How Comte Overthrew Marx – Part I: Introduction to the French Revolution

Metternich, Volume IV, Private Letters of Metternich, 1826.

Page 274

January 27. — I have received, my dear Victor, your reports and letters from London. The former are very well done, and the Emperor has read them with interest.

. . . I beg you to fix your attention somewhat more particularly on what the Russians (especially the Princess Bagration) say on the situation of things in Russia. You will see from what I told Vincent in my last despatch what the affair really is. It is neither more nor less than an exact copy of those of Madrid, Naples, and Turin. ‘ The conspiracy has immense ramifications, and the number of individuals already arrested is between twelve and thirteen hundred. Among this number are persons of the highest classes of Russian society. If the Emperor Alexander had lived, the same thing would have happened, and he and the Imperial family would have been massacred. . . .

Lebzeltern cannot remain at St. Petersburg. He is too much compromised by his brother-in-law Trubetzkoi. The public already regard him as a Carbonaro. Ah well! Lebzeltern, with all his good qualities, is one of those who never believe in the existence of sticks until they have been beaten to powder. He believes in conspiracies now his brother-in-law has been arrested as a conspirator. Whenever I expressed my opinion to the Emperor Alexander, Lebzeltern, and oftener still Nesselrode, have taxed me with being a visionary, and with behaving badly to the Emperor of Russia. See what the Russian Carbonari are saying at Paris : every word is an indication to me. It is impossible yet to foresee where the affair will stop. Meantime it somewhat disconcerts our young noblemen.


Metternich, Volume IV, Private Letters of Metternich, 1826.

Page 277

March 20. — I do not know a more difficult post to occupy than that of the Emperor Nicholas. I will give you a sketch of Russia.

Peter the Great changed her frontiers. In Asia he moved them westward — in a word, he said to Russia, Thou shalt henceforth be part of Europe. He was right in this, but he was wrong to destroy so many of the ancient institutions of the state and not replace them.

Catherine II., entirely European, thought only of glory. She was a thorough woman, and she had the misfortune to live in the era of encyclopædists.

Paul I., if he had not been insane, would have rendered great services to his country. His sentiments were thoroughly monarchical. His characteristics are sufficiently shown in the act by which he regulated the succession to the throne.

Alexander, who was fortunate in taking the crown after his father, was unhappily the child of the age. Always going from one religion to another, from one taste to another, he moved everything and built nothing. Everything in him was superficial and exaggerated, and he ever inclined to prefer bad means to good : at the end of five-and- twenty years he left his empire at the point to which the Emperor Joseph II. had conducted his in nine years. Joseph II. however, was an administrator, and the Russian monarch was not.

The population of Russia is divided into two classes; in this respect it resembles the States of the middle ages ; the difference, however, is in the quality of the classes. The aristocracy forms everywhere else the superior class, but in Russia it is only the principal persons — or, we may say, the Court and its suite — who form the superior class.

In an empire thus organized, full of peculiar positions, of necessities which exist nowhere else, the Emperor Alexander wished to introduce the refinements and the abuses of what in my opinion is very improperly described by the epithet of modern civilization — a monster without a body and all ideas!


Metternich, Volume IV, Private Letters of Metternich, 1826.

Page 206

Vienna Dec. 22 — What a shocking event at Taganrog! How little worth are all human calculations. They have less weight than invisible, intangible atoms, which need but a breath of air to carry them to the end of the earth. In spite of my cold-bloodedness, this unexpected catastrophe has touched me most deeply.

At midnight of the 13-14th I received an express from our sub-consular agent at Warsaw. On the cover was written ‘most urgent’ three times repeated. I turned the letter over and over without being able to imagine what could be the cause of such urgency.

When I opened it the first lines that met my eye told the news that the Emperor Alexander had died on Dec. 1. Could the truth of this be doubted? The letter had passed through the Warsaw post-office. Four whole days passed without the news being confirmed or corrected — on the fifth day certainty overpowered us.

Dec. 28.— We are still in the greatest uncertainty here how the conflict between the two Emperors will end. We live in an extraordinary century, that seems to be meant to go through the cycle of all experience. A throne which no one can mount is a novum in history, and this experience may be turned to the greatest triumph of philanthropy. But whatever may result from this, the blame lies with the Emperor Alexander. He had a peculiar and deplorable inclination to go wrong as to the means of carrying out the good intentions he had in his mind. This defect in his nature was also the ground of all the misunderstandings between him and me. He often allowed me the honour of looking into his inner thoughts. I approved of them, and we understood one Another quickly enough as to the starting-point and the end to be arrived at. Then we both started on our way. I went straight to the end proposed; the Emperor went round about. I called to him ‘ Stop’ He cried in return, ‘ Do but come with me.’ Now I cry at the top of my voice, ‘Indeed you have taken the wrong road’, but he goes on further astray, full of vexation at being left alone.


The Origins and Principles of the American Revolution, compared with the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution – Friedrich von Gentz, close diplomatic associate of Metternich

Page 65 – 66

The relics of the old constitution were not so much boundaries to the omnipotent desolating power of the revolution, as landmarks, designating its victorious progress. The constitution, of 1791, was only a short and voluntary pause; a sort of resting point, at which nobody meant long to wait. The second national assembly did not make a pass, no, not one, which was not an attack upon some ruin or other of the monarchy. The establishment of the republic did not satisfy its authors. The execution of the king scarcely appeased the ravenousness of his butchers, for a single instant.

In the year 1793 the thirst for destruction had gone so far, that it was at a loss for an object. The well known saying, that Robespierre meant to reduce the population of France by one half, had its foundation in the lively sense of the impossibility of satisfying the hitherto insatiate revolution, with any thing less, than such a hecatomb.

When there was nothing more left in the country to attack, the offensive frenzy turned itself against the neighbouring states, and finally declared war in solemn decrees against all civil society. It was certainly not the want of will in those, who then conducted this war, if Europe preserved any thing, besides “bread and iron.” Fortunately, no strength was great enough long to support such a will. The unavoidable exhaustion of the assailants, and not the power or the merit of the resistance made, saved society; and, finally, brought the work shops themselves, where the weapons for its destruction were forged, within its beneficent bonds again.


