The World Revolution of die We

The World Revolution of die West/’ Political Science Quarterly, LXIX (1954), 1-14. [In this and the following articles the footnote documentation has been omitted.]

In the streets of Paris, on the ninth of Thermidor of the Year Six (July 27, 1798), there took place a long and memorable procession. It was in celebration of Liberty Day, as the anniversary of the fall of Robespierre was then officially called. It began at nine o’clock in the morning at the Museum of Natural History. First came cavalry and a band. They were followed by professors and students from the Museum, marching beside triumphal cars that bore various minerals, exotic plants, and some crystals presented by the people of Valais in Switzerland. There were also a live bear from the zoo at Berne, lions from Africa, and two camels and two dromedaries sent by General Bonaparte from Egypt. After more soldiers, and more musicians, came delegates from the printers of Paris, librarians of the public libraries, and professors from the Poly technique and the College de France. Prize pupils from the new école centrale carried manuscripts and rare books. Next appeared teachers and students of the arts, who were followed by Art itself the treasures captured by victorious armies in Italy: paintings by Titian, Raphael and Paul Veronese, sculpture in stupefying abundance, the Laocodn, the Dying Gladiator, the Discus Thrower and the Apollo Belvedere, to name only the most famous. Most conspicuous of all were the ancient bronze horses from St. Mark’s in Venice. They bore an inscription: “Transported from Corinth to Rome, from Rome to Constantinople, from Constantinople to Venice, from Venice to France. They rest at last upon free ground.” Numerous other inscriptions, up and down the procession, explained the assembled wonders to onlookers. One was a quotation from Seneca: “To live ignorant is to be dead/’
All this plunder, for such most of it literally was, was ceremoniously presented to the Minister of the Interior, who received it at the feet of a statue of liberty. The festivities ended with the ascension of a balloon, or “aerostat,” carrying aloft more inscriptions, together with “attributes of liberty and the arts,” and the tricolor of the Revolution.
The men in the French government who arranged this extraordinary spectacle obviously intended it to have a symbolic meaning. It may serve also as a symbol for us. It may remind us of certain paradoxes, or seeming paradoxes, of the French Revolution: the association of liberty with force, of enlightenment and education with propaganda and histrionics, of a sense of progress with a sense of conquest, of soldiers with professors, of a feeling of attachment to the Western tradition with one of angry repudiation of the historic past. And the bears, lions, camels, strange plants and imported statuary may suggest also the idea of a World Revolution, of which many people in Paris, and in other countries, believed France to be the center.
In the summer of 1798 France was bordered by other revolutionary republics in Holland, Switzerland and Italy. Belgium and the Rhineland had been annexed, and unrest spread through Germany. Ireland was in rebellion, and in Great Britain the government of William Pitt, to use the word of various British historians, was re sorting to terror. In Sweden, said the British Foreign Secretary, half the people were Jacobins. In the United States, in July 1798, the same fear of Jacobins, that is of democrats, produced the Alien and Sedition laws; nor were such fears allayed when the democrats won the next election. The president of the college at Princeton, shortly thereafter, shuddered at “those irreligious and demoralizing principles which are tearing the bands of society asunder.”
The idea that these events constituted a world revolution, that is, a revolution of the Western World, is a very old one, since it dates from the eighteenth century itself. Recently, both in this country and in Europe, historians have begun to revive it. I need only mention our own Louis Gottschalk, or Georges Lefebvre of the Sorbonne, who, rewriting in 1951 his book of 1930 on the French Revolution, completely recast it to show the supranational implications. It may be that we should try to develop some integrating or unifying conceptions for this whole revolutionary movement in Europe and America taken together. It is not enough to have a rough semi-Marxist idea of the “bourgeois revolution,” or simply to place different countries side by side for comparison, or to speak vaguely of the “influence” of France or of America upon a world left otherwise undescribed.
Such a world revolution may be bounded, for convenience, by the dates 1763 and 1800 or 1801. At the hither end, we have a dramatic dose in the election of Jefferson to the American presidency, and the personal triumph of Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe. The two events were not exactly alike, to be sure, but both were followed by a decline of political agitation.
