« AnteriorContinuar »
Among the novel objects that attracted my attention during my stay in the United States, nothing struck me mere forcibly than the general equality of conditions.) I readily discovered the prodigious influence which this primary fact exercises on the whole course of society, by giving a certain direction to public opinion, and a certain tenor to the laws; by imparting new maxims to the governing powers, and peculiar habits to the governed.
I speedily perceived that the influence of this fact extends far beyond the political character and the laws of the country, and that it has no less empire over civil society than over the Government; it creates opinions, engenders sentiments, suggests the ordinary practices of life, and modifies whatever it does not produce.
The more I advanced in the study of American society, the more I perceived that the equality of conditions is the fundamental fact from which all others seem to be derived) and the central point at which all my observations constantly terminated.
I then turned my thoughts to our own hemisphere, where I imagin. ed that I discerned something analogous to the spectacle which the New World presented to me. I observed that the equality of condi. tions is daily advancing towards those extreme limits which it seems to have reached in the United States; and that the democracy which governs the American communities, appears to be rapidly rising into power in Europe.
I hence conceived the idea of the book which is now before the reader:
It is evident to all alike that a great democratic revolution is going on amongst us ; but there are two opinions as to its nature and consequences. To some it appears to be a novel accident, which as such may still be checked ; to others it seems irresistible, because it is the most uniform, the most ancient, and the most permanent tendency which is to be found in history.
Let us recollect the situation of France seven hundred years ago, when the territory was divided amongst a small number of families, who were the owners of the soil and the rulers of the inhabitants; the right of governing descended with the family inheritance from generation to generation; force was the only means by which man could act on man; and landed property was the sole source of power. Soon, however, the political power of the clergy was founded, and began to exert itself; the clergy opened its ranks to all classes, to the poor and the rich, the villain and the lord; equality penetrated into the Government through the Church, and the being who, as a serf, must have vegetated in perpetual bondage, took his place as a priest in the midst of nobles, and not unfrequently above the heads of kings. The different relations of men became more complicated and more numerous as society gradually became more stable and more civilized. Thence the want of civil laws was felt ; and the order of legal functionaries soon rose from the obscurity of the tribunals and their dusty chambers, to appear at the court of the monarch, by the side of the feudal barons in their ermine and their mail. While the kings were ruining themselves by their great enterprises, and the nobles exhausting their resources by private wars, the lower orders were enriching themselves by commerce. The influence of money began to be perceptible in State affairs. The transactions of business opened a new road to power, and the financier rose to a station of political influence in which he was at once flattered and despised. Gradually the spread of mental acquirements, and the increasing taste for literature and art, opened chances of success to talent; science became the means of government, intelligence led to social power, and the man of letters took a part in the affairs of the State. The value attached to the privileges of birth decreased in the exact proportion in which new paths were struck out to advancement. In the eleventh century nobility was beyond all price ; in the thirteenth it might be purchased ; it was conferred for the first time in 1270 and equality was thus introduced into the Government by the aristocracy itself. In the course of these seven hundred years, it sometimes happened that, in order to resist the authority of the Crown or to diminish the power of their rivals, the nobles granted a certain share of political rights to the people. Or, more frequently, the king permitted the low
er orders to enjoy a degree of power, with the intention of repressing the aristocracy.
