The Psychology of Revolution

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Author: Gustave Le Bon

2. the Reorganisation of France by the Consulate.

Upon assuming power Bonaparte undertook a colossal task. All was in ruins; all was to be rebuilt. On the morrow of the coup of Brumaire he drafted, almost single-handed, the Constitution destined to give him the absolute power which was to enable him to reorganise the country and to prevail over the factions. In a month it was completed.

This Constitution, known as that of the year VIII., survived, with slight modifications, until the end of his reign. The executive power was the attribute of three Consuls, two of whom possessed a consultative voice only. The first Consul, Bonaparte, was therefore sole master of France. He appointed ministers, councillors of state, ambassadors, magistrates, and other officials, and decided upon peace or war. The legislative power was his also, since only he could initiate the laws, which were subsequently submitted to three Assemblies—the Council of State, the Tribunate, and the Legislative Corps. A fourth Assembly, the Senate, acted effectually as the guardian of the Constitution.

Despotic as he was and became, Bonaparte always called the other Consuls about him before proceeding with the most trivial measure. The Legislative Corps did not exercise much influence during his reign, but he signed no decrees of any kind without first discussing them with the Council of State. This Council, composed of the most enlightened and learned men of France, prepared laws, which were then presented to the Legislative Corps, which could criticise them very freely, since voting was secret. Presided over by Bonaparte, the Council of State was a kind of sovereign tribunal, judging even the actions of ministers.[9]

[9] Napoleon naturally often overruled the Council of State, but by no means always did so. In one instance, reported in the Memorial de Sainte-Helene, he was the only one of his own opinion, and accepted that of the majority in the following terms: "Gentlemen, matters are decided here by majority, and being alone, I must give way; but I declare that in my conscience I yield only to form. You have reduced me to silence, but in no way convinced me."

Another day the Emperor, interrupted three times in the expression of his opinion, addressed himself to the speaker who had just interrupted him: "Sir, I have not yet finished; I beg you to allow me to continue. After all, it seems to me that every one has a perfect right to express his opinion here."

"The Emperor, contrary to the accepted opinion, was so far from absolute, and so easy with his Council of State, that he often resumed a discussion, or even annulled a decision, because one of the members of the Council had since, in private, given him fresh reasons, or had urged that the Emperor’s personal opinion had influenced the majority."

The new master had great confidence in this Council, as it was composed more particularly of eminent jurists, each of whom dealt with his own speciality. He was too good a psychologist not to entertain the greatest suspicion of large and incompetent assemblies of popular origin, whose disastrous results had been obvious to him during the whole of the Revolution.

Wishing to govern for the people, but never with its assistance, Bonaparte accorded it no part in the government, reserving to it only the right of voting, once for all, for or against the adoption of the new Constitution. He only in rare instances had recourse to universal suffrage. The members of the Legislative Corps recruited themselves, and were not elected by the people.

In creating a Constitution intended solely to fortify his own power, the First Consul had no illusion that it would serve to restore the country. Consequently, while he was drafting it he also undertook the enormous task of the administrative, judicial, and financial reorganisation of France. The various powers were centralised in Paris. Each department was directed by a prefect, assisted by a consul-general; the arrondissement by a subprefect, assisted by a council; the commune by a mayor, assisted by a municipal council. All were appointed by the ministers, and not by election, as under the Republic.

This system, which created the omnipotent State and a powerful centralisation, was retained by all subsequent Governments and is preserved to-day. Centralisation being, in spite of its drawbacks, the only means of avoiding local tyrannies in a country profoundly divided within itself, has always been maintained.

This organisation, based on a profound knowledge of the soul of the French people, immediately restored that tranquillity and order which had for so long been unknown.

To complete the mental pacification of the country, the political exiles were recalled and the churches restored to the faithful.

Continuing to rebuild the social edifice, Bonaparte busied himself also with the drafting of a code, the greater part of which consisted of customs borrowed from the ancien regime. It was, as has been said, a sort of transition or compromise between the old law and the new.

Considering the enormous task accomplished by the First Consul in so short a time, we realise that he had need, before all, of a Constitution according him absolute power. If all the measures by which he restored France had been submitted to assemblies of attorneys, he could never have extricated the country from the disorder into which it had fallen.

The Constitution of the year VIII. obviously transformed the Republic into a monarchy at least as absolute as the "Divine right" monarchy of Louis XIV. Being the only Constitution adapted to the needs of the moment, it represented a psychological necessity.

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Chicago: Gustave Le Bon, "2. The Reorganisation of France by the Consulate.," The Psychology of Revolution, trans. Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859 in The Psychology of Revolution (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831), Original Sources, accessed January 16, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PBYFZJU4KVQFV8E.

MLA: Bon, Gustave Le. "2. The Reorganisation of France by the Consulate." The Psychology of Revolution, translted by Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859, in The Psychology of Revolution, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831, Original Sources. 16 Jan. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PBYFZJU4KVQFV8E.

Harvard: Bon, GL, '2. The Reorganisation of France by the Consulate.' in The Psychology of Revolution, trans. . cited in 1831, The Psychology of Revolution, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 16 January 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=PBYFZJU4KVQFV8E.