martes, 18 de septiembre de 2007

Lecture 13: Germany, the French Revolution, and Napoleon

By Michael Sauter

In the last lecture we discussed the transition from the Old Regime to a modern world that is becoming increasingly recognizable to us. Before the French Revolution and Napoleon’s arrival we see societies made up of orders and based on legal inequality, with an emphasis on privileges and differences based on birth. By 1815, when Napoleon meets his ultimate defeat, that world is gone, replaced by equality before the law and, as I also discussed last time, less complicated political borders. One of the changes that also makes this new world more recognizable to us is the arrival of nationalism. Although we all know nationalism when we see it, let me offer a working definition for the purposes of this discussion. Nationalism is, in a few words, the identification of the nation as the fundamental unit of social and political organization. We can see nationalism at work in France July 14, 1789, when the nation became the foundation of a new form of politics. The energies that the nation unleashed toppled regimes across Europe and ushered in this new age. The most famous example of these energies was the levee en masse, which was a national draft. For the first time a European army was made up of masses of conscripts, rather than small professional armies, and these conscripts fought because they wanted to, not because they were forced to.
Today, I would like to set up this emergence of nationalism as a backdrop for understanding the emergence of Germany. We saw last time how Germany and other European countries reacted to Napoleon, reorganizing and resisting the French occupation until the bitter end, when allied troops finally entered Paris. We also saw, however, how complicated the situation was in Germany, as some regions in Germany used Napoleon’s arrival to enlarge their own territories at their neighbors’ expense. One famous example of this was Prussia, which in the Peace of Basle in 1795, swallowed many smaller neighbors, while also agreeing to French annexation of territories to the left of the Rhine.
The situation is no less complex when it comes to German reactions to the French Revolution and Napoleon. To put it in a word, the thing to remember about these German reactions is diversity. Initially, many Germans were in favor of the Revolution, seeing it as a justified reaction to the monarchy’s mismanagement. Some Germans took this notion a little further, advocating Revolutionary reform in Germany. Other Germans were against the Revolution from the beginning. Whatever their disposition toward the French Revolution most Germans agreed that it would be best were it to stay over there. The belief that it should stay over there became even firmer, when the Revolution turned violent and aggressive in 1792. Many Germans felt betrayed by the Revolution and they saw Napoleon’s coup in 1799 as a hopeful moment, a moment when sanity might return to France. They were disappointed, of course, as Napoleon’s further exportation of the French Revolution brought war, destruction, and heavy taxation to Germany. Based on what I said in the last lecture, you can see not only why there was ultimately a negative reaction to Napoleon but also why it was so deep.
Now I want to bring together the problem of the reaction in Germany with the problem of nationalism. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods in France encouraged the development of a German national consciousness. This process has two important aspects. First, Germans began to discover themselves as a group both in opposition to France and independently. This was important because it provided the foundation for the later agitation for a German nation-state, about which I will say more in a later lecture. Second, this self-discovery by Germans also allowed others to see Germany in a new light. By 1800, for the first time other Europeans began to see Germany as more than just a vague region on the map and recognized Germany as an important cultural zone, a place whose thought and art had to be taken seriously.
Let us try to understand these broad processes concretely. Much of the initial German enthusiasm for both the French Revolution and then Napoleon dissipated when the costs started to add up. It was true that Napoleonic reforms in the north and west of Germany brought significant advantages to many people. (German Jews were, for example, completely emancipated from Old Regime restrictions on their lives.) But these advantages were largely long-term, as they brought future economic development. The short-term problems were, however, rooted in immediate costs, and these were very great. For example, in the two years after France defeated Prussia at the battle of Jena in 1805, the French state extracted from Germany approximately 600 million francs. If we subtract the costs of the campaign itself, the French made a 350 million franc profit on their invasion. To give you an idea for how much wealth this represented at the time: 350 million francs equaled half of France’s total state income in 1807. When you add to this number the destruction of the wars, the conscription of German men into the French army, and the plundering of German cultural treasures, it becomes easy to see why between 1807 and 1812 the German populace tended toward sullenness and anger at French occupation. When the final break with France did come, the moment was invested with almost a decade of pent-up hatreds and grievances.
German writers of the period helped to focus much of this anger against the French occupation by exploiting the public sphere. You may have heard this term public sphere before, but let me give you an idea of what the term means. The eighteenth-century public sphere had two aspects. One was the development of a print market, that is there were people who wanted to read things and there were authors willing and able to produce them. The other is the development of what we call sociability, that is the tendency of people to join together in organizations, such as private clubs, salons, academies, and Freemasonic lodges. Beginning already at the end of the seventeenth century in particularly in England, print and sociability eventually extended all across Europe.
Professional writing was still relatively new to the German scene. Only from about 1750 on can we talk about the emergence of a German public sphere, as a critical mass of readers and writers came together to read and discuss the latest events, both political and cultural. This rise of the German public sphere is, however, very rapid, as literally hundreds of writers appear over the next fifty years, putting in the process German letters on the map. This was an important cultural development, since unlike French, English, Spanish, or Italian, German was a relatively new literary language. Whereas these other languages had become literary vehicles, in some cases, centuries before, only during the eighteenth century did Germans purify their language. This included, among other things, establishing a clear grammar and inventing new words and concepts. For example, German very rapidly became the leading language of philosophy and aesthetics. You have probably heard of the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), who is still considered one of the world’s most important philosophers. But you may not know that Germans invented the word aesthetic, and in so doing they opened up an entire realm of cultural production. Thus, before the French Revolution broke out, German had already come from out of nowhere to become one of the world’s premiere literary languages.
We should not, however, exaggerate the importance of this development. At most this new public sphere made up 5% of Germany’s population before 1789, so it was rather small. Magazine runs would number at most in the thousands. Nonetheless, this new sphere pointed the way to a different kind of politics, and this change bore fruit later. During the 1790s daily press circulation increased even more rapidly than it had before, numbering over 300,000 daily editions, with no fewer than 3 million readers. This change calls our attention to an important theme from the last lecture. Napoleon and the French Revolution brought change to Europe, but neither invented it. Many of the factors that would make the pace of change after 1789 so intense had long been in place.
I have been talking so far in terms of opposition and reaction, and it is important to realize that neither of these trends was new to Germany. The German cultural scene after 1750 in many ways already defined itself in opposition to French letters. Let us consider the small Duchy of Weimar, which became the cradle of what scholars now call “German Classicism,” that is the height of German literature. Duke Karl August and his mother Anna Amelia spent most of their duchy’s small revenues on cultural pursuits. Anna Amelia began the trend by inviting Christoph Martin Wieland (1733-1813), an important German critic and author, to be her son’s tutor. Wieland was especially noted for his journal Teutscher Merkur, an imitation of an even more famous Revolutionary journal, Mercure de France. After Karl August became the Duke himself, he followed the same pattern, surrounding himself with writers and artists. In 1775, for example, he invited a young Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) to join him in Weimar. Goethe entered the prince’s service in 1776 and worked for the Duke until his retirment in 1817.
Goethe is one of those historical figures who seems to stand above everyone else, so it is difficult to give a complete picture of him in a few words. What I want to do here is look at his attitudes toward the French Revolution and Napoleon. Goethe’s views toward the French Revolution mirrored that of many Germans. He was initially attracted to it, but as the Revolution turned violent and seemed to be run by the mob, he pulled away, mostly into his artistic pursuits. His views toward Napoleon, however, were different. He seems to have admired Napoleon personally, seeing him as a powerful individual, but he was always cool and distant toward the many changes that Napoleon was making. So even in someone as famous as Goethe, we find a microcosm of the contradictory reactions that Napoleon and the French Revolution inspired in Germany.
Goethe is also important, however, in this context for the people that his brilliance attracted to Weimar. In 1776, Goethe attracted Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) to Weimar. Herder is less famous than Goethe is outside Germany, but he is particularly important for understanding the process of what I will call creative reaction to France. Herder is considered by many to be the theorist of modern nationalism. During the 1770s and 80s he published a series of books that were critical of that traditional “enlightened” approach to the world. Under the influence of his teacher Johann Georg Hamann, Herder began to turn on enlightened rationalism, questioning the extent to which it could resolve all issues. He was particularly opposed to Voltaire (1694-1778), who he believed was arrogant and lacked any real feeling for culture. Instead, Herder turned to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), relying on his philosophy to search more deeply within people’s feelings for answers about human nature. After breaking away from a uniform notion of reason, Herder came to argue that language was the foundation of of all human experience. What this all meant was that each of Europe’s many peoples can only find true enlightenment in themselves and their cultures. If you want to find out what it is to be a German, you do not read French, you read German. The same went for Poles, Russians, Lithuanians, and every other people.
Let us consider another important personage that Goethe brought to Weimar, Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Schiller came to the region to be a professor of philosophy at the nearby University of Jena, an appointment that Goethe had arranged. Goethe respected Schiller’s dramatic work greatly and brought him to Weimar to be part of this new intellectual community. Schiller’s work is notable for the way it turned on French literary models. Schiller redefined tragedy, for example, by emphasizing the individual’s difficult relationship to state and society. Whereas French drama in the eighteenth century had been concerned with love intrigues and philosophical debates, Schiller’s drama put the individual person’s feelings and conflicts on center stage. Along these lines, it is important to keep two things about Schiller in mind. First, he came from Wuerttemberg, one of the small duchies that did so well under Napoleon. The prince under whom Schiller lived during his youth was Karl Eugen, a nasty man who sold his subjects into the French military to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. Schiller never liked this prince, and he turned against Karl Eugen’s “French” court, because he had many mistresses and spent excessive amounts on money on entertainment. Second, Schiller found much inspiration for his work on Immanuel Kant’s writings. Although I can’t get into the details here, Schiller’s beliefs in freedom and the sanctity of the individual were rooted largely in his reading of Kantian philosophy.
I bring up Kant here because he encapsulates the divergence that we see between Germany and France at the time. Kant was the first person to emphasize the distinction in German between “Kultur” and “Zivilisation.” “Kultur” is roughly translated as culture in English, but it actually carries many more connotations. “Kultur” is deeper than culture, encompassing in German the sum total of any given people’s literature, art, and science. We can understand the distinction more clearly by looking at “Zivilisation.” Whereas “Kultur” was serious and deep for Kant, “Zivilisation” was merely fluff, nothing more than superficial banter. “Zivilisation” emphasized appearances over deeper realities, words over meanings. Although Kant was not quite as doctrinaire as some others would later be, in the German cultural context “Kultur” came to be identified with Germany and “Zivilisation” with France.
Before we leave Weimar and Goethe, let us consider another important aspect of this Duchy’s influence on German culture, the University of Jena. The Duchy of Weimar included Jena in its terriroty and during the 1790s its university became one of Germany’s leading institutions. The presence of Goethe, Herder, and Schiller attracted a host of bright young academics and writers to this university. The list of people who spent time there is a who’s who of German culture, including such people as the philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), and Friedrich Wilhelm Schelling (1775-1854), as well as writers such as the brothers Schlegel [Friedrich (1772-1829), August Wilhelm (1767-1845)], Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), Clemens Brentano (1778-1842), Novalis (1772-1802), Friedrich Hoelderlin (1770-1843), and Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811). This collection of talent will be important later in this tale, but for right now you should keep in mind that these people represented the next generation of German intellectualls. Whereas Goethe, Schiller, and Herder had made their names in the 1770s and 1780s, the next generation would make its name after the French Revolution and especially under Napoleon.