Alexander Hamilton – The Stand No. III, [7 April 1798]

In reviewing the disgusting spectacle of the French revolution, it is difficult to avert the eye entirely from those features of it which betray a plan to disorganize the human mind itself, as well as to undermine the venerable pillars that support the edifice of civilized society. The attempt by the rulers of a nation to destroy all religious opinion, and to pervert a whole people to Atheism, is a phenomenon of profligacy reserved to consummate the infamy of the unprincipled reformers of France. The proofs of this terrible design are numerous and convincing.

The animosity to the Christian system is demonstrated by the single fact of the ridiculous and impolitic establishment of the decades, with the evident object of supplanting the Christian Sabbath. The inscription by public authority on the tombs of the deceased, affirming death to be an eternal sleep, witness the desire to discredit the belief of the immortality of the soul. The open profession of Atheism in the Convention, received with acclamations; the honorable mention on its journals of a book professing to prove the nothingness of all religion; the institution of a festival to offer public worship to a courtezan decorated with the pompous [title] of “Goddess of Reason;” the congratulatory reception of impious children appearing in the hall of the Convention to lisp blasphemy against the King of Kings; are among the dreadful proofs of a conspiracy to establish Atheism on the ruins of Christianity—to deprive mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes—and to make a gloomy desert of the universe.

Equal pains have been taken to deprave the morals as to extinguish the religion of the country, if indeed morality in a community can be separated from religion. It is among the singular and fantastic vagaries of the French revolution, that while the Duke of Brunswick was marching to Paris, a new law of divorce was passed; which makes it as easy for a husband to get rid of his wife, and a wife of her husband, as to discard a worn out habit. To complete the dissolution of those ties, which are the chief links of domestic and ultimately of social attachment, the Journals of the Convention record with guilty applause accusations preferred by children against the lives of their parents.

It is not necessary to heighten the picture by sketching the horrid groupe of proscriptions and murders which have made of France a den of pillage and slaughter; blackening with eternal opprobrium the very name of man.

The pious and the moral weep over these scenes as a sepulchre destined to entomb all they revere and esteem. The politician, who loves liberty, sees them with regret as a gulph that may swallow up the liberty to which he is devoted. He knows that morality overthrown (and morality must fall with religion) the terrors of despotism can alone curb the impetuous passions of man, and confine him within the bounds of social duty.

France professing eternal hatred to kings was to be the tutelary Genius of Republics—Holland, Genoa, Venice, the Swiss Cantons and the United States, are agonizing witnesses of her sincerity.

Of undone Holland no more need be said; nothing remains for us but to exercise tender sympathy in the unfortunate fate of a country which generosity lent its aid to establish our independence, and to deduce from her melancholy example an instructive lesson to repel with determined vigor, the mortal embrace of her seducer and destroyer.

Genoa, a speck on the Globe, for having at every hazard resisted the efforts of the enemies of France to force her from a neutral station, is recompensed with the subversion of her government, and the pillage of her wealth by compulsory and burthensome contributions.

Venice, is no more! In vain had she preserved a faithful neutrality, when perhaps her interposition might have inclined the scale of victory in Italy against France. A few of her citizens kill some French soldiers. Instant retaliation takes place. Every attonement is offered. Nothing will suffice but the overthrow of her government. ’Tis effected. Her own citizens attracted by the lure of democracy become accessary to it, and receive a popular government at the hand of France. What is the sequel—what the faith kept with them? It suits France to bribe the Emperor to a surrender of the Netherlands and to peace, that she may pursue her projects elsewhere with less obstacle. It suits France to extend her power and commerce by the acquisition of portions of the Venetian territories. The bribe is offered and accepted. Venice is divided. She disappears from the mass of nations. The tragedy of Poland is reacted with circumstances of aggravated atrocity. France is perfidious enough to sacrifice a people, who at her desire had consented to abrogate their privileged casts, to the chief of those Despots, against whom she had vowed eternal hatred.


Metternich, Volume IV, Metternich to the Emperor Francis, 1825.

Page 172

March 28. — In the descriptions it contains nothing is overdrawn. My feeling of the dreadful position of things is even stronger than I can express. I have known France under the Empire, and afterwards in the presence of the allied armies. After being ten years left to itself and the (development of its constitutional relations), I enter it again, and I find things in a much worse state. . . .

It is only now that the consequences of the revolution can be correctly traced. All that is sacred has been loosened, and the system inaugurated at the Restoration, which unhappily was not suited to France, cannot restore anything of what has been lost. Thus society here loses itself in a conflict of passions, and under the influence of these passions the Government lacks all power to act beneficially in other ways.

This is a true picture ; and when I admit it into a despatch to St. Petersburg, I do so with the intention that it should be a lesson for the Emperor. The will of the present ministers is good, but they have no resources at their command. They endeavour to procure them, but it will be a long time before they have any. It is difficult to form any idea of the demoralisation of the people. It will be sufficient to lay before your Majesty the following facts, which I got from the fountain head : —

The population of Paris may be roughly stated at 800,000. Of these 80,000 women and 10,000 men have no religion whatever.

More than a third of the population is unbaptised. The proper business for the religious at the present moment is to introduce religion. In the Quartier de St. Genevieve — where the lowest classes of the people live — it may be said that out of twenty households one consists of married people. At least half of them are not even to be found in any civil register. The only thing that can have any effect here is a religious mission like those sent among savages.

The system followed by the Government is decried and restrained by the Liberal faction.

In the course of the last ten years— consequently since the Restoration and since the freedom of the press, introduced at the same time — about 2,700,000 copies of atheistic, irreligious, immoral writings have been sold. That this trade is supported by the faction is shown by the fact that these works are sold at half price to young people of both sexes, and they are often freely given away. In the higher classes the immorality at least is lessened by better education. But among these the greed of money and titles prevails. From the present Chamber of Deputies the Government has 220 petitions for the dignity of peer.


