The Greatest Writer of the 19th Century » Brownson's Writings » Political Constitutions

Political Constitutions

from Brownson’s Quarterly Review for October, 1847
Count Joseph De Masitre was among the most distinguished men of his age. He was born at Chamberry, in Savoy, 1753, was a senator of Piedmont at the time of the French invasion in 1792, and resided at St. Petersburg, as the ambassador of the king of Sardinia, from 1804 to 1817, in which last year he returned to Turin, where he died in 1821. though not a subject of France, he was descended from a French family; was peculiarly French in his genius as well as his language, and his works were written in reference to French ideas and affairs at the time of their composition. No one among those who labored during the first years of this century to revive and restore French literature, perverted by the philosophers, and nearly destroyed by the revolution, deserves a more honorable mention, or exerted a mere salutary influence in exposing the popular fallacies of the day, and in recalling men’s minds to deeper and sounder religious and political doctrines.

As a theologian, some may think that he placed too much reliance on the analogies his profound and varies erudition supplied him with between the principles of our holy religion and those which were acknowledged in the old heathen world, that he was more fond than is prudent in these times of citing pagan authorities for his doctrines, and that he gave an almost unorthodox application to the dictum of St. Vincent Lerins, quod semper, quod ubique, et ab omnibus; but it cannot be denied that his works were peculiarly adapted to the temper of the times in which they were written, and admirably fitted to excite and engage the attention of a lively people grown weary indeed of infidelity, anarchy, and military despotism, but not yet recovered from the habits of incredulity and impiety, of sneering at the priest and the altar, and of regarding Christianity as old and effete; or that, if they contain some things local and temporary in their interest, they still contain much that is universal and permanent, which may be profitably studied in every age and country. No one acquainted with them can hesitate to regard them as peculiarly appropriate to our own country, and worthy the serious attention of our people, whether Catholic or Protestant.

The analogies between the principles of our holy religion and those of the ancient world, on which Count De Maistre lays great stress in all his works, are undeniable; but if we adduce them without taking great care to mark their precise nature, and the precise purpose for which we adduce them, we are in danger of giving occasion to an argument unfavorable to Christianity. German neologists and their American followers, it is well known, appeal to these analogies, and attempt from them to construct an argument against Christianity as a positive revealed religion, or against the special divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and in favor of their pernicious error, that inspiration, so far as it is to be admitted at all, is a universal phenomenon, not peculiar, unless it be in degree, to certain individuals, but common to all men in all countries and ages of the world,- that God speaks objectively to no one, but reveals subjectively, in their spiritual nature, reason, conscience, sentiment, the same great truths to all. Hence they conclude that all religion is natural, if we consider the fact that it is common to all men, and resulting spontaneously from universal humanity,- or supernatural, if we consider the fact that our nature lives and operates only in God, and through the creative and upholding power and wisdom of God, who is himself above nature. All religions, say they, are therefore at bottom one and the same, natural or supernatural according to the point of view from which we choose to consider them; and they differ as concrete religions only according to, and in consequence of, the differing degrees of mental and moral culture of mankind in different ages, countries, and individuals. To get at the perfect form of religion, we must eliminate whatever is local, temporary, peculiar to this or that individual, to this or that age or country and seize upon that which has been held always, everywhere, and by all. What we thus obtain, the residuum which remains after this analysis, will be absolute religion; that is to say, all religions in general, and no religion in particular, like man without men, the race without individuals!

No man was ever further from adopting this gross absurdity, or of countenancing this religious nihilism, than Count de Maistre; but we sometimes feel, while reading his learned and brilliant pages, that he has not been always careful to guard against it, and that he says many things which could, without much difficulty, be construed in its favor. He does not appear to us to state clearly always the precise purposes for which he adduces these analogies, or the precise grounds on which he ascribes to them the value he evidently supposes them to possess. In a word, he does not appear to have marked with precision the place which belongs to the consensus hominum, and seems at times to hold it to be the ground of certainty, and to favor the notion that the church is authoritative for the reason that she is the organ through which the universal consent of the race expresses itself, and therefore to favor the heresy taught a short time after by La Mennais. Yet it is only in appearance; for in his thought, though not always sufficiently guarded in his expression, we are sure he was sound and orthodox.

If we appeal to these analogies to show what has always been the reason or belief of mankind, and, from the fact that mankind has always assented to principles identical with the principles of Christianity, or analogous to them, conclude the truth of Christianity as a divinely revealed religion, we fall into the error of La Mennais, condemned as heretical; because we then make the consensus hominum the ground of certainty, the authority for believing, instead of the veracity of God, as required by faith. But, if we adduce them as authorities, not for faith, but for what is and always has been the practical reason or common sense of mankind, and therefore as proofs that the principles of our holy religion are not unreasonable, but reasonable, our method is perfectly legitimate, and perhaps the very best that can be adopted against the unbeliever. It is only in this latter sense, we are confident, that Count de Maistre, in reality, appeals to the consensus hominum and adduces the analogies in question.