With that, let me return to Napoleon for a moment. As we saw last time, Napoleon presented a mixed legacy to Europe. There was much to be happy about, and there was just as much to be unhappy about. What I have argued thus far, is that Germany’s sense of itself began to a large degree in a sense of opposition to France, which had already excercised a certain cultural hegemony over Germany. When that hegemony became political, it intensified this trend toward creating a sense of Germanness in opposition to Frenchness. This could lead Germans off in many directions. A very few went completely toward France, most eventually turned away. The young German writer Ernst Moritz Arndt (1769-1860) is a good example of the tensions in this world. After the French Revolution broke out he wrote, “that we owe an enormous amount to this wild and raging revolution, that it ignited a great sea of fire in the mind…It accelerated that process of intellectual ferment through which we had to go, as through our purgatory, if we wished to reach the heavenly gates of our new conditions.” After the ravages of war and occupation, Arndt changed his tune, however, writing, “I hate all the French without exception in the name of God and my people.”
Arndt shows us how volatile the situation had become in Germany. By 1806, there was a major surge in patriotism in Germany, particularly among the middle and the educated classes. This had already been apparent in Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s “Addresses to the German Nation,” (1807-8) a series of lectures he delivered at the University of Jena that extolled the virtues of German culture and decried everything that was French. This early response to France had many different variations. There were some reactions that was rooted in an older cosmopolitanism, that is the French were bad because they sought to suppress diversity. There were other reactions based on a Romantic interest in mythical German past. Fichte’s rants were an example of the latter variety. And then there were the belligerent war songs of Theodor Koerner (1791-1813) and Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857), as well as the anti-French ravings of the playwright Heinrich von Kleist.
Against these harsh responses we must also, however, remember that there were some Germans who admired the French Revolution and especially Napoleon. The philosopher Hegel, for example, admired in particular Napoleon’s power, albeit from a distance. Much of his historical thought is an attempt to understand the power and glory of Napoleon as a general. Faced with Germany’s crushing defeat after 1805-06, Hegel had to find an explanation for this new phenomenon, and so he built an historical philosophy around this one man and the destruction he had wrought. In his “Lectures on the Philosophy of History,” Hegel referred to history as a slaughter-bench, and tried to explain all the blood and destruction through what he called Geist (Spirit), an abstract quantity that brought rationality and order to a chaotic situation.
Other great minds also admired Napoleon. Ludwig van Beethoven (1830) was in this club, although he later expressed his disillusionment with Napoleon’s authoritarianism. Goethe admired Napoleon as well, although from afar. He was fascinated by the power of the person, but he could have done without the war and destruction. (Goethe actually met Napoleon in 1808, when the Emperor summoned him for an audience in Erfurt, and he seems to have walked away with a deep respect for the Emperor’s personal power.)
Thus, on one level, we have a mixed bag. There were as many views of Napoleon and the French Revolution as there were Germans. It is also true, however, that there was a general trend away from things French and toward things German. I noted earlier that this trend began before the French Revolution and continued until well after it. Let me offer Goethe as one example of this trend, irrespective of what the thought about Napoleon. In 1770, Goethe traveled to Strasbourg to finish a degree in law. At that time Strasbourg was still a largely German town, and Goethe became particularly enamored of the city’s architecture, particularly of its cathedral. Goethe held up Strasbourg cathedral as a supreme example of gothic German architecture, that is he found original Germanness, whatever that may be, in this structure.
The instinct that Goethe demonstrated already in the 1760s to find Germany in a mythical past was also evident in the school of poets later identified as the Romantics. Many of the central figures in this Romantic movement are those young people that I listed earlier as having come to Jena. Tieck, the Schlegels, Kleist, Brentano. These young writers combined many of the themes that I have been discussing. They turned away from French models of writing and emphasized feelings over reason. They emphasized finding authentic Germanness in the medieval past, becoming enthusiasts of anything medieval. They had their counterparts in England, where writers such as William Wordsworth (1770-1850), William Blake (1757-1827), Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834), and Robert Southey (1774-1843) followed similar themes. For all these young people, the French Revolution was a great event, one to be celebrated, or despised, but it in most cases t led to a new understanding of the self.
We have been looking at the way Germans gained a sense of who they were through their experience with France. Now let us consider how the French came to understand the Germans during this period. Before the nineteenth century, the French did not think much of the Germans. To them Germans were a sleepy, amiable people and nothing much of significance happened in their country. Paris was, after all, the center of civilization and since Germany had no Paris, there wasn’t much to worry about. The person who did the most to change this view was, oddly enough, a product of Old Regime Paris. Germaine de Stael (1766-1817) was one of the brightest lights in an age already glittering with bright minds. She enjoyed extraordinary advantages, being the daughter of the great banker Jacques Necker (1732-1804). Necker had left Geneva in 1750 to go to Paris and made such a huge fortune that in 1776 the King of France made him Secretary of the Treasury. Necker’s wealth and power opened many doors for the young Germaine. She received an extraordinary education and entered salon life in Paris at the young age of 12. By 13 she had started her own group. At 20 she married a Swedish noble Baron de Stael-Holstein, which supposedly completed the family’s pursuit of a noble title.
In spite of her pedigree, however, de Stael was a passionate liberal. She read Rousseau and welcomed the French Revolution when it arrived, remaining a political liberal for her entire life. This got her into some trouble later, however, when Napoleon held his coup and de Stael refused to change her beliefs in accord with the new situation. She felt that Napoleon had betrayed the revolution and said so. This got her exiled from France and she left for Germany, which received her with open arms. During her travels there she met many of Germany’s literati and struck up friendships with Goethe, Schiller, and especially August Wilhelm Schlegel, whom she made tutor to her son. She settled in Germany around 1808 and by 1810 she completed a famous work De l’Allemagne, in which she described the virtues of German culture in general and praised the German Romantics in particular. Napoleon did not like the book and had it burned, because it compared French culture infavorably with German culture. It would not be published in French until three years later.
De l’Allemagne and Mdm de Stael would eventually make it back to Paris, where both would exert a profound influence on French notions of Germany. In fact, De l’Allemagne dominated French notions of Germany the rest of the nineteenth century. For the first time, a respected French writer had taken interest in German literature and many other French people would soon do so as well, leading ultimately to important changes in the French literary scene. Most important from our perspective was, however, as I have already noted, that de Stael’s work put Germany on the map, as it were. Germany was henceforth an important cultural zone, a sphere the deserved watching because its people were doing new and interesting things.
In some ways the changes I have traced in Germany and France were due to the Revolutionary and the Napoleonic period, in others they were due to internal forces that drove German and French politics, respectively. The point to keep in mind, however, for future lectures is that these early divisions between France and Germany would have consequences well into the twentieth century, for it was the inability of Germany and France to coexist peacefully--to respect and learn from each other, rather than to hate and kill each other—that would poison European politics for the next 150 years.

Lecture 12: Napoleon Bonaparte and the Reorganization of Europe

By Michael Sauter

Napoleon Bonaparte is both an heir to and the end of the French Revolution. He encapsulates the complexities and tensions that made French politics so volatile after July 14, 1789. These tensions were the result of the French Revolution’s attempt to bring together two distinct but incompatible traditions. One was the Republican tradition of liberty, equality, and fraternity; the other was an authoritarian tradition that sought to control all aspects of people’s lives, including their political opinions. This authoritarian tendency became most obvious during the so-called Reign of Terror (1793 to 1794), when the Revolution’s leaders, Maximilien Robespierre foremost among them, kept Paris’ guillotines busy with a procession of enemies both real and imagined. Thus, we see throughout the Revolution a constant battle between an egalitarian instinct that constantly uprooted existing social and political relationships and an authoritarian one that wanted peace and order. Napoleon finally brought peace to France, but as we will see, the rest of Europe paid a terrible price for this benefit.
Let us begin with a brief look at Napoleon’s background in an attempt to understand in what ways he was a child of the revolution. Born in 1769 in Corsica, Napoleon was only 20 years old when the Revolution broke out; yet he was only 30 when he was named France’s First Consul in 1799. Napoleon’s career is, thus, an example of the opportunities that the French Revolution made available to people who would have remained in their station under the Old Regime. Napoleon was the son of a minor noble, and as such, he could never have risen higher in the army than the rank of Colonel. But the Revolution’s wars made his career and he advanced rapidly through the ranks, becoming France’s youngest General and enjoying a string of foreign victories that made his name back in France. When he returned from a campaign in Egypt in August 1799, he was hailed a hero. (This was due, in part, to Napoleon’s assiduous attempts to keep the news that the Egyptian campaign had been failure secret.) On the 9-10 of November, Napoleon held a coup d’etat, ending ten years of war and chaos under the Republic.
This change had been coming for some time. In fact, it had already been predicted in 1789, when the British writer Edmund Burke wrote that the Revolution’s contradictory goals made a strongman inevitable, saying, “that he will draw all eyes upon himself, and that will be the end of your whole Republic.” The real problem was that French people were tired of the internal chaos, and many of them concluded that a strong executive authority was the only thing that could keep this chaos at bay. Although Napoleon’s rise to power reversed part of the Revolution, it was not a signal that the Old Regime was returning. It was rather an attempt to find a consensus among the French people based on a need for security. After the Revolution, many people became property holders for the first time, and they saw Revolutionary unrest as a danger to their new status.
Napoleon’s early years in the position of First Consul were an attempt to come to terms with the forces of disorder in France. In 1801, Napoleon reached what was called the Concordat with the Catholic Church, which ironed out difficulties between the church and the state. In this deal the church recognized the loss of property to the state and allowed Napoleon to appoint church officials. In exchange, the state would assure that all church officials were paid. This is an important historical moment, because it reconciled the church to the French Revolution, leaving it with a secure, although subordinate role vis-à-vis the French state.
Napoleon also settled the problem of France’s debt. The war with a group of states called the “First Coalition” lasted from 1793 to 1797. And then there was a war of the Second Coalition that ran from 1799 to 1802. Wars are expensive enterprises, as you are aware, and France desperately needed to pay for the war expenses, so that the state could repair its credit. Until that time, the state had resorted to seizing property, when it could not buy what it needed. Napoleon addressed this issue by setting up the Bank of France, which was modeled on the extremely successful Bank of England. The Bank of France controlled monetary policy and provided sufficient stability to allow the French economy to grow again, which is usually a consensus-building phenomenon. The bank would also be important later, because it also allowed Napoleon to float loans, so that he could pay for the wars that he was about to start. In the meantime, however, Napoleon needed to end the war of the Second Coalition, which had been going since 1799. He rapidly defeated Austria, signing a treaty known as the Peace of Lunéville in 1801. He was unable to defeat the British, so he came to terms with them in the treaty Treaty of Amiens, signed in 1802. Thus, three years after his coup, Napoleon brought all potentially destabilizing wars to an end.