Metternich, Volume I

page 273

Napoleon was not irreligious in the ordinary sense of the word. He would not admit that there had ever existed a genuine atheist ; he condemned Deism as the result of rash speculation. A Christian and a Catholic, he recognized in religion alone the right to govern human societies. He looked on Christianity as the basis of all real civilization ; and considered Catholicism as the form of worship most favourable to the maintenance of order and the true tranquility of the moral world ; Protestantism as a source of trouble and disagreements. Personally indifferent to religious practices, he respected them too much to permit the slightest ridicule of those who followed them.


Metternich, Volume III, Metternich to Gentz, 1819.

Page 270

April 23. — My proposals are confined to the discipline of the universities, and do not at all touch the studies themselves—two questions which are very closely related, but yet in the present discussion necessarily separated. If we meddle with the latter, nothing at all will be done, and a letter from Müller sufficiently points this out to me, in which in speaking of this affair he observes ‘ that the disorder in the universities proceeds from the Reformation and that it can only be really set right by the recall of the Reformation.’ I deny neither the assertion nor its justice. But here on the Quirinal I cannot meddle with Dr. Martin Luther, and I hope that nevertheless some good will come of it without even touching its source— Protestantism. The last very excellent letter of Müller’s reminded me involuntarily of Golowkin’s proposition for the investigation of ‘ Causes primitives de la révolution française.’


Metternich, Volume III, Metternich to the Emperor Alexander, Troppau, December 15, 1820.

Page 453

Sire, I have the honour to send to your Imperial Majesty the enclosed statement. I received your Majesty’s commands, and have fulfilled them with an ardour which gives full liberty to my thoughts. Your Imperial Majesty will find it complete on all the questions most worthy of the meditations of every public man, of every man entrusted with grave interests — in short, of every man sufficiently enlightened to feel that to a world of folly he should oppose another full of wisdom, reason, justice, and reformation. I should have despised myself, Sire, long ago, if I did not say what I think. What in a private individual might appear a merit is simply a duty to a man in my position.

What is contained in this statement would excite a disdainful smile from the superficial persons who, full of complacency at their own imperfect knowledge, are impudent criticisers of the first interests of Society — that crowd of bawlers with crude ideas, who are the victims of their own errors, and false prophets, whenever they allow themselves to predict anything but groundless errors. This same smile would appear on the lips of a better class of men — those men who think that the most useless of all enterprises is to say what is self-evident.

My conviction, Sire, is that it is always the duty of men who wish to do good to speak, for at all times, and above all at times disturbed by passion, those men who wish to do evil, the vain and the foolish, will speak. It is therefore necessary not to abandon the moral atmosphere to them altogether.

Deign, Sire, which receiving this paper, dictated by my conscience, to accept the homage of my profound respect.

Confession of Faith.  Metternich’s Secret Memorandum to the Emperor Alexander.

‘ L’Europe,’ a celebrated writer has recently said, ‘fait aujourd’hui pitié à l’homme d’ esprit et horreur à l’homme vertueux.’

It would be difficult to comprise in a few words a more exact picture of the situation at the time we are writing these lines!

Kings have to calculate the chances of their very existence in the immediate future ; passions are let loose, and league together to overthrow everything which society respects as the basis of its existence ; religion, public morality, laws, customs, rights, and duties, all are attacked, confounded, overthrown, or called in question. The great mass of the people are tranquil spectators of these attacks and revolutions, and of the absolute want of all means of defence. A few are carried off by the torrent, but the wishes of the immense majority are to maintain a repose which exists no longer, and of which even the first elements seem to be lost.

“What is the cause of all these evils ? By what methods has this evil established itself, and how is it that it penetrates into every vein of the social body ?

Do remedies still exist to arrest the progress of this evil, and what are they ?

These are doubtless questions worthy of the solicitude of every good man who is a true friend to order and public peace — two elements inseparable in principle, and which are at once the first needs and the first blessings of humanity.

Has there never been offered to the world an institution really worthy of the name ? Has truth been always confounded with error ever since society has believed itself able to distinguish one from the other ? Have the experiences bought at the price of so many sacrifices, and repeated at intervals, and in so many different places, been all in error ? Will a flood of light be shed upon society at one stroke ? Will knowledge come by inspiration ? If one could believe in such phenomena it would not be the less necessary, first of all, to assure oneself of their reality. Of all things, nothing is so fatal as error ; and it is neither our wish nor our intention ever to give ourselves up to it. Let us examine the matter !

The Source of the Evil.

Man’s nature is immutable. The first needs of society are and remain the same, and the differences which they seem to offer find their explanation in the diversity of influences, acting on the different races by natural causes, such as the diversity of climate, barrenness or richness of soil, insular or continental position, &c. &c. These local differences no doubt produce effects which extend far beyond purely physical necessities ; they create and determine particular needs in a more elevated sphere ; finally, they determine the laws, and exercise an influence even on religions.

It is, on the other hand, with institutions as with everything else. Vague in their origin, they pass through periods of development and perfection, to arrive in time at their decadence ; and, conforming to the laws of man’s nature, they have, like him, their infancy, their youth, their age of strength and reason, and their age of decay.

Two elements alone remain in all their strength, and never cease to exercise their indestructible influence with equal power. These are the precepts of morality, religious as well as social, and the necessities created by locality. From the time that men attempt to swerve from these bases, to become rebels against these sovereign arbiters of their destinies, society suffers from a malaise which sooner or later will lead to a state of convulsion. The history of every country, in relating the consequences of such errors, contains many pages stained with blood ; but we dare to say, without fear of contradiction, one seeks in vain for an epoch when an evil of this nature has extended its ravages over such a vast area as it has done at the present time. The causes are natural.

History embraces but a very limited space of time. It did not begin to deserve the name of history until long after the fall of great empires. There, where it seems to conduct us to the cradle of civilization, it really conducts us to ruins. We see republics arise and prosper, struggle, and then submit to the rule of one fortunate soldier. We see one of these republics pass through all the phases common to society, and end in an almost universal monarchy — that is to say, subjugating the scattered portions of the then civilised world. We see this monarchy suffer the fate of all political bodies : we see its first springs become enfeebled, and finally decay.