The unbeliever, born and bred in Christian lands, professes to meet the Christian on the ground of reason, and from reason alone to disprove the Christian religion; that is, he objects that Christianity is contrary to reason. But in order to sustain his objection, he must prove that Christianity is contradicted, either by the pure or demonstrative reason, or by the practical or moral reason; that is, either by reason as the principle of metaphysical certainty, or by reason as the principle of moral certainty. The first is out of the question; for reason in the former sense,- the speculative reason of Kant,- as Kant himself has shown in his Critik der reinen Vernunft, cannot affirm or deny any thing on the subject. Moreover, it has been proved, over and over again, that there is nothing in Christianity which contradicts any principle of speculative reason; and all the chiefs of the modern infidel school, Bayle, Voltaire, D’ Alembert, Hume, and Thomas Paine, concede that it is impossible to prove any thing, metaphysically, against Christianity. "They themselves," says Benjamin Constant, an authority on this point, not liable to be suspected, "acknowledge that reasoning can authorize only doubt." They can only say that they do not believe it, or that there is no sufficient reason for believing it; but no on of them ventures to say that it is must necessarily be false, or that, after all, it may not be true. So far as regards the speculative reason, it is certain, that, if reason cannot, as we concede it cannot, pronounce a judgment on favor of our religion, it cannot pronounce a judgment against it. It can and must concede its metaphysical possibility, and this is as far as it can go, either one way or the other.

The unbeliever, then, must leave the speculative reason, and show that our religion is condemned by the practical reason, or withdraw his objection. But the criterion of the practical reason is the consensus hominum. In the speculative reason the individual needs not go out of himself, for the speculative reason is in se is as perfect in one as it is in all men; and when I have demonstrated that the three angles of the triangle are equal to two right angles, I have no need of the assent of the race, and their assent can add nothing to the demonstration, or to the certainty of the fact. But in regard to the practical reason it is not so, for this may be warped or perverted by individual idiosyncrasies, ignorance, education, position, passions, prejudices. Here the individual reason must be rectified or verified by the reason of the race, and that only is the reason of the race which is held always, everywhere, and by all. Hence we say the consensus hominum is the criterion of the practical reason, and the authority on which this or that is to be taken,- not as divine revelation, for that is the error to be avoided, but as practical reason; for certainly that is not unreasonable, contrary to the practical reason, which the race universally assents to, but must be in accordance with it, and demanded by it; or else the race would not and could not have universally assented to it. The consensus hominum is not the ground for believing this or that to be revealed, but simply for believing it approved by the practical reason; and if it is approved by the practical reason, we believe it on the authority of that reason,- not fide divina, indeed, but fide humana,- and must do so, or prove ourselves unreasonable, be ourselves condemned by reason.

Now if the unbeliever fails, as he does, to show that there is something essential to the Christian religion repugned by the practical reason, he fails entirely to sustain his objection. He boasts of common sense, but common sense is only another name for what we call the practical reason. He says our religion contradicts common sense. But his assertion is worth nothing, unless he proves it by showing the contradiction; which he never does and never can do. But if, on the other hand, we prove to him that every one of the principles of our religion has the authority of common sense, or that in believing our religion we assent to nothing not assented to in principle always and everywhere by the race, we prove that our religion in principle is reasonable, that the unbeliever cannot object that it is unreasonable, and that he, if he denies its principles, is himself unreasonable, obnoxious to the precise objection which he brings against us.

This last is what Count de Maistre has done. He proves, by admirable philosophical analysis and rare erudition, that there is in our holy religion no principle which the race has not always and everywhere assented to, and therefore, that, in refusing to believe it, in rejecting its principles, we are rejecting not merely the word of God as handed down to us by the church, but also the practical reason or common sense of mankind, and by doing so place ourselves in direct hostility to the reason we boast, and whose authority we acknowledge. He thus turns the tables upon the loud-boasting and conceited infidel, and shows him that it is he, not the Christian, who must humble himself before reason, and beg pardon for the outrages he offers her. The unbeliever in fact, builds never on reason, but always on unreason. Reason disowns him, scorns him, nay, holds him, intellectually considered, in prefect derision. Poor thing! She says, he has lost his wits; send him to the lunatic asylum.