Finally, and most importantly, Napoleon continued the process that had begun under the French Revolution, of instituting new legal codes in criminal, civil, and business proceedings. This new Code Napoleon was the final manifestation of the French Revolution’s interest in Egalité, as it made all French citizens equal before the law. In addition, it regularized all legal proceedings, getting rid of the bewildering array of courts that had characterized the Old Regime. By promulgating this new code, Napoleon signaled that he was not going back to the Old Regime. He was, indeed, the Revolution’s heir. It is telling, however, that this legal code had to be imposed by what was, in effect, a dictator, and it would be implemented by a highly centralized, intrusive, and eventually arrogant bureaucracy. In the Code Napoleon, the Revolutionary tension between authority and freedom is most obvious.
One thing to keep in mind is that Napoleon’s efforts at consolidating the Revolution while reigning in its excesses were quite popular. Napoleon was the first European statesman to make plebiscites a tool of statecraft. He held the first plebiscite in 1802, asking the people whether he should be named First Consul for life. The French people approved the measure by 99%. In 1804, Napoleon again went to the people, asking whether he should be made Emperor for life. Again, a majority of people approved of the measure. These elections were rigged, of course. Not everyone could vote, and Napoleon’s agents used every means available to get the desired outcome. The issue for us, however, is that even Napoleon felt his legitimacy emanated from the people, and the people alone. The use of plebiscites reveals clearly that the society of orders was gone for good.
We have considered how Napoleon changed and did not change France. Now let us turn to the ways that Napoleon changed Europe, for his wars and administrative innovations made Europe seem a much different place in 1815, when Napoleon was defeated for the last time, than it seemed in 1799, or even 1789. Before we can understand Napoleon’s impact we need to go back a bit to 1792, the year that the young French Republic declared war on Austria and Prussia. This was the beginning of an important theme in French politics. The war that had begun as a perceived defense of the Revolution’s gains changed into a broad agreement among the French that the Revolution’s values needed to be exported to the rest of Europe. This led to a series of conflicts. In 1793, France declared war on Britain, Holland, and Spain, ultimately enjoying great success against all, except Britain. By 1795, France had set up a so-called sister Republic in Holland, known as the Batavian Republic, and had also annexed what is today called Belgium. In addition, French Troops were occupying much of the German Rhineland. By 1796, French troops were advancing through Italy, where they eventually set up the so-called Cisalpine Republic in 1797. By 1798, French Troops were in Rome and then Egypt.
Napoleon was a product of this shift from defending the Revolution to exporting the Revolution. He was, in fact, the main reason that the French did so well in Italy, since he was the commanding general. From Napoleon’s perspective, military victory had been the key to his rise and it would be the key to his political legitimacy. From the time he became first consul in 1799, Napoleon followed a policy of conquest and annexation. This had the dual purpose of allowing him to appear strong, but it also meant that wars were not fought in France. As long as victories kept rolling in from wars in foreign lands, the French supported Napoleon, and he kept adding enemies. When a coalition of armies finally overwhelmed French power and marched into Paris in 1814, it was the first time that that city had been taken by foreign invaders in thirteen hundred years. Not coincidentally, it also marked the end of Napoleon’s reign as emperor.
So we can see that Napoleon always had the problem that he needed new enemies and new victories. In the end, his enemies became too large in number, and he was sent into exile. Let us consider how he collected enemies. By 1803, war had broken out again between Britain and France. The two had always retained a deep mutual suspicion. The problem for Napoleon was that he could never match British sea power, so when war broke out again, his Navy could do no more than run and hide—and this they didn’t even do that well. In 1805, at the battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Horatio Nelson, destroyed the remnants of the French and Spanish navies. The sea battle was over.
Having lost at sea, Napoleon turned to what we today would call economic warfare. His troops occupied Italian and northwestern European ports, preventing the importation of British goods. This merely added to Napoleon’s list of enemies, as the occupations irritated Austria and Russia, who then joined Britain in what became the war of the Third Coalition. Things went no better this time, as Napoleon defeated Austria and Russia, setting the stage for the Treaty of Pressburg, which reduced Austria significantly and extended Napoleonic France all the way from Amsterdam to modern-day Croatia. (see map) After dispensing with the Austrians and Russians, Napoleon turned on the Prussians, whom he defeated at the battles of Jena and Auerstädt in 1806. After defeating all these continental enemies, Napoleon expanded his economic war on Britain by establishing the “Continental System,” which was an attempt to ban all British goods from continental Europe. In 1807, he completed this barrier by signing the peace of Tilsit with Russia. This treaty made Russia a French ally and virtually closed the continent to British commerce.
Now we have Napoleon essentially controlling the entire European continent. Let us consider how the measures he took to reorganize these huge swaths of territory that all his wars had brought him. Napoleon’s efforts built on the French Revolution’s pattern of setting up sister republics. In 1805, he reorganized the previous Cisalpine Republic and turned it into the Kingdom of Italy. He then conveniently had himself crowned as King. After French troops pressed further down the Italian peninsula, they overran the Papal States and later annexed them to France. Finally, what had been the Kingdom of the two Sicilies, was renamed the Kingdom of Naples, and Napoleon put his brother Joseph on the throne. Thus, by 1810, France controlled in one way or another the entire Italian peninsula.
The political changes were even more dramatic in Germany than in Italy. To understand how dramatic these changes were we need to go back and consider how the German states were organized before 1789. Much of the area that we today consider Germany was included in an ancient corporatist organization called the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. This empire was founded on Christmas Day in the year 800, when the Pope crowned as Emperor, Charlemagne, who was already King of the Franks.
The empire was an old and venerable institution loved by many on Germany. It was, however, completely useless on the international scene, as it lacked any real taxation power and, thus, an army. The empire could project no power, because it was designed to protect Germany’s princes from each other. In particular, it prevented Germany’s smaller principalities from being swallowed up by the larger, more predatory ones. This system worked well for many years, basically assuring that no prince could get away with stealing another prince’s land. Nonetheless, it also prevented any kinds of meaningful reform across Germany and prevented the Germans from mounting a serious defense against outside aggression. For example, in the seventeenth century, the French King Louis XIV annexed the German province of Alsace to his kingdom, setting up a problem that we will confront again in the nineteenth century. The loss was felt deeply in the German states, since Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace had been a seat of the German Reformation. Yet amidst all the cries of foul among the Germans, the empire was unable to defend this land.
The Holy Roman Emperor’s power lay not in his title, but in his role as one of the Empire’s most powerful princes. Ever since the fifteenth century, that had been a Habsburg. As the Grand Dukes of Austria, the Habsburgs controlled what is today Austria. In addition, through a very effective marriage policy, they were able to gain control over the crowns of Hungary and Bohemia. These three crowns became the core of Habsburg power, which the family then expanded by taking large areas in Eastern Europe from the Ottoman Empire during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Austria, thus, became one of the most powerful states in all of Europe. Her reserves of strength are remarkable, when we consider that she fought France four times before participating in the final victory over Napoleon.
Yet for all the Habsburg’s great power, their status as Holy Roman Emperors actually limited them. First, we must understand that the position of Emperor was elected. Now I do not mean elected in the sense of modern elections, but that certain princes had to agree to make a Habsburg emperor. The situation is complicated, but in the eighteenth century there were seven such princely electors, Napoleon would late see that number raised to nine. Each time an Emperor died and the next Habsburg waited to be confirmed a complicated dance began in which the Habsburgs paid huge bribes, while also confirming certain privileges that each elector enjoyed. The point is that the HRE was, thus, bound by certain laws and traditions and could not simply assert his will over the entire Empire. If the emperor were to annex a small principality within the empire, then all the other states would rise up against him. This also worked for the other princes, especially the more predatory ones like Prussia. So in the end, we get an institution that was delicately balanced in a way that hemmed in the most powerful states, while also giving each state a degree of protection from its neighbors’ designs.
This old institution collapsed under the weight of Napoleon’s military might. In 1801, Napoleon had signed a treaty with the Austrians called the Treaty of Lunéville. As part of this treaty the Habsburgs recognized France’s annexation of all territories left of the Rhine. Since most of this territory was German and had been controlled by princes of the Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, in effect, ceased to exist.
It is important to concentrate on this treaty for a moment, because it marks the first step in the political changes that would come under Napoleon’s hegemony. The treaty compensated the displaced German princes from the left bank of the Rhine by giving them territory that lay further west. This usually consisted of turning over the very smallest principalities and those areas controlled by the church over to the old princes, as well as larger principalities, which Napoleon wished to court. (The three most famous examples are the Margraviate of Baden, and the Duchies of Württemberg and Bavaria. Under Napoleon, Baden would increase its territory seven-fold and its population ten-fold.) In 1805, when Austria was defeated yet again, the Empire’s remnants were completely swept away. Emperor Francis II, who had already renamed himself Francis I Emperor of Austria, declared in 1806 that the HRE ceased to exist. He did this basically to assure that Napoleon’s grateful German allies didn’t elect him to be Holy Roman Emperor.
Without any effective opposition, Napoleon was now free to remake Europe in his own image. Let us begin with Germany. In addition to annexing everything to the left of the Rhine, Napoleon turned to Germany’s medium-sized states, Baden, Württemberg, and Bavaria, giving each substantial territory that was intended to bind the new rulers to him. He also gave each of the rulers new titles. The Margraves of Baden became Grand Dukes, and the Dukes of Württemberg and Bavaria became Kings, respectively. In addition, Napoleon created two entirely new German states, the Kingdom of Westphalia and the Duchy of Berg. These states were to be model French states, subject to all the reforms and innovations that had characterized the French Revolution in France. Not coincidentally, Napoleon put his brother Jerome on the throne of Westphalia and he put a favored general in the Duke’s seat in Berg. Then, added to all this, Napoleon put all these small states together in what was called the Confederation of the Rhine, an organization that was to be completely subservient to French interests.
Napoleon, of course, did not stop with Germany. In 1805, the Batavian Republic was renamed the Kingdom of the Netherlands and another Napoleonic brother, this time Louis, was put on that throne. Two years earlier, the Helvetic Republic was reconstituted as another Swiss Confederation, but this time Napoleon was its official protector. He also put a favored General named Bernadotte on the throne in Sweden, in addition to putting yet another brother on the throne in Spain. Finally, after Prussia’s defeat in 1807, Napoleon carved the ethnically Polish regions out of Prussia and set up the Duchy of Warsaw, which was intended to be a friendly support for France in Eastern Europe. Thus, Napoleon set up an entire ring of puppet states that would support him, sometimes more and sometimes less, in each of his enterprises, particularly the Continental System. When this system began to unravel, it became yet another excuse for another war. This time, however, the war would spell the end of Napoleon’s empire.
Before we consider how this system came to an end, let us examine other changes that Napoleon wrought beyond his reorganization of political borders. Here we will see most clearly the deep and long-lasting effects that Napoleon had on Europe. Napoleon’s subordinates in these new states planned and executed reforms in four major areas, based on the original French model. First, came an attack on all the institutional arrangements of the Old Regime. All the old particularities of a society based on orders were swept away by the implementation of a uniform system of government and administration. Henceforth there would only be equal citizens under one law. The second area was legal and judicial. The Napoleonic code was implemented in all these areas and all the special legal exceptions for the church, nobility, and guilds were removed. Now everyone was subject to equal taxation.