Centuries of darkness followed the irruption of the barbarians. The world, however, could not return to barbarism. The Christian religion had appeared ; imperishable in its essence, its very existence was sufficient to disperse the darkness and establish civilisation on new foundations, applicable to all times and all places, satisfying all needs, and establishing the most important of all on the basis of a pure and eternal law ! To the formation of new Christian States succeeded the Crusades, a curious mixture of good and evil.

A decisive influence was shortly exercised on the progress of civilisation by three discoveries — the invention of printing, that of gunpowder, and the discovery of the New World. Still later came the Reformation — another event which had incalculable effects, on account of its influence on the moral world. From that time the face of the world was changed.

The facilitation of the communication of thoughts by printing ; the total change in the means of attack and defence brought about by the invention of gunpowder ; the difference suddenly produced in the value of property by the quantity of metals which the discovery of America put in circulation ; the spirit of adventure provoked by the chances of fortune opened in a new hemisphere ; the modifications in the relations of society caused by so many and such important changes, all became more developed, and were in some sort crowned by the revolution which the Reformation worked in the moral world.

The progress of the human mind has been extremely rapid in the course of the last three centuries. This progress having been accelerated more rapidly than the growth of wisdom (the only counterpoise to passions and to error) ; a revolution prepared by the false systems, the fatal errors into which many of the most illustrious sovereigns of the last half of the eighteenth century fell, has at last broken out in a country advanced in knowledge, and enervated by pleasure, in a country inhabited by a people whom one can only regard as frivolous, from the facility with which they comprehend and the difficulty they experience in judging calmly.

Having now thrown a rapid glance over the first causes of the present state of society, it is necessary to point out in a more particular manner the evil which threatens to deprive it, at one blow, of the real blessings, the fruits of genuine civilisation, and to disturb it in the midst of its enjoyments. This evil may be described in one word — presumption ; the natural effect of the rapid progression of the human mind towards the perfecting of so many things. This it is which at the present day leads so many individuals astray, for it has become an almost universal sentiment.

Religion, morality, legislation, economy, politics, administration, all have become common and accessible to everyone. Knowledge seems to come by inspiration ; experience has no value for the presumptuous man ; faith is nothing to him ; he substitutes for it a pretended individual conviction, and to arrive at this conviction dispenses with all inquiry and with all study ; for these means appear too trivial to a mind which believes itself strong enough to embrace at one glance all questions and all facts. Laws have no value for him, because he has not contributed to make them, and it would be beneath a man of his parts to recognise the limits traced by rude and ignorant generations. Power resides in himself; why should he submit himself to that which was only useful for the man deprived of light and knowledge ? That which, according to him, was required in an age of weakness cannot be suitable in an age of reason and vigour, amounting to universal perfection, which the German innovators designate by the idea, absurd in itself, of the Emancipation of the People ! Morality itself he does not attack openly, for without it he could not be sure for a single instant of his own existence ; but he interprets its essence after his own fashion, and allows every other person to do so likewise, provided that other person neither kills nor robs him.

In thus tracing the character of the presumptuous man, we believe we have traced that of the society of the day, composed of like elements, if the denomination of society is applicable to an order of things which only tends in principle towards individualising all the elements of which society is composed. Presumption makes every man the guide of his own belief, the arbiter of laws according to which he is pleased to govern himself, or to allow some one else to govern him and his neighbours ; it makes him, in short, the sole judge of his own faith, his own actions, and the principles according to which he guides them.

Is it necessary to give a proof of this last fact ? We think we have furnished it in remarking that one of the sentiments most natural to man, that of nationality, is erased from the Liberal catechism, and that where the word is still employed, it is used by the heads of the party as a pretext to enchain Governments, or as a lever to bring about destruction. The real aim of the idealists of the party is religious and political fusion, and this being analysed is nothing else but creating in favour of each individual an existence entirely independent of all authority, or of any other will than his own, an idea absurd and contrary to the nature of man, and incompatible with the needs of human society.

The Course which the Evil has Followed and still Follows.

The causes of the deplorable intensity with which this evil weighs on society appear to us to be of two kinds. The first are so connected with the nature of things that no human foresight could have prevented them. The second should be subdivided into two classes, however similar they may appear in their effects.

Of these causes, the first are negative, the others positive. We will place among the first the feebleness and the inertia of Governments.

It is sufficient to cast a glance on the course which the Governments followed during the eighteenth century, to be convinced that not one among them was ignorant of the evil or of the crisis towards which the social body was tending. There were, however, some men, unhappily endowed with great talents, who felt their own strength, and were not slow to appraise the progressive course of their influence, taking into account the weakness or the inertia of their adversaries ; and who had the art to prepare and conduct men’s minds to the triumph of their detestable enterprise — an enterprise all the more odious as it was pursued without regard to results, simply abandoning themselves to the one feeling of hatred of God and of His immutable moral laws,

France had the misfortune to produce the greatest number of these men. It is in her midst that religion and all that she holds sacred, that morality and authority, and all connected with them, have been attacked with a steady and systematic animosity, and it is there that the weapon of ridicule has been used with the most ease and success.

Drag through the mud the name of God and the powers instituted by His divine decrees, and the revolution will be prepared ! Speak of a social contract, and the revolution is accomplished ! The revolution was already completed in the palaces of Kings, in the drawing-rooms and boudoirs of certain cities, while among the great mass of the people it was still only in a state of preparation.

It would be difficult not to pause here to consider the influence which the example of England had for a long time exercised on France. England is herself placed in such a peculiar situation that we believe we may safely say that not one of the forms possible to that State, not one of its customs or institutions, would suit any Continental State, and that where we might wish to take them for models, we should only obtain inconvenience and danger, without securing a single one of the advantages which accompany them.

According to the bent of minds in France, at the time of the convocation of the notables, and in consequence of the direction which public opinion had received for more than fifty years — a direction which, latterly, had been strengthened and in some sort adapted to France by the imprudent help which her Government had given to the American revolution — all reform in France touching the very foundations of the monarchy was soon transformed into a revolution. What might have been foreseen, and what had been foretold by everybody, the Government alone excepted, was realised but too soon. The French Revolution broke out, and has gone through a complete revolutionary cycle in a very short period, which could only have appeared long to its victims and to its contemporaries.

