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2023 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

Democratic Republicanism in the French Revolution

Author : Nadia Urbinati

Published in: Republicanism and Democracy

Publisher: Springer International Publishing

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Abstract

Representation belongs to the history of republics, yet is missing in contemporary theories of republicanism. According to the prevailing narrative, representation is not part of the democratic tradition, and its emergence in modern politics coincided with the neutralization of the people in the decision-making process. This story has veiled the existence of a lesser known history, of a democratic republicanism that sought to contain the absolute power of the crowd without resorting to a liberal-elitist form of representative government. This chapter goes back to that history. It analyzes the contributions of Thomas Paine and the Marquis de Condorcet to the merging of democracy and republicanism. They wanted to make representative government democratic by overcoming the polarization between representation and participation, and instead making them related forms of political action along the continuum of decision-making and opinion formation.

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Footnotes
1
Pierre Rosanvallon attributes the paternity of the term “representative democracy” to Hamilton, who used it in a 1777 letter to Governor Morris (2000, 11–12). Its implementation as a form of government began at the local level—township government in New England and, after 1789, municipal government in Paris. Since the beginning, it was perceived as peculiarly modern and either prized as an alternative to democracy or criticized as a mockery of government by the people. Although we do not know for sure who first spoke of “representative democracy,” the Marquis d’Argenson, a foreign minister under Louis XV, was among the first who described the characteristics of this form of government and judged them favorably in his Considérations sur le gouvernement ancien et present de la France (1765).
 
2
Of course, the argument of representation as expediency can and actually did serve the cause of the sovereignty of the parliament because the idea that the people could act for themselves may help “to sustain the authority of the few” since it suggests a resemblance between people directly assembled and people assembled symbolically through their representatives (Morgan, 1988, 209–211).
 
3
Although the “‘people’ is certainly a much larger entity today than in the eighteenth-century…, there has been no significant change in the institutions regulating the selection of representatives and the influence of the popular will on their decisions once in office” (Manin, 1997, 236).
 
4
The conceptual distinction between “will” and “judgment”—attributed to the legislative power and the government (executive and judging functions), respectively—has proceeded along with distinction of state functions. Historians of political ideas and institutions have located its origins in the Roman and medieval juristic tradition and its acme in modern theories of the sovereign territorial state. Thomas Aquinas devised a clear separation between promulgation and counseling (or interpretation) and ascribed the former to the legislator and the latter to ministers. The same distinction returned in Marsilius of Padua’s Defensor Pacis, which identified promulgation with the solemn ratification of the law by the “multitude,” the only legitimate sovereign, without even distinguishing between the directly assembled multitude and the assembly of the representatives of the multitude (Urbinati, 2006, 72).
 
5
Bodin’s Six livres de la république (1576), one of Rousseau’s seminal sources of inspiration, identified the supreme power of the state with the unitary source of legal obligation and located it in the “moral person” of the sovereign, be it individual or collective. This principle also applied to modern parliaments, which either exercised delegated power (imperative mandate) or were themselves sovereign. Parliaments hold power in trust because “their resolution would be of no effect without her [the queen of England’s] will…the Estates have no power of deciding, commanding, or determining anything, seeing that they cannot meet or dissolve without an express command” (Bodin, 1992, 20–21, 23).
 
6
To paraphrase De Ruggiero (1959, 72–73), the political trajectory from Sieyes to Paine and to Condorcet mirrored the three revolutions France went through: a revolution sensu stricto liberal, a democratic revolution, and a social revolution. On Sieyes’ proposal of linking eligibility for the National Assembly to taxation (the value of a marc of silver), see Aulard (1913, 73–75), Kates (1985, 44–45), and Gueniffey (1994, 86–106).
 
7
The comparison of Paine with Sieyes is novel; much more familiar is his comparison with Madison in order to stress the former’s more genuine republicanism (Kalyvas & Katznelson, 2008) or the latter’s more genuine liberal constitutionalism (Holmes, 1988).
 
8
The putting any individual as a figure for a nation is improper. “This is why the oath of allegiance was improper unless taken ‘to the nation only,’ but it ‘ought not to be obfuscated by being figuratively taken to, or in the name of, any person’” (Paine, 1989, 191).
 
9
On the transition, beginning in 1792, from a model inspired by a monarchical sovereignty to one inspired by an acephalous sovereignty, see De Francesco (1992) and Viola (1989).
 
10
Paine’s description of democracy was close to James Wilson’s, which called it a “species” of government in which the “supreme power” is “inherent in the people, and is either exercised by themselves or by their representatives” (Bailyn, 1993, vol. 1, 802).
 