The third and fourth areas covered the nobility and the Catholic Church. (In Protestant areas things were different.) Napoleonic governments suppressed all seigniorial privileges, allowing the sale of agricultural property to anyone and making all labor free. This was important in two ways. First, traditionally only nobles could own noble estates. Now anyone with the money could afford to buy land. Second, peasants were no longer tied to their estates. This may seem like a good deal, but peasants often got very little for their new freedom. From our perspective this change is important because it set the stage for a later mass movement of rural labor into the cities. Finally, to return to the reforms themselves, the new states “secularized,” that is to say confiscated, most church property, selling it off to the highest bidder. What this means is that Napoleonic reforms changed the basis of land ownership in the occupied areas.
For all the general changes involved, however, in these puppet states, we need to refine the picture slightly, to see where Napoleon succeeded and where he failed. The reforms show us, albeit on a smaller scale, the Napoleonic tendency toward authoritarianism. Citizens were equal before the law, but none of them had much to say in response to the law’s implementation. The system was top-down, administered by people trained to enforce the law, and no one asked the people what they thought of the laws. Yet here we begin to see some of the differences. This system worked fine for France, since the people there had already been worn down by ten years of Revolutionary unrest by Napoleon’s arrival. The new states were, however, in a completely different situation. Their leaders were not necessarily as receptive to French ideas. Occasionally, the new leaders saw their interests in a different way, and they left some of the Old Regime in place. So what we get is a mixed picture of reform in which certain aspects of the Old Regime survived while others were thrown away to be replaced by new social and economic forms.
The non-French Napoleonic states are, thus, exactly the point where we can see most clearly the effects of Revolutionary ideas and their limitations. Measures such as equality before the law remained on the books, even if not always applied impartially. The entire edifice of noble privilege was destroyed, as nobles had to pay taxes, and continued to pay them even after Napoleon’s fall. The Napoleonic Code was introduced throughout Switzerland, Italy, and Holland, remaining influential for many years. In all of these states, the victory of the counter-revolution in 1814-15 could not turn back the clock.
There are, however, important regional differences in this picture of change. Germany presents a particularly muddled picture. The German legal system was organized in a completely different fashion from the new Napoleonic code, as it heavily emphasized tradition and particularity, whereas the Code Napoleon was completely new and was imposed from the top down. There was, thus, always intrinsic resistance to the code, even in the areas most loyal to Napoleon. The Code Napoleon really only went into complete effect on the left bank of the Rhine. Most other German states resisted its total implementation, picking and choosing items they thought were most appropriate.
Having considered some of the individual cases, let’s step back on look at the Napoleonic system from a broader perspective. Although the Napoleonic system had its problems, by comparison to what had come before, it also had definite advantages. The years 1802-1812 brought a stability to Europe that it had not seen since 1789. The new Napoleonic administration restored order, reduced brigandage and the problem of highway robbery, and it rebuilt the infrastructure, repairing roads and bridges, or building new ones. Napoleon’s system had its costs. There were high taxes and conscription, but the new system brought benefits. The administration seemed to respect consistent legal norms, and in general its benefits outweighed the costs for many.
The relative political stability and security that Napoleon brought also ushered in a period of economic prosperity. The first decade of the nineteenth century saw good harvests and high grain prices, which kept the countryside happy. There even seems to be some evidence that breaking up the Old Regime help farmers to become more efficient. And whereas farming seems to have improved, the manufacturing sector of the economy took off. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, manufacturing seems to have been 50% higher than during the Old Regime. This manufacturing upsurge occurred in France, but also in parts of Belgium, Germany, and Bohemia. By eliminating British competition, Napoleon’s Continental system seems to have spurred industrial growth on the Continent.
Napoleon’s system did, however, bring other economic costs. In contrast to manufacturing, maritime trade was completely destroyed by the war with Britain. Port cities, particularly places like Bordeaux, often shrank by a third. In some cases, grass grew in the streets, because there was no one there to take care of the infrastructure. This would have costs later for Europe, since trade and manufacturing became split, so that Europeans had difficulty getting their products to international markets. The British had no such trouble, of course. In other cities, beyond those involved in maritime trade, the Napoleonic system seems to have done fairly well. The period 1802 to 1812 saw full employment for urban craftsmen, which made Napoleon extremely popular among the so-called sans-culottes. Thus, in general, there was relatively little opposition to the Napoleonic regime. There were some who lost, but more people gained, and combined with the general weariness that the events of the French Revolution brought on in many, the years 1802 to 1812 were rather tame. It would take military defeat to remove Napoleon from power.
Napoleon would finally be brought to his knees by the never-ending conflict with Britain. No matter what he did, the Brits still hung around, and in fact grew stronger. Although the Continental System hurt British commerce initially, the value of Britain’s products on the European market far outweighed the risks of running afoul of Napoleon’s laws. The result was a huge smuggling operation developed that tried to sneak British products onto the Continent at enormous profits. Things got so out of hand, in fact, that some of the profits wound up lining the pockets of French administrators, who gladly turned a blind eye to the trade in exchange for cash. The system of smuggling became so huge and so regular that insurance companies even began writing policies to cover for smugglers’ losses. The Continental system was simply too porous and unwieldy to achieve Napoleon’s aims. This led Napoleon to take drastic actions to prevent further incursions of British good, and these actions eventually led to his downfall.
We will begin tracing Napoleon’s fall by looking to Spain in 1807. Spain had experienced a great deal of bad luck in the international arena. Originally, the Spanish opposed France during the War of the First coalition. This brought them only a French invasion and occupation. So the Spanish switched sides, turning on their erstwhile British allies, but this on resulted in the Spanish fleet being sent to the bottom of the ocean. The Spanish also confronted problems in their attempts to reform along French lines. Spaniards had grown weary of the French occupation, and they focused their anger toward France through their religion. A Catholic counter-current gained strength in Spain through perceptions of French anti-clericalism. This came to a head when Spain’s King, Charles IV, considered implementing a series of French-style reforms, among which were plans to secularize church property. The King’s son, Ferdinand, was violently opposed to any such plans, which set the stage for a political conflict.
At the very moment when this political conflict was coming to a head, a French army passed through Spain on its way to Portugal. Napoleon planned to occupy Portugal, because its main port of Lisbon was a center of the smuggling trade. While these troops were in Spain, however, both the King and Ferdinand appealed to the Emperor for help against the other side. Napoleon responded by calling both men to Paris, where he informed them how unreliable they were and deposed them, putting his brother Joseph, who had only been named the king of Naples the year before, on the Spanish throne. (The vacant Neapolitan throne went to a French general who also happened to be Napoleon’s brother-in-law.)
The Spaniards did not take this change in rulers well and rebellions broke out across the country. A series of provincial juntas were organized to oppose the new Spanish government, and these juntas then found common cause with a catholic revival and the British. With the Brits protecting coastal towns for the juntas, a guerilla war erupted that although it could not displace the French from Spain forced Napoleon to commit resources to the region that he would need desperately later. In the end, Napoleon had to commit some 300,000 men to pacifying Spain. This was a significant commitment of forces. It was, in fact, only 50,000 men fewer than Napoleon would send to Russia in 1812.
Meanwhile, the Austrians were watching. Eventually, things got so serious in Spain that Napoleon had to take command of the troops himself. This was the Austrian’s cue for action. They looked at the Spanish uprising and concluded not only that France was vulnerable but also that any successful action against Napoleon must be done with the people’s help, that is French nationalism had to be fought with German nationalism. The problem with this call to nationalism was that the other German princes felt threatened by it. The princes in Napoleon’s confederation of the Rhine contributed 100,000 troops to the army that Napoleon would lead against the Austrians. By May 1809, Napoleon and his army were in Vienna and the Austrians had to sue for peace. Napoleon had weathered the storm, but his problems were only just beginning.
The problems that Napoleon confronted in 1808-09 led time to extend his control even further into Europe. First, he tried to control the entire European coast more effectively. As part of the peace treaty with Austria, France seized control of what was called the Illyrian coast (roughly today’s Croatia). Napoleon then annexed the entire North Sea coast from Holland to Hamburg. In addition, he also annexed the Papal States, extending his control deeper into the Mediterranean.
Unfortunately for Napoleon, his economic woes mounted. The harvests of 1810 and 1811 were bad, and the prosperity on which so much of his empire had been based vanished. This sent shockwaves throughout the system. Europe’s coastal cities were already unhappy at their economic situation and now more places and people were added to the ranks of the discontent. We can see how serious the situation had become for Napoleon, when we consider that in annexing Holland he displaced his own brother from the throne. Moreover, Bernadotte, Napoleon’s former general and King of Sweden balked at any attempt to extend the embargo, and he was Napoleon’s friend. It was, therefore, no surprise that Russia refused to continue with the embargo any longer. All in all, the wheels were starting to come off the entire system.
Russia’s decision to back out of the embargo gave Napoleon the perfect pretext for war, which was of course what he was really good at. In 1812, Napoleon collected what at that point was the largest army in the world 650,000 men strong. 300,000 of the men came from Napoleon’s allies, the other 350,000 were French. This was a massive undertaking, but the very size of the army hindered its performance. First, having so many men together meant that the army could not live off the land, as other of Napoleon’s armies had done. Eastern Europe was simply too poor to support an army of that size. Second, because it could not live of the land the army needed a huge baggage train, which slowed it down and prevented the kind of quick deployments and hard strikes that had made Napoleon such a devastating enemy before. Third, the Russians exploited these weaknesses brilliantly by playing a delaying game. The Russians rarely offered Napoleon any battles, simply retreating further back into Russia’s great mass of land. As they did so, they practiced a scorched earth policy--burning anything that Napoleon’s army might have eaten.
Napoleon did make it all the way to Moscow and took the city. This, however, accomplished nothing, since the Russians had evacuated the city and burned much of it. Napoleon sat in the Kremlin for a month waiting for the Russians to sue for peace, but they never showed up. With his army exhausted and poorly fed and with winter approaching, Napoleon ordered a retreat in 1812. The Russians and the Russian Winter did not, however, offer him an easy exit. The army constantly dogged the retreat and an early winter savaged the poor men. By the time Napoleon crossed the border into Prussia, only 100,000 of his original 650,000 men were left. Napoleon hastened back to Paris to set up a new army for the attack that he knew was to come.
Here we can see just how efficient the Napoleonic state had become. By the spring of 1813, Napoleon had another sizeable army at his disposal, although many of the men were untrained. But the blood was already in the water. One of the Prussian generals, General Yorck, who had led a Prussian force in Napoleon’s march to Moscow, switched sides, calling for a German national uprising against Napoleon. Yorck had essentially committed treason, since he had switched sides without his King’s permission, but the King nervously went along with the change in policy and, in the end, the Prussians raised a 100,000-man army to fight Napoleon. The Austrians also joined the coalition against Napoleon, and along with the Russians the new coalition defeated Napoleon in October 1813 in a battle outside of Leipzig that came to be called the Battle of the Nations. Once this defeat registered, the entire system collapsed. All of Napoleon’s German allies switched sides. Sweden declared war on France. The British and the Spanish untied to throw the French out of Spain, chasing them right over the Pyrenees. By March 1814, Russian, Prussian, and Austrian troops took Paris. Napoleon was forced to abdicate and he went to the Mediterranean island of Elba, which the victorious powers had given him to rule. Elba was, however, too small for the former Emperor, so he staged a comeback. In March 1815, he escaped Elba and returned to France. In the ensuing “100 Days,” Napoleon raised another army that was then defeated by another great coalition at the battle of Waterloo in Belgium. This time the victorious powers made sure that Napoleon would no longer be a problem, exiling him to a cold and wet island in the Atlantic called St. Helena. Napoleon and the French Revolution were finally over.
