Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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DOCTRINARIANS. Doctrinarian is a word for the original meaning of which custom has substituted an unfavorable acceptation.


—The signification of the word doctrine is well known. It means the aggregate of certain principles, certain maxims, of reasoned precepts; and the man who acts according to a doctrine, in other words, the doctrinarian, is entitled to a certain amount of esteem even when his system is false Very likely we shall meet with opposition on this head; for there is a prevailing habit of venting the same reprobation on men who hold certain principles, as on men with a multitude of projects, and hobby-riders. It must be admitted, however, that it is better to act according to an approved doctrine than to follow the dictates of caprice or even of a so-called rational interest. The laws of a country constitute a body of doctrine, and the government which does not act in their spirit is either despotic or arbitrary.


—A doctrinarian in politics is one who places axioms above the vicissitudes of events, even above the decision of the majority and above the letter of the law. France has had several constitutions which recognized proscriptive indefeasible rights, which no law could ignore. The authors of these constitutions and those who accepted them were doctrinarians. Many persons and many opinions, whose classification under the same name would surprise everybody, are thus united in the same category. There are the doctrinarians of the republic as well as the doctrinarians of monarchy. The principles of 1789 in fact are a body of doctrine, and we are among those who inscribe them on our banner; we incline toward being a doctrinarian of '89.


—Our definition is perhaps not one of those which would occur immediately to the mind of our readers. In truth the great majority do not attach any definite meaning to the word doctrinarian. This term merely recalls to their memory the names of some eminent men who, rightly or wrongly, were exposed to violent attack. People are too easily caught with words.


—The term doctrinarian, to denote political opinion, dates from the winter of 1816-17. The word was invented by the ultra-royalists to designate a group of men of whom Royer-Collard was the chief at the time. This group comprised at different periods, the Comte de Molé, due de Broglie, Guizot, de Barante, the abbé Louis, Camille Jordan, Comte de Saint-Aulaire, Beugnot, and even de Serre, Pasquier Sébastiani and others. This group represented then a shade of the tendencies of liberal opinion which was equally distant from the extreme left, a portion of whom wished to lead the nation once more back to imperialism, and from the extreme right, which intended to return even to the old régime. These doctrinarians were the intermediary group which demanded "the charter, all the charter, and nothing but the charter."


—Statesmen who avoid extremes are always in a difficult position; they are, so to speak, between the frying pan and the fire. They are harassed from all sides, and, as a natural consequence, they please no one, in the end. Such was the lot of the doctrinarians. Let us now examine their opinions. We shall take as an example the opinion of Royer-Collard which people do not yet understand. We quote: "He inquired what were the conditions necessary to the existence of governments. Liberty in all its forms appeared to him to be the primary want of both individuals and nations; he respected it in the region of conscience by dividing by an insurmountable barrier civil from religious life, both in the actions and the interests of all, by giving them as a guarantee the law and the irremovability of judges: he respected it in the political rights of the nation by inviting all those whose capability had been recognized, to participate in public affairs, by the election of a part of the legislators and by the admission of citizens into those tribunals in which their private and public interests were discussed. His love for liberty made him love order, which is only respect for the liberty of others; he never separated liberty from order. According to his opinion the final object of political institutions, the supreme result of the labor of centuries, was to reconcile liberty with order and to unite them." (Vingtain, "Public life of Royer-Collard.")


—Royer-Collard has been reproached with living in theories and abstractions. Let us, therefore, cite a second passage: "To the immovable foundations of the constitution of governments, society adds other elements. Sometimes a powerful aristocracy strives to govern everything by privileges and exceptions; then the democratic spirit threatens to level everything to a deceptive equality. It behooves the legislator to restrain these tendencies; but above all it is indispensable to know them. The observation of his own period is the first, but it must not be the only object of his study. History must explain to him the reason of what is by what has been, and show him what will be by the contemplation of what is." (Vingtain.)


—It is not without interest to know the opinion of this eminent man on the liberty of the press. We therefore quote two passages from his parliamentary speeches. "The liberty of the press," he said, Jan. 22, 1822, "which has become a public right, is the foundation of all liberty, and gives the nation back to itself; freedom of speech flows from it, and thus publicity watches over the public powers, enlightens them and checks them; if they are freed from this salutary control they have no other, for written right is as feeble as individuals. It is therefore strictly true that the liberty of the press has the character and the energy of a political institution. It is true that this institution is the only one which restores to the nations their rights as against the power which governs them; and it is true that on the day the liberty of the press perishes, we shall return to a state of slavery."