At the same time, with the Peace of Amiens and the Concordat both the British government and the papacy recognized the consequences of international revolutionary republicanism, at least tentatively and pending further developments.
There are good reasons for beginning about 1763. With the decade of the sixties some of the characteristics of the revolutionary era become apparent the ideas and issues, the alignments of protagonists on both the domestic and the international fronts, the types of political activity and methods of rebellion against government, with the virtual creation of a public opinion on political questions in many countries. In the realm of ideas, the years 1762 and 1763 see the publication of the main writings of Rousseau, and we have it from Daniel Mornet, the leading authority, that the philosophe movement had triumphed by 1770. In 1765 the French Assembly of the Clergy issued its first wholesale condemnation of the yhilosophe literature, which it said would undermine, if unchecked, all churches, states and societies.
The same years of the mid-sixties bring, in France, the quarrel of Louis XV’s ministers with the more or less united parlements of the kingdom. The cry of “Wilkes and Liberty” is heard in England, and the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act arouse America. No one can read E. S. Morgan’s new book, The Stamp Act Crisis, without sensing what was to come. He himself calls the American agitation of 1765 a revolution nipped in the bud. It anticipated what was soon to happen, in America and elsewhere, both in the ideas employed, that is, the appeal to historic or natural rights against a sovereign authority recognizing no direct dependence on the people, and in the practical tactics devised, that is, gatherings of the merchant and lawyer class into clubs and committees, and their exploiting of mob violence to obtain their ends. At the same time the close of the Seven Years’ War marked the triumph of Great Britain and in particular of its Parliamentary governing class, the most brilliantly successful of all people under eighteenth-century conditions, and hence the least inclined to see conditions changed.
The stage is already set for the solid British conservatism which was in time to be the main support of counterrevolution, and for that British superiority in wealth, and command of the sea, with the consequent anti-British feeling, which were to affect all international relations for many years.
The problem now is to suggest a few unifying themes, running through these years, and more or less common to an Atlantic civilization.
To begin with ideas. To imply that ideas “caused” the Revolution has long been the signal for controversy, carrying the implication of a conservative approach. Since the Revolution, and indeed before, as in the French Assembly of the Clergy of 1765, there have been warnings that the literature of the Enlightenment made people unruly and filled them with impractical ideas. This is probably true. It is not the whole truth, for the ideas in question were more than mere rebellious opinions. They derived from centuries of European thought, and they applied to the actual conditions of the day. The whole issue as between ideas and circumstances in the causation of the Revolution was set forth with extraordinary clarity, as early as 1799, by Friedrich Gentz. In 1790 a French conservative, Senac de Meilhan, in his book of that year, remarked that “the French Revolution seems to be a revolution of the human mind.”
The main idea, if we must single one out, seems to have been a demand for self-determination, a sense of autonomy of the personality, a refusal to accept norms laid down outside the self, leading sometimes to a profound subjectivity, or an insistence on self-expression rather than adjustment to preexisting authoritative standards. This seems to be the message of Rousseau, in the Confessions and the novels as well as in the Social Contract. In the latter, it is a collective self that defines the right; and each citizen is triumphantly demonstrated to be subject and sovereign at the same time. The same note of personal autonomy underlies all the practical demands for liberty, political and economic. It may be found in Kant’s metaphysics and in his political theory, and in the world-creating Ego of Fichte, who believed himself and his philosophy to be part and parcel of the revolutionary movement. It presumably explains what Hegel meant when he said that Mind became fully free only with the French Revolution. It inspired the educational doctrine of Pestalozzi, who welcomed the revolutionary Helvetic Republic in Switzerland. It has been found, by those versed in music, in the work of that obstreperous republican, Beethoven. It is obviously central to romanticism, and, in the demand for spontaneity and the rejection of artificial restraint, inspires the Lyrical Ballads of 1798. Surely there exists here the opportunity for what modern parlance knows as a “synthesis,” bringing together not only many peoples of different language or nationality, but also many different fields of activity and thought.
