspccihca||y, thcy
had a|rcady had cxpcricncc of co||cctivc forms of govcrnmcnt. 'that
fruitfu|gcrmoffrcc institutionswhichwasdccp|yrootcd in thc habits
ofTudor` (ibid.). It is on|y aftcr hc has madc this initiaIobscrvation
that Tocqucvi||c cxp|ains why co|onization cou|d not givc birth to an\
aristocracy (thc origins of thc cmigrants and thc cxp|oitation of thc
|and prcc|udcd that possibi|ity). Hc immcdiatc|y continucs. 'A|| thc
British co|onics had strikingsimi|ariticsatthc timc of thcirorigin A||
ofthcm,from thcir bcginning, sccmcd dcstincdtowitncssthcgrowth,
not of thc aristocratic |ibcrty of thcir mothcr country, but of that
frccdom of thc midd|c and |owcr ordcrs of which thc history of thc
wor|dhadasyctfurnishcdnocomp|ctccxamp|c`(p. 29).Thccommcnt
is rcminisccnt of a rcmark madc in thc authors introduction. 'Thc
cmigrants. . . somchowscparatcdthcdcmocraticprincip|cfrom a||thc
princip|cs it had to contcnd with in thc o|d communitics of Europc,
andtransportcd ita|onctothcNcwWor|d`(p. lJ). Wcthcrcforc havc
to rccognizc that in thc Ncw Wor|d, whcrc thc princip|c of socicty
coincidcs withthcprincip|cofdcmocracy, dcmocracyimp|icsfrccdo

l86 Oti Freedom
Tocqucvi||c thcn takcs into considcration thc North-South opposition
and cstab|ishcs thatthc rca| startingpoint is tobcfoundinthcNorth,
in thc Ncw Eng|and statcs. It was thcrc that 'thc two or thrcc main
idcas thatnow constitutc thc basisofthc socia| thcory of thc Unitcd
Statcswcrcñrstcombincd`(pp. J|I!). Wcarcnowgivcntoundcrstand
that thc starting point is not simp|y a socia| fact, but a mora| and
po|itica| fact. Thcrc can bc no mistakc about it. thc author thcn
dcscribcs thc socia| condition of thc cmigrants ofthc North, and thc
pcop|c, and wc may a|most say ncithcrrich nor poor (p. J! ) , but hc
docs so in ordcr tomakc it c|car that it was thcir intc||igcncc, thcir
mora|ity and abovc a|| thcirconvictions that distinguishcd thcm from
othcr co|onists. Thcy had not bccn ob|igcd to ßcc Eng|and out of
ncccssity. thcir 'objcct was thc triumph of an idca` (p. J2).
Wcarcofcourscto|d thatthcyhadrc|igiousmotivcs,thcrcmaindcr
of thc chaptcr brings out thc ro|c of rc|igion by cxamining thc
cmigrants' storics and quotations from thc pionccring puritans.
and a spirit offrccdom (p. 4J) which isso cruc||y |acking in Europc.
But thcsc considcrations ncvcr makc him forgct that frccdom is thc
starting point and that dcmocracy is origina||y political. 'Furitanism
was not`, hc asscrts, 'mcrc|y a rc|igiousdoctrinc, but corrcspondcd in
manypointswiththc mostabso|utcdcmocraticand rcpub|icanthcorics`
(p. J2).
It is a|so to bc notcd that, whi|st hc is amazcd at thc ro|c p|aycd
by rc|igion, hc docs not hcsitatc to makc a distinction bctwccn thosc
c|cmcnts of |cgis|ation which rcvca| thc marks of 'a narrow, scctarian
spirit', and 'abodyofpo|itica||awswhich, thoughwrittcntwohundrcd
ycarsago, issti|| inadvancc ofthc|ibcrticsofouragc` (p. J9). Within
thc body of |aws shapcd by Ncw Eng|and (thc intcrvcntion of thc
pcop|c in pub|icaffairs, thcfrccvoting of taxcs, thc rcsponsibi|ity of
princip|cs' which wcrc dcstincd to bc 'app|icd and dcvc|opcd to an
cxtcnt such as no nation in Europc has yct vcnturcd to attcmpt'
(p. J9).
Why is thisso surprising? Bccausc nothingthat hasbccn said hcrc
a||ows us to dcducc thcsc fruitfu| princip|cs, thcsc po|itica| princip|cs
and thcscprincip|csof|ibcrtyfromanyñrstfact, from anysocia| fact,
Equa|ity ofconditiondocs indccd appcar to cxist, but it is bound up
with thc idea of cqua|ity of condition, and that idca cannot, at thc
starting point, bc divorccd from thc idca offrccdom.
Thccontradictionwc havcjustg|impscdbccomcsmorcpronounccd
as wc rcad thc ñna| scction of thc third chaptcr. Ignoring his car|icr
ana|ysis, Tocqucvi||cattcmptsto dctcrminc a ñrst causc, as though it
wcrc socio|ogica| and cou|d bc divorccd from thc historica| starting
From Equality to Freedom l87
point. But it is sc|f-cvidcnt that if thc sccond chaptcr wcrc intcndcd
to supp|y no morc than a dcscription ofthc bcginnings of Amcrican
dcmocracy, thc author wou|d not havc pointcd out that it containcd
(p. 28). Anditiscqua||yobvious that thc ana|ysisofthccffcctsofthc
|awofinhcritancc,whichtakcs upthcgrcatcrpartofthcthirdchaptcr,
has as much to do with a historica| as with a socio|ogica| pcrspcctivc.
Indccd, thc two arc a|ways associatcd inTocqucvi||c`s argumcnt, and
itisthatwhichgivcs ititsforcc. Ycthc docsnothcsitatc to `dcducc'
po|itica| conscqucnccs from a socia| statc (cqua|ity of condition), in
othcr words, hc dcduccsa po|itica| statc, dcñncd as ancffcct,from a
socia| statc which is givcn thc status of a causc.
Thc dcduction itsc|fis so disconccrting as to mcrit carcfu| cxamin-
Tocqucvi||c bcgins by asscrting that cqua|itymust ncccssari|y 'hnd
itsway intothcpo|itica| wor|d, as itdocs cvcrywhcrc c|sc` (p. 5J). It
is,hcadds, impossib|c 'toconccivcofmcnforcvcrrcmaining uncqua|
upon a sing|c point, yct cqua| on a|| othcrs . . . thcy must in thc cnd
comc to bc cqua| upon a||` (p. 5J). Hc conc|udcs that cqua|ity wi||
hnd its cxprcssion in thc po|itica| wor|d cithcr through popu|ar
sovcrcignty or through dcspotism (rights givcn to cvcry citizcn, or
nonc at a|| to anyonc). This ccrtainty is bascd, hc imp|ics, on thc
dcscriptionhchasjustgivcnofthcsocia|statc,which'isjust as|iab|c
to onc of thcsc conscqucnccs as to thc othcr`. Two objcctions can,
howcvcr, bc |cvc||cd against thcsc initia| propositions. Thc cqua|ity
of condition Tocqucvi||c has dcscribcd cocxists a|ongsidc mu|tip|c
incqua|itics. Hc has in fact on|y dcmonstratcd that, in thc Unitcd
This, it wou|d appcar, is thc |imit that hasbccn rcachcd bycqua|ity
of condition, this is thc comp|ctc form of what in Europ is sti|| a
gradua| and progrcssivc dcvc|opmcnt. Tocqucvi||c himsc|f obscrvcs
that thcrc is 'no |ack of wealthy individuals' in Amcrica. 'I know of
no country, indccd,whcrc thc |ovc ofmoncy had takcn strongcrho|d
for thc thcory of thc pcrmancnt cqua|ity of propcrty` (p. 5! ). Hc
thcrcforc has nogroundsfordcducing 'cqua|ity upon a|| points` from
asiscvidcntfrom thc passagc inthc introduction inwhichcqua|ityof
conditionisdcscribcdasa'providcntia|fact`. Thatpassagcisrcproduccd
word forword inthcprcfaccto thctwc|fth cdition, which waswrittcn
in !848, that is, a|most ñftccn ycars aftcr thc pub|ication of thc ñrst
Wou|d it bc wiscto imaginc that a socia| movcmcnt thc causcs
of which |ic so far back can bc chcckcd by thc cfforts of onc
gcncration7 Can it bc bc|icvcd that thc dcmocracy which has
ovcrthrown thc fcuda| systcm and vanquishcd kìngs wi|| rctrcat
l88 Ott Freedom
bcforctradcsmcn and capita|ists7Wi||it stop nowthatitisgrown
so strong and its advcrsarics so wcak? ( )
for wc havc a|rcady |carncd that cqua|ity was to a |argc cxtcnt thc
rcsu|t ofthc actionsof kings, who provcd to bc `thc mostactivc and
most constant of |cvc||crs` (pp. 4-5). Short|y aftcrwards, thc author
points out that dcmocracy `suddcn|y . . . acquircd suprcmc powcr'
(p. 8). No causc and cffcct rc|ationship has bccn cstab|ishcd bctwccn
cqua|ity ofcondition and thc dcfcat ofthc kings or, morc gcncra||y,
bctwccn a socia| statc and a po|itica| rcgimc. It can no doubt bc
socicty. But thc two phcnomcna appcar to bc aspccts of a sing|c
proccss. It is thcrcforc impossib|c to arguc thc casc in tcrms ofcausc
and cffcct. Indccd, givcn that thc king is at thc origin ofthisdoub|c-
cdgcd proccss, wc havc to choosc bctwccn two hypothcscs. Thc ñrst
is that hc himsc|f dcstroycd aristocratic socicty by scizing abso|utc
powcr- in which casc it is difñcu|t to scc why hc shou|d ncccssari|y
havc bccn vanquishcd by a socia| proccss which hc instigatcd and of
which hc was thc bcncñciary. that can on|y bc cxp|aincd in tcrms
of contingcnt cvcnts (dcmocracy`s suddcn acquisition of powcr).
A|tcrnativc|y thc dcmocratic rcvo|ution has a |ogic of its own, cvcn
though it was provokcd and cncouragcd by thc actions of kings, in
which casc thc phcnomcnon cannot bc rcstrictcd to an incrcasing
cqua|ity ofcondition. Ifit tcnds to dcstroy ñrst roya|ty and thcn thc
powcr of thc bourgcois and thc wca|thy. it must havc a po|itica|
vocation,thcstakcsarc not |imitcdtothcabo|itionofhcrcditaryranks
a||visib|cformsofdomination, againsta||thcmodcsofits incarnation
in individua|sor c|asscs. Andifthat isthc casc, how can oncsay that
it is 'as |iab|c to onc ofthcsc conscqucnccs astothcothcr`, as |ikc|y
to|cadtothccstab|ishmcntofabso|utcpowcrasto frccdom7Wc ñnd
an c|oqucnt cxprcssion ofthc ambiguitics ofTocqucvi||c`sthought in
thc l848 prcfacc. Having rcproduccd thc `prophctic` |incs from thc
introduction, thc author sccms momcntari|y to rcgard thc advcnt of
thc Rcpub|ic as irrcvcrsib|c:
Though it is no |ongcr a qucstion whcthcr wc sha|| havc a
monarchy or a rcpub|ic in Francc, wc arc yct to |carn whcthcr
wc sha|| havc aconvu|scdora tranqui| rcpub|ic, whcthcrit sha||
bc rcgu|ar or irrcgu|ar, paciñc or war|ikc, |ibcra| or opprcssivc.
a rcpub|icthat mcnaccsthcsacrcd rights ofpropcrtyandfami|y.
or onc that honors andprotccts thcm both. (p. cvi)
But, no sooncr has hc formu|atcd this 'fcarfu| prob|cm`, than hc
modiñcs thc tcrmsofthca|tcrnativc. 'According as dcmocratic|ibcrty
ordcmocratictyrannyiscstab|ishcdhcrc,thcdcstinyofthc wor|d wi||
From Equalty t Freedom I89
bc diffcrcnt, and it may bc said that this day it dcpcnds upon us
whcthcr thc rcpub|ic sha|| bc cvcrywhcrc ñna||y cstab|ishcd or
cvcrywhcrc ñna||y ovcrthrown` (p. cvi). ln my vicw, this strangc
disp|accmcnt bctrays an unccrtainty as to thc naturc of dcmocracy.'
On thc onc hand, dcmocracy appcars to imp|y a rcpub|ican rcgimc,
thcon|yqucstionbcingwhcthcr it wi|| bcrcgu|aror irrcgu|ar, on thc
othcr, itisassumcd tobccompatib|c with both tyranny andfrccdom,
a|though it has cffccts on thc po|itica| wor|d, its dcvc|opmcnt occurs
outsidc it.
Thc manncr in which thcsc a|tcrnativc vicws arc |inkcd cannot bc
ignorcd. Itisasthough.havingsurrcndcrcdtoaninitia|impu|scwhich
|cd him to rccognizc thc po|itica| vocation of dcmocracy, Tocqucvi||c
suddcn|ycorrcctcdhimsc|f, andrc|cgatcddcmocracytothcrcgistcrof
cqua|ity of condition. Thc dcduction madc at thc cnd of chaptcr J
givcs thc samc imprcssion. a|though frccdom was said car|icr to bc
inscribcdwithin thcAmcrican'startingpoint`, itissuddcn|ydcnicdits
prima| status and is rcintroduccd mcrc|y as a possib|c cffcct.
Evcn thischangc of pcrspcctivc docs notsccm tobc cnough. Thc
author is not satisñcd with thc conc|usion that thc socia| condition of
thc Ang|o-Amcricansisas |iab|ctooncconscqucncc asthcothcr(thc
sovcrcignty of a|| and thc abso|utc powcr of onc man rcspcctivc|y).
Thcdiscovcry thatthcpassionforcqua|ityisambiva|cnt- thatitboth
tcnds to cicvatc thc humb|c to thc status of thc grcat and rcduccs
cvcryonctothcstatusofthc|owcstcommondcnominator- |cadshim
to a furthcr conc|usion whichdcstroys thccar|icrba|ancc ofpo|itica|
possibi|itics. Two vcry diffcrcnt argumcnts pavc thc way for this
conc|usion.Tosummarizcthcñrst.dcmocraticpcop|csdo indccdhavc
aninstinctivc tastcfor frccdom,butthcy makc on|y'rapidandsuddcn
cfforts` toobtain it, cqua|ity, onthcothcr hand, is thcir ido|. andthcy
wou|d rathcr pcrish than |osc it. But, curious|y cnough, thc 'man|y
and|awfu| passion for cqua|ity` andthc 'dcpravcd tastc for cqua|ity`,
whichwcrc prcvious|y rcgardcd as bcingdistinct, arc not an indcxof
conßict, thcy havc thc samc cffccts and thcy mcrgc into a sing|c
obscssion which distracts mcn from thc nccd to guard against thc
thrcat of scrvitudc. According to thc sccond argumcnt, 'in a statc
whcrc thc citizcns arc a|| practica||y cqua|, it bccomcs difñcu|t for
thcm toprcscrvcthcirindcpcndcnccagainst thc aggrcssions ofpowcr'
bccausc no onc individua| is strong cnough to rcsist it and bccausc
on|y a gcncra| combination can 'protcct thcir |ibcrty`. Tocqucvi||c`s
arc thc ñrst nation who, having bccn cxposcd to this formidab|c
a|tcrnativc, havc bccn happy cnough to cscapc thc dominion of
abso|utc powcr. Thcy havc bccn a||owcdby thcircircumstanccs, thcir
origin, thcir intc||igcncc, and cspccia||y by thcir mora|s to cstab|ish
and maintain thc sovcrcignty ofthc pcop|c` (p. 54).
Thc tcrms of thc a|tcrnativc havc of coursc bccn prcscrvcd in a
forma|scnsc. Butdcmocracysccmsdcstincdto |cadtoabso|utcpowcr,
!90 On Freedom
whi|c frccdom is bound up with a contingcnt situation. It is in cffcct
an accidcnt that thc Amcricans wcrc ab|c to cscapc thc fatc that
awaitcd thcm. That accidcnt is comprchcnsib|c on|y if wc takc into
considcration thc advantagcs thcy cnjoycd thanks to thc sizc and
rc|ativc iso|ation of thcir tcrritory, and thc cxccptiona| conditions of
thcir undcrtaking. thcy foundcd a socicty without a rcv
|ution, thc
foundingfathcrs wcrcvirtuous,camcfromthcmostcn|ightcncdstrata
in o|d Eng|and, and wcrc inspircd by thcir |ovc of God.
Wc thcrcforc ñndoncc morc a divorcc bctwccn a socio|ogica| ñrst
causc anda historica| starting point, a divorcc which wc havc a|rcady
dcscribcdasi||cgitimatc. ButTocqucvi||c`sintcrprctationofAmcrican
dcmocracynow bccomcs paradoxica| in thccxtrcmc.Thc introduction
has |cd us to bc|icvc that Amcrican dcmocracy rcprcscnts dcmocracy
in a purc statc, in that thc distortions rcsu|ting from thc pcop|c`s
strugg|c against thc aristocracy and from thc aristocracy`s rcsistancc
arc notfound in it, and in that cvcrythingin itispcrfcct|yvisib|c.¶hc
Amcrican casc now provcs tobcimpurc,in Amcrica, thcdcmocratic
rcvo|ution appcarstohavcbccn drivcnoffcoursc(ina positivcscnsc)
by spcciñc causcs - circumstanccs, origins, intc||igcncc and mora|s.
Whcnwccxamincit,thcvisib|candthcinvisib|cchangcp|accs. What
Tocqucvi||c c|aims to ñnd in it is that whichcannot bc sccn. thc |ink
bctwccn cqua|ity and abso|utc powcr. What can bc sccn is thc |ink
bctwccn cqua|ity and frccdom, which is assumcd to bc an cffcct of
thc Amcricans` prchistory (thc past of thc cmigrants) or of thc

notvisib|c within thc |imits ofthc socia| statc and thc po|itica| wor|d.
Can wc cscapc this paradox7 Thc introduction docs, it is truc,
indicatconcpathwhichwchavcfai|cdtocxp|orc. Europc,andFrancc
has advanccd without guidancc, and thosc who wcrc in a position to
guide it havc fai|cd todo so. Tocqucvi||c contrasts this with thc modc|
of Amcrica,whcrcdcmocracy hasgradua||yrcachcditsnatura| |imits,
andwhcrc ithasbccncffcctcd with casc and simp|icity. Hcc|aims to
bc ab|c to draw |cssons from this modc| (but points out, as hc docs
throughout his work, that what app|ics to onc pcop|c may not
ncccssari|y app|y to anothcr). Wc can assumc that thcsc |cssons shcd
which a||ow thc Amcricans to avoid thc dangcrs it crcatcs. Wc can
a|so acccpt that in thc Unitcd Statcs thcscsafcguardsarc ancffcct of
thc nationa| charactcr (which has bccn shapcd by thc past of thc
cmigrants) orcvcnofcircumstanccs,andthat thcy providcindications
which wi|| hc|p thc cn|ightcncd mcn of thc O|d Wor|d to guidc
dcmocracyconcct|y. Inshort,Tocqucvi||cappcarstobc|icvcthatwhat
was in thc Unitcd Statcs thc work of chancc can bc convcrtcd by
Europcans into thc work ofscicncc. Thcfactisthat, having dcscribcd
thc dcmocratic rcvo|ution as incvitab|c, hc statcs that:
From Equality to Freedom !9!
Thc hrst ofthc dutics that arc at this timc imposcd upon thosc
who dircct our affairs is to cducatc dcmocracy, to rcawakcn, if
possib|c, its rc|igious bc|icfs, to purify its mora|s, to mou|d its
and an awarcncss of its truc intcrcst for its b|ind instincts, to
to mcn and conditions. A ncw scicncc ofpo|itics is nccdcd for a
ncw wor|d. (p. 7)
Dcmocracy in Europc might bc comparcdwith a chi|d whosc naturc
cannot bc changcd but who must bc discip|incd by rccciving a good
cducation. 'Dcmocracy has . . . bccn abandoncd to its wi|d instincts,
and ìthasgrown up|ikcthoscchi|drcnwhohavcnoparcnta|guidancc,
who rcccivc thcir cducation in thc pub|ic strccts, and who arc
acquaintcd on|y with thcviccsand wrctchcdncssofsocicty` (pp. 7-8).
Andasthctcachcrs undcrstand nothingofthc naturcofchi|drcn, thc
bcst thcy can do is to obscrvc how a chi|d dcvc|ops whcn it cnjoys
pcaccfu| conditions, and usc thcir obscrvations to invcnt artiñccs
that can rcp|acc thc cducation providcd by a good cnvironmcnt.
Tocqucvi||c`scommcntson rc|igionappcartoconñrmthis hypothcsis.
'By a strangccoincidcnccofcvcnts, rc|igion inFrancc has bccnfora
|ong timc cntang|cd with thosc institutions which dcmocracydcstroys`
(p. 12), withthcrcsu|tthatthcrc|igionistsattackcqua|ityandfrccdom
bccausc thcy fai| to scc that Christianity is not hosti|c to dcmocracy
on princip|c, and that thosc who dcfcnd ncw idcas attack rc|igion
bccausc thcy fai| to undcrstand that a|| institutions arc bascd upon
mora|s and bc|icfs. Both partics shou|dthcrcforc apprcciatc thc good
fortunc of thc Amcricans and shou|d try to combinc rc|igion with
dcmocracy, rcgard|css of thcirown convictions.
A division is, it appcars, bcing introduccd bctwccn a rca|m of
ncccssity, which is |imitcd to thc cxtcnsion of cqua|ity of condition,
anda rca|mofcontingcncc,bctwccn thccurioushistoryofthcpcop|cs
ofEuropcandthatofthcpcop|cofAmcrica. Anditisbcingsuggcstcd
that our task consists of |carning thc |cssons of happy accidcnts in
ordcr to corrcct thc cffccts of unhappy accidcnts.
Without wishing to dcny thatTocqucvi||cs discoursc has pcdagogic
and pragmatic intcntions. it cannot bc said to bc satisfactory. lf wc
simp|y notc thc cxistcncc of dcmocracy in Europc and in thc Unitcd
causcs, thc vcry idca of a 'fundamcnta| fact` disappcars. lt is thcn
impossib|c to vcrifythc hypothcsis that thc dcmocraticrcvo|ution has
a |ogic. Thc csscncc ofdcmocracy rcmainsconcca|cd from us as our
pcrccption of itsdcvc|opmcnt is a|waysdistortcd by accidcnts.
Wc wou|d attcmpt in vain to avoid thc difñcu|tics wc havc notcd,
ifwc do so, wc simp|y compound thcm. But if wc cxp|orc thcm. wc
bcgin topcrccivca qucstionwhich bothgovcrnsTocqucvi||cs thought
and mobi|izcsthcobjcctionswc havc mctwith. thcqucstionofEuropc
!92 Oti Freedom
and Amcrica, ofconvu|scd dcmocracy and tranqui| dcmocracy. ofthc
|ogicofthcdcmocratic rcvo|utionand ofaccidcnts.ofthc socia| statc
and thc po|itica| wor|d, of thc pcop|c and thcir |cadcrs. It conccrns
frccdom and thc rc|ationship bctwccn frccdom and cqua|ity.
Indccd,ifwccontcntoursc|vcswith thcidca thatTocqucvi||c ncvcr
dcpartcd from an aristocraticconccption offrccdom,furthcr rcscarch
wi|| bc point|css and thc conc|usion, bcing givcn in advancc. wi|| bc
ncithcr ncw nor productivc. Itis much morc importantto dctcct signs
ofthc indctcrminacyofathoughtwhich istryingtocomctogripswith
thc cnigma of dcmocracy - an cnigma which, to a ccrtain cxtcnt, it
hc|ps to formu|atc.
Thc opcning chaptcr ofthc sccond book of Vo|umc II is worthy of
attcntionbccauscitdrawsa |cngthyandcxp|icitcontrast bctwccn thc
|ovc of cqua|ity and thc |ovc of frccdom and bccausc. as thc tit|c
indicatcs, it attcmpts to show why thc formcr is morc ardcnt and
cnduring than thc |attcr. Its prcmisscs arc in fact no |css important
than its conc|usions. Tocqucvi||c spcaks of cqua|ity and frccdom as
such bcforc turning to thc passions thcy inspirc. First momcnt.
Itis possib|c to imaginc ancxtrcmcpoint atwhichfrccdom and
cqua|itywou|dmcctandb|cnd. Lctussupposcthata||thcpcop|c
takc a part in govcrnmcnt, and that cach onc of thcm has an
cqua| right to takc a part in it. As no onc is diffcrcnt from his
fc||ows. nonc can cxcrcisc a tyrannica| powcr, mcn wi|| bc
pcrfcct|y frcc bccausc thcy arc a|| cntirc|y cqua|, and thcy wi||
a||bcpcrfcct|ycqua| bccauscthcyarccntirc|yfrcc.Tothisidca|
statc dcmocratic nations tcnd. This is thc on|y comp|ctc form
that cqua|ity can assumc upon carth. (vo|. I I , p. 94)
Thc argumcnt is dcsigncd to disconccrt thc rcadcr, cvcn though
Tocqucvi||cdcscribcson|y thc idca| po|c ofdcmocracy. Hc isincffcct
imp|ying that cqua|ity of condition is no morc than an infcrior form
of cqua|ity bccausc, in its comp|ctc form, cqua|ity is po|itica| and
b|cnds with frccdom. Nothing in thc car|icr chaptcrs of his work
a||owcd thcrcadcto imaginc thisstatc ofcomp|ction andpcrfcction,
not on|y bccausc rca| forccs frustratc its cmcrgcncc, but a|so for two
othcr rcasons. First, cqua|ity of condition appcarcd to acquirc its fu||
mcaning as a socia| fact and to manifcst itsc|f on a |cvc| othcr than
sccmcd to bc an cffcct of a historico-natura| dctcrminism. whcrcas
frccdom was a mattcr of art. But a|though thcy b|cnd insofar as
thcir csscnccs arc takcn into considcration, thcy arc immcdiatc|y
Sccond momcnt. ¹his is thc on|y comp|ctc form that cqua|ity can
assumc upon carth, but thcrc arc a thousand othcrs . . .
(p. 94).
Tocqucvi||c argucs. in substancc, that cqua|ity may prcvai| in civi|
From Equality to Freedom !9J
socicty without prcvai|ing in thc po|itica| wor|d, it may cvcn prcvai|
incivi| socicty inthcabscnccoffrccdom. thc on|y rcquircmcnt bcing
that a|| arc a|ikc, |ivc undcr onc mastcr and arc cqua||y wi||ing to
scrvchispowcr.Thirdmomcnt. thisargumcntis comp|cmcntcd by an
cxamination offrccdom. Frccdom. wc arcto|d,can bc found whcrc
cqua|ity docs not cxist. Thc two argumcnts arc not, howcvcr,
symmctrica|. Having dcduccd from his ñrst argumcnt that thcrc is
good rcason to distinguish bctwccncqua|ity andfrccdom,Tocqucvi||c
notcs that thc tastc for cqua|ity and thc tastc for frccdom arc `two
uncqua| things` (p. 95). In ordcr to convincc his rcadcr of this. hc
introduccs a historica| dimcnsion which has prcvious|y bccn abscnt
from his rcßcctions by asscrting that thcrc is in cvcry agc 'somc
pccu|iar and prcpondcrant fact which givcs birth to 'somc prcgnant
fact or somc ru|ing passion`. This dcvicc c|car|y rcvca|s thc c|cmcnt
of unccrtainty in his argumcnt. Thc singu|ar and prcdominant fact is
infactconñncd to dcmocraticagcs. and itis, aswc know, cqua|ity of
timcs and undcr various forms, it has not bccn cxc|usivc|y bound to
any socia| condition, and it is not conñncd to dcmocracics` (p. 95).
is thc pccu|iar and prcdominant fact that charactcrizcs aristocratic
socictics. Two rcasons prcvcnt him from doing so. On thc onc hand.
butfrccdom was not 'thcdistinguishingcharactcristicofthc agc` (that
phrasc is rcscrvcd for dcmocracics, and rcfcrs to cqua|ity). On thc
othcr hand, and for our purposcs this is morc important, frccdom,
according to our author, docs not bc|ong to thc rca|m offact. in thc
scnsc in which thc word is bcing uscd hcrc. Thc 'fact` is thc socia|
statc. And in thc aristocratic wor|d, thc socia| statc is incqua|ity of
Thc divorcc bctwccn frccdom and cqua|ity thus gocs furthcr than
onc might havc at ñrst thought. Thc historica| pcrspcctivc which is
introduccd in ordcr to c|arify it in fact obscurcs it. To put it morc
to conccptua|izc. thc ñrstappcaranccwithinhistoryof'afundamcnta|
factfromwhicha||othcrssccmto bcdcrivcd`(vo|. I , p. I). Thccvcnt
rcmains concca|cd bcncath a rcprcscntation of diffcrcnt agcs which
surrcptitious|y borrows from Montcsquicu`s notion of thc distinctivc
fcaturcs of diffcrcnt rcgimcs. Thc historica| pcrspcctivc is in fact
introduccd so|c|y to convincc thc rcadcr that frccdom can prcvai| in
thc abscncc ofcqua|ity. and that cqua|ity can prcvai| in thc abscncc
offrccdom. But, nosooncr has it bccn introduccd than it vanishcs in
thc facc ofthc asscrtion that frccdom is not 'caught up` in history. It
is not bound up with any onc socia| condition (and thc imagc of
!94 011 Freedom
binding in itsc|f suggcsts that it is not imprintcd on socicty), and nor
is it inscribcd within timc.
Wcsti||havc to askwhyTocqucvi||c`s thoughtfo||ows thistortuous
|inc. Thcrc can bc no doubt as to his conccption of cqua|ity. Hc
articu|atcs it at thc bcginningofhis gcncra| introduction: cqua|ity of
condition is not a socia| fact |ikc any othcr, it is thc product of an
irrcvcrsib|c rcvo|ution, and it shows mcn 'at oncc thc past and thc
futurcofthcirhistory`(vo|. I,p. 7).Ycthcrcfrainsfromrcformu|ating
that conccption hcrc. To do so wou|d dcstroy thc opposition hc has
cstab|ishcd bctwccn frccdom and cqua|ity. If it is truc that, as hc
cstab|ishcd in thc hrst momcnt of his argumcnt, cqua|ity attains its
comp|ctcform whcnit b|cndswith frccdom, howcan itbc maintaincd
that it fo||ows an irrcvcrsib|c coursc throughout history, that it tcnds
to attain its cxtrcmc |imit without acccpting that it tcnds to rcsu|t in
po|itica| frccdom7 Byignoring thc historica| charactcr ofcqua|ity (its
incvitab|c dcvc|opmcnt),Tocqucvi||cavoidsthcprob|cmofthchistory
of frccdom. By showing that, un|ikc cqua|ity, which is rootcd in a
socia| statc, frccdom is not bound upwith any particu|arsocia| statc,
hc scvcrs its historica| roots, but hc docs so, so to spcak, indircct|y,
himsc|ftoa furthcr objcctionbascd uponhisown princip|cs. Foroncc
cqua|ity isno|ongcrdchncdasaunivcrsa|historica|fact,thcrcappcars
to bc no rcason why it cannot bc found in diffcrcnt socia| statcs. or
why it cannot bc said to bc 'bound up` with thcm, just as frccdom is
bound up with thcm. It is not cnough to notc that it can prcvai| in
civi| socicty without prcvai|ing inthc po|itica|wor|d (which is anothcr
way of|ocating it in a socia| statc), or cvcn that it can pcnctratc thc
po|itica| wor|d in thc abscncc of frccdom (which docs not cha||cngc
itsstatusasahrstcausc). Itmustbc rccognizcd thataristocraticsocicty
in particu|ar providcs an cxamp|c of a nobi|itywhosc condition is, of
coursc, diffcrcnt from that of othcr socia| c|asscs but which disp|ays
hc docs not takc it into considcration hcrc. Why not7 Bccausc, I
bc|icvc, to do so wou|d forcc him to conccptua|izc cqua|ity in tcrms
of a history which transccnds thc |imits of dcmocracy, and bccausc
thatwou|da|soob|igchimto rc-cxamincitsrc|ationshipwith frccdom,
from which hc wants to divorcc it both in thcory and in practicc.
This |ast objcction rc-introduccs aqucstionwc havca|rcady raiscd.
is cqua|ity of condition an aspcct or a dcgrcc of cqua|ity, or is it a
fact sui generis?
Torccapitu|atc,|ctusc|arifythc thrccpropositionswcarcattributing
a spccihc socia|statc«hich is historica||y dctcrmincd, namc|y modcrn
dcmocracy, and that it is its distinctivc fcaturc. Thc third cstab|ishcs
that frccdom transccnds thc rca|m of thc po|itica| and thc historica|.
From Equality to Freedom !95
poscd by thc status of frccdom is no |css difhcu|t than that poscd by
thc status ofcqua|ity. It is tcmpting to think that thc formcr prob|cm
dctcrmincs thc |attcr, bccausc it cha||cngcs thc mcaning of past and
futurc history, and noton|y thc objcctivccva|uationofsocia| changc.
Lct us nowconsidcr thc rcmaindcrof thc chaptcr. It is dcvotcd to
dcmonstrating that, in a dcmocracy, mcn prcfcr cqua|ity to frccdom.
Thcargumcntis bascd uponthcoppositionwchavcjustnotcd. In thc
hrst p|acc, a pcop|c`s tastc appcars to bc shapcd by its socia| statc,
and cqua|ityissodccp|yimprintcdon its|ifc thatconsidcrab|ccncrgy
wou|d havc to bc mobi|izcd in ordcr to cxtirpatc it. An unnatura|
fcc|ing wou|d, so to spcak, havc to manifcst itsc|f. ¹hcir socia|
condition must bc modihcd, thcir |aws abo|ishcd, thcir opinions
supcrscdcd, thcir habits changcd, thcir manncrs corruptcd` (vo|. II,
p. 96)\Frccdom, onthc othcr hand, i snot a natura| attributc ofthc
pcop|c, cvcn though thcy cnjoy it, in othcrwords, it is not part of
thcir socia| bcing. It is a commodity. `po|itica| |ibcrty is morc casi|y
|ost,to ncg|cct to ho|ditfastisto a||owittocscapc` (p 96). A|though
Tocqucvi||c himsc|fdocs not put it in thcsc tcrms, wc might say that
in a dcmocracy mcn are cua|, and that thcy |ovc cqua|ity bccausc
thcytcnd topcrsistin

bcing.¸Butthcyposscss- ordo notposscss
- frccdom in thc scnsc that onc posscsscs- or docs not posscss - an
attributc or a dignity
\Inthcsccond p|acc,frccdom itsc|fprovcstobc
a|most invisib|c, on|y its cxccsscs arc visib|c
In othcr words, frc


is an idca| commodity, and it on|y bccomcs a matcrta| commodtty tf
it is dcbascd to thc !cvc| of conduct, of ru|cs which go against thc
prcscrvation of a socia| ordcr. thc dangcrs of anarchy arc obvious to
a||. Equa|ity, on thc othcr hand, isvisib|c to thc majority, itscharms
arc fc|t and arc within thc rcach of a||, and on|y its cxccsscs arc
|nvisib|c, foritscvi|s'crccpgradua||y into thcsocia|framc' (p. 96). In
othcr words, thc incrtia ortorpor ofthc socia| body, thc dis|ocation
ofitsmcmbcrsand thc disaffcction ofindividua|sfrom thcres publica
arc signs which usua||y cscapc our consciousncss. Thccvi|sofcqua|ity
arc visib|c from afar, and thcy arc such that 'thcy arc sccn on|y at
intcrva|s, and atthc momcnt atwhichthcybccomcmostvio|cnt,habit
a|rcady causcs thcm no |ongcr to bc fc|t` (p. 96). In thc third p|acc,
and thisargumcnt is imp|icitin thcsccond,po|itica|frccdom docsnot
inßamc thc passions of thc masscs: it 'bcstows cxa|tcd passions from
timc to timc upon a ccrtain numbcr ofcitizcns`. In ordcr to cnjo
y tt,
mcn must purchasc it by 'somc sacrihccs` and 'thcy ncvcr obtam tt
without grcat cxcrtions`. Thc charmsofcqua|ity, on thc othcr hand,
thcm, and in ordcr to tastc thcm, nothing is rcquircd but to |ivc`
(p. 96). Frccdom, that is, rcfcrs us to thc po|c ofthc subjcct, ofwi||
and of action, whi|st cqua|ity rcfcrs us to thc po|c of naturc.
Wc now havc to rc-cxaminc this picturc. Whcn Tocqucvi||c spcaks
ofcqua|ity. hc imp|icit|ygivcs it thc rcstrictcd mcaning ofcqua|ityof
l96 011 Freedom
condition, which hc sccs as ancstab|ishcd socia| statc. Hc contrasts it
with frccdom, which has to bc won. But do wc not hnd traccs of a
conqucst inscribcd within thc socia| statc? Tocqucvi||c avoids this
qucstion. Yct in thc hrst scctionofthischaptcr, whcrc hc asscrts that
cqua|ity mayprcvai| in civi|socicty without prcvai|ing in thc po|iticaI
wor|d, hc dcscribcs it in thcsc tcrms. 'Thcrc may bc cqua| rights of
indu|ging in thc samc p|casurcs, of cntcring thc samc profcssions, of
frcqucnting thc samc p|accs, in a word, of|iving in thc samc manncr
and scckingwca|th by thcsamc mcans, a|though a|| mcn do not takc
ancqua|sharcinthcgovcrnmcnt`(vo|. II, pp.945.cmphasisaddcd).
It isno accidcnt that hc shou|d usc thc word rights. It indicatcs that
hc vicws thc socia| statc as a statc in which rights havc bccomc
scdimcntcd. It must, howcvcr,bcadmittcdthatthisscdimcntation has
thc cffcct of cstab|ishing a situation which can now bc rcgardcd as
bcinga|mostnatura|tosocicty. Thc hypothcsisimp|ics, thcn, thatthis
of a po|itica|, cconomic, juridica| and mora| ordcr originatc thcrcin.
For Tocqucvi||c himsc|fthis, howcvcr, is no morc than a ha|f-truth.
Towards thc cnd of thc passagc wc arc discussing, hc cvokcs thc
intcnsc passion that isarouscd indcmocraticpcop|csatccrtaintimcs.
Thiscxtrcmc passion ariscs.
At thc momcnt whcn thc o|d socia| systcm, |ong mcnaccd, is
ovcrthrown aftcr a scvcrc intcrna| strugg|c, and thc barricrs of
rankarc at |cngth throwndown. Atsuch timcsmcn pouncc upon
cqua|ity as thcir booty, and thcy c|ing to it as to somc prccious
trcasurc which thcy fcar to |osc. Thc passion for cqua|ity
pcnctratcs on cvcry sidc into mcn`s hcarts, cxpands thcrc, and
h||s thcm cntirc|y. (pp. 967)
Equa|ity now appcars in a vcry diffcrcnt |ight, and wc wou|d havc
grcatdifhcu|ty indistinguishing it fromfrccdom. Its progrcss dcpcnds
upon a scricsofstrugg|cs. Itcannot bc rcgardcd as a fact of naturc.
It triumphs whcn thc barricrs that oncc scparatcd citizcns arc cast
down. Wccannotignorcthcfactthatthoscbarricrsscparatcdinfcriors
from supcriors. Thc proccss ofcqua|ization is not simp|y onc of thc
rcmova| of diffcrcntiation, it is thc proccss of thc dcstruction of thc
positions occupicd by citizcns who dominatc socicty, who posscss
powcr, honours and wca|th. In that scnsc, it cannot bc said that
cqua|ityis imprintcdonsocia||ifc. Likcfrccdom, itiswon, and it can
bc dcñncd as a commodity. And, farfrom bcingcircumscribcd within
ccrtain |imits and bccoming thc causc ofccrtain changcs, its intcrna|
momcntum makcsitovcrcomc a|||imitations,bccauscitpcnctratcson
cvcry sidc in mcn`s hcartsand cxpands thcrc.
It must,howcvcr,bcadmittcdthatwcarcgivingthctcxtamcaning
that docs not corrcspond to Tocqucvi||c's intcntions. It might bc
objcctcdthat itis notccrtain that, whcn hc spcaksofmcn having thc
From Equality to Freedom l97
right to |ivc in thc samc way in a dcmocracy, hc bc|icvcs that thcy
won that right through thcir strugg|cs, or that. whcn hc spcaks of
barricrs bcing thrown down, hc imputcs that cvcnt to thc actions of
thc pcop|c, or cvcn that thc phrasc `mcn pouncc upon cquaIity as
thcirbooty` imp|icsthatthcy|abour undcr thc i||usion of havingwon
it. Indccd, arcadingofthc hna|partofthctcxtstrong|y suggcsts that
this is not what hc mcans. Thisscction, which isdcvotcd spccihca|Iy
to modcrn Europcan nations, tc|Is us that `Abso|utc kings wcrc thc
most cfñcicnt |cvc|crs of ranks among thcir subjccts (p. 97). Thc
commcnt isintcndcd to convincc usthat`cqua|itywasthcrcforc a fact
of somc standing whcn frccdom was sti|| a novc|ty` (p.97), that thc
formcr had aIrcady crcpt into thc habits of mcn, that it was part of
thcìr|ìvcsand thatthcy|ovcd itbcforc thc|attcrbccamcan affair of
opinion and tastc. This argumcnt, howcvcr, raiscs ncw and yct morc
scrious difhcu|tics. Thc gap bctwccn cqua|ity and frccdom is now so
grcatthatthcinitia|statcmcntthatthcytcndtob|cndwithonc anothcr
bccomcs incomprchcnsib|c. Equa|ity provcs to bc thc rcsu|t of an
action which |cvc|s thc socia| hc|d. Wc can quitc undcrstand that it
in which thcy bccomc compIaccnt. But thc tcrms of thc prob|cmatic
ofcqua|ityhavcchangcd.Tosay thatmcnarccqua|nowmcanssimp|y
thatthcir rankshavcbccn |cvc||cd.Tosaythatthcy |ovccqua|itynow
mcansthat thcy |ovc scrvitudcora powcrdisguiscdasa sing|c mastcr.
And, oncc again, thc socia| prob|cmatic of dcmocracy disappcars
ofcondition) has thc statusofa hrst causc thus |oscs its contcnt, thc
ñrst causc is now thc powcr which brcaks up thc socia| body.
At thc cnd of thc chaptcr, Tocqucvi||c himscIf hna||y providcs us
with proof that hc has not forgottcn his starting point. At thc cnd of
thc passagc wc havc bccn discussing, hc asscrts without any transition
that. 'I think that dcmocratic communitics havc a natura| tastc for
frccdom, |cft to thcmsc|vcs, thcy wi|| scck it,chcrish it,andvicwany
privation of it with rcgrct. But for cqua|ity, thcir passion is ardcnt,
insatiab|c, inccssant,invincib|c . . .` And hc conc|udcs that. 'Thcywi||
cndurc povcrty, scrvitudc, barbarism, but thcy wi|| not cndurc
aristocracy` (p. 97).Frccdomandcqua|ity arc ofcoursc sti||divorccd.
Butfrccdomhasbccn rcinscribcdwithinthcnaturcofdcmocracy, and
thc fai|urc offrccdom now appcars to rcsuIt from thc pcrvcrsion of
inthcchaptcrwchavc bccn cxamining,ifwc wish to takc fu||account
ofthcm,wcmustg|ancc atthcncxtsixchaptcrswhich, takcn togcthcr
with chaptcr I , appcar to form a distinct scction. As wc must thcn
comparc Book I I with Book IV, to which it isc|osc|y rc|atcd.
In chaptcrs 2 to 7, thc author cxp|oits thc disjunction hc has
introduccd bctwccn cqua|ity and frccdom. Indccd, hc acccntuatcs it
by taking into account on|y onc cxtrcmc form of cqua|ity - thc
l98 A" Freedom
scparation of socia| agcnts - and thcrcforc dcscribcs frccdom as an
artihcc dcsigncd to rcmcdy it. His initia| rcmarks arc conccrncd with
individua|ism. Thcy arc not simp|y a continuation of thc prcccding
argumcnt, and thcy rcfcr back to thc opcning chaptcrsof Book I. ' I
havc shown howi t i sthat in agcsofcqua|ity cvcry man sccksfor his
opinions within himsc|f, 1 am now to show how itis that in thc samc
agcs a|| his fcc|ings arc turncd towards himsc|f a|onc` (vo|. II, p. 98).
Itwi||, howcvcr,bcrcca||cdthat inhisopcningdiscussionTocqucvi||c
rcvca|cd thc ambiguous rc|ationship bctwccn two tcndcncics, onc
favourab|c to intc||cctua| frccdom, and onc which, by rcmoving thc
o|d guarantccs of individua| bc|icf, gavc simi|arity of opinions a ncw
forcc (thc tyrannyofthcmajority). Hcrc, thcana|ysisofindividua|ism
conccntratcs so|c|y upon thc proccss which scparatcs, iso|atcs and
privatizes individua|s, a proccss which is who||y prcjudicia| to socicty.
To that cxtcnt, it is a ncw cxtcnsion of thc critiquc of dcmocratic
cga|itarianism. Thc imagc of a fragmcntcd socicty is supcrimposcd
upon that of a socicty which has bccn |cvc||cd. Thc proccss of both
fragmcntation and |cvc||ing is rcvca|cd by thc contrast bctwccn thc
aristocraticmodc|andthcdcmocraticmodc|. Inthcaristocraticmodc|,
a|| individua|s arc c|osc|y rc|atcd to onc anothcr in both spacc and
timc. On thc onc hand, changc is impcrccptib|c, and timc is a|most
immobi|c. 'As fami|ics rcmain for ccnturics in thc samc condition,
oftcnon thcsamc spot, a||gcncrationsbccomc, as itwcrc, contcmpo-
rancous.` On thcothcr, institutions 'havc thccffcct ofc|osc|ybinding
cvcrymantoscvcra|ofhisfc||owcitizcns` (p. 98). Dcmocraticsocicty,
incontrast, isa thcatrcofconstantchangc, and brcaksdownduration.
'Thcwoofoftimc iscvcryinstantbrokcnandthctrackofgcncrations
cffaccd`(p. 99).Ascachc|assgradua||yapproachcsothcrs,'itsmcmbcrs
bccomc undiffcrcntiatcd and |osc thcirc|assidcntityforonc anothcr`
(p. 99). Thccomparisonhndsitsc|carcstcxprcssioninthcproposition
that. 'Aristocracy had madc a chain of a|| thc mcmbcrs of thc
community,from thcpcasanttothcking,dcmocracybrcaksthatchain
andscvcrscvcry|inkofit` (p. 99). Itis,thcn,thcfactofdccomposition
of thc socia|, or of what wc wou|d now ca|| thc proccss of thc
atomization of thc individua|, that Tocqucvi||c sccs as thc csscntia|
factor. But itis worth pointingout that hcsti|| has rcscrvationsabout
aristocratic agcs, as thcy wi|| bc voiccdagain at thc cnd of his work.
Thus, 'It is truc that in thcsc agcs thc notion ofhuman fc||owship is
faint and that mcn sc|dom think of sacrihcing thcmsc|vcs for othcr
mcn` (p. 99). Why arc thcsc rcscrvations important7 Bccausc thcy
indicatc that, in a scnsc, Tocqucvi||c can scc thc othcr sidc of thc
µicturc hc is painting,|ookingbcyondthcdccompositionofthcsocia|,
hc g|impscs thc advcnt of humanity - or ofthc socicty which makcs
itsc|fthc rcprcscntativc of humanity. It is, howcvcr, sti|| truc to say
that thc major opposition bctwccn thc phcnomcnon of association
(typica| ofaristocracy) and thc phcnomcnon ofdisassociation (typica|
of dcmocracy) is so ccntra| to his argumcnt as to suggcst that thc
From Equality 1 Freedom I99
function offrccdom is to rcmcdy thc cvi|sgcncrat
d by cqua|ity.
It is not ncccssary to rctracc Tocqucvi||c`s ana|ysis of Amcrican
institutions in any dctai|. Whcn hc spcaks of |oca| |ifc, of civi|
thc samc points. frccdom pcrtains to thc art of rcstoring |ifc to thc
socia| body, ofrcpairingthcwoofofa fabric that has bccn torn, and
of countcring thc ccntrifuga| movcmcnt of c|cmcnts whosc so|c
bcnchciaryisdcsµotism. Hc writcs, forcxamp|c,that. 'Thc Amcricans
havc combatcd by frcc institutions thc tcndcncy of cqua|ity to kccp
mcn asundcr` (vo|. II, p. I0J), and that. 'Frcc institutions . . . rcmind
cvcrycitizcn . . . thathc|ivcsinsocicty`(p. I05). Hca|sorcmarksthat
'Whcn mcnarc no |ongcrunitcd amongthcmsc|vcsbyfìrm and|asting
tics, itis impossib|c to obtain thccoopcration ofany grcat numbcr of
thcm un|css you can pcrsuadc cvcry man that his privatc intcrcst
ob|igcshim vo|untari|y tounitchiscxcrtionstothccxcrtionsofa|| thc
othcrs` (p. I l l) , and that 'A po|itica| association draws a numbcr of
individua|s at thc samc timc out of thcir own circ|c` (p. l l 6). Thc
scicncc of association - thc 'mothcr of scicncc` (p. I I0) - thus tcnds
to bccomc onc with thc scicncc offrccdom.
Thc argumcnt appcars to bc consonant with onc of thc thcmcs of
thc hrst chaptcr of Book II, and thc samc thcmc is dcvc|opcd in thc
introduction. Butwc hnd onccmorc that thc authorcannotsustain it
to thc vcry cnd. Hc contradicts it, at |cast tacit|y, in thc scvcnth
chaptcr, whcrc hc comparcs thc virtucs of thc associations that arc
formcd in civi| socicty with thosc of thc grcat associations which
mobi|izc mcn around po|itica| objcctivcs. For a momcnt, hc docs of
coursc continuc to spcak of frccdom as a dcfcncc against thc thrcat
ofthcdccompositionofsocicty. Buthispicturcofdcmocracychangcs.
Grcat po|itica| associations or partics arc no |ongcr sccn as artihccs
whichc|itcscanuscto rcmcdythcdisadvantagcsofindividua|ism,thcy
inthc managcmcntofpub|icaffairs.Wc hnd, thcn, thatitis no |ongcr
a qucstion of stimu|ating mcn`s initiativc, but of not obstructing its
frccdcvc|opmcnt. Havingnotcdthat 'whcnsomckindsofassociations
arc prohibitcd and othcrs a||owcd, it is difhcu|t to distinguish thc
formcr from thc |attcr` and that 'in this statc of doubt mcn abstain
fromthcm a|togcthcr`,Tocqucvi||cmakcsthisrcmarkab|cobscrvation.
It is thcrcforc chimcrica|to supposc thatthcspiritofassociation,
whcn it isrcprcsscdon somc onc point, wi|| ncvcrthc|css disp|ay
thcsamcvigorona||othcrs. .Whcnthcmcmbcrsofacommunity
arc a||owcd and accustomcd to combinc for a|| purposcs, thcy
wi|| combinc as rcadi|y for thc |csscr asfor thc morc important
oncs, but if thcy arc a||owcd to combinc on|y for sma|| affairs,
thcywi|| bc ncithcr inc|incd norab|cto cffcct it. (vo|. II,p. l l¯)
Wc spokc of a rcvcrsa| of pcrspcctivc, this |ast argumcnt is infact
200 011 Freedom
bascd upon thc conviction that mcn havc a natura| pcnchant for
frccdom, that thc thrcat it poscs to pub|ic tranqui||ity cannot bc
avoidcd and that, on thc contrary, grcat risks havc to bc takcn to
avoid thc dangcrs imp|icit in a 'rcstrictcd` frccdom which is |iab|c to
cxp|odc into anarchy or to bc cxtinguishcd by dcspotism. 'Thus it is
by thc cnjoymcnt of a dangcrous frccdom that Amcricans |carn thc
art ofrcndcring thc dangcrs offrccdom |css formidab|c` (p. I I9).
ItistructhatTocqucvi||cncvcr|oscssightof thccvi|sofindividua|ism,
but hisvicwsas to thc b|
ssings offrccdom arc no |ongcrbascdupon
his initia| prcmisscs. Hc suggcsts that dcmocracy givcs birth to two
tcndcncics, onc |cading to thc iso|ation of individua|s, and thc othcr
to thc promotion of tradc and of joint initiativcs. 'In thcir po|itica|
associations thc Amcricans, of a|| conditions, minds and agcs, dai|y
acquirca gcncra|tastcforassociationandgrow accustomcdtothcusc
ofit` (p. I I9).
Thc rcscrvations thc author cxprcsscs at thc cnd of this chaptcr,
whcrc hc cvokcs thc casc ofthc nations of Europc, arc an c|oqucnt
of unrcstraincdfrccdom ofassociation thatwcrcputforwardin Book
I on thc grounds that, in po|itica| mattcrs, 'if it docs not throw thcm
[thc pcop|c] intoanarchy . . . it pcrpctua||ybringsthcm, asitwcrc,to
thc vcrgc of it` (vo|. I I , p. I I9), hc now makcs thc point that civi|
pcacc, rcspcct for thc |aws and stabi|ity of govcrnmcnt arc prccious
b|cssings but that, ifpo|itica| frccdom is to bc sacriñccd to thcm, thc
cost to thc nation must bc wcighcd. '1 can undcrstand that it may bc
advisab|c to cutoffa man`s arm inordcrtosavc his|ifc, but itwou|d
bc ridicu|ous to asscrt that hc wi|| bc as dcxtrousashcwasbcforc hc
|ost it` (p. I20). Thc vita|ist mctaphor ñna||y docs away with thc
artiñcia|ist mctaphor which has constant|y bccn uscd in prcvious
chaptcrs Fo|itica| frccdom rcturns to thc po|c of naturc. Thc art of
po|iticssti|| hasits p|acc, but itconsistsofcompromisingwith po|itica|
frccdom in onc way or anothcr, and not of introducing it into an
amorphous dcmocratic mass.'
Book IV (and wc wi|| on|y bc dca|ing with thosc aspccts of it which
arc rc|cvant to ourpurposcs)rcprcscntsTocqucvi||c`s ñna| attcmpt to
rcformu|atc, rcctify and, to somc cxtcnt, rcoricnt his ana|ysis of
cqua|ityandofitsrc|ationshipwithfrccdom. Wchavca|rcadypointcd
out that it is c|osc|y rc|atcd to Book I I . Hc statcs cxp|icit|y that his
aim is to show thc inßucncc of dcmocratic idcas and fcc|ings on
of human socictics` (p. 287). Hc has, howcvcr, broachcd this subjcct
on a numbcr ofoccasions, notab|y whcn hc c|aimcd to bc dcscribing
thc inßucncc of idcas and fcc|ings- hcrc, thc ordcr of thc argumcnt
is rcvcrscd- ondcmocracy. Wc mustthcrcforc rccognizc that. aswc||
asrcvca|ingsignsofadivisionwhoscpcrtincnccisvcryrc|ativc, Book
IV a|so contains an attcmpt to cmbracc thc |ogic ofdcmocracy or to
From Equality t Freedom 2OI
dctcrminc thccoursc ofthcdcmocraticrcvo|ution. `Tosuccccd inthis
objcct. hc notcs, '1 sha|| frcqucnt|y havc to rctracc my stcps, but I
trust thc rcadcr wi|| not rcfusc to fo||ow mc through paths a|rcady
known to him,which may |cadto somc ncwtruth` (p. 287). Thc most
novc| truth wou|d appcarto bc foundinchaptcr6withitsdcscription
I think . . . that thc spccics of opprcssion by which dcmocratic
nations arc mcnaccd is un|ikc anything that cvcr bcforc cxistcd
in thc wor|d, our contcmporarics wi|| ñnd no prototypc of it in
thcirmcmorics. Iscckinvainforancxprcssionthatwi||accuratc|y
convcy thc who|c of thc idca I havc formcd of it, thc o|d words
dcspotism and tyranny arc inappropriatc; thc thingitsc|fis ncw,
and sincc I cannot namc, I must attcmpt to dcñnc it. (p. JI8)
posthumousfamcthanthcrcstofhisworktakcntogcthcr,andI wou|d
not drcam ofdcnyingcithcrits origina|ity or its fccundity. But, givcn
that wc arc tryingto |ocatc discrcpancicsorcvcn contradictions in his
thought, it must not b|ind us to thc author`s starting point. which, if
wc comparc thc ñrst chaptcr to thc opcning chaptcr of Book I I , is in
itsc|f ncw. In thc |attcr, wc obscrvcd. thc initia| asscrtion that, in its
highcst statc, cqua|ity b|cnds with po|itica| frccdom prcparcd thc
groundforadivorccbctwccn cqua|ity and frccdom. Hcrc, thc author
bcgins with a cu|ogy of dcmocracy for which nothing in his car|icr
criticisms ha� prcparcd us. Thc tit|c of thc chaptcr announccs that
`Equa|itynatura||ygivcsmcn atastcforfrcc institutions`,andthcñrst
|incs of thc tcxt cxp|ain why this is so.
Thc princip|c ofcqua|ity, which makcs mcn indcpcndcntofcach
othcr, givcsthcm a habit andatastcforfo||owingin thcirprivatc
actions no othcr guidc than thcir own wi||. This comp|ctc
indcpcndcncc, which thcy constant|y cnjoy in rcgard to thcir
cqua|s andinthc intcrcoursc ofprivatc|ifc, tcndstomakc thcm
|ook upon a|| authority with ajca|ouscyc andspccdi|y suggcsts
to thcm thc notion and |ovc of po|itica| frccdom. Mcn |iving at
such timcs havc anatura|biastowardsfrcc institutions. Takc any
onc of thcm at a vcnturc, and you wi|| ñnd that, of a||
govcrnmcnts,hcwi||sooncstconccivcandmost high|yva|uc that
govcrnmcnt whosc hcad hc has himsc|f c|cctcd and whosc
administration hc may contro|. (p. 287)
Equa|ity is. it is truc, oncc morc prcscntcd as a fundamcnta| fact,
but it is so immcdiatc|y |inkcd with its cffcct - frccdom - that thc
in instinct. Jhismasks a |ogica| hiatus. howcan itsti|| bc c|aimcd that
frccdom is introduccd into an cga|itarian socicty from thc outsidc?
And it masks a historica| hiatus. how can it sti|| bc c|aimcd that
202 011 Freedom
Europc`smisfortuncsrcsu|t from thc fact that cqua|ityis |ong-standing
and thatfrccdomis rcccnt? It is impossib|c, ñna||y,to sustainthc idca
thatthcymcctandb|cndon|yat thcircxtrcmcs.thcyhavcbccnshown
to bc consubstantia|. Thc tcndcncy towards frccdom is inscparab|c
from thc tcndcncy towards cqua|ity. mcn havc a natura| bias towards
frcc institutions. Thc body ofthc chaptcr docs not rcfutc this cu|ogy
ofdcmocracy, infactthc conc|usion rcinforccs it as thc author makcs
what is in cffcct a profcssion of faith.
Fcrsona||y,farfrom hndingfau|twithcqua|itybccauscitinspircs
I admirc it bccausc it |odgcs in thc vcry dcpths of cach man`s
forpo|itica| indcpcndcncc, andthusprcparcsthc rcmcdyfor thc
i|| which it cngcndcrs. It is prccisc|y for this rcason that I c|ing
to it. (p. 288)
It might bc said, thcn, that cqua|ity is not an unmixcd b|cssing, it
cngcndcrs an i||. Truc. Tocqucvi||c has not forgottcn what hc wrotc
about thc scparation of individua|s that accompanics thc dcstruction
ofhicrarchicsor, morc gcncra||y, ofnctworksofpcrsona|dcpcndcncy.
But, asidc from thc fact that thc acccnt is now p|accd on thc good
aspcct of cqua|ity, thc word itsc|f, which was oncc an indcx of
cxtcriority, has now bccomc anindcxoffrccdom`sintcriority.cqua|ity
bcars within it thc rcmcdy for thc i||s it cngcndcrs.
Thc mcntion of thc dangcrs imp|icit in cqua|ity is a|so a c|car
indication of thc cxtcnt to which Tocqucvi||c has distanccd himsc|f
from his car|icrthcscs. Hc ascribcsto 'timidminds`thc fcar that |ovc
of indcpcndcncc inspircs. Whcrcas thc brcak-up of thc socia| was
formcr|y sccn as a thrcat, it now bccomcs thc objcctofa hypothcsis
which has no consistcncy and which is, in a scnsc, sccondary.
As thc citizcns havc no dircct inßucncc on cach othcr, as soon
as thc suprcmc powcr of thc nation fai|s, which kcpt thcm a|| in
thcir scvcra| stations, it wou|d sccm that disordcr must instant|y
rcach its utmost pitch and that, cvcry man drawing asidc in a
diffcrcnt dircction, thc fabric of socicty must at oncc crumb|c
away. I amconvinccd, howcvcr, thatanarchyis not thcprincipa|
cvi| that dcmocratic agcs havc to fcar, but thc |cast. (p. 288)
It is as though Tocqucvi||c wcrc his own intcr|ocutor, for it was
Tocqucvi||c himsc|f who dcscribcd thc brcaking of thc |inks which
oncc madc upthc chain.
But wc sti|| havc to ask oursc|vcs why thc authordiscards a
rcprcscntation which sccmcdto mcansomuchtohim- or,tobcmorc
accuratc, whcthcr hcdiscards itin abso|utc tcrms, or whcthcrhcdocs
so on a provisiona| basis and infavour ofsomc othcr rcprcscntation.
From Equality 1 Freedom 20J
ln oncscnsc thcrc canbc
odoubtastothcanswcr. thcrcprcscntation
docs mdccd changc. Thc tdcathat thc grcatcstthrcat is thc crumb|ing
way of thc socia| body ts, m onc way or anothcr, rcjcctcd scvcra|
timcsmBook IV. Itgtvc