Having established, as Count de Maistre has done, that all the principles of our religion have the consensus hominum, we have established that they are approved by reason. We must now assume that they are principles inherent in reason itself, immediately ascertainable by reason, or that they have been derived from some other source. If we say either of the former, they are authoritative for reason, and reason must assent to them on the peril of ceasing to be reason. If we say they are not inherent in reason, nor immediately ascertainable by reason, we must attribute them- since the practical reason by approving pronounces them pure, sacred, good- to some source above reason, that is, the supernatural, and therefore either immediately or mediately to God himself. Then they are unquestionably true, and we must believe them, or again prove ourselves unreasonable; for nothing is more reasonable than to believe God, and therefore what he reveals. So, on either supposition, we must assent to them or deny reason itself. Consequently, the analogies alleged against us by the enemies of our religion fully establish the reasonableness of Christianity in principle, and that reason must assent to it in principle or abdicate itself.

Yet we pretend not that by these analogies and pagan authorities we prove the absolute truth of Christianity as a positive revealed religion. We simply remove all objections a priori which can be conceived against it, and establish the reasonableness, the truth, for the practical reason, of its principles; but we leave the fact of Christianity as a supernaturally revealed religion to be proved or not proved by the testimony in the case. The argument thus far shows the possible truth of the religion, the actual truth for the reason of its principles, and places it as a positive religion in the category of facts which may be proved by testimony. If the actual testimony appropriate in the case be equal to what satisfies the reason in the case of ordinary historical facts, to what is sufficient in the ordinary affairs of life to render assent prudent, it is proved as a positive revealed religion to the full extent that reason does or can demand; and he who does not assent and act accordingly abdicates his title to be considered a reasonable being. The appropriate testimony in the case is unquestionably equal to this, - is all that reason, unless it ceases to be reason, requires or can require. Whoever, then, withholds his assent from the Christian religion, unless through sheer ignorance, denies reason. True, the assent thus yielded or warranted is only the assent of reason, and by no means the assent of faith, in the proper Christian sense; something more is undoubtedly demanded for faith; but that, whatever it be, is to be sought, not from reason, but from divine grace, which is freely given to all who do not voluntarily resist it.

The count’s method of argument, properly understood, is therefore triumphant against the unbeliever, as the neologists themselves have proved over and over again. The objection of the neologist which we have stated is met, - 1, by the fact that the analogies adduced extend to the principles, not to the positive doctrines, of Christianity; and consequently, before the neologists can be entitled to their conclusion, they must rebut the positive testimony in favor of Christianity as a supernaturally revealed religion, and also prove that the principles without the doctrines are sufficient, neither of which they do or can do; and, 2, by the fact that the principles in question, between which and Christianity there is the relation of analogy or identity, are not themselves originally derived from simple natural reason, or from an interior subjective relation made immediately to each man in particular, but from the primitive revelation made to our first parents, and preserved and diffused by tradition. We, as well as they, find Christian elements in the old heathen poets and philosophers; and perhaps in general the heathen world, under each of its various religions, retained more of Christian principles – we say not of Christian doctrine – that is retained by our modern sects. Under veils or symbols more or less transparent, we find not seldom, mot only Christian principles, but a very near approach to some one or more of the Christian mysteries themselves. Indeed, the type after which all religions have been fashioned is evidently the Christian religion, and there is scarcely a single Christian idea, if we may use the term, which is not to be found out of the Christian church. This, however, presents no difficulty to the Christian; - not, indeed, because he supposes all has been derived from the Holy Scriptures and intercourse with the Jews, as some have thought, - though more may have been derived from this source than many in our days are willing to acknowledge, but because it was contained in the primitive revelation to our first parents, and formed the common patrimony of the race. What we thus find is revealed truth, truth pertaining to the Christian revelation, pure in its source, but in the lapse of time corrupted and mixed up with fables by the nations, as they multiplied and spread themselves over the face of the earth. The fountain was pure and supernatural, but the stream which flowed from it became gradually corrupt by receiving waters flowing from other fountains. Thus, what we find in consonance with our religion as supernatural we attribute to the primitive revelation preserved by tradition; what we find repugnant to it we attribute to men speaking from themselves, their own darkened understandings and corrupt hearts.

The Christian revelation is not, strictly speaking, a new revelation; Judaism as such, though a divine institution for a special purpose, was not a dogmatic revelation, and contained no revealed truths not contained in the revelation. The primitive revelation contained in substance the whole Christian revelation, and the only difference between the faith of the fathers from the beginning, before Christ, and that of the fathers since, is, that those before believed in a Christ to come, and those since believe in a Christ that has come, and that in many things our faith is clearer and more explicit than was theirs. From the beginning till now, the revelation believed has been ever one and the same revelation, the faith has always been one and the same faith. Our Lord and his apostles introduced no new religion, no new faith, made no new revelation, except to clear up and render more explicit what had been revealed and believed by the faithful from the first. It is not the true view to look upon our Lord as coming into the world to found a new religion, or to reveal even new dogmas, as do many of our modern sects. He came to make the atonement, to perform the work of redemption, to open the door for the admission of the just into heaven, and to establish a new order, the order of grace in place of the law, that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

