A Virtue for Courageous Minds

A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830

Aurelian Craiutu
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    A Virtue for Courageous Minds
    Book Description:

    Political moderation is the touchstone of democracy, which could not function without compromise and bargaining, yet it is one of the most understudied concepts in political theory. How can we explain this striking paradox? Why do we often underestimate the virtue of moderation? Seeking to answer these questions,A Virtue for Courageous Mindsexamines moderation in modern French political thought and sheds light on the French Revolution and its legacy.

    Aurelian Craiutu begins with classical thinkers who extolled the virtues of a moderate approach to politics, such as Aristotle and Cicero. He then shows how Montesquieu inaugurated the modern rebirth of this tradition by laying the intellectual foundations for moderate government. Craiutu looks at important figures such as Jacques Necker, Madame de Staël, and Benjamin Constant, not only in the context of revolutionary France but throughout Europe. He traces how moderation evolves from an individual moral virtue into a set of institutional arrangements calculated to protect individual liberty, and he explores the deep affinity between political moderation and constitutional complexity. Craiutu demonstrates how moderation navigates between political extremes, and he challenges the common notion that moderation is an essentially conservative virtue, stressing instead its eclectic nature.

    Drawing on a broad range of writings in political theory, the history of political thought, philosophy, and law,A Virtue for Courageous Mindsreveals how the virtue of political moderation can address the profound complexities of the world today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4242-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    A. C.
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  5. PROLOGUE Why Moderation?
    (pp. 1-10)

    There is no agreement about what is the supreme political virtue. Some think that the crown must be reserved to justice, while others believe that it should be given to fairness or moral integrity. In my opinion, the quintessential political virtue ismoderation, and I have written this book to justify this claim. Moderation, I argue, resembles a lost archipelago that must be rediscovered by historians and political theorists. This volume does not pretend to offer a comprehensive theory of moderation, nor does it provide a single definition of this virtue. Instead, it analyzes differentfacesof political moderation and...

  6. PART I Visions of Moderate Government
    • ONE In Search of a Lost Archipelago
      (pp. 13-32)

      Almost three centuries ago, Montesquieu claimed that human beings tend to accommodate themselves better to middles than to extremities.¹ Remembering the twentieth-century Gulag and the other concentration camps would be enough, however, to make us question the power and influence of moderation over human passions. If anything, the last century has confirmed John Adams’ warning that, “without the great political virtues of humility, patience, and moderation . . . every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.”² Nonetheless, it is difficult to be passionate about moderation, a complex and difficult virtue, with a discreet and sometimes obsolete charm,...

    • TWO The Architecture of Moderate Government: Montesquieu’s Science of the Legislator
      (pp. 33-68)

      “I have written this work only to prove it: the spirit of moderation should be that of the legislator,” writes Montesquieu at the beginning of Book XXIX ofThe Spirit of the Laws(1748).¹ The fact that this claim is made toward the end of the work is surprising. Why did Montesquieu wait so long to argue that moderation is the key virtue of all legislators? Might this be the secret “chain” that links together all the major themes of his difficult masterpiece?

      To be sure, as the defining characteristic of free governments, moderation is a seminal theme in Montesquieu’s...

    • THREE The Radical Moderates of 1789: The Tragic Middle of the French Monarchiens
      (pp. 69-110)

      On September 14, 1791, Louis XVI swore his oath to the new constitution that had just been adopted by the Constituent Assembly after two years of intense debates. The king’s unsuccessful attempt to flee France and his arrest at Varennes on June 21, 1791 had weakened the authority and prestige of the monarch, who subsequently became powerless in the face of an ever stronger and bolder legislative power. Although the atmosphere in the room was grave on that September day, it lacked the genuine solemnity appropriate to such a momentous event. Louis XVI stood bareheaded in front of a seated...

  7. PART II Moderation and the Legacy of the Revolution
    • FOUR Moderation and the “Intertwining of Powers”: Jacques Necker’s Constitutionalism
      (pp. 113-157)

      Looking back at his distinguished political career, Joseph Necker, the former minister of Louis XVI, described himself as a pragmatic moderate who had managed to preserve his independence, realism, and integrity in dark times. Referring to his “attachment to wise and moderate principles,” Necker claimed:

      I have never run after systematic novelties. I have been partial only to approved maxims; though even these I have not constantly defended, like a servile enthusiast; for, from time to time, I think I have shown the power of seizing ideas at their first origin. The only difference is that, in raising myself to...

    • FIVE Moderation after the Terror: Madame de Staël’s Elusive Center
      (pp. 158-197)

      In a text written during the Directory, as France was trying to come to terms with the legacy of the Terror, Mme de Staël claimed: “Time, wisdom, moderation: these are the only means with which one can found justice and humanity.” ¹ While France badly needed moderation to return to a minimal sense of normalcy, this virtue proved out of reach for Mme de Staël’s generation, engaged in a prolonged struggle to constitutionalize the liberties of 1789 and end the long revolutionary cycle that had begun with the fall of the Bastille. Resigned, she came to acknowledge that, during revolutionary...

    • SIX Moderation and “Neutral Power”: Benjamin Constant’s pouvoir modérateur
      (pp. 198-237)

      Benjamin Constant’s last book,Mélanges de littérature et de politique(1829), begins with the following declaration: “For forty years, I have defended the same principle, liberty in everything, in religion, in philosophy, in literature, in politics: and by liberty I mean the triumph of individuality over the authority which would like to govern despotically as well as over the masses that claim the right to subject the minority to the majority.”¹ In spite of such an unambiguous commitment to liberty, Constant remains an enigma for many of his readers.² The complexity of his political thought and the strategies Constant used...

    • EPILOGUE Moderation, “the silken string running through the pearl-chain of all virtues”
      (pp. 238-250)

      “Our life is like a house built on sand and full of weariness,” Mme de Staël wrote to Benjamin Constant shortly before her untimely death in 1817.¹ The touch of sadness in her words reflects the sober mood of the thinkers whose ideas form the core of this book. Engaged in an epic struggle against despotism and tyranny, most of them did not live to see a free regime consolidated in France. Were their efforts useless after all? And what does their tumultuous history tell us about the chances of moderation and about the tradition of political moderation in general?...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 251-318)
  9. Index
    (pp. 319-338)