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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

1790 which invalidates their allegiance to the Pope


This

keen thinker subjected the privileged classes, especially the titled clergy, to a searching fire of philosophic bombs and barbed witticisms. Never was there a more dazzling succession of literary triumphs over a tottering system. The satirized classes winced and laughed, and the intellect of France was conquered, for the Revolution. Thenceforth it was impossible that peasants who were nominally free should toil to satisfy the exacting needs of the State, and to support the brilliant bevy of nobles who flitted gaily round the monarch at Versailles. The young King Louis XVI., it is true, carried through several reforms, but he had not enough strength of will to abolish the absurd immunities from taxation which freed the nobles and titled clergy from the burdens of the State. Thus, down to 1789, the middle classes and peasants bore nearly all the weight of taxation, while the peasants were also encumbered by feudal dues and tolls. These were the crying grievances which united in a solid phalanx both thinkers and practical men, and thereby gave an immense impetus to the levelling doctrines of Rousseau.

Two only of his political teachings concern us here, namely, social equality and the unquestioned supremacy of the State; for to these dogmas, when they seemed doomed to political bankruptcy, Napoleon Buonaparte was to act as residuary legatee. According to Rousseau, society and government originated in a social contract, whereby all members of the

community have equal rights. It matters not that the spirit of the contract may have evaporated amidst the miasma of luxury. That is a violation of civil society; and members are justified in reverting at once to the primitive ideal. If the existence of the body politic be endangered, force may be used: "Whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be constrained to do so by the whole body; which means nothing else than that he shall be forced to be free." Equally plausible and dangerous was his teaching as to the indivisibility of the general will. Deriving every public power from his social contract, he finds it easy to prove that the sovereign power, vested in all the citizens, must be incorruptible, inalienable, unrepresentable, indivisible, and indestructible. Englishmen may now find it difficult to understand the enthusiasm called forth by this quintessence of negations; but to Frenchman recently escaped from the age of privilege and warring against the coalition of kings, the cry of the Republic one and indivisible was a trumpet call to death or victory. Any shifts, even that of a dictatorship, were to be borne, provided that social equality could be saved. As republican Rome had saved her early liberties by intrusting unlimited powers to a temporary dictator, so, claimed Rousseau, a young commonwealth must by a similar device consult Nature's first law of self-preservation. The dictator saves liberty by temporarily abrogating it: by momentary gagging of the legislative power he renders it truly vocal.

The events of the French Revolution form a tragic commentary on these theories. In the first stage of that great movement we see the followers of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau marching in an undivided host against the ramparts of privilege. The walls of the Bastille fall down even at the blast of their trumpets. Odious feudal privileges disappear in a single sitting of the National Assembly; and the _Parlements_, or supreme law courts of the provinces, are swept away. The old provinces themselves are abolished, and at the beginning of 1790 France gains social and political unity by her new system of Departments, which grants full freedom of action in local affairs, though in all national concerns it binds France closely to the new popular government at Paris. But discords soon begin to divide the reformers: hatred of clerical privilege and the desire to fill the empty coffers of the State dictate the first acts of spoliation. Tithes are abolished: the lands of the Church are confiscated to the service of the State; monastic orders are suppressed; and the Government undertakes to pay the stipends of bishops and priests. Furthermore, their subjection to the State is definitely secured by the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (July, 1790) which invalidates their allegiance to the Pope. Most of the clergy refuse: these are termed non-jurors or orthodox priests, while their more complaisant colleagues are known as constitutional priests. Hence arises a serious schism in the Church, which distracts the religious life of the land, and separates the friends of liberty from the champions of the rigorous equality preached by Rousseau.


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