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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

English and French Constitutions Compared

         "They {French revolutionists}measured their land, and divided it into equal geometrical departments, without the slightest regard to difference of soil or population, variety of manners, or diversity of temperament;  and in this Laputan state that great country still remains. . . .If for its associations, could not these Utilitarian legislators understand that, in destroying the associations that clung to the name of Brittany and Burgundy, they were destroying so many wholesome elements of vigorous and enduring government?  Their sentiment required that they should still dwell in Paris, beautiful and famous Paris.  Were they so blind as not to see that the outraged sympathy, which would have recoiled from styling the capital "the city of the Seine," was equally offended when the old dweller in Toraine found that he was suddenly transformed into an inhabitant of the department of the Loire? . . .In France, thanks to Equality and its crabbed fruits, there were no prejudices to shock;  but when we read of the sudden transplantation {by Louis XVIII} of institutions gradually established in the course of centuries by the phlegmatic experience of a Saxon people {i.e. England} into the most southern soils of Europe, the glittering and barbaric Sicilies, and a country which is the link between Europe and Africa, and which in the fertility of its soil, the temperature of its climate, and the character of its inhabitants, resembles Morocco more than England, we seem to be perusing the mad pages of a political novel poured forth by the wild and mystic genius of some inmate of a German University. . . .Are we never to learn that a Constitution, a real Constitution, is the creation of ages, not of a day, and that when we destroy such a Constitution we in fact destroy a nation? . . .The Constitution founded on the Sovereignty of the People has run even a shorter career than the Constitution founded on the Equality of Man:  one of the most gifted and civilised nations that ever existed is enthralled by an iron despotism;  the liberty of the press is utterly destroyed;  trial by jury virtually abrogated;  arbitrary imprisonment in daily practice;  the country covered with Bastiles, and the Bastiles crowded with State victims. . . .English equality calls upon the subject to aspire;  French equality summons him to abase himself.  In England the subject is invited to become an object of admiration or respect;  in France he is warned lest he become an object of envy or of ridicule.  The law of England has invested the subject with equality in order that, if entitled to eminence, he should rise superior to the mass.  The law of France has invested the subject with equality, on condition that he prevent the elevation of his fellow.  English equality blends every man's ambition with the perpetuity of the State;  French equality, which has reduced the subject into a mere individual, has degraded the State into a mere society.  English equality governs the subject by the united and mingled influences of reason and imagination and aspiring to reason, has, in reality, only resolved itself into a barren fantasy.  The Constitution of England is founded not only on a profound knowledge of human nature, but of human nature in England;  the political scheme of France originates not only in a profound ignorance of human nature in general, but of French human nature in particular;  thus in England, however vast and violent may be our revolutions, the Constitution ever becomes more firm and vigorous, while in France a riot oversets the government, and after half a century of political experiments one of the most intellectual of human races has succeeded in losing every attribute of a nation, and has sought refuge from anarchy in a despotism without lustre, which contradicts all its theories and violated all the principles for which it has ever affected to struggle."  Benjamin Disraeli, Vindication of the English Constitution (1835) 

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