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2023 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

Democracy and Democratic Reform Impulses Before the French Revolution

Author : Skadi Siiri Krause

Published in: Republicanism and Democracy

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

Three pre-revolutionary discourses designed to limit the power of the central government in absolutist France are presented in this essay. Montesquieu explains in De l'éspit des loix that a modern constitutional state needs not only a horizontal separation of powers to effectively secure individual liberties, but also a vertical one to protect regional and local freedom. D’Argenson argues in his Considerations sur le gouvernement that a modern administration must be democratized in order to be able to act efficiently and close to the citizen on the one hand and to strengthen local freedoms in the spirit of Montesquieu on the other. Rousseau combines in his work the theorem of popular sovereignty, as he saw it completed in the constitutional state, with d’Argenson's approach and called for the democratization of government and administration. All three concepts became important when the US struggled to create a new federal republic. They were not used in France. Instead, revolutionaries here believed that the survival of the state depended on their ability to shape the general will of the nation. In this sense, they remained true to republican models and did not draw on the incipient theory of democracy.

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Footnotes
1
See ordonnances by Charles V. from 1364, 1365 und 1366.
 
2
Authors such as David W. Carrithers, Lee Ward and Annelien de Dijn have recently attempted to reclassify Montesquieu in terms of the history of ideas by no longer interpreting him as a liberal, which he is considered to be due to his doctrine of the separation of powers, but as a critic of absolutist tendencies in the monarchy; Carrithers et al. (2001, 109–158); Bibby (2016); Ward (2007); Dijn (2014).
 
3
Montesquieu (1835, XCIII, 63). In the eighteenth century, several authors supported the discourse that interprets the Parlements as independent powers in the state. Thus, d'Aguesseau valued the Parlements as mediating, subordinate and dependent powers, which, however, helped to prevent a monarchical rule from becoming a tyrannical one. For d'Aguesseau, the Parlements were guarantors of law and order. Especially in his treatise Fragment sur l'origines et l'usage des Remonstrances, he assigned them a central role in the moderation of the monarchy (D’Aguesseau, 1819, 4–31, 25).
 
4
D’Argenson's Considerations first appeared in Amsterdam in 1767, seven years after his death. There were several revisions of this work, which, however, only circulated as a manuscript during the author's lifetime; Gessler (1957, 81).
 
5
D’Argenson held high administrative offices throughout his life. From 1744 to 1747, he was even the foreign minister of the kingdom.
 
6
D’Argenson (1765, 61–70). D’Argenson had visited the Netherlands in 1717. Between 1739 and 1748, d’Argenson was on friendly terms with the Dutch ambassador van Hoey.
 
7
Like Burlamaqui, from whom Rousseau took the concepts of “l'amour de soi-même” and “perfectibilité”, he not only ascribed to humans the capacity for self-preservation, but also emphasized their freedom to find and create themselves (see Neuhouser, 2008, 28–30).
 
8
It is therefore important for Rousseau to point out that Du Contrat social is only part of a larger work (see Rousseau, 19591995, OC III, 349).
 
9
The well-known theory of relative “sensitivity” underlying several passages of Tocqueville's work on the Ancien Régime is now known as the Tocqueville paradox. After that, concrete and perceived injustices, which were brought to light through efforts to improve, increased the impression of the illegitimacy of existing social barriers. Tocqueville wrote: “Revolutions are not always brought about by a gradual decline from bad to worse. Nations that have endured patiently and almost unconsciously the most overwhelming oppression, often burst into rebellion against the yoke the moment it begins to grow lighter.” And so Tocqueville sums up that the often ineffective attempts at reform under Louis XVI had been harder for contemporaries to bear “than all the despotism of Louis XIV” (Tocqueville, 1856, 292).
 
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Metadata
Title
Democracy and Democratic Reform Impulses Before the French Revolution
Author
Skadi Siiri Krause
Copyright Year
2023
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-15780-6_8