The scenes of horror which accompanied the first phases of the French Revolution prevented the rapid propagation of its subversive principles beyond the frontiers of France, and the wars of conquest which succeeded them gave to the public mind a direction little favourable to revolutionary principles. Thus the Jacobin propaganda failed entirely to realise criminal hopes.

Nevertheless the revolutionary seed had penetrated into every country and spread more or less. It was greatly developed under the regime of the military despotism of Bonaparte. His conquests displaced a number of laws, institutions, and customs ; broke through bonds sacred among all nations, strong enough to resist time itself ; which is more than can be said of certain benefits conferred by these innovators. From these perturbations it followed that the revolutionary spirit could in Germany, Italy, and later on in Spain, easily hide itself under the veil of patriotism.

Prussia committed a grave fault in calling to her aid such dangerous weapons as secret associations always will be : a fault which could not be justified even by the deplorable situation in which that Power then found itself. This it was that first gave a strong impulse to the revolutionary spirit in her States, and this spirit made rapid progress, supported as it was in the rest of Germany by the system of foreign despotism which since 1806 has been there developed. Many Princes of the Rhenish Confederation were secretly auxiliaries and accomplices of this system, to which they sacrificed the institutions which in their country from time immemorial had served as a protection against despotism and democracy.

The war of the Allies, by putting bounds to the predominance of France, was vigorously supported in Germany by the same men whose hatred of France was in reality nothing but hatred of the military despotism of Bonaparte, and also of the legitimate power of their own masters. With wisdom in the Governments and firmness in principles, the end of the war in 1814 might nevertheless have insured to the world the most peaceful and happy future. Great experiences had been gained and great lessons, which might have been usefully applied. But fate had decided otherwise.

The return of the usurper to France, and the completely false steps taken by the French Government from 1815 to 1820, accumulated a mass of new dangers and great calamities for the whole civilised world. It is to the first of these misfortunes that is partly due the critical state in which France and the whole social body is placed. Bonaparte destroyed in a hundred days the work of the fourteen years during which he had exercised his authority. He set free the revolution which he came to France to subdue ; he brought back men’s minds, not to the epoch of the 18th Brumaire, but to the principles which the National Assembly had adopted in its deplorable blindness.

What Bonaparte had thus done to the detriment of France and Europe, the grave errors which the French Government have since committed, and to which other Governments have yielded — all these unhappy influences weigh heavily on the world of to-day ; they threaten with total ruin the work of restoration, the fruit of so many glorious efforts, and of a harmony between the greatest monarchs unparalleled in the records of history, and they give rise to fears of indescribable calamities to society.

In this memoir we have not yet touched on one of the most active and at the same time most dangerous instruments used by the revolutionists of all countries, with a success which is no longer doubtful. I refer to the secret societies, a real power, all the more dangerous as it works in the dark, undermining all parts of the social body, and depositing everywhere the seeds of a moral gangrene which is not slow to develop and increase. This plague is one of the worst which those Governments who are lovers of peace and of their people have to watch and fight against.

Do Remedies for this Evil exist, and What are They?

We look upon it as a fundamental truth, that for every disease there is a remedy, and that the knowledge of the real nature of the one should lead to the discovery of the other. Few men, however, stop thoroughly to examine a disease which they intend to combat. There are hardly any who are not subject to the influence of passion, or held under the yoke of prejudice ; there are a great many who err in a way more perilous still, on account of its flattering and often brilliant appearance : we speak of l’esprit de système; that spirit always false, but indefatigable, audacious and irrepressible, is satisfactory to men imbued with it (for they live in and govern a world created by themselves), but it is so much the more dangerous for the inhabitants of the real world, so different from that created by l’esprit de système.

There is another class of men who, judging of a disease by its outward appearance, confound the accessory manifestations with the root of the disease, and, instead of directing their efforts to the source of the evil, content themselves with subduing some passing symptoms.

It is our duty to try and avoid both of these dangers.

The evil exists and it is enormous. We do not think we can better define it and its cause at all times and in all places than we have already done by the word ‘ presumption,’ that inseparable companion of the half-educated, that spring of an unmeasured ambition, and yet easy to satisfy in times of trouble and confusion.

It is principally the middle classes of society which this moral gangrene has affected, and it is only among them that the real heads of the party are found.

For the great mass of the people it has no attraction and can have none. The labours to which this class — the real people — are obliged to devote them- selves, are too continuous and too positive to allow them, to throw themselves into vague abstractions and ambitions. The people know what is the happiest thing for them : namely, to be able to count on the morrow, for it is the morrow which will repay them for the cares and sorrows of to-day. The laws which afford a just protection to individuals, to families, and to property, are quite simple in their essence. The people dread any movement which injures industry and brings new burdens in its train.

Men in the higher classes of society who join the revolution are either falsely ambitious men or, in the widest acceptation of the word, lost spirits. Their career, moreover, is generally short ! They are the first victims of political reforms, and the ‘part played by the small number among them who survive is mostly that of courtiers despised by upstarts, their inferiors, promoted to the first dignities of the State ; and of this France, Germany, Italy, and Spain furnish a number of living examples.

We do not believe that fresh disorders with a directly revolutionary end — not even revolutions in the palace and the highest places in the Government — are to be feared at present in France, because of the decided aversion of the people to anything which might disturb the peace they are now enjoying after so many troubles and disasters.

In Germany, as in Spain and Italy, the people ask only for peace and quiet.

In all four countries the agitated classes are principally composed of wealthy men — real cosmopolitans, securing their personal advantage at the expense of any order of things whatever — paid State officials, men of letters, lawyers, and the individuals charged with the public education.

To these classes may be added that of the falsely ambitious, whose number is never considerable among the lower orders, but is larger in the higher ranks of society.

There is besides scarcely any epoch which does not offer a rallying cry to some particular faction. This cry, since 1815, has been Constitution. But do not let us deceive ourselves : this word, susceptible of great latitude of interpretation, would be but imperfectly understood if we supposed that the factions attached quite the same meaning to it under the different regimes. Such is certainly not the case. In pure monarchies it is qualified by the name of ‘ national re- presentation.’ In countries which have lately been brought under the representative regime it is called ‘ development,’ and promises charters and fundamental laws. In the only State which possesses an ancient national representation it takes ‘reform’ as its object. Everywhere it means change and trouble.