It might be shown also, in such a synthesis, how the universal impulse to liberty is at least in principle kept in order. Anarchic individualism is avoided, in the political sphere, by the stress on the equality of rights, and by the ideas of fraternity and of law; and all are bound together in the idea of constitutionalism. About fifteen new written constitutions were proclaimed in America, and ten in Europe, in the quarter-century ending in 1801. In economic theory, it is natural law, or the natural harmony, that prevents liberty from degenerating into confusion. In the arts, a generation that revived the sonnet can hardly be charged with looseness. In moral philosophy, with Rousseau and Kant, it is the human conscience that stands between freedom and anarchy. In more recent times, with the ideas of conscience and natural law losing their force, and the drive for emancipation or self-expression as strong as ever, a great deal of trouble has been attributed to such ideas. Some have sought philosophical composure in the Middle Ages. The matter cannot be amplified here. Suffice it to say that liberty has always been known to be dangerous.
A unified conception of world revolution would be the easier to arrive at if we could point to an organized and centrally directed revolutionary party, international in its operations. Conservatives in the 1790’s, unable to believe that revolutionary sentiment had any real or, so to speak, legitimate foundation, naturally imagined that such an nternational conspiracy was at work. The French émigré Barruel, and the Scotsman John Robison, independently produced large treatises proving its existence. In this country Jedediah Morse spread the same alarm. There was, however, no such international organization.
Agitators and subversives did exist in all countries, and sometimes French generals or civil commissioners in neighboring states employed secret agents. They had little or no connection with each other, or with the French government or any super-society in France. The French Jacobins were never secret, and had no organization after 1794.
Revolutionary secret societies were more the consequence than the cause of the great revolution of the 1790’s. The Italian Carbonari, for example, may be traced to a kind of Jacobin club in Burgundy in 1790. It was in a Paris prison, in 1795, that Babeuf launched the revolutionary underground of the nineteenth century. In 1798, when all England was reading the shocking revelations of Barruel and Robison, the House of Commons appointed a Committee of Secrecy to inquire into subversion. The committee made the strongest possible case to show a conspiratorial movement in England since 1792. It published numerous documents, and it named names. No French agent is mentioned in its report, and no foreigner other than Irish.
Class analysis offers another common theme. Carl Becker once observed of the American Revolution that, with the question of home rule settled by independence, it remained to be seen who should rule at home. Thus the establishment of independence was followed by the heightened democratic agitation of the 1790’s. The same pattern can easily be seen in parts of Europe, especially in regions subject to a sovereignty increasingly felt to be foreign. Cases in point are the Lombard and Belgian provinces, under the Hapsburg emperor; or the Swiss territory of Vaud, which belonged to the canton of Berne. In Belgium the assertion of independence in 1789 was followed by the strife between Statists, the upper class of the old regime, which wanted no internal change, and the democratic or “Vonckist” party, which demanded new rights for the hitherto unprivileged classes. The same pattern can be traced even in countries having native governments, since under the old regime all governments were in a sense foreign to their populations, the lack of moral bond between ruler and ruled being precisely the point at issue. It is now generally agreed that, in France, the revolution began with a revolt of the nobility against royal absolutism. This was no mere prelude, but an integral phase of the movement. If this revolutionary role of the aristocracy is once fixed in mind, then the attempts of Polish gentry to stage a revolution against the partitioning Powers, or the uprising of Hungary against Joseph II, can be brought into a unified conception of a general revolution. Even in England some of the gentry favored parliamentary reform; and parliamentary reform, involving equal, individual, numerical and “real” representation in the House of Commons, was rightly felt by conservatives to be a revolutionary change, both in the vicious practice and in the virtuous theory of the British Constitution.
In most countries having a middle class a bourgeois phase soon followed the aristocratic protest, and the sub-bourgeois or working classes were often heard from also, not only in France, but in England, Scotland, Holland and elsewhere. A historian of the city of Manchester, for example, remarks that the United Englishmen of 1797 offered the first example in that city of working-class political organization without middle-class leadership or support. In the long run, however, the landed interest seems to have had the last word, and it was the action of country people, perhaps more than anything else, that determined what happened as between one place and another. Only in France and America did small farmers become really revolutionary, and only in these countries do we find complete and thoroughly indigenous revolutions. In Ireland the rural population was disaffected, but helpless. In England the ‘land” meant a well-contented aristocracy. In Eastern Europe the very ownership of rural land was generally confined to nobles, who were the only political class, so that there was scarcely a tremor of revolution except for the noble opposition to outside Powers. In the Kingdom of Naples, the flimsiness of the so-called Parthenopean Republic of 1799 was due to the nonparticipation of peasants; and Cardinal Ruffo, with his famous Army of the Holy Faith, easily won back the country, not by the forces of clericalism, but because, being the administrative type of churchman, he had constructive ideas on land reform and could appeal to peasants.