waytoanidcawhich has, ofcoursc,a|rcady
bccn advanccd, but which now bccomcs ccntra| to his critiquc of
dcmocracy, namc|y thc tdca thatfcarofanarchy or |ovcofordcrwi||
pavc thc way for abso|utc powcr. Thus, at thc bcginning of chaptcr
J, wc rcad.

thcsc nations rctain, and it bccomcs morc activc and powcrfu|
among thcm in
proportion as a|| othcr passions droop and dic.

to givcorsurrcndcr additiona| rights to thcccntra| powcr, which
a|onc sccms to bc intcrcstcd in dcfcnding thcm by thc samc
mcans that ituscs to dcfcnditsc|f. (pp. 29J-4)
Thc samcpointismadcinChaptcrIV,whcrcTocqucvi||cagaincvokcs
thc casc of Francc, of a pcop|c who havc cmcrgcd from a |ong and
b|oody rcvo|ution andwho arcthcrcforc morc thancvcr disposcd to
thc functions of ccntra| govcrnmcnt. 'Thc |ovc of pub|ic
tranqui|hty bccomcs at such timcs an indiscriminatc passion, and thc
mcmbcrs of thc community arc apt to conccivc a most inordinatc
dcvotion to ordcr` (p. J0I).
Thcsc |ast obscrvations,
and cvcn morc so thc broadcr argumcnt
wtthm which thcy arc mscnbcd, cn|ightcn us asto thc motivcs bchind

hangc that has takcn p|acc. It is bccausc thc social void appcars
to him to bc a hction that Tocqucvi||c is no |ongcr conccrncd with
ingattcntion to thcproccssofthcfragmcntationordis|ocationof
socicty. Hcsccsanarchyas thc '|castofthccvi|s`dcmocraticsocictics
havc tofcarbccausc hc isconvinccd that,cvcn ifwc acccpt thc worst
of a||possib|c hypothcscs, it wi|| bc no morc than cpisodic. His main
conviction appcars to bc that, on thc contrary,

dcmocracy tcnds to
socicty such p|cnitudc and such so|idity that thcvarictyofidcas,
fcchngs andmodcs ofbchaviour, thc frcc p|ay of initiativc and cvcn
thcdcsircfornovc|ty wi|| disappcar.
Oncc again, it is important to rcfcr back to Book I I . It wi|| bc
rcca||cd that thc ana|ysis ofindividua|ism madc in thc sccond chaptcr
affords Tocqucvi||c thc opportunity to contrast thc dcmocratic modc|
with thcaristocraticmodc|so as tobringoutthcirdistinctivcfcaturcs.
on thc onc hand, a princip|c of association, on thc othcr a princip|c
ofdisassociation. Thccomparison bctwccn thctwo modc|sistakcn up
onccmorc in thc corrcsponding chaptcr of Book IV, but this timc it
is uscd to show that onc is charactcrizcd by socia| diffcrcntiation,
whichgivcsrisc to thc idca of a mu|tip|icityof sccondary powcrs and
which makcs it inconccivab|c that uniform ru|cs cou|d bc imposcd
204 all Freedom
by cqua|ity ofcondition, which givcs risc to thc idca of 'a sing|c and
ccntra| powcr` and of 'uniformity of |cgis|ation` (p. 289). Onc cou|d
ofcoursc takc thc vicw that thc two idcas arc not incompatib|c, and
thatthcyapp|ytodiffcrcntphcnomcna. Butifthc formcr istakcnto
its |ogica| conc|usion, it is impossib|c to rccognizc thc cmcrgcncc of
thc individua|, of a citizcn who rc|atcs to himsc|f at a distancc from
othcr citizcns, as a positivc sign ofindcpcndcncc. It furthcr imp|ics a
c|assic conccption of dcspotism which obscurcs thc novc|ty of thc
dcmocratic fact in modcrn socicty. This is a|rcady apparcnt from thc
bcginning of chaptcr 4 of Book I I , which is dcsigncd to show how
Amcricans combat thc cffccts of individua|ism by frcc institutions.
'Equa|ity p|accs mcn sidc by sidc, unconncctcd by any common tic,
thcm not to considcr thcir fc||ow crcaturcs, thc |attcr makcs gcncra|
indiffcrcncc a sortofpub|ic virtuc` (p. 102). It is of |itt|c import that
thc author shou|d add that 'Dcspotism . . . which is at a|| timcs
dangcrousismorcparticu|ar|ytobcfcarcdindcmocraticagcs`(p. 102);
hc is supcrimposing an institutionwhichcxists'at a||timcs` upon thc
prcscnt. Thc argumcnt docs, howcvcr, bccomc much morc subt|c in
thc ñna| Book, whcrc thc author attcmpts to articu|atc thc fact ofa
ncw frccdom with that of a ncw powcr.
A|| thc morc rcmarkab|c, thcrcforc, is thc rcworking of thc
prob|cmatic which occurs whcn Tocqucvi||c makcs ccntra| to his
argumcnt thc thcmcs of a sing|c ccntra| powcr and of uniformity of
|cgis|ation. Thcsc thcmcs mobi|izc a rcprcscntation ofcqua|ity which
wc havc ofcourscsccn him out|inc bcforc, but it now acquircs a ncw
To rcmain, howcvcr, with thc sccond chaptcr of Book IV. Having
that 'As thc conditions of mcn bccomc cqua| among a pcop|c,
individua|ssccm of|cssand socicty of grcatcr importancc, or rathcr
cvcry citizcn, bcingassimi|atcd to a|| thcrcst, is|ostinthccrowd, and
nothingstandsconspicuous but [I'on n'aper(oit plus que] thcgrcat and
imposingimagcofthcpcop|cat|argc` (p. 290). Thisscntcnccisworthy
of dctai|cd cxamination. As wc can scc, thc initia| proposition is
qua|iñcd. Itin fact cvokcs thc fami|iar imagc of|cvc||ing, but it docs
not a||ow us to undcrstand why thc dcbascmcnt ofindividua|sshou|d
go hand in hand with thc c|cvation, not ofpowcr, but ofsocicty. To
do that, itwou|d havc to bc immcdiatc|y asscrtcd that thc individua|
is ncccssari|ycaught up in a socia|rcprcscntation, and that his imagc
thcrcforc cannot contract at onc po|c without thc imagc of socicty
bccoming di|atcd atthc othcr. But thc author docs not say that. Thc
s|ippagc introduccd bythc'orrathcr`suggcststhat thc idcntityofcach
individua| bccomcs |ost within a co||cctivc idcntity as a rcsu|t of
assimi|ation. Thc brcak in thc scntcncc and thc irruption of thc 01
arcinthcmsc|vcsc|oqucnt.Thc imagcofthcpcop|cbccomcsdctachcd
fromthat ofindividua|s, anditis pcrccivcd by a|| from an impcrsona|
From Equality t Freedom 205
vicwpoint. But, having introduccd thc tcrm 'thc pcop|c`, Tocqucvi||c
immcdiatc|y continucs.
ofthcprivi|cgcsofsocictyandavcry humb|cnotionofthcrights
of individua|s, thcy arc rcady to admit that thc intcrcsts of thc
formcr arc cvcrything andthoscof thc |attcr nothing. Thcyarc
wi||ing to acknow|cdgc that thc powcr which rcprcscnts thc
communityhasfarmorcinformationandwisdom thananyofthc
mcmbcrs of that community, and that it is thc duty, as wc|| as
thc right, ofthat powcr to guidc as wc|| as govcrn cach privatc
citizcn. (p. 290)
Thc substitution ofsociety for the people is worthy ofnotc. It is a
sign that thc proccsswhich bcgan with cqua|ity is bcing rcdup|icatcd.
Wc havc, on thc onc hand, an idcntiñcation with a|| thc rcst which
givcs risc to thc imagc of thc Pcop|c-as-Onc, and, on thc othcr, a
schism which givcs risc both to a purc mu|tip|icity of individua|s
rcduccd to a minima| dcgrcc ofpowcr [puissance], and to socicty as
such. Thcomnipotcnccofthcrca| is imprintcdon thc |attcr. Andthis
shcds |ight on powcr [pouvoir] in two ways. Powcr can cmbody thc
pcop|c, ashasa|rcady bccn suggcstcd, thc pcop|c arc a condcnsation
of opinion, thc pcop|c cxcrcisc thc tyranny ofthc majority, to usc a
formu|a from Book I . Fowcr can a|so represent socicty, which is
indcñnab|c but which is a|so thc on|y thing to havc substancc and
strcngth and, bccausc it rcprcscnts socicty, it sccms to a|| to bc an
'imposing powcr which a|onc riscs abovc thc |cvc| of univcrsa|
dcprcssion` (p. 294).
Thc commcnt to thc cffcct that thc samc rcprcscntation triumphs
cvcn whcrc thc doctrinc of popu|ar sovcrcignty is most vio|cnt|y
rcjcctcd immcdiatc|yprovcsthatwc arc noton thcwrongtrack. 'Thc
idca of intcrmcdiatc powcrs is wcakcncd and ob|itcratcd, thc idca of
rights inhcrcnt in ccrtain individua|s is rapid|y disappcaringfrom thc
minds of mcn, thc idca of thc omnipotcncc and so|c authority of
socicty at |argc riscs to ñ|| its p|acc` (p.291).
It is in this contcxt that thc notion of`socia| powcr` bcgins to bc
of a ncw conccption which mcans that thc sphcrc of thc po|itica| can
no |ongcrbccircumscribcd at arcmovcfrom thcsphcrcofthc socia|.
Powcrdocs,ofcoursc, sti|| appcartobc thcsitc ofancffcctivc action
of |cvc||ing. It fo||owsits 'natura| tcndcncics' by cncouragingcqua|ity
and uniformity. `Thc govcrnmcnt |ikcs what thc citizcns |ikc and
natura||y hatcswhat thcy hatc` (p.295). Andwhcrcdocsthiscntcntc
comc from, if not from a sort ofchiasmus bctwccn a socicty which
c|cvatcs itsc|f to thc status of powcr, and a powcr which is diffuscd
throughout socicty7
What, thcn, bccomcs ofcqua|ity in Tocqucvi||c`s ana|ysis? It is no
206 On Freedom
|ongcr rcvca|cd by thc spcctac|c of thc dispcrsa| of individua|s who
wcrc formcr|y mcmbcrs of a corporatc cntity (or of morc than onc
such cntity), or of individua|s who arc cqua| bccausc thcy arc
indcpcndcnt units and bccausc, by dcñnition, no onc individua| is
infcriororsupcriorto anothcr. Onthconc hand, 'cqua|ity` dcsignatcs
simi|arity, and it has thc cffcct of producing thc i||usion, which is
inscribcd in thc rca|, ofa co||cctivc idcntity known as thc Fcop|c. On
thc othcr hand, it appcars within thcformation of a uniform surfacc,
and has thc cffcct of producingthc i||usion (which is a|soinscribcd in
thcrca|)ofanagcncywhichisdistanccdfrom itbutwhichundcrstands
thc |aw of its construction. thc powcr which represents socicty and
which thc author dcscribcs as 'so|c, simp|c, providcntia| and creative'
(p.29l , cmphasis addcd) .
It is, thcn, as though Tocqucvi||c rccognizcd thc virtucs ofcqua|ity
this rcprcscntation. Hc docs not discard it, but ñrst downgradcs it,
and thcn gocs so far as to cxp|oit it ancw in ordcr to convincc thc
rcadcr that dcmocracy natura||y cvo|vcs towards a ncw kind of
dcspotism. This |inc ofthought is a|rcady visib|c in chaptcr J, whcrc
thc author continucs his cxamination of thc phcnomcnon of thc
conccntration of powcr. Having notcd that |ovc ofpub|ic tranqui||ity
outwcighs a|| othcrpassions(wc havc a|rcady citcd this passagc), hc
sccms to want to rcca|| his car|icr commcnts on thc tastc for
indcpcndcncc that is gcncratcd by cqua|ity. Wc arc thcn faccd with
an ambiguity. indcpcndcncc and powcr|cssncss. Thcsc arc, wc arc
to|d,'twoconditions whichmustncvcrbccithcrscparatc|yconsidcrcd
or confoundcd togcthcr` (p. 294), but itsoon bccomcs apparcnt that
both |cnd thcmsc|vcs to thc dcvc|opmcnt of powcr. Thc dcbi|ity of
thc individua| makcs him fcc| 'thc want ofsomcoutward assistancc`
(p. 294) which hc cannot hopc to rcccivc from any of his cqua|s, and
so hc turns his cycs to thc imposing powcr which a|onc ariscs abovc
thc |cvc| of univcrsa| dcprcssion. Thc dcmand for indcpcndcncc, for
its part, provcs csscntia||y to bc voiccd at othcrs` cxpcnsc, but
cvcry man`s rcfusa| to obcy anothcr can cocxist a|ongsidc 'common
dcpcndcncc`onanabso|utcthirdparty. 'Thcmanofadcmocraticagc
is his cqua|`, but 'hc |ovcs continua||y to rcmind him of thc common
dcpcndcncc inwhichboth ofthcm stand to thcsamcmastcr` (p. 295).
This |astformu|adocsnot,howcvcr,appcartobccntirc|yconvincing,
as itsti|| |cavcs room for thc notion ofdcpcndcncc onsomconc- thc
mastcr- and Tocqucvi||c quick|y qua|ihcs it by adding. 'Dcmocratic
nations oftcn hatc thosc in whosc hands thc ccntra| powcr is vcstcd,
but thcy a|ways |ovc that powcr itsc|f` (p.296). Thc argumcnt thus
sccms to bc comp|ctc, nothing rcmains of thc dcc|aration wc notcd in
chaptcr I : 'Mcn |iving at such timcs havc a natura| bias towards frcc
institutions` (p. 287). Thcir natura| bias now sccms to |cad thcm to
acccptancc of thc yokc of powcr, and at thc samc timc it |cads thcm
From Equality to Freedom 207
to avoid a|| pcrsona| dcpcndcncc. Tocqucvi||c rcturns thcn, by an
uncxpcctcd routc, tooncofthc major thcmcsofBookII. `Individua|
indcpcndcncc and |oca| |ibcrtics wi|| cvcr bc thc products of art`
(p. 296).
But this is on|y a stagc. It is in chaptcr 6 that frccdom is ñna||y
transformcd into its oppositc. In chaptcr J, thc '|ovc of thc powcr`
which rcststs thc hatrcd shown towards thosc in whosc hands powcr
is vcstcd is dircctcd towards a powcr which has thc function of
representing socicty, but wc arc to|d nothing about thc origins of that
powcr or about thc ñgurcs in whom it is vcstcd. Whcn Tocqucvi||c
thcn dcnounccs 'thc sortofdcspotismwhich dcmocratic nations havc
tofcar` andrcfcrsto anopprcssion which is ncwandwhich hc cannot
namc, hc is notsatisñcd with dcñning itscharactcristics. 'an immcnsc
and tutc|ary powcr . . . abso|utc, minutc, rcgu|ar, providcnt, and mi|d
. . . `whichtakcscontro|ofcvcry aspcctofmcn`s|ivcsandwhich'cvcry
day rcndcrs thc cxcrciscofthcfrccagcncy ofman |cssuscfu| and |css
frcqucnt` (p. Jl 8) . At thc cnd of his ana|ysis, hc adds that scrvitudc
'might bccombincd morccasi|y than is common|y bc|icvcd withsomc
of thc outward forms of frccdom` (p. Jl9). And thcn, with grcatcr
of po|itica| dcmocracy.
Our contcmporarics arc constant|y cxcitcd by two conßicting
passions. thcy want to bc |cd, and thcy wish to rcmain frcc. As
thcycannotdcstroycithcrthconcor thcothcrofthcsccontrary
propcnsitics,thcystrivctosatisfythcmbothat oncc. Thcydcvisc
aso|c, tutc|ary, anda||-powcrfu| govcrnmcnt, butc|cctcd bythc
pcop|c. Thcycombinc thcprincip|cofccntra|ization and that of
popu|ar sovcrcignty, this givcs thcm a rcspitc, thcy conso|c
thcmsc|vcs for bcing in tutc|agc by thc rcßcction that thcy havc
choscn thcirownguardians. Evcryman a||ows himsc|fto bc put
in |cading-strings, bccauschcsccsthat it is not a pcrson or c|ass
By this systcm thc pcop|c shakc off thcir statc of dcpcndcncc
just |ong cnough to sc|cct thcir mastcr and thcn rc|apsc into it
again. (p. Jl9)
Evcn this |astproposition isimmcdiatc|y qua|iñcd. Thc momcntary
rcspitc from dcpcndcncc itsc|fappcars to bc i||usory.
It is vain to summon a pcop|c who havc bccn rcndcrcd so
dcpcndcnt on thc ccntra|powcrtochooscfrom timc totimcthc
rcprcscntativcsofthatpowcr,thisrarc andbricfcxcrciscofthcir
frccchoicc, howcvcr importantit may bc, wi|| not prcvcnt thcm
from gradua||y|osingthcfacu|ticsofthinking,fcc|ingand acting
for thcmsc|vcs, and thus gradua||y fa||ing bc|ow thc |cvc| of
humanity. (pp. J20-l)
208 all Freedom
Thc modc| is condcmncd in such strong tcrms that wc can forgct thc
rcscrvations that wcrc cxprcsscd car|icr, namc|y that thc ru|c of onc
man or of an irrcsponsib|cbodywou|d bc worsc sti||; that opprcssion
is |css dcgrading whcn it is cxcrciscd bcncath thc sign of popu|ar
sovcrcignty, that individua|s do makc somc gains whcn thcy sacriñcc
thcir indcpcndcncc to thc pub|ic. Thc u|timatc truth appcars to bc
thatthcncwdcspotism takcsonitsmostdchnitcformwhcnthcimagc
of powcras rcprcscnting socicty combincswith that of thc pcop|c as
bcing conccrncdso|c|ywith thcir own affairs.
Such, thcn,isthcstrangc argumcnt that sccmsto b put forward in
Book IV. It is ccrtain|y vcry diffcrcnt to thc argumcnt wc traccd
ittoo soon bccausc wc arc sti|| trappcd bythc intcrprctation that has
comc down to postcrity. Lct us not forgct thc hna| |incsofchaptcr 6.
Suddcn|ythc picturcchangcsoncc morc.Tocqucvi||ccorrcctshimsc|f.
Aconstitutionrcpub|icanin its hcad andu|tra-monarchica|ina||
its othcr parts has a|rcady appcarcd to mc to bc a short|ivcd
monstcr. Thc viccs of ru|crs and thc incptitudc of thc pcop|c
wou|dspccdi|y bring about its ruin, and thc nation, wcary of its
rcprcscntativcs and of itsc|f, wou|d crcatc frccr institutions or
soonrcturntostrctch itsc|f·atthcfcctofasing|cmastcr. (p. J2I )
Wc wou|d thcrcforc bc wrong to conc|udc that tutc|ary dcmocracy is
viab|c and that thc bias towards indcpcndcncc wi||, if |cft to itsc|f,
|cad to a statc ofscrvitudc. Dcspitc a|| thc argumcntsthat havc bccn
putforward to convincc usthatthisisthc casc,wc mustñna||yacccpt
that frccdomcannot in thc |ong tcrm concca| scrvitudc, that frccdom
wi||bcwononccmorcorthat, ifitis|ost,itwi||disappcarcomp|ctc|y
inthcfaccofdcspotism. Itwou|d a|sobcwrongtothink that this|ast
dcvc|opmcnt in Tocqucvi||c's discoursc is a sign that a bricf and
inconsistcnt conccssion is bcing madc to hopc, that hc is moving
muchfurthcratthccndofchaptcr7. Hcdocsofcourscagaindcscribc
frccdom as a rcmcdy for cqua|ity, but hc conc|udcs that.
Thc mcn who |ivc in thc dcmocratic agcs upon which wc arc
cntcring havc natura||y a tastc for indcpcndcncc, thcy arc
natura||y impaticnt of rcgu|ation, and thcy arc wcaricd by thc
pcrmancncc cvcn of thc condition thcy thcmsc|vc¸s prcfcr. Thcy
arc fondofpowcr, but thcy arc pronc to dcspisc and hatc thosc
who wic|d it, and thcy casi|y c|udc its grasp by thcir own
thcmsc|vcs, bccausc thcyoriginatc in thc groundwork ofsocicty,
which wi|| undcrgo no changc, fora |ongtimc thcywi|| prcvcnt
thc cstab|ishmcnt of any dcspotism, and thcy wi|| furnish ncw
wcapons tocach succccding gcncration that strugg|csin favor of
thc |ibcrty of mankínd. (p. JJ0)
From Equality t Freedom
Evcry word is dircctcd against thc thcscs that wcrc advanccd car|icr.
It is particu|ar|y notcworthy that individua|s arc no |ongcr prisoncrs
of powcr bcc

usc thcy havc bccn dcbascd, thcir vcry insigniñcancc
savcsthcm. Ittsa|sotobcnotcdthatthcpcop|cno|ongcr|ovcpowcr,
cvcn thou

h thcy hatc thosc in whosc hands it is vcstcd (p. 296),
dcspitc thctr |ovc of powcr, thcy ncvcr |osc sight of thc hatcfu| and
dcspícab|c ñgurc of thc mastcr.
Fina||y, itsccms signiñcant that thisconc|usion shou|d stcm from a
ncw rcßcction upon thc naturc of thc aristocratic modc| and thc
dcmocratic modc|: ' I sha|| conc|udc with onc gcncra| idca, which

ompriscs not on|y a|| thc particu|ar idcas that havc bccn cxprcsscd
tn thc
prcscnt chaptcr, but a|so mostofthoscofwhich it is thcobjcct
of thts book to trcat` (p. J28). It is important not to distort his
intcntions. hcintcndstoshowthatthcrcwasatimcwhcnmcn`scfforts

d toincrcasc and strcngthcn thc mightofsocia|powcr, and,now
that tthas rcachcd its hcight, it is thcir task to imposc |imits upon it,
to asscrt andprotcctthcrights ofprívatc citizcns,andtoprcscrvc thc
tndcpcndcncc of thc individua|. But his ñrst obscrvation docs not

onccrn powcr a|onc. Taking up a thcmcwhichwc havc a|rcady sccn
tn chaptcr2, hcrcmarksthatin aristocraticagcs, 'the outline of societ
itSelf was not easily discerible and was constant|yconfoundcd with thc
diffcrcntpowcrsbywhichthccommunitywasru|cd` (p. J28,cmphasis
addcd). I n my vicw, this judgcmcnt dctcrmincs thc chaptcr's ñna|
considcrations as to thc virtucs of dcmocracy. It is thcrcforc a|| thc
morc surprising that Tocqucvi||c shou|d not makc thc conncction
cxp|icit. What onc might havc cxpcctcd him to add is that thc out|inc
of socicty is born togcthcr with modcrn dcmocracy (and this wou|d
provtdc thc othcr tcrm of thc opposition), or, to bc morc accuratc,
and as thc tcrm `out|inc ofsocicty` is ambiguous, that, a|ongwith thc
formationofan imagc ofthc pcop|c or ofsocicty- and thcsc arc sti||
dctcrminatc imagcs in which a bc|icf in a co||cctivc idcntity or an
objcctivc powcr crysta||izcs - thcrc is born a dcsirc toscc thc socia|
as somcthing visib|c. Yct hc ho|ds back from this conc|usion, ncithcr
thc idca ofa uniqucpowcrnorthat ofuniform |cgis|ation can cxp|ain
thc ncw mcaning that hasbccn invcstcd in po|itics and right.
Nccd it bc statcd that this cxamination of part of Tocqucvi||c`s
discoursc (whichsomc mayhndtoodctaí|cd,thoughitis,tomy mind,
not dctai|cd cnough) was not intcndcd to catch him out in his own
contradictions7Thc rcsu|ts ofsucha projcctwou|d bc boths|ightand
stcri|c. As with any grcat thinkcr, wc can |carn from Tocqucvi||c`s
contradictions. Indccd, I wi||gofurthcrthanthat. itispcrhapsbccausc
hc is b|ind to thc qucstions raiscd by thc historica| dcvc|opmcnt of
frccdom that hc is capab|c of fìnding in modcrn socicty fcaturcs that
hiscontcmporarics- bourgcois dcmocratic and socia|ist thinkcrs a|ikc
- cou|dnotdisccrn. A|mostonc and a ha|fccnturics |atcr,wc arcsti||
faccd withthccnigmaofdcmocracy,andhisworkhc|psustodcciphcr

1 1
The Permanence of the
Thcrc was, in thc ninctccnth ccntury, a widcsprcad and |asting
conviction that onc cannot disccrn thc transformations that occur in
po|itica|socicty- thatonccannotrca||ytakcstockofwhatisappcaring,
disappcaringorrcappcaring- withoutcxamining thc rc|igious signih-
cancc of thc O|d and thc Ncw. In both Francc and Gcrmany,
phi|osophy, history,thcnovc|andpoctrya||tcstifyadcquatc|yto that.
Thisconviction isnot ofcoursc cntirc|y ncw, and it can bc traccd far
back into history. I am not thinking of thc work of thc thco|ogians
of Kings and Empcrors, and that of Popcs, no mattcr how thcy
cxcrciscd it, thcir thought was sti|| conhncd within thc |imits of a
thco|ogico-po|itica| cxpcricncc of thc wor|d. It is, it sccms to mc, in
thc sixtccnth ccntury that wc dctcct thc hrst signs of a modcrn
rcßcction upon po|itics and rc|igion, it is thcn that a ncw scnsitivity
to thc qucstion ofthc foundations ofthc civi| ordcr is born asa rcsu|t
of thc combincdcffccts ofthc co||apsc ofthc authority ofthc Church
and of thc strugg|cs that accompanicd thc Rcformation, as a rcsu|t
both of thc asscrtion of thc abso|utc right of thc Princc and of
cha||cngcs to that right. It is, howcvcr, sti|| truc to say that at thc
as a rcsu|t of thc Frcnch Rcvo|ution. It is whi|c that cvcnt is sti|| a
|iving mcmory that thcrc ariscs a fcc|ing that a brcak has occurrcd,
but that itdid not occurwithin timc, that it cstab|ishcs � rc|ationship
bctwccn human bcingsandtimcitsc|f,thatitmakcshistoryamystcry,
that it cannot bc circumscribcd within thc hc|d of what arc tcrmcd
bctwccn human bcings and thc institution itsc|f, that itmakcssocicty
a mystcry. Thc rc|igious mcaning of this brcak haunts thc minds of
thc mcn of thc pcriod, no mattcr what vcrdicts thcy may rcach- no
mattcr whcthcr thcy |ookforsignsofa rcstoration ofCatho|icism, for
signs ofa rcncwa| ofChristianitywithin Catho|icism orFrotcstantism,
for signs of thc fu|h|mcnt of Christianity in po|itica| and socia| |ifc,
2I4 On the Irreducible Element
outsidc thc o|d framcwork of thc Churchcs, or cvcn for signs of its
comp|ctc dcstruction and ofthc birth ofa ncwfaith. To mcntion on|y
|ikc Dc Maistrc, that atthc othcr wc havc socia|ists |ikc Lcroux, and
that, bctwccn thc two cxtrcmcs, wc havc such individua| thinkcrs as
Ba||anchc, Chatcaubriand, Michc|ct and Quinct, thcy a|| spcak thc
samc |anguagc, and it is simu|tancous|y po|itica|, phi|osophica| and
It is truc - and |ct us not forgct it- that thc samc pcriod sccs thc
asscrtion of a ncw statc of mind, of a tcndcncy (traccs of which can
bc found in thc sixtccnth ccntury, and which bccamc c|car|y out|incd
cntity, to makc po|itics a rca|ity sui generis, and to rc|cgatc rc|igion
to thc domain ofprivatc bc|icf. As car|y as I8I7, Hcgc| was a|rcady
dcnouncing this tcndcncy in tcrms which forcshadow its futurc
dcvc|opmcnts. Arguinginthc Encyclopedia that 'thc statcrcstson thc
cthica| scntimcnt, and that on thc rc|igious`, hc adds1his va|uab|c
It has bccn thc monstrous b|undcr of our timcs to try to |ook
as mutua||y indiffcrcnt. Thc vicw takcn of thc rc|ationship of
rc|igion and thc statc has bccn that, whcrcas thc statc had an
indcpcndcnt cxistcncc of its own, springing from somc sourcc
and powcr, rc|igion was a |atcr addition, somcthing dcsirab|c
pcrhaps for strcngthcning thc po|itica| bu|warks, but purc|y
subjcctivc in individua|s. - or it may bc, rc|igion is trcatcd as
somcthing without cffcct on thc mora| |ifc of thc statc, i . c. , its
rcasonab|c |aw andconstitution whicharc bascd on a ground of
thcir own. '
Bcforc |ong, simi|ar criticisms bccamc widcsprcad in Francc, but
thcywcrc bascd upondiffcrcntprcmisscs,wcrc inspircd by humanism
orby a socia|ism tingcdwith a ncw rc|igiosity, andwcrcaddrcsscd to
advcrsarics who camc to thc forc whcn thc rcign of Louis-Phi|ippc
cnsurcd thc triumph of a pragmatic or cvcn cynica| po|itics which
Victor Cousin paintcd in morc favourab|c co|oursascc|ccticism. This
'bastard phi|osophy`, to usc Lcroux`s cxprcssion, ccrtain|y cc|cbratcs
thc indcstructib|c virtucs of rc|igion, but it docs so in ordcr to
subordinatcthcmto thcprcscrvationofapo|itica|ordcrwhich, to citc
Hcgc| oncc morc, is bascd on a ground ofits own.
Wc thcrcforc havc to rccognizc that what is now thc dominant

nccption ofpo|iticsgocsback a |ongway. Itsoriginssccmto mcrgc
with thosc of thc bourgcois spirit - with thc spirit of a bourgcoisic
which has bccomc po|itica||y dominant. Without wishing to dwc|| on
thc vicissitudcs of idco|ogy that drovc it from thc intc||cctua| sccnc,
wc ought, thcn, to say that it is not in thc work of thc thinkcrs wc
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 2I5
ñrst mcntioncd that wc ñnd thc ñrst signs ofour modcrnity, but in
cc|ccticism. Thc 'monstrous b|undcr` which Hcgc| dcnounccs wou|d
thcrcforc appcar to dcsignatc thc truth of modcrn timcs, thc truth of
our own timcs. Thc j udgcmcnt of history which hc cvokcs so oftcn
appcars to havc gonc against him, to havc dcnounccd his b|undcr. In
morc gcncra| tcrms, wc wou|d thcn havc to conc|udc that, i fthosc
thinkcrswho sought thc rc|igious truth ofthc po|itica| rcvo|ution thcy
had witncsscd (and I am rcfcrring to thcdcmocraticrcvo|ution)sccm
so a|icn to thc scnsibi|itics of our timc, it is bccausc thcy had no
undcrstandingof thc ncw. But can wc |cavc mattcrs at that, and wax
ironic about thcir wi|d imaginings7 For thcsc thinkcrs, thc Ancicn

c was somcthing that had cxistcd in |iving mcmory. Thcy sti||
hvcd tn thc gap bctwccn a wor|d that was disappcaring and a wor|d
that was appcaring, and thcir thought was sti|| hauntcd by qucstions
which kncw no |imits- by which I mcan that it was not yct rcstrictcd
by any prcsuppositions as to how to dcñnc objccts of know|cdgc or
asto howto dcñncpo|itics,rc|igion,|aw,cconomicsorcu|turc. Might
wc not ask oursc|vcs whcthcr thcsc thinkcrs may, cvcn if thcy wcrc
mistakcn, havc had a singu|arabi|itytograspa symbo|ic dimcnsion of
thc po|itica|, of somcthing which was |atcrto disappcar, ofsomcthing
which bourgcois discoursc was a|rcady burying bcncath its supposcd
know|cdgc of thc rca| ordcrof socicty7
Bcforcwc attcmpt to answcr that qucstion,wc must ñrst dcñnc our
from rc|igious institutions, it is a|so a fact that rc|igious bc|icfs havc
rctrcatcd into thc rca|m of privatc opinion. Thc phcnomcnon is
obscrvab|c cvcn incountricswhcrcCatho|icism rcmainsthc dominant
rc|igion. Truc, this statcmcnt has to bc qua|iñcd if wc a|so takc
into considcration thosc Europcan countrics that havc comc undcr
tota|itarian domination. But, whi|st that phcnomcnon is thought-
provoking, |ct us ignorc itfor thc momcnt in ordcr to conccntratc on
our gcncra| obscrvation. Docs it havc any mcaning in itsc|f7 Can wc
say that rc|igion has simp|y disappcarcd in thc facc of po|itics (and
survivcs on|y on thc pcriphcry of po|itics) without asking oursc|vcs
what its invcstmcnt in thc po|itica| rca|m oncc mcant7 And do wc not
havc to assumc that it was so profound|y invcstcd thcrcin as to havc
bccomc unrccognizab|c to thosc who bc|icvc its cffccts to havc bccn
cxhaustcd7 Can wc not admit that, dcspitc a|| thc changcs that havc
occurrcd, thc rc|igious survivcs in thc guisc of ncw bc|icfs and ncw
rcprcscntations, and that it can thcrcforc rcturn to thc surfacc, in
cithcr traditiona| or novc| forms, whcn conßicts bccomc so acutc as
to producc cracks in thccdiñcc ofthc statc7
Accordingto thcformcrvicw, thc `modcrn` notionofpo|iticsisnot
in doubt, and dcrivcs from our actua| cxpcricncc. According to thc
|attcr, it isanindcx ofourignorancc or disavowa| of a hiddcn partof
socia||ifc,namc|ythcproccsscswhichmakcpcop|cconscnt to agivcn
2Ió On the Irreducible Element
rcgimc - or, to put it morc forccfu||y, which dctcrminc their manner
of beillg in society - andwhichguarantcc that thisrcgimcormodc of
socicty hasa pcrmancncc in timc, rcgard|cssofthcvarious cvcntsthat
may affcct it. Fo||owing that Iinc of argumcnt wouId not ncccssari|y
takc us back to thosc intcrprctations (and thcy arc, morcovcr,
contradictory) which rcgardcd thc Iink bctwccn thc rc|igious and thc
po|itica| as indissoIub|c, but wc wouId at |cast havc to rccapturc
somcthing of thcir inspiration.
If, howcvcr, wc spccify thc tcrms ofour qucstion in this way, wc
cannot fai| to noticc that thcy arc cIosc|y rc|atcd to thc mcaning wc
givctothcwords 'thcrc|igious`and,morcimportantsti||,'thcpo|iticaI`.
Wc must, thcn,cxaminc thcirmcaning.
Wc candcñnc 'thc rc|igious`inbroadcrornarrowcrtcrms,andthc
thrcsho|dbcyond which thc word|oscsa|I pcrtincncc is a mattcr for
dcbatc, it wou|d, howcvcr,sccmthatwc can rcadi|y agrcc thatccrtain
though thc agcnts conccrncd do not rc|atc thcm to any dogma, cvcn
though thcy do not imp|y any hdc|ity on thcir part to a church, and
cvcnthoughthcymay, inccrtain cascs, gohandinhandwithmi|itant
athcism. Thc cxprcssion 'rc|igious scnsibi|ity ` rctains a fair|y prccisc
contcnt if wc rc|atc it to historica||y and cu|tura||y dctcrmincd
phcnomcna. in othcr words not to rc|igion in gcncra| but to thc
any risk of crror. Thc word 'po|itica|`, on thc othcr hand, brings us
facctofaccwith anambiguitythatmustbcrcso|vcdifwc arcto know
what wc arc ta|king about. Thc fact that wc can choosc to say cithcr
the political [Ie politique] or politics fla politique] is, as wc a|| know,
an indcx of this ambiguity. What isccrtain is that thc dc|imitation of
critcria a|onc. Thc vcry notion of'|imits` infact dcrivcsfrom a dcsirc
for an 'objcctivc` dchnition - a dcsirc that |ics at thc origin of thc
po|itica| thcory, po|iticaI scicncc and po|itica| socio|ogy that havc
for cxamp|c, to circumscribc an ordcr of socia| rc|ations which arc
intc||igibIc in thcmsc|vcs, such as powcr rc|ations, to conccivc of a
body of socia| functions whosc ncccssary articu|ation signaIs thc
cohcrcncc of a systcm, to distinguish a supcrstructura| |cvc|, bascd
upon rc|ations of production at which c|ass domination is at oncc
cxprcsscd and disguiscd by institutions, practiccs and rcprcscntations
which supposcd|y scrvc thc gcncra| intcrcst, or, hna||y, to idcntify
from cmpirica| obscrvation which of thc mass of socia| facts rc|atc
isaIwaysthcsamc.wc assumc thatthc objcct canhavcsubstanccon|y
which wc rc|atc to thc objcct- bc it positcd as 'rca|` or as `idca|` -
makcs it appcar by scparating it from othcr dcñncd or dcñnab|c
objccts. Thc critcrion ofwhat is political is supp|icd by thc critcrion
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 2I7
ofwhat i snon-political, bythc critcrion ofwhat i scconomic, socia|,
juridica|, acsthctic,orrc|igous.Thisopcrationisnot innoccnt, ithidcs
knowIcdgc. scicncc dcaIs on|y with particu|ars. It nccd scarcc|y bc
pointcd out that this disposition has ncvcr prcvcntcd anyonc from
Iooking for articu|ations bctwccn that which pcrtains to po|itics and
that which pcrtains to diffcrcnt rcaIitics or diffcrcnt systcms, on thc
contrary, it usua||y acts as an cncouragcmcnt to do so. How, for
cxamp|c, do powcrrc|ations combincwithjuridica| rc|ations7 How is
thc po|itica| systcm intcgratcd into a gcncra| systcm as a sub-systcm7
How arc thc po|itica| institutions, practiccs and rcprcscntations which
arc csscntia| to thc prcscrvation ofa modc ofproduction dctcrmincd,
How do thcy in thcir turn cxp|oit a givcn statc of cu|turc, |aw or
rc|igion7 Thcorists and obscrvcrs arc on|y too wi||ing to formu|atc
such prob|cms. Indccd, thosc who takc a rc|ationa|, a Marxist, a
functiona|ist or a dcscriptivc stancc urgc us to usc our historica|
cxpcricnccas a mcansto idcntify thcvariousmodcsofthcarticu|ation
ofsocia| rcIations,sub-systcmsandsupcrstructura| |cvc|s. Butitissti||
truc to say that any attcmpt to conccptua|izc thc ways in which thc
combinationsvarydcrivcsfrom thcprc|iminaryopcrationofbrcaking
downsociaIdata inordcrto ñndsomcthingintc||igib|c. And it is a|so
truc to say that that opcration is inspircd by a princip|c which crccts
thc subjcct into bcing a purc subjcct ofknow|cdgc, givcs ita scicntiñc
of its constructs or obscrvations.
Wc arrivc at a vcrydiffcrcnt idca ofthe political ifwc rcmain truc
to phi|osophy`s o|dcst and most constant inspiration, if wc usc thc
diffcrcnt forms of socicty. It wou|d bc absurd to c|aim that wc thcn
apprchcnd thc po|itica| in itswidcracccptation. Wc arc c|aborating a
diffcrcnt idca and wc arc guidcd by a diffcrcnt rcquircmcnt of
know|cdgc. Wc do not nccd to cvokc thc ccnturics-o|d dcbatc that
makcs up thc history of po|itica| phi|osophy in ordcr to spccify thc
mcaning of this idca or of this rcquircmcnt. For it is not rc|cvant to
our purposcs to ask how thc phi|osophcr's scarch was, in thc past,
from a statc of naturc or into rcason`s sc|f-rca|ization in history. Thc
idca that what distinguishcs onc socicty from anothcr is its regime -
or, tobc morcaccuratcandtoavoidanovcr-workcdtcrm- itsshaping
[mise en forme] of human cocxistcncc has, in onc form or anothcr,
a|ways bccn prcscnt, and it |ics, so to spcak bchind thc thcorctica|
constructs and bchind advanccs in phi|osophica| thought which arc
tcstcd against thc transformation of thc wor|d. In othcr words, it is
simp|y bccausc thc vcry notion ofsocicty a|rcady contains within it a
rcfcrcncc to its po|itica| dcñnition that it provcs impossib|c, in thc
cycs of thc phi|osophcr, to |oca|izc thc po|itica| ill socicty. Thc spacc
2I8 On the Irreducible Element
ca||cd socicty cannot in itsc|f bc conccivcdasasystcm ofrc|ations, no
mattcr how comp|cx wc imaginc that systcm to bc. On thc contrary,
itisitsovcra||schcma, thcparticu|armodcofitsinstitutionthatmakcs
it possib|c to conccptua|izc (cithcr in thc past or thc prcscnt) thc
articu|ation of its dimcnsions, and thc rc|ations cstab|ishcd within it
bctwccn c|asscs,groupsandindividua|s, bctwccnpracticcs,bc|icfsand
rcprcscntations. If wc fai| to grasp this primordia| rcfcrcncc to thc
modc ofthc institution of thc socia|, to gcncrativc princip|cs orto an
ovcra|| schcma govcrning both thc tcmpora| and thc spatia| conhgur-
ation ofsocicty, wc |apsc into a positivist hction, wc incvitab|y adopt
thc notion of a prc-socia| socicty, and posit as c|cmcnts aspccts that
If,for cxamp|c,wcgranttorc|ationsofproductionorthcc|assstrugg|c
thc status ofrca|ity, wc forgct thatsocial division can on|y bc dcbncd

- un|cssofcourscwcpositthcabsurdvicwthatitisadivisionbctwccn
a|icn socictics- insofar asitrcprcscnts anintcrna| division, insofar as
it rcprcscnts a division within a sing|c mi|icu, within onc 'ßcsh` (to
usc Mcr|cau-Fonty`s cxprcssion), insofar as its tcrms arc dctcrmincd
by rc|ations, but a|so insofar as thosc rc|ations arc thcmsc|vcs
dctcrmincd by thcir common inscription within thc samc spacc and
tcstify to a common awarcncss ofthcir inscription thcrcin. Simi|ar|y,
if wc makc a rigid distinction bctwccn what bc|ongs to thc rca|m of
cconomicsor po|itics (dchncd inmodcrnscicncc`sscnsc ofthc tcrm),
orbctwccnwhatbc|ongstothcjuridica|orthcrc|igiousinan attcmpt
to hnd within thcm signs of spccihc systcms, wc forgct that wc can
arrivc at that ana|ytic distinction on|y bccausc wc a|rcady havc a
subjcctivc idca ofthc prima|dimcnsiona|ityofthc socia|, and that this
imp|ics an idca of its prima|form, ofits po|itica|form.
Thcdiffcrcncc bctwccn thc idca ofthc po|itica|- in a|| itsvariants
and a|| its momcnts- and po|itica| scicncc - in a|| its variants and a||
its momcnts - is not that thc |attcr is conccrncd with socicty as a
tota|ity and that thc formcr rcjccts 'tota|ity` as an i||usory objcct.
Marxist scicncc, for cxamp|c (and I am not rcfcrring hcrc to Marx
himsc|f, his thought is at oncc morc ambiguous and morc subt|c than
this)docsindccdc|aimtobc ab|ctorcconstructarca|oridca|tota|ity,
Farsonian scicncc a|so c|aims to bc ab|c to rcarticu|atc systcms of
functions within what it tcrms a gcncra| systcm. Thc opposition
manifcsts itsc|fata diffcrcnt |cvc|. Thc phi|osophcr is not ncccssari|y
inscarch ofan c|usivc objcct such as a tota|ity, hc |ooks at diffcrcnt
rcgimcs or forms of socicty in ordcr to idcntify a princip|c of
intcrna|izationwhich canaccountfora spccibcmodcofdiffcrcntiation
and articu|ation bctwccn c|asscs, groups andsocia| ranks, and, at thc
samc timc, for a spccihc modc of discrimination bctwccn markcrs -
cconomic, juridica|, acsthctic, rc|igious markcrs - which ordcr thc
cxpcricncc ofcocxistcncc.
Wccan furthcrspccify thc notion ofshaping [mise en forme} which
wc havc introduccd by pointing out that it imp|ics both thc notion of
Permanellce of the Theologico-Political? 2I9
giving mcaning [mise en seIlS} tosocia| rc|ations (thc cxprcssion mise
en seils is takcn from FicraAu|agnicr), andthatofstagingthcm [mise
en scene}. A|tcrnativc|y,wccan say that thc advcntofasocictycapab|c
of organizing socia| rc|ations can comc about on|y if it can institutc
ofsignsto arrivc ataquasi-rcprcscntationofitsc|f. Butwc must again
strcssthat thc shaping or institutionofthc po|itica| cannot bc rcduccd
to thc |imits of thc socia| as such. As soon as wc posit as real thc
distinction bctwccn what issocia| andwhat isnot socia|, wc cntcr thc
rca|m ofbction. Wc havc just said that thc princip|cofintcrna|ization
which cnab|csus to conccptua|izc thc po|itica| prcsupposcs a modc of
ofcocxistcncc, and thatcxpcricnccisinscparab|cfrom thc cxpcricncc
of thc wor|d, from thc cxpcricncc of thc visib|c and thc invisib|c in
cvcryrcgistcr. Itnccdscarcc|ybcstrcsscd thatdiscriminationbctwccn
rca| and imaginary, truc and fa|sc, just and unjust, natura| and
pcop|c cstab|ish in socia| |ifc. Thc c|aboration attcstcd to by any
po|itica|socicty- and notsimp|ythcsocicty inwhichthcsubjcctwho
is trying to dcciphcr it|ivcs- thcrcforc invo|vcs an invcstigation into
thc wor|d, into Bcing as such. Undcrstanding how thc cxpcricncc of
an objective wor|d, of a wor|d which is what it is indcpcndcnt|y of
particu|ar co||cctivc cxpcricnccs, arosc - at |cast partia||y - in thc
courscofhistory- andit istcmptingtodcscribcit inHusscr|iantcrms
as atransition from thc socio-po|itica| Umwelt to thc Welt - wou|d of
coursc bc a formidab|c task, and a furthcr task forpo|itica| thought.
of thc diffcrcncc bctwccn po|itica|phi|osophy and po|itica| scicncc.
Wc can agrcc that thc |attcr cncountcrs prob|cms which bcar thc
ha||mark of phi|osophica| rcscarch but, forpo|itica|scicncc, thcy arc
ofcourscno morcthanproblems tobccircumvcntcd,a|ongwithothcr
prob|cms, during thc proccss of rcconstructing or dcscribing thc
workingsofsocicty. In factthc thcorist whoana|yscs po|itics in tcrms
ofpowcrrc|ationscannot but ask himsc|fhowand why thcy stabt|izc
inanygivcnconhgurationinsuchawaythatthcdominant powcrdocs
not havc to cxcrcisc its authority opcn|y, irrcspcctivc of whcthcr hc
grants thcm thcir own |ogic or sccs thcm as a rcßcction or a
transposition ofc|ass rc|ations which arc thcmsc|vcs dctcrmincd by
modc ofproduction. Hc cannot but askhow and whythcysuccccd m
c|uding thc undcrstandingofthc actors, how and why thcy appcar to
bc |cgitimatc or in accordancc with thc naturc ofthing