In pure monarchies it may be paraphrased thus : — ‘ The level of equality shall pass over your heads ; your fortunes shall pass into other hands ; your ambitions, which have been satisfied for centuries, shall now give place to our ambitions, which have been hitherto repressed.’

In the States under a new regime they say : — ‘The ambitions satisfied yesterday must give place to those of the morrow, and this is the morrow for us.’

Lastly, in England, the only place in the third class, the rallying cry — that of Reform — combines the two meanings.

Europe thus presents itself to the impartial observer under an aspect at the same time deplorable and peculiar. We find everywhere the people praying for the maintenance of peace and tranquility, faithful to God and their Princes, remaining proof against the efforts and seductions of the factious who call themselves friends of the people and wish to lead them to an agitation which the people themselves do not desire !

The Governments, having lost their balance, are frightened, intimidated, and thrown into confusion by the cries of the intermediary class of society, which, placed between the Kings and their subjects, breaks the sceptre of the monarch, and usurps the cry of the people — that class so often disowned by the people, and nevertheless too much listened to, caressed and feared by those who could with one word reduce it again to nothingness.

We see this intermediary class abandon itself with a blind fury and animosity which proves much more its own fears than any confidence in the success of its enterprises, to all the means which seem proper to assuage its thirst for power, applying itself to the task of persuading Kings that their rights are confined to sitting upon a throne, while those of the people are to govern, and to attack all that centuries have bequeathed as holy and worthy of man’s respect — denying, in fact, the value of the past, and declaring themselves the masters of the future. We see this class take all sorts of disguises, uniting and subdividing as occasion offers, helping each other in the hour of danger, and the next day depriving each other of all their conquests. It takes possession of the press, and employs it to promote impiety, disobedience to the laws of religion and the State, and goes so far as to preach murder as a duty for those who desire what is good.

One of its leaders in Germany defined public opinion as ‘ the will of the strong man in the spirit of the party ‘ — a maxim too often put in practice, and too seldom understood by those whose right and duty it is to save society from its own errors, its own weaknesses, and the crimes which the factious commit while pretending to act in its interests.

The evil is plain ; the means used by the faction which causes these disorders are so blameable in principle, so criminal in their application, and expose the faction itself to so many dangers, that what men of narrow views (whose head and heart are broken by circumstances stronger than their calculations or their courage) regard as the end of society may become the first step towards a better order of things. These weak men would be right unless men stronger than they are come forward to close their ranks and determine the victory

We are convinced that society can no longer be saved without strong and vigorous resolutions on the part of the Governments still free in their opinions and actions.

We are also convinced that this may yet be, if the Governments face the truth, if they free themselves from all illusion, if they join their ranks and take their stand on a line of correct, unambiguous, and frankly announced principles.

By this course the monarchs will fulfil the duties imposed upon them by Him who, by entrusting them with power, has charged them to watch over the maintenance of justice, and the rights of all, to avoid the paths of error, and tread firmly in the way of truth. Placed beyond the passions which agitate society, it is in days of trial chiefly that they are called upon to despoil realities of their false appearances, and to show themselves as they are, fathers invested with the authority belonging by right to the heads of families, to prove that, in days of mourning, they know how to be just, wise, and therefore strong, and that they will not abandon the people whom they ought to govern to be the sport of factions, to error and its consequences, which must involve the loss of society. The moment in which we are putting our thoughts on paper is one of these critical moments. The crisis is great ; it will be decisive according to the part we take or do not take.

There is a rule of conduct common to individuals and to States, established by the experience of centuries as by that of everyday life. This rule declares ‘ that one must not dream of reformation while agitated by passion ; wisdom directs that at such moments we should limit ourselves to maintaining.’

Let the monarchs vigorously adopt this principle ; let all their resolutions bear the impression of it. Let their actions, their measures, and even their words announce and prove to the world this determination — they will find allies everywhere. The Governments, in establishing the principle of stability, will in no wise exclude the development of what is good, for stability is not immobility. But it is for those who are burdened with the heavy task of government to augment the well-being of their people ! It is for Governments to regulate it according to necessity and to suit the times. It is not by concessions, which the factious strive to force from legitimate power, and which they have neither the right to claim nor the faculty of keeping within just bounds, that wise reforms can be carried out. That all the good possible should be done is our most ardent wish ; but that which is not good must never be confounded with that which is, and even real good should be done only by those who unite to the right of authority the means of enforcing it. Such should be also the sincere wish of the people, who know by sad experience the value of certain phrases and the nature of certain caresses.

Respect for all that is ; liberty for every Government to watch over the well-being of its own people ; a league between all Governments against factions in all States ; contempt for the meaningless words which have become the rallying cry of the factious ; respect for the progressive development of institutions in lawful ways ; refusal on the part of every monarch to aid or succour partisans under any mask whatever — such are happily the ideas of the great monarch s : the world will be saved if they bring them into action — it is lost if they do not.

Union between the monarchs is the basis of the policy which must now be followed to save society from total ruin.

What is the particular object towards which tins policy should be directed? The more important this question is, the more necessary it is to solve it. A principle is something, but it acquires real value only in its application.

The first sources of the evil which is crushing the world have been indicated by us in a paper which has no pretension to be anything more than a mere sketch. Its further causes have also there been pointed out if, with respect to individuals, it may be defined by the word presumption, in applying it to society, taken as a whole, we believe we can best describe the existing evil as the confusion of ideas, to which too much generalisation constantly leads. This is what now troubles society. Everything which up to this time has been considered as fixed in principle is attacked and overthrown.

In religious matters criticism and inquiry are to take the place of faith, Christian morality is to replace the Law of Christ as it is interpreted by Christian authorities.

In the Catholic Church, the Jansenists and a number of isolated sectarians, who wish for a religion without a Church, have devoted themselves to this enterprise with ardent zeal : among the Protestant sects, the Methodists, sub-divided into almost as many sects as there are individuals ; then the enlightened promoters of the Bible Societies and the Unitarians — the promoters of the fusion of Lutherans and Calvinists in one Evangelical community — all pursue the same end.