Class differences manifested themselves constitutionally, in almost every country affected by the revolution, in the question of whether the new state should be unitary or federal. In the Dutch provinces, the Swiss cantons, and the Italian republics, as in France after 1792, we hear the cry for a “republic one and indivisible.” The same idea is evident in Belgium, in the German Rhineland and in Ireland with its United Irishmen, who believed that Irish Catholics and Presbyterians must combine indivisibly against the English. The idea of a republic “one and indivisible” was not primarily nationalist; at least, it had no necessary relation to linguistic or ethnic groups. It meant that persons struggling for a democratic revolution must integrate territorially for self-protection, since the old local units of province and town Brittany and Languedoc, Bologna and Ferrara, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Brabant and Flanders, Cologne and Mainz, not to mention the twenty-one boroughs of Cornwall were everywhere the seats of entrenched, exclusive and self-perpetuating oligarchic or privileged families. To insist that these historically-developed corporate entities should retain a separate influence was called “federalism” in revolutionary parlance, and federalism was with reason regarded as one of the many aspects of counterrevolution. Advanced democrats everywhere demanded the dissolution of such entities into a uniform state built upon individual citizenship. It seems important to note that a contrary situation existed in America. The fact that Federalism in America meant the centralized state is a mere difference of words. The significant matter is that, in America, the advanced democrats continued to fear strong government, or any central government, and to put their trust in local authorities close to the people. In America it was the democrats who were “federalist” in the European sense. At a time when big government was even harder to keep under control than now, democracy in America was not committed to big government, as it had to be in Europe to exist at all. The difference is due, like so much else, to the fact that America had no old regime in the true European sense, and hence no such internecine struggle.
Finally, it is in the sphere of international relations, and especially in war, that a unifying conception for the era may be formed. It is the misfortune of our own generation to know something of the interaction between war and revolution, and we should perhaps therefore be able to analyze the corresponding phenomena of the eighteenth century with a dreary wisdom not given to Sorel or Von SybeL Whether revolution must lead to war we cannot really be certain. It has been both affirmed and denied of the war of 1792. We do know that war can be a great breeder of revolution. We know, too, that war aims change during the stress of fighting; that governments or aroused peoples may crush enemies or seize and hold advantages in a way having little to do with initial ideology or intentions.
The revolutionary struggle, throughout the thirty-odd years, was inseparable from the struggle between England and France. The British government opposed every revolutionary effort the American, the Irish, the Dutch of 1784 and the Belgian of 1789. It went to war with France in 1793 to maintain the status quo in Belgium and Holland, against which many Dutch and Belgians were in rebellion, but which for over a century had been favorable to British naval and mercantile interests. The French, on the other hand, under both the Bourbon and the ensuing republican governments, patronized virtually all revolutionary disturbances.
The French were the only people to make a lasting revolution by their own efforts. All others depended on them. The French shipped 30,000 muskets to America in the year 1777. Nine tenths of all the gunpowder used by Americans before the battle of Saratoga was from foreign sources, mainly French. It is clear that die success of the American revolt depended on France even before France openly intervened. In this respect the American Revolution resembles the revolutions twenty years later which produced the Batavian, Cisalpine and other short-lived republics. The difference lies in the fact that the French withdrew from America, leaving the country independent, whereas they did not, could not, or would not withdraw from Holland or Italy except by abandoning their supporters to the counterrevolution.