Due consideration of this fact would correct the errors of the liberal Christians, and enable them to get over some of the difficulties they now find, or imagine they find. They read the New Testament, and find in it no creed formally drawn out, and therefore conclude that none is enjoined or necessary. They find some one asking what he shall do to be saved, and an apostle in his answer requiring him simply to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore they conclude only the simple belief in Jesus as the Messiah, whether as God, as a superangelic being, or as man only, it matters not, is all the faith the Gospel requires. But they forget that they to whom the apostle so answers are supposed to be already instructed in the faith, and to lack nothing of the true Christian faith, but to believe that the Christ that was to come has come, and is this same Jesus whom they crucified, and whom God has raised from the dead. The simple article enjoined was all the addition or modification their previous faith required. But to conclude from this that nothing more was required at all is very bad logic.

This fact attended to furnishes us one of the reasons why the faith is always assumed or presupposed in the Holy Scriptures, instead of being distinctly and formally taught. The sacred writers always address themselves to believers, to persons supposed to have already received the faith, and therefore not in need of being formally and systematically taught the whole creed. They write, not to propose the creed, but simply, under the relation of faith, to correct the errors of believers, or to enlighten them on some particular points of doctrine. Nothing is more illogical than to conclude, form the absence of all distinct and formal statement from their pages of the several articles of the creed, that no formal creed was proposed, believed, or required.

The recognition of the primitive revelation is necessary, also, to account for the sublime truths we often meet with in ancient pagan writers, oriental and occidental, in juxtaposition with mere puerilities, gross absurdities, and abominations. Any one who has read Plato will understand what we mean. There are passages in this writer hardly unworthy of a Christian father, which are admirable for the truth and sublimity of the thought, for their lofty religious conception and pure morality; and there are others childishly weak, obviously absurd, and grossly impure, as, for instance, some passages in the Banquet, the Timaeus, and the Republic. Take Socrates himself. What more noble than his speech on his trial? He speaks of God, of virtue, and immortality with his disciples, while awaiting his execution, almost as a Christian, and more worthily than many who call themselves Christians do or can speak; and yet, just before his death, he can order a cock to be sacrificed to Aesculapius. Through nearly all heathen antiquity we find similar phenomena constantly recurring. How explain them? The mind capable of producing from its own resources the true, the pure, the sublime and beautiful thoughts and sentiments we find, could never have produced or tolerated those of a totally different character, invariably mixed up with them. The only possible explanation is, that in the former they spoke from tradition, from the sublime wisdom of the ancients, derived from a primitive revelation, as they themselves always acknowledge; just as the only explanation of what we find agreeable to the purity, truth, and sublimity of the Gospel in the writings and discourses of modern heretics is that it is derived not from their heresy or their own minds, but retained from the Gospel itself, is the reminiscence of the true faith, not yet wholly lost in the crude mass of their own errors and speculations.

But we have suffered ourselves to be carried too far away by a topic only incidental to our present purpose. While acknowledging the danger to which Count de Maistre’s method of reasoning for religion against an unbelieving and scoffing age is exposed, when not duly guarded, we have wished, in passing, to show that it is substantially sound, and may be used with great propriety and effect. The influence his writings have exerted on France are a proof of it. When he first appeared, religion was out of fashion, and her voice failed to arrest the attention of the reading public. It required no ordinary degree of moral courage at that time to avow one’s self a Christian, a firm believer in the church of God, and ready to do battle for the faith. For more than half a century the whole literary taste had been perverted; the philosophers and their followers, Voltaire and his school, reigned supreme in the world of letters, in the public acts, and the saloons of fashion. But Count de Maistre did not hesitate to raise his voice, and, seconded by La Mennais, not yet fallen, and by the restoration and its friends, he succeeded, by the grace of God, in bringing up religion once more to men’s thoughts and affections, and showing to faith and purity – what is never to be doubted – that they have no cause to blush before the pretended worshippers of reason, even in the temple of reason herself. France is no longer what she was. The French works best known and most generally read by the people of this country are the groans, writhings, and contortions of a party in its agony. They proceed not from the mind or the heart of the real, living, progressive France of today. Sansculottism in religion, morals, or politics is not at present precisely a Parisian mode, and it is no longer incompatible with good taste and admission into good society to cover one’s nakedness with the robe of justice and piety.

