Sunday, June 7, 2009

De Jouvenal on the French and English Revolutions -- And Progressivism

De Juvenal uses the word "Power" to refer to centralized authority. In the Middle Ages it was the king. From On Power, p. 267:

"What the old constitution had guaranteed was that no proposition made by Power in the name of he public interest could become law without having obtained the assent of the various interests included in the nation. It would have been illogical for these various interests as such to have proposed laws since the purpose of laws was to serve the public interest. The assembly could become, as it did, the propounder of laws only in virtue of the quite novel idea that it was representative of the nation, considered as a whole and in its general interest; this was the role that had formerly belonged to the king. The change, which affected the very essence of the assembly's nature, was marked by a new-found freedom of action on the part of the representatives in regard to their constituents, a freedom which the doctrinaires of the new system especially emphasized. They were careless of the fact that Parliament, once it had been unified, emancipated, and made supreme as being the main, and tending to be the sole author of law, could not possibly maintain the same dispositions as had characterized it when it was disparate, bound down and without authority proper to itself.

"Parliament was now the king's successor as the representative of the whole: it had taken over his mission and his requirements. Unlike him, however, it no longer had representatives of diversity to deal with, mandatories of particular interests, which it must take into account.

"In the ancient constitution the interest of the nation was represented in two ways, as a whole and as a collection of parts, the former disposed to ask and the latter to refuse. One of them now disappeared. It was not as might have been expected, the king, for the legislative Power representing the public interest is merely his successor. No, what has disappeared has been the representation of various interests included in the nation. What had been a body for the protection of private citizens is now one for the advancement of the public interest, and has been clothed with the formidable power of legislation.

"In its new form Power had a much wider scope than its old. The sovereign, when he was king, was tied down by a higher code, which religion validated and of which the Church stood guardian; he was restrained as well by the various customary rules which being rooted in popular sentiment acted as makeweights to himself. But this code and those rules are of no avail against Power turned lawgiver, whose recognized right and duty it is now to be itself the source of codes and rules. 'The English Parliament,' it has been said by some wit 'can do anything except change a man into a woman.

"It is quite certain that nothing of this sort entered philosophical heads. All of them were deeply convinced of the existence of a natural and necessary order, and the function of the lawgiver as they saw it, was to disentangle the outlines of this order..."

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