So what does all this mean? How are we to understand the role Napoleon played on the world stage? Above all Napoleon represents the end of feudalism. The French revolution had ended feudalism in France, but Napoleon exported those changes across Europe. It was Napoleon who institutionalized the changes wrought by 1789, and he provided the stable environment in which those institutions could become permanent. For the first time, people were able to enjoy the benefits that ending feudalism brought to society. From this point on, too many people had a stake in retaining the changes Napoleon had brought to allow the Old Regime to return. In addition, for the first time, European states, especially France, had a large cadre of highly trained bureaucrats who would never consent to a return to the old ways. Their positions were based on the equality of law and they had grown accustomed to making decisions that affected the entire state, not just the one group over which they had control. In sum, although much had remained the same, in important and fundamental ways, the world had changed under Napoleon and there was no going back. The famous German historian Thomas Nipperdey began his three-volume history of Germany with the words “Am Anfang war Napoleon.” (In the beginning, was Napoleon.) Napoleon was both a beginning and an end. In our next hour, we will consider on of many beginnings that lurked in the New Regime that Napoleon had helped to bring about.

Lecture 11: The Enlightenment

In the lecture on Enlightenment and revolution I discussed the origins and the basic outlines of the Enlightenment. I noted that it was a European-wide movement that used reason to evaluate the social, economic, and political structures of the age. The rhetoric of rationality can be found in all regions of Europe, England, Scotland, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, the German states and across Russia as well. Today, I will discuss in detail some of the Enlightenment’s most important thinkers, in order to give you a sense for how reason was used in these various places in public life and to consider as well reason’s fate by the end of the century.
I will begin by considering three French thinkers, Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Rousseau. As you know, in France enlightened thinkers were called philosophes, because they thought critically about all things that came before them. The first great philosophe was Baron Montesquieu (1689-1755). Born into the nobility of Bordeaux, Montesquieu studied law before becoming a member of Bordeaux’s parliament. He was soon bored, however, by politics, and around 1710 retired to his estate where he spent the rest of his life reading the ancients and pondering the problems of his age.
The results of Montesquieu’s withdrawal into private life were two of the most important books in the history of the eighteenth century. In 1721, Montesquieu published The Persian Letters. This text fit into an established European genre of the time travel literature. (You have seen one example of this in Oroonoko.) In a generic travel tale some European who had visited a strange place such as Istanbul or the New World would report back on his experiences. The Persian Letters were not an actual travel tale, but a fictitious account of two Persians who come to France and comment on all the strange happenings there.
This text was an enormously subversive piece of literature. Using the Persian as a foil, Montesquieu launched a broad critique of European cultural practices. For example, he had one character in his text named Uzbek report back to his compatriots that in this strange society people actually believe that three equals one, that blood and flesh can come from wine and unleavened bread, and that the monarch has the magical power to heal the sick. (Montesquieu was referring here to the so-called Royal Touch, or the king’s ability to heal scrofula by laying on hands.) These observations were all meant to show that some of Europe’s cultural practices actually made little sense from a foreign point of view. Culture was becoming a relative thing.
Still, Montesquieu also offered positive commentary. Uzbek pointed out a number of things in which the French could take pride, though Uzbek did not understand them. Women did not wear veils and were actually allowed to talk to men. Slavery did not exist in France, but the economy was enormously productive. Uzbek even speculated that this was so because the state and religion stayed out of people’s economic lives, leaving the French with the freedom to pursue their own interests. What is important for you to understand here is how important Montesquieu’s conclusion was. Based on all this discussion Montesquieu concluded that however much cultural practices might differ around the globe, there is one true universal value--freedom.
Montesquieu’s cultural relativism was, therefore, based on the idea that there was a still higher law to which all human activity should submit. As was the case with Newton and Locke, the universe is a place of laws; only the law that interested him was the law of freedom. Montesquieu then directed his interest in laws to matters of politics. Here his long engagement with ancient literature became important. In 1748, Montesquieu published his masterpiece, The Spirit of the Laws, which was a sustained commentary on the various forms of government that have organized human affairs in the past.
Borrowing from the ancients, Montesquieu identified four forms of government: democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, and despotism. Unlike the classical Greeks, however, Montesquieu inverted the order of preference. In general, the Greeks approved of monarchy and aristocracy, while Montesquieu preferred democracy. In his view, democracy was that government that spread virtue most evenly among the populace. Still, Montesquieu feared a fully democratic government; as he should have, given that he was a noble. So he developed the idea of a mixed government that would use the best aspects of the monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic forms. He thought this was possible by separating these powers in separate branches of government. As you can already see, this idea had an enormous influence here in the United States, as the idea of mixed government was directly inscribed into the US constitution.
The second philosophe that I will consider today is Voltaire. If there is one French figure that embodies every aspect of the Enlightenment—for better and worse—it is Voltaire. Born in 1694 into a comfortable middle-class family in Paris, Voltaire was sent to the Jesuits to get a top-flight education. He was always grateful for the education he received, but like many other members of the Enlightenment, Voltaire questioned many of the assumptions that guided his parents’ and the Jesuits’ worldview. Supposedly destined for a career in law, Voltaire rebelled and pursued interests in the theater and poetry. His family was not amused and had him thrown in jail through an infamous legal instrument called a lettre de câchet. This experience merely alienated Voltaire further, but the biggest turning point in his life came in 1726, when he challenged a noble to a duel. This was not done, since Voltaire was a commoner, and the noble tried to have Voltaire thrown in jail for his impertinence. Voltaire heard of the planned arrest and thought it a good time to leave the country; hence, he went to England to live in exile.
Voltaire spent the late 1720s in England learning English, and grew enamored of England’s politics, philosophy, and science. There he met such luminaries as Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, George Berkeley, and Sir Robert Walpole. He admired English economic theory, especially Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees, was extremely interested in the Quakers, and became an enthusiastic convert to Newtonianism. When Voltaire returned to France in early 1729, he decided to present England to his compatriots as the very model of an enlightened society.
In 1734, Voltaire published his Lettres philosophiques that instructed the French in the glories of English culture. Among other things he noted that England was free because parliament checked the king’s power. In addition, he held that true freedom included economics, as state interference in the economy prevented people from acting in their own interests. Finally, Voltaire noted that England was free, because religious tolerance characterized daily life there.
Voltaire was enormously important in shaping the Continental view of England. In addition to lauding English politics and economics, he also helped England become the place for science. In 1738, he published Éléments de la philosophie de Newton, which popularized Newton’s scientific approach on the Continent. But Voltaire was also important in other realms. He wrote history books and plays. He commented publicly on political events, including the unjust execution of Jean Calas, a Protestant who was accused of murdering his son to prevent the latter’s conversion to Catholicism. Calas was broken on the wheel, protesting his innocence to the end. Voltaire was scandalized, and wrote a series of attacks on the stupidity of the church and the political authorities that served it.
Throughout his literary career, Voltaire attacked things that seemed irrational, that were unjust, and that limited human freedom. Voltaire did not do this from Paris, however, for he remained in exile much of his life. He spent some time in Berlin with Frederick II, and also lived in Geneva, but was chased out by the city’s religious authorities. Later in life he settled down on an estate in Fermey, a Swiss territory just across the French border, where he was safe from the French police. Just be sure, however, he also bought an estate on the French side of the border to which he planned to flee were the Swiss authorities to come for him. (Voltaire well recognized that he had a gift for making enemies.) In 1778, Voltaire returned to Paris for the last time, in order to direct a play. He died during that year, a hero to all Frenchmen.
The final French figure that I will consider today is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was the key figure in eighteenth-century thought. He is often viewed as the first of the Romantics, but he was, in fact deeply rooted in the Enlightenment. Born in 1712 in Geneva to an artisan family, Rousseau was deeply influenced by the moral earnestness of Geneva’s Calvinist environment, though he thought that life in Geneva was too narrow and constricting for him. He fled Geneva and went to Paris, spending much of his 20s and 30s bouncing from one trade to the next.
Rousseau’s great opportunity for fame appeared in 1749 at the age of 37, when the Dijon Academy held a prize essay competition on the question of whether the arts and sciences had advanced or corrupted morality. Rousseau’s response was the now classic “Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.” In this text Rousseau argued that the progress of arts and sciences had harmed morality, because income inequality had led to moral corruption. The arts were a slave to money and consumption, not the human spirit. This was a direct attack on the Enlightenment, which was rooted deeply in patronage. Rousseau won the prize largely because the Dijon Academy was conservative and opposed the Enlightenment, and the victory made him an instant celebrity.
Two years later, the Academy offered another prize for the best essay that dealt with the origins of inequality. Rousseau responded with “Discourse on the Origins of Inequality,” in which he argued that inequality came as the result of the accumulation of private property. This essay did not win the prize, because it was deemed too radical. It did, however, incorporate themes that would be important to Rousseau’s great work The Social Contract, holding that man in a state of nature was free, and that property had destroyed that blessed state. This insistence on the corrupting nature of society led to a stark break with Rousseau’s enlightened allies, especially after the Discourse was published in 1755. When he originally argued that the arts and sciences were corrupting morals, his argument was interesting but not dangerous to the elite. Indeed, he was a salon favorite for a while in Paris, mostly because he was so weird and obviously did not belong to the crowd. To argue, however, that private property was the problem made everyone insecure. Just think how Voltaire would have felt, were he to be denied his private sanctuary.
In the 1760s, Rousseau’s stark Calvinist morality led him down a path different from the rest of the Parisian Enlightenment. In 1762, he published the Social Contract, which tried to understand how we can create a society in which everyone is free, but still retain a sense of community. The text’s opening line is justly. It runs, “Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” Rousseau argued in this text that humanity couldn’t go back to the state of nature. Instead, what he wanted to create was a state in which the freedoms of the state of nature could be guaranteed in the present, and in order to do so he developed the philosophical concept of the General Will.
The General Will was, in its purest form, is a combination of the historical, cultural, and social circumstances of a given polity. In terms of policy, this will is not merely the will of the majority, but a policy that is best for everyone across the board. In practical terms this meant a polity in which no one could become too rich or too poor, and everyone could maintain their individual rights. There are, however, some problems with Rousseau. It is never clear how this General Will can be determined, since it is not a matter of simple majority rule. What is clear, however, is that the community—once it has decided--can discipline those people who violate the General Will. As Rousseau put it, they can be “forced to be free.” There are, as a result, many scholars who see the origins of modern totalitarianism in Rousseau’s philosophy.