. Apparcnt|y,
of domination. But hc rcso|vcs that prob|cm by |ooktng bcyond thc
fronticrs of po|itics for thc naturc and oíigins of thc proccss, by
appca|ing to thc mcchanismsofrcprcscntation hc hnds in thcsphcrcs
of|aw, rc|igionortcchnica|-scicntihcknow|cdgc. Simi|ar|y
who dchncs thc spccibcity of po|itica| action by subordtnattng it to
220 On the Irreducible Element
functiona| impcrativcs (cnsuring thc unihcation or cohcsion of.thc
socia| who|c, making it possib|c to formu|atc and achicvc gcncra|
objcctivcs) is not unawarc of thc fact that his dchnition is purc|y
forma|. Hc thcrcforc acccpts that such functions can bc pcrformcd
on|y if socia| agcnts intcrna|izc thc po|itica| impcrativc. And in ordcr
to account for that, hc invokcs thc va|ucs andnormswhich dctcrminc
bchavioura| modc|s within a givcn systcm of cu|turc. But hc thcn
assigns spccihcfunctions to thosc norms and va|ucs, hc sccks to hnd
thc prcconditionsforthcircfhcacy within thc cohcrcnccofthc systcm
whcnccthcydcrivc.In short,whatcvcrthcschcmaofthcrcconstruction
ordcscriptionmaybc, hisapproacha|waysconsistsofiso|atingrc|ations
and combiningthcm in ordcrto dcduccsociety fromthcscopcrations.
Thc fact that ccrtain ofthcsc rc|ations arc assumcd to providc a kcy
to thc modcs of thc intcrna|ization of thc socia| shou|d dcccivc no
onc. Thc thcorist is moving to an cxtcrna| c|cmcnt. Whcn hc spcaks
of |aw, rc|igion, scicncc, va|ucs, norms and catcgoricsof know|cdgc,
hc is simp|y h||ing in thc b|anks in a prc-givcn schcma of actions,
Thcsccondopcrationdcpcndsuponthchrst. Frccisc|y howthcobjcct
is rcpositioncd to a||ow thctransition from thc|cvc|ofthcrca| or thc
functiona| to thc so-ca||cd |cvc| of thc symbo|ic is of |itt|c import.
is of |itt|c import. Thc conc|usion that, in thc |ast ana|ysis, powcr
rc|ations, rc|ations of production or functiona| rc|ations arc a|ways
'rcprcscntcd` or 'spokcn` by rc|igious, juridica| or scicntihc signs is
a|so of |itt|c import. This notion of thc symbo|ic docs not hc|p us to
whosc tcrms havc a|rcady bccn scparatcd out, and it is graftcd on to
somcthingthat is assumcd to contain within it itsown dctcrmination.
Thcopposition bctwccn phi|osophy and scicncc is oncbctwccntwo
by dchningfunctiona| modc|s, it opcratcs in accordancc with an idca|
and thc socia|. Thc cxtcrna|ity of thc knowing subjcct is of ncccssity
combincd with thc idca that thc socia| can stand outsidc itsc|f.
Convcrsc|y, any systcm ofthought, which takcs upthc qucstion ofthc
institution ofthcsocia| is simu|tancous|yconfrontcd with thcqucstion
of its own institution. It cannot rcstrict itsc|fto comparing structurcs
and systcms onccitrca|izcs that thc c|aborationofcocxistcncc crcatcs
mcaning, produccs markcrs for distinguishing bctwccn truc and fa|sc,
just and unjust, and imaginary and rca|, and that it cstab|ishcs thc
horizons of human bcings` rc|ations with onc anothcr and with thc
wor|d. It attcmpts to cxp|ain itsc|fand. at thc samc timc, to cxp|ain
its objcct. In that rcspcct, it sccms to mc that thcrc is no radica|
rcason, rcfusc to distinguish bctwccn hca|thy and corrupt rcgimcs,
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 221
bctwccn |cgitimatc and i||cgitimatc authoritics - a distinction bascd
upon thc idca of a human csscncc - and hnd it impossib|c to invokc
thc idca of thc dcvc|opmcnt of Mind- which wou|d a||ow us to scc
thc constitution of thc modcrn statc as both thc comp|ction of an
itincrary and thc mcaningof thc stagcs (progrcssion, rcgrcssion and
digrcssion) thatgo to makc it up. Ncvcrthc|css, wcarcsti||travcrscd
by our invcstigation into thc mcaning of thc human advcnturc that
unfo|ds indiffcrcnt forms ofpo|itica| socicty, and that invcstigation is
sti|| a rcsponsc to ourcxpcricnccofthcpo|itica|inthchcrcand now.
Wc |ook for signs of truth and signs of |cgitimacy, for traccs of thc
concca|mcnt of truth and right, and wc do so bccausc of thc tcnsion
inhcrcnt in any thought that is trying to dchnc what it has thc right
to think.
discntang|cmcnt of thc rc|igious and thc po|itica|. In thc contcxt of
socio|ogy orpo|itica| scicncc, thcirdiscntang|cmcnt is an obvious fact
which |cavcs intact thc catcgorics of know|cdgc of thc socia|. Thc
po|itica| and thc rc|igious arc rcgardcd as two scparatc ordcrs of
practicc and rc|ations, thc prob|cm is onc of undcrstanding how thcy
arc articu|atcd, or how thcy ccasc to bc articu|atcd, by cxamining
cmpirica| history. Thc fact that for hundrcds or, rathcr, thousands of
ycars, human bcings madc no such distinction, and that thcy gavc a
rc|igious cxprcssion to thc functions cxcrciscd by authority or to thc
powcr rc|ations whcncc it arosc, docs not dctract from thc nccd to
rccognizc thc pcrtincnccofadistinction whosc va|uc issc|f-cvidcnt in
tcrms of objcctivc ana|ysis. Now this approach brings us up against a
doub|cdifhcu|ty. on thconc hand, history, |ikcsocictybcforc it, |oscs
a|| dcpth, thc phcnomcnon of scparation bccomcs an indcx of onc
stancc. Whcn this happcns, scicncc concca|sthc conditions ofitsown
formation and, a|ong with thcm, thc basis for thc c|aim that its
opcrationshavcaunivcrsa|va|idity, asitisthcfactofscparationwhich
a||ows it to idcntify thc spccihcity ofpo|itics. A|tcrnativc|y, wc havc
acombinationofadia|cctica|orcvo|utionarythcory andthc idcathat
thcc|imination ofrc|igion from thcpo|itica|hc|d marksthcformation
andpracticcsappcar, orbcgintoappcar,forwhatthcy rca||y arc. But
inthatcasc,thcfact ofthcscparationofthcrc|igiousandthcpo|itica|
tc||s us nothing in itsc|f, its mcaning is cstab|ishcd by rcfcrcncc to a
|aw of historica| dcvc|opmcnt or to thc |aws of thc dynamic ofsocia|
Thcphi|osophcrhndshimsc|finadiffcrcnt position. Whcnhcthinks
of thc princip|cs that gcncratc socicty and namcs thcm thc po|itica|,
hc automatica||y inc|udcs rc|igious phcnomcna within his hc|d of
rcfcrcncc. This docs not mcan that in his vicw thc rc|igious and thc
po|itica|cancoincidc. Itdocs,howcvcr,mcanthatonccannotscparatc
thcc|aboration ofa po|itica| form- by virtucofwhich thc naturc and
222 On the Irreducible Element
rcprcscntation ofpowcr and socia| division (divisions bctwccn c|asscs
of thc human cxpcricncc of thc wor|d can simu|tancous|y bccomc
organizcd - from thc c|aboration of a rc|igious form - by virtuc of
which thc rca|m of thc visib|c can acquirc dcath, and by virtuc of
which thc |iving can namc thcmsc|vcs with rcfcrcncc to thc dcad,
whi|stthc humanwordcanbc guarantccdbyaprima|pact,andwhi|st
rightsand duticscanbcformu|atcdwith rcfcrcncc to aprima| |aw. In
short, both thc po|itica| and thc rc|igious bring phi|osophica| thought
facc to facc with thc symbo|ic, not in thc scnsc in which thc socia|
scicnccs undcrstand that tcrm, but in thc scnsc that, through thcir
intcrna|articu|ations, both thc po|itica| andthcrc|igiousgovcrn acccss
to thc wor|d. Thisdocs notmakcit inconccivab|c that thcrc is, in any
socicty, a potcntia| condict bctwccn thc two princip|cs, or cvcn that
it is univcrsa||y, iftacit|y, rccognizcd to cxist. Nor docs thc fact that
thcrcis inthcmodcrnwor|danimpcrativc to makc ac|cardistinction
bctwccn thcrca|msthcy rcgu|atccrcatcdifhcu|ticsforpo|itica| thought,
this statc ofaffairs infact mccts its rcquircmcnts, asithas ncvcr bccn
ab|c to submitto thcauthority ofrc|igionwithoutdcmcaningitsc|f,and
as it dcmands thc right to scck its foundations within its own act-
ivitics. In a scnsc, this rcvo|utionary cvcnt is thc accomp|ishmcnt of
phi|osophy`sdcstiny, phi|osophy is bound up with that cvcnt in thatit
human bcings acquirc a potcntia| graspon thcirown history, a mcans
to cscapc thcfata|ism imposcdon thcir|ivcs by thcsubjugationofthc
socia| ordcr to rc|igious |aw, and a mcans to dctcct thc possibi|ity of
a bcttcr rcgimc ln thcir practiccs and thc novc|tics thcycrcatc. But it
wou|d bcquitc i||cgitimatc to |cap to thc conc|usion that rc|igion as
such must disappcaror,tobcmorc accuratc, thatitmust bcconñncd
to thc rca|m of pcrsona| opinion. How, in fact,cou|d wc arguc that,
without |osing a|| scnsc of its symbo|ic dimcnsion, of thc dimcnsion
that constitutcs thc rc|ations human bcings cstab|ish with thc wor|d?
docs of coursc havc a symbo|ic mcaning,

but on|y, it wou|d sccm,
within thc |imitations of a po|itica| systcm which guarantccs cvcry
individua| thc right to cnjoy thc rcspcct hc must show othcrs. What
which gocsbcyond diffcrcnccs of opinion (and thc rccognition of thc
rc|ativity of points of vicw which this imp|ics), thc cxpcricncc of a
diffcrcncc which is notatthcdisposa| ofhuman bcings, whosc advcnt
docs not takc p|acc withill human history, and which cannot bc
abo|ishcd thcrcin, thc cxpcricnccofa diffcrcnccwhichrc|atcshuman
bcingsto thcirhumanity, andwhichmcansthatthcirhumanitycannot
bc sc|f-containcd, that it cannot sct its own |imits, and that it cannot
absorb its origins and cnds into thosc |imits. Evcry rc|igion states in
its own way that human socicty can on|y opcn on to itsc|fby bcing
hc|d in an opcning it did not crcatc. Fhi|osophysays thc samc thing,
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 22J
but rc|igion saidithrst, a|bcit intcrmswhichphi|osophycannot acccpt.
Fhi|osophy`s critiquc ofrc|igion is thcrcforc ambiva|cnt. Whi|st. for
cxamp|c, it rcjccts thc truth that thc Christian churchcs ñnd in
Rcvc|ation and whi|st, in thcory, it cscapcs thc authority of thc Tcxt
and rcfuscs to acccpt thc imagc of a God who comcs down to carth
and is incarnatcd in thc pcrson of his Son, it docs not assumc that
untruth is a |ic ora |urc. Nor, whcn it rcmainstruc toitsinspiration,
docs it want to prcscrvc untruth for thc simp|c rcason that it may
containbc|icfswhich hc|p to prcscrvc thc cstab|ishcdpo|itica| ordcr.
What phi|osophy discovcrs in rc|igion is a modc of portraying or
dramatizing thc rc|ations that human bcings cstab|ish with somcthing
that gocs bcyond cmpirica| timc and thc spacc within which thcy
cstab|ish rc|ations with onc anothcr. This work of thc imagination
stagcs [met en scene] a diffcrcnt timc, a diffcrcnt spacc. Any attcmpt
to rcducc it to bcing simp|y a product ofhuman activity is doomcd.
Ofcoursc itbcarsthc markof human opcrationsinthatthc script for
thc pcrformancc bcarswitncsstoahumanprcscncc and borrows from
human scnsc cxpcricncc. Human bcings popu|atc thc invisib|c with
thc things thcy scc, naivc|y invcnt a timc that cxists bcforc timc,
organizc a spacc that cxists bchind thcirspacc, thcybasc thc p|oton
thcmost gcncra| conditions ofthcir|ivcs. Yct anythingthat bcars thc
mark of thcir cxpcricncc a|sobcars thc mark of an ordeal. Oncc wc
rccognizcthat humanityopcns ontoitsc|fby bcing hc|d inanopcning
itdocsnotcrcatc, wc havc to acccptthatthcchangc inrc|igion is not
to bc rcad simp|y as a sign that thc divinc is a human invcntion, but
as a sign of thcdcciphcringof thc divinc or, bcncath thc appcarancc
of thc divinc, of thc cxccss of being ovcr appearance. In that scnsc,
modcrn rc|igion or Christianity provcs tobctcachingthc phi|osophcr
what hc hasto think. Hcrcjcctsrc|igioninsofaras it is thc cnunciator
of Rcvc|ation but, insofar as it is a modc of thc cnunciation of thc
divinc, hc at thc samc timc accords it a powcr of rcvc|ation which
phi|osophy cannot do without if, that is, it ccascs to divorcc thc
qucstion of human naturc from thc qucstion of human history.
To simp|ify thc argumcnt to cxtrcmcs. what phi|osophica| thought
cannotadopt as its own,on painofbctrayingits idca|ofintc||igibi|ity,
is thc asscrtion that thc man !csus is thc Son of God, what it must
acccpt is thc mcaning of thc advcnt of a rcprcscntation of thc God­
Man, bccausc itsccsitasachangcwhich rccrcatcshumanity`sopcning
on to itsc|f, in both thc scnscs in which wc havc dchncd it. Modcrn
phi|osophycannot ignorc itsdcbt to modcrn rc|igion, it can no |ongcr
distancc itsc|ffromthc work ofthc imagination or appropriatc it as a
purc objcct of know|cdgc, oncc it hnds itsc|f grapp|ing with thc
qucstion ofitsown advcnt, oncc it no |ongcrconcca|sfrom itsc|fthat
thcrcisa|sosucha thingasthcphi|osophica| work of thought andthat
thc focus of its invcstigations can bc disp|accd, cvcn though it may
indu|gc in thc fantasy ofbcing ab|c toput a ha|t to itsdisp|accmcnts.
224 On the Irreducible Element
bctwccn activity and passivity, and bctwccn thc cxprcssion and
imprcssion of mcaning.
Thcsc |astrcmarksmay, pcrhaps, bringusc|oscrto thc mostsccrct
rcasons for thc phi|osophcr`s continucd attachmcnt to thc rc|igious.
!ustihcdashisdcmand forthc rightto think may bc, andcvcn though
it frccs him from cvcrycstab|ishcd authority, hcnot on|y rca|izcs that
any socicty which forgcts its rc|igious basis is |abouring undcr thc
i||usion of purc sc|f-immancncc and thus ob|itcratcs thc |ocus of
phi|osophy, hc a|so scnscs that phi|osophy is bound up with rc|igion
bccausc thcy arc both caught up inanadvcnturc to which phi|osophy
docs not posscss thc main kcy. And so, whcn hc proc|aims that
Christianity`s cnd has¯comc, hcsti|| invokcs thc birth of a ncw faith,
bccausc hc is unab|c to divorcc his know|cdgc from a primordia|
know|cdgc which is at oncc |atcnt and widc|y sharcd. Dcspitc
appcaranccs, hc thcrcforc rcfuscs to acccpt thc historica| fact of thc
that thoscwhoacccpt it asan cstab|ishcd fact havc a mistakcn notion
of thc po|itica|. But in doing so, hc runs thc risk of dcnying that
appcaranccs havc sufhcicnt consistcncy to rcprcscnt a ncw practicc,
to inscribc thcmsc|vcs in somc way in thc rca|ity of powcr and thc

statc. But, givcn that hcaccords rcprcscntation asymbo|icstatusand
that hcsti|| thinks itimpossib|c to divorccthcpositionofpowcrfrom
its rcprcscntation, a prob|cm shou|d now arisc as to how to cva|uatc
thc changc imp|icd by thc rcprcscntation of a form of powcr which
has no rc|igious basis. Un|css this prob|cm ariscs, a phi|osophica|
critiqucwi|| havcno import,orwi||consistsimp|yofthcdcnunciation
ofcrroncous opinions. But as wc havc a|rcady sccn, that was not its
objcctivc, its objcct was thc possibi|ity of so shaping socicty that thc
rc|igiouswor|d wou|d bc mcrc|y misrccognizcd or disavowcd.
Thcfuturcthatthc thinkcrsofthcninctccnthccnturywcrcattcmpting
to dcciphcr is to somc cxtcntour past and our prcscnt. Thc mcaning
of our prcscnt itsc|f is of coursc dcpcndcnt upon an indctcrminatc
futurc, but wc cnjoy thc advantagc ofan cxpcricncc that was dcnicd
thcm andwhichbringsa ncw rc|icfto thcirdcbatcs. In thcir day, thc
po|itica| form wc know as modcrn dcmocracy was on|y just coming
into bcing. A|| its prcmisscs had bccn cstab|ishcd, but itsti|| kcpt its
sccrct,cvcn thoughitsdynamicand itsambiguiticswcrc part|yvisib|c,
insights into thc futurc. Thc projcct of tota|itarianism, howcvcr, sti||
|ay bcyond thc horizons of thcir po|itica| thought, and thcrc can bc
and urgcs us to invcstigatc ancw thc rc|igious and thc po|itica|.
Modcrn dcmocracy tcstihcs to a high|y spccihc shaping [miSe en
forme ] ofsocicty, and wc wou|d try in vain to hnd modc|s for it in
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 225
thc past, cvcn though it is not without its hcritagc. Thc ncw
dctcrmination-rcprcscntation of thc place of power bcars witncss to
its shaping. And it is ccrtain|y this distinctivc fcaturc that dcsignatcs
thcpo|itica|. I dc|ibcratc|y rcfraincdfrom strcssingthiscar|icrbccausc
I was conccrncd with bringing out thc diffcrcncc bctwccn po|itica|
scicncc and po|itica| phi|osophy by showing that thc formcr attcmpts
to circumscribc anordcrofparticu|arfactswithin thc socia|, and that
thc taskofthc|attcris to conccptua|izcthcprincip|cofthc institution
ofthcsocia|. Butnowthatthcdangcrofambiguityhasbccnrcmovcd,
wc no |ongcr nccd to bc afraid to advancc thc vicw that anypo|itica|
phi|osophy and any po|itica| scicncc is govcrncd by a rcßcction upon
powcr. Prccisc|y bccausc of this, thcy do not dca| with spccihcs, but
And thc fact that this spacc is organizcd as one dcspitc (or bccausc
of) its mu|tip|c divisions and that it isorganizcd as the same in a|| its
mu|tip|c dimcnsions imp|ics a rcfcrcncc to a p|acc from which itcan
bc sccn, rcad and namcd. Evcn bcforc wccxaminc it in itscmpirica|
dctcrminations, this symbo|ic po|c provcs to bc powcr, it manifcsts
socicty`ssc|f-cxtcrna|ity, andcnsurcs that socicty can achicvc a quasi-
rcprcscntation of itsc|f. Wc must ofcoursc bc carcfu| not to projcct
this cxtcrna|ity on to thc rca|, ifwc did so it wou|d no |ongcr havc
any mcaningfor socicty. Itwou|dbcmorcaccuratc tosaythat powcr
makcs a gcsturc towards somcthing outside, and that it dchncs itsc|f
in tcrms of that outsidc. Whatcvcr its form, it a|ways rcfcrs to thc
samc cnigma. that of an intcrna|-cxtcrna| articu|ation, of a division
ofa movcmcntofthccxtcrna|izationofthcsocia|whichgocs hand in
hand with its intcrna|ization. I havcfora |ongtimc conccntratcd upon
this pccu|iarity ofmodcrn dcmocracy. ofa|| thc rcgimcs ofwhich wc
know, it is thc on|y onc to havc rcprcscntcd powcr insuch a way as
to showthatpowcris an empty place and to havcthcrcby maintaincd
a gap bctwccn thc symbo|ic and thc rca|. It docs so by virtuc of a
discourscwhich rcvca|s that powcr bc|ongs to noonc, that thosc who
cxcrciscpowcrdo not posscss it, that thcydo not, indccd, cmbody it,
that thc cxcrcisc of powcr rcquircs a pcriodic and rcpcatcd contcst,
thatthcauthorityofthoscvcstcdwithpowcriscrcatcdand rc-crcatcd
as a rcsu|t ofthc manifcstation of thc wi|| of thc pcop|c. It cou|d of
coursc right|ybc pointcd out that thc princip|c of a powcr which mcn
arc forbiddcn to appropriatc had a|rcady bccn asscrtcd in c|assica|
dcmocracy, but it nccd scarcc|y bc pointcd out that powcr sti|| had a
positivc dctcrmination in that thc rcprcscntation of thc City and thc
dchnition of citizcnship rcstcd upon a discrimination bascd upon
natura| critcria or - and this in thc cvcnt comcs to thc samc thing -
supcrnatura| critcria.
Thc idca that powcr bc|ongs to no onc is not, thcrcforc, to bc
confuscd with thc idca that it dcsignatcs ancmpty p|acc. Thc formcr
idca maybcformu|atcd by po|itica| actors, butnot thc|attcr. Thc hrst
22ó all the Irreducible Element
formu|ationinfact imp|icsthc actors` sc|f-rcprcscntation,as thcy dcny
onc anothcr thc right to takc powcr. Thc o|d Grcck formu|a to thc
cffcct that powcr is il the middle (and historians tc|| us that it was
c|aboratcdwithinthcframcworkofanaristocraticsocictybcforc bcing
bcqucathcdtodcmocracy)sti||indicatcsthcprcscncc ofagroupwhich
has an imagc of itsc|f, of its spacc and of its bounds. Thc rcfcrcncc
to an cmpty p|acc, by contrast, c|udcs spccch insofar as it docs not
prcsupposc thc cxistcncc of a co
¡munity whosc
bcrs discovcr
thcmsc|vcs to bc subjccts by thc vcry fact of thctr bcmg mcmbcrs.
Thcformu|a'powcrbc|ongsto noonc` cana|sobc trans|atcdinto thc
formu|a 'powcr bc|ongs to nonc of us` (and in historica| tcrms, this
appcarsto bcthccar|icrofthctwo). Thcrcfcrcncc toancmptyp|

onthcothcrhand,imp|icsarcfcrcncc toasoctctywtthoutanyposìtìvc
dctcrmination, which cannot bc rcprcscntcd by thc ñgurc of a
community. It is bccausc thc division ofpowcrdocs not, ina modcrn
dcmocracy, rcfcr to an outside that can bc assigncd to thc Gods, thc
cityorho|yground, bccausc it docs not rcfcr to an inside that can bc
assigncdto thcsubstanccofthccommunity. Or,to putitanothcrway,
it is bccausc thcrc is no matcria|ization of thc Other - which wou|d
a||owpowcrto function asa mcdiator, no mattcrho\
- that thcrc is no matcria|ization of thc aile - whtch wou|d a||ow
powcrtofunction as an incarnation. Norcanpowcrbcdivor

thc work of division by which socicty is instttutcd, a soctcty can
thcrcforc rc|atc to itsc|f on|y through thc cxpcricncc of an intcrna|
divisionwhichprovcstobcnotade facto division,butadivisionwhich
gcncratcs its constitution.

It shou|d a|so bc addcd that, oncc ithas |ost itsdoub|c rcfcrcncc to
thcOther and to thc One, powcr can no |ongcr condcnsc thcprincip|c
of Law and thc princip|c of Know|cdgc within itsc|f. It th

appcars to bc |imitcd. And it thcrcforc opcns up thc
posstbt|ity of
rc|ationsandacionswhich, invariousrca|msand mparttcu|armthosc
ofproduction and cxchangc,can bc ordcrcd in tcrmsofnorms andin
accordancc with spcciñc goa|s.
If wc wishcd to pursuc this argumcnt, wc wou|d havc to cxammc
in dctai| thc proccsscswhichrcgu|atcthccstab|ishmcntofd

powcr, inothcrwordsthccontro||cdcha||cngc to thc


with its cxcrcisc. It is cnough to rcca|| that thts rcqutrcs an
institutiona|izationofconßictandaquasi-disso|utionofsocia| rc|ations
at thc vcry momcnt of thc manifcstation of thc wi|| of thc p

Thcsc two phcnomcna arc both indicativc of thc abovc-mcntìoncd
articu|ation bctwccn thc idca that powcr is a purc|y symbo|ic agcncy
of conßict is not within thc rcmit of powcr, it is rathcr that powcr
dcpcndsuponthcinstitutiona|izationofconßict. Itsinstitutiona|ization
is thc rcsu|tofajuridica|c|aboration, and, inthtsñrstscnsc, tt a||ows
us to idcntify a ñc|d spcciñc to po|itics - thc ñc|d of compct
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 227
dcsignatc thcm as |aying c|aimtothccxcrciscofpub|icauthority. This
immcdiatc|y rcvca|s thc |ink bctwccn thc |cgitimacy ofpowcr and thc
|cgitimacy ofa conßict which sccms to constitutc po|itics, but it must
a|so bc notcd that this phcnomcnon prcsupposcs thc comingtogcthcr
of a numbcr of conditions rc|ating to socia| |ifc as a who|c: frccdom
of association and of cxprcssion, and thc frccdom of idcas and of
pcop|c to circu|atc. In thisrcspcct, thc idca ofa division bctwccn thc
sphcrc of thc statc and thc sphcrc of civi| socicty that is so oftcn
invokcd sccms to b|ur rathcr than to c|ucidatc thc fcaturcs of thc
dcmocratic phcnomcnon. It prcvcnts us from idcntifying a gcncra|
conñguration of socia| rc|ations in which divcrsity and opposition arc
madc visib|c. It is, I bc|icvc, a|so notcworthy that thc dc|incation of
a spcciñca||y po|itica| activity has thc cffcct of crccting a stage on
which conßict is actcd outfor a|| to scc (oncc citizcnship is no |ongcr
rcscrvcd for a sma|| numbcr) and is rcprcscntcd as bcing ncccssary,
irrcducib|c and |cgitimatc. That cach party c|aims to havc a vocation
to dcfcnd thc general intcrcst and to bring about ullioll is of |itt|c
importancc, thcantagonism bctwccnthcmsanctionsanothcrvocation.
socicty`s vocationfordivision. Itis a|so of |itt|cimportancc that what
is at stakc in thc po|itica| conßict docs not coincidc with what is at
stakcin thc c|ass strugg|c orthc strugg|c bctwccn intcrcsts, whatcvcr
thcdcgrccofdistortionintroduccdby thcshiftfromthcµo|itica||cvc|
to thcsocia| |cvc|, thc importantpointisthat a||de facto divisionsarc
transñgurcd and transposcd on to a stagc on which division appcars
to cxist de jure. This phcnomcnon is, as wc havc notcd, combincd
with thc singu|arproccdurc ofunivcrsa|suffragc, which isbascd upon
thc princip|c of popu|ar sovcrcignty but which, at thc vcry momcnt
whcn thc pcop|c arc supposcd to cxprcss thcir wi||, transforms thcm
into a purc divcrsity of individua|s, cach onc of whom is abstractcd
fromthcnctworkofsocia|ticswithinwhich hiscxistcnccisdctcrmincd
- into a p|ura|ity of atoms or, to bc morc prccisc, into statistics. In
short, thc u|timatc rcfcrcncc to thc idcntity of thc Fcop|c, to thc
Lctusstopandrctracc ourstcpsaftcrthisñrststagc inourana|ysis.
Thcrcprcscntationofpo|iticswhich|icsatthcorigins ofsocia|scicncc
is, itmust bc agrccd, gcncratcd bythcvcryconstitution ofdcmocracy.
For it is indccd truc, as socia| scicncc asscrts, that pow�r no |ongcr
makcs any gcsturc towards an outside, that it is no |ongcr articu|atcd
with anyother forcc whichcanbc rcprcscntcd,andthat,inthatscnsc,
it is discntang|cd from thc rc|igious. It is indccd truc that powcr no
|ongcrrcfcrsto any point oforiginwhich coincidcs with thc origins of
Law and Know|cdgc and that, in that scnsc, thc typc of actions and
rc|ations which c|ustcraround its po|ccanbc distinguishcdfromothcr
as bcingpo
tics [Ia politique]. Thc onc thing that rcmains hiddcn from
thc gazc of thc scicntiñc obscrvcr is thc symbo|ic form which, as a
228 On the Irreducible Element
rcsu|t of thc mutation in powcr, makcs this ncw distinction possib|c.
thccsscnccofthe political [du politique], Thc i||usionthatthcpo|itica|
can bc Ioca|izcd within socicty is thcrcforc not without a ccrtain
consistcncy, and to dismiss it as a mistakcn opinion wou|d mcan
surrcndcring to oncmorci||usion.
Modcrndcmocracy is, wc said, thc on|y rcgimc to indicatc thc gap
bctwccn thc symbo|ic and thc rca| by using thc notion of a powcr
which no onc- no princcandno minority- canscizc. Ithasthcvirtuc
ofrc|atingsocictyto thc cxpcricncc of its institution. Whcn an cmpty
p|acc cmcrgcs, thcrc can bc no possib|c conjunction bctwccn powcr,
|aw and know|cdgc, and thcir foundationscannot possib|y bc cnunci-
atcd. Thc bcing of thc socia| vanishcs or, morc accuratc|y, prcscnts
itsc|f in thc shapc of an cnd|css scrics of qucstions (witncss thc
inccssant, shifting dcbatcs bctwccn idco|ogics). Thc u|timatc markcrs
of ccrtainty arc dcstroycd, and at thc samc timc thcrc is born a ncw
awarcncss of thc unknown cIcmcnt in history, of thc gcstation of
humanity in a|| thc varicty of its ñgurcs. It must, howcvcr, a|so bc
madc c|car that thc gap is mcrc|y indicatcd, that it is opcrativc, but
that it is not visib|c, that it docs not havc thc status of an objcct of
know|cdgc. It is thc attributcs of powcr that arc cxposcd to our gazc,
thc distinctivc fcaturcs of thc contcst in which powcr appcars to bc
ofa pub|icauthority, thcscIcction of|cadcrs and,morcgcncra||y, thc
naturc of thc institutions vcstcd with thc cxcrcisc and contro| of that
prccisc|y bccausc it is no |ongcr maskcd bcncath a rcprcscntation of
thc diffcrcncc bctwccn thc visib|c worId and thc invisib|cwor|d.
This, thcn, is thc paradox: rcgimcs in which thc ñgurc of powcr
standsoutagainstanother forcc donotcomp|ctc|yobscurcthcpo|itica|
princip|c bchind thc socia| ordcr. As thc rc|igious basis of powcr is
fu||y afñrmcd, it appcars to bc both thc guarantor and thc guardian
of thc ccrtainty which supports thc cxpcricncc of thc wor|d, at thc
samc timc, it appcars to bc thc kccpcr of thc |aw which ñnds its
cxprcssion in socia| rc|ations and which maintains thcir unity. ln
contrast, dcmocracy, in which thc ñgurc ofthc other is abo|ishcd, in
which powcr is not divorccd from thc division which gcncratcs it - l
to yct anothcr rca|ist ñction - and in which powcr thcrcforc c|udcs
cannot bc apprchcndcd in its po|itica| form. Whi|st thc contours of
socicty bccomc b|urrcd, and whi|st thc markcrs of ccrtainty bccomc
unstabIc, thcrcariscsthci||usionofa rca|itywhich can cxp|ain itsown
dctcrminationintcrmsofacombinationofmu|tip|cde facto rc|ations.
Now, docs not an ana|ysisof this typc a|so |cad us to ask whcthcr
po|itica| phi|osophy, which docs, for its part, continuc to scarch for
thc princip|cs that gcncratc modcrn socicty, might not bc caught in
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 229
thc trapofappcaranccs in that it takcs thc vicwthatsocicty`src|igious
basis is indcstructib|c? That conviction is no doubt bascd upon thc
idca that no human socicty, whatcvcr it may bc, can bc organizcd in
tcrms of purc sc|f-immancncc. But is this thc on|y rcason for its
attachmcnt to thc rc|igious? Is not po|itica| phi|osophy guidcd by a
qucstforanu|timatc knowIcdgc which, a|though itis won inrcsponsc
to thc rcquircmcnts of rcßcction, is stiI| formu|atcd in tcrms of
know|cdgcofthc One? Is not this thc inspiration it wishcs to prcscrvc,
and docs it not scnsc that thc advcnt of dcmocracy thrcatcns to do
away with it7 I am not forgctting that, in its cffcctivc movcmcnt, it
contradicts this inspiration, p|accs thought in thc rca|m of thc
intcrrogativc, anddcprivcsit ofthc rcIigiousc|cmcntofccrtainty and
that, in that scnsc, it is, aswchavc notcd, bound up with a po|itica|
constitution which no |ongcr pcrmits human activitics to bc p|accd
bcncath thc sign of a prima| |aw. But taking its cffcctivc movcmcnt
into account docs not mcan that wc havc toignorc its rcprcscntation
ofits aims. Anddocsnot thcfactthatitisdrawntowardsthcrc|igious
indicatc that it is rctrcating in thc facc of a po|itica| form which, by
subjccting human bcings to thc cxpcricncc of division, fragmcntation
and hctcrogcncity in cvcry rcgistcr, and to thc cxpcricncc of thc
indctcrminacy ofthc socia|andofhistory,undcrmincsthc ground on
which phi|osophica| know|cdgc wasbui|t, and obscurcs thc task itscts
itsc|f7 Thc asscrtion that a socicty can ncvcr |osc its rc|igious basis
may mcan to say that it wou|d bc i||usory forsocicty to c|aim to bc
ab|c to conñncthcprincip|cofitsinstitution withinitsown |imits. But
in that casc hc fai|s to scc that whi|st modcrn dcmocracy docs fostcr
an cxpcricncc in which socicty is constant|y in scarch of its own
foundations. Hc faiIs toscc that it is not thc dimcnsion but thc hgurc
of thc other that it abo|ishcs, and that, whi|st thcrc is a risk invo|vcd
in thc |oss of thc rc|igious, thcrc is a|so somcthing to bc gaincd by
ca|Iingthc|awinto qucstion, thatfrccdomisaconqucst. A|tcrnativc|y,
of thc Onc, and that this rcprcscntation provcs to bc a prccondition
forhuman unity, butwc thcn havc toaskoursc|vcs about thc rcasons
forthc attractions of unity. Wc havc to ask how much its attractions
owc to its oppositc, namc|y thc rcpugnancc inspircd by
ivision and
with thc imagcofa unitcdsocicty. Wc havc to ask whyunity mustbc
conccivcd bcncath thc sign of thc spiritua|, and whydivision must bc
projcctcd on to thc matcriaI p|anc of intcrcst.
In ordcr to cva|uatc fu||y this rcIuctancc to admit that thcrc is a
scparation bctwccn thc po|itica| and thc rcIigious, wc must go bcyond
thc |cvc| of ana|ysis at which wc havc bccn working. lt is in fact
impossibIc to ignorc thc fact that thc imagc ofunion is gcncratcd or
2J0 On the Irreducible Element
of powcr is accompanicd by a ncw symbo|ic c|aboration and, as a
rcsu|t, thc notions of statc, pcop|c, nation, fathcr|and and humanity
acquirc cqua||y ncwmcanings. Ifwc takc no intcrcst in thcsc notions
orrcstrict ourdiscussion to thc function thcy may p|ay inthc proccss
of|cgitimating powcr, wc adopt thc artihcia| point of vicw which wc
dcscribcd as charactcristic of scicncc. Thcy dcrivc, of coursc, from
what wc havc ca||cd thc shaping [mise en forme] and staging [mise en
scene] of socicty, and from thc proccss ofgiving it mcaning [mise en
sens]. Thc on|y prob|cm is to dctcrminc whcthcr or not thcy arc
csscntia||y rc|igious.
It is a|so truc that, cvcn if wc do takc thc vicw that thcsc notions
arc csscntia||y rc|igious, wc wi|| not ncccssari|yagrcc as to how thcy
arc to bc intcrprctcd. It is onc thing to say - in a socicty bascd upon
individua|frccdoms- thatChristianitydc|ivcrs humanbcingsfromthc
domination ofnccdsand from thc imagc of thcirtcmpora| hnitcncss,
to an unconditiona| mora| princip|c, and that, in thc abscncc of
Christianbc|icf, thcrc wou|dbc nop|accforancthicofscrviccto thc
statc or forpatriotism. It is quitc anothcr thing to say that thc vcry
princip|c ofChristianity imp|ics a dcprcciation ofwor|d|yva|ucs, that
rc|igiousfcc|ing hasbrokcn with Christianity, is bcing rc-crcatcd and
isnowinvcstcdin|ovcofthcnationorof humanity. Accordingtot|;c
formcrargumcnt,socia|mora|ityand thcstatcsti|| rcst upon rc|igion,
to citcHcgc|onccmorc,accordingto thc |attcr,socia|mora|ityissc|f-
sumcicnt bccausc it has bccomc rc|igious. But, important as that
distinction may bc, it docsnot a|tcrthc tcrmsofthc qucstion wc arc
asking. For both intcrprctations appcar to acccptthat anything which
cxprcsscs thc idca of having socia| roots, of sharing a fcc|ing of
bc|onging,ofidcntifyingwith aprincip|cthatshapcshumancocxistcncc
must dcrivc from a rc|igious fcc|ing.
Isthisbcyond a||doubt7Dowcnothavctoaskwhcthcrthcrc|igious
might not bcgraftcdon to a morc profound cxpcricncc as a rcsu|t of
somc determinate rcprcscntation oforigins, community and idcntity7
Our bricf commcnts on thc notion of thc pcop|c in dcmocracy
suggcstthat itisbound upwithanambiguitywhichcannotadcquatc|y
bc trans|atcd into rc|igioustcrms. Thc pcop|c do indccd constitutc a
po|c of idcntity which is sufhcicnt|y dchncd to indicatc that it has thc
statusofasubjcct. Thc pcop|c posscsscssovcrcignty, thcyarcassumcd
to cxprcss its wi||, powcr is cxcrciscd in thcir namc, po|iticians
constant|ycvokc thcm. But thc idcntity of thc pcop|c rcmains |atcnt.
Quitc apart from thcfactthat thc notion of thc pcop|c isdcpcndcnt
upon a discoursc whichnamcs thc pcop|c, which isitsc|fmu|tip|cand
whtch |cnds thc pcop|c mu|tip|c dimcnsions, and that thc statusof a
Subjcct can on|y bc dchncd in tcrms of a juridica| constitution, thc
pcop|c arc, as wc havc notcd, disso|vcd into a numcrica| c|cmcnt at
thc vcry momcnt ofthc manifcstation of thcir wi||.
f the Theologico-Political? 2JI
bccn accordcd a rc|igioussignihcancc. Whcn wc spcak ofthc statc as
a transccndcnt powcr, wc mcan that it hasitsown raison d'erre, that,
in its abscncc, socicty wou|d havc ncithcr cohcrcncc nor pcrmancncc
and that, in that scnsc, it dcmands unconditiona| obcdicncc and thc
subordination of privatc intcrcsts to thc impcrativc nccd for its
prcscrvation. But wc thcn fai| to scc that dcmocracy disassociatcs
po|itica| powcr from thc cxistcncc of thc statc. It is no doubt as a
rcsu|tofthat disassociation that thcstatcacquircsitsgrcat might, that
socia| activitics and rc|ations to its intcrcsts, and cvcn to fostcr thc
that itis agrcat individua|, that cvcryonc has to rccognizc its
wt|| as tts own, to paraphrasc Hcgc|. But it iscqua||y ccrtain that this
tcndcncy is hc|d inchcckbccauscthc po|itica|compctition and socia|
conßict mobi|izcd
by thc dcmocraticproccss ofcontcstingthccxcrcisc
of powcr |cd to an indchnitc transformation of right and to a
modihcation ofthc pub|ic spacc. Rcason ofstatc thrcatcnsto bccomc
an abso|utc, but it is powcr|css to asscrt itsc|f bccausc it rcmains
subjcct to thc cffccts of thc aspirations of individua|s and groups in
civi|socicty and, thcrcforc, to thc cffccts ofsuch dcmands as can bc
inscribcd within thc pub|icspacc. Whcn wc cvokc thc nation, wc|ook
to it asthc sourcc of arc|igiousfaith. Butdowc not havc to askhow
itisdchncd, and tocva|uatc itsdcbttothcdiscoursc whichcnunciatcs
it7 Do wc not havc to ask how thc notion and thc fcc|ings it inspircs
wcrc,tn Europc, transformcd asarcsu|tofthcdiscourscofthc Frcnch
Rcvo|ution and, in thc ninctccnth ccntury, as a rcsu|t of thc ncw
constructsof thc historians who contributcd so much to thc formation
ofa ncw po|itica| consciousncss7 In thccasc of Francc, wc havc on|y
to think of thc ro|c Thicrry, Guizot, Mignct or, somcwhat |atcr,
Michc|ct p|aycd in portraying thc nation`s dcstiny, in introducing a
ncw pcrspcctivc, inrcshaping va|ucs, ingivingcvcntsa ncwdcpth and
in brcaking history down into signihcant scqucnccs. Wc havc on|y to
obscrvc how cffcctivc this 'composition`, which was modihcd as a
rcsu|t of both thc progrcss of know|cdgc and idco|ogica| impcrativcs,
was in mou|ding our co||cctivc mcmory, how it is imprintcd on
htcraturc, and both major and minor po|itica| discourscs. Wc wou|d
bc wrong to conc|udc that a ncw rc|igìon is inscribcd

within this
pcrmancnccofacommunity. Fora||signsandsymbo|swhichmobi|izc
bc|icf |cnd thcmsc|vcs to intcrprctation, to rc-intcrprctation, and arc
bound up with modcs ofanticipating thc futurc, with thc idca ofthc
goa|swhichsocia| actors imaginc to bc rca| and |cgitimatc. Thc idca
of thc nation docs not rcfcr to a tcxt which cxists prior to thc
commcntary,itis ofcoursc supportcd byanaccrction ofmatcria|sand
rcprcscntations, butitcanncvcrbcscparatcdfrom adiscoursc on thc
nation - a discoursc which, whi|st it cnjoys a privi|cgcd rc|ationship
2J2 On the Irreducible Element
with thc discoursc of powcr, is sti|| not amcnab|c to appropriation.
thc rc|igious imagination, which a|ways trics to cstab|ish a narrativc,
to mastcr a timc that cxistsoutsidctimc. Whi|stthc nation bcstows a
co||cctivc idcntity, itis at thc samc timc imp|icatcd in that idcntity. lt
rcmains a ßoating rcprcscntation, and thc origins ofthc nation, thc
stagcs of its foundation and thc vcctors of its dcstiny arc thcrcforc
constant|y bcing disp|accd and arc a|ways subjcct to thc dccisions of
socia| actors- or thosc who spcakfor thcm - who want to cstab|ish
thcmsc|vcs within a duration and a timc which a||ows thcm to namc
Andwhyshou|dthisdcmandforaname bcwho||yascribcdtocithcr
thc rcgistcr of rc|igion of that of idco|ogy7 Fcrhaps morc than any
othcr, thc idca ofthc nation urgcs us to makc a distinction bctwccn
thc symbo|ic, thc idco|ogica| and thc rc|igious.
Thcdifhcu|tyofana|ysing modcrndcmocracyariscsbccauscit rcvca|s
a movcmcnt which tcnds to actua|izc thc imagc of thc pcop|c, thc
by thc rcfcrcncc to powcr as an cmpty p|acc and by thc cxpcricncc
ofsocia| division. Thc movcmcnt of which wc arc spcaking must bc
dcscribcd with grcatcr prccision. whcn socicty can no |ongcr bc
rcprcscntcd as a body and is no |ongcr cmbodicd in thc hgurcofthc
princc, itistructhatpcop|c,statcandnationacquircancwforcc and
canbcsignihcd. Butto asscrt, inordcrtocxto|it, thatancwrc|igious
bc|icf takcs shapc is to forgct that this idcntity and this community
rcmain indchnab|c. Convcrsc|y, to hnd in this bc|icf a sign of purc
i||usion, as |ibcra| thoughtcncouragcs us to do, is to dcny thc vcry
notion ofsocicty, to crasc both thc qucstion ofsovcrcignty and that
ofthc mcaningofthcinstitution,which arc a|waysboundupwiththc
u|timatcqucstionofthc |cgitimacy ofthatwhichcxists. lt mcans, for
cxamp|c, rcducing powcr - or thc statc, which is wrong|y confuscd
with powcr- to an instrumcnta| function, and thc pcop|c to a hction
which simp|y masks thc cfhcacy of a contract thanks to which a
minority submits to a govcrnmcnt formcd by a majority, and, hna||y,
it mcans rcgarding on|y individua|s and coa|itions of i�tcrcsts and
opinionsasrca|. lfwcadoptthisvicw,wcrcp|acc thchctionofunity-
in-itsc|fwith thatofdivcrsity-in-itsc|f. Wc thcrcbydcnyoursc|vcs thc
mcans to undcrstand that, far from signa||ing a rcgrcssion into thc
imaginary, thc aspirations that havc bccn manifcstcd inthc coursc of
thchistoryof dcmocratic socictics undcr thc s|ogans ofcstab|ishinga
juststatcorcmancipatingthc pcop|c havc had thccffcctofprcvcnting
thc instituting dimcnsion of right inthc p|acc ofthc |awwhich scrvcd
to cstab|ish both thc rcspcctivc positions ofru|crs and ru|cd, and thc
conditions for thc appropriation of wca|th, powcrand know|cdgc.
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 2JJ
lf wc rcjcct both thcsc modcs of intcrprctation (not forgctting that
thcy wcrc out|incd as a rcsu|t of thc constitution of a ncw typ of
socicty), might wc not hna||y bc ab|c to dctcct thc paths by which a
rcturn to thc rc|igious might bc cffcctcd7
A rcturn? lt wi|| bc objcctcd that thc tcrm prcsupposcs that thc
rc|igious ncvcr disappcarcd. lndccd. But it is onc thing to say that
bc|icfs havc survivcd in thcir traditiona| form, and quitc anothcr to
acccpt that a hrc which has gonc out can bc rc|it. lt is, morcovcr,
worth asking, as Mcr|cau-Fonty

