Having abandoned the conception of the ancients as to the divine subjection o_he will of a nation to some chosen man and the subjection of that man's wil_o the Deity, history cannot without contradictions take a single step till i_as chosen one of two things: either a return to the former belief in th_irect intervention of the Deity in human affairs or a definite explanation o_he meaning of the force producing historical events and termed "power."
A return to the first is impossible, the belief has been destroyed; and so i_s essential to explain what is meant by power.
Napoleon ordered an army to be raised and go to war. We are so accustomed t_hat idea and have become so used to it that the question: why did six hundre_housand men go to fight when Napoleon uttered certain words, seems to u_enseless. He had the power and so what he ordered was done.
This reply is quite satisfactory if we believe that the power was given him b_od. But as soon as we do not admit that, it becomes essential to determin_hat is this power of one man over others.
It cannot be the direct physical power of a strong man over a weak one—_omination based on the application or threat of physical force, like th_ower of Hercules; nor can it be based on the effect of moral force, as i_heir simplicity some historians think who say that the leading figures i_istory are heroes, that is, men gifted with a special strength of soul an_ind called genius. This power cannot be based on the predominance of mora_trength, for, not to mention heroes such as Napoleon about whose mora_ualities opinions differ widely, history shows us that neither a Louis XI no_ Metternich, who ruled over millions of people, had any particular mora_ualities, but on the contrary were generally morally weaker than any of th_illions they ruled over.
If the source of power lies neither in the physical nor in the moral qualitie_f him who possesses it, it must evidently be looked for elsewhere—in th_elation to the people of the man who wields the power.
And that is how power is understood by the science of jurisprudence, tha_xchange bank of history which offers to exchange history's understanding o_ower for true gold.
Power is the collective will of the people transferred, by expressed or taci_onsent, to their chosen rulers.
In the domain of jurisprudence, which consists of discussions of how a stat_nd power might be arranged were it possible for all that to be arranged, i_s all very clear; but when applied to history that definition of power need_xplanation.
The science of jurisprudence regards the state and power as the ancient_egarded fire—namely, as something existing absolutely. But for history, th_tate and power are merely phenomena, just as for modern physics fire is no_n element but a phenomenon.
From this fundamental difference between the view held by history and tha_eld by jurisprudence, it follows that jurisprudence can tell minutely how i_ts opinion power should be constituted and what power—existing immutabl_utside time—is, but to history's questions about the meaning of the mutation_f power in time it can answer nothing.
If power be the collective will of the people transferred to their ruler, wa_ugachev a representative of the will of the people? If not, then why wa_apoleon I? Why was Napoleon III a criminal when he was taken prisoner a_oulogne, and why, later on, were those criminals whom he arrested?
Do palace revolutions—in which sometimes only two or three people tak_art—transfer the will of the people to a new ruler? In internationa_elations, is the will of the people also transferred to their conqueror? Wa_he will of the Confederation of the Rhine transferred to Napoleon in 1806?
Was the will of the Russian people transferred to Napoleon in 1809, when ou_rmy in alliance with the French went to fight the Austrians?
To these questions three answers are possible:
Either to assume (1) that the will of the people is always unconditionall_ransferred to the ruler or rulers they have chosen, and that therefore ever_mergence of a new power, every struggle against the power once appointed,
should be absolutely regarded as an infringement of the real power; or (2)
that the will of the people is transferred to the rulers conditionally, unde_efinite and known conditions, and to show that all limitations, conflicts,
and even destructions of power result from a nonobservance by the rulers o_he conditions under which their power was entrusted to them; or (3) that th_ill of the people is delegated to the rulers conditionally, but that th_onditions are unknown and indefinite, and that the appearance of severa_uthorities, their struggles and their falls, result solely from the greate_r lesser fulfillment by the rulers of these unknown conditions on which th_ill of the people is transferred from some people to others.
And these are the three ways in which the historians do explain the relatio_f the people to their rulers.
Some historians—those biographical and specialist historians already referre_o—in their simplicity failing to understand the question of the meaning o_ower, seem to consider that the collective will of the people i_nconditionally transferred to historical persons, and therefore whe_escribing some single state they assume that particular power to be the on_bsolute and real power, and that any other force opposing this is not a powe_ut a violation of power—mere violence.
Their theory, suitable for primitive and peaceful periods of history, has th_nconvenience—in application to complex and stormy periods in the life o_ations during which various powers arise simultaneously and struggle with on_nother—that a Legitimist historian will prove that the National Convention,
the Directory, and Bonaparte were mere infringers of the true power, while _epublican and a Bonapartist will prove: the one that the Convention and th_ther that the Empire was the real power, and that all the others wer_iolations of power. Evidently the explanations furnished by these historian_eing mutually contradictory can only satisfy young children.
Recognizing the falsity of this view of history, another set of historians sa_hat power rests on a conditional delegation of the will of the people t_heir rulers, and that historical leaders have power only conditionally o_arrying out the program that the will of the people has by tacit agreemen_rescribed to them. But what this program consists in these historians do no_ay, or if they do they continually contradict one another.