Rousseau’s austere moral vision enjoyed wide influence. Thinkers as different as Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant became fans. Kant, in fact, had only one picture on the wall of his study in Königsberg, a portrait of Rousseau. Rousseau’s most significant contribution came, however, through his novel The Emile (1762). The Emile was supposedly a novel about education, though it really traces the education of a noble child by a tutor. The novel’s argument is, in essence, that vice is alien to children, since they are born innocent. The task of education is, therefore, to work with nature and to avoid the inculcation of vice. Thus, teachers should let children run wild and remain innocent, inducting them into civilization in the gentlest way.
As I have already noted at length, the Enlightenment was a European movement, with sources in many different countries and languages. Now, I want to turn briefly to three other thinkers from different countries, in order to show how general but also how diverse this movement was. I will begin with David Hume, before moving to Cesare Beccaria, and finishing with Immanuel Kant.
David Hume was a member of the Scottish Enlightenment. Born in 1711, he is a rough contemporary of Rousseau and, like Rousseau, grew up in a Calvinist society. By the age of 20, however, Hume had rejected much of religion, particularly English Puritanism. It is not clear why he turned against religion, but it is clear that he had read Locke, Newton, and Cicero by the time his change occurred. During his twenties, Hume moved toward a Lockean empiricism, holding that all we can know is derived from sense experience. All our concepts are nothing more than sense experience reformulated, which means that there are no absolutes, no laws, no cause and effect, and no science. The only thing we can be sure of is pleasure and pain. Hume published some of his philosophical speculations at the time, particularly in the Treatise on Human Nature (1739), though his radical skepticism led him into a dead end. If there is only pleasure and pain, what is there left to talk about? By 1750 Hume locked up much of his philosophical speculations in a cabinet and proceeded to publish on matters of history and politics.
In writing on matters of history Hume refused to accept any grand historical theses. Hume saw history in small terms, as nothing more than the story of man groping for a polity that is based on vague ideas. All history was for Hume merely a grand experiment, in which some things worked and others did not. In politics, the best system for Hume was that which survived and stood the test of time. Thus, in Hume’s view, The British Parliamentary system was good because it was still around, and as long as it survived—and worked—it was owed respect and obedience.
Hume’s ideas in history and politics injected into the British Enlightenment an aversion to fanaticism and utopianism. Politics was the realm of the possible and the practical. Hume rejected Rousseau’s grand designs for a more just politics. For him politics is simply what people do in the political arena. Of course, Hume did not reject comparisons between political systems. He believed, for instance, that tyranny was bad, but not because it undermined the individual or violated his rights. No, tyranny was bad because people rebelled against it, which only made matters worse. In Hume’s view whatever was was right, and there was no use worrying about the rest. This fundamentally conservative position became extremely influential in early-modern England.
Having completed my survey of Hume, I turn now to Italy and Beccaria. It was once believed that the Italian Enlightenment was fragmented and moribund. Thanks to the work of Franco Venturi and others, however, historians have rediscovered a vibrant world of enlightened debate. In this context, it is important to understand that Italy was a fragmented region; it was not a unified as a political entity until 1870. Contrary to what was once believed, however, Italy’s political fragmentation was not a sign of weakness. In fact, its many political centers, Naples, Rome, Florence, and Milan—just to name—a few sparked a remarkable diversity of ideas. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany, for example, with its capital at Florence, was one of the leading enlightened absolutist states in the second half of the eighteenth century, under the leadership of the Habsburg Duke Leopold, who later became Holy Roman Emperor as Leopold II.
Milan was also an important center of enlightened thought. A major commercial and industrial center in the eighteenth century, Milan was connected to a large intellectual network that extended into northern Europe. Milan even had an enlightened academy that became a center for reading and discussion of the latest ideas. Out of this milieu emerged one of Italy’s more celebrated enlightened minds Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794). Beccaria was the son of a minor noble. After a youthful break with his family, he returned to the fold in the 1760s to become part of an enlightened circle in Milan.
In the early 1760s Beccaria began publishing reform-minded texts, including one that appeared in 1762 on monetary reform. In 1763, Beccaria began an intense study of law that resulted in 1764 with the publication of his classic On Crimes and Punishments (Dei dellitti e delle pene). This text made him an immediate celebrity and is the foundation of the modern approach to crime and punishment. In it Beccaria criticized the corruption and excess punishments of the existing system, holding that the certainty of punishment not its severity deterred future crimes. The idea was only to prevent a recurrence of the crime; anything beyond that would be tyranny. Hence, he concluded that the punishments should be scaled to coincide with the severity of the crime.
Beccaria’s ideas spread across Europe rapidly in translations into French, Dutch, German, and English. In 1777, an edition even appeared in the British Colonies of North America. His opposition to excessive punishments, in which he included capital punishment, then became the foundation for all future discussions of penal laws. To the extent that our own penal system is enlightened, it finds its origins in Beccaria.
The last enlightened figure I will discuss is Immanuel Kant. Some of you will know him as one of history’s greatest philosophers, a man against whom all modern philosophy is measured. Kant calls our attention to the similarities between Italy and Germany in the eighteenth century. Germany was also politically fragmented, though there were many pockets of enlightened discussion in places such as Leipzig, Göttingen, Hamburg, Berlin, and Weimar. Kant was not in any of these cities, but lived and worked in Königsberg, a town on the Baltic that was connected to the Baltic economy that I discussed in other lectures. Königsberg was small and out of the way, but its status as a port town made it a lively place. The university of Königsberg, which had been founded in 1544, provided a realm for education and discussion. Moreover, the presence of a large and diverse merchant community meant that there was a constant exchange of news and ideas.
It is in this context that we must understand both the cosmopolitan nature and universal importance of Kant’s thought. Born in 1724 into an artisan family, Kant was educated in a strict Pietist setting, before beginning his studies at the University of Königsberg in 1740. Kant began by studying theology, though he showed more interest in philosophy and mathematics. Among others Kant read the works of the German philosopher Christian Wolff and the English scientist Isaac Newton. Wolff is known today as an interpreter of Leibniz, and his philosophy is famous for trying to shoehorn moral and teleological ideas into physical discussions. Newton, of course, expelled morality and teleology from the physical universe, and Kant spent much of his philosophical career moving between these two poles.
The outcome of Kant’s philosophical speculations is the famous Critical Philosophy, which brought together the Newtonian universe with the moral freedom that had been so important to Wolff and Leibniz. In the 1780s, Kant published three critiques that are the cornerstone of all modern philosophical debate. (Today, as a philosopher, you can disagree with Kant, but you must still confront his arguments fully.) In the Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgment Kant outlined a philosophical foundation for all knowledge that accepted the basic arguments of empiricists such as Locke and Hume, overcame the problem of freedom associated with Newtonian physics, and retained the respect for morality in Wolff and Rousseau.
Kant was the quintessential enlightened thinker. He read widely, questioned everything, published a good deal, and created a system of thought that encouraged change without yielding to the desire to overthrow everything. It is, therefore, in his philosophy that we see the highest point of both the eighteenth century and the early-modern world. When the French Revolution spilled over its borders, many of Kant’s careful compromises and exact definitions were swept away. It was left to other philosophers such as Fichte and Hegel to rethink the rhythms of the modern world. The early-modern world was carefully balanced, widely dispersed, and extremely fragile. When French Revolutionary and, later, Napoleonic armies traversed Europe the modern world was born. That is a subject for another class. I hope that you have enjoyed the story I have told you in this one.

Lecture 10: Enlightenment and Revolution

On July 4, 1776 a bunch of angry men meeting in Philadelphia made public one of the most important documents in the history of the world. It has become known as the Declaration of Independence, and its opening sentences read:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I am sure that many of you have heard these words before. But how many of you have actually stopped to consider just how ridiculous they are? Look around your world today, and it becomes clear that we are not all created equal. Some people are smarter than others, some more athletic, some better looking, some harder working. And what about this notion of rights given to us by God?
This text seems all the more preposterous, when we consider when it was written. At the moment that Britain’s North American colonies declared their independence there was not one single national democracy in the entire world. There were some vaguely democratic city-states in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, but most of them had degenerated into oligarchies by the eighteenth century. Looking around Europe we see kings everywhere, in places such as Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and France. In Britain, parliament was powerful, but the king was still that nation’s key political institution. If we look to areas such as Africa and Asia during the same period we see nothing but hereditary, unelected leaders. Moreover, in Mexico, central, and South America the Spanish monarchy held sway. In general, monarchy was unquestioned around the globe in 1776.
This seems like a dour picture, and from our modern perspective it is. But were you able to travel into the past and ask the average person what form of government they thought was best, you would likely get a stupid look and some simple answers. Of course, people should live under kings. That is how it has always been. Moreover, people don’t have rights, but privileges that are associated with their birth and station. And what would be the point of changing these things? What I am describing here are the social, political, and intellectual arrangements that people in the late eighteenth century came to call the ancien régime, or old regime. This term is a useful one for understanding two things: first, the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence and in France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man changed how people thought about government and its relationship to the people; second, the American Revolution and then, later, the French Revolution altered how people thought about the past. The ancien régime was old. Looking back on the past from the perspective of the American and French revolutions, people began to see the old order as something whose time had passed. Modern people were on the other side of an unbridgeable divide. So now let us go back over this divide and consider how the old regime organized. Since we have already discussed France’s history in some detail, I will use it as a familiar model.
As you know, before the Revolution of 1789 France was divided into three orders: the nobility, which was called the first estate; the clergy, the second estate; and then everybody else, the third estate. Above all three was the king. France’s system of government was based on a theoretical balance among the various estates. The French legislative body, called the estates-general gave each order one vote. The nobility and the clergy usually voted together, which meant that the third estate rarely had any say in anything. And since some 99% of the population belonged to the third estate, pre-revolutionary France could hardly qualify as a democracy. Moreover, since the king’s interests were usually bound up with those of the nobility and the clergy, the third estate’s interests were rarely defended, at best. Now, add to this system the sheer inertia of tradition and history. In 1787, the year the Constitution of the United States was written, the French could look back (in theory) to eight hundred years of monarchy. (The first French monarchs, the Capetians, were crowned in 987.) So if, in 1776, the average Frenchman was a monarchist, it was because any other form of government was simply inconceivable.
The men—and they were exclusively men—the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence are heroes to many people today, particularly Americans. They were, however, renegades from all the world’s then-accepted traditions. That we have come to accept many of their ideas about the need for citizens to have basic rights vis-à-vis their governments does not change the fact that very few people would have agreed with them back then. What I want you to understand is that the Declaration of Independence is a modern myth—a glorious one, perhaps—but a myth, nonetheless. The American vision of government of by and for the people was constructed. That is, it was created by people who sought their own best advantage. The ideas in the text, the assumptions it harbors about the nature of God and Man, were all products of a particular time and place. Both the people involved and their ideas are rooted in their experiences, and the central experience I want to highlight for the Declaration is the movement known as the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment was a broad eighteenth-century intellectual movement. It appeared in many different countries, such as Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, and Switzerland, and the British Colonies in North America. If we are to characterize it most broadly, we can say that it had two core beliefs. First, the Enlightenment believed in the power of reason. The human being had been given reason by God, which meant that people had not merely the right but also the duty to exercise their minds and render critical judgments of the world around them. In 1781, for example, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote in Critique of Pure Reason, “Our age is, in especial degree, the age of criticism, and to criticism everything must submit.”
