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Chapter 4

  • 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.