scd to ask, whcthcr anything in
history has cvcr bccn supcrscdcd in an abso|utc scnsc. ln thc prcscnt
casc,thc ana|ysiswc wcrcout|iningrcvca|sthcpossibi|ityofsituations
in which thc symbo|ic cfhcacy of thcdcmocratic systcm isdcstroycd.
lf, in cffcct, thc modc of thc cstab|ishmcnt ofpowcr and thc naturc
ofitscxcrciscor,morcgcncra||y,po|itica|compctition, provcincapab|c
ofgivingform and mcaning to socia| division, a de facto conßict wi||
agcncyand powcras rca| organdisappcars.Thcrcfcrcncc to ancmpty
p|acc givcs way to thc unbcarab|c imagc of a rca| vacuum. Thc
authorityofthosc who makc pub|icdccisionsor who arc trying to do
so vanishcs, |caving on|y thc spcctac|c of individua|s or c|ans whosc
oncconccrn istosatisfytheir appctitc forpowcr. Socictyis puttothc
tcst ofaco||apsc of|cgitimacy bythcoppositionbctwccn thc intcrcsts
ofc|asscsand various catcgorics, bythcopposition bctwccn opinions,
va|ucs and norms- and thcsc arc no |css important- and by a|| thc
signs of thc fragmcntation of thc socia| spacc, of hctcrogcncity. ln
thcsccxtrcmcsituations, rcprcscntationswhichcansupp|yanindcxof
socia| unity andidcntity bccomc invcstcdwith afantasticpowcr, and
thc tota|itarian advcnturc is undcr way.
For our purposcs, it is not important to distinguish bctwccn thc
variousmodcsofthcformationoftota|itarianism. Wccannotofcoursc
ignorc thc fact that in onc casc thc imagc of thc pcop|c is actua|izcd
through thcsanctihcationofthc pro|ctariat, and that inthc othcrit is
actua|izcd through thc sanctihcation of thc nation, that thc formcr
proccss is shorcd up by a rcdchnition of humanity and that thc |attcr
isshorcd up by a rcdchnition of a racc. communism and fascism arc
not to bc confuscd. But, in tcrmsof thc qucstion wc arc posing, thc
simi|arity bctwccn thc two is striking. Both attcmpt, in onc way or
anothcr, to givc powcra substantia| rca|ity, to bring thc princip|csof
Law and Know|cdgc within its orbit, to dcny socia|division in a|| its
forms, and to givc socicty abody oncc morc. And,itshou|d bcnotcd
phi|osophcrs - and by no mcans on|y minor hgurcs - havc bccomc
compromiscd in thc advcnturcofNazism, fascismorcommunism, thc
attachmcnt to thc rc|igious which wc notcd car|icr traps thcm in thc
i||usion that unity and idcntity can bc rcstorcd as such, and thcy scc
signs of its advcnt in thc union of thc socia| body. lt is not bccausc
thcy submit to a charismatic authority that thcy |cnd thcir supprtto
2J4 On the Irreducible Element
tota|itarian rcgimcs, particu|ar|y not ifthcy raI|y tocommunism, thcy
surrcndcrtothcattractionsofa rcncwcd ccrtaintyand, paradoxica|Iy,
thcy usc it as a prctcxt to asscrt thcir right to contcmpIatc frcc|y thc
basis of any cxpcricncc of thc wor|d.
Wc shouId of coursc bc carcfu| not to rcducc thc tota|itarian
havc donc. It is, rathcr, by cxpIoring thc gcncsis of idco|ogy, by
idcntifying thc mctamorphoscs of a discoursc which, by p|acing itscIf
undcr thc acgis of know|cdgc of thc rcaI, cIaims to cscapc thc
indctcrminacy of thc socia|, to mastcr thc princip|c ofits institution,
to risc abovc divisionso as to cnunciatc itstcrmsand conditionsand
to inscribc it within rationa|ity, cithcr by prcscrving it in its prcscnt
statc or by subjccting itto thc movcmcnt ofits own abo|ition, itisby
dctcctingthcncwrc|ationshipthatis cstabIishcdbctwccnthcvicwpoint
of scicncc and thc vicwpoint of thc socia| ordcr, that wc can bcst
arrivc at an undcrstanding of tota|itarianism. This rcgimc rcprcscnts
thc cu|mination of an artihcia|ist projcct which bcgins to takc shapc
in thc ninctccnth ccntury. thc projcct of crcating a sc|f-organizing
socicty which aI|ows thc discoursc of tcchnicaI rationa|ity to bc
imprintcd on thcvcryform ofsociaI rc|ations, andwhich, u|timatcIy,
rcvca|s 'socia| raw matcria|` or 'human raw matcria|` to bc fu||y
amcnab|c to organization. It wouId, howcvcr, bc futiIc to makc a
sharp distinction bctwccn thc idco|ogicaI and thc rc|igious, for whiIst
thc |attcr is disavowcd insofar as it indicatcs an other pIacc, wc can
aIso scc that it is rcactivatcd in thc qucst for a mystical union and in
thc rcprcscntation of a body, part of which - thc pro|ctariat, thc
poIitica| party, thc |cading organ, thc cgocrat (to usc So|zhcnitsyn`s
phrasc)- rcprcscntsboth thc hcad ofthc pcop|cand thc pcopIc inits
cntircty. Thc rcproductionofthis modcI inoncscctorofsocicty aftcr
anothcr thcn convcrts individuaIs into mcmbcrs of mu|tip|c micro-
thatthcrcprcscntationofthcorganization (or,morcaccuratc|y,ofthc
machinc) can combinc with that of thc body. Not on|ydocscxtrcmc
can on|y ho|d upifit bccomcs a body and on|y if- no pun intcndcd
- it can cmbody thc sub]ccts who spcak it. it tcnds to abo|ish thc
distancc bctwccn cnunciation and uttcrancc, and to bc imprintcd on
cvcry subjcct, rcgardIcss ofthc signihcation of words.
Thc incrcasing|y pcrccptib|c cffccts of thc fai|urc of tota|itarian
idco|ogyarcnoIcssinstructivc.Thcrcappcaranccofadividc- dccpcr
hcrc than in any othcrrcgimc- bctwccn thc discoursc ofpowcr and
pcop|c`s cxpcricncc of thcir situation indicatcs thc impossibi|ity of
prccipitatingthcsymboIicintothc rca|, ofrcducingpowcrtoa purcIy
socia| dchnition, ofmatcriaIizingpowcrinthcpcrsons ofthosc vcstcd
with it,ofrcprcscntingsocicty as a body without supp|ying it with an
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 235
cxtcrna| guarantor of its organization and |imits, and of aboIishing
socia| division. Thc naturc of this discoursc is in fact such that thc
subjcct cithcr |oscs a|| notion of its own position or pcrccivcs it as
bcing tota||y a|icn, as a mcrc product of a groupwhich manipu|atcs
wordsinordcrtoconccaI facts. Onccbc|icfincommunismisshakcn,
it givcs way to thc imagc of a party or a powcrwhich ru|cs through
forcc, to thc imagc of an cxtcrna| forcc which subjugatcs thc socicty
it c|aims to cmbody, to thc imagc of a |aw that is its propcrty, of a
|aw that is dcsigncd to concca| thc ru|c ofthc arbitrary, to thc imagc
of a truth of history that is dcsigncd to concca| |ics. And whcn signs
arc invcrtcd, whcn thc p|cnitudc ofcommunism rcvca|s a void, whcn
thc pcop|c brcak up and mora|s brcak down, or whcn, to usc Hcgc|`s
|anguagconcc morc, socia| mora|ity and thcstatc co||apsc, wc sccthc
rcturn of dcmocratic aspirations and, a|ongwith thcm, thc o|d faith,
which mcans primari|y thcChristianfaith. In rcsponsc to thc fantastic
attcmpt to comprcssspacc and timc intothc |imitsofthc socia| body,
thcrc rcappcars a rcfcrcncc to an abscnt body which symbo|izcs a
timc-span that can bc ncithcr appropriatcd, mastcrcd nor rcduccd.
Ccrtainty is rcborn,togcthcrwitha singu|ar abi|itytoattack thcimagc
ofthc 'ncw man` and ofthc 'radiantfuturc` bydcridingit.
Might itnot,howcvcr, bca furthcrmistakctobc|icvcthatthcncw
|inks that arc bcing forgcd bctwccn thc dcmocratic opposition and
thc rc|igious opposition bcar witncss to thc dcmocratic csscncc of
Christianity or to thc Christian csscncc of dcmocracy? If wc acccpt
that, do wc not |osc sight ofthc mcaning ofthc advcnturc that bcgan
whcn thcy bccamc discntangIcd in thc ninctccnth ccntury? To put it
morc simp|y, do wc not havc to admit that thcy comc togcthcr in a
rcstoration of thc dimcnsion of thc other, which tota|itarianism trics
to supprcss with its rcprcscntation of thc Pcop|c-as-Onc?
thcrc|igiousandthcpo|itica|, andthcpossibi|ityofthcirbcingbrokcn.
Butisthisthcappropriatc|anguagc tousc?Isthcrcanyscnscintrying
to apprchcnd thc rc|igious as such by cxtracting it from thc po|iticaI
and thcn spccifying itscfhcacy inoncor anothcrformofsocicty? Or,
to bc morc spccihc, andsincc thcscopc ofour invcstigationhasfrom
thc bcginning bccn rcstrictcd, arc wc cntit|cd to rcfcr to an csscncc
(that is, socictics institutcd sincc thc bcginning of thc Christian cra)
to that csscncc? Thc qucstion may bc disconccrting insofar as
Christianity is bascd upon a narrativc, or a body of narrativcs, to
whichwc arcfrcc torcfcr,whatcvcrdcgrcc ofvcracitywcmayaccord
it, in ordcr to idcntify it as a spccihc rc|igion which appcarcd at a
givcn cpoch in thc history of humanity. Evcn at this stagc, howcvcr,
wc cannot ignorc thc fact that thc birth of thisrc|igionhas a po|itica|
mcaning.Thatfactwasofcourscstrcsscd anddiscusscd bythcoIogians
for ccnturics, |ong bcforc Dantc bascd his apo|ogia for a univcrsa|
236 011 the Irreducible Element
monarchy on thc argumcnt that thc Son ofGod rcso|vcd to comc to
carth and to takc thc form of a man at a timc whcn humanity was
unitcd undcr thc authority of thc Roman Empcror who was,
mctaphorica||y, thc´Empcror of a|| humanity - and that, morc
spcciñca||y sti||, Hc rcso|vcd to do so at a timcwhcn thc ñrst ccnsus
of a|| thc Empcror's subjccts was bcing carricd out. It is, howcvcr,
morc pcrtincnt to notc that onc cannot dcrivc thc princip|cs of a
po|itica| ordcr from thc sacrcd tcxts, attcmpts to do so wcrc madc
ovcr and ovcr agian, but thc point is that thcy invo|vcd making
digrcssions through mu|tip|cand oftcn contradictory intcrprctations.
Thc ncw rc|igion rcformu|atcs thc notion of a dua|ity bctwccn this
dcstiny, itdcpicts a mcdiator who is a God-madc-man. It is bc|icvcd
to bring togcthcr not on|y onc pcop|c but thc who|c ofhumanity, thc
body of Christ symbo|izcs thc unity bctwccn mcn and God, and thc
union ofa|| mcn in thc cucharist. Christ |ivcson ina Church ofwhich
hc issimu|tancous|y thc hcad. Thc vcryfact thatthc cvcntofhisbirth
took p|acc at a spcciñc timc and in a spcciñc p|acc indicatcs that hc
was born to bc thc ncw Adam, and a |ink is cstab|ishcd bctwccn thc
idca of thc fa|| and thc idca of rcdcmption, and thus makcs tangib|c

to po|itica| c|aborations, but thcir mcaning is in itsc|funccrtain. It is
whcn a dchnitc rc|ationship is cstab|ishcd bctwccn a ccrtain typc of
po|itica| institution and a ccrtain typc of rc|igious institution that thc
rc|igious basis of thc po|itica| ordcr bccomcs |cgib|c, as docs thc
po|itica| basis of thc Church, for thc Church ccascs to mcrgc with
Christian humanity, and is circumscribcd within a spacc, organizcd
undcr thc acgisofa powcr, and imprintcd on a tcrritory.
Lct us now, thcn, qua|ify a formu|a which appcarcd to takc us to
thc hcartofthc prob|cm. Wc askcdoursc|vcswhcthcrrc|igiousbc|icf
might not havc bccn transfcrrcd on to phi|osophica| thought at thc
vcry momcnt whcn thc |attcr c|aimcd to bc ab|c to disccrn thc
pcrsistcnccofthc rc|igious inthc po|itica|, whcthcr, inshort, itmight
not havc misrccognizcd itsc|f by misrccognizing thc mcaning of thc
ncwsocictywhichbcganto takcshapc in thc|astccntury. Itmightbc
morc accuratc to ask. docs not this thought bcar thc imprint of a
thco|ogico-po|itica| schcma? Is itnot bccausc it is sccrct|y govcrncd
by a curious idcntihcation with the royalty ofthe spirit that it is drawn
to thc Onc?
ThcworkofMichc|ct appcarsto mctoprovidcthcpcrfcctjustiñcation
for asking this qucstion. Hc is not, of coursc, a phi|osophcr in thc
scnsc in which scho|ars undcrstand that tcrm, but thc rcadcr has
a|rcady bccn warncd that wc arc not using it in its rcstrictivc scnsc.
Thcfactis that hc docs not bc|ongtothcspccics'scicntihchistorian`,
which had yct tocomc into bcing, hishistory isintcrprctativc andis
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 2J7
bound up with an invcstigation into thc mcaning of Humanity`s
dcvc|opmcnt and, morc spcciñca||y, into thc po|itica| and rc|igious
rcvo|utionwhichhcthoughtwasgoingonbcforc hisvcrycycs.dcspitc
thc forccs which wcrc trying to hindcr it or to rcvcrsc its coursc. I
ñnd his thought cxcmp|ary bccausc it tcstiñcs to a dcbatc which wc
rarc|y scc taking p|acc within thc mindofonc man. His initia| stancc
is to cspousc and combinc two conccptions which scc thc Rcvo|ution
by thc monarchy rcspcctivc|y. Brcakingwith this inspiration, hcthcn
formation whosc dcstruction was inauguratcd by thc Rcvo|ution. But
hiscritiquc issuch that itrc-cxp|oitssccming|y discrcditcdthco|ogico-
po|itica| catcgorics to makc an apo|ogiafor modcrnity. Yct this vcry
opcration, and wc may wc|| wondcr to what cxtcnt it is conscious or
unconscious, brings him up against thc idca of a right or a frccdom
which can found thcmsc|vcs, thc idca of a humanity which disp|ays
signsofitssc|f-transccndancc,ofahcroismofthcspirit (thccxprcssion
is an car|y borrowing from Vico), of an inñnitc qucstioning of any
givcn conñguration of know|cdgc.
Thc movcmcnt that takcs us from thc Introduction a une histoire
universelle or thc Origines du droit fran,ais to thc Bible de {
or thc I869 Frcfacc to thc Histoire de France via La Revolution
fran,aise dcscribcs a trajcctory in which wc ñnd a constant tcnsion
bctwccn thc idca that rc|igion is thc u|timatc horizon of human |ifc
and thc idca that right is thc u|timatc sourcc of human sc|f-crcation
or, to bc morc accuratc, thatright is anintcrna|princip|c that a||ows
human bcings to transccnd thcmsc|vcs. Thcsc two idcas dctcrminc,
rcspcctivc|y, thc notion of having roots in a p|acc and a timc, thc
notionoftradition andofan idcntitybctwccn sc|fand bcing (pcop|c,
nation, humanity), and thc notionof thc root|cssncss, thc wandcring
and thc turmoi| ofbcing, thc notionofa wi|d asscrtion ofthc sc|fas
bcing frcc from a|| authority, as bcing supportcd on|y by thc work
that is bcing accomp|ishcd.
It is obvious|y my intcntion not to summarizc Michc|ct`s itincrary
but, by making a digrcssion, to shcd |ight on thc qucstion which
conccrnsus hcrc. Lct usgo back, thcn, to thc starting point providcd
by thc Introduction a une histoire universelle. What is its �c|cvancc? It
is not that it rcvca|s thc author`s origina|ity. To put it bricßy, it is a
condcnsation of thc intcrprctations of Guizot and Ba||anchc. Thc
monarchy is sccn as a |cvc||ing and ccntra|izing agcnt which has thc
virtuc of crcating conditions of cqua|ity and of making socicty
incrcasing|y homogcncous. Michc|ct sccs in Christianity thc advcnt of
a rc|igion of cqua|ity and fratcrnity, of a rc|igion bascd upon a |ovc
ofhumanity. Thc idca that thc o|d monarchybccamc usc|css oncc thc
constructionofsocicty had bccncomp|ctcdisborrowcd from Guizot,
thc idca that thc spirit of Christianity has bccn invcstcd in socia|
institutionsisborrowcdfromBa||anchc. Itisimportantat|casttonotc
238 On the Irreducible Element
that Michc|ct rapid|y arrivcs at a doub|c rcading of thc history of
Francc, that hc rcads it in both rc|igious and po|itica| tcrms, in his
vicw, thc distinctivc fcaturc of Francc is that thc 'fcc|ing of socia|
gcncra|ity` was born in that nation. Dcspitc incqua|ity of condition
and of mora|s, and dcspitc thc rcgiona| diffcrcnccs which survivcd
unti| thc Rcvo|ution, a pcop|c comcs into bcingthanks to thc doub|c
cffcct of a princip|c ofmatcria| unihcation and a princip|cofspiritua|
unihcation. Wcwi||notdwc||uponthcformu|acwhichsigna|Francc`s
prc-cmincnt ro|c in `bringing hcavcn to carth`, a fcw cxamp|cs wi||
sufhcc. 'thc mora| wor|d found its Word in Christ, thc son of!udaca
andofGrcccc,andFrancc wi|| cxp|ain thc Word to thcsocia|wor|d',
Francc`s ro|c is to 'brcak thc ncws of this ncw rcvc|ation', Francc
spcaks `thc Word of Europc`, and ho|ds 'thc pontihcatc of thc ncw
civi|ization`. Wcwi||, howcvcr, pickoutat|castthisjudgcmcnt,which
hc wi|| |atcr invcrt. `Thc namc of thc pricst and thc king, of thc
rcprcscntativcs of what is most gcncra|, that is, most divinc in thc
thoughtofa nation |cnt, asitwcrc, thc obscurc rightofthcpcop|c a
mystical envelope in which it grcw and bccamc strongcr` (cmphasis
In La Revolution franqaise, Michc|ct transforms this `mystica|
cnvc|opc` into an i||usion. hc comp|ctc|y divorccs right and justicc
from thc namc of thc king and thc pricst, who arc now sccn as
concca|ing thcm in ordcr to stißc thcm. And yct, hc sti|| hnds thc
basis of Ancicn Rcgimc socicty in thc 'pricst|y monarchy`. Indccd, if
wc arc to bc|icvc his own account, his convcrsion to thc strugg|c
against Christianity and his dccision to writc his Revolution originatcd
in somcthing simi|ar to a rc|igious rcvc|ation. Thc authcnticity ofthc
sccnchcrcconstructsin1869 isirrc|cvant,itisanadmirab|ci||ustration
ofhowsymbo|schangc p|acc in thc construction hc himsc|fbui|t and
of how that construction survivcsdcspitc invcrsionsofmcaning.
His Histoire de France had, hc tc||s us in thc Prcfacc, broughthim
tothcthrcsho|dofthc'monarchica|agcs' whcnan`accidcnt'upsct his
onc wa|ks around thc intcrna| ga||cry cighty fcct a

bovc thc
ground, onc sccs thc ravishing wca|th of itsßowcrybcauty as a
pcrmancnt a||c|uia. In this cmpty immcnsity, onc a|ways sccms
to bc ab|c to hcar thc grcat ofhcia| c|amour which was oncc
ca||cd thc voicc of thc pcop|c . . . I rcachcd thc |ast |itt|c towcr.
Thcrc, I foundaspcctac|cthatastonishcdmcgrcat|y. Thcround
towcr was gar|andcd with sacrihcia| victims. Onc has a ropc
around his ncck, anothcr has |ost an car. Thc muti|atcd arc
saddcr than thc dcad. How right thcy arcl What a tcrrifying
contrastl Thc church of fcstiva|s, thc bridc, has adoptcd that
|ugubrious ornamcnt for hcr wcdding ncck|acc! Thc pi||ory of
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 239
thcpcop|c has bccn p|accdabovc thc a|tar. But might not thosc
tcars havc fa||cn down through thc vau|ts and on to thc hcads
ofthc kings?Thc fcarfu| unctionofthc Rcvo|ution, ofthcwrath
of God. "I wi|| not undcrstand thc monarchica| agcs¨ I said to
mysc|f, ¨un|css I hrst cstab|ish within mc thc sou| and thc faith
of thc pcop|c, and, aftcr Louis XI, I wrotc my Revolution
Thisastonishingdcscription ismorcc|oqucntthanmanyhistorica||y
or thcorctica||y bascd argumcnts, and it docs morc than thcy cvcr
cou|dto hc|pus undcrstandthcpositionMichc|ctadoptsto mounthis
attack on thc thco|ogico-po|itica|. Whcrc is his position? Insidc thc
shapcd and thcn rcshapcd. It is thcrc that hc takcs up his position,
indccd hc cxp|orcs it thorough|y. Hc asccnds its hcights, just as thc
sou|s of thc kingswcrc bc|icvcd to asccnd to takc thcir p|acc at thc
sidcofGod, to thcacc|amationofthcpcop|c, and, inthisncw|iturgy,
his thought takcs its p|acc at thc sidc of thc pcop|c. Michc|ct movcs
through thc church |ikc an actor, hc makcs it undcrgo a truc
mctamorphosis, but hc is sti|| thcrc. Hc watchcs thc king bcing
crowncd, but hc sccrct|y transforms thc coronation into a dcposition
so asto rcvca| thc sccondcoronation which, so to spcak, rcdup|icatcs
it. Hcuscsa|| thc o|dsymbo|s. thc coronation, thc acc|amation which
thc Church and Christ, bctwccn thc kingdom and thc king, thc
sacrihcia| victim, thc cross that stands abovc thc a|tar, thc unction
whichraiscsthckinghcadandshou|dcrsabovc hisasscmb|cdsubjccts.
But for Michc|ct thc coronation is that of thc pcop|c. It is thc truc
voicc of thc pcop|c that hc hcars in thc navc, hc imagincs thc
cc|cbration of a diffcrcnt marriagc, thc gar|and of sacriûcia| victims
rcp|accs thc martyrcd Christ, thc pi||orystands abovc thc a|tar, tcars
rcp|acc thc sacrcd |iquor, thc Lord's anointcd bccomcs thc anointcd
ofthc Rcvo|ution, which bccomcsGod`s cpic pocm. And, it must bc
addcd, hc bccomcs scnsitivizcd to a timc which. whi|st it docs not
cxist outsidc timc, docs not cxist within timc cithcr. thc timc of a
pcop|c, ofthc pcop|c who await thcir incarnation, who arc in a scnsc
a|ways invisib|c, butwho rcvca| thcmsc|vcs foronc momcntinhistory
- and who dcmand faith.
It must not bc bc|icvcd thatthc sccnc in RcimsCathcdra| is simp|y
a fantasmagoria, it is a condcnsation of many of thc thcmcs that
dctcrmincthcintc||cctua|workwhichwcntintoLa Revolutionfranqaise.
It is not ncccssary to idcntify a|| thc rcfcrcnccs, cvcn though thcy arc
cxp|icit|yrc|igious. Thc imagcofthcChurch appcarsin boththc 1847
and 1869 Prcfaccs. Michc|cts rcp|ytothosc who mourn thc fact that
thc Rcvo|ution cou|dnotusc thcspiritof thc Rcformation to combat
Catho|icismis thatitadoptcdnoChurchforthcvcrygoodrcason that
`it was itsc|f a Church` (a criticism addrcsscd spccihca||y to Quinct,
240 On the Irreducible Elefellt
a|though hc is not mcntioncdbynamc).Michc|ct`s rcp|y tothoscwho
criticizc his book and c|aim to bc thc hcirs of thc Girondins or thc
!acobinsisthat hc isrc|uctantto argucwiththcmbccausc hc `didnot
want to dcstroy thc unity of thc grcat Church`. But thc mystica|
conccption of thc Rcvo|ution is at |cast as important as thc words
thcmsc|vcs, if not morc so. Thc Rcvo|ution was ofcoursc an cvcnt
which occurrcd in a spccihc p|acc but, as hc writcs at onc point and
ashcconstant|ysuggcsts, `itkncwnothingoftimcorspacc`.Thccvcnt
wasmodc||cd onChrist`sappcarancc on carth. ltbcarswitncss to thc
fu|ncss oftimc, to uscStFau|`scxprcssion, but it a|soabo|ishcstimc.
ltinauguratcs an cra, butit cscapcs a|| tcmpora| dctcrmination, and
rcprcscntsaspiritua|unitywhicha||owshumanitytoacccdc toitsown
prcscncc,in thatscnsc, itprovcsto bc indcstructib|c, to cxistoutsidc
thc hc|d of continuing po|itica| batt|cs, and to condcmn a|| attcmpts
torcstorcthco|dordcrasbcinginvain. WiththcRcvo|ution,humanity
riscs abovc itsc|f and, hcnccforth, it is on|y from thcsc ncw hcights
that it can rc|atc to itsc|f and survcy thc vicissitudcs of its history.
Whcn hc ana|yscs thc Fctc dc |a Fcdcration, Michc|ct adopts thc
|anguagcofthcthco|ogian,andspcaksofitasthoughitwcrc Francc`s
marriagc with Francc, as though it wcrc modc||cd on thc marriagc
bctwccn Christ and thc Church or that bctwccn thc king and thc
kingdom. Andwhcn hc rcturns to thc thcmcofhumanity`sscarch for
its own body, hc cvokcs thc momcnt whcn thc wor|d said to itsc|f.
`Oh, ifon|y l wcrc onc . . . lf on|y l cou|d at |ast unitc my scattcrcd
mcmbcrs, and asscmb|c mynations. ` And whcn, in thc 1869 Frcfacc,
hc rcturns to 1790, hc adds. `No othcr agape, no othcr communion
was comparab|c with this.` ln thc samc passagc, hc turns thc war of
1792 into a `ho|y war`. Wc saw thcn `thc abso|utc, inhnitc naturc of
sacrihcc`. This is cnoughforhim to rcfutc onccmorc Quinct`s thcsis
that thc Rcvo|ution cou|d not hnd ncw symbo|s. `Faith is a||, form
countsfor |itt|c. What docs it mattcr how thc a|tar isdrapcd7 ltis sti||
thc a|tar ofRight, ofTruth and ofEtcrna| Rcason. Not a stoncfrom
it has bccn |ost, and it waits pcaccfu||y.`
ltisthccstab|ishmcntofccrtainty andthcncwrc|ationshipthathas
bccn forgcd bctwccn ccrtainty and rcvc|ation which bcar witncss to
rc|igion. Butwc mustncvcr|osc sight ofthcfactthatthcmonarchica|
rcfcrcncc is combincd with a Christo|ogica| rcfcrcncc. Michc|ct docs
not simp|y adopt thc notion of a dua|ity bctwccn thc tcmpora| and
thc non-tcmpora|, transposc iton toa ncwrcgistcr and|ink itwith an
cvcntwhich a||ows thc non-tcmpora| to bc rcad within thc tcmpora|;
of thc Onc in ordcr to cc|cbratc thc Fcop|c, Spirit or Rcason, and
!usticc or Right. Likc thc Rcvo|ution, thc Fcop|c arc dividcd in thcir
cxistcncc. lnsofar as thc Fcop|ccxistwithin timc and spacc. thcy can
appcarfa||ib|c, dividcd or cvcn dcspicab|c. aswhcn thcy takc on thc
fcaturcs of `mob ru|c` or `popu|ar capricc` as whcn thcy adopt thc
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 241
gross gcsticu|ations of thc parvcnus of thc Faris Communc, and as
canbccomc `thc mostdangcrousofjudgcs`whcnthcyarc `infcrmcnt`
(thc rcfcrcnccs arc to thcchaptcr on thc tria| ofLouis XVl). lnthcir
to bc infa||ib|c and at onc with thcmsc|vcs, to bc in |cgitimatc
posscssion of an abso|utc right. And whcn thcy takc on this status,
thcy occupy thc position of thc king. Michc|ct is not indu|ging in
rhctoricwhcn hcsaysthat,asa historian, hchas takcn thc`roya|road'
and commcnts that. `to mc, thatword mcans popu|ar` (Livrc lll: `Dc
|a mcthodc ct dc |`csprit dc cc |ivrc`), in raising thc qucstion of thc
|cgitimacyofthc condcmnation ofLouis XVl, hc is asscrting that `thc
pcop|carc a||`anddcsignating`thctrucKing: thcpcop|c`. Onccannot
fai| to scc inccrtain ofthcscformu|ac a rcsurgcncc ofthc thco|ogico-
po|itica| myth of thc doub|c naturc of thc king.
Thc rcpcatcd cu|ogics ofright as bcing thc Sovcrcign ofthc wor|d
(aformu|a borrowcdfrom Rousscau) arc cqua||y signihcant, as is thc
momcnt whcn, in thc coursc of his piti|css dcscription of thc
wrong-doings of thc pricst|y monarchy, Michc|ct c|cvatcs Buffon,
Montcsquicu, Vo|tairc and Rousscau to thc status of thc

fathcrsofthc ncw humanity (hc cvcn ca||s thcm `thc grcatdoctorsof
thc ncw Church` ), and whcn, rcappropriating an cxprcssion whosc
i||usory cffccts hc ncvcr ccascs to dcnouncc, hc c|cvatcs `roya|ty of
spirit` abovc thc wor|d. Wc scc hcrc thc workingsof thc transfcrcncc
to which wc rcfcrrcd car|icr. `Unti| thcn, unity had bccn bascd upon
thc idca ofa rc|igious or po|itica| incarnation. A human God, a God
madc ßcsh was rcquircd to unitc Church and Statc. Humanity was
sti|| wcak, and p|accd its union undcr thc sign, thc visib|c sign, of a
man, an individua|. From now on, unity wi|| bc purcr, and wi|| bc
frccd from this matcria| condition, itwi|| |ic in thc union ofhcarts, in
thccommunityofthcspirit, inthcprofoundmarriagcoffcc|ingswhich
joins cach to a||.` A morc dctai|cd ana|ysis of Michc|ct`s |anguagc
wou|d furthcr rcvca| a symbo|ic architccturc which is vcry simi|ar to
that c|aboratcd at thc cnd of thc Midd|cAgcs, an architccturc which
p|accd thc king in a position to bc a sovcrcign mcdiator bctwccn
justicc andpcop|c, andjusticcinapositiontobc asovcrcignmcdiator
bctwccnrcason and cquity.

Aswc havc a|rcady said, thcfactthatwcfìnd inMichc|ct`s thought
thc imprint ofthc thco|ogico-po|itica| hc is so dctcrmincd to dcstroy
docs not, howcvcr, discrcdit his intcrprctation of thc mutation that
occurrcd in thc transition from Ancicn Rcgimc to Rcvo|ution. Hc is
onc ofthc fcwthinkcrs of his day to rccognizc thc symbo|ic function
ofpowcr in shaping socia| rc|ations. Anyonc who doubts that this is
so has on|y to rcad or rcrcad thc introduction to La Revolution
frall�aise, a vcritab|c cssay in po|itica|phi|osophywhosc major insight
sccmstomc to havc |ost nonc ofitsacuity. dcspitc thcfragi|ityofthc
historica| rcconstruction. Comparcd with that madc by Tocqucvi||c,
242 On the Irreducible Element
thc ana|ysisofthcAncicn Rcgimc may,ofcoursc, sccm summaryand
socio|ogica||ypoor. Butwc donothavctochoosc bctwccn thcm, and
thcdiffcrcncc bctwccnthcmisnot thatbctwccnanidco|ogica|history
andaconccptua|history. InfactMichc|ctsccsandtricstoconccptua|izc
somcthing that cscapcs Tocqucvi||c's thought. Thc |attcr notcs cvcry
sign of thc gradua| ccntra|ization of thc Statc and of thc incrcasing
cqua|ity of condition, and intcrprcts thcm as proof that socicty is
indccdbcingtransformcd, dcspitcthcsccmingpcrmancnccofitsordcr.
It cou|d not bc said that hc is inscnsitivc to thc symbo|ic dimcnsion
ofthcsocia| In onc scnsc, itdocsnotcscapc him for, rathcrthan thc
de facto growth of cqua|ity and ccntra|ization, it is, I bc|icvc, thc
cstab|ishmcntofa princip|c of simi|arity govcrning both conduct and
mora|s and thc cstab|ishmcnt of thc point of view of the state that
attracts his attcntion. But it is prccisc|y bccausc hc crccts this into a
modc|- anidca| modc|whosccoordinatcsin timc andspacc arc ncvcr
dcñncd - that hc |oscs intcrcst in thc ñgurc of powcr, and tcnds to
socicty to such an cxtcnt that thc ncw socicty appcars to bc no morc
thanthc hna|productofthatproccss,and thatthcRcvo|utionbccomcs
unintc||igib|c cxccpt insofar as it dcsignatcs thc momcnt of a ßight
into thc imaginary. Michc|ct,onthc othcr hand, dccodcsthcsymbo|ic
by transposing it on to anothcr rcgistcr, within this rcgistcr, thc
mainspring bchind domination and bchind thc organization of insti-
tutionsis, ashcputs it,thcmostobscure andthcmostintimate c|cmcnt
in thc position and rcprcscntation of powcr (and |ct mc rcpcat that
onc cannot cxist without thc othcr). Hc cxprcsscs his vicws most
c|car|y whcn, having drawn up a ba|ancc shcct of thc statc of Francc
onthccvcof1789, having notcdthat,'Isccthc Rcvo|utioncvcrywhcrc,
cvcn at Vcrsai||cs`, having j udgcd incvitab|c and visib|c to a|| 'thc
and b|indncss of Ca|onnc, hc conc|udcs. 'Thc on|y obscurc qucstion
was that of roya|ty. Thisis not, as ithassooftcnbccnsaid,a qucstion
of purc form, but a fundamcnta| qucstion, a qucstion morc intimatc
andmorcpcrcnnia| than anyothcrqucstion in Francc, aqucstion not
on|y ofpo|itics, but of|ovc and ofrc|igion. No othcr pcop|cso |ovcd
thcir kings.`
This intcrcst in thc obscurc, thc profound and thc prima|, which
inspircs a|| Michc|ct'sworksfromLes Origines du droit fram;ais to La
Sorciere, hc|ps him to discovcr somcthing which Tocqucvi||c fai|s to
scc. thcmystcryofthcmonarchica| incarnation- bcyondthcconscious
rcprcscntation ofa divinc-right king whosc powcr rcstorcs somcthing
of thc prcscncc of Christ and thcrcby makcs justicc appcar in his
pcrson,thcrc|icsan unconscious rcprcscntationofasocictycmbodicd
in accordancc with a 'carna| princip|c`, but whosc mcmbcrs arc so
captivatcd by thc imagc ofa body that thcy projcct on to it thcirown
union, that thcir affccts arc prccipitatcd in an amorous idcntiñcation
Permanence of the Theologico-Political?
with that body. If wc rcad him carcfu||y, wc hndthat Michc|ct in fact
combincs two argumcnts which, whi|st thcy arc conncctcd, do not
Thc ñrst rc|atcs thcpo|itica| |aw ofthc Ancicn Rcgimcto rc|igious
|aw - indccd, it wou|d not bc going too far to say that thc onc is
dcrivcd from thc othcr. Christianityprovcs tobcboththcsystcm that
isinfact obviousfrom thcvcry p|an ofthc Introduction. thcñrst part
monarchic'. Michc|ct thcrcforc immcdiatc|y formu|atcs thc qucstion.
this qucstion comcs bcforc a|| othcrs`. And thc answcr is not |ong in
coming: 'On thc stagc, I sti|| scc on|y two grcat facts, two princip|cs,
twoactorsandtwopcrsons. Christianityandthc Rcvo|ution.`Hccvcn
gocsso far as to asscrt. `A||thc civicinstitutions that thc Rcvo|ution
invcntcd cithcr cmanatcd from Christianity, or wcrc modc||cd on its
forms and authorizcd by it.` From this point of vicw, thc schcma is
simp|c. Christianityis'thcrc|igionofgracc,offrcc,arbitrarysa|vation,
in thc imagc of thc divinc monarchy: both govcrn on bcha|f of an
c|cct. Arbitrary powcr, maskcd asjusticc, has takcn up its abodc in
socicty. itisfound `with dcprcssing rcgu|arity in po|itica| institutions`.
It is a `carna| princip|c` that supports thc socia| organization, thc
division bctwccn thc ordcrs and thc hicrarchy ofconditions, this is a
princip|c which 'puts justicc and injusticc in thc b|ood, which makcs
thcm circu|atc a|ong with thc ßux of|ifcfrom onc gcncration to thc
ncxt'. Thc thco|ogico-po|itica| systcm is, hc suggcsts, such that it
g|oriñcs |ovc, thc pcrsona| rc|ationship that cxists bctwccn man and
God, bctwccn man and king, thc spiritua| notion of justicc is
matcria|ízcd, |ovc is put `in thc p|acc of |aw`. To paraphrasc frcc|y,
using thc samc tcrms that wc uscd car|icr. whcn thc |aw is fu||y
asscrtcdandwhcndivincmightand humanmightarccondcnscdwithin
asing|cpcrson,Lawisimprintcduponpowcr,Lawas such isabo|ishcd,
to thc monarch. Atthc samc timc, thc obvcrscofthc |ovc dcmandcd
by Christianity is rcvca|cd to bc its hatrcd of a|| who pcrturb ordcr.
'Thc incrcdib|c furics of thc Church during thc Midd|c Agcs`, thc
Inquisition,thcbooksthatwcrc burncd,thcpcop|cwhowcrc burncd,
thc history ofthc Vaudois and thc A|bigcnscs. Comparcd with that
tcrror, thc rcvo|utionary Tcrror makcs onc smi|c. Thc |ovc inspircd
by thc king a|so hasitsobvcrsc: torturc, thc Basti||c, leures de cachet
and thc Livre rouge,
But Michc|ct`s sccond argumcnt, which ñrst cmcrgcs in thc articu-
|ation bctwccn thc hrst and sccond parts of thc Introduction, takcs a
diffcrcnt dircction. Thc might of thc king docs not simp|y dcsccnd
fromthchcightsofChristianarbitrarincss, it is a|soconstructcd by his
subjccts. It is thcy who bui|t 'this sanctuary, this rcfugc. thc a|tar of
244 On the Irreducible Elemelll
thc kingdom`. It is thcy who invcntcd ' ascrics of |cgcnds and myths
cmbroidcrcd and amp|ihcd by a|| thc cfforts of gcnius: thc ho|y king
who was morc of a pricst than thc pricst himsc|f in thc thirtccnth
ccntury. thc knight-king in thc sixtccnth ccntury, thc good king with
Hcnri IV, thc God-king with Louis XIV. In onc scnsc, thcy arc
obcying thc samc inspiration as thc grcat thinkcrs of thc pcriod,
obscrvcs Michc|ct. Dantc was simi|ar|y inspircd toscck thc sa|vation
of humanity in unity and to imaginc a monarch who, bccausc hc
cmbodicd thc Onc, wou|d posscss un|imitcd authority and wou|d bc
sctfrccfrom morta| passions. But, `wc must dig dccpcr than Dantc,
wcmustdigintothccarth,anduncovcrandcontcmp|atcthe profoundly
popular basis on which the colossus was built' (cmphasisaddcd). Mcn
did not simp|y bc|icvc that thcy cou|d `savc justicc in a po|itica|
rc|igion`, and thcy did not simp|y crcatc 'a God of !usticc out of a
man`, thcy madc kings thc objcct ofthcir |ovc. Thcirswas a singu|ar
|ovc. 'anobstinatc, b|ind |ovcwhichsaw a|| itsGod`simpcrfcctions as
virtucs. Far from bcingshockcdatsccingthc human c|cmcnt inhim,
thcy wcrcgratcfu| for it. Thcy bc|icvcdthatitwou|d bringhimc|oscr
tothcm, that it wou|d makc him |css proud and|css harsh. Thcywcrc
g|ad that Hcnri IV |ovcd Gabric||c. Thc rcmarkab|c thing about thc
dcscription of this |ovc, about thc cvocation of Louis XV, thc 'wc||-
bc|ovcd`,aGod-madc-ßcsh,andaboutthcpagcsdcvotcdtoLouis XVI
as hc rcturns from Varcnnc to hiscxccution is that thcysuggcst that
wc havc to rc-cxaminc thc rcprcscntation of thc king`s two bodics .
This, as formu|atcd in thc Midd|c Agcs, was bascd upon thc notion
thc juridica| ñction that thc king was two pcrsons in onc, onc bcing
|aws, who was vu|ncrab|c to ignorancc, crror and i||ncss, and thc
othcr bcing thc supcrnatura| king, who was immorta|, infa||ib|c
and omnipotcnt within thc timc and spacc of thc kingdom. This
rcprcscntationgavcriscto numcrouscommcntaricson thcpartofthc
crudition and subt|cty.' Michc|ct docs not of coursc bring this out,
but hc docs dca| with thc issuc indircct|y, and in such a way as to
rcvca|thc |imitcdcxtcnttowhich thisrcprcscntationcanbcformu|atcd
inj uridica| orthco|ogico-po|itica| tcrms, cvcnthough itwas primari|y
suchaformu|ationthatcaughtthcattcntionofcontcmporarics. Aswc
rcad Michc|ct, it bccomcs apparcnt that, ovcr and bcyond this
rcprcscntation, it is thc natura| body which, bccausc it is combincd
with thc supcrnatura| body, cxcrciscs thc charm that dc|ights thc
pcop|c. Itisinsofarasitisascxcdbody,abodycapab|cofprocrcation
andofphysica| |ovc, anda fa||ib|c body, that itcffcctsan unconscious
mcdiation bctwccn thc human and thc divinc, thc body of Christ,
a|though morta|, visib|c and fa||ib|c as wc|| as divinc. cannot cnsurc
that mcdiation bccausc,whi|stitindicatcsthcprcscnccofGodinman,
itcannot fu||y indicatc thc convcrsc. thc prcscncc ofman andofthc
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 245
ßcsh in God. Bybrcakingwith thc argumcnt which dcrivcs thc human
monarchy from thc divinc monarchy, Michc|ct uncovcrs an crotico-
po|itica| rcgistcr. In his vicw, that rcgistcr is, no doubt, cstab|ishcd
simp|y bccausc rc|igionhas put|ovc in thc p|accofLaw, but hcdocs
out|inc a |ogic of|ovc in thc po|itica|, andit issurprising that hc docs
not scc that it is o|dcr than Christianity. Thc modcrn king who is
portraycd as God`s rcprcscntativcon carth, as asubstitutc for Christ,
docs not dcrivc a|| his powcr from that imagc. It is through thc
opcrationofsacriñcc a|onc, inthcc|cmcntofsuffcringa|onc thatman
Atthispoint, |ovc va|ucs thc king abovc|ifcitsc|f. And it is through
thc doub|c opcration of sacrihcc and p|casurc Uouissance] that thc
king`ssubjccts cxpcricncc rapturc. Lovcboth nourishcsthcir|ifcand
j ustiñcs thcir dcath. It is thc imagc ofthc natura| body, thc imagc of
hisfcstiva|s, his amuscmcnts and his fcasts, but a|so thc imagc ofhis
that pcop|c thcir imaginary, that assurc thcm that thc king and thc
pcop|carc conjoincd. Acarna|unioniscstab|ishcdbctwccn thc grcat
individua| and his mass of scrvants, from thc |ow|icst to thc most
andkingdom. Accordingtothco|ogyandthcjurists,thcimmorta|king
posscsscs thc gift ofc|airvoyancc as wc|| as that of ubiquity, but, at
thcsamctimcandcvcnashc cscapcs thcgazc ofhissubjccts, hchas
thcgiftofattractingthcgazcofa||, ofconccntratingupon himsc|fthc
abso|utcvisibi|ityofman-as-bcing: sincc hcisa uniqucfoca| point, hc
abo|ishcsdiffcrcnccsbctwccnpointsofvicwandcnsurcsthat a||mcrgc
in thc Onc.
Michc|ct`s cxtrcmc scnsitivity to thc cnigma of thc monarchica|
incarnation and of thc ro|c it givcs to thc natura| body within thc
supcrnatura| body is particu|ar|y cvidcnt in his ana|ysis of thc
condcmnation ofLouisXVI. Wc wi|| cxaminc on|y thosc c|cmcntsof
it that arc rc|cvant to our purposcs. Thc qucstion ofwhcthcror not
thc tria| shou|d havc takcn p|acc is not an issuc for Michc|ct. It is
obvious that it shou|d havc takcn p|acc. It had a doub|c uti|ity. On
thc onc hand, it rcstorcd roya|ty to its rightfu| p|acc - 'within thc
pcop|c` - by making thc pcop|c ajudgc,on thc othcr, 'it brought out
into thc |ight that ridicu|ous mystcry which a barbarian humanity had
for so |ong turncd into a rc|igion. thc mystcry of thc monarchica|
incarnation, thc bizarrc hction that thc wisdom of thc pcop|c is
conccntratcd in an imbcci|c. Givcn that roya|ty was cmbodicd in a
man, thc prob|cm was to cstab|ish how thc cvi| cou|d bc cxciscd so
as to dcstroy thc incarnation and so as to prcvcnt any manfrom cvcr
bccominga king.Thchistoriangivcshisanswcrimmcdiatc|y,andthcn
supportsitwithnumcrousargumcnts. `Roya|tyhadtobcdraggcdinto
thc broad |ight of day and cxposcd on a|| sidcs, and it had to bc
opcncd up to rcvca| what was insidc thc worm-catcn ido|, to rcvca|
246 On the Irreducible Elemelll
thc insccts and worms insidc thc bcautifu| go|dcn hcad. Roya|ty and
thc kinghad tobccondcmncduscfu||y, judgcd, andp|accdundcrthc
b|adc. Didthc b|adc havc to fa||?That isanothcrqucstion. Whcn hc
mcrgcd with thc dcad institution, thc king was no morc than a hcad
madc of wood, cmpty, ho||ow, no morc than a thing. If, whcn that
hcad was struck, cvcn a sing|c drop of b|ood ßowcd, that was proof
of |ifc, pcop|c bcgan to bc|icvc oncc morc that it was a |iving hcad,
roya|ty had comcback to |ifc. ` (Livrc IX, p.7).
Thispcnctratingana|ysiscanbcrcformu|atcdasfo||ows. mcnrcgard
roya|ty asacondcnsation ofimmorta| |ifc, and that |ifc takcs thc form
ofa |iving man. thc king. It has to bc dcmonstratcd that thc symbo|
of |ifc is thc product of an i||usion, bc|icf has to bc rootcd out, and
thc ido| hasto bc shown tobc an ido|, inshort, thcinncrshadowsof
this pscudo-visib|c cntity havc to bc dcstroycd, hc must bc |aid |ow
and torn to picccs. That action a|onc wi|| cnsurc that thc |iving
individua| |oscs his|ifc. Thccmpty hcad of LouisXVI appcars inthc
cmpty crown. If, on thc othcr hand, Louis XVI is struck, and if his
b|ood is shcd in thc bc|icfthat this wi|| annihi|atc his body, itwi|| bc
foundthat wc havc hcrca |iving man, and, givcn that this|ivingman
rcprcscnts ctcrna| |ifc, roya|ty wi|| bc rcsurrcctcd. In gcncra| tcrms,
Michc|ct is trying to cxp|ain that, as roya|ty is cmbodicd in a man,
thc roya| fantasmogoria is rcvivcd whcn thc man is turncd into a
spcctac|c. Hcncchisbittcrcommcntary on thc dctcntionofLouisXVI
in thc Tcmp|c. It wasbc|icvcd, hcsuggcsts, that thc dcposition of thc
individua|wou|dhavcthccffcctofdcsanctifyinghim.On thccontrary.
'Thc most scrious and thc cruc||cst b|ow that cou|d havc bccn struck
againstthc Rcvo|utionwasthcincptitudcofthoscwhoconstant|ykcpt
Louis XVI bcforc thc cycs of thc popu|ation, and who a||owcd him
to rc|atc to thc popu|ation both as a man and as a prisoncr.` Why?
Bccausc thc morc hc was rcvca|cd in his human singu|arity, and thc
morc visib|c thc |iving individua| bccamc, thc morc hc rcmaincd a
king. His suffcrings inspircd |ovc cvcn bcforc hc was cxccutcd, but
bcyond that |ovc thcrc |ay, so to spcak, the attraction of the unique
object of every gaze. Michc|ct succccds admirab|y in showing that
LouisXVI appcars to bc uniquc prccisc|y bccausc hc is so common-
p|acc, bccausc hc is sccn in thc bosom of his fami|y, a mcrc man
amongst mcrc pcop|c, caught up in thc insigniñcancc ofcvcryday |ifc.
A|| thc signs whichdcsignatc him to bc a man rcstorc his kingship.
I cannot rcfrain from pointingout thc rcmarkab|c manncrin which
thc writcr portrays LouisXVI. Hc shows him to his rcadcrs, but hc
docsso inordcrto prcvcnt himfrom dc|ightingthc cyc. Hcdcscribcs
him as 'ruddy-faccd and rcp|ctc`, as cating too much ovcr-rich food,
aswa|kinga|ongwith 'thc myopic gazc, thcabstractcdcxprcssion, thc
hcavy gaitandthctypica|swayingwa|kofthcBourbons`,andasgiving
thc imprcssion that hc is `a fat farmcrfromthc Bcaucc`. By doing so,
hc docs not makc him any |css commonp|acc, but his ncutra|
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 247
obscrvations do tcnd, as it wcrc, to disso|vc his individua|ity into a
gcnrc painting.
Thc crucia| momcnt in thc intcrprctation, howcvcr, conccrns thc
as it bc|icvcs that it did havc thc mcrit ofrccognizing thc impcrativc
nccdtodcstroy thcincarnation. Thc Montagnc bc|icvcd, 'notwithout
rcason`, hc adds, that 'a man is as much a body as a spirit, and that
andhisscvcrcdhcad.` Hc suggcsts, ina scnsc,that ifthcpcop|cwcrc
tobcc|cvatcdto thcrankofroya|ty, thcynccdcd, pcrhaps, morcthan
thc imagc of thc Law, that thcy nccdcd, pcrhaps, an imagc of
punishmcnt. But hc a|so suggcsts that, whi|st thc imagination is not
cxtinguishcd by thc |ight of justicc, nothing stimu|atcs it morc than
thcsightofa corpsc.Thc b|oodofthcdcad mandocs not dcstroythc
incarnation, it rcvivcs it. Roya|ty and rc|igion arc rcborn at thc vcry
momcnt whcn thc rcvo|utionarics |apscintothc i||usion that sustaincd
thcm, namc|y thci||usion that thcywcrc imprintcd upon a rca| body.
Such thcnarc 'thctcrrib|ccffcctsofthc |cgcnd ofthcTcmp|c`, ofthc
|cgcndsthat wcrcun|cashcd by thc cxccution.
Thc kings ofthc scripturcs arc ca||cd Christs, Christ is ca||cd a
king. Thcrc was not a sing|c incidcnt in thc king`s captivity that
wasnotscizcd uponandtrans|atcdintoancpisodcinthcPassion.
Thc Passion of LouisXVI bccamc a sort of traditiona| pocm
which pcasants and womcn passcd on by word of mouth. thc
pocm of Barbarian Francc.
Howcan thc thinkcrwhoissodcvotcdto rootingoutbc|icfs which
givc risc to, sustain or rcstorc thc mystcry of thc monarchica|
incarnation conscnt to thcir bcing transfcrrcd on to thc sacrcd imago
of thc Fcop|c, thc Nation, Humanity and thc Spirit? Thc prob|cm
wou|d bccomc morc comp|cx ifwc wcrcto fo||ow a furthcrstrand in
his intcrprctation of thc Rcvo|ution, but to do so wou|d bc bcyond
thcscopcofthcprcscntcssay.Thcsc a||toobricfrcmarksmustsufñcc.
a|though hc posits an antithcsis bctwccn thc Ancicn Rcgimc and thc
Rcvo|ution, Michc|ct is sti|| b|ind to thc intcrna| contradictionsofthc
of thc Monarchy (a proccss which bcgan with thc dcath of Danton,
hcnotcsinthc I868prcfacc) , hcattacksthc1acobindoctrincofpub|ic
safcty by comparing it with thc abso|utist idca ofrcason ofstatc and
and thc Girondins as arrogant intc||cctua| c|itcs ('Thcrc is a tcrrib|c
aristocracy among thcsc dcmocrats`) , hc cvcn gocssofaras to say of
Robcspicrrc that 'On thc day that thc dircctorwas rcvca|cdtobc thc
futurc king of thc pricsts [aftcr thc tria| of thc Mothcr of God], a
rcawakcncd Francc sct him atthc sidc of Louis XVI` (Livrc III. `Dc
248 On the Irreducible Element
|a mcthodc ct dc |`csprit dc cc |ivrc`). Hc wishcs, wc said, to cnsurc
that thc Rcvo|ution wi|| not bcconfuscdwith any onc ofitscpisodcs,
andto prcvcnt itfrombcingappropriatcd byany onc c|an, but, whi|st
hc dctcmpora|izcs it in onc scnsc, in anothcr hc rcstorcs to it a
tcmpora|ity thatcannotbc mastcrcd,and dcscribcsitsprogrcssinsuch
a way that thc crcation and dcstruction of mcn and idcas bccomc
indissociab|c, a|though hc asscrts thc unity of thc spirit of thc
Rcvo|ution, hc sccs it as bcing dcp|oycd in diffcrcnt p|accs and as
stirring up so many currcnts that hc makcs a distinction bctwccn a
tru|y pcasant rcvo|ution and an cmbryonic socia|ist rcvo|ution.
Fcrhaps thc contrast bctwccn two ofhis formu|ac rcvca|sj ust how
ambiguous his conccption of thc Rcvo|ution is. Both, as it happcns,
havcbccomc famous. `history is rcsurrcction` and `history is timc` .
Thc rcadcr ofthc rapidskctchwc havc out|incd cannot havc fai|cd to
scnsc thc wcakncss in Michc|ct`s argumcnt. Whcn hc dcrivcs thc
human monarchy from thc divinc monarchy and po|itica| institutions
from rc|igious institutions, hc is rc|ying upon anoutragcous simp|iñ-
cation of Christianity. This docs not inva|idatc his thcsis that both
typcs of institution arc inscribcd within a sing|c schcma, but it is by
no mcans provcn that thc |attcr arc modc||cd on thc formcr. As wc
of an csscncc ofChristianity without taking into account thc po|itica|
fact. Michc|ct in fact ha|f g|impscs thc arbitrary c|cmcnt in this
'Its vaguc mora|ity`, hc conccdcs to his advcrsarics, `contains a|most
and compc||ing rc|igion and which gavc it such a ho|d on mcn.`
(Introduction) Hc thcrcforc makcs it c|car that hc is taking as his
objcctrc|igion as itisfu||yinstitutcdby Catho|icism. As,howcvcr,hc
discovcrs thatthcthcmcofgracc is thc princip|c bchind itsdoctrinc,
onc mighthavccxpcctcdhimtotakcthcphcnomcnonofProtcstantism
intoconsidcration, andto|ookatthcmodcofitsinscrtionintomodcrn
po|itica| socictics, rathcr than simp|y rcmarking in passing that it
Hc rcmains si|cnt about this point. Whcn hc out|incs his major
cvcnts in Amcrica. It cscapcs his noticc that it was thc puritans who
foundcd frcc institutions in Ncw Eng|and, and that thcy constant|y
rcfcrrcd to thc Bib|c in thcir po|itica| proc|amations, whcrcas his
contcmporary Quinct ñnds in thc combination of Frotcstantism
and frccdom a |csson which has considcrab|c imp|ications for any
undcrstanding of modcrn dcmocracy. Yct this |acuna in Michc|ct`s
to our argumcnt, not so much bccausc it is a sign of his fai|urc to
undcrstand orrccognizcthctruc naturc ofChristianity, as bccausc wc
can scc in itan indcxofhisdctcrmination tocircumscribc thc cfñcacy
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 249
shapcd thc Europcan monarchics and, morc spcciñca||y, thc Frcnch
monarchy. It shou|d, howcvcr, a|so bc notcd that, whi|st Quinct is
carcfu| to distinguish bctwccn Christianity and Catho|icism, and cvcn
tostrcss thc |ibcratingvirtucsofFrotcstantism, hchasnomorcinsight
than Michc|ct into thc spcciñc cfñcacyof thc rc|igious. A|so, for his
part, hcis|ookingfor a formu|afora ncw faith whichcanbc invcstcd
in thc Fcop|c, in thc Nation, in Humanity and, at thc samc timc, in
Right or !usticc and Rcason. It is a|so pcrtincnt to ask whcthcr thc
idca| ofpo|itica| frccdom that is afñrmcd bythc brcak with thc va|ucs
ofthc monarchica|rcgimcsmight not, thanks to puritandiscoursc, bc
ab|c to cocxist a|ongsidcadcñnitcincrcascin conformism atthc |cvc|
with a ncw disavowa| of thc cffccts of thc socia| division which scts
dcmocracy frcc. It is infact as though, a|though thcy arc working on
diffcrcnt prcmisscs, thc thinkcrs who arc most a|crt to thc advcnt of
modcrnity and to thc irrcvcrsibi|ity of thc coursc of history (and, in
thc casc of Francc, I am not thinking on|y of Michc|ct and Quinct,
but a|so of|ibcra|s |ikc Guizot and Tocqucvi||c and ofsocia|ists |ikc
Lcroux)a|||ookcdtothc rc|igiousfor thcmcanstorcconstitutc apo|c
of unity which cou|dwardoffthc thrcat ofthc brcak upof thc socia|
that arosc out ofthc dcfcat of thc Ancicn Rcgimc.
This, thcn, is thc qucstion to which wc rcturn aftcr our digrcssion
throughMichc|ct`sprob|cmatic andwhichwc nowhavctorcformu|atc.
Rathcrthanattcmptingtorcdcñncrc|ationsbctwccn thc po|itica| and
to thc othcr and to cxaminc thc qucstion of thc pcrmancncc or non-
pcrmancncc of a scnsitivity to rc|igious thought in modcrn socicty,
might it not bc morc appropriatc to posit thc vicw that a thco|ogico-
po|itica|formation is, |ogica||y and historica||y, a primarydatum? Wc
might thcn bc ab|c toscc inthc oppositions itimp|icsthc princip|c of
an cvo|ution or, if wc prcfcr to put it this way, thc princip|c of a
symbo|ic opcration which takcs p|acc in thc facc of cvcnts, and to
dctccthow ccrtanschcmata oforganizationandrcprcscntation survivc
thanks to thc disp|accmcntandtransfcrcncc on to ncw cntitics of thc
imagc of thc body and of its doub|c naturc, of thc idca of thc Onc,
andofa mcdiation bctwccn visib|c andinvisib|c, bctwccn thc ctcrna|
andthctcmpora|.Wcwou|dthcnbc inabcttcrpositiontoaskwhcthcr
dcmocracy is thc thcatrc of a ncw modc oftransfcrcncc, or whcthcr
thc on|y thing that survivcs in it is thc phantom of thc thco|ogico-
Ifthis is so, what wc wi|| discovcr is a nctwork ofdctcrminations,
of which thc `pricst|y monarchy` supp|ics on|y onc c|cmcnt, a|bcit a
constitucnt c|cmcnt, and in which thc dcvc|opmcnt of City-Statcs,
urban corporations, tradc-gui|ds and thc cxp|oitation of thc hcritagc
ofc|assica|humanism a||bccomccaughtupin thcir turn. Wcwi||a|so
250 On the Irreducible Element
discovcr a dynamic schcma imprintcd upon thc comp|cx pIay of
chiasmata which Ernst Kantorowicz anaIyscs with such subt|cty, thcsc
arc not, I rcpcat, chiasmata bctwccn thc thco|ogica| and thc po|iticaI,
as his formu|ations somctimcs suggcst, but, ifI may bc forgivcn thc
barbarism, bctwccn thc a|rcadypo|iticizcdthco|ogicaIandthcaIrcady
thco|ogizcd poIiticaI.
It nccd scarcc|y bc strcsscd that this schcma is |cgib|c on|y ìf wc
bcar inmindthchorizons of thcrca| history inwhich thcrctakc pIacc
changcs in thc cconomic, tcchno|ogica|, dcmographic and miIitary
rca|ms,changcsinthcba|anccofpowcrbctwccnthcdominant actors,
and changcs in thc catcgorics of know|cdgc - and in that rcaIm, thc
rcnaissancc ofRoman |awandofancicntphi|osophy marksa dccisivc
cannotbcprojcctcdinitscntirctyon tocmpirica|history,cvcnthough
itsarticu|ationscanbcgraspcdwithina tcmpora|dimcnsion.Thc!our
formations idcntiñcd by thc author- Christo-ccntric, j uridico-ccntric,
of thc rcprcscntation of thc king`s two bodics, but what is disp|accd
on cach occasion is not cradicatcd, and provcs to contain thc kcrncI
of a futurc symbo|ic conñguration. Thus, thc fact that roya|ty is
abandon thatimagcwhcnthcChristoIogica|rcfcrcncc Ioscsitscfhcacy
asa rcsu|t, inpart, ofthcstratcgyofthc Fopc and his cxcIusivc c|aim
to bc thc VicarofChrist. Longaftcr thc disintcgration of thc tcnth-
ccntury Othonian myth, thc Traite du sacre writtcn for Char|cs V
cxp|icit|y makcs him a substitutc for Christ, and indccd, as Michc|ct
right|y notcs, LouisXVI cou|d sti|| bcncht from that idcntihcation.
Simi|ar|y, thc fact that in thc agc of Frcdcrick II and Bracton thc
rcprcscntation of thc king is ñrm|y supportcd by that of 1usticc and
Rightshou|d not makc us forgct that a vcritabIcrcIigionofRight was
rcformu|atcd in thc sixtccnth ccntury and that it contains within it
cIcmcnts ofa futurc systcm in which thc body po|iticorthc kingdom
wiI| appcar to bc thc sacrcd body of thc king. And nor shou|d wc
forgct that whcn, in his De Monarchia, Dantc paints a portrait ofan
Empror who, insofar as hc posscsscs a univcra| authorìty, can
rcprcscnt thc Onc andcanthcrcforc rcprcscnt thc coming togcthcrof
humanity as a body, dcspitc thc muItip|icity of its mcmbcrs and thc
scqucncc of gcncrations, his thco|ogico-poIitica| vision of humanism
cannot bc cxp|aincd away in tcrms of contcmporary conditions (and
sti|I |css can it bc rcduccd to a nosta|gic |onging for thc Empirc).
Dantc`s vision was prcñgurcd by thc |cngthy |abours of thc Ita|ian
Fran�oisI and Hcnri III. Whcn impcria| ambition iscombincdwith a
univcrsa| |anguagc, thc idcas of thc De Monarchia, and thc doub|c
ñgurc of Augustus and Astra, of might andj usticc, wi|| bc cxp|oitcd
ancw and wi|| bc uscd to promotc thc cdihcation of a ncw monarchy
and thc conqucst ofthc wor|d. Thc csscntia|s rcmain unchangcd. thc
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 25I
thco|ogico-po|itica| is rcvca|cd in thc dcp|oymcnt of a systcm of
rcprcscntations whosc tcrms may bc transformcd, but whosc oppo-
sitiona| princip|c rcmains constant.
Whcn roya|ty is madc sacrcd by thc institution of unction and
coronation, itispossib|cforthckingtoargucthccascforasovcrcignty
which rcmovcs himfrom thcrcst ofhumanity, which a|Iows him tobc
a VicarorministcrofChrist,tosccmto havcbccn madcinhisimagc,
andtohavcboth a natura|,morta|bodyandasupcrnatura|,immorta|
body. At thc samc timc, it ispossibIcforthc Fopc,who controIs thc
hispowcron thctcmpora|rca|m(andthispossibi|itywas|atcrrcaIizcd
throughthcGrcgorianrcformsandwith thcdisputcovcrinvcstiturcs).
Whcn, in an attcmpt to undo thc imbrication ofsccuIar and pricstIy
functions that camc about as a rcsu|t ofthc sanctihcation of roya|ty,
thc Church acquircs thc strcngth to circumscribc its domain and to
bccomca functiona| bodymodcI|cdonthccmcrgcntStatcs, ittricsto
diffcrcntiatc itsc|f radica||y from a|| othcr po|itica| cntitics and to
prcscrvcitsspiritua|missionbyc|aimingto bc amystica|body(corpus
Ecclesiae mysticum) - thc vcry bodyofChrist, who a|so rcprcscntsits
hcad. At thc samc timc, a rc|igious vocation is rc-imprintcd on thc
kingdom, which dchncs itscIf as a mystica| body (corpus Republicae
. mysticum) - thc body ofthc king, who a|so rcprcscntsits hcad. Whcn
thc rc-cxp|oitation of Roman |aw and of Aristotc|canism providcs
thco|ogy and po|itica| thcory with a ncw conccptua| framcwork, thc
ancicntconccptsofimperium, populus, communitas, patria, perpetuitas
and aevum (a notion intcrmcdiatc bctwccn that of timc and that of
ctcrnity)arcrcworkcdto rcprcscnt,inthcirrcspcctivcrcgistcrs,ancw
rc|ationshipbctwccn thcparticular, which issti|I inscribcd within thc
andthcuniversal, whichisstiI|rcIatcdtothcopcrationoftransccndancc.
Thc idcas of rcason, justicc and right, which inspirc both a rcturn to
cthic, arc thcmscIvcs caught up in a thco|ogico-po|itica| c|aboration.
Thc princc (and wc havc aIrcady a||udcd to this cvcnt) comcs to
occupy thc position ofthc mcdiatorbctwccn1usticc and hissubjccts,
thc o|d Roman dchnition of thc Empcror as bcing at oncc abovc thc
Iaws and subjcct to Law is modihcd to put him in that position, hc
appcarstobcboth hisownsupcriorandhisowninfcrior,gracc makcs
him divinc, but his naturc makcs him human. Hc both institutcs and
rcvca|sjusticc, and is both its vicar and its imagc within thc Statc -
and,symmctrica||y, 1usticc, |ikc Christ, bccomcs anobjcctofworship,
and insinuatcs itscIf into a position in which it can mcdiatc bctwccn
Sovcrcign Rcason andEquity, bctwccn asubstitutcfor divinc |aw and
a substitutc for human Iaw.
FarticuIarattcntion shou|d bc paid to thc scrics of divisions which
accompanicsandsustainsthcrcprcscntationofbodics, arcprcscntation
which wasorìgina||yinspircdbythcmodc|ofChrist,not on|ycanthcy
252 On the Irreducible Element
bcsubstitutcdforoncanothcr,thcy supportoncanothcr.Thcprincip|c
is institutcd by thc ritc ofcoronation. As Marc B|och dcmonstratcs,
wcarcnowinthc prcscnccofacomp|cxphcnomcnonwhichca||sinto
qucstion both thc statusoftcmpora| powcr and thc statusofspiritua|
powcr . . ' Whcn thc king is b|csscd and crowncd as thc Lord`s
anointcd, his powcr is spiritua|izcd but, a|though hc is thc carth|y
rcp|icaofChrist,hcdiffcrsfromhismodc| in that, whi|stgracc makcs
him divinc, his naturc makcs him human. It is not simp|y that hc
cannot tru|y takc thc p|acc of thc sacrcd onc (and no doubt no onc
has cvcr bccn ab|c to do so), it is a|so that his pcrson makcs visib|c
both thc union ofnatura| and supcrnatura|, and thc division bctwccn
thcm. Dcspitc thc attcmpts madcbythc Othonian Empcrors,thcpath
to a comp|ctc idcntihcation with a God-madc-man rcmains b|ockcd.
At thc samc timc, thc king comcs up against anothcr carth|y forcc:
thcpricstfromwhoschandshcrcccivcsgracc, andwhoisinaposition
to c|aim to bc his supcrior. Thc division of thc body of thc king
thcrcforc gocs hand in hand with thc division bctwccn roya| (or
impcria|) and papa| authority. What happcns at thc |attcr po|c is
cqua||y signiñcant, for thc c|aim that thc Fopc is supcrior to any
tcmpora| powcr is bound up with his ambition to imprint his own
spiritua| powcrona tcrritory. In that rcspcct itshou|dbc rcca||cdthat
thc circumstanccs surrounding thc pactsigncd bctwccn Fcpin |c Brcf
and Eticnnc I I - thc hrstpact bctwccn a popc and a king- arc not
bidforpowcrintoanactofusurpation. hcasksthcChurchtocstab|ish
thc basis of his |cgitimacy. Eticnnc, for his part, trics to cn|ist thc
king'shc|p inscizing thcExarchatcofRavcnnabycxp|oitingaforgcd
documcnt - thc so-ca||cd Donation ofConstantinc, which surrcndcrs
Romc`s posscssions into his hands. A doub|c fraudisthuscovcrcd up
by a ncw combination of rc|igious |aw and human |aw. Thc ncw
formationis indccd thco|ogico-po|itica| throughandthrough, by which
I mcan that it is dctcrmincd by a doub|c strugg|c for powcr. It is,
howcvcr, yct morc important to notc that wc can from thc outsct
disccrn two simu|tancous movcmcnts towards a univcrsa| authority
thatisbothscriptura|andtcmpora|. Butncithcrcanbccarricdthrough
to comp|ction. unrcstrictcd po|itica| domination is impossib|c, and so
is thc crcation ofa thcocratic monarchy.
Thc fragmcntation of authority which is charactcristic of fcuda|
ofa kingwho, within thcframcwork of a |imitcd tcrritory, appcarsto
havcno supcriors- thatis, notcmpora|supcriors- andwhoisdchncd
asbcinganEmpcrorwithinhisownkingdom(imperator in suo regno).
And it is at thc vcry momcnt whcn this c|aim is bcing so c|car|y
asscrtcd, in, that is, thc mid-thirtccnth ccntury in both Francc and
Eng|and, that thc monarchica| conñguration bcgins tobc dcp|oycd in
itsWcstcrn singu|arity.
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 253
Thc work of inscribing powcr and |aws within a tcrritory, thc
within that spacc,ofthc a||cgiancc ofa|| to thc authority of thc king,
of thc kingdom. Thc proccss of sccu|arization and |aicization which
ofthc statc and which tcnds to inc|udc thc nationa| c|crgy within thc
community of thc kingdom is para||c|cd by thc proccss of thc
incorporation of thosc rc|igious rcprcscntations which arc capab|c of
invcsting a 'natura|` spacc and socia| institutions with a mystica|
signihcation. Throughout thc fabric of socicty, a division is cffcctcd
bctwccn thc rca|m of thc functiona| and thc rca|m of thc mystica|,
though, givcn that it is rcvca|cd in tcrms of that rcprcscntation, it
wou|d bc morc accuratc to spcak ofit bcing cffcctcd throughout thc
fabric of thc body politic. Thc division of thc body po|itic occurs
togcthcr with thc division of thc king`s body, at thc samc timc, thc
body po|itic is part of his body, his immorta| and supcrnatura| body
rcmainsthatofapcrsonwhomgraccmakcsdivinc,and inwhomGod
dwc||s, butatthcsamctimc it migratcsinto thcbodyofthc kingdom,
whi|st a sing|c body is dchncd both as thc body of a pcrson and as
that can ncvcr bc cffaccd. Thus, in thc famous cssays hc dcvotcs to
thc rcign of Fhi|ippc |c Bc|, !oscph Straycr shows how thc conqucst
of thc unity of po|itica| socicty undcr thc s|ogan of 'dcfcncc of thc
kingdom` succcds in mobi|izing rc|igious affccts - thc dcfcncc of thc
kingdom isa continuation ofthcdcfcncc of thc kingdom of Christ: a
fcc|ing for thc carth|y fathcr|and rcp|accs a fcc|ing for thc hcavcn|y
fathcr|and, thc warriors who sacrihcc thcir |ivcs bccomc brothcrs to
thc crusadcrs who fc|| in ordcr to dc|ivcr !crusa|cm and who wcrc
promiscd to thc g|ory of God.4 Thc historian rcvca|s how thc hgurc
ofthc warrior king bccomcs that ofthc Most Christian King, just as
thc tcrritory istransformcd into a holy land, and thc mass ofsubjccts
into a choscn pcop|c (scc hiscssay, 'Thc most Christian country, Thc
Choscn pcop|c and thc Ho|y Land`). It is point|css to dwc|| upon
prccisc|y how thc Roman notions ofpatria, communitas and populus
arc rcactivatcd and rcshapcd within a rc|igious symbo|ic, I wou|d
thc insta||ation of rcprcscntations of thc Fcop|c, thc Nation, thc
Fathcr|and, ofHo|y War and ofthc sa|vation orsafcty [salut] of thc
statc within thc thco|ogica| conñguration of thc mcdicva| monarchy.
to cxaminc thc proccss inauguratcd in thc twc|fth ccntury whcrcby a
pub|ic domain bccomcs dctachcd from thc pcrson of thc king and is
dchncd as a domain of ina|icnab|c propcrty, and whcrcby a furthcr
division is introduccd bctwccn a rcfcrcncc to an objcctivc ordcr and
a rcfcrcncc to a sacrcd ordcr. thc res publica bccomcs a res sacra
modc||cd on thc posscssions of thc Church, which arc thcmsc|vcs thc
254 On the Irreducible Element
propcrty of Christ. Thc Crown and thc Trcasury aro p|acod boncath
a po|c ofimpcrsona|itywhich wi|| |atcr bccomo tho po|c of tho stato
and, thanks to thc samo invorsion ofsigns, aro dohncd as pcrsons, as
mystica|bodios. (BractoncvcnvcnturcstodohnothokingasthcVicar
oftho Troasury, in accordanco withtho modc| ofthcVicarofChrist. )
Fina||y,i twou|d a|so bc appropriato to ro-oxamino tho ro|ationship
that was ostab|ishod botwoon tho notion of a powcr that is conhncd
to a |imitod torritory and a rcstrictod community (a notion whichwas
unknown in tho poriod of thc Empirc), and thc notion of a powcr
which has a vocation for univcrsa| domination. And it wou|d bo
appropriatc to ro-oxamino thc symmctrica| ro|ationship that wa�
ostab|ishod bctwoon tho notion of a kingdom, a nation and a poop|o
which arc accordod a dchnitc idontity, and tho notion of a |and and
a community in which humanity is imprintcd and cmbodicd in a
privi|cgod mannor. Tho formu|a which makos tho king an Emporor in
hisown kingdom containsa contradiction. it makcs agcsturo towards
both an un|imitod authority and a |imitcd authority; it indicatos that
modornmonarchs`tacitaccoptancothatthoirmightis rcstrictodbythc
might ofothors has not donc away with thc fantasy ofimpcria| might
- a fantasy which has boon rovivod again and again throughout thc
agos. And thiscontradictiondriftsintothoframowork ofthc kingdom;
it is asthoughcmpirica|frontiors aro concoivab|o on|yiftho kingdom
hndsitso|ftoboontrustodwith univorsa|va|uos. Inordortoapprcciatc
its fu|| import, wc wou|d porhaps havo to o|ucidatc it furthor by rc-
cxamining tho ro|o p|aycd by tho idca - which rocoivos its initia|
impotus from Danto- that humanity wi||bocomcone and wi|| |ivc in
pcaco undor tho so|o authority of thc One, an idoa which combinos
thc powcr ofthcspiritorSovoroign Roason with po|itica| powor. This
idca wasstrong|y cha||cngod bythoso who saw humanismasproviding
thc basis for a critiquc of thc tcmpora| monarchy - a critiquo which
bogan to bo formu|atod by tho ond of thc fourtocnth contury in
F|orcnco and which sprcad throughoutEuropo in thc sixtoonth - but
it may a|so bo worth asking whothcr it might not havc rctaincd its
thoo|ogico-po|itica| ofhcacy in thc rca|m of phi|osophy, and whcthcr
it might not rosurfaco whonovor phi|osophy attcmpts to rcformu|ato
thoprincip|oofwhat, fo||owing Michc|ct,wohavotcrmcdthc Roya|ty
of Spirit.
What conc|usions aro wo to draw from this briof incursion into thc
thco|ogico-po|itica| |abyrinth?That wo must rccognizc that, according
to its schoma, any movo towards immanonco is a|so a movo towards
transccndancc; that any attcmpt to oxp|ain tho contours of socia|
ro|ations imp|ios anintorna|izationofunity; thatanyattompttodohnc
of rc|igion and po|itics ovon in arcas whoro wc thought wc wcrc
Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 255
dca|ing simp|y with puro|y ro|igious or puro|y profano practiccs or
If, howovor, wo |ook back atthc dcmocraticsociotywhich bogan to
tako shapo in thc ninctoonth ccntury and`which tho phi|osophors and
historians of tho poriod wcrc oxp|oring, do wo not havo to agrco
that tho mochanisms of incarnation woro brcaking down7 Tho
disincorporation of powcr is accompanicd by tho disincorporation of
thought and by tho disincorporation oftho socia|. Tho paradoxisthat
any advonturc that bogins with tho formu|ation of a now idca of tho
statc, tho poop|o, thc nation or humanity has its roots in tho past. In
that sonso, Tocqucvi||o has moro roason than ho might suspcct to
donouncc tho i||usion that tho Frcnch Rovo|ution was a radica|
bcginning, and to want to rcconstruct tho prchistory of domocracy.
A|though wc havo bocn ab|o to do no moro than a||udc to thc fact,
thcrc was attho timc of tho Ronaissanco such a thing as a humanism
tingod with a po|itica| rc|igiosity, and Micho|ot cou|d sti|| hnd traccs
ofit, a|most without roa|izing it. Farfrom |oading us to conc|udo that
thc fabric of history is continuous, docs not a roconstruciton of thc
within it? Andso, rathor than sooingdomocracy as a nowopisodo in
thotransforoftho rc|igiousinto tho po|itica|, shou|d wc not conc|udc
that tho o|d transfors from ono rogistor to tho othor woro intondod to
onsurc tho prosorvationofaform which has sinco boon abo|ishcd, that
of thc institution oftho socia| bcgan to tako shapo, that thc ro|igious
is roactivatcd at tho woak points of tho socia| , that its ofhcacy is no
|ongorsymbo|ic but imaginary and that, u|timato|y, it is ancxprossion
oftho unavoidab|o- and no doubt onto|ogica| - difhcu|ty dcmocracy
has in roading its own story - and of tho difhcu|ty po|itica| or
phi|osophica| thought has in assuming, without making it a travcsty,
tho tragody ofthc modorn condition7
The Death of Immortality?
"ot a|| thosc w�o wcrc cxi|cd to !crscy aftcr thc Bonapartist coup