The fact that the French alone accomplished a revolution with their own resources leads to comparative reflections on the Reign of Tenor. There is no simple explanation for the Jacobin Terror of 1793. There is therefore no simple explanation for its absence. Yet the fact is that only in France did revolutionaries not depend on outside aid, and that only France had a real Terror. The Americans in the 1770’s, and in the 1790’s the Dutch and the Italians, managed to conduct revolutions of some magnitude without going to such lengths as the French in 1793. One reason surely is that they did not depend on their own precarious revolutionary resources unorganized, unreliable, shifting, opportunistic, and virtually ungovernable, as resources of men and material in time of revolution are. They expected and received the aid of France. As a working hypothesis, we may suppose that revolutionaries had three alternatives: either capitulation to the old regime, or terroristic control of the means of defiance, or the acceptance of outside aid. The French did not have the third alternative. Of others, including our own esteemed Founding Fathers, it may be argued that receipt of French aid spared them the unpleasant necessity of terrorizing their fellow countrymen more than they in fact did. The matter is at least worth considering.
It is clear that war aims changed with war itself. The British government under Pitt, late in 1792, declared that it had no interest in the internal government of France, and would go to war only to preserve the existing situation in Belgium and Holland* Within two years, in July 1794, the same Pitt, in a secret cabinet memorandum, was planning to let Austria keep its acquisitions while Great Britain retained all those “already or yet to be conquered in the East and West Indies.” In five more years he doubted whether any lasting peace could be made except by restoring the French Bourbons an opinion not shared by Prussia, Austria, or even the Bourbon monarchy of Spain.
The French went to war in 1792 in a spirit of crusading for liberty, of raising a world revolution against all kings and all nobles. As Brissot wrote, anticipating Lenin, “we cannot be at ease until all Europe is in flames.” As the Abbé Grégoire put it, in a phrase that would have suited either Metternich or Franklin Roosevelt: “If my neighbor keeps a nest of vipers I have the right to stamp it out, lest I be its victim.” But as early as 1793 a more national and hard-headed attitude began to prevail in France. There began to be a contemptuous feeling that no people except the French was really suited for liberty. The idea of world revolution gave way to the idea of revolution in one country first. Some writers, like Albert Mathiez, make a great deal of this change, which in a way relieved the Jacobins of responsibility for world turmoil. Actually the change made little practical difference. It is consequences, not intentions, that enter into the crude realm of fact. Since the enemies with whom they were at war were the privileged classes of Europe the nobilities and town oligarchies and wealthy landowning clergy the French republicans attacked them by attacking their sources of power, by abolishing their privileges, their laws, their tithes and their feudal rents, by summoning their former dependents to freedom, by granting equal rights to Jews, Protestants, Catholics, freethinkers or whoever it might be that was outside the locally established church and even by the confiscation of property, the property of hostile ruling classes, be it understood. Such procedure horrified conservatives, especially in England, where it was ascribed to some peculiar perversity in the Jacobin character, or to an excessive belief in abstract ideas. It was not altogether different from what happened to the South during and after our Civil War, or from what governments in general seem historically to have done in pursuing conquest or suppressing opposition. One thinks of the Celtic regions of the British Isles, and the Scottish Highlands as recently as 1745.
The point is that revolution does not have to be caused by revolutionary ideas. It may only be a weapon of war. The distinction is never clear. In France, even under the consulate and empire, there were many who remained attached to revolutionary ideas. They believed in principle in liberating men from feudalism, clericalism or stupidity. Outside of France there were idealistic persons who first welcomed the French, then turned against them, disillusioned. The fact that they turned anti
French does not mean that in all cases they turned against revolutionary ideas, since the revolution was not French alone. They became the spiritual or actual fathers of the European revolutionaries of 1830 or 1840. The case of Michael Venedey is an example. He was a German republican of 1797, his son was a German republican of 1848.
Or again, if we say that revolution need not be caused by revolutionary ideology, we may have in mind that societies collapse for negative reasons, not so much from the strength of revolutionary sentiment as from the absence of any powerful sentiment in favor of the existing order. There were important revolutionary elements in Holland, Belgium, the Rhineland, Switzerland and Italy; but what caused the collapse of old governments and governing classes, in every one of these countries, was the war. More specifically, it was that they would not or could not defend themselves, that their own peoples did not believe in them, that there was no loyalty, faith or conviction on which to build, that they all were permeated by neutralism, and hoped plaintively, and vaguely, to be rescued by British money or the British fleet. In Holland in 1794 ‘the Prince of Orange attempted a levy in mass; he is said to have raised fifty men. In Belgium the authorities were afraid to arm the people. In Italy it had long been unheard of for Italians to be soldiers. The Swiss had not fought in their own cause for generations. All fell before revolutionary republicanism, French and domestic.