—On Dec. 16, 1817, he said: "The license of the press may make ravages in society and imperial governments, as the excess of repression can annihilate legitimate liberty. To establish the liberty of the press by repressing the abuses it might indulge in, without the abuse of repression destroying liberty itself, is the problem which has to be solved It is a difficult problem, but one which appears continually and under every form in free countries, and which is nothing but a particular form of the general problem of the reconciliation of order and liberty. Whenever a solution is despaired of, the nations are said to be doomed to the inevitable alternative of despotism or anarchy."


—Royer-Collard and his friends gave expression to less liberal opinions on other points; but what shall we think of an author who, during the first years of the July government said of them: "A party with principles respects those principles before all else; the doctrinarian party having none, thinks that the end justifies the means, and its only end is the possession of power. * * A party representing national opinion, a party the efforts of which are encouraged by the public, a party enjoying the confidence of the masses, is always calm and dignified; its confidence in the future deserts it in no calamity, and forbids it the use of violence either to acquire or to retain power. The party of doctrinarians which represents only itself, the ambitious individuality of its partisans, has professed from the legislative tribune that there is no possibility of governing without intimidation. and we have not forgotten that by this expression doctrinarians mean permanent terror and the suppression of all liberty."


—We shall not name the author of this diatribe because, although he has remained faithful to his ultra-democratic opinions he might nevertheless find, after so many years of agitation, that polemics drove him too far.


—These attacks were directed more especially against the duke de Broglie and M. Guizot. History has as yet passed no impartial and intelligent judgment upon them. Still we must observe that a part of the reproaches addressed them are out of place. People in France and even elsewhere seem to believe that doctrinarians were liberal only under the restoration, and that after the revolution of July they turned reactionaries, or, at least, that they ceased to advance. There is nothing in this to surprise us. The liberals of the restoration, once in power, could practice only their own doctrines, and not those which came after them. Their accession to power was an advance; a certain time was needed to develop the consequences of this accession, and that a new "more advanced" party might be formed.


—In relation to the new liberals the doctrinarians became conservatives. This lay in the nature of things, and it would in no way be becoming in us to ratify throughout the judgment of the opposition of 1830-48. in France.