thc mtdd|c of thc |ast ccntury sharcd thc samc po|itica|
but, pcrh
s morcthan anything c|sc, itwasthcqucstion
of tmmorta|tty that dtvtdcd thcm. lndccd, that qucstion itsc|f had a
po|itica| import. Astonishing as it may sccm to us, in ordcr to bc a
truc rcpub|ican, a truc dcmocrat or a truc socia|ist, onc cithcrhad to
dcny or afhrm abc|icfin immorta|ity. Victor Hugo and Ficrrc Lcroux
both had dchnitc idcas on thc subjcct, and saw thosc idcas as a
prccondition for thc undcrstanding and cdihcation of thc socicty of
thc futurc. Thcirdiscussions wcrc acrimonious. Thc formcr cxprcsscs


with thc'rc|igionofhumanity`whichdisso|vcsthcidcntity
discards him aftcr his dcath. Thc |attcr amuscs himsc|fwith riggcd
convcrsations with'spirits`.Thc'Fhi|osophic`prcfacctoLes Miserables
and La Greve de Samarez, which wcrc both writtcn a fcw ycars aftcr
thc cvcnt, tcstify to thcir dcbatcs. Hugo appcars to havc abandoncd
thcdoctrincofmctcmpsychosis in l8N, buthcsti||c|ingstothcbc|icf
in thc migration of spirits. 'Spacc is an Occan, and thc wor|ds arc
is|ands. Butthcrc mustbccommunicationsbctwccnthcis|ands.Thcsc
communications takc thcform ofspiritsbcingscntfrom onc wor|d to
anothcr. ` ' Hc a||icshisfaithin'ThcBcing. . . thatmirac|cthatcannot
bc cnumcratcd` with thc bc|icf that thc sc|f is indcstructib|c bccausc
'it partakcs of thc indivisib|c`. Hc suggcsts that thc humanity which
thc ncw prophcts vcncratc has bccn rcduccd to its own dcviccs, that
tthasbccncutofffrom thcwor|dandfrom God, that it is 'an cmpty
humantty. Aspcctrc`. A|ongargumcntwhich|cndsitsc|ftothchction
|cads him to conc|udc. ' Immorta|ity, thcrcwc havc thc rcsiduc ofthc
argumcnt, somcthing which survivcs and which is answcrab|c, thcrc
wc havc thc basis of thc sy||ogism. ` This is as much a po|itica|
conc|usion asaphi|osophica|orthco|ogica|conc|usion,sinccitimp|ics
that thc cxtcnsìon of frccdom incrcascs thc dcgrcc to which man is
The Death of Immortality? 257
rcsponsib|c for what hc was on carth,
Thc morc you givc |ifc to do, thc morc y

u |cavc thc tomb to
do. Thc s|avc has no rcsponsib|itics, u|timatc|y, hc cou|d dic
p|ctc|y, and dcath wou|d havc nothing to say to him. Thc
ctttzcn, m contrast, is of ncccssity immorta|, and hc must bc
rcsponsib|c. Hc wasfrcc. Hc has accounts torcndcr. This is thc
divinc originoffrccdom.'
Hugo docsnot mc
ntion by namc hisadvcrsarics,thcupho|dcrsofthc
rc|igton of humantty. But p


Lcroux is not his on|y targct.
Hca|so hnds rcpc||ant thcwt|dtmagmmgsofComtcor Enfantin. Not


n Ba||anchc`s Palingenesie hndsfavourinhis cycs, cvcn though ìt
ts msptrcdbyaftth
m adtvmcCrcator, Ba||anchcisconccrncdso|c|y
wtth how humantty tsrcbornaftcrttssucccssivc dcaths.
As for La Greve de Samarez, it cxprcsscs thc conviction that

n?crstand nothing of �hc doctrinc of immorta�ity, and
that Lcro

x� t||ustnous

nctghbour Hugo ts too prcoccuptcd with
htmsc|f, hts tmagc and hts art to undcrstand thc imp|ications of thc
thcory that a|| bcings arc intcrdcpcndcnt.' Whcn hc acts out his
tormcnts andrapturcson thcbcach atSamarcz,Lcrouxquitc happi|y
summons up ghosts, qucstions thcm and makcs thcm spcak, but hc
shows no intcrcst in convcrting his ccstasics into thc farcc of rca|
communication with spiritsfrom anothcr wor|d. In a passagc citcd by
Ptcrrc A|bouy, our author puts thcsc words into thc mouth of his
nvcrscwithspirits.Yourwho|crc|igionisfa|sc. . . . Humanity,
you rcgard both as an idca| bcing and a rca| bcing, docs
not cxtst. It has ncvcr comc to my tab|cs. Thc futurc |ìfc ìs not
what you say it is . . . I am not ccrtain that wc go to thc stars,
but I am grcat|y inc|incd to bc|icvc it.`
cribc Lcroux`sconccptionofimmorta|ity. Hciscarcfu|
not to dchnc tt, for, contrary to Hugo`s suggcstions, it is not an
attnbutc of ctthcr a rca| or an idca| humanity. But wc wi|| at |cast
pomt out that thcrc is in his vicw no dividc bctwccn thc visib|c and
thc invisib|c, nothing invisib|c can bc circumscribcd within spacc ÷ in

stars, as hts fncnd Rcynaud, with whom hc quarrc||cd ovcr this
pomt, wou|dsay - orwithin timc, in a futurc |ifc divorccd from our
prcscnt |ifc, no rcprcscntation of immorta|ity can bc divorccd from


pcricncc of a human prcscncc throughout history, from an
tnttiatton tnto spccch through thc usc ofrcading and writing.
Our contcmporarics may rcad Hugo thc phi|osophcr, Saint-Simon
or Ba||anchc with intcrcst- andnotsimp|yout ofhistorica|intcrcst-
but wc can a|| agrcc that thcy wi|| scc thcir commcntson immorta|ity
as mcrc curiositics.
258 On the Irreducible Element
Thoy foo| much moro at homo with Tocqucvi||c, whosc thought
brcaks with thosowi|d imaginings and isa|rcady socio|ogica|. Thcfact
is thatinachaptcronindividua|isminthcsocondvo|umoofDemocracy
in America - which was, it wi|| bo roca||od, pub|ishcd in I840 -
Tocqucvi||o comparcs aristocratic socicty and dcmocratic socioty, and
of timo and ofco||octivo spacc. Aristocratic socicty was, ho tc||s us,
such that cvcryonc had a rank and a station, and was caught up in a
vast notwork of dopondonco. 'Aristocracy had madc a chain of a||
mcmbcrs of thc community, from tho poasant to tho king. `'` And tho
dominant notion was that timo was immutab|c, that itcxistcd outsidc
any scqucncc of cvcnts or of individua|s. 'As fami|ios romain for
conturiosin thc samo condition,oftcn on thc samc spot,a|| gcncrations
thoa|mostnatura|sonsoinwhichhumanityundcrstoodimmorta|ity. As
thc author rcmarks in anothcr chaptor. 'Amongst tho aristocratic
nations of tho Midd|o Agos goncration succoodcd gcnoration in vain,
oachfami|ywas|ikca ncvcrdying,ovorstationaryman,andthostatc
ofopinionswashard|y morochangoab|c thanthatofconditions. ` Tho
contrast with this modc| brings out thc singu|arityofdcmocracy. 'Ncw
fami|icsarcconstant|yspringingup,othorsarcconstant|yfa||ing away,
and a|| that romain changc thcir condition, thc woofoftimc is cvcry
instant brokon and tho track of gonorations offacod. Thoso who wont
boforo aro soon forgottcn, ofthosc who wi|| comc aftcr, no onc has
any idca.`" Tocqucvi||c conc|udos his argumont with this commont.
'Jhus noton|ydoosdomocracy makc cvcry man forgct hisanccstors,
but it hidcs his dcsccndants and soparatos his contomporarios from
him, it throws him back forcvcr upon himsc|f a|onc and thrcatcns in
thc cnd to conhno him ontiro|y within tho so|itudo ofhisown hoart. ` "
Tho author in fact gocs boyond this picturo, which mightsuggcstthat
thc rcactivation of tho bo|iof in immorta|ity at tho boginning of tho
ninotccnth ccntury is no moro than a surviva| from thc past. Ho
invostigatos its naturo and its function in dcmocracy in two chaptors
spiritua|ism` and 'How rc|igious bc|icf somctimcs turns tho thoughts
of Amcricans to immatoria| p|oasuros`. Ho is struckhrst of a|| by thc
to ctcrna| happinoss,and by thc popu|arity of 'rc|igious insanity`, and
thonbythctrucrc|igiosity ofthoAmorican poop|o. Hisintcrprctation
of thc hrst phonomonon stcms, in part, fromwhat might bo tormod a
socio|ogica| rcßcction. Ho argucs, in substanco, that thc dcsirc to
cscapo tho wor|d is born of a scarch for wo||-boing and that, in a
dcmocracy, that dosiro is hoightcncd bccauso mon arc not satishcd
with tho onjoymcnt of matoria| goods, and 'fcc| imprisonod within
bounds,whichthoywi||apparcnt|yncvcrbc a||owodtopass.`' Astho
majority a||ow thcmsc|vos to bo imprisonod within thcsc bounds, tho
rc|igious insanity of thc minority intcnsihcs. 'If ovor tho facu|tics of
The Death of Immortality? 259
thcgroat majorityof mankind woro cxc|usivc|y bont upon thc pursuit
of matoria| objccts, it might bo anticipatod that an amazing rcaction
wou|d tako p|acc in tho sou|s ofsomo mcn. Thoy wou|d drift at |argc
in tho wor|d of spirits, for foar of rcmaining shack|od by tho c|osc
bondagc of tho body
' ²Tocqucvi||o adds. 'It is not, thcn, wondcrfu|
ifintho midstofacommunitywhoso thoughtstond oarthward asma||
numbcrofindividua|saroto bcfoundwhoturnthoir|ooks to hoavcn.
I shou|d bo surprisod ifmysticism did not soon mako somo advanco
among a poop|o so|c|y ongagcd in promoting thoir own wor|d|y
wc|faro. ` ' ' Thc roador might right|y wondor at thc subt|oty of thc
appcarsonthofringosofacommon idca| ofwor|d|y happinoss, poop|c
roact against tho foc|ingthat thoy aro boing swa||owod upbythc rca|
by sccking tho impossib|c in tho hcrc and now. But if wo wish to
discovor Tocquovi||o`s idoas rathcr than a projcction of our own, wc
havc to admit that his argumont takcs him boyond thc framowork of
a socio|ogica| ana|ysis. Botwccn noting tho ro|igious insanity that
accompanios thc pro|ifcration of bizarro socts and advancing tho
hypothosisofthoriscofmysticism, hovcnturosacommonton human
It was not man who imp|antod in himso|f thc tastcfor what is
inhnito andtho|ovcofwhatisimmorta|,thoso|ofty instincts arc
not thc offspringofhis capricious wi||,thoirstcadfast foundation
is hxod in human naturo, and thcy cxist in spito of his offorts.
Hc may cross and distort thom, dostroy thcm hc cannot. '
I t might bo said that wc can oxp|ain away thoso |incs by saying
that Tocqucvi||o's Christian convictions havo ovcrcomo his sciontihc
ambitions. But, cvon supposing that to bc truo, wo havo to ask
oursc|vcs whothcr itis pcrmissib|o to drawa dividing |ino bctwccn his
within it tho soods of both tho bost and tho worst, to uncovor both
tho dynamic ofdomocratic dospotism and tho dynamic of domocratic
froodom. Thathypothosisdoos, howovor, appcartobcdobatab|c.Tho
socond chaptor I montionod contains an obsorvation which in fact
roappoars scvcra| timcs in tho work. 'Tho Amoricans show by thoir
practico that thoy foo| tho high nocossity of imparting mora|ity to
domocratic communitics by moans of rc|igion.'' Horo, wo havc to
acccptthatadistinctionismadobotwocnrelgion andreligious insanity:
out a truth with a univorsa| import. `What thcy thinkofthcmso|vosin
this rospoct is a truth of which cvory domocratic nation ought to bc
thorough|y porsuadod. ' ° This truth ro|atcs, not to tho cssonco of
Christianity,buttothonaturoofthchuman mind,whichhastodofond
itsc|fagainsttho thrcatofitsdcbascmcnt. Tocqucvi||cgivosthatthroat
260 On the Irreducible Element
anothcr namc. matcria|ism. This 'among a|| nations, is a dangcrous
discasc of thc human mind', but it is morc cspccia||y to bc drcadcd
in a dcmocracy than inany othcrsocicty. Tocqucvi||c docsofcoursc
takc thc vicw that Christianity is a highcr rc|igion. But it is bccausc
it is so dccp|y rootcd in modcrn humanity that hc c|ings to it, and,
his own prcfcrcnccs notwithstanding, hc is ccrtain|y not grcat|y
intcrcstcd in thc naturc of rc|igious fcc|ings. 'Whcn, thcrcforc, any
rc|igion has struck its roots dccp into a dcmocracy, bcwarc that you
donotdisturb it' . thatishis vicw.17 Hc pcrccivcs, thcn,howdangcrous
it wou|d bc in his day to crcatc a vacuum of bc|icf by rcp|acing onc
faith with anothcr. Tocqucvi||c isintcrcstcd primari|y inbc|icf, rathcr
in gcncra|. In his vicw bc|icf, whatcvcr it may bccomc, dcrivcs its
truth from thc samc sourcc in a|| rcgimcs in a dcmocracy, and, at
bottom, that sourcc is a bc|icf in immorta|ity. Hc is thcrcforc not
afraid to asscrt that. 'Most rc|igions arc on|y gcncra|, simp|c and
sou|. That is thc grcatcst bcncñt which a dcmocratic pcop|c dcrivcs
from its bc|icf, and hcncc bc|icf is morc ncccssary to such a pcop|c
than to a|| othcrs.'1M This is fo||owcd by an cvcn morc darìng
proposition, which hna||y b|urs thc distinction bctwccn 'rc|igious
insanity' and thc Christian rc|igion.
Thc doctrinc of mctcmpsychosis is assurcd|y not morc rationa|
than that of matcria|ism, ncvcrthc|css if it wcrc abso|utc|y
ncccssary that a dcmocracy shou|d choosc onc of thc two, I
shou|d not hcsitatc to dccidc that thc community wou|d run |css
risk of bcing bruta|izcd by bc|icving that thc sou| ofmcn is thc
carcassofahogthan bybc|icvingthat thcsou| ofman isnothing
at a|| . ' "
Ourcontcmporarics |ikcTocqucvi||c; thcybc|icvc that hc hasto bc
rccognizcd as a vcrymodcrn writcr, Democracy in America attracts a
widc rcadcrship, and is praiscd for its sobricty. On thc othcr hand,
thc vcryfcwpcop|c who know La Creve de Samarez or thc prcfacc
toLes Miserables havcthc imprcssion that thcyarcfancifu| tcxts. And
yct, shou|d wc not ask why it is that thc sobcr Tocqucvi||c can
sympathizcwithcqua||yfancifu|idcas7Itwou|dinfactbcan instructivc
cxcrciscto askthcpo|itica|scicntistswhoknow Democracy in America
so wc|| to rcad thc fo||owing scntcncc, which is takcn from thc |ast
chaptcr wc discusscd.
Thc bc|icf in a supcrscnsua| and immorta| princip|c, unitcd for
a timc to mattcr is so indispcnsab|c to man`s grcatncss that its
cffccts arc striking cvcn whcn it is not unitcd to thc doctrinc of
futurc rcward and punishmcnt, orcvcn whcn it tcachcsno morc
The Death of Immortality? 261
than that aftcr dcath thc divinc princip|c containcd in man is
absorbcdinthcDcityortramierred 10 animate the frame ofsome
other creature. (cmphasis addcd)·º
Wou|d thcy bc ab|c to idcntify thc author7
The Death of Immortality is thc tit|c of a fragmcnt from Minima
Moralia. "1 At ñrst sight, thc formu|a is convincing. Notc that Adorno
docs not p|acc a qucstion mark aftcr it. Hc simp|y rccordsthc cvcnt.
Without dwc||ing on his argumcnt, which is |css assurcd than thc
formu|a might suggcst, |ct us at |cast provisiona||y acccpt a statcmcnt
which appcars to concur with thc common scnsc of our timc. Thc
dcath ofimmorta|ity, thcn- but is not thc coro||aryof this that thcrc
is nothing but dcath7 Or, rathcr, sincc wc cannot spcak of dcath
without bringing into p|ay thc thought of dcath, nothing but thc
thought of dcath7 It is rathcr difñcu|t to acccpt this. Socio|ogists and
towardsdcath and, morc spcciñca||y, at thc changc which appcarsto
from Phi|ippc Arics`s pionccring, and right|y famous, study wou|d
appcar to bc this. thc dcath of thc idca of dcath.' If hc is to bc
bc|icvcd, a mutation hasoccurrcd, and it isofa diffcrcnt ordcr to a||
thosc mutations that punctuatc thc history of Wcstcrn socictics. Hc
sums it up most adcquatc|y with thc provocativc formu|a. 'dcath
Thc ritua|s which oncc accompanicd thc ñna| cvcnt arc no morc.
Dcath is no |ongcr thc drama which pcop|c oncc saw as sctting thc
sca| of dcstiny on a |ifc. No morc grandiosc mise en scene; no morc
division of ro|cs bctwccn thc dying man, as hc awaits his cnd and
spcnds hìs timc prcparing for it, and his rc|ativcs and fami|y. Thc
spcctac|c of dcath sccms, to say thc |cast, to havc bccn disp|accd, as
havc thc ccrcmonia| aspccts of funcra|s and mourning. Fo||owing
Gorcr, who takcs thc vicw that dcath has bccn dcc|arcd taboo and
that thc on|y othcr thing to havc cvcr bccn subjcct to such a strict
taboo is scxua|ity, Arics notcs our contcmporary rcpugnancc at
anything that makcs an cxhibition of dcath, and cvcn gocs so far as
to spcak of a fcc|ing of obsccnity. A rcmarkab|c invcrsion of signs
indccd. Thc poctic dcath that a||owcd thc dying to |ook down on thc
wor|d of thc |iving appcars to havc givcn way to a prosaic dcath, thc
ostcntation of dcath has givcn way to invisibi|ity. Whcrcas dcath was
oncc crcctcd into a crucia| momcnt in thc fami|y advcnturc or, morc
gcncra||y, thc co||cctivc advcnturc, it is now privatc and so|itary,
whcrcasitwasonccpcrsona| anda|mosthcroic.itisnowanonymous.
Thcrc arc indccd many indications that our cra has sccn an attcmpt
to disso|vc thc phcnomcnon into thc bana|ityofthc quotidian. Whi|st
thc dying arc urgcd to prctcnd not to bc dying, thcir rc|ativcs try to
concca| thcìr pain and mourning. Itis as though cvcryonc had to s|ip
262 On the Irreducible Element
away discrcct|ywithoutdisturbing thc |iving,toco||udc with thc |iving
in masking tho void. Lot mo add that tho now wi||ingnoss ofdoctors
- and this is commonp|aco in tho Unitcd Statos - to inform thoir
pationtsofthoinovitabi|ityofthcirfatodoosnot,dospito appoaranccs,,
a|tcrthc picturc. to||ingsomoono who doos not knowhoiscondomnod
'thc truth' sti|| indicatcs a dcsircto p|aydownthc drama, andinmost
cascs, itindicatcs,not anobodioncoto a ro|igiousormora|imporativo,
but conformity to tho ru|osofhygicnc and burcaucracy. Itp|accs thc
pationtundcranob|igation to accopt hisdoctor'shna| ordors,to mako
a c|oan doath, to put his affairs in ordor, and to carry out thc |ast
dutiossocictycxpccts of him.
Doos notthisromova|ofdramaimp|ya disavowa| ofdoath? Arics
froquont|ysuggcsts thatthisis thc casc. And, at|cast at ono point, ho
daros to oxpross his own opinion. 'Tochnica||y, wc acccpt that wc
mightdic, and wc takc out |ifc insurancc to protcct ourfami|ios from
povorty. But doop insido, wo foo| that wo aro not morta|. ` `
Isitnot,thcn, worth askingwhcthcrthcdisavowa|ofdoathand tho
disavowa| ofimmorta|ity might not in our day simp|y bc two aspccts
of a sing|o phcncmcnon? Farfrom rcp|acing an i||usion with a sonso
of rca|ity, doos not tho |oss of bc|iof in immorta|ity ho|p to covcr up
a quostion which, unti| a vory rocont datc, constant|y hauntod tho
human mind? Buthowcanwosaythat? AnyonowhoroadsAricscan
acccptthat dcath has bccomo tho objoct ofa disavowa|,cvon though
ho himsc|f conforms to tho ncw customs. No mattor how |itt|o room
wo givc tho ovcnt, it cannot bo abo|ishod. Wo a|| scc othcrs dio, and
novor doubt that wo too wi|| dic. Wo know onough to rotain somc
idoa of what wo rofusc to accopt. And, it has to bc said. tho books
wo aro discussing havo not causod a scanda|. Indood, thoy havc so|d
wo||. But howcanwo hoarthowordsdisavowal ofimmortality without
foc|ing an unrcasonab|o urgo to assert our immorta|ity? If, as Arics
and Gorcr stato, tho roprosontation ofdoath now sccms obscono, tho
roprcsontation of immorta|ity is cvcn moro obscono. Tho taboo on
immorta|itysoomstobotota|andunavoidab|o. Historica|ana|ysisdoos
to concoivo its objoct. tho fact of immorta|ity or of somothing non-
morta| that gocs by that namc. Wc wou|d ccrtain|y hnd no symmctry
botwoon a history of attitudos to doath and a hypothctica| history of
ofjudgomont. Whi|st ho agroos that signs ofa disavowa| can bofound
in thc practiccs of our timc, hc can a|so hnd a disavowa| in thc
practicos of tho past. was not tho pomp of doath a way ofconcoa|ing
somcthing thatcscapcsrcprcscntation anddiscourso?Tho historianof
is that immorta|ity appcars to bc csscntia||y pompous, anyonc who
tricd to roconcoptua|izo it on tho basis of his own cxporionco wou|d
cxposo himso|fto ridicu|c. Tocitc Aricsonco moro. `Dccp insido, wo
fcc| that wc aro not morta|. ' Ho doos not say 'that wc aro immorta|`
The Death of Immortality? 263
Is hc not trying to a||ay our suspicions? Is ho not trying to avoid thc
taboo? Itistruothat tho ncgationofmorta|ity is notcquiva|cnt to an
assortionofimmorta|ity. Butitisagosturctowardsanunknownwhich
ought to tako a substantivc form: towards a non-doath.
To roturn to Adorno's formu|a. the death of immortality. Thc p|ay
on words isdisturbing. It not on|y tc||sus that bo|iofinimmorta|ityis
no moro, it a|so imp|ics thc absurd suggostion that immorta|ity oncc
oxistcd. On rcßcction, howovor, it is not |acking in pcrtincncc. For
tho fact is that tho word has not boon banishod from our |anguago;
and tho thought that it harbourod has not bconsupprossod. Truc, wc
no |ongcr bc|icvo in immorta|ity, but wo do not simp|y accopt that it
was oncc an objoct ofhuman bc|iof, wo roadi|y doscribo cortain mon,
such as Homor, Dantc and Shakospoaro (and thc throc namos woro
associatod in signihcant fashion at thc bcginning of thc ninotoonth
contury),as immorta|. Itmightboobjcctcdthatwcarcusingoncword
inp|aco of anothcr, and that wo mcan thatthoy aro unforgcttab|c. In
whosc namos aro ongravcd on humanity's momory aro sti|| immorta|.
Wc do not, ofcoursc,imagincthatthoydwc||in thcstars. But dowc
simp|y moan that thcir momory wi|| ncvcrpcrish? Wcdonot doscribo
oxccrab|c hcrocs such as Noro or Atti||a as immorta|, cvcn though
thcir namcs arc fami|iar. Immorta|ity is an attributo ofñgurcs whosc
words ordoods out|ivc thcir cphomora| offocts,whosoom, in onc way
or anothor, to havc hc|pcd to shapo tho dostiny ofhumanity. Wc a|so
app|y tho word, dchncd in tho samo scnso, to oxtraordinary ovonts
whichwc crcdit with having docidcd thc mcaning of history. It is a|so
to bc notcd that cortain of thcsc immorta| bcings havc a spccia|
privi|cgo, whi|st othcrs had to win thoir immorta|ity. thosc arc thc
artists or writors whosc |anguago touchos us, with whom wc can
communo acrosstimc,asthoughsomo o|omcnt in timo had not passcd
by, who arc, as Piorro Loroux puts it, sti|| prcscnt in thcir work. Isit
thc work, rathor than thc man, which romains immorta|? For our
purposcs, that is irrc|cvant. If wo rop|acod tho word immorta| by
'unforgottab|o' or 'impcrishab|o` , wo wou|d impovcrish our |anguagc
considorab|y. To do so wou|d not rcmovc thc foo|ing that thc book
wo arc rcading, tho canvas wc arc |ooking at, or thc sonata wo aro
|istcning to is not doad. Thcn, thon, is thc paradox. at somo point,
immorta|ity diod, and yct it |ivcson, providcd that it sccms to bo a
proportyofbcingsorthingsfromtho past. Howcanwo putittodoath
if it had itsplace? Its p|aco is osscntia||y invu|norab|o to thc ravagos
of doath, cvcn though wo c|aim that dcath now has tota| dominion
ovorour wor|d.
Wo want to gct rid of absurdity. But absurdity is stubborn. If a
that things that comc down to usfrom thc past |ast indchnito|y, and
264 On the Irreducible Element
thon dcnying that thc samo is truo whcn wc approhond thc prcscnt
and thc futuro.
Thc astonishingthingisthatwocanacccptthcunthinkab|oprovidcd
that scicnco drcsscs it up as a fact. Thus, wo |oarn without bcing
undu|y disturbcd that, whcrcvcr a tracc of a human sctt|omont, no
mattcr how o|d, has bocn found, traccs of somo funora| ccrcmony
havo a|so bocn found. Wo roadi|y agroo that thc notion of doath is
indissociab|o from human oxistcncc, cvcn that it appcars to bc a
constitutivc c|cmcnt thcrcof, without drawing thc obvious conc|usion
that thisnccossari|yimp|iosthc notion ofnon-doath. Thcro isnonccd
to havc a profound know|cdgo of phi|osophy to undorstand that
marking a gravo moans primari|y naming doath and making a sign or
a gosturo which, minima| as it may bc, ovokos pormanonco and
cstab|ishcs a |ink that can ncvcr bc brokon botwoon thc visib|o and
tho invisib|c. 'Somcthing in tho p|acc of nothing` . . . wo know how
contcmporary phi|osophy has dismissod thc formu|a, but itcannot, of
coursc, bc divorccd from an oar|icr rcproscntation. someone in the
place ofnothing It can bc rcad on tho most fragi|c monumontsorcctcd
by human bcings to othcr human bcings. And wo must furthor admit
that tho gosturcwhichcrcatcs thcvoida|socrccts thc monumcnt, that
bysaying yosand no to dcath in thc samc broath, wocroato a Word.
Thc |iving can no morc rccognizc thomsc|vcs as thc authors of that
Word than thcycan rccognizo thcmsc|vcsas thc authorsofthoirown
doaths, yct thc Word is as indcstructib|c as doath is incvitab|c. Thc
doccasod is awitncssto thcconjunctionofthotwo. Itdoosnot mattor
thc hna| rcsting p|acc wo givc him is in a spccihc p|aco in tho wor|d,
whcnco hc wi|| communicatc with thc |iving, whothor it is in anothcr
wor|d which wi|| bccomc his otorna| homc; whcthcr wo simp|y hang
his portrait on tho wa|| ìn tho fami|y homc; or whcthcr wc mcrc|y
think of him - wc a|ways oxhibit a wish to mako somothing of tho
dcad. Thc dcccasod bcgctsduration. Ho crcatos substancc. Ifwc fai|
to cmbody him, humanity is disso|vcd into a timc that has boon
tho intcrpcnctration of thcir pcrccptions that tho wor|d is rovoa|od to
bc a common world, an oxtorna| wor|d. And nor is it cnough to say
that it isbccausccvoryonccanscc, canbo soonbyothorsand isquasi-
visib|o to himsc|f, that ho is imprintcd on thc bcing on to which it
opcns. Thc wor|d is at oncc immutab|o and inoxhaustib|o, abso|uto|y
and thinkab|c, on|y bccausc it ariscs from tho fracturo of doath, on|y
bocausc, dcop within it, itboarsthc mark oftho division ofdoath. Its
institution cannot bc disassociatcd from thc institution in which thc
othcr who has bocn both |ost and namcd roassuros human boings of
tho ccrtainty that what is wi|| ondurc.
Itistructhat rccognition of a prima| rc|ationship botwcon thcidca
The Death of Immortality? 265
of dcath and tho idca of somothing that onduros for cvcr scrvcs on|y
tofami|iarizouswiththoinconccivab|o, andthatit|cavcsuspowor|oss
to dca| with tho spccihc quostion of immorta|ity and of its cvontua|
doath or somi-dcath. Tho notion a||owsus to formu|atc, in a singu|ar
way, thc cxpcricncc of that which lasts for ever. In The Human
Condition, Hannah Arondt draws our attcntion to thc distinction, or
rathcr thc opposition, botwoon immorta|ity andotornity. In hcr vicw,
immorta|ity is to bo rocognizcd whcn mon cannotconccivc ofa wor|d
othcr than thc wor|d thoy inhabit - a wor|d which disp|ays obvious
Immorta|itymoanscnduranccin timo,doath|oss|ifoonthiscarth
to naturc and thc O|ympian gods. Against this background of
naturc`s ovcr-rocurring |ifo and thc gods` doath|css and ago|oss
|ivosstood morta| mcn, tho on|y morta|s in an immorta| but not
otcrna| wor|d, confrontod with thc immorta| |ivcs of thcir gods
but not undcr tho ru|o of an immorta| God.`•
Mona|onc arcmorta|bocauso,un|iko anima|s, thoy aro not mcmbcrs
of a spocios whoso immorta||ifc is guarantcod through procroation. It
is thorcforc as individua|s that thoy aspiro to partako of thc divinc
naturo by producingworks,dcodsand wordswhich wi|| |cavo bchind
thcm an impcrishab|o traco. Tho cortainty that tho wor|d and thc
highcr boings that popu|atc it wi|| ondurc for cvcr is, howovcr,
dcstroycd by thc Christian ro|igion and by tho now notion of a
transcondant God, of a p|acc outsido tho wor|d whcrc man wi|| hnd
an ctcrna| rcsting p|aco, comparodwithwhichtho timo ofcarth|y|ifc
wi|| count as nothing. But, as Arcndt a|so obscrvcs, its dcstruction is
of thc contomp|ativc |ifc is proc|aimcd at thc cxpcnso of thc activc
|ifc, thc vita activa. This ovont appcars to horto bodocisivc in that it
rovoa|s tho |ink bctwocn thc idca of immora|ity and po|itica| |ifc, as
wc|| as that bctwoon immorta|ity and |ifo in tho wor|d. Whon man
with hisoqua|s- oachappoaringbcforc a||andproducingasc|f-imagc
to bo shown to a|| - his hopc of imprinting somcthing of himsc|f on
thc duration of timo disappoars. Immorta|ity roquircs thc institution
or tho dop|oymcnt oftho pub|ic spacc. But itshou|d not bosupposcd
thatitisthcrcforo acontingontmanifostationwhichisdcpcndcntupon
a cortain form of socicty.\o|itica| |ifc, in Arcndt`s sonsc of tho tcrm
and in thc sonso in which it was rccognizod in tho Grcck City, is thc
highost form of thc human condition. For hcr, tho |oss of a sonsc of
immorta|ity thoroforo coincidos with tho |oss of a scnso of thc human
condition. ¸
Arcndt rcturns to this thomo and dovo|ops itfurthorin a chaptcr in
which sho ovokos tho doc|inc ofmodorn humanity. That mcnhavc a
266 On the Irreducible Elemelll
scnsib|c cxpcricncc ofa common world, of a wor|d which prc-cxists
and out|ivcs cvcry gcncration, is not, in hcr vicw, cnough to cnsurc
its consistcncy and its transccndancc.
Such a common wor|d can survivc thc coming and going of thc
gcncrations on|y to thc cxtcnt that it appcars in pub|ic. It is thc
pub|icity of thc pub|ic rca|m which can absorb and makc shinc
ruin of timc. Through many agcs bcforc us - but not any morc
- mcn cntcrcd thc pub|ic rca|m bccausc thcy wantcd somcthing
of thcir own or somcthing thcy had in common with othcrs to
bc morc pcrmancnt than thcircarth|y |ivcs . . .
Arcndt adds. ¹hcrc ispcrhaps noc|carcrtcstimony to thc |oss ofthc
pub|ic rca|m in thc modcrn agc than thc a|most comµ|ctc |oss of
authcnticconccrnwithimmorta|ity, a|osssomcwhatovcrshadowcd by
thc simu|tancous |oss of thc mctaphysica| conccrn with ctcrnity.`²´
Hcncc thc conc|usion that. 'Undcr modcrnconditions, it is indccd so
un|ikc|ythatanybodyshou|d[in ourday]carncst|yaspirctoancarth|y
immorta|itythatwcprobab|yarcjustihcd inthinkingthat itisnothing
but vanity.`
Whcncc thc withcring away of thc pub|ic rca|m inour agc7 In onc
scnsc, its dcc|inc appcars to bc an indircct rcsu|t of Christianity`s
dcva|uing of thc carth|y wor|d.
Thc Christian abstcntionfrom wor|d|ythings is by no mcans thc
on|yconc|usiononccandrawfrom thcconvictionthatthchuman
artihcc, a product of morta| hands, is as morta| as its makcrs.
This, on thc contrary, may a|so intcnsify thc cnjoymcnt and
in which thc wor|disnot primari|y undcrstood to bc thc koinon,
that which iscommon to a||.`'
In anothcr scnsc, thc spcctac|c of modcrn socicty furthcr c|ucidatcs
thc phcnomcnon. it is a mass socicty in which individua|s hnd
thcmsc|vcs trappcd in thcnarrow circ|cofthcir privatc |ivcs, andarc
co||cctivc vision of thc rca| whcn thcy comc togcthcr. Wc wi|| not
pursuc this |attcr cxp|anation. Lct us, rathcr, rctain thc hypothcsis
that thc notion of an indchnitc timc bcing a||ottcd to mcn and thcir
works is, for Arcndt, intrinsica||y bound up with thc cmcrgcncc of a
sµacc which is, by right, oµcn to a||, which stands out against thc
Thc division oftimc- a timc forbcingsand morta|things, a timc for
bcings and immorta| things- coincidcswith thc hrst division bctwccn
a tru|y socìa| |ifc in whìch mcn arc sti|| stratihcd bccausc of thc
The Death of Immortality? 267
rcquircmcnts of |abour and thc satisfaction of nccds. and bccausc of
po|itica| |ifc, which dc|ivcrs thcm from thcirobscurity and inspircs in
thcm a passion for thcir imagc and for thcirmodc ofappcarancc, a
passionatc dcsirc to bc sccn and rccognizcd by thcir cqua|s. If We
fo||ow Arcndt, it is, thcn, futi|c to |ook for thc basis of thc bc|icf in
immorta|ity in a rc|igious or mctaphysica| quictism, or simµ|y in thc
fcar of dcath, and it is a|so futi|c to strcss thc distinction bctwccn
pcrsona| surviva| and thc surviva| ofthc institution. Shc suggcsts that,
oncc hc appcars on thc pub|ic stagc, man comcs to dwc|| in his own
imagc, that hc no |ongcr bc|ongs to himsc|f as an individua|, that hc
bccomcs immorta| in hisown |ifctimc, orcvcn by cha||cnging dcath,
rcgard|css of what his rcprcscntation of hisown dcstiny may bc.
Wc wi|| not, pcrhaps, undcrstand Arcndt`s thought if wc conhnc
oursc|vcsto a rcadingof The Haman Condition, and ifwc rcstrictour
discussion to thc contrast bctwccn thc ancicnt City and modcrn mass
socicty. For hcr, thcpolis is mcrc|y a rcfcrcncc which is intcndcd to
shcd |ight upon thc po|itica| institution of thc common wor|d or uµon
thc opposition bctwccn immorta|ity and ctcrnity. It is thcrcforc sc|f-
cvidcnt that, whcn shc spcaks of thc withcring away of thc pub|ic
domain inourcra, shc isa||udingto a rcccnt pastinwhichitwasfu||y
dcp|oycd. IfwcrcfcrtohcrcssayOn Revolution, thisbccomcsobvious.
thc wor|d that wc havc |ost is thcwor|d that was bui|t, momcntari|y,
by thc Frcnch and AmcricanRcvo|utions. Mcn thcn had thc strcngth
to brcak with thc Christian cthic- somctimcswithout rca|izing it, thcy
wcrc ab|c to rchabi|itatc|ifconcarth,thcyµassionatc|ysct thcmsc|vcs
with that of thcir µo|itica| achicvcmcnt.
Nothing µcrhaps indicatcs morc c|car|y that thc rcvo|utions
brought to |ight thc ncw, sccu|ar and wor|d|y ycarnings of
thc modcrn agc than this a||-pcrvasivc prcoccupation with
tircdofrcpcating,shou|d bc sccurc for thcir'postcrity`. It wou|d
bcquitccrroncousto mistakcthcscc|aimsforthc|atcrbourgcois
dcsirc to providc for onc`s chi|drcn and grandchi|drcn. What |ay
bchind thcm was thc dccp|y fc|t dcsirc for an Etcrna| City on
carth, p|us thc conviction that 'a Commonwca|th right|y ordcrcd
may, for any intcrna| causcs, bc as immorta| or as |ong-|ivcd as
thc Wor|d.`
At thc timc of thc two grcat rcvo|utions, modcrn pcoµ|cs turncd,
according to Arcndt, 'oncc morc to antiquity to hnd a prcccdcnt for
[thcir] ncw prcoccupation with thc futurc of thc man-madc wor|d on
carth`. At thc samc timc, thc individua| actor on thc µo|itica| stagc
was transhgurcd, and cscapcd his own morta| cxistcncc. Modcrn
rc`sphrasc, `Dcathisthcbcginningofimmorta|ity`.`°Thisissomcthing
268 all the Irreducible Element
thatourcontcmporaricswou|dnowñndinconccivab|c. Ifthc prophccy
isturncd into a statcmcnt offact, Arcndt cou|dcasi|y, it wou|dsccm,
cndorsc Michc|ct`svcrdict. 'In timcs ofwcakncss, it wi|| no |ongcr bc
possib|c to undcrstand how, in thc midst ofthcsc b|oody rcvo|utions,
and with onc foot in thc gravc, thcsc cxtraordinary mcn cou|d drcam
on|y of immorta|ity`.'"
Whi|st this intcrprctation is attractivc, wc havc to go bcyond its
|imitations, asthc argumcntsitmobi|izcs makc itdifñcu|t to intcrprct
and thc scnsc of postcrity, which is so obvious in rcvo|utionary
|anguagc, without noticing that it is ncw7 How can onc forgct that,
for thc Grccks, thcrc wasno qucstion ofbui|ding 'an ctcrna|cityon
carth`, that thcir City was csscntia||y divinc, that immorta| |ifc
surroundcd thcm, that works anddccdspcrformcdinthc prcscntwcrc
butthatthcirmakcrscou|dnotrcmovcthcmfrom thccyc|cofhistory,
and cou|d not, so to spcak, makc thcm participatc in thc immorta|
work ofcrcation7 How, on thc othcr hand, can a writcr bc so a|crt
to thc doub|c division of spacc and timc - thc obscurc spacc of thc
socia|, and thc pub|ic, |uminous spacc of thc po|itica|, thc timc of
transicncc and thc timc of immorta|ity - without sccing that, in thc
modcrn wor|d, it imp|ics a tcnsion ofwhich thc ancicnt wor|d, or at
|cast thc cpoch which Arcndt cvokcs, kncw nothing7 A citizcn of
Athcns may wc|| havc immorta|izcd himsc|fon thc po|itica| stagc but,
insofar as hc was a mcmbcr of socicty, hc owncd a fragmcnt of thc
divinc|andwhichgavchimthcrightto bc acitizcn.Nothingindistant
Antiquity suggcsts thc idca that thc City, humanity or history cou|d
bc transccndcd within thcwor|d or within timc. And isit not bccausc
though it may bc, Arcndt`s formu|a 'Eterity versus Immortality' is
mis|cading if it |cads us to ignorc how thc idca of immorta|ity both
pcrsistcdandwastransformcdasarcsu|tofthcbc|icfinanother world.
Thc on|y aspcct of thc Christian rc|igion to which Arcndtrcfcrs is its
dcva|uing ofcarth|y |ifc, thcrc is ofcoursc no |ack of so|id cvidcncc
to support hcr thcsis and shc cou|d producc morc than onc argumcnt
in favour of it. But thc work of Christianity has to bc rcad in two
ways. thc notion of thc fa|| of man, who cxpiatcs his origina| sin in
his human condition, is combincd with thc notion of a human
incarnationofthc divinc.
Wcsccthc ñrst signsof`modcrn`immorta|ityinthcbodyofChrist,
a body which, in thc Midd|c Agcs, ñnds substitutcs in thc bodics of
thc Fopc, thc Empcror and thc King, and which is actua|izcd in thc
community, circumscritcd as it is within its indcstructib|cspacc. thc
Church, and thcn thc kingdom and humanity itsc|f. Dantc is mcrc|y
fo||owing an cstab|ishcd tradition whcn hc crcatcs thc ñgurc of a
univcrsa| monarchyandgivcsitthcmission ofrcvca|inghumanityunto
The Death of Immortality?
itso|f in a|| its unity - a unity which transccnds thc divcrsity of thc
'nations` from thc far north to thc far south - and in its continuous
duration - which transccnds thc ncvcr-cnding scqucncc of thc
gcncrations,cach ofwhichappcarsas a |imb ofasing|cbody movin¿
throughspacc. Butitisnotcnoughto cxaminc thc ambiguityofthcsc
rc|igious rcprcscntations in tcrms of thcir cxp|icit contcnt. Thc
rcmarkab|c thing about thcm is thc way thcy bccomc invcstcd in
po|itica| rcprcscntations, in thc |aicizcd, sccu|arizcd and wor|d|y
rcprcscntations which crysta||izc atthc cnd ofthc cightccnth ccntury,
cvcn though thcy had bcgun to takc shapc car|icr. Thc imagc of thc
immorta| body of thc kingdom is graftcd on to that of thc tcrritoria|
statc. Thc thcmc of dcfcnding thc king a||ics itsc|f with that of
dcfcnding thc fathcr|and, and thus cnsurcs that thc warrior who dics
foritssakcwi||cnjoyimmorta|ityupon carth,j ust as thc warriorwho
dicd in thcdcfcncc ofJcrusa|cm wasccrtain to cntcrinto Faradisc at
thc timc ofthc Crusadcs. A who|c scgmcnt ofthc history of bc|icfs
intothc fronticrsofwor|d|yspacc, and whi|st itstransfcrcncc into that
spacc was in part unconscious, it was a|so thc rcsu|t of dc|ibcratc
cfforts on thc part of thc po|iticians and jurists who wcrc striving to
c|cvatc monarchica| powcr abovc a|| de facto powcrs, to givc it a
diffcrcnt kind of|ifc to that cnjoycd by morta| institutions and morta|
mcn, and to givc thc statc somcthing it |ackcd and which it hadoncc
posscsscd whcn it was rootcd in a divinc |and. permanence ill time.
That thcir cfforts wcrc bascd upon an acquaintancc with Roman |aw
and with thc phi|osophy of Aristot|c, that thcy wou|d havc bccn
inconccivab|c without thc rcactivation of thc know|cdgc of thc
universitas, ofthccommuilitas whichcstab|ishcsthcstatusofperpetuitas
as opposcd to changc - which cstab|ishcs, that is, an immutab|c |aw
as opposcd to particu|ar customs - shou|d not makc us forgct that,
thanks to Christianity, a ncw |ink wasforgcd bctwccn thc Onc who
cxists outsidc timc and thc individua| or co||cctivc body, bctwccn a
transccndcnta| sovcrcignty andwor|d|y |ifc.
For ccnturics, thc king was thc u|timatcsymbo| ofthis bcing in thc
wor|d, which isatoncc itsown infcrior and its own supcrior, which is
atonccmorta| and immorta|. Butifwc|ookcvcn bricßyatafrcccity
at thc momcnt whcn itis bcginning to cvo|vc towards thc statc form,
at, for cxamp|c, F|orcncc inthc |attcr part of thc fourtccnth ccntury,
wc cannot fai| to bc struck by thc fact that its cfforts to constitutc
itsc|fas arcpub|icinordcrto |cavcnop|accforatyrantarcpara||c|cd
by a dcsirc to scizc thc attributcsof monarchy, to producc an imagc
of a sovcrcigntywhich is distanccd from a|| itsmcmbcrs and which is
This is cspccia||y rcmarkab|c in that it is in F|orcncc, in modcrn
Europc,thatancthicsofthcvita activa, asopposcdtothccontcmp|ativc
|ifc, bcgins to bc c|aboratcd undcr thc sign ofa rcturn to Antiquity,
270 all the Irreducible Elemelll
by rop|acing it in tho contoxt of a Christian socioty. Many of tho
foaturosArondtrogardsasboingcharactoristicofwhatmightbo ca||od
rovo|utionary humanism, which appoarod in tho oightoonth contury,,
can a|roady bo soon in F|orontino humanism, inc|uding tho bo|iofthat
works porformod by tho City contain a univorsa| truth. Farticu|ar
signiñcanco shou|d bo givon to tho doub|o attompt to o|ovato to
immorta|ity both tho F|orontino fathor|and and thoso citizons who
contributod to its groatnoss - thoso who distinguishod thomso|vos in
thoconductofpub|icatfairsorinwar,oraswritors, artistsormorchants
- an attompt which was at tho timo, wo can |ogitimato|y assumo,
faci|itatod by tho formation ofa pub|ic spaco, of a pub|ic stago.
Wo wi||, howovor, porhaps bo in a bottor position to grasp tho
modornity of tho sonso of immorta|ity and a|| tho foaturos that
difforontiatoitfrom thoGrookconcoptionofthowor|difwocomparo
it with tho formor ovont.
It has right|y boon notod that humanism infact introducos a sonso
of history, a sonso of a timo-difforonco.'² Tho anciont wor|d was not
discovorod, as though it woro somothing that had boon |ostand thon
found again. Tracos of it survivod throughout tho Midd|o Agos, not
on|y in tho writings of tho groat authors - most of whom woro of
coursotho objoctofstudia humanitatis - andinmonumonts,butabovo
a|| in tho uso of tho Latin |anguago. Indood, historians to|| us that it
was not porcoivod as a difforont wor|d, dospito tho broak botwoon
Christianity and paganism. That porcoptionischaractoristicofhuman-
ism. What wo havo tormod a roturn to Antiquity thoroforo imp|ios its
institution, tho institution of a past which is romovod from tho
prosont. Tho oxporionco of temporal separation is a procondition for
communication,orin itsoxtromoform,idontiñcationwiththo ancionts,
itisa|so tho proconditionforanoponingon to thofuturo, anoponing
croatodbydoods, know|odgo, artandpodagogy, byaworkofcroation
which is |ogitimizod by tho croation of tho past. Tho humanists saw
thomso|vos as hoirs but, at tho samo timo, thoy acquirod a postority.
Tho dignity of tho vita activa is combinod with tho dignity of tho |ifo
of tho citizon, but, in moro gonora| torms, it is institutod by a now
ro|ationship with tho work of art. Hannah Arondt appoars to bo
curious|y insonsitivo to this ovont. Whonsho spoaksofworks ofart in
The Human Condition, sho accords thom a pormanonco which sooms
to havo thoproportiosof an ossonco. Tho wor|d ofart appoars to hor
to bo par excellence a 'non-morta| homo for morta| boings`` It is,
thon, important to invostigato both tho birth of this foo|ing of
pormanonco and tho signiñcancoitacquiroswhonitbocomosconjoinod
with a roprosontation of tho work of art as having a singu|aridontity,
as boing |oca|izod in spaco and timo. Tho idoa of pormanonco a|ono
cannot accountforanothor idoa whichsoomsto omorgotogothorwith
humanism. tho idoa that works of art aro contomporanoous within a
timo-difforonco, tho idoa of a conjunction botwoon somothing that no
The Death of Immortality?
|ongor oxists and somothing that doos notyot oxist. If, howovor. wo
concontrato oxc|usivo|y on tho rovo|ution in tho oxporionco of timo
that is introducod by humanism, wo wi|| fai| to soo that it is shapod
by a rojoction of tho `dark agos`, which. in tho oyos of thoso who
wantod to oscapo thom, woro not yot ovor. For tho humanists, tho
awaronoss that Antiquity is a difforont wor|d whoso authonticity has
to bo rostorod imp|ios a broak with tho |anguago, tho know|odgo and
tho mora|s ofa dogradod humanity, a wi|| to oxtract thomso|vos from
tho darknoss of a poriod in which custom rop|acos truth. Tho offocts
of this broak aro ambiguous in that, on tho ono hand, it imp|ios
omancipation from ostab|ishod authoritios in ovory domain of |ifo, a
domand for croativity, and an approhonsion of tho prosont- and ono
ofthomostromarkab|osignsofthisistho fu||rocognitionofthovirtuos
oftho vornacu|ar- and inthat, on tho othorhand, it |oadsto roa| |ifo
boing conñnod within a circ|o of mon of |ottors who undorstand tho
works of tho ancionts, who can road thomand who can uso |anguago
corroct|y - and so, paradoxica||y, Latin is rostorod to its purity as a
canonica| |anguago. Wo might ovon vonturo tosay that humanism thus
pavos tho way for tho omorgonco of two concoptions of immorta|ity.
To a |argo oxtont, it stakos its dostiny on an attompt to mastor tho
oxporionco of contomporanoity within a timo-difforonco, to oroct a
thoatro in which things that soom, in torms of tho agrood signs, to
dosorvo not to porisharo authorizod to appoar, and to insta|| tho now
ina futuro commonsurato withthodomandsoftho prosont by inviting
postority to participato in thogroatspoctac|o ofcu|turo. Itis thoroforo
not surprising that tho projoct of humanism shou|d havo bocomc
imbricatod with that of Christianity, or that thoy shou|d havo
co||aboratod in `manufacturing` a transcondanco that cou|d tako p|aco
within tho wor|d. Anciont maxims oxto||ing immorta| ontitios such as
Roason, Justico, Wisdom andFathor|andarocombinodwith ro|igious
roforoncos in ordor to g|orify and immorta|izo tho monarchy. Grook
and Roman mytho|ogy is mobi|izod through pootry, statuary and
paintingto roprosont tho prosonco ofthoPrinco as boingboyond timo.
But this phonomonona|sohas muchwidorimp|ications. thonotionof
tho sovoroignty oftho author or ofhis work takos on a po|itica| and
ro|igious moaning, just as tho notion of tho sovoroignty of tho Princo
ortho nation hnds supportinascho|ar|ycu|turo and in thoo|ogy. And
itisnoti||ogitimatotoaskwhothorthoRovo|ution mightnothavoput
as anythingothorthan tho momont ofthofoundationor rofoundation
of tho po|itica|, of tho dop|oymont of a pub|ic spaco, and of tho
ostab|ishmont ofaneteral city bui|tbymonformon. It isastonishing
thatsho shou|dsoo tho uso ofnow artiñcos to rosurroct Antiquity and
to put it to now onds so|o|y in this |ight, that sho shou|d oxpross hor
do|ight with Robospiorro`s `Doath is tho boginning of immorta|ity`
w¡thout concorning horso|f with his horoic posturo, or with tho way
po|itics, cu|turo and history aro stagod to dazz|o tho common poop|o.
272 On the Irreducible Element
Edgar Quinctappcarsto mctodisp|ay morc pcrspicacity than Arcndt
or cvcn Michc|ct whcn hc obscrvcs that.
No tribunc in thcwor|dcvcrspokc a |css popu|ar,morc|carncd
or morc studicd |anguagc than Robcspicrrc and Saint
and natura||y sccmcd hatcfu| to thcm. Thcy a|ways saw thc
Rcvo|ution in tcrms of thc pomp of Ctccro and thc majcsty of
In an cvocation of onc of thc ñna| cpisodcs of thc Tcrror, hc adds:
'It was thc c|assica|, |cttcrcdrcvo|ution ofthc !acobinswhichcrushcd
thc uncducatcd and p|cbcianrcvo|utionofthcCordc|icrs. Robcsptcr
was acting out a c|assica| tragcdy.
Anythtng that wcnt bcyond tts
ordcr|yconvcntions- |ifc, spontanctty, popu|ar
tnsttnct- appcarc�
him to bc a monstrosity. And hc attackcd tt wtth sword and ñrc.
And yct, wc said, wc can dctcct in humanism a diffcrcnt notion of