The French, being at war, accepted assistance wherever offered. They stirred up the very dregs of society, as we may read in a hundred contemporary accusations. They brought the “masses,” or at least a great many lower-middle-class and working people, into the practical politics of the Western World. By a historical irony, the liberal bourgeois awakened his Marxist doom. As for the British, being also at war, they brought into the practical politics of die Western World, though it would be premature to call it a Marxist doom, the mammoth power of Imperial Russia. No doubt historical irony can be overdone. Yet as early as 1775 there was talk in England of using Russian mercenaries in America. The Earl of Suffolk jocosely remarked that 20,000 Russians would be “charming visitors to New York and would civilize that part of America.” Vergennes, alarmed, foresaw that Britain might some day hire Russian troops for operations in Western Europe. In 1796 the British Cabinet agreed to give the island of Corsica to Russia. In 1798 Henry Dundas advised his cabinet colleague, Pitt, to “subsidize an army of Russians for British purposes/’ to attack Holland, defend Switzerland, capture Malta, open the markets of South America, or occupy Brest. In 1799 there was talk of using Russians in Ireland. In that same year Vergennes’ fears were realized when Russian troops, paid for by Great Britain, invaded Switzerland and Holland, on their way to France. It seems strangely modern to find Reubell, the former Director, declaring in 1801 that his policy of revolutionizing Switzerland in 1798 had prevented the Cossacks from riding into Paris.
The age of the French Revolution, it may be said in closing, has been used historically for a great many purposes. It has been used to explain the rise of nationalism or of liberalism, of class struggle or the “perpetual revolution” of Trotsky, to celebrate the freedom of thought, or, contrariwise, to demonstrate that dogmatic Jacobin ideology must lead to totalitarianism. Let us avail ourselves of the privilege of our predecessors, and use the revolutionary era to investigate what is most on our minds, to find out what a world is like that is divided by revolution and war. There is something to be said for leaving the national histories of France, or Italy, or Holland, to persons born or living in those countries. Perhaps we in America are best equipped to be the synthesizers. As that notable revolutionary, Thomas Paine, remarked in a notable revolutionary year, 1776, America is “the colony of all Europe.” We are of all European nationalities, and of none; and so should be the better able to see the whole movement as one common to the Atlantic world. If we do, we shall not be mere innovators, nor be forcing the past to fit the present. We shall be saying what contemporaries before 1800 all but universally believed. We shall be performing the oldest and humblest of all the roles assigned to history the preservation of memory. Indeed, I am reminded of the very first words of the first book of Herodotus, where he says that the aim of his “researches,” as he calls them ” is that the memory of the past may not be blotted out by time, …” [JG: last sentence jumbled in on-line archive ]

Excerpt #2
From R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution, Vol. I (Princeton, 1959) pages 4-20
The present work attempts to deal with Western Civilization as a whole, at a critical moment in its history, or with what has sometimes recently been called the Atlantic Civilization, a term probably closer to reality in the eighteenth century than in the twentieth. It is argued that this whole civilization was swept in the last four decades of the eighteenth century by a single revolutionary movement, which manifested itself in different ways and with varying success in different countries, yet in all of them showed similar objectives and principles. It is held that this forty-year movement was essentially “democratic,” and that these years are in fact the Age of the Democratic Revolution. “Democratic” is here to be understood in a general but clear enough sense. It was not primarily the sense of a later day in which universality of the suffrage became a chief criterion of democracy, nor yet that other and uncertain sense, also of a later day, in which both Soviet and Western-type states could call themselves democratic. In one way, it signified a new feeling for a kind of equality, or at least a discomfort with older forms of social stratification and formal rank. . . . Politically, the eighteenth-century movement was against the possession of government, or any public power, by any established, privileged, closed, or self-recruiting groups of men. It denied that any person could exercise coercive authority simply by his own right, or by right of his status, or by right of “history,” either in the old-fashioned sense of custom and inheritance, or in any newer dialectical sense, unknown to the eighteenth century, in which “history” might be supposed to give some special elite or revolutionary vanguard a right to rule. The “democratic revolution” emphasized the delegation of authority and the removability of officials, precisely because, as we shall see, neither delegation nor removability were much recognized in actual institutions.