The object which these men have in common, to whatever religion they may ostensibly belong, is simply to overthrow all authority. Put on moral grounds, they wish to enfranchise souls in the same way as some of the political revolutionists who were not actuated by motives of personal ambition wished to enfranchise the people.

If the same elements of destruction which are now throwing society into convulsion have existed in all ages — for every age has seen immoral and ambitious men, hypocrites, men of heated imaginations, wrong motives, and wild projects — yet ours, by the single fact of the liberty of the press, possesses more than any preceding age the means of contact, seduction, and attraction whereby to act on these different classes of men.

We are certainly not alone in questioning if society can exist with the liberty of the press, a scourge unknown to the world before the latter half of the seventeenth century, and restrained until the end of the eighteenth, with scarcely any exceptions but England — a part of Europe separated from the continent by the sea, as well as by her language and by her peculiar manners.

The first principle to be followed by the monarchs, united as they are by the coincidence of their desires and opinions, should be that of maintaining the stability of political institutions against the disorganised excitement which has taken possession of men’s minds; the immutability of principles against the madness of their interpretation ; and respect for laws actually in force against a desire for their destruction.

The hostile faction is divided into two very distinct parties. One is that of the Levellers ; the other, that of the Doctrinaires. United in times of confusion, these men are divided in times of inaction. It is for the Governments to understand -and estimate them at their just value.

In the class of Levellers there are found men of strong will and determination. The Doctrinaires can count none such among their ranks. If the first are more to be feared in action, the second are more dangerous in that time of deceitful calm which precedes it ; as with physical storms, so with those of social order. Given up to abstract ideas inapplicable to real wants, and generally in contradiction to those very wants, men of this class unceasingly agitate the people by their imaginary or simulated fears, and disturb Governments in order to make them deviate from the right path. The world desires to be governed by facts and according to justice, not by phrases and theories ; the first need of society is to be maintained by strong authority (no authority without real strength deserves the name) and not to govern itself. In comparing the number of contests between parties in mixed Governments, and that of just complaints caused by aberrations of power in a Christian State, the comparison would not be in favour of the new doctrines. The first and greatest concern for the immense majority of every nation is the stability of the laws, and their uninterrupted action — never their change. Therefore let the Governments govern, let them maintain the groundwork of their institutions, both ancient and modern ; for if it is at all times dangerous to touch them, it certainly would not now, in the general confusion, be wise to do so.

Let them announce this determination to their people, and demonstrate it by facts. Let them reduce the Doctrinaires to silence within their States, and show their contempt for them abroad. Let them not encourage by their attitude or action the suspicion of being favourable or indifferent to error : let them not allow it to be believed that experience has lost all its rights to make way for experiments which at the least are dangerous. Let them be precise and clear in all their words, and not seek by concessions to gain over those parties who aim at the destruction of all power but their own, whom concessions will never gain over, but only further embolden in their pretensions to power.

Let them in these troublous times be more than usually cautious in attempting real ameliorations, not imperatively claimed by the needs of the moment, to the end that good itself may not turn against them —which is the case whenever a Government measure seems to be inspired by fear.

Let them not confound concessions made to parties with the good they ought to do for their people, in modifying, according to their recognised needs, such branches of the administration as require it.

Let them give minute attention to the financial state of their kingdoms, so that their people may enjoy, by the reduction of public burdens, the real, not imaginary, benefits of a state of peace.

Let them be just, but strong ; beneficent, but strict.

Let them maintain religious principles in all their purity, and not allow the faith to be attacked and morality interpreted according to the social contract or the visions of foolish sectarians.

Let them suppress Secret Societies, that gangrene of society.

In short, let the great monarchs strengthen their union, and prove to the world that if it exists, it is beneficent, and ensures the political peace of Europe : that it is powerful only for the maintenance of tranquility at a time when so many attacks are directed against it ; that the principles which they profess are paternal and protective, menacing only the disturbers of public tranquility.

The Governments of the second order will see in such a union the anchor of their salvation, and they will be anxious to connect themselves with it. The people will take confidence and courage, and the most profound and salutary peace which the history of any time can show will have been effected. This peace will first act on countries still in a good state, but will not be without a very decided influence on the fate of those threatened with destruction, and even assist the restoration of those which have already passed under the scourge of revolution.

To every great State determined to survive the storm there still remain many chances of salvation, and a strong union between the States on the principles we have announced will overcome the storm itself.


12 thoughts on “How Comte Overthrew Marx – Part I: Introduction to the French Revolution”

  1. (1) Metternich wants to make societies conform to Eternal Principles — he focuses on religion, morality, and custom. You, on the other hand (this is NOT a hostile observation!) don’t speak of Eternal Principles, religion, morality or custom, and seem to be primarily interested in economic efficiency. He sees government as Heaven’s enforcer; you see government as the economy’s mechanic and referee. (At any rate, this is the impression your essay on Hamilton gave me.) So it’s strange that Metternich’s your co-host!
    (2) Metternich sees the commercial/industrial middle class as the enemy; he wants a high-low (aristocrat-proletarian/peasant) alliance against the bourgeoisie. How can this apply to the USA in an attractive way? The alt-right sees itself as the middle oppressed by a high-low alliance of “elites” on the one hand and … well, you know … on the other hand.
    (3) Metternich offhandedly describes England (with its “ancient popular representation”) a couple of times as an odd exception. But wouldn’t attention to England be more relevant for our own practical purposes than attention to the Continent’s concerns?


  2. He sees government as Heaven’s enforcer; you see government as the economy’s mechanic and referee.

    I focused first on economics, but where did I exclude a role for religion?

    I also quoted the condemnation of Hamilton against the violently imposed atheism of the First French Republic (which was the Soviet Union of the 18th century) as well as Metternich’s comments about the religious beliefs of Napoleon. In both excerpts Hamilton and the French Emperor agreed Christianity is the only basis for morality and civilization – although they would not all agree on questions around Protestantism…

    Over the years I’ve also come to the conclusion that Christianity is the only moral basis Western morality can be structured around (except for Israel which practices the originating sister religion of Christianity).