Second, the Enlightenment believed fervently in progress. Looking back on a medieval past from their glorious age, the men of the eighteenth century remarked on their distance and separation from the past. European cities were wealthier and ran better. There was a livelier social life, as salons, coffee houses, and social clubs sprouted everywhere. The people were more educated and refined. Education was no longer a province of the wealthy nobility alone. And in matters of religion people were only beginning to free themselves from thousands of years of Christian superstition. At least that is how France’s philosophes, the French term for a member of the Enlightenment, saw things. The great French man of the Enlightenment Voltaire, for example, attacked religion with his famous battle cry, écrasez l’infame, or destroy the infamous thing, by which he meant the church. For the men of the Enlightenment, there was a God, but he never did anything as silly as send his son to be crucified, forbid Jews to eat pork, or send the archangel Gabriel to chat with Mohammed. The Enlightenment’s God was a master architect, a benevolent, rational creator of the stunning and marvelous universe in which man found himself. God had given man reason, and now man must use his reason to understand the mysteries and glories of this divine world. Thus far, I have spoken of the Enlightenment in very broad terms. Now, however, I want to locate it more specifically in time and place. The Enlightenment was not merely an eighteenth-century movement; its roots go back far into the seventeenth century, and extend into many countries. For our purposes, however, we will say that the Enlightenment began in England with the publication of two major works. The first is Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, which appeared in 1687. The second is John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which appeared in 1690.
Why are these texts so important? The Principia offered a wholly new way of understanding the universe. Newton’s law of universal gravitation not only explained how the planets moved, but also allowed predictions to be made of future behavior. For example, using Newton’s methods, scientists could now predict with a relative degree of certainty where planets would be in the sky, and could also explain how the planets interacted. Locke’s text provided a wholly physical explanation of human cognition. For Locke, all knowledge began in the senses, and human ideas were based on the acquisition and contemplation of sense experience. This was important, because it separated the human mind from God. Human beings did not get their knowledge directly from their creator, but within the world that He had made for them. Thus, both Newton and Locke justified a sense of independence from God and human tradition. If human reason could unlock the universe’s laws, then it could also tell us how to organize societies and maybe even governments. This was a completely new conception of authority, and it would have important effects on eighteenth-century thought, as Newtonianism traveled to the Continent, where it sparked further debates and investigations that ran through the eighteenth century.
Having located the Enlightenment’s origins in time, let us now consider where the Enlightenment was to be found in European society. Put most simply, the Enlightenment was rooted in two developments: the rise of print, and the development of sociability. First, print. We have already seen in Newton and Locke that books were important to cultural developments in the seventeenth century. From 1650 onward a large market in books and journals developed across Europe, as people began to demand different forms of entertainment. Having a Bible and a catechism on the shelf was no longer enough. This was rooted, in part, in Europe’s increasing wealth; some people now had enough money to buy more than one book, or even to subscribe to a newspaper or journal. Books and journals could, and did, travel far and wide across Europe, affecting minds in places that would have remained isolated without access to print. A classic example of this development is Immanuel Kant, who was a professor of philosophy at the University of Königsberg, a small city on the Baltic in what was then called East Prussia. (Now it is called Kaliningrad and is part of Russia.) Kant received almost all of his news from a local bookseller, and would visit the bookseller’s shop once per week to check out the latest arrivals.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that print was merely one way that ideas moved around Europe at the time. Also important was the increase in what we today call sociability. Across Europe, people began to associate in new ways and forms. For example, coffee shops and reading clubs began to appear in England at the end of the seventeenth century and then moved eastward. Here, people read the latest news or books, drank their coffee, and then talked about what they thought, especially on matters of religion and politics. One English commentator observed already in the seventeenth century that, “Coffee politicians does create.” By the end of the seventeenth century coffee houses had spread throughout England and Scotland and were moving onto the Continent.
Nonetheless, there were other means of meeting people and chatting with them about politics and literature. In France and Germany, two forms of association were especially important, the salon and the Freemasonic lodge. Wealthy women usually ran salons out of their homes. A famous example was Louise Épinay, known as Madame d’Épinay, who set up a famous literary salon, whose visitors included such luminaries as Denis Diderot, Friedrich de Grimm, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In general, the hostess invited people to discuss the latest topics in a relatively free environment. This encouraged constant chatter and criticism, though only some of it was to be taken seriously. The Abbé Galiani, an Italian living in Paris and a member of Madame d’Épinay’s circle, is a perfect example. In just one conversation he could move from denigrating the latest poetry to commenting on military theory to attacking the Jesuits, while still having time to criticize a local singer, Sophie Arnould, for having the finest asthma he had ever heard. From there he once went on to describe his boss, the Neapolitan ambassador, as stupid and lazy, which was a good thing, he thought, since having an ambassador that was stupid and energetic would be a disaster.
Freemasonic lodges were a more closed than the salons. In particular, they did not usually admit women, whereas, in salons women were at the center of the debate. These lodges were, however, widespread and important, for here wealthy mean came together to chat about politics and the latest books and ideas. It was, therefore, no accident that many revolutionary leaders in both France and the British Colonies had also been Freemasons.
The presence of these new meeting places highlights two important themes for understanding the Enlightenment and the eighteenth century. First, the Enlightenment was rooted in an increasingly wealthy society. Money from European trade and exploration made possible the creation of a more dynamic social and intellectual life. Second, within this new intellectual world people who probably would never have met before could chat as equals. The society of orders came to appear old as more and more people of different orders were able to interact independently of their origins.
So what does all this mean? The basic ideas that we find expressed in the American Declaration of Independence are products of the eighteenth century’s economic, social, and intellectual environments. Thomas Jefferson, who was the Declaration’s author, was a product of the Enlightenment. His interest in European literature and philosophy was second to none on the British colonies. An extraordinarily educated and intelligent man—indeed he is probably the only true genius to have been a political leader in Europe or the United States—Thomas Jefferson’s text is, nonetheless, a list of beliefs about the world. The Declaration of Independence is a confession of faith that was based on this new enlightened worldview. Jefferson believed in the power of reason to change the world, and a revolution was the result.

Lecture 9: France from Louis XIV to 1799

By Michael Sauter

Any approach to France to the history of France from Louis XIV to the French Revolution must begin with Cardinal Richelieu and his single-minded pursuit of France’s state interests. In this context, two of Richelieu’s policies are important. First, his reduction of the Huguenots’ strongholds established that no one in France would have special status within the French state. Second, his intervention in the Thirty Years’ War on the Protestant side launched a new era of raison d’état in foreign policy matters on the Continent. France may have been a catholic power, but national interests no longer knew any confession.
In 1642, Richelieu died, and Louis XIII followed the next year, leaving France to confront serious problems with little experienced leadership. The royal heir, Louis XIV, was only 5 years old, when he ascended the throne, which meant that the kingdom was left to a regency that was headed by the boy’s mother Anne of Austria. Richelieu had done his best to provide continuity in leadership by choosing as his successor another cardinal of the church, Jules Cardinal Mazarin, and Anne later confirmed Mazarin’s position as premier ministre.
Still, a royal minority is trouble for any kingdom, since uncertainty at the helm gives disgruntled nobles the opportunity to expand their influence. And Louis XIV’s minority was no different. First, France’s nobles had begun to chafe under Richelieu’s oversight. As you will recall from last time, the Cardinal had spies everywhere, so it was never safe to plot against him. Second, the regency was easily perceived as a foreign body. Not only was the queen mother a Spanish Habsburg, but the premier ministre was also Italian! Third, France’s exertions in the Thirty Years’ War were costing the people dearly, and taxes had increased steadily to meet the military’s needs.
Cardinal Mazarin’s first priority was, therefore, to bring stability to France by ending the Thirty Years’ War. He was instrumental in pushing the diplomacy that finally brought the many warring powers to an agreement. The signing of the final Peace of Westphalia was not enough, however, to stave of a noble uprising. In the same year the peace was signed a noble uprising called the Fronde (1648-53) broke out. The Fronde failed because the nobility remained divided, and their actions also led to a massive famine, particularly around Paris.
The Fronde’s historical importance lies in what it ended and also what it started. First, the Fronde marked the last of France’s traditional noble uprisings against the absolutist monarchy. From this point on, the nobility would be completely embedded in the new state, and future battles would be for relatively minor things such as tax exemption, but not regional autonomy. Second, Louis XIV lived through the Fronde, and even had to be evacuated from Paris to avoid being captured. He never forgot the insult, nor how dangerous the nobility could be, if set loose. Much of Louis’s reign would be spent making certain that no one could contest his primacy again.
In 1661, Cardinal Mazarin died, and Louis XIV entered his majority. The King surprised everyone, however, by declaring that he would rule directly, that is without a premier ministre. Louis’ act marked the climax of France’s long movement toward absolutism. He immediately centralized French governance under his eyes by creating a council of ministers, and each member of the council had a specific responsibility. This is a relatively new development, but it is of central importance for understanding the course of French and European history in this period.
The royal council’s most important ministries were War, Finance, and Foreign Affairs. The ministers who headed each division were France’s most important political leaders, and in the 1660s they were members of the most exclusive advisory body in all of France, the Conseil d'en Haut. Together with the King, this council ran the French state, and it says a good deal about the absolutist state that the smaller council included these three ministries and that it excluded the ministry of religion. The French government was designed to make war in the French state’s interests first. Religion came second.
France’s Conseil d'en Haut established policies that made France the most important state in Europe. In the ministry for war, for example, Michel Le Tellier (1603-1685) pushed through a series of reforms, including a military supply and transport system that made the French army a potent weapon. In the ministry of finance Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) consolidated Cardinal Richelieu’s mercantilist policy by creating an internal customs union, encouraging the development of colonies, and investing state money in industries. In foreign affairs Hugues de Lionne (1611-1671) made the French diplomatic corps the most efficient and ruthless in all of Europe. It was largely due to the professionalism that he injected into the Foreign Service that Louis XIV was able to embark, later, on successful if costly wars of conquest.
The central point for understanding Louis XIV’s reign is that he used the new state’s power to control France and interfere in Europe. First, we will look at France, and here I will concentrate on two aspects, royal policy on the nobility and, then, on religion. With respect to the nobility, Louis used a carrot-and-stick approach to domesticate the nobles. The carrot was, of course, Versailles, the King’s own personal Disneyland, in which nobles could be entertained and compete for influence on a stage set by the king. The stick was Le Tellier’s army, which guaranteed that any rebellion could now be met with overwhelming military force. In matters of religion Louis entered into what he probably thought was a final reckoning with the Huguenots by revoking the edict of Nantes in 1685. This act ended the Richelieuian compromise position and sent a flood of refugees to England, the Netherlands, and Brandenburg. This act would have its own consequences, and we will discuss one of them in a moment.