It is a corollary of these ideas that the American and the French Revolutions, the two chief actual revolutions of the period, with all due allowance for the great differences between them, nevertheless shared a good deal in common, and that what they shared was shared also at the same time by various people and movements in other countries, notably in England, Ireland, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, but also in Germany, Hungary, and Poland, and by scattered individuals in places like Spain and Russia. . . .
Even if there was a general revolutionary disturbance between about 1760 and about 1800, it does not follow, without further explanation, that “democratic” is the best word to describe it. It is well known that Thomas Jefferson did not much favor the use of the word; and we often read, at least in American books, that the term in the 1790’s became an epithet or smear-word, by which persons were designated against their will, and usually falsely, like persons falsely called communists at a later day. The belief that the word had no willing acceptance in the eighteenth century actually plays into the hands of the modern Left; thus a Dutch scholar has argued, partly on the mistaken ground that “democracy” was little heard in Holland before 1800, that the modem “Eastern” use of the word, implying an economic rather than a political equality, and dating from the rise of social democracy in the 1880’s, is historically more legitimate than the modern ‘Western” use. The fact seems to be that “democracy” and “democrat” enjoyed more currency before 1800 than is commonly supposed. It must be remembered that the words “liberal/’ “radical,” and “progressive” did not exist. When moderates or conservatives wished to indicate the dangerous drift of the times, or when the more advanced spirits spoke of themselves, they might very well use the words “democrat” or “democracy.” . . .
The two nouns, “democrat” and “aristocrat,” were coinages of the period, unknown before the 1780’s. No “democrats” fought in the American Revolution; and the Age of Aristocracy, as long as it was unchallenged, heard nothing of “aristocrats.” Neither word was current in English before 1789; in France aristocrate crops up in the reign of Louis XVI, democrate not until 1789. It may be that the words were first coined by the Dutch. It seems certain, in any case, that their first currency was in the Low Countries, in the Dutch revolution of 1784-1787 and the Belgian revolution of 1789-1791. We find aristocraten used by Dutch burghers as early as 1784. The Rotterdam patrician, van Hogendorp, writing in the French language in 1786, declares that his country is troubled by a cabal. ‘People say,” he adds, “that this cabal is divided into aristocrats and democrats.” “Aristocrat” entered into popular parlance among the Dutch in these years; but “democrat” remained rare, the popular party calling itself Patriot. In Belgium, however, that is, the Austrian Netherlands, in the revolt of 1789 against the emperor, the advanced party came to call itself Democrat By January 1791 its leaders were speaking of les braves Democrates and les bons Democrates. One even wrote, “Vive la Democratie!” . . .
“Democrat” was rarely used in France, despite its currency in Belgium in 1790 and 1791. It was probably coined, in France as in Holland or Belgium, in contradistinction to “aristocrat.” Ferdinand Brunot, in his tremendous history of the French language, lists two hundred and six nouns and phrases designating political alignments during the Revolution. “Democrat” is in the list, but there are many more familiar terms, such as “patriots,” “Jacobins,” or “sans culottes.” Dubois Crance”, the future regicide, used it in 1790 in speaking on the military policy suitable to the new France. He describes the citizen soldier “a patriot, an honest democrat.” In 1791 Brissot claimed to advocate “a popular monarchy, tending to the popular side. Such is my democracy.” In 1793, when Louis XVI was executed, the drums rolled to smother the last sounds and the crowds shouted ‘Vive la République!” One young man heard, or at least reported, “Long live Democracy!” He was, however, a Greek, writing to a fellow countryman in the Greek language. It may be that “democracy” to him, not being a foreign word, could convey a feeling that it lacked for western Europeans; that he used it naturally as a translation for the Latin “republic,” to express the ideals and passions that he sensed in revolutionary Paris.