Of the several works of Count de Maistre, there is no one which, at the present moment, could be circulated or read with more advantage amongst us, than the one now before us, or better fitted to the actual wants of our politicians, whether Catholics or Protestants; for, unhappily, a very considerable portion of our Catholic population are as unsound in their politics as their Protestant neighbors. Both classes, with individual exceptions, have borrowed their political notions from the school of Hobbes, Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Paine, and forget, or have a strong tendency to forget, that Divine Providence has something to do with forming, preserving, amending, or overthrowing the constitutions of states. We say nothing new, when we say that modern politics are in principle, and generally in practice, purely atheistic. Even large numbers, who in religion are sound orthodox believers, and would suffer a thousand deaths sooner than knowingly swerve one iota from the faith, may be found, who do not hesitate to vote God out of the political constitution, and to advocate liberty on principles which logically put man in the place of God. It is to such as these the little work before us is addressed, and they cannot study it without perceiving the capital mistake they have made – not in seeking political freedom, but in seeking to base it on atheistical principles. The man who advocates political liberty on Protestant principles can stop short of atheism only at the expense of his logic.

Count de Maistre is no doubt a staunch monarchist, and holds hereditary monarchy, tempered by a due admixture of aristocracy and democracy, to be the best of all possible forms of government; but it is not for this we commend him, for this is by no means a necessary conclusion from the great generative principle of political constitutions he insists upon. The principle we may accept without any disposition to be monarchists, for it is as true and as applicable in the case of a republican constitution as in that of a monarchical constitution. Where the existing legitimate order is monarchical, it undoubtedly requires us to support monarchy, and forbids us to seek to substitute another order in its place; but, for the same reason, where the existing legitimate order is the republican, it requires us to support republicanism, and forbids us to seek to introduce monarchy. In this country the existing legal order is republican, and the principle De Maistre insists upon commands us, whatever may or may not be our private convictions as to the best form of government in se, to support it, and to resist with our lives every attempt to subvert it. It may or may not be, we may or we may not believe it, the best of all possible forms of government in the abstract; but that has nothing to do with the question. It is the form which God in his providence has established here, and therefore it is the best for us; it is the law, and therefore we must obey it, and cannot resist without resisting God, from whom is all power, by whom kings reign and legislators decree just things.

There are two grounds on which we may seek support for our republican institutions; - the one, opinion; the other, conscience; - that is, either because we believe them the best in se, or because they are the law. Our modern politicians, who uniformly mistake falsehood for truth, and substitute the feebler for the stronger, the worse for the better reason, as a matter of course place all their reliance on the former, and regard those who prefer the latter as the enemies of our free institutions. But nothing is more fluctuating, precarious, or uncertain than opinion. The multitude may be of one opinion today, and of another tomorrow. Today they may hurrah for democracy; tomorrow they may throw up their caps for some military hero, and cry, Long live the king! To rely on mere opinion is to lean on a broken reed. The opinion may change, and the moment it does, we have no reason, if it has been our reliance, to urge for sustaining the present order, or why the people should not subvert it, and substitute some other order; and we may be sure the opinion will change, whenever the present order proves, or attempts to prove, itself a government by restraining popular passion and caprice, or any thing more than a bylaw of a voluntary association; for-

‘No rogue e’er felt the halter draw

With good opinion of the law.’


But if we place their support on the ground that they are the legal order, the law, we make our appeal, not to opinion, but to conscience. Conscience uniformly and invariably commands us to obey the law, but does not command us always to obey opinion. Opinions may vary as to what is the law; but when this or that is decided to be law, conscience, which is not opinion, without any variation or the least hesitation, commands us to submit to it, and all who regard at all the voice of conscience do so. When we place the obligation to support our institutions on the notion we may have that they are the best, we give them only an intellectual basis, and can enlist only the intellect in their behalf; but when we demand obedience to them on the ground that they are the law, we base them on morality, and place them under the protection of religion. We demand then obedience as a duty, not merely as a sound judgment, and make loyalty not merely a sentiment, but a virtue. It was only the folly or delusion of the last century that could, for a moment, have hesitated between conscience and opinion, or even pretended to doubt which is the more reasonable and solid basis of government.

We suspect, however, that our politicians will continue to prefer opinion to conscience; for it is not the preservation of our institutions, but the facility of changing them, that they wish to secure. It is not government they want, but the liberty to make the government any thing they please; or if they ask for government, it is not that it may govern them, but that they may govern it. They want, not a fixed and permanent order, but a loose and flexible order, yielding without the least resistance, to their passions, caprices, or supposed interests. They regard, and for this reason will continue to regard, all those who would make our institutions sacred, place them under the protection of religion and morals, and support them on the ground that they are the law, and that the law must be obeyed, as the enemies of the people, and to be denounced as anti-republican and anti-American. They are willing to appeal to opinion and sentiment, but they cannot endure that we should appeal to religion and morals, to conscience, or the sense of duty. For on the former ground there is liberty to change, modify, subvert, at will; but on the latter there is a strict obligation to preserve the institutions as they are, and to resist unto death every one who would seek to subvert them. In is not monarchy or aristocracy against which the modern spirit fights, but against loyalty; what it hates is not this or that form of government, but legitimacy, and it would rebel against democracy as quick as against absolute monarchy, if democracy were asserted on the ground of legitimacy.