Louis tried to control all of Europe through a series of wars. Le Tellier, Colbert, and Lionne made it possible for Louis to wage a series of aggressive wars. In 1665, he started the War of Devolution, when he invaded the Spanish Netherlands on the basis of dynastic claims he had against the Spanish. Louis was beaten back by a coalition of states, but this was only the beginning of his adventurism. In 1672, Louis annexed Strasbourg, which sparked another war against yet another coalition. This war marked the peak of Louis’s power, as France’s military might allowed him to dictate terms to his opponents in the Peace of Nijmwegen (1678). Now France had not only Strasbourg, but also all of Alsace and Burgundy. Had Louis left well enough alone, France would have been the better for it.
Up until about 1680 Louis pursued an aggressive but prudent foreign policy, pushing the boundaries only to the point where countervailing forces began to coalesce, but without inviting a general war. After 1680, however, Louis’s policies became more rash, because he became more pious and ever more certain of himself. The increase in piety was due in part to a scandal, the Affair of the Poisons, in which one of his mistresses the Marquise de Montespan and some other hangers on were accused of impiety and sorcery. Louis responded by becoming ever more pious, and this trend was exacerbated by the death of the Queen Marie Thérèse of Austria (1638-1683) and the rise of new pious mistress Francoise D’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719). The certainty in his own glory stemmed, also in part, from the court’s permanent move to Versailles in 1682. At this point, Louis was completely isolated from the world and was surrounded only with sycophants and hangers on. It became ever more difficult to think independently and rationally.
The first sign of hubris came in 1685, with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. This act was completely unnecessary, as it took a relatively peaceful minority and made it a permanent problem for the monarchy, both within and outside France’s borders. The edict’s revocation also signaled a larger problem, the increasing importance of religion in Louis’s policy making. In 1688, for example, Louis took the side of the Catholic Stuarts against the Protestant victory in England’s Glorious Revolution. This was another stupid move, since it meant that England and Holland would have permanent dynastic reasons for opposing Louis’ power.
Most importantly, however, Louis’ hunger for glory got France involved in two useless and destructive wars. The first war came in the German Rhineland. In 1688, Louis invaded the German Rhineland and unleashed his troops to do nothing more than pillage and burn the German countryside. (The Romantic ruins of Heidelberg Castle are a direct result of this intervention, as French troops deliberately burned the castle.) Louis saw this as a defensive and punitive act. In 1686, various German princes, including the Elector of Brandenburg united in outrage at the revocation in the Edict of Nantes in the League of Augsburg. Louis’ military response to the German defensive posture merely galvanized the opposition to him and it also aided the revolution in England, since William III would never have dared sail to the British Isles in search of the English throne without the certainty that Germany’s princes were covering his back. Thus, in this single act, Louis managed to unite the English, the Dutch, the Holy Roman Emperor, and many German princes against him. The resulting war, called the Nine Years’ War (1688-97) was essentially a stalemate and cost France much money and many potential allies in its next campaign.
Louis’ biggest gamble came with his attempt to take the Spanish crown for the Bourbons. Charles II, the last Spanish Habsburg, was a feeble monarch. A victim of centuries of inbreeding, he was physically weak and mentally handicapped. Most of Europe had been waiting for him to die from the moment of his birth. In the end, he lived to be 35, but his death set off a European war. Louis had dynastic claims to the Spanish throne through both his mother and wife, and he wanted to use them to put his grandson on the throne in Madrid. Europe’s other powers were willing to agree to dynastic succession, provided that Louis agreed to keep the two crowns separate. This Louis would not do, because it was an affront to his sense of glory, and the result was twelve years of war that cost France much of its navy and Spain almost all of her empire. By the terms of the Peace of Utrecht (1713) Louis’ grandson Philip D’Anjou became king of Spain, but the two crowns were to be kept separate. Louis’ bid for European hegemony was defeated again, and at his death in 1715, France was beset with the uncertainty that came with another regency and further financial problems.
Louis XV was an infant when he came to throne, which meant that a regency would rule France for many years. The fact of the regency allowed the nobility to expand its influence and regain some of the privileges that it had lost under Louis XIV. In addition, when Louis XV came to the throne, he turned out to be a weak and ineffectual monarch, which meant that he could not address France’s fundamental problem of governance, flawed taxation policy. Even under Richelieu and Louis XIV, the tax base remained extremely narrow, as the nobility were largely exempt from taxation, which led to constant revenue shortages. These shortages were exacerbated, as always, by war. France got involved in the War of the Austrian Succession in the 1740s, which as you will recall had been started by Frederick II, and the King responded by trying to change the tax structure.
All attempts at reform were, however, rebuffed by the French Parlements, which were stacked by French nobles who were intent on limiting the king’s power. Thus, when France got involved in another war, the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) this time—also started by Frederick II—the revenue crush became so intense that the country could no longer compete. By 1763, the French had lost almost their entire overseas colonial empire to the British, who had managed their money much better.
In the 1770s Louis XV’s government made one last-ditch attempt to reform the French state’s rickety revenue and legal structures. Unfortunately for the crown, the reforms had been barely put in place when Louis XV died, and his successor, Louis XVI retracted the reforms in response to riots that had broken out in Paris and around the countryside.
As I am sure you know, Louis XVI is a tragic figure. He was a gentle person put into an impossible situation. Although he desired above all to maintain the peace, France’s bad finances forced him onto the difficult path of reform. By 1775, his minister of finance Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) convinced him that without major tax and economic reforms the state would go bankrupt. In 1776, the king issued six reform edicts that, among other things, abolished guilds and internal tariffs, while reorganizing the tax and bureaucratic system. These reforms might have worked, but for a devastating series of harvests that spread famine and incited a series of riots. Unnerved by the violence, the king retracted all six edicts. Too many forces were arrayed against reform for any other than the strongest of monarchs to push policy change.
Thus, in 1776 France was already in a parlous financial state, when a golden opportunity seemed to present itself for revenge against the British. As you know, Britain’s thirteen colonies declared their independence in July of that year, and the French immediately granted large subsidies to the upstart state as a means for weakening their great tormentor. The problem with this policy was not its strategic insight; it did cost Britain a lot of money and prestige to finally lose the war against its colonists. The problem was that France did not have the money to spend, and the direct result of this revolutionary expense was the French Revolution itself. In the years 1786 and 1787, the French finance minister Charles-Alexandre Calonne tried in vain to institute reforms across the entire tax and legal system. He called an assembly of notables, which included nobles and wealthy bourgeoisie, in an attempt to drum up support, but they demanded that the king call and Estates General, which had not met since 1614. The king was without revenue, so he acceded to the demand, and the Estates General met on May 1, 1789, which proved to be the event that led to the monarchy’s downfall.
I will not go deeply into the Revolution’s events, since there are too many to cover adequately. I will simply list a few important moments that will help put my earlier discussion into context. The first moment is, of course, the famous tennis court oath on July 14, 1789, when members of the Estates General who had been locked out of their meeting room by the king declared themselves to constitute the National Assembly. Henceforth, only the National Assembly would have the right to speak for the entire nation. The old tri-partite division into separate orders was overthrown. The second major event came on June 21, 1791, when the King attempted to flee the country to join royalist émigrés in Germany. The reason for his departure was his opposition to the Constitution of 1791. The French National Assembly, although it did not want to abolish the monarchy, wanted it to be limited by a constitution. Such limits were unacceptable to true royalists. The upshot of the king’s flight was that revolutionaries saw him as a traitor and he was tried and convicted of treason, before being executed on January 31, 1793.
Louis’s demise and French domestic politics were driven by long-term internal problems, but they were also exacerbated by tensions with foreign powers that France’s previous policies had done much to create. Initially, France’s neighbors were more than happy to watch the French immolate themselves. As the revolution progressed, however, some of the eastern powers, especially Austria and Prussia, became nervous. In August 1791, Leopold II and Frederick William II joined in publishing the Declaration of Pillnitz, which called on all Europe’s powers to fight the revolution and maintain monarchical government. This was a stupid maneuver, especially since neither was truly serious about invading France. Moreover, neither monarch was in danger at home, so all the declaration did was make the Revolution a rabid enemy of all Europe’s monarchies, while dooming the very monarch it was supposed to save.
So it is against this backdrop of growing tension that the French Revolution became aggressive and expansionist. By early 1792 Louis XVI had become determined to regain power by leading France into war. The king’s desire for war dovetailed nicely with those of revolutionary radicals who wanted to export the revolution to the rest of Europe. On April 20, 1792 the National Assembly declared war on Austria, sparking what would become more than two decades of Revolutionary wars.
The war went in three phases. The first phase, from April to September 1792, went badly for the revolution, as Prussian and Austrian troops moved in on Paris. In the second phase, September to April 1793, the revolutionary armies pushed back the invaders. It was also during this period that Louis suffered execution. The war’s third phase April 1793 to May 1794 saw French reversals on the battlefield and, as a result, increasing radicalization at home. It was during this period that the revolutionaries turned to terror, as Maximilien Robespierre and his minions busily tried and executed anyone who was not deemed sufficiently radical. The fourth phase of the war began with a military turnaround. In June of 1794 French armies once again pushed back the invaders and took Belgium from the Austrians. A reaction against the terror now set in, and Robespierre was executed on July 28, 1794.
The force of French arms gave the revolution some breathing space, but its most radical days were now over. In October 1795 a new constitution was proclaimed that set up a powerful central government called the Directory. The government consisted of a directory with five members and two legislative councils. The wars continued and were strikingly successful, as the French Republic began setting up “sister republics” all along the French border. Austria and Britain would not, however, yield, and tensions over war strategy within France resulted in two coups against the government. The first came on September 4, 1797, when republican forces expelled royalist elements from the government. The second, and final, coup came on November 9, 1799, when a young general named Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew everybody and set himself up as First Consul. The French Revolution was finally over, and it had descended into despotism. The wars would continue, as you know, but those fights belong to another course.
So now I will conclude by looking back across the territory that we have covered in this lecture and highlight the basic themes that pull this story together. First, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, France was Europe’s wealthiest and most populous country; and given the rules of the diplomatic game, it was natural that France would make some attempt to gain hegemony over Europe. Nonetheless, the French monarchy could not achieve an hegemonic position and wound up suffering its overthrow in the French Revolution. Moreover, the French Revolutionary government would follow the same expansionist policy and was not only rebuffed but also fell to a coup, in the end.
Thus, although we have two different regimes in the period to 1799, both reached for and failed to achieve hegemony. This was for two reasons, though only the first applies directly to the monarchy. First, under the monarchy the French system of finance was a disaster, because its tax system was inefficient and unequal. The French had the resources to make European-wide war, but the French monarchy did not gather and use those resources effectively. This would change after the revolution, but here the second reason takes its full effect. Both the monarchy and the Revolution were exhausted by the grim determination of France and Austria to fight for what they believed was their survival. The British would never be defeated, and indeed they would annoy not only the Revolutionary but also the Napoleonic regimes. The Austrians were defeated a number of times, most devastatingly by Napoleon, but they kept coming back, drawing on their vast territories to wage repeated wars against French aggression. From this point until the unification of Germany by Otto von Bismarck in 1871, France would remain the fundamental strategic problem in Europe. Only after the German economy and army became the most powerful in Europe would Europe’s diplomatic contours change. Next time, we will talk about France and Germany’s nemesis the British.