11
Sieyes “Variétés” (Le Moniteur, July 6, 1791, in Sieyes 1989, vol. 2, Doc. No. 29).
 
12
Here is a curious comment on Sieyes’ attempt to mediate between monarchists and republicans, by Paine’s first biographer: “... he had a superstitious faith in individual executive, which, as an opportunist, he proposed to vest in the reigning house. This class of ‘revival’ in the constitution were the work of Sieyes, who was the brain of the Jacobins, now led by Robespierre, and with him ignoring republicanism” (Conway, 1969, 127).
 
13
Sieyes, “Pour ma dispute avec Payne” (in Sieyes, 1999, 445). “Thus, monarchy... is established in order to preserve a kind of equality that cannot be obtained in the republics; it is a true limit on inequality because it tells you that no matter how high the social position you have reached, you will always have the interest of society above you. There is but one legal inequality, that of all over each; this is represented by the person of the prince. Itis not the superiority of the magistrate, but a true personal inequality, the only one. ‘We want a prince in order to avoid the risk and evil of having a master,’ repeated Sieyes with Rousseau” (Sieyes, 1999, 421).
 
14
Sieyes’ answer to Paine’s letter of July 8, 1791 in Sieyes (1989, vol. 2, Doc. No. 30).
 
15
Reasoning from the same premises, Fisher Ames had argued a few years before that it was incorrect to think of representation in terms of a “copy” or even an “image” because the representatives did not “reflect” the opinions of the delegates as if they were a mirror. “The representation of the people is something more than the people” because it puts into motion something that does not exist. It is the filtering work of social interests thanks to which nobody votes “for their own indemnity” or decides “by surprise” or the opinion of the moment (Bailyn, 1993, vol. 1, 892).
 
16
Paine’s position resembles closely that of Spinoza in his Political Treatise. Paine certainly knew Spinoza’s works, which in the eighteenth century were the texts of the religious skeptics, and shared with Spinoza the libertine culture which made both of them a target of religion intolerance and persecution. Paine cited Spinoza’s biblical hermeneutics in The Age of Reason (Paine, 1995, 767).
 
17
Representative government is mixed-regime mélange of “ce qu’il y a de bon dans la démocratie, dans l’aristocratie, et dans la monarchie” (Sieyes “Bases de l’ordres social” in Pasquino, 1998, 186).
 
18
“Ce projet est le dernier mot du système social girondin” (Buchez & Roux, 1836, vol. 24, 101). Although Condorcet was not a party man, Brissot’s party backed his plan when the two wings of the Convention split and the Montagnards’ hostility to Condorcet’s plan became radical (Badinter, 1991, 351–366). On the independence of Condorcet from political parties, and particularly the Girondins see Dorigny (1989, 333–340); on Condorcet’s authorship of the plan, see Alengry (1973, 189–193) and Galy (1932, 167–168).
 
19
For an excellent depiction of the political environment within which the Convention was elected and the constitution written and discussed, see Badinter and Badinter (1988, 483–540); on the collaboration between Condorcet and Sieyes in the common project of advancing the political culture of indirect government, see Guilhaumou (1997, 223–234).
 
20
Carl Schmitt (1994, 38) situated Condorcet between Kant’s “belief in the progress of publicity” and Bentham’s “fanaticism” in “liberal rationality.”
 
21
Condorcet’s plan was composed of an “Exposition des principes et des motifs du plan de constitution,” of the “Projet de Déclaration des droits naturels, civils et politiques des hommes,” and of the “Projet de constitution franç aise.” The English translation of the “Exposition” and some parts of the two “Projets” is in McLean and Hewitt (1994). Hereafter I shall cite the English texts and omit reference to volume 12 of Condorcet’s Oeuvres.
 
22
See footnote n. 13.
 
23
According to Sieyes, “pure” democracy meant “raw” (brute) democracy since it resembled raw materials before human labor transformed and refined them. It meant direct rule, but also an inferior or less perfect way of ruling. It was a system that fit societies that were not yet “civilized” because they were unfamiliar with the division of labor and a work ethic, still attracted by “passe-tempts agréables” and not appreciative of industry and the abundance of artificial goods stimulated by commerce; Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes, “Observations sur le rapport du comité de constitution, concernant la nouvelle organization de la France” (2 Oct. 1789) in Sieyes (1999, Doc. No. 25, 262).
 
24
“L’intérêt commun, l’amélioration de l’état social lui-même, nous crient de faire du gouvernement une profession particulière” (Sieyes, 1999, Doc. No. 26, 262).
 