With the advent of the Jacobins and the Terror, “democracy” became more frequent, though never common. It was occasionally used at the Jacobin Club, where Camille Desmoulins cried that “the English people must be exterminated from Europe, unless they democratize themselves!” Herault-Sechelles, submitting what is called the Jacobin constitution to the Convention for adoption, praised it as “representative and democratic.” The constitution itself, though in fact democratic, allowing universal male suffrage and providing measure of initiative and referendum, does not use the word. . . .
In Holland after 1795 there was an important newspaper at Amsterdam called De Democraten. The Amsterdam political club said it wanted the democratisck systema, Even the French Directory, which used the its agent in Holland, in December 1797, that the Dutch people desired a “free and democratic constitution.” About a third of the members of the Dutch constituent assembly signed a petition, in January 1798, in favor of “a democratic representative constitution.” A constitutional committee, in February, affirmed to the French agent, Delacroix, that the Dutch were “capable of a greater measure of democracy than would be suitable for the French.”
In parts of Germany, notably the Rhenish states, there were people whose ideas were in effect democratic, but they seem to have used the word less often than the Dutch. One clubroom, in 1792, is reported to have had a sign on its wall reading Vive la Democratic. Au diable les aristocrates! in French! The journalist Lange, in an article comparing aristocracy and democracy, boldly declared for the latter, which, he said, offered more freedom to the real inequalities of human talent. . . .
In Switzerland, the constitution of the Helvetic Republic, which was proclaimed by the French in 1798, declared in its Article II that “the form of government, whatever modifications it may undergo, shall at all times be a representative democracy.” Of all the written constitutions promulgated in Europe and America, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, this is apparently the only one to call itself explicitly democratic. Its author was the Basel revolutionary, Peter Ochs, who spent a good deal of time in Paris. . . .
It was in Italy that the word “democracy,” in a favorable sense, was most commonly used in the years from 1796 to 1799. The most striking example comes from no less a person than Pius VII, two years before his elevation to the papacy. From 1785 to 1800 he was Bishop of Imola, a town in the northern part of the Papal States. Revolutionary disturbances broke out on every side when the French army, under Bonaparte, conquered Lombardy in 1796. Imola was absorbed into the Cisalpine Republic. On Christmas Eve 1797 the Bishop of Imola issued a Christmas homily to his diocese. It contains the word “democracy” eleven times within the space of a few hundred words. “The form of democratic government adopted among us, most beloved brethren,” he said, “is not inconsistent with the Gospel . . .”
The Milan popular club announces: “facciamo uno governo democratico” People shout: “La Democrazia o la Morte!” Others wish to “democratize the People,” to create “a democratic base.” A newspaper declares that any republic in Italy must be “a democracy, one and indivisible.” Pamphlets are entitled “Resurgence of oppressed democracy” and “Democratic education for the Italian people.” At Venice there is talk of creating a democracy, and Democratic Fecundity is exhibited by an engaged couple marching in a procession. At Rome a man named Martelli speaks casually of what will happen after the “democratization” of Naples and Tuscany. A proclamation reads, “Form yourselves into a democracy, People of the Roman Republic.” There is a theatrical production called “The Democratization of Heaven.” There is a grand ball in honor of Bonaparte: no “ladies” and very few seigneurs remains were present, but this is not surprising, because “the party was democratic.” And with republican Rome facing attack in 1799 by the King of Naples, the leaders try, though in vain, to make it a war for “democracy.” . , .
In England and Scotland the antidemocrats seem to have monopolized the word. Wordsworth did indeed say in a private letter in 1794: *1 am of that odious class of men called democrats.” But he said it with a note of defiance which eloquently suggests the disrepute of the word. Even The Age of the Democratic Revolution Thomas Paine rarely employs it, but in the third chapter of The Rights of Man, Part Two, he does address himself to the meaning of “republic var _wpcf7 = {"loaderUrl":"http:\/\/\/wp-content\/plugins\/contact-form-7\/images\/ajax-loader.gif","sending":"Sending ..."};