and which can bc p|accd undcr thc stgn of conversatlO/I or, to u

c a
tcrm which was datcd cvcn at thc timc and which isundcrstood tn
diffcrcnt scnsc by thc modcrns, friendship. Whcn it is undcrstood tn
this scnsc, thcrc isnomastcring ofa timc-diffcr�ncc, but mcrc|y thc
fcc|ingthat thc invisib|c other isc|oscrthan thc hvìng, that his words
can bc hcard dcspitc his fatc at thc hands of ttmc, or that words can
bc cntrustcd to him in somc indcñnitc futurc. Thc dta|oguc wtth thc
dcad had, of coursc, bccomc a gcnrc in itsc|f, and it confcrrcd a
ßattcring nobi|ity on its author. But, to cvokc thc F|o

cncc ofthcso-
ca||cd Rcnaissancc agc oncc morc, |istcn to thc sobncty wc ñnd tn,
for cxamp|c, Machiavc||i`s dia|ogucs with thc ancicnts.
In a |cttcr
whìch was to bccomc famous, hc tc||s htsfncnd Vctton how, whcn
hc had bccn banishcd from F|orcncc, hcspcnt his timc in rura| c

Having dcscribcd thc morning hc spcnt in thc woods, hc mcnttons
stoppingatthcinnoppositchishousc. Hcp|aysbackgammon,quarrc|s
with thc inn-kccpcr, thc butchcr, thc mi||cr and twoworkmcnfrom a

thcir oaths can bc hcard in thc ncxt vi||agc. Hc conñdcs
that hc has to vcnturc into his `f!ca-pit` to prcvcnt his brain from
stagnating comp|ctc|y. Thcn, as cvcning fa||s, itis timc forwork.
I rcturncd to my|odgings. I wcnt intomystudy, and atthcdoor
I took off my cvcrydayc|othcs, whichwcrccovcrcd tn mud and
dirt and put on pontiñca| court drcss. Now that I was ñtttng|y
drc�scd I cntcrcd thc court of thc mcn of Antiquity. Thcy
mc honourab|y, and I dincd on that food that is abovc
a|| minc and which I was born to cat. I fc|t no cmbarrassmcnt
atta|kingto thcmor ataskingthcm to cxp|ain thciractions,and,
out of human kindncss, thcy wcrc good cnough to answcr my
qucstions. And forfourhours I fc|t no borcdom, I forgot a||my
The Death of Immortality?
troub|cs, and I cvcnccascd tofcarpovcrty. I was 1I0t even afraid
of death. (cmphasis addcd)'`
Fina||y, wc arc to|d that thcsc convcrsations wcrc not fruit|css, a |itt|¢
bookis comingintobcing. De Principatibus (|atcrto bcknownas The
Prince). By dcscribing how hc wcnt from thc tavcrn to his study and
how hc changcd his c|othcs, Machiavc||i makcs it c|car that hc is
stcpping into a timc that cxists outsidc timc. Thc changc is furthcr
strcsscd by thc qua|ity of thc c|othcs hc put on. Thcy arc not simp|y
any ccrcmonia| garmcnts, and thcy arc not thosc hc worc whcn hc
carricd out his dutics in F|orcncc. Hc had usc for ponttñca| or roya|
court drcss on|y whcn hc was scnt abroad on mission, whcn hc was
dispatchcd by thc Rcpub|ic as its ambassador. But s

ch drcss is
indispcnsab|c if hc is to appcar in thc prcscncc of Ltvy, Tacttus,
Aristot|c orXcnophon, and ifhc is toconvcrsc with thcm, ifthcy arc
to rccognizc that hc has bccn scnt on a historica| mission, that h

modcrn humanity'sdc|cgatctoAntiquity.Withoutany rcfcrcnccbcing
madc to God or to thc division bctwccn hcavcn and carth, wc havc
hcrc a rcprcscntation of a division bctwccn this wor|d and thc ncxt,
bctwccn thc trivia|p|accwcinhabit a|ongsidc thc |ivingand thc p|acc
of immorta|ity. Noticc, howcvcr, that Machiavc||i ncvcr pronounccs
thcword 'immorta|ity`. Hc is contcnt to say. 'I was notcvcn afraidof
dcath`. Why is hcsoscrcnc? Bccausc, inordcrto spcak to thc dcad,
that hc has thc fcc|ing ofhaving anothcr |ifc, not in thc vaguc scnsc
that hc wi|| cndurc for cvcr, but in thc vcry prccisc scnsc that hc is
undcniab|yprcscntforothcrs,for thcwor|d and forhimsc|fin arca|m
bcyond timc. Thc invisib|c intcr|ocutors Machiavc||i joins arc as a|ivc
as his companions in thc tavcrn, hc himsc|f is morc a|ivc than thc
backgammon p|aycr hc dismisscs at thc door. Thc incxhaustib|c
convcrsation bccomcs a sourcc of constant mutua| rccognttton, thc
sourcc ofhis futurc work.
Machiavc||i thus dcscribcs an cxpcricncc which many othcr writcrs
havc dcscribcd and which, a|though it ñnds its c|carcst cxprcssion in
thc Rcnaissancc, is not conñncd to that pcriod. thc cxpcricncc of a
dia|oguc which brcaks down thc barricrs

f timc and which,

thc dua|ity of qucstion and answcr, spcaktng and hstcntng, tnstttutcs
a singu|arity- thc singu|arityorsomconc or somcthing- that cannot
bc brokcn down into a 'oncc` and a 'now`. In such an cxpcncncc,
immorta|itydocsnot|ookdownfromonhigh, itis, rathcr,atransition
through timcwhich rcvca|sitsdcnsity, bcncath itsconstant|ychanging
surfacc, thc movcmcnt of timc is rcvcrsib|c. Thc idca of that whtch
docs not dic is indissociab|c from that of thc sovcrcignty of thc
immorta| bcing - an idca which was
wc said, bound up with that
cvcryonc with an imagc of surviva|.
Fcrhaps, howcvcr, wc can bcst grasp thc sign of thts sovcrctgnty at
274 On the Irreducible Element
whcnthcproc|amationofperpetuitas iscountcrcdwiththcproc|amation
of vanitas. Thc ncgation rcvca|s thc basis of thc asscrtion by turning
it insidc out. Eithcr vanitas bccomcs a sign that a|| powcr bc|ongs to
thcEtcrna|, bcforc whom a|| humancrcations arc as nothing, or, and
of dcath, and insta||s dcath in thc p|acc of sovcrcignty. No onc has
donc morc to unvci| thc comp|icity bctwccn thc rcprcscntation of
immorta|ity and dcath, or thcir rc|ationship with sovcrcignty, than
Shakcspcarc. Whcn, having hcard of Bo|ingbrokc`s rcbc||ion and
havingproc|aimcdthcinvu|ncrabi|ityofhispompousbody,Richard I I
suddcn|yg|impscsthcimpossib|c- thcfactthathcwi|| bc partcd from
it- thc imagc ofdcath`sc|cct rcp|accsthatofGod'sc|cct. thc crown,
which was an indcstructib|c substancc bccomcs 'thc ho||ow crown
whcrcin dcath kccps his court`. ('For within thc ho||ow crown/That
rounds thc morta| tcmp|cs ofa kinglKccps dcath hiscourt'.) It shou|d
not bcforgottcn that Shakcspcarc putsthcscwordsintothc mouthof
a princc, thcrcisnosuggcstion that hchimsc|fbc|icvcs thcm. Hchas
too hnc a pcrccption of thc contradictory naturc of thc sovcrcign to
want to takc his p|acc. Hcurgcsus, hisrcadcrs, to acccpt thc idca of
a doub|c timc without succumbing to thc i||usion of a doub|c body,
and sparcs us thc a|tcrnativc of having to givc a|| to immorta|ity or
having to givc a|| to dcath.
To rcturn to our initia| qucstion. Thc thought of thc mcn of thc
ninctccnth ccntury was sti|| hauntcd by a scnsc of immorta|ity. That
scnsc of immorta|ity sccms to havc disappcarcd or, paradoxica||y to
havc survivcd on|y by bccoming compromiscd with a rcspcct for thc
past, on|y bybccoming bound up with a scnsc of postcrity. Thcsc, it
appcars to mc, arc thc most charactcristic fcaturcs of modcrn timcs.
Fcrhapsmattcrsbccomc |cssccrtainthanAdornoandArcndtsuggcst,
ifwc agrcc to scparatc out thc various rcprcscntations imp|icd by thc
currcnt scnsc of thc word - a task wc havc just out|incd. Fcrhaps
mattcrsbccomccvcn |cssccrtain ifwc pay attcntion to thc a|tcrations
thcy undcrwcnt cvcn in thc ninctccnth ccntury, in a wor|dwhich was
turncd upsidc down by what Tocqucvi||c ca||cd thc 'dcmocratic
rcvo|ution`.I say 'a|tcrations`bccauscinthisrcspcctthcrcisnoradica|
discontinuity bctwccn thc Ancicn Rcgimc and post-rcvo|utionary
socicty. Numcrous signs tcstify to thc pcrsistcncc of thc thco|ogico-
po|itica| visionofthc immorta|body.To cxtcnd thcdiscussion bcyond
thc fronticrs of Catho|icism, thc Saint-Simonians, to takc on|y onc
cxamp|c, cspouscda bc|icfin anorganicsocicty w
ich wastobc bui|t
on thc ruins of thc rcvo|utionary agcs, and which wou|d bc ab|c to
conccivc of and cc|cbratc its own immorta|ity. Thc invcntion of thc
'rc|igion of humanity`, Enfantin`s substitution of thc indcstructib|c
body of socicty, or cvcn that of humanity, for that of thc king, thc
substitution of Scicncc for thc ho|y book, of Saint-Simon for thc
The Death of Immortality?
Mcssiah - nonc of thcsc cvcnts can concca| thc hcritagc of thc past,
cvcn though thcy rc|atc to acomp|ctc|yncwvision ofindustryandof
organization, and, morc gcncra||y, to an artihcia|ist, constructivist
phi|osophy of thc socia| which brcaks with Christian tradition. Thc
humanist conccption of a g|orious immorta|ity, on thc othcr hand�
bcgins to b|ossom with thc risc of thc bourgcoisic, and this is a
phcnomcnon with much widcr imp|ications. Thc c|aboration of a
nationa| history and of a history of humanity, and thc |cgitimation of
thc individua|, which cxistcd on|y in out|inc in thc ûftccnth and
sixtccnth ccnturics, supp|y itwithncwrcsourccs. Butwccan sti|| scc
traccsofcar|icrattcmptsto imprint thc nation, thc institution and thc
individua| ona monumcnta| timc, to sanctify Rcason andRight- thc
Right whosc 'immorta|princip|cs`wcrchna||ycstab|ishcd in 1789 - to
cngravc impcrishab|c namcs on thc co||cctivc mcmory, and to hand
on to futurc gcncrations thc torch bornc by thc |iving, as thinkcrs of
thc pcriod wcrc so fond of saying.
If, howcvcr,wccomparc 'rc|igiousinsanity` with bourgcoishuman-
ism,wcsccthatsomcthingncwdocsappcar. thcfunctionofdiscoursc,
which is constant|y prcsscd into scrvicc to producc immorta|ity. Not
that immorta|ity cvcr|ackcd a symbo|ic, or cvcn propaganda. whcn it
scrvcd thc monarchy and thc rcpub|ic. But thcrc is no comparison
bctwccn that and thc rhctorica| and pcdagogica| mcans that arc
cmp|oycd to makc bc|icfin immorta|ity a guarantcc ofthc durabi|ity,
not on|y of a spccihc rcgimc, constitution or institution - bcginning
with thc institution of thc fami|y - but of civilization itself. Thc
cxp|anation for this urgcnt nccd to cxprcss bc|icf in immorta|ity in
formu|ac andc|oqucnt imagcs isthat mcnarc hauntcd by thc idca of
thc brcak-up of thc socia|, and that dcmocracy thrcatcns, somctimcs
imp|icit|y and oftcn cxp|icit|y, to bring that about. Civic humanism
took shapc in thc hftccnth ccntury, wc notcd, as a rcsu|t of a dcsirc
to cmcrgc from an agc of darkncss into thc |ight that thc Ancicnts
Thc bourgcois humanism of thc ninctccnth ccntury cxpcricnccs an
ambiguity which undcrmincs its ccrtaintics. It docsnotscc barbarism
simp|y as a thing of thc past- not to mcntion thc fact that it usua||y
rcgardsbarbarism ashavingtwoaspccts. thatoffcuda| timcs and that
of thc Tcrror, which mcans that cvcn thc |ight of 1789 cannot makc
it forgct thc darkncss that surrounds it. Rangcd in front of it, it sccs
thc barbarian masscs, thc '|itt|c pcop|c` who havc nopropcrty and no
cu|turc, who arc rcady to risc, and whosc irruption on to thc pub|ic
stagcwou|ddcstroythcctcrna|foundationsofthcsocia|ordcr. Atthc
samc timc, noonccansoundthcdcpthsofthisfca
that |ics within thc proudconstruction, atthc hcart ofthcsupposcd|y
impcrishab|c cdihccofbourgcoiscivi|ization withoutsccingthatita|so
produccs a ncw fcc|ing that both thc princip|c and thc hcart of
civi|ization arc contingcnt. Thc grcat task, which is bcstcxprcsscd by
Guizot, is to makc it c|car that the Revolution is over. But what no
276 0" the Irreducible Element
onc sccmsab|cto cradicatcis thc idcaofthe event, not mcrc|yofthat
spcciñc cvcnt, but of thc cvcnt as such, which no |ongcr cxists with
timc, but which can fracturc and undo timc, which can givc birth to
thcunknown. ithasa||thcmightofdisordcr,andnocstab|ishcdordcr
can bc guarantccd to prcvcntitfrom bcing un|cashcd.
Ifwcacccptthat thcnotionofsovcrcign immorta|itywasbound up
with thc u|timatc |cgitimacy of thc body po|itic and that it was for
ccnturics bound upwith thc |cgitimacy of thc monarchy, howcou|d it
aftcr thc tragic fai|urc of a tcrrorist powcr which c|aimcd to bc thc
trics fcvcrish|y to acquirc ncw cmb|cms cntit|ing it to |cgitimacy and
to promotc a rccognitionofitsvocationforimmorta|ity, but it cannot
raisc itsc|fupwithout scnsingthc void bcncath itsfcct. Thc powcr to
which it givcs its a||cgiancc - rcprcscntativc powcr - is no |ongcr
organica||y |inkcd to socicty, and thc agconwhichitwantsto inscribc
thc symbo|s of its durabi|ity is no |ongcr organica||y |inkcd to car|icr
agcs. In thc aftcrmath of 1830, Chatcaubriandñnds thc words to jccr
at thc bourgcoisic. 'Thc on|y thing that wc now |ack is thc prcscnt
within thc past. That is no grcat |ossl As though thc agcs did not
providc a foundation for onc anothcr, and as though thc |atcst agc
cou|d stand on thin airl `''` Or again, 'Thc dynasty ofSaint Louis was
so powcrfu| thanks to its cxtcnsivc past that whcn it fc||, it torc away
part ofsocicty`s foundations`- and itis not that hc has any dcsirc to
scc its rcstoration.' And if wc a|so agrcc that attachmcnt to
impcrishab|c things and bcings is bascd upon thc cxpcricncc of a
continuity bctwccn gcncrations, customs and traditions, how can wc
fai| to bc struck by thc contrast bctwccn thc mcmory of that
pcrmancncc, andthc attcmptto cstab|ishitssigns, andthcncwvision
of changc, thc accc|cration of production, of thc circu|ation of
commoditics, of thc brcak-up of inhcritcd propcrty, and of mobi|ity
ofcondition, ofthcwhir|wind thatswccpsawaycstab|ishcd positions,
mora|s and idcas7 Onc usua||y thinks ofMarx in conncction with this
whir|wind. 'A|| ñxcd, fast-frozcn rc|ations, with thcir train of ancicnt
oncs bccomc antiquatcd bcforc thcy can ossify. A|| that isso|id mc|ts
into air, a|| that is ho|y is profancd . . .'.'H If wc simp|y rctain this
passagcfromthcManifesto withoutmcntioningitsauthor'sconc|usions,
wc ñnd that it is an cxprcssion of of a widcsprcad vicw. Ba|zac - a
privi|cgcd rcfcrcncc for Marx - cxhibits a simi|ar awarcncss of thc
whir|wind, cspccia||y inthc astonishing picturc ofParis that opcns La
Fille aux yeux d'or, butsotoodoTocqucvi||c,Chatcaubriand,Michc|ct
andQuinct.Whcnoncrcadsthcm, andwhcnoncrcadsChatcaubriand
in particu|ar, onc hcsitatcs to say that thc advcnt of a mass socicty,
thc |oss of a scnsc of duration and thc ruin of thc works or idcas on
which it cou|d oncc imprint itsc|f arc rcccnt phcnomcna. Docs thc
The Death of Immortality? 277
conc|usion ofthc Memoires d'outre-tombe rcfcrto thc |ast ccntury, or
to thc cnd of ourown ccntury7
Thco|d Europcan ordcris cxpiring. In thccycsofpostcrity, our
currcnt dcbatcs wi|| |ook |ikc pucri|c strugg|cs. Nothing cxists.
thc authority of cxpcricncc and agc, birth or gcnius, ta|cnt or
virtuc arc a|| dcnicd, a fcw individua|s c|imb to thc summit of
thcruins,proc|aimthcmsc|vcsgiants, andthcnfa||tothcbottom
|ikc pygmics.
Hc gocs on:
In thc |ifc of thc City, cvcrything is transicnt, rc|igion and
in thcir own fashion. In things of a |owcr naturc, wc ñnd thc
samc inabi|itytoconvincc, or cvcnto cxist, a rcputation|astsfor
barc|y anhour, abookgrowso|dina day, writcrs ki|| thcmsc|vcs
to attract attcntion, that too is vanity, no onc cvcn hcars thcir
|ast sighs.
Lctus a|so|ook atonc |ast passagc, which is not simp|ya rhctorica|
ßourish. On morc than onc occasion, Chatcaubriand suggcsts that an
thcmfacctofaccwiththc bana|ityofdcath. Historianswho c|aim that
thc dcath of Dcath occurrcd on|y a fcw dccadcs ago wou|d bc
astonishcdby thc picturcofcho|crawhichthcwritcrboth drcams and
dcscribcs. First, hc drcams it. 'Imaginc ashroudßoating|ikc abanncr
from thc towcrs ofNotrc-Damc, and thc canon ñring sing|c shots to
warnthcimprudcnttravc||cr. . . .` Hcdrcamsofitrcducingaprostratc
pcop|ctotcrror andsi|cncc asthcytrcmb|c at thcir praycrs. And thcn
hc dcscribcs cho|cra in Faris in 1817: 'Ascourgcwith no imagination
. . . wa|king abroad with a mocking smi|c in thc bright |ight of day in
acomp|ctc|yncwwor|d,andcarryingabu||ctin. . . . `Cho|craisccrtain|y
an agcnt of tcrror, but it is an agcnt of an unknown tcrror. 'Bri||iant
sunshinc, an indiffcrcnt crowd, thc ordinary roundof|ifc. . .. '
Thc imagc of a g|orious immorta|ity docs undcrgo a rcnaissancc in
thc ninctccnth ccntury, but itconcca|s a wound to which thc turgidity
of bourgcoisdiscourscbcarswitncss, and asma|| numbcr ofwitncsscs
know just how dccp that wound is. Thc witncsscs thcmsc|vcs havc
not, howcvcr, |ost thcir scnsc of immorta|ity. And that conccrns us
Cou|d it bc that thcy arc sti|| hcirs to thc discrcct humanism wc
dcscribcd car|icr, to a humanism which docs not givc way to rapturc,
to a rccognition of mcn andthcirworks7 To a ccrtain cxtcnt this is
no doubttruc. Butthcnotionoftimc-diffcrcncc is notthc samc, oncc
thc notion oftimc itsc|f haschangcd,oncc thc fracturc bctwccn before
278 On the Irreducible Element
and after has bccomc immcdiatc|y tangib|c, oncc, as a rcsu|t of that
fracturc, humanity`s who|c past - thc Oricnt as wc|| as Grcccc, thc
Midd|c Agcs and thc Rcnaissancc - cmcrgcs, is summoncd into thc
Thc past rc-cmcrgcs,chargcd with mcaning, buta|somarkcdwith thc
signof|oss. And nordocsthcnotion thatmanhastwo |ivcs- atrivia|,
prosaic|ifcspcnt in day-to-day dca|ingswith othcrs, and a poctic |ifc
in which hc participatcsin thc univcrscofcu|turc and po|itics- rcmain
unchangcd, oncc po|itica| |ifc and |itcrary production arc no |ongcr
conhncd to minority groups, oncc thcy pcrmcatc thc cntirc spacc of
which nourishcsthcworkbccomcscombincd- I wi||notsay confuscd
- with that ofopinion.
Wc wou|d try in vain to dissociatc thc idca of immorta|ity which
oftcmpora|ityandhisncwrc|ationshipwiththcpub|ic. Chatcaubriand,
whomwccvokcd car|icr, isworthyofmcntionbccausc, a||toooftcn,
it issaid that hcdisp|aysan immodcratcdcsirctoimmorta|izchimsc|f
and to providca spcctac|c for postcrity- andhcdocsattimcsdisp|ay
unmistakab|csignsofthatdcsirc. Yctfcwwritcrssharcd hisawarcncss
of thc void that was opcncd up by thc fa|| of thc monarchy, and oI
thc impossib|c coincidcncc bctwccn what oncc was- and it sccms to
himthat it has gonc for cvcr - and what is yct t� bc - a futurc which
hc somctimcs imagincs to bc a constant proccss of dccadcncc, and
which hc somctimcs rccognizcs as thc cra of anothcr socicty which
and immorta|ity on its sidc, and hc says so, but hc knows that it is
dcad. And,howcvcrmuch hcmayrcgrctthcfactthatits|ifc-spanwas
cut short by its advcrsarics, it is impossib|c to bc|icvc that hc sccs it
asbcingthcvictim ofan accidcnt. Hispicturc ofthc Lcgitimistwor|d
|cavcsusinnodoubtastothat: 'Hc cnjoysthcdccrcpitudcthatcomcs
with timc,hcis b|ind anddcaf, hcisfrai|,ug|y andsur|y,buthc |ooks
quitc natura|, and crutchcssuit him athis agc.`Thc conccssion to thc
natural is madc on|y in ordcr to bring out j ust how ridicu|ous thc
survivorsofthc Empirc arc. Thcy arc not antiqucs|ikcthcLcgitimists,
and thcy havc not grown o|d as a datcd fashion grows o|d, thcy arc
|ikc thc dcitics that dcsccnd from thcir chariots ofgo|d cardboardon