Each historian, according to his view of what constitutes a nation's progress,
looks for these conditions in the greatness, wealth, freedom, or enlightenmen_f citizens of France or some other country. But not to mention th_istorians' contradictions as to the nature of this program—or even admittin_hat some one general program of these conditions exists—the facts of histor_lmost always contradict that theory. If the conditions under which power i_ntrusted consist in the wealth, freedom, and enlightenment of the people, ho_s it that Louis XIV and Ivan the Terrible end their reigns tranquilly, whil_ouis XVI and Charles I are executed by their people? To this questio_istorians reply that Louis XIV's activity, contrary to the program, reacte_n Louis XVI. But why did it not react on Louis XIV or on Louis XV—why shoul_t react just on Louis XVI? And what is the time limit for such reactions? T_hese questions there are and can be no answers. Equally little does this vie_xplain why for several centuries the collective will is not withdrawn fro_ertain rulers and their heirs, and then suddenly during a period of fift_ears is transferred to the Convention, to the Directory, to Napoleon, t_lexander, to Louis XVIII, to Napoleon again, to Charles X, to Louis Philippe,
to a Republican government, and to Napoleon III. When explaining these rapi_ransfers of the people's will from from one individual to another, especiall_n view of international relations, conquests, and alliances, the historian_re obliged to admit that some of these transfers are not normal delegation_f the people's will but are accidents dependent on cunning, on mistakes, o_raft, or on the weakness of a diplomatist, a ruler, or a party leader. S_hat the greater part of the events of history—civil wars, revolutions, an_onquests—are presented by these historians not as the results of fre_ransferences of the people's will, but as results of the ill-directed will o_ne or more individuals, that is, once again, as usurpations of power. And s_hese historians also see and admit historical events which are exceptions t_he theory.
These historians resemble a botanist who, having noticed that some plants gro_rom seeds producing two cotyledons, should insist that all that grows does s_y sprouting into two leaves, and that the palm, the mushroom, and even th_ak, which blossom into full growth and no longer resemble two leaves, ar_eviations from the theory.
Historians of the third class assume that the will of the people i_ransferred to historic personages conditionally, but that the conditions ar_nknown to us. They say that historical personages have power only becaus_hey fulfill the will of the people which has been delegated to them.
But in that case, if the force that moves nations lies not in the histori_eaders but in the nations themselves, what significance have those leaders?
The leaders, these historians tell us, express the will of the people: th_ctivity of the leaders represents the activity of the people.
But in that case the question arises whether all the activity of the leader_erves as an expression of the people's will or only some part of it. If th_hole activity of the leaders serves as the expression of the people's will,
as some historians suppose, then all the details of the court scandal_ontained in the biographies of a Napoleon or a Catherine serve to express th_ife of the nation, which is evident nonsense; but if it is only som_articular side of the activity of an historical leader which serves t_xpress the people's life, as other so-called "philosophical" historian_elieve, then to determine which side of the activity of a leader expresse_he nation's life, we have first of all to know in what the nation's lif_onsists.
Met by this difficulty historians of that class devise some most obscure,
impalpable, and general abstraction which can cover all conceivabl_ccurrences, and declare this abstraction to be the aim of humanity'_ovement. The most usual generalizations adopted by almost all the historian_re: freedom, equality, enlightenment, progress, civilization, and culture.
Postulating some generalization as the goal of the movement of humanity, th_istorians study the men of whom the greatest number of monuments hav_emained: kings, ministers, generals, authors, reformers, popes, an_ournalists, to the extent to which in their opinion these persons hav_romoted or hindered that abstraction. But as it is in no way proved that th_im of humanity does consist in freedom, equality, enlightenment, o_ivilization, and as the connection of the people with the rulers an_nlighteners of humanity is only based on the arbitrary assumption that th_ollective will of the people is always transferred to the men whom we hav_oticed, it happens that the activity of the millions who migrate, bur_ouses, abandon agriculture, and destroy one another never is expressed in th_ccount of the activity of some dozen people who did not burn houses, practic_griculture, or slay their fellow creatures.
History proves this at every turn. Is the ferment of the peoples of the wes_t the end of the eighteenth century and their drive eastward explained by th_ctivity of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, their mistresses and ministers, and by th_ives of Napoleon, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarchais, and others?
Is the movement of the Russian people eastward to Kazan and Siberia expresse_y details of the morbid character of Ivan the Terrible and by hi_orrespondence with Kurbski?
Is the movement of the peoples at the time of the Crusades explained by th_ife and activity of the Godfreys and the Louis-es and their ladies? For u_hat movement of the peoples from west to east, without leaders, with a crow_f vagrants, and with Peter the Hermit, remains incomprehensible. And yet mor_ncomprehensible is the cessation of that movement when a rational and sacre_im for the Crusade—the deliverance of Jerusalem—had been clearly defined b_istoric leaders. Popes, kings, and knights incited the peoples to free th_oly Land; but the people did not go, for the unknown cause which ha_reviously impelled them to go no longer existed. The history of the Godfrey_nd the Minnesingers can evidently not cover the life of the peoples. And th_istory of the Godfreys and the Minnesingers has remained the history o_odfreys and Minnesingers, but the history of the life of the peoples an_heir impulses has remained unknown.
Still less does the history of authors and reformers explain to us the life o_he peoples.
The history of culture explains to us the impulses and conditions of life an_hought of a writer or a reformer. We learn that Luther had a hot temper an_aid such and such things; we learn that Rousseau was suspicious and wrot_uch and such books; but we do not learn why after the Reformation the people_assacred one another, nor why during the French Revolution they guillotine_ne another.
If we unite both these kinds of history, as is done by the newest historians,
we shall have the history of monarchs and writers, but not the history of th_ife of the peoples.