25
It is well known that Sieyes applied to politics Adam Smith’s social philosophy and in particular the criterion of the division of labor (Pasquino, 1998). However, in the context of politics, the concept of “function” has inegalitarian implications because it means “separation” among and hierarchy within the “profession” of the electors and that of the elected, and results into an asymmetry of power; it implies, as Sieyes himself wrote, the distinction between active and passive citizenship (Bastid, 1970, 370).
 
26
Condorcet used the term “droit negative” in Lettres d’un bourgeois de New-Haven à un citoyen de Virginie (1787–1789) in Condorcet (1968, vol. 9, 78).
 
27
Condorcet’s model was the Constitution of Pennsylvania (whose text was drafted by two of his friends, Paine and Benjamin Franklin) which instituted the council of the censors (Art. 47). The procedure of constitutional revision in ordinary times was, however, indirect in the sense that the citizen formulated the question so as to check whether the majority thought there was agreement on the proposal of having an amendment.
 
28
Cesare Beccaria based his justification of habeas corpus and fair trial on two crucial premises: the delimitation within the legal domain of the spheres of legislation, application, and enforcement of the laws, respectively; and the depersonalization of the act of judgment. The principle of depersonalization in relation to the “preferences” and “emotions” of the judge (hence the claim that forensic cases must be based on verifiable facts and testimonies) led Beccaria to conceptualize judgment in the court in terms of a syllogism of the first figure: “In ogni delitto si deve fare dal giudice un sillogismo perfetto: la maggiore dev’essere la legge generale, la minore l’azione conforme o no alla legge, la conseguenza la libertá o la pena” (Beccaria, 2016, 22). On the role of Beccaria in the evolution of the theory of punishment as part of the theory of right and the rule of law in Condorcet’s thought see Baker (1975, 230–233) and Magrin (2001, 56–59).
 
29
In the Exposition of the constitutional plan, he submitted to the assembly three methods for constraining the power of a mono-assembly system, all of them based on time delay or constraint over urgency: Dividing up the time of discussion by requiring that “all legislative acts... will be debated twice,” the first time in order to see whether the issue is to be accepted for consideration; dividing up the assembly into two “big committees” so that each of them discusses, but does not vote on, the proposal separately; the third way consisted in requiring two-thirds of the votes in a named ballot “to declare a matter urgent and to dispense with the legally prescribed intervals” (Condorcet, 1994, 202–203).
 
30
From a manuscript annotation written by Condorcet during his chairmanship of the comité de constitution, quoted in Magrin (2001, 145).
 
31
The idea of the two registers of politics, constitutional and ordinary, the former qualitatively superior to the latter, derives from a notion of political autonomy as absolute creation of the will, in Rousseau’s sense. For a “liberal” rendering of this dualism (Elster, 1996, 93–94).
 
32
On the educational and egalitarian function of the primary assemblies see the sympathetic description of one of the first of Condorcet’s biographers, Léon Cahen (1904).
 
33
An analysis of the difference between Condorcet and Sieyes based on this speech of Sieyes was first proposed by Alengry (1973, 194, 482–483) and Bastid (1939, 59–60).
 
34
By 1789, Sieyes had expressed his strong disagreement with the admirers of the Unites States and accused them of attempting to make France into “une infinité de petites démocraties, qui ne s’uniroient ensuite que par les liens d’une confédération générale...Le peuple ou la nation ne peut avoir qu’une voix, celle de la législature nationale” (Sieyes, 1985, 234, 238). The most informative work on Sieyes in English language is by Forsyth (1987), Chapters 7, 8, and 9 on Sieyes’s theory of representation and his project of representative government.
 
35
“Voici son [Condorcet’s] plan: une représentation fedérative qui fait les lois, un conseil représentatif qui les exécute. Une représentation générale, formée des representations particulières de chacun des départements, n’est plus une représentation, mais un congrès” (Saint-Just, 1976, 190).
 
36
Like Robespierre, Jaume wrote, Sieyes used ‘des propos de Rousseau tournés contre la Représentation, pour affirmer que “‘la volonté générale” est... dans le “pouvoir législatif” élu!” (Jaume, 1989, 296).
 
37
“Dans cette politique de la raison, la contradiction entre inaliénabilité et indivisibilité peut en principe être résolue: en définitive, Condorcet est...le seul à y parvenir” (Jaume, 1989, 311).
 
38
This seems to confirm Papadopoulos’ opinion according to which both the right to veto a law by citizens and the right to formulate new laws by citizens have a kind of legitimation character rather than a destabilization effect (1995, 433).
 
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Metadata
Title
Democratic Republicanism in the French Revolution
Author
Nadia Urbinati
Copyright Year
2023
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-15780-6_9