The modern spirit is in every thing the direct denial of the practical reason. It reverses every thing which has received the sanction of the race. In former times it was universally held that authority was a good, indeed a necessity, and in all things men sought for an authority, something which could and had a right to command. They inquired always for the law, and law was always held to be imperative. Religion was the highest law, and authoritative, and no individual or nation had a right to dispute its dominion; morals were binding, were the law imposed by religion; politics were referred to the sovereign authority, to the majesty of the prince, or the state. The greatest evil conceivable was supposed to be that of being without law, without religious, moral, and political authority having the right to exact and the ability to secure submission. Man’s glory, according to the ancient spirit, was in obedience to law. But the modern spirit reverses all this. It seeks not the authority which men are bound to obey, and to induce them to obey it, but it claims for man himself the authority in all things to make the law. It asserts the universal and absolute supremacy of man, and his unrestricted right to subject religion, morals, and politics to his own will, passion, or caprice. There is no denying this. Its direct aim and tendency is to place the subject over the sovereign, and to give to the subject in religion, morals, or politics the right to put a rope around his sovereign’s neck, as the Chinese sometimes do around the neck of their idol, and drag him from his throne, and through the streets, and apply the bamboo whenever he chances not to conform himself to their will and pleasure. It calls government government, because it is not government; morals morals, because they are not morals, that is, not obligatory on the will; religion religion, because it is not religion, that is, does not bind man to God; law law, because it is not law; and reason reason, because it is not reason. Marvelous is the age we live in! Marvelous the light and progress of the modern world! We have extinguished the light of reason, and therefore are reasonable; reduced wisdom to folly, and therefore are wise; substituted nonsense for sense, and therefore are intelligent; and have the right to call all who went before us fools and madmen, which assuredly they were,- unless we are.

The political mania of the last century, and a mania not yet much abated, was that a political constitution may be written and clapped onto one’s pocket. Men not in a lunatic hospital, men who were regarded by their contemporaries as great men, learned men, profound philosophers and statesmen, in open day, in elaborate treatises, in grave deliberative assemblies, actually contended that the political constitution is a thing which may be made as one makes a handcart or a wheelbarrow, or drawn up beforehand as one draws up a note of hand; and, what is stranger still, they were believed, and whole nations thrilled at the wonderful discovery, and, leaving all other business, engaged heart and soul, might and main, in the manufacture and sale of constitutions. We ourselves opened a shop for the business, or pretended to do so; but France opened an establishment on a much larger scale, and carried on the business to an extent which differed only a step from the sublime. The facility and rapidity with which the lively French, for a series of years, turned out ready-made constitutions, for home consumption and exportation, can be compared to nothing better than to the facility with which a Connecticut Yankee turns out wooden clocks, wooden bowls, wooden nutmegs, cut-nails, clothespins, or locofoco matches. The delusion was all but universal for a time, and can be accounted for not without attributing it in part to demoniacal agency. Men not drawn down below the rank of their own nature, not made worse than human in their passions, and less than human in their reason and understanding, could never have been so wildly and madly carried away.

In the work before us, Count de Maistre attacks with all his erudition, philosophy, experience, and wit, this terrible delusion – a delusion which even Carlyle has mercilessly ridiculed, and against which, our readers will bear us witness, we ourselves have argued and declaimed with all our might, ever since we began to address the public on political subjects. De Maistre shows, beyond the possibility of doubt or cavil, that the political constitution of a state is not and cannot be made; that whatever it is, whatever its form, if it be a constitution at all, it is generated, not made; that it grows up by divine Providence, and is never framed beforehand, drawn up deliberately, and put into operation by those who live or are to live under it. It is never the work of deliberation, but always the work of divine Providence, using men and circumstances as his instruments. It is always immediately or mediately – mediately in all cases, perhaps, except one, - imposed by God himself, is the expression of the divine will, and therefore legitimate, sacred, and suited to the nation. This is the leading principle of the essay before us. The generative principle of all political constitutions which are such is divine Providence, never the deliberative wisdom or will of men.