In France the kings have always been the most active and the most constant of levellers. When they were strong and ambitious, they spared no pains to raise the people to the level of the nobles; when they were temperate or weak, they allowed the people to rise above themselves. Some assisted the democracy by their talents, others by their vices. Louis XI. and Louis XIV. reduced every rank beneath the throne to the same subjection; Louis XV. descended, himself and air his Court, into the dust. As soon as land was held on any other than a feudal tenure, and personal property began in its turn to confer influence and power, every improvement which was introduced in commerce or manufacture was a fresh element of the equality of conditions. Henceforward every new discovery, every new want which it engendered, and every new desire which craved satisfaction, was a step towards the universal level. The taste for luxury, the love of war, the sway of fashion, the most superficial as well as the deepest passions of the human heart, co-operated to enrich the poor and to impoverish the rich. From the time when the exercise of the intellect became the source of strength and of wealth, it is impossible not to consider every addition to science, every fresh truth, and every new idea, as a germ of power placed within the reach of the people. Poetry, eloquence, and memory, the grace of wit, the glow of imagination, the depth of thought, and all the gifts which are bestowed by Providence with an equal hand, turned to the advantage of the democracy; and even when they were in the possession of its adversaries, they still served its cause by throwing into relief the natural greatness of man; its conquests spread, therefore, with those of civilization and knowledge ; and literature became an arsenal, where the poorest and weakest could always find weapons to their hand. In perusing the pages of our history, we shall scarcely meet with a single great event, in the lapse of seven hundred years, which has not turned to the advantage of equality. The Crusades and the wars of the English decimated the nobles and divided their possessions; the erection of communes introduced an ele. ment of democratic liberty into the bosom of feudal monarchy; the invention of fire-arms equalized the villain and the noble on the field of battle; printing opened the same resources to the minds of all classes; the post was organized so as to bring the same information to the door of the poor man's cottage and to the gate of the palace; and Protestantism proclaimed that all men are alike able to find the road to heaven. The discovery of America offered a thousand new paths to fortune, and
placed riches and power within the reach of the adventurous and the obscure. If we examine what has happened in France at intervals of fifty years, beginning with the eleventh century, we shall invariably perceive that a twofold revolution has taken place in the state of society. The noble has gone down on the social ladder, and the roturier has gone up ; the one descends as the other rises. Every half-century brings them nearer to each other, and they will very shortly meet. Nor is this phenomenon at all peculiar to France. Whithersoever we turn our eyes we shall discover the same continual revolution throughout the whole of Christendom. The various occurrences of national existence have everywhere turned to the advantage of democracy ; all men have aided it by their exertions: those who have intentionally labored in its cause, and those who have served it unwittingly—those who have fought for it, and those who have declared themselves its opponents, have all been driven along in the same track, have all labored to one end, some ignorantly and some unwillingly ; all have been blind instruments in the hands of God. The gradual development of the equality of conditions is there. fore a providential fact, and it possesses all the characteristics of a Divine decree : it is universal, it is durable, it constantly eludes all human interference, and all events as well as all men contribute to its progress. Would it, then, be wise to imagine that a social impulse which dates from so far back, can be checked by the efforts of a generation ? Is it credible that the democracy which has annihilated the feudal system and vanquished kings, will respect the citizen and the capitalist Will it stop now that it is grown so strong and its adversaries so weak 1 None can say which way we are going, for all terms of comparison are wanting: the equality of conditions is m0re complete in the Christian countries of the present day, than it has been at any time, or in any part of the world ; so that the extent of what already exists prevents us from foreseeing what may be yet to come. The whole book which is here offered to the public has been written under the impression of a kind of religious dread, produced in the au. thor's mind by the contemplation of so irresistible a revolution, which has advanced for centuries in spite of such amazing obstacles, and which is still proceeding in the midst of the ruins it has made. It is not necessary that God himself should speak in order to disclose to us the unquestionable signs of his will; we can discern them in the habitual course of nature, and in the invariable tendency of events: I know, without a special revelation, that the planets move in the orbits traced by the Creator's finger. If the men of our time were led by attentive observation and by sincere reflection, to acknowledge that the gradual and progressive development of social equality is at once the past and future of their history, this solitary truth would confer the sacred character of a divine decree upon the change. To attempt to check democracy would be in that case to resist the will of God; and the nations would then
be constrainedyo make the best of the social lot awarded to them by
The Christian nations of our age seem to me to present a most alarming spectacle ; the impulse which is bearing them along is so strong that it cannot be stopped, but it is not yet so rapid that it cannot be guided : their fate is in their hands; yet a little while and it may be so no longer.
The first duty which is at this time imposed upon those who direct
our affairs is to educate the democracy; to warm its faith, if that be possible ; to purify its morals; to direct its energies; to substitute a knowledge of business for its inexperience, and an acquaintance with its true interests for its blind propensities; to adapt its government to time and place, and to modify it in compliance with the occurrences and the actors of the age. A new science of politics is indispensable to a new world. This, however, is what we think of least ; launched in the middle of a rapid stream, we obstinately fix our eyes on the ruins which may still be descried upon the shore we have left, while the current sweeps us along, and drives us backward toward the gulf. In no country in Europe has the great social revolution which I have been describing made such rapid progress as in France; but it has always been borne on by chance. The heads of the State have never had any forethought for its exigencies, and its victories have been obtained without their consent or without their knowledge. The most powerful, the most intelligent, and the most moral classes of the nation have never attempted to connect themselves with it in order to guide it. people has consequently been abandoned to its wild propensities, and it has grown up like those outcasts who receive their education in the public streets, and who are unacquainted with aught but the vices and wretchedness of society. The existence of a democracy was seemingly unknown, when on a sudden it took possession of the supreme power. Everything was then submitted to its caprices;