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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ANCIEN RÉGIME. The ancien régime, the old régime, might be defined feudalism in its decrepitude. So long as feudalism was a living reality, so long as it constituted a form of government, the people who were oppressed by it more or less, endured it as a necessary evil. They thought, perhaps, that the social order in which they were living, was the condition natural to man. But when gun-powder, the printing press, the discovery of America, and a thousand other inventions and discoveries, had raised the intellectual level of a great number of men and formed a class of citizens well-to-do and enlightened; when the concentration of political power in the hands of a sovereign had lowered his vassals to the rank of subjects, undistinguished from the masses except by a vain title, sometimes humiliating and sometimes detrimental to others, sentence of condemnation was passed on feudalism. The object of the revolution of 1789, was to wipe it out entirely.


—It was because the ancient political and social condition of things was destroyed at a single blow, and because the change was brusque, that the term ancien régime came into use. If, in France, as elsewhere, the abuses had disappeared one by one, in an almost imperceptible manner, the contrast between the past and the present would have been less striking, and there would scarcely have been occasion to say anything about it. The middle ages had been replaced in other countries than France by the modern era, but in them the transition was made without conflict. The result was that hatred between the representatives of the ancien régime and the modern order of things is less profound in those countries or, at least, has not had time to manifest itself in violence.


—The idea entertained at present, by the masses of the ancien régime is vague enough. It appears to them as a mist filled with nobles and privileged priests, tithes, duties and services, and with a number of other disagreeable things. The ancien régime is at present a scarecrow made use of in France, by parties, to influence ignorant minds. Enlightened men know that it is forever dead, and that it was but a corpse when the revolution buried it for all time. Humanity never retraces its steps.


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