This doctrine is unquestionably conservative; for it makes the constitution sacred. It is monarchical, where monarchy is the constitution of the state; it is also republican, where, as with us, the constitution is republican. It would forbid the subjects of a monarchy to throw off monarchy and attempt to create a republic; it would also forbid the citizens of a republic to throw off republicanism and attempt to found a monarchy. If we are destructives or revolutionists on principle, and are resolved to be always able to govern the government when we please and as we please, this doctrine must offend us, and we cannot but resist it; but if we are attached to our institutions, hold our constitution to be law, not a mere regulation, and wish to preserve it, this is the very doctrine we need, and must heartily embrace. For our own part, we hold the republican constitution of this country to be the legitimate order, and ourselves bound in conscience to submit to it, whether we believe it the best possible form of government for every people on earth or not. IT IS THE BEST POSSIBLE FORM FOR US. We wish to preserve it intact, in all its life and vigor, and therefore we wish to see the doctrine in question embraced and cherished by every American citizen.

But when we speak of the American constitution, our readers must not imagine that we mean the written instrument usually denominated the constitution. The written constitution may sometimes be a memorandum of the real constitution, but is never that constitution itself; and it is always a mere cobweb, save so far as it is also written on the hearts, and in the habits, the manners and customs of the people, as our own daily experience abundantly proves. The constitution is the living soul of the nation, that by virtue of which it is a nation, and is able to live a national life, and perform national functions. You can no more write it out in parchment, and put it into your pocket, than you can the soul of man. It is no dead letter, which when interrogated is silent, and when attacked is impotent; it is a living spirit, a living power, a living providence, and resides wherever the nation is, and expresses itself in every national act. Written constitutions are never resorted to, when the real constitution is in full vitality and vigor, and the state performs freely its normal functions; and the most beautiful period in the history of every nation is the period prior to the attempt to reduce its constitution and laws to writing. The written instrument is invariably a proof that the constitution has suffered violence, has been enfeebled, and its existence endangered. It is resorted to as a means of preservation, in the hope that by writing it the constitution may be strengthened, and further encroachment prevented. But when it is in its full vigor, and has suffered no violence, men no more think of writing it, than the housewife thinks each morning of reducing to writing her arrangements for her household during the day.

The people of this country have not made, and could not make, our political constitution. It was imposed by a competent authority, and has grown to be what it is, through the providence of God. The people have never had the control of it. It was not their foresight, wisdom, convictions, or will, that made it republican. The constitution was republican from the first, and we established no monarchy or nobility at the close of the war of independence, for the simple reason that neither was in our constitution. The royalty and nobility we knew prior to independence were English, not American. Mr. Bancroft has well remarked, in his history of the colonization of the United States, that royalty and nobility did not emigrate. Since they did not emigrate, they remained at home, and were not here; not being here, they were not in our political constitution. The commons alone emigrated, and consequently our constitution recognized only commons. When, therefore, the foreign authority was thrown off, and we were left to our own constitution, we had only the government of the commons, that is to say, the representative democracy, or the elective aristocracy, if we may use the term, which we brought here from the mother country. Our government is simply the British house of commons, without the king and house of lords, divided for the sake of convenience into an upper and lower chamber, and with such few changes and modifications as were necessary to provide for an executive authority. The constitution was determined for us by the providence of God, which so ordered it that only the commons emigrated, and so created and arranged circumstances as to compel us from sheer necessity to live under a government from which royalty and nobility are excluded.

Count de Maistre not only contends that the constitution is never made, or drawn up by the people with deliberation and forethought, that it is always the work of Providence using men and circumstances to effect or express his will, but that it never can be essentially changed by the people or the nation, deliberately or otherwise, without the destruction of the nation itself. If God determines and fixes the political constitution of a people, it follows that the constitution exists by the divine will and authority; to seek to subvert or essentially change it is, then, to war against God, and we need not labor to prove that no individual or nation can ever rebel against God with success or impunity. Nations and individuals who conspire against God, and seek to make their will prevail instead of his, are sure to be destroyed. They separate themselves from the source of life, from the fountain of strength, and can but wither and die, as the branch severed from the vine.

This conclusion, which we know by infallible faith to be true, is, moreover, verified by all history. Our wise politicians seek a thousand reasons to explain the different results which national independence has produced here, from those which it has produced in Spanish America. There can be no question that in every one of the Spanish American states republicanism has proved a complete failure; yet with us it is thought to have succeeded. Whence the difference? It is idle to look for the cause in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon over the Spanish race, for this superiority is perfectly imaginary; and the Spanish American colonies, as colonies, were in real prosperity and genuine civilization in advance of the Anglo-American. The difference of religion, too, has been immensely in favor of Spanish America, because, while Protestantism tends to render men disorderly, insubordinate, impatient of restraint, and indifferent to the sacred obligations of law, Catholicity generates habits of order, subordination, and reverence for law. Yet the attempt to establish republicanism in Spanish America has resulted very nearly in the dissolution of all society. The cause of the difference is in the fact that republicanism with us was from the first the constitution, but was never the constitution of the Spanish American colonies. In them royalty and nobility settled; and the whole constitution of the mother country, not merely that of the commons, was transferred to the New World. Royalty and nobility were integral elements in their constitution from the outset. We in declaring independence made no revolution in the government; we only threw off what was foreign, while we retained all that was indigenous, and the removal of the foreign or English authority only enabled the indigenous to manifest and exert itself in open day, in full and unimpeded life and vigor. But in Spanish America independence was not merely throwing off the foreign element, the authority of the mother country, but was a revolution, a subversion of the existing constitution, and the attempt to establish a new and a totally different political order. The cause of the failure is precisely in this attempt to change essentially the political constitution. If Spanish America had simply declared herself independent of Old Spain, but retained in tact her domestic constitution, there can be no reason to doubt that her prosperity would, at least, have kept pace with ours. Portuguese America, Brazil, has succeeded the best, after us, of all the American states, for she did not essentially change her original constitution.