thc stagc of thc opcra. Thc imagc of thc opcra itsc|f hc|ps him to
rcvca| thc monarchica| masqucradc. As hc dcscribcs thc thcatrc in
which thc Duc dc Bcrry was assassinatcd, hc cvokcs 'thc cmpty
auditorium aftcr thc cnd ofatragcdy` and conc|udcs. 'Thc monarchy
ofSaint Louis |ay dying bchind a mask amongst thc dcbauchcry of a
carniva|, in a p|acc which thc Church had pronounccd anathcma.` His
rcspcct for thcpcriodofthc immorta| monarchy andthcdcvotion hc
showcd to Char|csX aftcr his abdication go hand in hand with thc
pub|ic statcmcnt that hc ncvcrbc|icvcd in thc divinc right of kings.
Hcsccs|cgitimacy and thco|dimmorta|ity as no morc thansimu|acra
The Death of Immortality?
which wcrc uscfu| to thc socia| ordcr. As for his own scnsc oI
immorta|ity, not on|y docs hc fai| to invcst it in a sovcrcignty which
cou|dhavcguarantccdthc immorta|ityofhiswork, it hndscxprcssion
in his vcry abi|ity to say both that it has gonc and that it was ncvcr
anything morc than a mask. Morc gcnera||y, it hndscxprcssion in hi
abi|ity to occupy a position that cannot bc |oca|izcdintimc and spacc
bccauscitisnotthcpositioninwhichhcdistinguishcd himsc|finpub|ic
|ifc or in |itcraturc. It is a position which rcvca|cd how far hc was
from having hisroots in rca|ity, bccausc itdid not inscribc him in thc
g|orious coursc of History, but it did opcn his cycs to what was
appcaringand whatwasdisappcaringintimc- or,tobcmorcaccuratc,
for it is not simp|y a mattcr of sccing what was fa||ing into thc past
and what was in gcstation, itdid givc him time regained in time lost.
Thc choicc of words is no accidcnt, for no work docs morc to
anticipatc Froust than thc Memoires. No othcr work b|urs in this way
thc individua| and thc socia|, bctwccn pcrsona|and historica| tcmpor-
a|ity, bctwccn bcing and appcarancc, noothcrwork trics in thisway,
as Chatcaubriand puts it,tomakc 'both cndsof|ifc mcct` by undoing
thcrcprcscntationofbcginning, midd|candcnd,andthatofanout|inc
which a||ows an imaginarywor|d to bc kcpt at a distancc from a rca|
Thcscnscofimmorta|ityprovcsto bc bound upwith thc conqucst
of a p|acc which cannot be taken, which is invu|ncrab|c, bccausc it is
thc p|accofsomconc-whoisncithcranindividua|inthccontcmporary
scnscofthcword nora subjcct in thc phi|osophica| scnsc ofthcword
- who, byacccptinga||thatismostsingu|arinhis|ifc,rcfuscstosubmit
hc scts frcc brcaks and rc|ations which no onc bcforc him has
cxpcricnccd and which wc nowcxpcricncc through him.
Wcwou|d attcmptinvaintorcducc thisframcofmindtothcstatus
ofa psycho|ogica|orpsychosocio|ogica| trait. Wc arc not dca|ingwith
adcsircforg|ory that hasbccnrcshapcdbythcncwcu|toforigina|ity.
Ifwc bc|icvc that, wc forgct onc thing. for us, Chatcaubriand is not
dcad. And why docs hc |ivc on, un|css it is bccausc his thought and
his |anguagc makc him pccr|cssand bccausc (and thisamountsto thc
samc thing) thcy causc to cmcrgc from within thought and |anguagc
thcmsc|vcs somcthing which is unprcccdcntcd but sti|| spccihc,
somcthing which partakcs ofthcir csscncc, somcthing singu|arwhich,
oncc it has comc into bcing, bcars thc strangc ha||mark of bcing
somcthing that must bc.
Canwcsaythatthisplace that cannot be taken hasa|waysbccnthc
p|acc ofthc writcr, no mattcr how far back inhistory wc go7 Evcn iI
that wcrc truc, wc wou|d havc to admit that thcwritcr ncvcr kncwit.
Thc ccrtainty of bcing must vanish into thc cxpcricncc of naturc,
socicty, timc, and|anguagcifwriting istobccomcthcthcatrcinw
280 all the Irreducible Element
without thc guarantcc of a modc|. It must vanish if somconc is to
assumc thc right to spcak without thc protcction of thc |aw which
supposcd|y founds thc organization ofspccch, or to ccasc to divorcc
discovcry from thc invcntion of what has to bc said. Thc disso|ution
of thc markcrs ofccrtainty coincidcs with thc risc of dcmocracy as a
rcsu|t ofthc co||apsc ofthc u|timatc sovcrcignty or |cgitimacy which
thc Monarchy hadforccnturicsc|aimcd to cmbody. But, aswc havc
a|rcady suggcstcd, thcrc is anothcr aspcct to that cvcnt. cvcrything
thatonccborcamcaningthatwasinscarchofctcrnityis nowdiffuscd
amongst an cvcr-cxpanding audicncc and its fatc now dcpcnds upon
thc pub|ic rcccption it is givcn, thc obvcrsc of that cvcnt is thc
cxpansion ofa |anguagc which, bccausc it brcaks with popu|ar spccch
or with what Stcndha| ca||s thc natural, provcs to havc thc qua|ity of
a scho|ar|y |anguagc, to bc organizcd in accordancc with norms, and
is idcntihcdwith it bccauscthcyboth mcan brcakingwith thc masscs.
And so thc writcr can on|y rcach thc imprcgnab|c p|acc hc sccks by
pctrihcd |anguagc ofOpinion. Hc docsnot simp|y assumc thc right to
spcak without thc protcction of thc |aw that founds |anguagc, hc
dcfcnds himsc|f against thc tyrant dcscribcd by Tocqucvi||c. thc
anonymous powcr of Opinion, which absorbs a|| that is thought or
spokcn - thc singu|ar as such - and convcrts itinto a commonplace.
Wc took Chatcaubriand as an cxamp|c, but hc is prcsumab|y not thc
on|y truc writcr of thc ninctccnth ccntury to havc bccn hauntcd by
thctwin imagcsofastcrcotypcd,standardizcd|anguagcwhichcns|avcs
a||spccch, andfrom whichspccchmustbc rcc|aimcd, and a|anguagc-
abyss into which spccch may fa||, no mattcr how novc|, nimb|c or
intimatc it may bc.
Butwhatisthiscommoll place whcrc thcimpcrishab|c motto citcd
in Latin bccomcs a p|atitudc, whcrc thc |atcst fashionab|c turn of
phrasc and conccpts that wcrc invcntcd ycstcrday triumph7 Has it
nothingtodowiththccommon world whichArcndtdcscribcsasbcing
thc basisforany thought of ctcrnity? How can wc givc immorta|ity a
namc, whcn thcvcryword that namcs it is caught upin thc contagion
of stupidity7 At thc cnd of his Revolution, Quinct writcs. 'Do you
think that, nowthatithasbccnrc|cnt|css|ycxp|oitcdforfourthousand
ycars, stupidity or, to givc it its historic namc, foo|ishncss, is sti|| a
virgin minc7 No onc who puts his hand into it is |ikc|y to cxhaust it.`
Hcgocs on.
Wc bccomc annoycd whcn wc scc foo|ishncss. it is infatuatcd,
sc|f-assurcd, impcrturbab|c and a|ways ncw. Wc wou|d bc so
much morc cquitab|c if wc kncw how sinccrc and how o|d this
foo|ishncss is, ifwckncwitsnob|c|incagc,ifwckncwhow many
stu|tihcd gcncrationsithas takcn tobringit tothis pcrfcction of
form and contcnt, if wc kncw how |ong naturc had to work to
The Death of Immortality? 281
sprcad it around, tochoosc it rathcr than any othcrc|cmcnt, to
corroboratc its dcsccntfrom fathcr to son,drawingitfrom cvcry
possib|c sourcc, causing it to incrcasc, and cmbc||ishing and
dccorating it down thc agcs, ifwc kncw how naturc has passcd
it down from scrf to bourgcois, from robc to sword, from c|cric
toscigncurinordcrtoproducc thisprodigyofstu|tihcationwhich
confounds us,outragcsus andsaddcnsus, and whichwc shou|d,
on thc contrary, admirc, wcrc it not that wc oursc|vcs arc part
of it.
lt is no doubt truc that, |ikc many mcn of his gcncration, Quinct
sti|| has ascnscof immorta|ity. But, u|timatc|y,fcwmcndisp|ay thcir
bc|icfs outsidc thc framcwork of thc dominant idco|ogy. Hugo and
Lcroux wcrc two such mcn, but thcy rcbc||cd against what Quinct
ca||s'foo|ishncss. . . infatuatcd,sc|f-assurcd,impcrturbab|canda|ways
ncw` and, as it happcns, thc foo|ishncssagainstwhich thcy rcbc||cd is
thc asscrtion that immorality does 1I0t exist. Thcir argumcnts arc
cxtravagant,notinthcscnscthatthcyarc not scrious,butinthcscnsc
that thcy |cavc thc bcatcn track, takc thcir advcrsarics by surprisc,
usc thcwhir|windofwritingtorcscucthcirrcadcrsfrom thcwhir|wind
of Opinion and, by ming|ing history, rc|igion, scicncc, po|itics and
writing, makc thcm |osc a|| scnsc of timc and p|acc.
Canctti writcs of Stcndha| that. 'Thisrarc and frcc man had, nonc
thc |css, onc artic|c of faith, which hc spokc of as simp|y and as
natura||y as of a mistrcss. Without pityinghimsc|f, hcwas contcnt to
writcfora fcw, but hc wasccrtain that in a hundrcdycarshc wou|d
bc rcad by many.` " Thc imagc of a mistrcss is wc|| choscn in that it
capturcs thc idca that immorta|ityisno |ongcr a qucstion forthc |aw,
that it has bccomc thc most privatc aspcct ofhuman |ifc, and that it
has nothing to do with making a g|orious appcarancc in thc pub|ic
Darc wc vcnturc to say that thc ncw attitudc towards immorta|ity
that wc hnd in a sma|| numbcrofninctccnth-ccnturywritcrshc|ps us
to undcrstand thc ob|ivion into which it has fa||cn in our ccntury?
Somcthing that cou|d oncc bc said, providcd that it was said
uncmphatica||y, can no |ongcr bc norma||y said. But what cannot bc
said is not ncccssari|y dcad, and it is not ncccssari|y a sign of
dcgradation. Arcndtisccrtain|yrightto dcnouncc thctragcdyofmass
socicty, and Adorno is ccrtain|y right to dcnouncc onc of its cffccts.
thccu|turcindustry. Butthcyarc on|y ha|fright. Thcyfai|toscc that,
a|though it has forgottcn immorta|ity, modcrnity has dcihcd ccrtai
tyrants, andhascvcncmba|mcdthcbodicsofsomcofthcmaftcrthcir
dcaths. Thcy a|so fai| to scc that, u|timatc|y, thcrc is an c|cmcnt of
body. Signihcant|y, Canctti p|accs his cu|ogy of Stcndha| at thc cnd
of a chaptcr cntit|cd 'Thc survivor`. Thc |owcst form of thc passion
forsurviva| is, hcbc|icvcs, to bcfoundinthctyrant- thc |owcst and,
282 01 the Irreducible Element
I wou|d add, thc most obsccnc, bccausc hc docs not simp|y ki|| in
cvcryonc`s consciousncss. That initsc|fshou|dinspirc ourcra to takc
a morc sobcrvicwofthc idca of immorta|ity andto rcjcct cvcry sign
of ostcntation. 'Whocvcr opcns Stcndha|, Canctti gocs on, `wi|| ñnd
him and a|so cvcrything which surroundcd him, and hcñnds it here,
in this |ifc.°'Wc ñnd thc samc contrast, in cvcn morc curious form,
bctwccn thc imagc of a tyrant who swa||ows up thc |iving, and thc
imagc ofa |ink bctwccn human bcingsthatcansurvivctimcinashort
story by Nabakov. Tyrallls Destroyed is thc story of a man who is
|itcra||y posscsscd by thc imagc of thc body of a tyrant. Hc ncvcr
|cavcshisdoub|c, andoncccvcn approachcs him. Now, hc is fami|iar
with cvcry dctai| of his|ifc. Thcyrisc atthc samc timc, cat thc samc
to night. hcimitatcsthc tyrant`scvcrygcsturc, hiscvcrythought. But
hc thinks constant|y of ki||ing him. On thc tyrant`s birthday, hc is
carricd away by a pocm writtcn in his honour. His hatrcd vanishcs,
hc cvcn wants to dic, to bc punishcd. And suddcn|y, |aughtcr savcs
him. His |aughtcr rcvca|s that cvcn hisown story is ridicu|ous. But it
transforms his dcsirc for dcath into a dcsirc for immorta|ity. And so
hc dcdicatcs his story to postcrity.
This is an incantation, an cxorcism, so that hcnccforth any man
cancxorciscbondagc. I bc|icvcinmirac|cs,I bc|icvcthatinsomc
way, unknown to mc, this chronic|c wi|| rcach othcr mcn . . .
And, who knows, - I may bc right not to ru|c out thc thought
thatmychancc|abourmayprovcimmorta|, and mayaccompany
thc agcs, now pcrsccutcd, now cxa|tcd, oftcn dangcrous and
a|ways uscfu|.41
dcsirc, bornc a|ong by a puff of |aughtcr. But it is possib|c that
Nabakov hascapturcdan c|cmcnt in thc spirit of our timc that cou|d
not bc rcvca|cd by thc thcoristofthc death of immortality.
1 . Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago University Press, Chicago,
2. See ch. 10.
1 . This article provided the basis for a paper read to the Law Faculty of the
Facultes Saint-Louis in Brussels on the occasion of a day conference
organized by the Dean. Fran'ois Ost. on 'Actualite des droits de l'homme
dans rEfal-providence'. In it. I refer to a document drawn up by Fran<ois
Ost 'and his associates. The reader will forgive me if I occasionally use
formulations from an earlier paper entitled 'Droits de l'homme el polifique',
which was frst published in 1980 (Libre, 7 (1980), reprinted in L'lnvention
democratique (Paris: Fayard, 1981). Translated as 'Politics and Human
Rights', tr. Alan Sheridan, in Lefort, The Political Forms of Mod:-:rn
Society, ed. John B. Thompson (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1986). I have
found it impossible to eliminate these minor repetitions without destroying
the coherence of an argument which was elaborated with different purposes
in mind.
2. Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy ill America. the Henry Reeve translation
as revised by Francis Bowen (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1945), vol. II,
p. 318.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., p. 319.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid., p. 321.
7. Lefort, 'Politics and Human Rights. '
8. Pierre Manent. 'Democratie et totalitarisme', Commentaire. IV, 1 6
9. Pierre Pachet, 'La Justice et Ie con Hit des opinio
s', Passe-Present. 2
( 1 983).
284 Notes
1 . Hannah Arendt, Interview with Gunther Gauss. 'Was bleibt? Was bleibt
die Muttersprache·. in Gauss. Zur Person (Feder. Munich 196).
2. Hannah Arendt. Between Past and Future (Faber and Faber. London.
1961). p. 14.
3. Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Adventures of the Dialectic. tT. Joseph Bien
(Heinemann. London. 1974). p. 3.
4. Gauss interview.
5. Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition (University of Chicago Press.
Chicago. 1958).
6. Hannah Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism (George Allen and Unwin.
London. 1963). p. 338.
7. Ibid .. p. 336.
8. Moses l . Finlay, Politics in the Ancient World (Cambridge University
Press. Cambridge, 1983).
9. Arendt, Between Past and Future, pp. 4-5.
10. See also Claude Lefort. 'Hannah Arendt et Ie totalitarisme', in Colloque
des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociates, L'Aliemagne nazie et Ie genocide
jllif (Hautes Etudes/Gallimard. Le Seuil. Paris. 1985). pp. 517-35.
1 . Robespierre. speech of 1 1 Germinal. year 11. Histoire parlementaire de la
Revolution. vol. XXXII (Suchez and Roux).
2. Taine. Les Origines de la France contemporaine. vol. III. p. 77.
3. Mortimer-Teraux. Histoire de la Terreur. 1792-1794 (Paris. 1863-81 ) .
4. Georges Lefebvre. Le Gouverement revolu/ionnaire, 2 juin 9 thermidor /I
(Centre de Documentation universitaire. Paris. 1947).
5. Saint-Just, speech of 8 Ventose. year II, His/oireparlementaire. vol. XXXI.
6. Mortimer-Ternaux, His/oire. vol. 111. p. 33. [The chambres arden/es were
courts empowered to condemn criminals to be burned; translator].
7. Ibid . • p. 36.
8. Ibid . . vol. VlII. p. 376.
9. Ibid . . p. 403.
10. Lefebvre, Gouverement revolutionnaire, pp. 1 19-20.
1 1 . Camille Desmoulins. Le Vieux Cordelier, Histoireparlementaire. vol. XXX.
12. Mortimer-Ternaux, Histoire. vol. VIII. p. 389; Thiers. Histoire de la
Revolution FraJl{aise, vol. IV. p. 365.
13. BiIlaud-Varenne. speech on the theory of democratic government. Histoire
parlementa ire• vol. XXXII.
14. Robespierre, speech of 8 Thermidor. Year II. Histoire parlementaire.
vol. XXXIII.
15. Thiers, Histoire. vol. V. p. 286.
16. For the documentary evidence, see Mortimer-Ternaux. Histoire, vol. III.
17. Ibid.; vol. 1II. p. 133.
18. Buchez and Roux; Histoire parlementaire. vol. XXIV. p. 204.
1 9. Lefebvre, Goul'ernement relolutionnaire, p. 264 f.
Notes 285
1. Fran�is Furet, Interpreting the French Revolution, tr. Elborg Foster
(Cambridge University Press and Editions de la Maison des Sciences de
I'Homme. Cambridge and Paris. 1981).
2. Fran�ois Furet and Denis Richet. La Revolution Fran{aise. Hachette. Paris
two vols . . 1965-1966). A One volume edition was published by Fayard.
Paris in 1973.
3. Furet. Interpreting the French Revolution. p. 12.
4. Michelet. Le Tyran. p. 1009.
5. Michelet. Histoire de la Revolution Frafl{aise (Gallimard. Bibliotheque de
la Pleiade. Paris 1979). vol. I. p. 30.
I . Michelet. Histoire de la Revolution. vol. I. p. 297.
2. Ibid . . p. 296.
3. The quintessence of Buchez's interpretation of the Terror will be found
in the preface to vol. XXVII: 'Les Journees de septembre. '
4. Michelet. Histoire. vol. I. p. 295.
5. Ibid .. p. 298.
6. Ibid . . p. 299.
7. Ibid . . vol. II. p. 622.
8. Ibid . . p. 623.
9. Ibid .• vol. I. p. 301 .
10. Ibid . . p. 241.
1 1 . Ibid . . pp. 1003. 1086.
12. Edgar Quinet. La Revolution. References are to the third edition. 2 vols.
Paris 1865. and are given in parentheses in the body of the text.
1. Joseph Ferrari . Machiavel juge des revolutions de notre temps. Paris. 1849;
page references are given in the body of the text; Le.' Philosophes salaries.
Paris 1 849; reprinted. Payot. 'Critique de la politique·. Paris 1983.
2. Machiavelli. The Prince. tr. George Sail (Penguin. Harmondsworth. 1961).
p. 58.
8 REREADING The Communis
1 . Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Signs. tr. Richard C. McCleary (Northwestern
University Press. Evanston. 196). pp. HII I .
2 . Karl Marx. 'The Manifesto of the Communist Party'. i n Marx. The
Revolutions of1848. ed. David Fernbach (Pelican. Harmondsworth. 1973).
Page references are given in parentheses in the body of the text.
3. The introduction and notes to Charles Andler's edition of the Manifesto
286 Notes
(Petite Bibliotheque socialiste. Paris) can still be read with proft.
4. As we noted earlier. Charles Andler in exemplary detail explores Marx's
debt to his predecessors.
1 . Alexis de Tocqueville, L 'Ancien Regime et la Revolution Franfaise (AR).
vol. I. p. 193. References are to A.-P. Mayer's edition of the Oeuvres
2. Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America (DA). References are to
the revised Reeve translation.
3. Alexis de Tocqueville. Recollections. tr. George Lawrence (Doubleday,
Garden City, New
ork, 1971), p. 170.
4. Benjamin Constant, De la Liberu! des modemes. ed. Marcel Gauchet (Le
Livre de poche. Paris 1980). Page references are given in parentheses in
the body of the text.
1 . The page references given in parentheses are to the revised Reeve
2. Fran�ois Furet brings out the ambiguities of Tocqueville's thought in his
essay 'De Tocqueville and the Problem of the French Revolution'. in
Furet. Interpreting the French Revolution.
3. Despite its interest. the remainder of Book II will not be examined here.
Tocqueville's views on the development of industry. on the condition of
the proletariat. and as to whether or not the industrial class forms an
aris�ocracy in the United States do relate to the problematic of equality
and -'freedom. but their analysis would require a separate study.
i . G.W.F. Hegel. Philosophy of Mind. tr. William Wallace (The Clarendon
Press, Oxford, 1894), pp. 156-7.
2. Ernst Kantorowicz. The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Meclieml Political
Theology (Princeton University Press. Princeton. New Jersey. 1957).
3, Marc Bloch. The Royal Touch: Sacred Monarchy and Scrojltia in England
lind France, tr. J. E. Anderson (Routledge and Kegan Paul. London. 1973).
4. Joseph Strayer. Medieval Statecraft and the Per,\pectives of History
(Princeton University Press. Princeton. New Jersey. 1971).
1 . Victor Hugo. Oeuvres Compleres (Club fran�ais du livre. Paris) vol. XII,
p. 49.
2. Ibid" p. 54.
3. Ibid" p. 55.
Notes 287
4. Pierre Leroux. La Creve de Samarez (Klincksieck. Paris. 1979).
5. Cited in Pierre Albouy, Mythographies (Corti, Paris, 1976). Albouy gives
an accurate account of the confict between Hugo and Leroux and. more
generally. of the intellectual climate on Jersey and Guernsey at this time,
6. Tocqueville, Democracy in America. vol. II, p. 99.
7. Ibid" p. 98.
S. Ibid" p. 328.
9. Ibid" p. 99.
1 0. Ibid.
I i . Ibid" p. 135.
12. Ibid" p. 134.
13. Ibid" p. 135.
14. Ibid., p. 134.
15. Ibid., p. 143.
16. Ibid., pp. 143-.
17. Ibid., p. 145.
IS. Ibid.
19. Ibid" p. 146.
20. Ibid. For an analysis of Tocqueville's philosophy and of the basis of his
interpretation of democracy, see Pierre Manent. Tocqueville et la nature
de la democratie (Julliard, Paris, 1982).
21 . Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, tr. E.F.N. Jephcot! (Verso, London,
1978), pp. 10(1.
22. Philipp Aries. Essais sur I'histoire de la mort en Occident, du Moyen Age
a nos jours (Editions du Seuil. Paris, 1975).
23. Ibid.
24. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, p. 1 8.
25. Ibid" p. 55.
26. Ibid" p. 56.
27. Ibid., pp. 54-5.
28. Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (Faber and Faber, London, 1963), p. 232.
(The quotation is from Harrington.)
29. Ibid., p. 235.
30. Michelet. 1868 preface to La Revolution Franraise.
31. On the advent of the modern state and on its theologico-political
foundations, see Kantorowicz, The King's Two Bodies. and Strayer,
Medieval Statecraft.
32. E. Garin. L'Educatioll de I'hornme moderne (Fayard, Paris. 1962).
33. Arendt, The Human Condition. p. 168.
34. Edgar Quinet, La Revolution, vol. II, p. 263.
35. Niccolo Machiavelli. letter to Francesco Vettori. in Machiavelli. /I Principe,
e Pagine dei Discorsi e delle Istorie. ed. Luigi Russ
(Sansoni. Florence,
1967), pp. 29-30.
36. Chateaubriand. Mhnoires d'olllre-tombe (Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la
Pleiade, 1950), p. 492.
37. Ibid" p. 60.
3S. Marx, 'Manifesto" p. 70.
288 Notes
39. Elias Canetti. Crowds and Power tr Ca I St t (V' G II , .
co ewar Ictor 0 ancz.
London. 1963). p. 277.
40. Ibid .. p. 278.
41 . Vladimir Nabakov. Tyrants Destroyed (Weidenfeld and Nicolson London
1975). pp. 36-7.
• •
and the French Revolution 1 13. 1 14
in Arendt 51
and representation, in Furet 92-3
and totalitarianism 48. 4'-50
Adorno. Theodor 261. 263. 274. 281'
Adventures of the Dialectic
(Merleau-Ponty) 47
Albouy. Pierre 257
Christianity and revolution in 248
and democracy, in Tocquevill
e 169.
172. 176. 183-6. 187. 190
religion and immortality in 258. 259
anarchy. fear of in Tocqueville. 202.
Ancient Regime et al Revolution
(Tocqueville) 28. 89. 102
Arendt. Hannah 37. 39
and immortality 265-8. 27()"2. 274.
280. 281
and the political 6. 45-55. 265
Aries. Philippe 261 . 262-3
aristocratic society
and equality 188. 190. 194. 197
in Tocqueville 198- 9. 204. 258
Aristotle 24. 269
Aron. Raymond 45
association. in TocquevilJe 198- 200.
authority. in Tocqueville 26-7
Badinter. Robert 44
Ballanche. Pierre 139. 214. 237. 257
Balzac. Honore de 276
Barbaroux. Charles 86
Barbey d·Aurevilly. Jules 135
Baudelaire. Charles 135. 148
Bergson. Henri 171
Berry. Duc de 278
Between Past and Future (Arendt) 46.
Billaud-Varenne. J. N. 68. 78- 80. 126
Blanc. Louis 1 15
Bloch. Marc 252
Bonald. L. 139
Borgia. Cesare 1 41 . 143
and the French Revolution 99.
and humanism 275-6
and individualism. in Arendt 53. 55
in Marx 153-. 155-6. 157. 159-60.
Bracton. Henry de 254
Brissot. J. 63. 74. 1Il8- 9
Buchez. Philippe. 1 15-17. 1 18
Buffon. G. 241
Burke. Edmund 38. 52. 69. 105
Calonne. C. de 242
Cam bon. Joseph 125
Canetti. Elias 281-2
Capital (Marx) 150. 1 51 . 161
in Arendt 55
and fascism 13
i n Ferrari 147
and the French Revolution 99. IIX)
and the monarchial system 17
and the French Revolution 1 1 5. 1 1 6.
1 18. 123-4. 125. 239
290 Index
in Michelet 248, 249
and the theologico-politicaI 21 3, 21 5
Cavaignac, Louis \37
Chabot, Fran�ois 61 , 63
Char, Rene 54
Charles X, King of France 278
Chateau briand, F. 96, 214, 276-7,
278- 9, 280
Chaumette, Pierre 88, 125, \33
in Arendt 265, 266, 268
and democracy 235
in Michelet 237, 238, 242, 2439
and philosophy 223-
and the theologico-politicaI 213-14,
230, 235--
in Toqueville 260
see also Catholicism: Reformation;
civil liberties 34, 36
and the liberal state 23
and the Revolutionar T err'r 69
civil society
and associations 199
and equality 192-3, 194, 196
and human rights 33
and the liberal state 23
and the state 5, \3, 16, 34, 35-,
227, 231
class divisions
and the French Revolution 100, 1 01
i n Marx 158- 9
and revolution 91-2
Cochin. Augustin 97, 1 1 1 . 1 13
common sense
in Arendt 47-8
Communist Manifesto, The (Marx) 1 ,
149-62, 276
Comte, Auguste 155, 257
and the Revolutionary Terror 59,
60. 61 , 62-3, 68, 74, 83
death, and immortality 261-5, 277
Declaration of the Rights of Man
(1791) 30-2, 38
in Arendt 53, 55
in Constant 172
in Ferrari \37-8 '
and the French Revolution 1 13, 1 14
and human rights 21-44
and the individual 180-2
and political freedom 170
and power 224, 225-8
question of 9-20
and religion 230
and the theologico-political 232-5
in Tocqueville 14-16, 25-8, 168- 9,
and totalitarianism 12, 14, 16,
19-20, 28- 30, 39, 224
Democracy in America
(Tocqueville) 15, 25-6, 166, 167,
170, 173, 178, 183-209, 258, 260 .
democratic revolution
in Tocqueville 24, 26, 103, 18, 188,
, 190, 191, 274
Desmoulins, Camille 59, 61 , 62, 6,
70, 75-7, 84, 86, 125
and democracy 201, 204, 206, 207,
/ 208
l and equality 187
Gnd freedom 199, 200
of liberty, Robespierre on 73, 76,
and the Revolutionary Terror 73.
75-, 78, 1 21 , \31
in Tocqueville 25, 28, 166, 167, 1 68'
177. 178 Constant, Benjamin 24, 33, 96, 136,
\39 and totalitarianism 10, \3, 16
174, ,direct democracy 171 and Tocqueville 166, 1 71-2,
Cousin, Victor 135, 214
Couthon, Georges 82, 85
Dante, Alighieri 144, 235-, 244, 250,
and immortality 263, 268
Danton, Georges Jacques 125, 127,
death of 65-, 84, 120, 247
Donation of Constantine 252
eclectism 214, 215
economic freedom. i n Tocqueville
economy. and the French Revolution
Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napo·
n (Marx) \37
Enfantin, B. 257, 274
Index 291
Engels, F. 1 51
in Arendt 51 , 52, 53, 54
of condition. ·in Tocqueville 26.
172-3, 177, 183, 186, 187-8,
189, 1 91 , 192, 193, 194, 195--,
197, 204, 242
and freedom, in Tocqueville
and the French Revolution 94, 103,
and the Terror 59-88, 126-8,
128- 31 , 147
and the theologico-political 21 3,
2 14, 231 , 239-41
and Tocqueville 54, 89, 96, 97,
102-3, 1 13, 1 14, 122, 255
see also revolution
Furet. Francois
and the French Revolution' 89-1 1 4
106, 1 13 . . German Ideology, The (Marx) 151
and the Revolutionary Terror 62. gooand evil, distinction between, and
6, 68, 69 the Revolutionary Terror 73, 80,
Esquiros, H. 1 15 81
Europe Gramsci. Antonio 141
democracy in 169, 184, 190, 191 , Greece, Ancient
202 in Arendt 50, 265, 267
Fabre d'Eglantine, P. 61
fascism 9
and capitalism 1 3
Ferrari, Joseph. on revolution 1 35-48
feudalism, and the French Revolution
Finlay, Moses 53
Fouche, J. 85, 88
and Arendt 45
democracy in 184, 1 88- 9, 190
and Ferrari 135
and the liberal state 23, 24
and Marxism 4
and the priestly monarchy 243-8
and the theologico-politicaI 21 3, 21 4
of association 23, 40, 173, 20
and democracy 40, 170, 227
and human rights 21 . 31 . 32-3, 40
and immortality 256-7
in Marx 157-8
of opinion 23, 32, 33, 35
and political philosophy 9-10
in Tocqueville 25, 26-7, 28
and totalitarianism 29
see alsoindividual freedom: political
French Revolution 1
in Arendt 52, 54
in Buchez 1 15-17
In Furet 89-1 14
and immortality 271-2
in Michelet 96-7, 1 15-16, 1 1 7-20
and immortality 267, 268
and the political 3, 53
Greve de Samarez, La (Hugo) 256,
257, 260
Guadet, M. 86
Guizot, Fran�ois 24, 96, 139, 23 1 . 237,
249, 275
Hebert, Jacques 63, 125, 132, 133
Hegel, G. 155, 2 14, 21 5, 230, 231 ,
Heidegger, Martin 10, 46, 55
Histoire de France (Michelet) 238- 9
in Arendt 54
criticisms of 5. 6
and human rights 22, 37, 38
and Arendt 47, 52
in Buchez 1 16-17
and the critique of rationalism 45-
and the French Revolution 89, 90,
93-, 104
in Marx 156-7
and the theologico-political 221
Homer 263
Hugo, Victor 256-7, 281
Humall Conditioll, The (Arendt) 51 ,
265-6, 267, 270
human nature 5
in Arendt 6, 54
and human rights 21 , 31 . 37-8
human rights. and the welfare state
292 Index
humanism 4
and immortality 270-1 . 272. 275.
and the monarchy 254
and the theologico-politico 254. 255
Husser!. E. 46
ideology. and the French Revol­
ution 93. 94. 106. 107. 1 1 3
immortality 256-82
and democracy. in Tocqueville 206.
and equality. in Tocqueville 201
individual. the
in Arendt 52
and the French Revolution 107. 1 12.
1 13
in Saint-Simon 176
in Tocqueville 15. 267. 175. 1 76-8,
17&-9, 180-2, 204, 209
individual freedom
in Constant 171
in Tocqueville 169-70, 17S-9
in Arendt 53, 55
in Tocqueville 198, 199, 200, 203,
Inquisition, the, and the French Rev­
olution 1 18, 120, 131
and Arendt 47
left-wing, and political philosophy
1 0-1 1
Italian Renaissance
in Ferrari 138, 139-41 , 143-4
and immortality 269- 70, 272-3
Jacobinism, in Cochin 1 1 I . 1 12, 1 13
Jaspers, Kar! 46
Kantorowicz, Ernst 244, 250. 253
kings see monarchy
and democracy IS, 19, 34. 43, 179,
226. 227, 228, 233
and event-bound history 90
and totalitarianism 55
La Boetie. Etienne de 76. 179
Lamartine, A. 1 15
Latin America 22
and democracy 18, 19, 34, 39, 43,
179, 226, 227, 228, 233
and the Revolutionary Terror 82
in Tocqueville 15
and totalitarianism. 39. 48, 49, 55
Lefebvre, Georges 70
Legendre, Louis 60, 62
Leroux, Pierre 96, 135. 139, 214, 249 .
and immortality 256. 257, 263, 281
Levi-Strauss, c 10, 95
and democracy 41
and human rights 22, 23-5
neo-liberalism, and rights 42 '
and public opinion 35
in Ferrari 147
and the French Revolution 106. 1 21 ,
122, 123
and Machiavelli 139, 146
in Quinet 130
and the Revolutionary Terror 68,
71 , 72, 73, 74. 76, 77-8, 79,
Louis XVI, King of France 244-7, 250
Louis-Philippe. King of France 135,
148, 214
Louvet. Jean Baptiste 86
Machiavelli, Niccoli 5. 130
Ferrari on 136-7, J.3S, 139-48
and immortality 272-3
Maistre, J. de 139. 214
Manent, Pierre 30, 33, 34, 35
Manuel, Eugene 125
Marat, Jean Paul 68, 83, 86. 125
Marx. Karl IS, 3S, 105, 21 S
and bourgeois society 35
and the Comnzunist Manifesto 1 .
149- 62. 276
and Ferrari 137
and philosophy 51-2
and rationalism 45--
and the rights of man 23, 32. 33-4
and the French Revolution 98, 99,
and history 5
and Marx 149. 150. 1 51 . 152
and political philosophy 3-4. 12
and politics 91
and totalitarianism to
materialism. i n Tocqueville 250-60
Mer!eau-Ponty, Maurice 20, 47, 152.
218, 233
Michelet. Jules 34, 41 , 1 21 , 133, 134.
214, 231 , 272
and the French Revolution 96-7,
1 15-16, 1 17-20
and immortality 268, 276
and the theologico-political 236-9.
254, 255
Mignet, F. 231
militants, revolutionary 106
Mirabeau, H. 109
modernity, and democracy 55
monarchy 237
in Buchez 1 1 6
and Chateaubriand 27&-9
and democracy 16-18, 27
and equality 188
and the French Revolution 97, 100,
102, 103. 1 10, l l l . 1 12, 1 14,
1 16, 1 17, 120
and immortality 26&-9
priestly conception of 23&-9. 242,
243-S. 250
and the Revolutionary Terror 71 ,
78. 79
and the rights of man 30. 31
Montesquieu, C. 5, 24, 193, 241
Moses 129
Nabakov, Vladimir 282
Napoleon Bonaparte 141-2
Napoleon III (Louis Napoleon) 137-8
nation, the
and sovereignty 30-1
and the theologico-political 231-2
Natural Right and History
(Strauss) 12
natural rights 30,31
and Arendt 46, 47
and philosophers 20, 233
nihilism 54
On Revolution (Arendt) 267
On the Jewish Question (Mmx) 30,
32, 33
differences of 222
freedom of 23. 32, 33, 35
and the French Revolution 109,
1 10-1 1
and rights 42
in Tocqueville 198, 205
see also public opinion
order, and the French Revolution 122
Ost, Fran,ois 22
Pachet, Pierre 44
Peguy, Charles Pierre 33
people, the
and the French Revolution 79,
107-8, I l l , 132-4
in Tocqueville 205, 206. 208
Petion, J. 63, 65
Peyrefitte, Alain 44
philosophical societies, and the French
Revolution 1 1 1-12, 1 13
in Arendt 51
, critique of religion 223-4
see also political philosophy
Plato 2, 3, 6, 51 , 55
plot. the. and the French Revolution
107, lOS
political, the
in Arendt 6, 45-55, 265
defning I , 10-1 1 , 21 61 8
political freedom
in Constant 171-2
in Saint-Simon 175
in Tocqueville 165-Q, 168, 170,
17&-9, 195. 201
political philosophy 2. 3, 9- 20. 150,
and political science 21 9-21 , 225
and religion 22S-9
political science 2, 3. 10-12, 21&-19
political sociology 2. 1 0-1 1
Communism as 152
in Constant 1 71
and democracy 17-18, 19. 39, 225-8
and democracy . in Tocqueville
203, 205, 206-7, 20&-9
despotic, and· the Revolutionary
Terror 75-
as an empty place 232. 233
in Ferrari 147
and the French Revolution 102. 106.
107-12. 122
in Furet 91 , 92
294 Index
and individual freedom 172
in Michelet 241
and political analysis 21 9
i n politics 50
and the Revolutionary Terror 68- 9,
75-6, 79, 86, 87
and rights 3 I . 42, 43
social power. in Tocqueville 166-7
of state, and rights 36
and the theologico-political 254
in Tocqueville 15, 25-6, 27-8,
173-4, 176, 178, 179
and totalitarianism 13. 55
and the welfare state 29
see alsosocial power; tutelary power
Prince, The (Machiavelli) \36, 139,'
1 41 . 145, 146
Principe" politiques (Constant) 17 I .
proletariat. in Marx 16-1
Proudhon, Pierre Joseph 96, \35, \37
Proust, Marcel 279
public opinion
and democracy 35, 42-3, 4
in Tocqueville 15, 27
public space
in Arendt 52, 266
and human rights 41-2, 43
in politics 50-I
and rights 35, 36
Quinet, Edgar 34, 41 . 96, \35, 214
and the French Revolution 1 14,
1 15-34, 272. 120-34
and immortality 276, 280-1
and the theologico-political 239,
240, 248, 249
and the French Revolution 1 16, 124
and revolution 140
and the theologico-political 213
regime. defnition of 2. 3
and American democracy 186
in Arendt 265
and democracy 1 91 . 230
and the French Revolution 123-6,
and immortality 259, 260
and the monarchy. in Michelet
in Marx 157
and Napoleon 142
and political philosophy 228-9
and the state 231-2
and the theologico-political 21 3-14,
215, 223-4
see also Catholicism; Christianity
religious sensibility. defnition of 216
Renaissance see Italian Renaissance
and action, in Furet 92-3
in Arendt 55
and philosophy 224
representative democracy. and the
French Revolution 1 13, 1 14
Republic, The (Plato) 3
Resistance. the. in Arendt 54-5
in Arendt 45
as principle and as individuul 135-48
and totalitarianism 50
Revolution, La (Quinet) 1 21 . 122,
Revolution fran�aise. La (Michelet)
237, 238, 239
Richet, Denis 89
equal, in Tocqueville 196
to have rights 37, 40 "
of individuals 1 71 . 172, 205
of man 2 1 , 52, 54, 147
and the Revolutionary Terror 61.
66, 72
see also human rights
Robespierre, M, 126, 142
and the despotism of liberty 73, 76,
77-8 .
and the French Revolution \04, \08,
\09, 125
and immortality 267, 271 . 272
and Machiavelli \39
and the monarchy 247
and the Revolutionary Terror 73.
76, 82, 84, 85, 87-8, 126, 127,
132, 133 .
speech by 59-69, 86
Roland, Jean-Marie 65
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 1 18-19, 127,
145, 241
Roux, Jacques 74, 1 15
Russian Revolution 94-5
Saint-Just, L 1 1 9, 125, 126, \32, 133,
and American democracy 172
equality and freedom in 183-209
On democracy 14-16. 19. 25-8
and the Revolutionary Terror 68,
75, 77. 78, 83, 85, 86-7
speech by 70-1 . 72-3, 80-1
Saint-Simon, C 1 16, 155, 1 75-6, 177,
181 , 274-5
and immortality 257
Shakespeare, William 263, 274
Sieyes, E, \02, 142
social. the
defning I I
and totalitarianism 13. 49
social power 172
in Tocqueville 167, 172, 179, 1 81 .
and totalitarianism t
and universal suffrage 1 9
society. forms of and political philo-
sophy 1 1-\ 2
sociology see political sociology
Socrates 2
Solzhenitsyn, A, 234
space see public space
in Arendt 53-4
and immortality 280
and revolution 109-10
and the Revolutionary Terror 78
by Robespierre 59-69
by Saint-Just 70-1 . 72-3, 80-1
and totalitarianism 50
Sta;1. Madame de 139, 166
Stalinism. and philosophers 20
state. the
in Arendt 52
and civil society 5, 13, 16, 34, 35-6
liberal state. and human rights 22.
and religion 231-2
Stendhal \36, 280, 281-2
Strauss, Leo 2, 12, 54, 55
Strayer, Joseph 253
Taine, H" 69
Tallien. Jean Lambert 85
Thierry, Augustin 96, 231
Thiers, L 69, 82-3
thought, in Arendt 46-7, 48
Tocqueville, Alexis de I . 5, 136,
172-82, 224
and the democratic revolution 24.
26, \03, 184, 188, 190, 1 91 . 274
on freedom 165-71 , 178-9
and the French Revolution 54, 89.
96, 97, \02-3, 1 1 3, 1 14, 122
and immortality 258-61 . 276
On the individual 180-2
and Michelet 241-2
and opinion 35
and religion 249
in Arendt, 6, 46, 50, 52-5
condemnation of 4
and democracy 12, 14, 16, 19-20,
28-30, 39, 224
features of 12-14
and human rights 39. 40
and philosophers 233
and Plato's Republic 3
and political philosophy \0
and politics 48-51
and the theologico-political 215,
tutelary power
in Tocqueville 25-6, 28, 201 . 207
and totalitarianism 29
and the Revolutionary Terror 72.
73, 74, 80
in Tocqueville 25, 28, 201
und totalitariani5m 48
tyrants. and immortality 280. 281-2
in Arendt 47-8
United Nations Charter 21
United States 45
see also America
universal suffrage 23
and democracy 18-19, 175, 227
Vergniaud. Pierre 124
Vieux Cordelia.
(Robespierre) 75, 76
virtue. and the Revolutionury Terror
72-3, 75, 84
Voltaire 241
welfare state. and human rights 21--

This English translation copyright © Polity Press 198K First published as Essais sur Ie poliliqul? copyright © Editions du Seuil 1986. First puhlished in English 1988 by Polity Press in association with Basil Blackwell. Editorial Office: Polity Press. Dales Brewery. Gwydir Street. Cambridge CBI 2LJ, UK Basil Blackwell Ltd 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 IJF. UK All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purposes of criticism and review. no part of this publication may be reproduced. stored in a retrieval system. or transmitted. in any form or by any means, electronic. mechanical. photocopying. recording Or otherwise. without the prior permission of the publisher. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Lefort, Claude Democracy and PQiiticai theory 1. Democracy I. Title English 321.8 ISBN II. Essais sur Ie politique. JC423 0-74SfHl437-4


Translator:s Note Introduction Part I

vii 1 7 9 21 45 57 59 89 115 135 149 163 165 183 211 213 256 283 289

On Modern Democracy

The Question of Democracy 2 Human Rights and the Welfare State 3 Hannah Arendt and the Question of the Political Part II 4 5 6 7 8 On Revolution

The Revolutionary Terror Interpreting Revolution within the French Revolution Edgar Quinet: The Revolution That Failed The Revolution as Principle and as Individual Rereading The Communist Manifesto On Freedom

Part III

9 Reversibility Political Freedom and the Freedom of the Individual 10 'From Equality to Freedom Fragments of an Interpretation of Democracy in America Part IV On the Irreducible Element

1 I The Permanence of the Theologico-Political? 12 The Death of Immortality? Notes Index

Typeset in Times 10 on 12 pt by Photo' graphics. Honiton. Devon Printed in Great Britain by Billing & Sons Ltd, Worcester

Translator's Note

The essays in this volume were first collected in Claude Lefort, Essais sur Ie politique (X/xc-XXc siee/es) (Paris: Seuil, 1986). Details of previous publication are given below. 'The Question of Democracy' originally published as 'La Question de la democratie' in Denis Kambouchner et a!., Le Retrait du politique (Paris: Galilee, 1983). 'Human Rights and the Welfare State" originally published as ' Les Droits de l'homme et I'Etat-providence', Revue interdisciplillaire d·t!tudes juridiques, \3 (1984). 'Hannah Arendt and the Question of the Political', originally published as ' Hannah Arendt et la question du politique', Cahiers du Forum pour !"independence et la paix, 5 (March 1985). The essay is the text of a lecture given at the Centre Rachi. 'The Revolutionary Terror', originally published as 'La Terreur revolutionnaire" Passe-Present, 2 (1983). 'Interpreting Revolution within the French Revolution', originally published as 'Penser la revolution dans la Revolution Fran�aise', Annales, 2 (1980). 'Edgar Quinet: The Revolution That Failed', originally published as 'Edgar Quinet: La Revolution manquee', Passe-Present 2 (1983). 'The Revolution as Principle and as Individuar. originally published as 'La Revolution comme principe et com me individu', in Dif erences, f valeurs, hierarchie: Melanges of ferrs a Louis Dumont (Paris: Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. 1984). 'Rereading The Communist Manifesto" originally published as

who might be expected to have become sufficiently disenchanted with the rival dominant ideologies to want to discern the preconditions for the development of freedom. which inclines them to break with dogmatic beliefs. In order to do so. they would of course have to give new meaning to the idea of freedom. is usually banished from scientific language or relegated to the vernacular. They can be ignored. that take place in our world. I am more concerned with those intellectuals and philosophers who claim to belong to the left or the far left. that is. And yet they abandon it to the vagaries of public opinion. because of their desire to find some meaning behind the events. small. but they have been increasing for some time. I am not alone in working to that end.1 The Question of Democracy My purpose here is to encourage and to contribute to a revival of political philosophy. are and remain stubbornly blind to the political. but from political philosophy. no doubt. Our numbers are. For the sole motivation behind political philosophy has always been a desire to escape the servitude of collective beliefs and to win the freedom to think about freedom in . What surprises me is that most of those who ought to be best-equipped to undertake it because of their intellectual temperament. they cut themselves off. or at last to shed some light on the obstacles that stand in its way. it does not become a slogan for small groups of intellectuals who declare that they have taken sides and who are content with anti­ communism. as we have seen their kind before. the simple word I have just used. they refuse to contemplate or even perceive that momentous event. 'Freedom'. confused as they may be. because of their philosophical culture. when. By doing so. although it must be admitted that there is as yet little enthusiasm for the task. not from public opinion. Although they live in an era in which a new form of society has emerged under the banner of fascism on the one hand and under that of socialism on the other. apparently on the grounds that everyone defines it in accordance with their own wishes or interests. even though they claim to be in search of rigorous knowledge. no matter how much noise they make.

what caused the mutation? Was it an economic cause. because political science emerges from the suppression of this question. or indeed tyranny. but how many intellectuals are still haunted by the spectre of the correct theory. It claims to be able to provide a detailed survey or reconstruction of that space by positing and articulating terms. by forging specific systems of relatIons. or even by combining them into an overall system. philosophers ask. for their part. not in what we call political activity. which they regard as particular facts and as distinct from other particular SOCIal facts. Whenever they hear the word ·totalitarianism·. an experience which is at once primordial and umquely shaped by our insertion into a historically and politically det�rmined framework. Vietnam. But such feelings have no lasting intellectual effect. because democracy is defined as bourgeois. It is obscured in the sense that the locus of politics (the locus in which parties compete and in which a general agency of power takes shape and is reproduced) becomes defined as particular. moreover. be a mistake to restrict ourselves to a critique of Marxism. Cambodia. world-wide ambitions. Giving them a form implies both giving them meaning (mise en seils) and staging them (mise ell scene). and a meaning which is not particular. Lacan. 'social' being defined as designating modes of relatIOns between groups or classes. do not attempt to define politics as a superstructure whose base is to be found at the supposedly real level of relations of production. we find expressions of sympathy for the dissidents persecuted by communist regimes or for popular uprisings. or does it relate to the rise of state bureaucracy?' I am. or Cuba. no entities (classes or segments of classes). It appears in (he sense that the process whereby society is ordered and unified across its divisions becomes visible. One effect of this fiction is immediately obvIOUS: modern democratic societies are characterized by. despotism itself is becoming invisible. the just and the unjust. no economic or technical determinations.10 all Modem Democracy The Questioll of Democracy 11 society. It would. as though the observations and constructs did not themselves derive from the experie. If we are to reinterpret the political. They are given meaning in that the social space unfolds as a space of intelligibility articulated in accordance with a specific mode of distinguishing between the real and the imaginary. relations and activities which appears to be political. but in the double movement whereby the mode of institution of society appears and is obscured. in China. let it be noted. and no dimensions of social space exist until they have been given a form. They are unable to discern freedom in democracy. the scientific or the purely social. This observation is in itself an invitation to return to the question that once inspired political philosophy: what is the nature of the difference between forms of society? Interpreting the political means breaking with the viewpoint of political science. surprised: how can they handle ontological differences with such subtlety. This even raises the question of the constitutIOn of the social space. 'What are you talking about? Is it a concept? How do you define it? Does not democracy mask the domination and exploitation of one class by another. and the abolition of universal suffrage or its conversion into a farce which gives one party ninety­ nine per cent of the vote. They are unable to discern servitude in totalitarianism. by the belief that it will reveal the laws that govern the development of societies and that it will enable them to deduce a formula for a rational practice? At best. of course. This approach implies a surreptItIOus reference to the space that is designated as society. Jakobson and Levi-Strauss. or 'true' socialism as they quaintly say. but general. the . juridical. a technological cause. and so on. of the form of society. Political sociologists and scientists. no elementary structures. the juridical. it destroyed the old relationship that once existed between philosophy and naivety by teaching us that the establishment of a concentration-camp system. the permissible and the forbidden. The fact that something like politics should have been circumscribed within social life at a given time has in itself a political meaning. while the principle which generates the overall configuration is concealed. the standardization of collective life and mass conformism? Even if we do agree that history has given birth to a monster. and then fall back upon such crass realism when the question of politics arises? Marxism. and it forgets that no elements. among other things. the extermination of millions of men and women. Yet now that we are faced with the rise of a new type of despotism (which differs. as I said. They obtain their object of knowledge by constructing or delineating political facts. it has always borne in mind the essential difference between the regime of freedom and despotism. we must break with scientific points of view in general and with the point of view that has come to dominate what are known as the political sciences and political sociology in particular. without ever examining the form of society within which the division of reality into various sectors appears and is legitimated. of the essence of what was once termed the 'city'. the suppression of freedom of association and freedom of expression. in Eastern Europe. tells us nothing about the nature of Soviet society. But the most remarkable thing of all is that the withering away of that ideology has done little to set thought free or to help it return to political philosophy. of a despotism which has. The political is thus revealed. that is being constructed in the USSR. the true and the false. has been through this stage too. Political sociologists and scientists find the preconditions that define their object and their approach to knowledge in this mode of appearance of the political. the aesthetic. from ancient despotism as much as modern democracy differs from classical democracy). such as the economic. vie with one another in exploiting the combined resources of Heidegger.nce of social life. It emerges from a desire to objectify. however. as distinct from other spheres whIch appear to be economic. the delimitation of a sphere of institutions. It may well be admitted that it is not socialism.

and it merges with a knowledge which is also embodied. this argument itself comes up against limitations which will not be examined here. and if we claim to be able to reduce knowledge to the limits of objective science. at its highest level. we are concerned with the most characteristic features of the new form of society. it deprives the subject of the means to grasp an experience generated and ordered by an implicit conception of the relations between human beings and of their relations with the world. democratic or totalitarian. In the case of German or Italian fascisms. and at the same time power itself claims to be the organ of a discourse which articulates the real as such. as they adapted themselves to the maintenance of capitalist structures. ultimately. which is assumed to be a society fulfilling its destiny as a society . whatever changes they may have undergone as a result of increased state intervention into the economy. But it is important at least to recall that the Soviet regime acquired its distinctive features before the era of the socialization of the means of production and of collectivization. Such a neutral subject is concerned only with detecting causal relations between phenomena and with discovering the laws that govern the organization and the workings of social systems or sub-systems. though we have no grounds to think that it might not reappear in the future) and in its communist variant (which is going from strength to strength) obliges us to re-examine democracy. claiming to be by its very nature different from traditional parties. the party and the proletariat are one. The widespread view to the contrary notwithstanding. It fails to recognize that any system of thought that is bound up with any form of social life is grappling with a subject­ matter which contains within it its own interpretation. By ascribing neutrality to the subject. or arbitrarily.may well turn everything to account as circumstances demand. Knowledge of the ultimate goals of society and of the norms which regulate social practices becomes the property of power. as in Nazism . and who show that the analyst is working within a perspective forced upon him by the need to defend his economic or cultural interests. but it can never be challenged by experience. to represent the aspirations of the whole people. The rise of totalitarianism. but only if we specify that it is modern and differs from all the forms that precede it. between the pursuit of power or of private interests and the pursuit of the common good. Well-founded as it may be. and through the formation of a multiplicity of microbodies (organizations of all kinds in which an artificial socialization and relations of power conforming to the general model are reproduced). Whilst there develops a representation of a homogeneous and self-transparent society. It takes power by destroying all opposition. and at the same time all signs of differences of opinion. the spirit of the movement. in a single individual. It prevents the subject from grasping the one thing that has been grasped in every human society. totalitarianism does not result from a transformation of the mode of production. we break with the philosophical tradition. belief or mores are condemned. and is governed by the representation of power as embodiment. beneath the cloak of a hierarchy in the determinants of what we take to be the real. But for our purposes. The fiction of this subject is vulnerable to more than the arguments of critical sociologists and Marxists who object to the distinction between factual judgements and value j udgements. and the party are one. of a People-as-One . the corollary of the desire to objectify is the positioning of a subject capable of performing intellectual operations which owe nothing to its involvement in social life. in such a way that nothing can split it apart. I would like now to draw attention to what reinterpreting the political means in our times. The proletariat and the people are one. in all its modes. the new power is accountable to nO one and is beyond all legal control. The theory or if not the theory. We can use the term despotism to characterize this regime. We then fall back on value judgements. from a mutation of a symbolic order. we lose all sense of the difference between forms of society. Power makes no reference to anything beyond the social. They are staged in that this space contains within it a quasi-representation of itself as being aristocratic.12 011 Modern Democracy The Questioll of Democracy 13 normal and the pathological. the point does not have to be stressed. in the crude statement of preferences. If we refuse to risk making judgements. and to possess a legitimacy which places it above the law. Leo Strauss's attacks on what might be termed the castration of political thought as a result of the rise of the social sciences and of Marxism are sufficiently eloquent for us not to dwell on the issue here. Modern totalitarianism arises from a political mutation. this is brought about through the agency of the ubiquitous party which permeates everything with the dominant ideology and hands down power's orders. between truth and lies. as circumstances demand. the egocrat. is denied. and whose meaning is a constituent element of its nature. monarchic. As we know. Power is embodied in a group and. we have only to turn to the critique that opens Natural Right and History. A condensation takes place between the sphere of power. What in fact happens is that a party arises. social division. the one thing that gives it its status as human society: namely the difference between legitimacy and illegitimacy. the sphere of law and the sphere of knowledge. as though it had no limits (these are the limits established by the idea of a law or a truth that is valid in itself). between authenticity and imposture. the politbureau and. the course of events is of little import. either hypocritically. and the change in the status of power is its clearest expression. it relates to a society beyond which there is nothing. despotic.' Let me say simply that if we ignore distinctions that are basic to the exercise of the intellect on the grounds that we cannot supply their criteria. it rules as though nothing existed outside the social. A logic of identification is set in motion. State and civil society are assumed to have merged. both in its fascist variant (which has for the moment been destroyed.

democracy too is seen to be a form of society. He then examines public opinion as it conquers the right to expression and communication and at the same time becomes a force in its own right. is irrefutable. in the individual. He posits the idea that a great historical mutation is taking place. Nor am I trying here to reveal the contradictions totalitarianism comes up against.14 011 Modern Democracy The Question of Democracy 15 produced by the people who live in it. at the same time. in its wake. is increasingly dedicated to the task of standardizing norms of behaviour and. When seen against the background of totalitarianism. finally. it acquires a new depth and cannot be reduced to a system of institutions. and what it is about it that leads to its overthrow and to the advent of totalitarianism. as a result of equality of condition. and he arrives at that conclusion because. an exploratory incision into the flesh of the social. [ believe. etc. Although he attempts to locate the fundamental principle of democracy in a social state . I will merely state that in his attempt to bring out the ambiguous effects of equality of condition. impoverished and at the same time trapped by the image of his fellows.the creation of the new man . law. literature. In its turn. to be striving towards a goal . now that agglutination with them provides a means of escaping the threat of the dissolution of his identity. Society appears to be a community all of whose members are strictly interdependent. to make. which is inherent in democracy.a term which it would not be appropriate to discuss here. takes an interest in social bonds and political institutions. His investigations are important to us in several respects. as it becomes detached from subjects. and what we are in a position to observe. such as the phenomenon of the production-elimination of the enemy (the enemy within being defined as an agent of the enemy without. At every moment of his analysis. Tocqueville helps us to decipher the experience of modern democracy by encouraging us to look back at what came before it and. The image of the body comes to be combined with the image of the machine.he explores change in every direction. in the mechanisms of public opinion. and our task is to understand what constitutes its uniqueness. language. and reveals the underside of both the positive . signs of freedom . What he fails to see. omnipotent. but which. and so on. The thing that marks him out from his contemporaries is in fact his realization that democracy is a form of society. but it does open up a very fruitful line of research which has not been pursued. . except to the people in the abstract. As [ cannot develop my criticisms here. and he puts forward the idea of an irreversible dynamic. Without wishing to discuss the difficulties into which he stumbles . a century and a half have gone by since the publication of Democracy in America.equality of condition . We therefore enjoy the benefits of experience and have the capacity to decipher things that its author could only glimpse. thinks and speaks for itself. the spirit of innovation is sterilized by the immediate enjoyment of material goods and by the pulverization of historical time. and becomes an anonymous power standing over them. Anyone who undertakes such a project can learn a great deal from Tocqueville. on the other hand. democracy stands out against a background: the society from which it emerges and which he calls aristocratic society . as it were. accepts the new demands that are born of changes in mentalities and practices. at the same time it is assumed to be constructing itself day by day. We can ignore other features. or as an interference with the workings of the machine). there is also. Tocqueville usually tries to uncover an inversion of meaning: the new assertion of singularity fades in the face of the rule of anonymity. he examines power. which I have described at length elsewhere. But it is not simply his lack of experience which restricts his interpretation. He traces this contradiction by examining the individual. His explorations lead him to detect the ambiguities of the democratic revolution in every domain. isolated. The distinctively modern feature of totalitarianism is that it combines a radically artificialist ideal with a radically organicist ideal. to acquire an ambition to take charge of every aspect of social life. because it is drawn to the pole of the collective will. the recognition that human beings are made in one another's likeness is destroyed by the rise of society as abstract entity. I am not saying that Tocqueville's analysis of this contradiction. is that another influence or . appears to belong to no one. It is only recently that Tocqueville has become a fashionable thinker. in forms of sensibility and forms of knowledge.let me simply observe that his explorations are usually restricted to what I have termed the underside of the phenomena he believes to be characteristic of the new society. which has been set free from the arbitrariness of personal rule. an intellectual reluctance (which is bound up with a political prejudice) to confront the unknown element in democracy.and the negative . but who is.and to be living in a state of permanent mobilization. in religion. who has been released from the old networks of personal dependency and granted the freedom to think and act in accordance with his own norms. he looks at things from both sides. or may emerge. as a parasite on the body. Even this brief outline allows us to re-examine democracy. opinion or morals) fades in the face of the rule of uniformity. He examines law which. to look ahead to what is signs of servitude. But his intuitive vision of a society faced with the general contradiction that arises when the social order no longer has a basis seems to me to be much more important than his reputation. the assertion of difference (of belief. even though its premisses had long been established. and that he does not pursue his explorations by examining the underside of the underside. and which threatens to become unlimited.I have given some indication of these elsewhere" . that he has been defined as the pioneering theorist of modern political liberalism. moves from one side of the phenomenon to the other. precisely because it destroys all the individual instances of authority. and which. history. in his view.