—E. Laboulaye in his introduction to the Cours de politique constitutionnelle, by Benj. Constant (Paris, Guillaumin, 1861), thus expresses himself: "If I have chosen this question (the freedom of the press) to show the difference between two liberal policies, it is because the error of Royer-Collard is here clearly visible, but on ten other points we can find the same distinction. There has always been system in the school of the doctrinarians. It thought itself wiser than the liberals in seeking to reconcile two contradictory policies with each other; it has always more or less mixed prevention with repression; it has had no less confidence in the wisdom of the administration than in the free efforts of individuals. Benjamin Constant, on the contrary, has but one idea. In religion, in education, in politics and in industry his motto is always the old French motto: Laisser faire, laisser passer; no prevention, but energetic repression. And with regard to individual rights his motto is: Nothing to the administration, everything to justice. "This rigorous logic," Mr. Laboulaye continues, "is to the taste of the French. We easily go to extremes, even at the risk of going beyond our goal. We have, therefore, had to regret, more than once, that we did not stop at the happy medium; but this happy medium, excellent when dealing with men and caring for interests, is of no advantage when there is a question of truth and liberty. Half-truth and half-liberty are an unnatural alliance with untruth and force; an alliance which conceals a secret struggle between two irreconcilable enemies. Union between the church and the state, education regulated by the state, industry protected by the state, elections guided by the state, a press defended by the state against its own excesses—these are so many errors which bring forth nothing but discord. On the contrary, separate church and state, and the religious questions which have been troubling the world for the last 15 centuries, cease as if by magic to trouble it. Who ever heard of religious questions in the United States? Grant the freedom of education as in Belgium and the United States, and by this one stroke you put an end to the fears of the clergy and the oppression of free thought. Establish free competition and you are at once disembarrassed of the heavy responsibility which crushes you in times of dearth or crisis. Let voters choose their representatives themselves, and you will know what the country wants. Until this is done you will hear only the echo of your own voice, an echo which has thus far never instructed or saved a man. Give full rein to the press. much will be printed; there will be noise, dust and smoke; but at the same time the phantom which has been frightening all governments for the last 40 years will disappear. This great publicity will, no doubt, trouble the indolence of some and the calculations of others, but it will insure the reign of the public conscience." Guizot thus characterizes doctrinarianism: "Doctrinarians have been much attacked. I wish to explain their ideas, not to defend them. To men and parties who have exercised any influence on events and occupied a place in history it is important that they should be known as they are. Once this object is attained, they should rest in peace and allow the world to pass judgment on them. It is neither their intelligence nor their talent nor moral dignity—merits these which not even their enemies have denied them—which constituted the original character and the political worth of the doctrinarians: other men of other parties possessed these merits, and public opinion will give these rivals of their intelligence, eloquence and sincerity, their proper rank. Doctrinarians owe to another cause their name, their influence which has been great in spite of their small number. It is the great character—very dearly paid for—of the French revolution to have been the product of the human mind, of its conceptions and its pretensions, while it was also a struggle between social interests. Philosophy boasted that it would regulate politics, and that institutions, laws and the public powers would be only the creation and the servant of scientific reason. Senseless pride, but still brilliant homage paid to what is noblest in man, to his intellectual and moral nature! Reverses and disappointments were not slow to give the revolution some hard lessons. But up to 1815 the commentators on its bad fortune were either its implacable enemies or disabused accomplices; the former thirsting for vengeance, the latter for rest; these opposed the revolutionary principles with the scepticism of fatigue, the others retrograde reaction. 'In the revolution there is nothing but error and crime,' said some; 'the old régime was right in opposing it.' 'The revolution sinned only through excess,' said others; 'its principles were good, but it carried them too far; it abused its power.' The doctrinarians rejected both these assertions; they were opposed both to a return to the maxims of the old régime and to an adhesion—even entirely speculative—to the revolutionary principles of the revolution. While frankly accepting the new French society, such as not only 1789 but the whole history of France had made it, doctrinarians undertook to found a government on a rational basis and yet quite different from the theory in the name of which the old structure had been destroyed, and to the incoherent maxims which were appealed to in its reconstruction. Called upon, in turn, to combat and to defend the revolution, they placed themselves from the beginning boldly in the intellectual order of things, opposing principles by principles, appealing not only to experience but also to reason, asserting rights instead of interests only, and asking France not to confess that she had done nothing but evil, nor to declare herself impotent for good, but to come out of the chaos into which she had plunged herself and to lift her head toward heaven, there to find light again.


—I must own it; there was also in this attempt, much pride, but a pride which began by an act of humility, for it proclaimed the errors of yesterday together with the will and the hope not to fall into them again. This was at once to render homage to human intelligence and to warn it of the limits of its power; it was to perform an act of respect to the past without abandoning the present and renouncing the future.


—I shall tell, without hesitation, according to what experience has taught me, by what defects this generous design was successively affected, and which interfered with or prevented success. What I have most at heart at the present moment is, to define its true character. It is to their admixture of philosophic elevation and political moderation, to their rational respect for rights and facts, to their doctrines, new conservative, anti-revolutionary, and yet not retrograde, that, modest, although often haughty in their language, the doctrinarians owed their importance and their name. In spite of so many miscalculations of philosophy and human reason, our times retain a taste for philosophy and investigation, and the most determined political practitioners sometimes feign to act upon general ideas, considering them as a good means to justify and accredit themselves. The doctrinarians thus satisfied a real and profound want, although not yet clearly felt in France; they had at heart both the intellectual honor and the good order of society; their ideas appeared adapted both to regenerate the country and at the same time to put an end to the revolution. And by this double title they were brought into contact now with their partisans and again with their adversaries, this contact insuring to them, if not absolute sympathy yet great esteem; the Right held them to be sincere royalists, and the Left, although combating them with asperity, knew very well that they were neither the defenders of the old régime nor of absolute power." (Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de mon temps, vol. i., p. 156, etc.)


—It now remains to us to formulate what we consider the opinion of moderate men on the doctrinarians; we shall do it in the terms which, we believe, the historian of the future will use. They were, he will say, chosen men, distinguished for their talents, the honor of their lives, and adherence to their principles. Their political system was comparatively liberal, and in other times they would have stood at the head of the progressive party. Unfortunately they came into power at a time when "democracy was sailing under full sail" (de Serre); they could neither check nor direct the waves, and not wishing to be carried on by them they were swallowed up by them.


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