We can easily suppose what would have been our success, if we had attempted to introduce and establish monarchy and nobility. There were among us distinguished men – the most distinguished, perhaps, and firm patriots, too – who had no confidence in republicanism, and were pretty well persuaded that a government without king and nobles must prove a failure. But we had no royalty and nobility. Neither was here, and neither could be introduced without a social revolution. Suppose we had attempted to introduce them, to constitute the three estates, and retain the whole constitution of the mother country; who can doubt that the result would have been similar to what has been in Spanish America the attempt to introduce republicanism? Neither being in the constitution, both would have been resisted by the whole force of American society, and could have triumphed only by overcoming that force, and destroying the whole existing social order, that is, the state itself.

France sought to change from a monarchy to a republic. She was great, powerful, intellectual, and enthusiastic. Never could the attempt have been made under more favorable auspices. She was aided, or not impeded, in the outset, by the very orders in the state which had the greatest privileges to lose; the surrounding nations, the whole world sympathized with her, and applauded her movement; and yet her failure was striking, and no man can doubt, if he has ordinary judgment, that, if she had not returned to her old constitution, or in part returned, she would ere this have been blotted out from the chart of Europe as an independent nation. Her present uneasiness, her present unsettled and ominous state, and all the difficulties she has to encounter grow out of her return having been partial, instead of complete. The most glorious period of French history since the reign of Louis XIV, perhaps since St. Louis, is that of Charles X,- a man and a prince to whom history is not likely to do justice. The Bourbons committed great faults, and they deserved, and drew down upon their guilty heads the vengeance of Almighty God; but if the family had, before the breaking out of the revolution, or in its first stages, listened to the Count d’ Artois, or if France had been wise enough to understand his character and appreciate the firmness of his principles when he became Charles X, she would now have been in the possession of her ancient constitution and of all her ancient glory. There would have been no "glorious three days," no Programme de l’ Hotel de Ville, no such anomaly as a "citizen king," – a king by virtue of the Bourse, it is true, but only so much the better. The same impossibility of changing the constitution without destroying social order we see in the recent history of Spain and Portugal. Each of these kingdoms, Spain especially, played at no distant date a distinguished part among the kingdoms of Europe; but both are now fallen so low that there are few so poor as to do them reverence. It is not difficult to trace their present degradation, we say to efforts at social amelioration, but to efforts to ameliorate their social condition by organic changes, or fundamental changes in the political constitution of the state, that is, to revolutionism, and they must return substantially to their old national constitutions, lapse into anarchy and barbarism, or be absorbed by their more powerful neighbors.

We have found in our historical reading no instance of a fundamental change of the national constitution that was successful. Never does a republic become a monarchy, or a monarchy a republic, without the virtual destruction of the state. Athens was originally monarchical, tempered, we suspect, by both aristocracy and democracy. The democratic element finally gained the mastery; but it retained the ascendancy for only one hundred and four years. Solon himself saw the Pisistratidae, and the whole period was one of political turmoil, of change, and usurpation, and the government was almost always in the hands of a single chief, who ruled, with or without law, during his ascendancy, very much as he pleased. The smaller Grecian cities, which adopted the republican order with scarcely an exception, in brief space, fell under the rule of tyrants or usurpers. We make no account of Rome, because her constitution was originally patrician, a modification of the patriarchal, and the royal authority acted not really on the people, but simply on the patrician, or head of the gens. The abolition of the royal and the substitution of the consular authority were no fundamental change in the constitution; nor was the establishment, at a later period, of the tribuntial veto; for the positive power of the state continued where it had been placed by Romulus, in the patrician body. The change to the imperial government was perhaps more fundamental, and makes decidedly for the doctrine we maintain; for just in proportion as the constitution was changed under the emperors, and they usurped the functions of the senate, Rome declined, and continued to decline, till it was no more.