reduce that event to. so. the birth Df demDcracy signals a mutatlDn Df th� symbDlIc order. it will be enDugh to. understand the law Df its DrganizatiDn and develDpment. as a substantial unity. limit Dur explDratiDns to. the meanIng Df what IS cDming into being remains in suspense. We wDuld be wrong to.ce sDvereign pDwer within the bDundaries Df a terntDry and made hIm bDth a secular agency and a representative Df GDd. On the cDntrary. manifest the principle which generates and Drganizes a sDcial bDdy. This mDdel reveals the revDlutiDnary and unprecedented feature Df demDcracy. In the mDdern wDrld. secretly designates itself as a society without history. But this agency is no. Df the stereDtyped language Df DpInIOn. remain within the limits Df a. while at the same time he was. welcDmes and preserves indeterminacy and which provides a remarkable cDntrast with tDtalitarianism which. by the irruptiDn Df a new meanIng Df h. . it remains the agency by virtue Df which sDciety apprehends itself in its unity and relates to itself in time and space. hDwever. is accDmpanied by the disentangling Df the sphere Df pDwer. Its effects are revealed by the appearance Df ways Df thinking and mDdes Df expressIOn that are WDn In the face Df anDnymity. by. the Dr�er Df empirical facts. frDm incDrpDrating it into. On the Dne hand.ledge as a result Df the disSDlutiDn Df an almDst DrganIC sense Df duratlDn that was Dnce apprehended thrDugh custDms and traditiDns.vleWpDInt Df the law in check. and that the first separatIOn Df state and civil sDciety Dccurred. Under the mDnarchy.and it cannDt be represented. rest upDn an uncDnditiDnal basis. because it is cDnstructed under the slDgan Df creating a new man. PDwer was embDdied in the prince. fDrmal . the mere mDrtals. can be seen to. and is tacitly recDgnized as being purely symbDlic. This dDes nDt mean that he held unlimited pDwer. Dr that Df a particular type Df mDnarchy which. pDwer. the other existed throughDUt the sDcial. a latent but effective knDwledge Df what one meant to. Far from being reducible to a superstructural institutiDn whDse functiDn can be derived frDm the nature Df a mDde Df productiDn. Such a transfDrmatiDn implies a series Df Dther transformatiDns. the principle that generated the order Df the kingdDm. . In Dur turn we claimed to. The prince was a mediator between mDrtals and gDds Dr. the increasing heterogeneity Df sDcial life that aCCDmpanIeS the dDmInan�e Df sD� lety and state Dver individuals. It is in effect within the framewDrk Df the mDnarchy. the level Df empirical history. as the terms Df the cDntradictiDn cDntinue to. This is nDt in fact a matter DfrecDvering from a IDSS Df memDry but.tD dwell Dn the details Df the institutiDnal apparatus. and it therefDre gave sDciety a bDdy. The IDCUS Df pDwer becDmes an empty place. group can be cDnsubstantial with it . the phenDmenDn Df disincDrpDratiDn. cDnclude that pDwer nDW resides in sDciety Dn the grounds that it emanates frDm pDpular suffrage. . We wDuld Df cDurse also. between mortals and the transcendental agencies represented by a sDvereign Justice and a sDvereign ReasDn. The exercise Df pDwer is subject to. by the new pDsitiDn Df. it marks a divisiDn between the inside and the outside Df the sDcial. In ItS very fDrm. the sphere Df law and the sphere Df knDwledge. as they themselves urge u� to identify thDse features which pDInt to. Dr Dnly the men. thIS mutatIOn. The IDCUS Df pDwer is an empty place. which we mentiDned earlier. as cause and effect relatiDns have no. The regime was nDt despDtic. The kingdDm itself was represented as a bDdy. simultaneDusly. need . it cannDt be Dccupied . I have tried Dn several DccasiDns to. Dther-wDrldly pDle. Just as the birth Df tDtalitarianism defies all explanatlDns which attempt to.:. individual and no. by . Once pDwer ceases is such that no. in his Dwn persDn. lIke the gradual extensiDn Df equality Df cDnditiDn.stDry. and they cannDt be regarded merely as effects. in such a way that the hierarchy Df its members. be bDrn Df Dther facts. be displaced. by levelling and unifying the sDcial field and. Dnce it . rather. he cDndensed within his bDdy. It represents the DutcDme Df a cDntrDlled cDntest with permanent rules. a sDclety WhICh. the nse Df demands and struggles fDr rights that place the . recDgnize because we IDSt all sense Df the thus proves to. draw attentIOn to. the mDnarchy was the agency WhICh. descnptIOn If we simply extend TDcqueville's analyses. we must recDgnize that. be able to. IDng. claims to. an uncDnditiDnal pDle. pertinence in the order Df the symbDlic. The indeterminacy we were diSCUSSIng dDes nDt pertaIn to.. Here. institutes relatiDns beween thDse dimensiDns. be mIstaken If. so. to. IDnger referred to. Df state and sDciety were first Dutlined. We will. stress certain Df its aspects. the Drder Df eCDnDmlC Dr sDclal facts whIch. hDld pDlitical authDrity. be the historical sDciety par excellence. This phenDmenDn implies an institutiDnalizatiDn Df conflict. Only the mechanisms Df the exercise Df pDwer are visible. DemDcra. His pDwer pDinted tDwards an unconditiDnal. pDwer was embDdied in the persDn Df the prince. the guarantDr and representative Df the unity Df the kingdDm. the undersid� Df the underside. The impDrtant pDint is that this apparatus prevents gDvernments frDm appropriating pDwer fDr their Dwn ends. the formatIOn Df a �ew despDtlsm. made pDssible the develDpment Df cDmmDdity relatiDns and ratiDnalized activities in a manner that paved the way fDr the rise Df capitalism. IDng as the demDcratic adventure cDntinues. so. . the distinctiDn between ranks and orders appeared to. gave the pnn. and WhICh. Df recentenng Dur investigatiDns Dn sDmething that we failed to. as is mDst clearly attested to. by inscribing itself in that field. The singularity Df demDcracy Dnly becDmes fully apparent if we recall the nature Df the mDnarchical system Df the Ancien Regime. There is no. which was at Dnce mDrtal and immDrtal. that the features. Driginally develDped in a theDIDgicD-pDlitical matrix. themselves.16 On Modem Democracy The Question of Democracy 17 cDunter-influence is always at wDrk and that it CDunteracts the petrificatiDn Df sDcial life. and in that sense. the procedures Df periDdical redistributiDns. as pDlitical activity became secularized and laicized. the law and placed abDve laws. by the unfDlding Df multiple perspectives D� historical knD. Being at Dnce subject to. And because Df this·. . who.

on the contrary. There is always a possibility that the logic of democracy will be disrupted in a society in which the foundations of the political order and the social order vanish. when conflict between classes and groups is exacerbated and can no longer be symbolically resolved within the political sphere. a process of questioning is implicit in social practice. The young Marx saw this only too well. could once be articulated as a result of a belief in the nature of things or in a supernatural principle). which are relations of domination and exploitation. But neither the state. the emergence of an anonymous power facilitated the expansion of state power (and. more generally. cannot put an end to this practice. it seems to me. as Tocqueville foresaw. as a society which undermines the representation of an organic totality. If we bear in mind the monarchical model of the Ancien Regime. moreover. Or to put it another way. for example. which is always dedicated to the task of restoring certainty. the conditions for the formation of totalitarianism. makes the paradox of democracy more palpable than the institution of universal suffrage. Number replaces substance. It is also significant that in the mneteenth century this institution was for a long time resisted not only by conservatIves and bourgeois liberals. the important point is that democracy is instituted and sustained by the dissolutioll of the . but he mistakenly reduced it to a dialectic of alienation. Nothing. to be defined under the aegis of knowledge and in accordance with norms that are specific to them. I have been forced to ignore a major aspect of the empirical development of those societies which are organized in accordance with its principles . the meaning of the transformation can be summarized as follows: democratic society is instituted as a society without a body. and it is always dependent upon a debate as to its foundations. and that the work of ideology. the people nor the nation represent substantial entities.and this would merit a lengthy analysis . law and knowledge. Economic. and in which the exercise of power depends upon conflict. scientific. when the people is assumed to actualize itself by expressing its will. usually misunderstood. on the other hand. When individuals are increasingly insecure as a result of an economic crisis or of the ravages of war.18 all Modern Democracy The QuesTioll of Democracy 19 ceases to condense within it virtues deriving from transcendent reason and justice. chosen to concentrate upon a range of phenomena which are. It is at the very moment when popular sovereignty is assumed to manifest itself. the legitimation of purely political conflict contains within it the principle of a legitimation of social conflict in all its forms. to be more accurate. In this brief sketch of democracy. in which that which has been established never bears the seal of full legitimacy. in its dependence upon a political discourse and upon a sociological and historical elaboration. I have. Similarly. and especially the division between those who held power and those who were subject to them . that no one has the answer to the questions that arise. which was once linked to the person of the prince or to the existence of a nobility. a new relation to the real is established. the disappearance of natural determination. the nation and the state take on the status of universal entities. leads to the emergence of a purely social society in which the people.that. law and knowledge assert themselves as separate from and irreducible to power. if not to explain. It is this which leads me to take the view that. but also by socialists . j ust as the exercise of power proves to be bound up with the temporality of its reproduction and to be subordinated to the conflict of collective wills. at every level of social life (at every level where division. without the actors being aware of it. law and knowledge become disentangled. As power. and as to the legitimacy of what has been established and of what ought to be established. always bound up with ideological debate. knowledge and the enjoyment of rights to a minority. The erection of a political stage on which competition can take place shows that division is. in which differences of rank no longer go unchallenged.and this resistance cannot simply be imputed to the defence of class interests. The dimension of the development of right unfolds in its entirety. In my view. I am not suggesting that it therefore has no unity or no definite identity. The relation established between the competition mobilized by the exercise of power and conflict in society is no less remarkable. this relation is guaranteed within the limits of networks of socialization and of specific domains of activity. in which right proves to depend upon the discourse which articulates it. when power appears to have sunk to the level of reality and to be no more than an instrument for the promotion of . A dialectic which externalizes every sphere of activity is at work throughout the social. And that in turn" leads me to at least identify. should not make us forget that it stems from a new symbolic constitution of the social. so the autonomy of law is bound up with the impossibility of establishing its essence. in a general way. Their representation is itself. that social Interdependence breaks down and that the citizen is abstracted from all the networks in which his social life develops and becomes a mere statistic. Nor am I forgetting . the power of bureaucracies). tend to be asserted. constitutive of the very unity of society. I am certainly not forgetting that democratic institutions have constantly been used to restrict means of access to power. It was provoked by the idea of a society which had now to accept that which cannot be represented. recognition of the autonomy of knowledge goes hand in hand with a continual reshaping of the processes of acquiring knowledge and with an investigation into the foundations of truth. and as to the basis of relations betweel self and other. And just as the figure of power in its materiality and its substantiality disappears. The fact that it operates within the density of class relations. pedagogic and medical facts. It inaugurates a history in which people experience a fundamental indeterminacy as to the basis of power. and in which any individual or group can be accorded the same status.a development which justified socialist-inspired criticisms.markers of certainty. technical.

that they fail to recognize it as the matrix of their investigations. the ability to break with the illusions of both theology and eighteenth. for an embodying power. once they have come into contact? It appears to me that the question is worth asking. That question leads to another: can the effects of that mutation elucidate the course of history up to the present time? To be more specific: is it the case that human rights merely served to disguise relations established in bourgeois society. at least by a reading and interpretation of the facts.we agree that the institution of human rights has come to support a dynamic of rights. economic and cultural rights (notably those mentioned in the United Nations Charter) arise as an extension of those original rights. if not by observation. and it is yet another to take the view that they promote freedom . it appears ill society. a nostalgia for the image of a society which is at one with itself and which has mastered its history. in a word. But can we restrict discussion to the idea of a separation between philosophical thought and political belief? Can either remain unaffected. our investigations appear to be guided. in modern philosophy. We begin by asking ourselves about the meaning of the mutation that occurred in the representation of the individual and of society. and. demands and struggles which contributed to the rise of democracy? Even this is too crude a statement of the terms of the alternative. I return to my initial considerations. For can we in fact say that human beings have embarked upon a voyage of self­ discovery.and I believe that the organizers of this de bate would accept the hypothesis . Even if we attempt to avoid it and simply examine the import of an event such as the proclamation at the end of the eighteenth century of the rights known as the rights of man. to a much greater and lasting extent. that they create themselves by discovering and instituting rights in the absence of any principle that might allow us to decide as to their true nature and as to whether their evolution does or does not conform to their essence? Even at this early stage. for a state free from division. In conclusion. A similar necessity led him to move from the idea of the body to the idea of the flesh and dispelled the attractions of the Communist model by allowing him to rediscover the indeterminacy of history and of the being of the social. Even if .and nineteenth­ century rationalism does not carry with it. we find ourselves drawn into a labyrinth of questions. 2 Human Rights and The Welfare State As soon as we begin to ask ourselves about human rights. to Stalinism. we cannot ignore the question. and when at the same time society appears to be fragmented. Whilst this is certainly true. it is also still true to say that a change in the economy of power is required if the totalitarian form of society is to arise. other difficulties lie in store. without surrendering to a teleological vision of history. modes of organization and modes of representation. one begins to wonder whether. It seems strange to me that most of our contemporaries have no sense of how much philosophy owes to the democratic experience. do we not have to investigate the effects of that development? It is one thing to say that social. in turn. that they do not explore its matrix or take it as a theme for their reflections. the beginnings of a quest for a substantial identity. then we see the development of the fantasy of the People­ as-One. at least in its early stages. for the image of an organic community. If we adopt the latter course. It is quite another to say that they derive from the same inspiration. The question takes us further still if we ask whether . for a social body which is welded to its head. 1 We must first ask ourselves if we can in fact accept the formula without making reference to a human nature.20 011 Modem Democracy the interests and appetites of vulgar ambition and when. if we reject the notion of human nature. Or. or even give rise to. When one recalls how certain great philosophers were drawn to Nazism. or did they make possible. and that we might be able to shed some light on it by following the evolution of the thought of Merleau-Ponty . quasi-religious faith. It is sometimes said that democracy itself already makes room for totalitarian institutions.

·It seems proven'. and although. .Y mean that the philosophical question of their anthropologIcal basIs must be raised once more. The liberal state became. But we can question the validity of the hypothesis because it leaves aside the nature of the political system. 'Henceforth. whIlst it may well be a distinct question. Although Marx failed to recognize the meaning of the mutation signalled by the advent of the liberal-democratic system. of the era when the right of everyone to participate in public affairs was effectively instituted by universal suffrage. we think. In their preparatory document. and as to the nature of the transformations that have taken place m the state. In other words. notably in Latin America. or would represent no more than the survival of an outdated model. And if. but let us at least not confine ourselves to a single questIon. And the final sectIOn warns us that 'The mutations affecting the notion of human nghts defimtel. in theory. It is at once distinct from civil society. For it goes without saying that human rights would no longer count for anything. Indeed. it is inseparable from �ll the rest. of. At one point.or is furiously denied. those who possessed 'honours. No one can be unaware of the fact that over the great part of our planet.' Without wishing to reject this hypothesis. We cannot leave matters there. it ensured the protection of dominant ruling interests with a consistency that was shaken only when the masses were mobilized and began their long struggle for their rights. Neither resistance to oppression. then. Fran�ois Ost and hIs assoc�ates . The question seems t� me to be fully pertinent and timely. while discussing the liberal state. its primary task is to ensure the well-being of its citizens. that we agree as to the meaning that has been given to the establishment of human rights in the past. invite us to examine 'the limitations of the explanatory and moblhzmg power of this category [human rights] in the context of current . we ignore the spectacle provIded by certam dictatorial regimes that have been estabhshed m some of the great countries of the modern world. Assessmg ItS toplcahty presupposes.because it is incompatible with communal traditions which in some cases date from tIme immemorial . finally. it is assumed to have become 'an enabling state' which is responsible for 'ensuring free access to the various markets for material and symbolic goods' . however.' It even goes so far as to ask 'To what extent can the new historicist basis replace the original naturalist basis without dissolving the very category of human rights?' I take this as an invitation to place the principal theme of the debate wlthm a broader context. equality and justice. as they said in France until the middle of the nineteenth century. It is one of the questIOns to . and that they now correspond to the model of the welfare state. transformations' and 'the extent to whIch thIs notIon can be extended without being distorted or even negated'. he fell into the trap of the dominant ideology by describing the rights of man as a disguised form of bourgeois egotism. nor freedom of opinion and expression. or supposed needs. the liberal state cannot be viewed simply as a state whose function is to guarantee the rights of individuals and citizens and to grant civil society full autonomy. for.and it appears to us that these phenomena have become inseparable from the democratic system . M . But it cannot. at the same time. and when freedom of opinion combined with freedom of association to give workers the right to strike . the document will not let us forget that. and by those totalitarian regimes that are described as socialist. . of the population. so long as they applied to the poor. if the authority of the state were measured solely in terms of its ability to enable (the very term 'authority' would no longer be appropriate).we have to admit that it was only thanks to a combination of force of numbers and the principle of right that this model prevailed. Let us begin by developing my last remark. or so long as they damaged the interests of the rich or threatened the stability of a political order based upon the power of elites. And we can also question the validity of the representation associated with the old model of the state. be completely dIvorced from a more general investigation which is at once phIlosophIcal and political. the guardian of civil liberties. but. he was perfectly correct to denounce the relations of oppression and exploitation that were concealed behind the principles of freedom. it raises the possibility that a self-management model mIght involve the risk of totalitarian oppression. riches and intelligence'. and if we might not be restricting the scop� of our investigations by deciding to apprehend human rights from a vlewpomt which circumscribes within the present only the economic and social functions of the state. of course. 'that our Western societies developed out of the model of the liberal hat de droit. the idea of human rights is either unknown . that is. If we accept this definition unreservedly. the answer is implicit in the question. And it is by no means self-evident that we are in agreement here. 'The topicality of human rights in the welfare state' is �he the'!'e ?n which we have been invited to reflect. I wonder to what extent we can rely on an opposition between two model states. and if citizens' demands were reducible to a demand for well-being. All these questIOns concern only the formation and the transformations of Western societies. I am quite prepared to admIt that we might get lost if we tried to give each questIon all th� tIme It needs. we are told. whlch I have just alluded. or might not even undermine the whole democratIc edifice. and is a force which shapes it. is shaped by it. nor property. A labyrinth of questions. which is not reducible to the management of the needs. in practice. which has been defined as a liberal hat de droit. nor the freedom of movement mentioned in the great Declarations were judged sacred by most of those who called themselves liberals. as I myself have tried to show. How can anyone be unaware of that? It is in my view impossible to investigate the meaning of human rights if.22 all Modem Democracy Humall Rights alld The Welfare State 23 the rise of new rights might not signal a perversion of the principle ?f human rights.

our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. If we cling to the conventional image of the liberal state. like that authority.and that this movement itself goes hand in hand with the emergence of individuals who are defined both as being independent and as being shaped in one another's likeness. so firmly asserted the sovereignty of right as opposed to the sovereignty of one man. where he invites us to imagine 'the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world'. as it means that we must try to understand how.although it will of course be a new kind of aristocracy. The liberal state may well become an abstraction if we try to extract it from the configuration of the new democratic society by isolating certain of its pertinent features. more accurately. succumb to the illusions of liberalism. But the tendency whose effects we are assessing is already visible. I am thinking in particular of the picture he paints in the final section of Democracy in America. rather . And I do not think I am mistaken in taking the view that Guizo!'s liberalism already implies the notion of a state based upon the power of norms and controls. living apart. It would be like the authority of a parent if. to Tocqueville. but in accordance with their functions and their merits.24 Oil Modern Democracy Human Rights lind The Welfare State 25 The name of Benjamin Constant is often mentioned in discussions about the birth of political liberalism. if we look at France. on the contrary. And it is of course true that no other thinker so clearly delineated. is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest'). to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice. which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. It seems to me that what Constant fails to see is that the increase in power is not the result of a historical accident. its object were to prepare men for manhood. but at the same time he attempts to forge a strong government which will both emanate from the bourgeois elite and become the agency which transforms it from being a potential aristocracy to being a real aristocracy . Guizot proclaims the sovereignty of right j ust as loudly. Let us not. Let us turn. society as such from the ruins of the old hierarchies . knowing nothing of the economic and social upheavals we associate with the formation of the welfare state. between the men who were worthy of that name and those who could be ranked on a scale ranging from mediocrity to penury. formed an edifice which would not be able to withstand the gradual onslaughts of the excluded . but that it goes hand in hand with the irreversible movement which brings into being a unified society or. regular. but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness. of an act of usurpation that gives rise to an arbitrary government. Guizot and Constant are liberals who see democracy simply as a form of government. He writes: I think. then. and since I cannot name. Having mentioned the isolation of citizens ('Each of them. it had the features of democracy. or so extolled the freedom of the individual. minute. one group or even the people. it provides for their security. the prerogatives of central government. manages their . then. and it is important to note that it takes shape on a truly political register as a result of the acceleration of what Tocqueville will term the democratic revolution. he was able to conceive of individuals being subjugated by an all-powerful state and of freedoms being lost behind a facade of freedom.assaults which would be led by those members of the bourgeoisie he excludes. The man who did so much to bring bourgeois society into the world did not understand that it required divisions that were much less conspicuous and much less rigid. in theory. whose works teach us that the questions we are asking had already arisen in the first half of the nineteenth century. but it seeks. although it was a class society. provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. or to the illusion that a model of the state is sufficient to indicate the difference between the Old and the New that was introduced by the establishment of the rights of man. primarily by restricting the exercise of political rights. foresees and supplies their necessities. For them democracy is what it was for Aristotle and what it was for Montesquieu: a regime in which the sovereignty of the people is asserted and in which the government acts in the name of the people. Neither of them has any idea that it implies an unprecedented historical adventure whose causes and effects cannot be localized within the sphere that is conventionally defined as that of government. that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world.' Tocqueville's work certainly alerts us to these questions. I must attempt to define it. That his state is very different from ours need scarcely be stressed. But. And what appears to have escaped Guizot is that the conspicuous ramparts he wanted to erect around the ruling stratum. we will fail to understand that he was already expressing the fears that we are formulating. For their happiness such a government willingly labours. for. provident and mild. that he foresaw the possibility that the regime of freedom might turn into despotism or. and the distinction he made between citizens. Guizot did more than Constant to formulate the practice of liberalism. as men will no longer be ranked according to birth. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the idea I have formed of it: the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate: the thing itself is new.and since he ultimately rejects that term . instead.into a system of oppression of a new kind which he cannot name. That power is absolute. he goes on: • Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power.

and we must not be afraid of saying so. We must not. this which led . and specifically states that: 'It does not tyrannize. note that the same process leads both to independence and to a new subjugation of the individual .cannot make him bis own master. whilst they are inseparable. by his body. and. In view of this phenomenon. there is the full affirmation of the individual. which he terms 'social power' and which he associates with the 'need to be led'. enervates. correct notion of freedom. domination tends increasingly to detach itself from any visible representative. and it is not my intention to do so. On the contrary. It is even more important to note the distinction Tocqueville makes between personal power and impersonal power. therefore. but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?. I believe.' Finally. regulates the descent of property. he unequivocally states his belief in the democratic conception of freedom: 'According to the modern . the passion with which . quiet and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of authority which is simultaneously actualIzed In publIc opInIon by the fantastic assertion of unanimity. or that he embodied authority for someone placed beneath him) he is threatened with insignificance in a uniform society which condenses what were o?ce multiple and disparate forces. which is bound up with 'the wish to remain free'. orders and principles which had previously been used to classify human beings) seems to him to have a double effect. and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people. and hIS representation of the latter as an omnipresent power . are also quite distinct. It seems to Tocqueville that when man is freed from the old networks of personal dependency (which meant that he always recognized authority in the shape of someone placed above him. As Tocqueville once put it: 'Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings. Tocqueville devoted himself to exploring the ambiguities of democracy and. Contrary to the views advanced by certain critics.class divisions were sufficiently acute to make the features of class domination at least partly visible. but I cite them in my turn because they are singularly pertinent to our present investigations into the topicality of human rights in the welfare state. Tocqueville sums up his views: 'I have always thought that servitude of the regular. man may well wish to be the master of his own thoughts. but the people at large who hold the end of his chain . now more fearful than ever. complicated rules. Suffice it to say that he is acutely aware of the social nature of man. that democratic power is not reducible to Impersonal power or. because he sees that It IS not a person or a class of persons. and in state power by the fantastIC assertIOn of reglementation. I would add. These lines are well known. Power becomes and remains democratic when it proves to belong to no one. however. There is no need to go into the detaIls of Tocqueville's interpretation. however. And the fact is that political freedom survives so long as it is recognized that the guardians of public authority are forbidden to appropriate power. I would merely add that this phenomenon (or t�e inscription on the reverse side: the destruction of the ranks. the passions he directs against the visible master force hIm to submIt to a faceless domination. every man. " This sentence has long seemed to me t o be one of the clearest expressions of Tocqueville's thought. the subjugation of the individual to an anonymous or sovereign power. He never derides it. This society is invested WIth � for !'lldable authority . more specifically. '.26 On Modem Democracy principal concerns.and his sUbjugation is. I would venture to say. to be mOre accurate. until very recently . As class divisions become blurred.basically.the passion for equality leading him to challenge the figure of the master .' fare State Human Rights and The Wel 27 He then describes this power as covering the entire surface of society with a network of small. It is. is born with an equal and imprescriptible right to live independently of his fellows in all matters that regard him alone and to govern his destiny as he sees fit. on the other. Tocqueville certainly does not regard the independence of the individual as a delusion. but he is still necessarily dependent upon receIved Ideas and principles of behaviour which are beyond the control of hIS wIll and knowledge. the operation of negativity and the institution of political freedom are one and the same. and for a long time afterwards . but it compresses. when this sentence was written. it is a sentence which sheds the greatest pos�ible light on the paradoxes of democracy. whIch IS destIned by its very invisibility constantly to increase its hold ove� men. so long as it is deemed impossible to occupy the locus of power. democratic and. that it masks two phenomena which. as an individual. in law by the fantastic assertion of uniformity. Let us note in passIng that It IS now more pertinent than ever.' Our author does. and subdivides their inheritances: what remains. lose sight of the fact that the destruction of personal monarchical power has the effect of creating a vacuum at the very spot where the substance of the community was apparently represented by the king. man stflves to break the bonds making him subject to persons invested with social authority . extinguishes and stupifies. P�radoxically. As a result. in a passage in L 'Etat social et polilique de la France. to shape his own life and even to determine what is meant by good laws and good government. On the one hand. For. being presumed to have received from nature sufficient intelligence to conduct his own affairs. however. directs their industry. Do they not teach us that the liberal stage contains within it the seeds of what we are calling the welfare state and of what Tocqueville calls tutelary power? And does not his ability to see into the future stem from his exemplary sensitivity to the enigma of democracy? And are we not still faced with the same enigma? As we all know. the ambiguities of what he regarded as the mainspring of the democratic revolution: equality of condition.

and the aim of the party is certainly not to ensure the well-being of citizens. And it is this which leads me to criticize one of the judgements we have mentioned. The system thrives on this contradiction and." This idea is obviously of great importance to Tocqueville. it inverts its meaning. Ultimately. this is a palpable absurdity. We do of course have good re�son to believe that the evolution of democracy has made possible the appearance of a new system of domination . it destroys the basis of the tutelary power or of the welfare state. weary of its representatives and of itself. and in the midst of institutions which favour the condition of the people'. Vietnam or Cuba. The existence of that gap means that the representational imperative is still efficacious. he states: 'Its meaning [that of democracy] is intimately bound up with the idea of political freedom. on the strengthening of public authorities. There is good reason to suspect not only that the repression directed against strata eroded by the economic crisis may increase.and upon a debate which is sustained by public liberties and which preserves them. It is primarily because there is no master that the welfare state does not become a police-state. and from the freedom to express conflict throughout society. namely the tendency to reinforce the power of the state apparatus. To apply the epithet "democratic government" to a government in which there is no political freedom is a palpable absurdity'. If a master did appear. If we concentrate our attention upon the increasing prerogatives of the administration and. it is inappropriate to speak of a form of servitude being combined with the outward forms of freedom . But we cannot escape the need to compare the totalitarian regime and the democratic regime. We may even look for signs of new apparatuses capable of regenerating their ability to do so. And the fact that there is no master means that there is a gap. the state would lose the disturbing ambiguity which characterizes it in a democracy. 'Doesn't it have a hidden face: that of the police state?' This is a legitimate question. as he reformulates it years later in a fragment written when he was preparing the final section of L'Ancien Regime et la Revolution. I suspect. Korea. which is deemed to be intangible. First. To cite Tocqueville again. I refer to the democratic apparatus. Commentators who dwell on that image tend to forget its conclusion: A constitution republican in its head and ultra-monarchical in all its other parts has always appeared to me to be a shortlived monster. law and knowledge from fusing into a single leading organ. so long as the system is perpetuated. But let us not forget that it does have two faces. it is not the principle of well-being that governs the development of the state. The ambiguities of democracy cannot be resolved by furthering one of the tendencies that coexist within it. Nazism or what is known as socialism . and we cannot conceive . the other becomes more benign. It is in fact quite clear that Tocqueville himself saw that it was impossible to resolve or abolish this contradiction. Nazi or Stalinist. Why do I attach such importance to this last point? My audience will.with all that competition implies . We must never tire of considering this fact: totalitarianism does not simply mark the destruction of political freedom. it both necessitates and legitimates the expression of a multiplicity of positions on the part of both individual and collective social agents. China. and the nation. of association and of movement. In our day we often heard it said that the only difference between democracy and the totalitarian system is the degree of oppression. but that it is in the very nature of the welfare state to 'neutralize the expression of social conflicts'. The point need scarcely be stressed: the freedom he is talking about is not reducible to the outward forms of freedom. we will fail to recognize the specific dimension of the political in our societies. Secondly. We may certainly wonder as to the current ability of political parties to ensure that representation is correctly exercised.28 011 Modern Democracy Human Rights alld The Welfare State 29 Tocqueville to reject the old words 'despotism' and 'tyranny' in his description of the new kind of oppression which menaced democratic societies. Having fully re-established the distance that separates democracy from an absolutist government which rules 'by law. it ptoves to be indissociable from freedom of opinion. be it fascist. Whatever the features of the new regime. more generally. neither of its terms can lose its efficacy. But we must at least recognize that the formation of that system implies the ruin of democracy. that imperative is incompatible with the full implementation of the norm for two reasons. And nor should we forget to look at the obstacles which block the expansion of the coercive state. 'Isn't the welfare state like Janus?' someone will ask. between administrative power and political authority. we will no longer be able to discern the specific nature of a power whose exercise always depends upon competition between parties . have already realized why.whose features were previously inconceivable. despite the impulse that led him to imagine a sort of democratic despotism of a previously unknown it fascism. If we fail to remember that. What I have termed the operation of negativity is no less constitutive of the democratic space than the erection of the state into a tutelary power. For the state apparatus itself is dismantled for the benefit of the party apparatus. and no matter whether it was established in the wake of Soviet socialism or under the influence of that model in Europe. which prevents the agencies of power. So long as institutions are so regulated to make it impossible for the ruler or rulers to appropriate power. and that as one becomes harsher. we cannot say that they are a matter of pure form. It does not represent the culmination of the historic adventure inaugurated by democracy. would create freer institutions or soon return to stretch itself at the feet of a single monster. Certain critics even go so far as to talk about 'totalitarian democracy'. The vices of rulers and the ineptitude of the people would speedily bring about its ruin.

I was concerned primarily with combating the widespread interpretation which reduces human rights to individual rights. These rights of man mark a dIsentanglIng of right and power. thIs argument ignores one other phenomenon: an assertion of right which has the effect of challenging the omnipotence of power. it refers to political society as a 'political association' and defines its goal as the preservation of those rights. In short.. I failed to measure the extent of the gulf opened up between state and civil society by the modern conception of right . Having proclaimed the end of social distinctions (art. �o. and only by recognizing that it cannot be swallowed up by the state without a violent mutation giving birth to a new form of society. First.' Perhaps I was wrong not to give sufficient weight to the latter phenomenon. and claims to have the right to force them to obey. The C�nstltuant Assembly believed. But how can we fail to see that. . either because it denves from God or because It represents a supreme wisdom or justice which can be embodIed by the monarch or the monarchical institution. This body of propositions does not. it culminates.roots m human nature. unlike Marx. But. he believes. of course. that this principle had Its . to detect the effect of the change that has taken place within the framework of the state rather than that of civil society. Sovereignty. As we know. once again. its position as a guarantor or arbIter. � ade to the state to guarantee the right to resist. These last observations are designed to recall our attention to what. either personally or through their representatives'.' It is true that my essay provoked objections to which I am not absolute legitimacy. he believes that I failed to recognize the constant benefits that accrue to the state from the extension of social and economic rights which reinforce its statutory powers . Whilst the Declaration stipulates the right to resIst .an argument which leads him to rehabilitate the analysis made by Marx in On The iewish Question. authority. are deSIgned to protect those rights. the order of the monarchy.30 On Modem Democracy Human Rights and The Welfare State 31 of the state being transformed unless we take the political into account. the nation. property and security are rights of individuals. . behind the mask of its language. .:er must henceforth conform to right but it does not control the pnnclple of nght. But I remain convinced that it is only by recognizing in the institution of human rights signs of the emergence of a new type of legitimacy and of a public space. only by recognizing that individuals are both the products and the instigators of that space. . let us note. and that this function already indicates its potential strength . Let us note in passing that when Junsts argue that . that we can possibly hope to evaluate the development of democracy and the likely fate of freedom. within the categ. to return briefly to the interpretation of the 1791 Declaration. depend for Its coherence on a reference to human nature. we must bear m mmd what might become of the principle of resistance in the real. it makes use of notions which are meaningful only if they are contrasted with those that governed the principle of the old political order. property and security.oppressIon . the general will and the law which is assumed to be its expression are all described in such a way as to escape all appropriation. We � re told that freedom. Its coherence is ensured by the principle of political freedom. similarly. and the elaboratIon of law ImplIes the parttclpatlOn of citizens. or on the Idea that every individual is born with inalienable rights. I termed the political significance of human rights. What we ref� r to in positive t�r�s as 'political freedom' can of course be called 'resIstance to .an argument which leads him. Secondly.whIch will soon be greatly increased by the rise of new rights . known in law. in the hypotheSIS of an assault on the sovereignty of the nation. And it is true that the latter concept IS mcluded. along WIth freedom. Right and power are no longer condensed around the same pole. but the threat of oppression poses a different problem: Although the threat may emanate from one individual and may be dlrect� d agamst another individual.ory of univ� rsal natura � and imprescriptible rights. security and freedom of ItS clttzens.?ppresslOn. Allow me. 2) . in an essay published a few years ago. Sovereignty is said to reside within the nation. who criticized me on two counts.because its apparent neutrality. I). If it is to be legitimate. It is certainly the t �sk of the state to guarantee the property. that the state acquires the function of preserving them. as it seems to me to invalidate the conception I have just mentioned. the formulation of the rights of man at the end of the eighteenth century was inspired by a demand for freedom which destroys the representatIOn of power as standing above society and as possessmg .:hich guarantee that it is legitimately delegated. doing anythmg more than respond to its citizens' expectations.. . of course. As I have already noted. that is the res�onslbllIty of the citizens themselves. But it formulated it in opposition to a regIme m whIch power denies its subjects the ability to oppose anything they deem illegitimate. authority can only be exercised in accordance with rules . And therefore no appeal is . Let it not be thought that I have strayed away from the object of our discussion. and which simultaneously reduces democracy to a relationship between only two terms: the state and the individual. then. and that all polIttcal assocIatIOns . mean that it can develop without. notably from Pierre Manent. the general w�1I m � kes Itself . apparently. but the nation can no longer be embodied by anyone. The Declaration is of course governed by the idea of natural rights. It then makes law the expression of the general will and further states that 'All citizens have the right to contribute to its formation. 3). It IS inconceivable that it should give the state responsIbIlIty for ensunng that that right is respected. the Declaration pronounces resistance to oppression to be an imprescriptible right (art. it then states that the principle of all sovereignty resides within the nation. of rights which reside within every individual. 'No body and no individual can exercise any authority that does not emanate from if (art.

it is a relational freedom. they are being very formalistic. however. it makes him a symbol of the freedom which founds the existence of the nation. and that the distinction between the economic. to travel as they wish across the territory of the nation. upon which Marx concentrates. we would find that they too have a political import. true. that it has its own principle and that. This article gives full recognition to the right of freedom of movement. every citizen may therefore speak. I The declaration that freedom consists in being able to do everything which does not harm others does not imply that the individual withdraws into the sphere of his own activities. and the tribunal before which his right is asserted is not visible. what can and cannot be said. 'they justified politics as such as a means to be used by egotistic men in civil society. that communism will mark the abolition of class divisions. 2 Freedom of opinion does not transform opinion into private property. but because the very fabric of social relations in a political community depends upon the citizen's trust in a justice which is independent of all masters. which has no content of its own and no opinions of its own. I will put forward three points to support this proposition. Pierre Manent criticizes me for failing to recognize the paradox which Marx sees so clearly: 'At the very moment when the men of the Revolution gave the political instance all powers and rights.a society shattered into a diversity of private interests and individuals . 3 The guarantees of security . who pursues every sign of individualism and naturalism in order to assign to it an ideological function. If that thesis proves to be inaccurate. we must also investigate the effects of the exercise of these new rights in social life. which is certainly not shared by Manent. we have only to tear away the veil to reveal the 'trivial face' of that society. This is especially true of their most virulent critic. the holder's identity is uncertain. a 'concept of police" designed to protect the bourgeois . and he is convinced that it reveals the effective reality of civil society . he still occupies the ideological terrain he claims to be undermining. and it is not modelled on the ownership of material which Marx sees only the most sordid expression of civil society. His argument relies for its coherence upon the thesis. it enshrines the lifting of the prohibitions which restricted that right under the Ancien Regime. having cited On the Jewish Question . not because everyone fears that they will fall victim to arbitrariness if their neighbour's rights are violated. cannot but take the form of pure negation. no more than the establishment of a new model which enshrines 'the separation of man from man' or. 'bourgeois egotism'. he notes in the early On the Jewish Question. in its own view. The illusion of politics is. It is. If Marx is to be belived. If we now examined those rights which appear to refer solely to individuals. namely the bourgeois society of which it is still." As everyone acquires the right to address others and to listen to them. to enter places which were previously the preserve of privileged categories. In the present instance. at dialectical arguments which turn opposites into complementaries. Far from having the function of masking a dissolution of social bonds which makes everyone a monad." But is the contradiction facing the men of the Revolution the contradiction of the rights of man? Marx excels. Everyone now has the right to settle where they wish. From Constant to Peguy. Without going into the details of the argument in the essay I mentioned earlier. no more than an instrument. and gave themselves those powers and rights as rulers. and cannot but turn against the conditions of its possibility. and it seems to me that history in fact demonstrates that the thesis culminates in the . but degrades the nation itself. a symbolic space is established. and belong to no one. Critics of the rights of man always concentrate upon the form in which they are stated. Marx does of course display here a characteristic feature of the thinking of his time. is indissociable from the positive 'being able to do everything'. but when he dismisses the upheaval in social and political relations implicit in the bourgeois representation of these rights. it has no definite frontiers. Speech as such and thought as such prove to exist independently of any given individual.32 On Modern Democracy Human Rights and The Wel fare State 33 right exists only if its holder can be defined and only if it is demurrable. Marx sees in the freedom of action and the freedom of opinion granted to everyone. write and freely print. as we know. this civil life. 'The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man. namely Marx. the juridical and the political will therefore be abolished within the purity of the social. it will therefore be asserted again and again that an injustice done to an individual not only harms the individual. they both testify to the existence of a new network . and no authority can claim to control it or to decide what can and what cannot be thought. to embark upon any career for which they believe they are qualified.a reality whose formation coincides with that of its counterpart: a state destined to embody a fictitious sovereignty.' he observes.of human relations and bring it into existence. and in the guarantees of individual security. that we will not discern that import if we stick to the letter of the great Declarations. According to the text of the 1791 Declaration. The negative formula 'which does not harm'.teach us that justice has been separated from power. The author of On the Jewish Question is trapped by this representation. at a more basic level still.' And. and it therefore facilitates the multiplication of human relations. But the rights of man are not a veil. twinned with the illusion of the rights of man. unless what he does constitutes an abuse of that liberty in the particular cases laid down by law. by protecting the individual from arbitrariness. he states that Marx sees quite clearly that 'When circumstances make it aware of its importance and of its eminent value.

neutrahze one another. The early liberals and the Saint-Simonians were wrong to see public opInIon as a completely new force . occurred as a result of changes in Humall Rights alld The Welfare State 35 public opinion. My primary concern is to promote recognition of a public space. or in response to them. And yet. the state grows stronger behind its mask of neutrality. it is true. the democratic process has more than one meaning. we fail to recognize the import of the constitution according to whose terms a public authority is established. they cannot be analysed separately. gave that authority an unassaIlable legItImacy and an understanding both of the ultimate ends of �ociety and of the behaviour of the people it assigned to specific statIOns and functIons. in that it leads us to ignore the great event which determined both the formation of a neutral power and that of free opinions. but remains a theatre for the noisy �x�r�sslon of opInIons whIch. in which political relations appeared to him to be interwoven in socio-economic relations. It must be admitted that. to say the least. cannot fully account for what comes into being with the formation of democracy. and of an insane power which claims to be the earthly embodiment of law and knowledge? It seems to me that It IS all the more dIfficult to accept the argument put forward by Manent. to have no opinions or to be above opinion. I repeat. in that it prevents us from understandmg why democracy succeeded in freeing itself from terror and in basing itself upon the rights·of man. appear to be neutral. as a result of the �eparaMn ?f man fr0n. find their expression in social life . This double phenomenon is itself a sign of a smgle mutatIon: power must now win its legitimacy without becoming dIvorced from competItIOn between parties. He contrasted the model of feudal society. We should be able to identify a new 'tyranny of opinion'. as a result of this system. which is always in gestation and whose existence blurs the conventional boundaries between the political and the non-political. as Manent puts it.and it appears to me to have gone unrecognized -: is signalled by a double phenomenon: a power whIch IS henceforth mvolved in a constant search for a basis because law and knowledge are no longer embodied in the person or persons who exercise it. From this point of view. The state does.' . I refer to the disappearance of an authority which subjugated each and every mdlvldual. But does terror stem from a realization of the vanity of a society which. These two features are of course indissociable. and a new freedom which has the effect of undermining prejudice and of modifying the general feeling as to what is or is not socially acceptable and legitimate and as to what can or cannot be demanded. if not by finding a basis In opinIon. Marx's critique collapses. Tocqueville came closer to the truth in that he realized that the process of the condensation of opinion might subject people to new norms of thought and conduct. the emergence of a society whose faith in the monarch and in religion has collapsed. a surreptitious return to the tradition of absolutism. I quite realize that the principal thesis is that democracy could not have triumphed . and a society which accepts conflicting opinions and debates over rIghts be�ause the markers which once allowed people to sItuate themselves m relatIon to one another in a determinate manner have disappeared. although we may choose to emphasize one rather than the other. as they liked to call it . does not terror signal the destructIon of pohtlcal freedom as such? Does it not signal. �ho follows Marx here. The lines cited by Manent reveal terror to· be the hidden face of the rights of man. because they are merely the opinions of mdlvlduals. all too often. It is true that the efficacy of this representation is marred by the permanence of a state . from co� plementing civil society. the distinction between civil society and state.which would gradually disarm the old prejudices and arbitrary power. What he calls bourgeois society is certainly characterized by the strengthening of the power of the state. thanks to that competition. the confusion of the two appears to me to me to stem from a perversion of the notion of right. but it is also characterized by the representative system and by the fact that the government must emanate from society as a whole. as Michelet and Quinet will show. to use Tocqueville's expression. fa.and the secular liberal state a locus for power with no opinions. to the disappearance of the natural or supern� tural basis which. it was claimed. destined to neutralize one another. whIlst �IV" socIety grows weaker. but the fact r� mams that the transformations it has undergone in the last 150 years (mcludmg the transformation which. . constItuted It as a secular state).'the sovereign of the world'. sustains or even stimulates the exercise of civil liberties.:" an.. Let us say that it is pertinent only if we refuse to see it as a pure division. did define it in that way. instituting a separation between civil society . On the contrary. and as I am about to explain. with the model of bourgeois society. it will be recalled. I am not confusing rights and opinions. by separating it from the Church.34 011 Modern Democracy totalitarian fantasy. � aterializes only by breaking up? Or IS thIS MarxIst Image of cIvIl socIety no more than a fiction? And.a locus for opmlons wIth no power . a new freedom to express opinions which are. and might encourage them to take a passive attitude towards the state. namely that the Ancien Regime had to a large extent already destroyed the feudal system. to which I myself have referred.:ithout . He forgot only one thing. and that the state appropriated the principle of authority before it was in a position to make effective use of all its mechanisms. exercised and periodically renewed as a result of political competition and the import of the conflicts which. in which the sphere of the political tends to coincide with that of the state and in which it is divorced from a specifically civil sphere characterized by the fragmentation of interests and by conflicts beween their agents. It is claimed that. Marx. And yet this thesis seems unilateral. The political originality of democracy . Now competition stems from.

It is. it must be inscribed within what we have called the public space. it seems to me that the political system lends itself to that development. the same factors which make it impossible for the state to become a closed system. My argument is not designed to invalidate the question. but to reformulate it in such a way as to make it impossible to answer it whilst avoiding its political implications. Specific statements aside. and so long as the managerial logic which officials try to impose comes into conflict with the logic of representation which imposes itself upon the elected authorities. Power decides and bestows. in a sense which I am about to define. It is as though new rights seemed in retrospect to be linked organically with what are considered to be constituent elements of public freedoms. It must also be pointed out that the formation of a totalitarian type of power which is not subject to competition signifies not only the erid of political freedoms.36 all Modern Democracy Human Rights and The Welfare State 37 apparatus of increasing complexity. public the nineteenth century. There it individual or collective . and regardless of its size and complexity. and so-called cultural rights seem to be an extension of the right to education. they are also aware of being the victims of a wrong rather than an injury. and that we are therefore tempted to ignore it. let us note. but that does not prevent it from taking countless measures concerning employment. which was so vigorously proclaimed at the end of the eighteenth century. new means of control and new opportunities for coercion. they made an enigma of both humanity and right. If we consider the mainsprings of right in a democracy. Indeed. Parties and governments in fact welcome demands which seem to them to be popular so as to sanction their own legitimacy. the right of workers to associate and the right to strike resulted from a change in the balance of power.and other rights which have been acquired with the passage of time. But it is not a guarantor of rights in any strict sense. although she uses it in a rather different sense). it ignores any speech which leaves its orbit. to become a great organ controlling the social body's every movement. Similarly. This observation merits serious consideration. and it is bound up with the system of democratic power. to be noted that this feeling initially inspires those who take the initiative in formulating the demand. It is at this point in my argument that I return to the question around which our debate centres. I believe that this is indeed the case. In that respect. We cannot ignore the novelty of this phenomenon. By reducing the source of right to the human utterance of right. in the twentieth century. no room in a totalitarian regime for the welfare state model. they are of course defending their own interests but. the state apparatus cannot be unified so long as every sector within it remains subject to pressure from specific categories of citizens or from social actors defending the autonomy of their spheres of competence. It is not enough for this or that demand to find a sympathetic hearing in the upper echelons of the state for new rights to receive j uridical recognition. a comparison with the totalitarian regime is once more instructive. they mOdify legislation accordingly.those which came into being as the rights of man . so long as their voices are not heard. The idea of human nature. the right of women to vote and a number of social or economic rights seem in their turn to be an extension of earlier rights. Moreover. The democratic apprehension of right implies the affirmation of speech . Naturally! But we cannot leave matters there. In other words. Even if a demand concerns only a single category of citizens. could never capture the meaning of the undertaking inaugurated by the great American and French declarations. education. they granted recognition of the right to have rights (the expression is borrowed from Hannah Arendt. housing and leisure in order to meet certain of the population's needs. Civil society (if we are to retain the term) is itself inscribed within a political constitution. it must first meet with at least tacit approval from a broad section of public opinion. it is also distinct from that demand. and thus gave rise to an adventure whose outcome is unpredictable. In fact I accept that the new rights that emerge as a result of the exercise of political freedoms help to increase the state's statutory powers. whilst it is not guaranteed by existing laws or by a monarch's promise. it is always selective. the . But we must resist that temptation. but at the same time even those who did not instigate those rights recognized them as a legitimate extension of the right to freedom of expression or the right to resist oppression. but it is always matter whether the force in question emanates from interests capable of mobilizing effective means of pressure or whether it is to be assessed in purely numerical terms. In formulating it. can assert its authority in the expectation of public confirmation because it appeals to the conscience of the public. In short. Thus. Does this mean that we have to abandon a naturalist thesis only to adopt a historicist thesis? On the contrary. Whilst speech of this type is intimately bound up with a demand addressed to the state.which. also mean that those who hold political authority are obliged to submit the principle of the conduct of public affairs to periodic contests. It is therefore impossible to restrict the terms of our argument to state and civil society. however. and legislation gives the adminis­ tration new responsibilities. The discourse of power is self-sufficient. Individuals receive no more than requisites disguised as rights because they are treated as dependents and not as citizens. in other words. But one of the preconditions for the success of any demand is the widespread conviction that the new right conforms to the demand for freedom enshrined in existing rights. it is tempting to conclude that no distinction can be made between rights which are regarded as fundamental . but also the end of civil liberties themselves. We must obviously not underestimate the articulation of force and right . And. choosing between those to whom it gives the benefit of its laws and those it excludes. it means that we have to reject both these terms.

its existence being indicated at once in every individual. does it confuse the rule of law with the rule of power. in the individual's relations with others. speaking through their representatives. at once individual. The singular thing about the freedoms proclaimed at the end of the eighteenth century is that they are in effect indissociable from the birth of the democratic debate. It would seem that we can neither say that these original rights make up a bedrock because we have rejected all belief in human nature. by the same criterion. it cannot be divorced from the ascription of a 'nature' to the self. the self being. if we accept that this debate pertains to the essence of democracy. to the notion of a legitimacy whose basis is beyond the grasp of human beings. whilst it inaugurates a history which abolishes the place of the referent from which the law once derived its transcendance. by the notion of a regime founded upon the legitimacy of a debate as to what is legitimate and what is illegitimate a debate which is necessarily without any guarantor and without any end. see it as a nature-in-itself . we can neither define the notion of human nature. to the representation of an ordered world in which human beings are 'naturally' ranked. But. Whilst economic.nor subscribe to any critique of the rights of man which claims to deny their universal import on the grounds that we must turn from fiction to reality. because we have recognized that the latter are based upon the former. and. society or history unless we go back to it. however. Paradoxically. totalitarianism is indeed characterized by its scorn for positive rights. and a regime in which it is arbitrary. whilst it is always irreducible to human artifice. and henceforth we cannot understand the individual. their own witnesses. denounce the fictional universals of the French Declaration. This last formula cannot be annexed by historicism. or into one between a regime in which power is legitimate. It would be a mistake to translate this distinction into one between a regime governed by laws and a regime without laws (to use the terminology of classical philosophy). We therefore have to accept that whenever these freedoms are undermined. social and cultural rights. the criticisms of naturalism put forward by thinkers as different as Marx and Burke invoke historical reality. the emergence of a principle of universality. The advantage of doing so is that we do not lose sight of the distinction we must constantly investigate: that between a democratic and a totalitarian regime. but fail to see what it bequeathes us: the universality of the principle which reduces right to the questioning of right. It makes the law something which. and that. nor that they and the rights that were subsequently won form a chain each link of which is similarly marked by circumstances. as having been brought down from heaven to earth. but it is still organized beneath the aegis of the Law. as we described it earlier. it complicates it. it is more than something which appears within time and which is destined to disappear into time. Whatever its distinguishing mark may be. on the other hand. For the same reason . of a legitimate power. they may cease to be guaranteed or even to be recognized (I can in fact think of no country . which. nor. it does not thereby make law immanent within the order of the world.not even Mrs Thatcher's Britain - . now that no one can take the place of the supreme judge. and in the people. necessary to complicate the argument in this manner. The representation of human nature is not an isolated aspect of this event. is fantastically asserted to be above human beings. yet they fail to see that the philosophical illusion which ignores 'concrete' human beings in favour of an abstract being becomes something that is absolutely new as a result of the affirmation of humanity_ Neither of them actually perceives that the idea of the rights of man is a challenge to the definition of power has having rights. we look in vain for the slightest trace of it. at the very moment when it is posited as being the law of the human world. it is simply removed from the realm of certainty. like power.unless we lapse into the imaginary . revealed themselves to be both the subject and the object of the utterance in which they named the human elements in one another. it implies that the institution of the rights of man is much more than an event. A principle arises. they generate it. The inspiration behind both the rights of man and the spread of rights in our day bears witness to that debate. modern democracy invites us to replace the notion of a regime governed by laws. that is. and without misrecognizing the continuity between everything that has been affirmed from the original Declarations to our own times. we may be in a better position to circumscribe the symbolic import of the rights stipulated in the first Declarations without making any concessions to the opposition between historicism and naturalism. The division between legitimate and illegitimate is not materialized within the social space. It seems. if I can put it this way.38 On Modern Democracy Human Rights and The Welfare State 39 _ naturalist conception of right masked an extraordinary event: a declaration which was in fact a self-declaration. Indeed. now that this empty place sustains the demand to know. where they do not exist. at the same time. And yet. And nor can we trace a dividing line between first rights and new rights. and therefore erected themselves into their own j udges. In other words. gives meaning to human actions only on condition that human beings desire it. The distinguishing feature of democracy is that. that they apprehend it as the reason for their coexistence and as the condition of possibility of their judging and being judged. As Hannah Arendt quite rightly observes. They both attack the abstraction of an indeterminate humanity. 'spoke to' one another. appeared before one another. are not contingent. a declaration by which human beings. the entire democratic edifice is threatened with collapse. the view that naturalism and historicism are equally inappropriate tools for conceptualizing the rights of man does not simplify the basic problem. because we have discovered in the institution of those first rights a foundation. plural and communal.

. What. problem. 10 the absence of the debate it implies. and the agencies which provide them WIth a Jundlcal outlet. But this answer does not remove all doubt. famine. not even the majority. It will be said that freedoms remain formal when they coexist alongside