    Metternich sees the commercial/industrial middle class as the enemy; he wants a high-low (aristocrat-proletarian/peasant) alliance against the bourgeoisie.

    I did not interpret his comments as a condemnation of the middle class entirely. He seemed to direct his analysis on a slice of the middle class which was inclined towards radicalism, the same elements of the bourgeoisie which even today prefer leftism:

    real cosmopolitans, securing their personal advantage at the expense of any order of things whatever — paid State officials, men of letters, lawyers, and the individuals charged with the public education.

    Also keep in mind that, and at the risk of giving away too much before I publish Part II this Saturday, Metternich is writing in 1820 to Tsar Alexander I when his only point of reference about the nature of liberalism in real political action was the French Revolution (As absolute ruler, Napoleon borrowed select liberal propaganda which suited him on a case by case basis, but his politics in practice were those of a conservative 18th century imperialist.)

    The French Revolution is notable because it was the only time the middle class as a whole joined radicalism. Afterwards, the middle classes of the West as a whole lost interest in rebellion, except for niche segments such as government civil servants, writers, and academics.

    Metternich offhandedly describes England (with its “ancient popular representation”) a couple of times as an odd exception. But wouldn’t attention to England be more relevant for our own practical purposes than attention to the Continent’s concerns?

    He does not focus on how England should govern itself, and I certainly would not try to apply Hapsburg imperialism to any Anglo-Saxon nation.

    I would read his letter to Alexander I as an explanation on the ultimate origin of liberalism. It is in this light where his despatch shines as the finest explanation of liberalism I have ever read.

    For him to understand in 1820 that, in an advanced stage, the inherent logic of liberalism would result in the left trying to abolish national identity in favor of a “fusion” of cultures and religions as Unitarians and other Protestants had attempted is amazing because, in his time, the radical left was for ethnic nationalism as a vehicle to break apart the pan-European monarchies of their day. Metternich, at this time serving the very pan-European Austrian Empire under Francis I, opposed ethnic nationalism for the same reasons the left supported it.

    Nonetheless, he grasped that, despite their appeals to specific European ethnic identity, their rhetoric was just a temporary stratagem to overturn aristocracy. The dissolution of national identity altogether would ultimately become their objective, as it indeed has turned out.

    In thus tracing the character of the presumptuous man, we believe we have traced that of the society of the day, composed of like elements, if the denomination of society is applicable to an order of things which only tends in principle towards individualising all the elements of which society is composed. Presumption makes every man the guide of his own belief, the arbiter of laws according to which he is pleased to govern himself, or to allow some one else to govern him and his neighbours ; it makes him, in short, the sole judge of his own faith, his own actions, and the principles according to which he guides them.

    Is it necessary to give a proof of this last fact ? We think we have furnished it in remarking that one of the sentiments most natural to man, that of nationality, is erased from the Liberal catechism, and that where the word is still employed, it is used by the heads of the party as a pretext to enchain Governments, or as a lever to bring about destruction. The real aim of the idealists of the party is religious and political fusion, and this being analysed is nothing else but creating in favour of each individual an existence entirely independent of all authority, or of any other will than his own, an idea absurd and contrary to the nature of man, and incompatible with the needs of human society.


  3. Btw, your questions and those of Jason Liu about the proper state role in a Hamiltonian economy will need more explanation during my end of week circulars to be published this Sunday.

    Time permitting, I will publish an end of week circular every Sunday going forward.


  4. Thanks. Just as you say, you certainly haven’t ever “exclude[d] a role for religion” and the application of Eternal Principles — I just took it that this sort of thing doesn’t interest you very much … certainly not as much as it interests Metternich (and Evola). Yes, I did notice that you excerpted Hamilton’s pro-Christian remarks … now I see that you must have done so as a segue from Hamiltonian political economy to Metternichian political high-morality.


  5. now I see that you must have done so as a segue from Hamiltonian political economy to Metternichian political high-morality.

    Metternich would not call his Catholic faith high-morality, just morality. His opinions on Catholicism were all quite standard for his era.

    To the extent he discusses morality in his letter, the Prince is not offering a theological thesis in favor of Christianity so much as he is pointing to where the end state of Christian morality will be under a regime where liberal assumptions are adopted in full. Leaving aside their differences over Protestantism, the letter of Hamilton warns of similar consequences, though not as brilliantly as Metternich. I included his analysis as a complement to that of Metternich.


  6. “political high-morality” = political application of Eternal Principles. “Catholic faith” involves more than morality. Any “faith” involves more than morality. M speaks of Eternal Principles of which the Stoics were aware, not so much of a specifically Catholic perception of those Eternal Principles. He sees liberalism as the repudiation of Eternal Principles. Hamilton focuses more specifically on Christianity. Abandonment of Christianity isn’t seen as a “consequence”, it’s seen as the path leading to dreadful consequences.


  7. M speaks of Eternal Principles of which the Stoics were aware, not so much of a specifically Catholic perception of those Eternal Principles. He sees liberalism as the repudiation of Eternal Principles.

    In his era the consensus among Catholic, and most Protestant, elites was that Hellenistic and other pagan ideologies, which Christians have borrowed from and co-opted, which expressed noble principles were really anticipating Christian morality before the arrival of Christ.

    Any “Virtuous pagans” such as Marcus Aurelius had virtues that were ultimately derived from the Christian God, so Eternal Principles to him and other Catholic dogmatists meant Christian ones.

    Abandonment of Christianity isn’t seen as a “consequence”, it’s seen as the path leading to dreadful consequences.

    To engage in one of the most aggressive liberal programs of de-Christianization and state imposed atheism of all time, many of the leaders of the First French Republic must have adopted liberalism before they gave up on Christianity. There were quite a few Christian liberals in the 18th century, the French Revolution to Metternich was just more evidence that Christianity and liberalism are ultimately incompatible, no matter how well meaning liberals might try to remain both at the same time.


  8. Real Catholic dogmatism seems exotic to those of us in the age of cafeteria Catholicism, and do what you feel like pseudo-religiosity.

    But in his time to be Catholic meant accepting that all morality, even before Christ, had no other source except the Christian God and that the last word on earthly interpretations of God’s will was the Holy See, period, end of discussion.


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