Chapter 4

SINCE HISTORY has abandoned the views of the ancients as to the divine subjection of the will of a people to one chosen vessel, and the subjection of the will of that chosen vessel to the Deity, it cannot take a single step without encountering contradictions. It must choose one of two alternatives: either to return to its old faith in the direct intervention of the Deity in the affairs of humanity; or to find a definite explanation of that force producing historical events that is called power.

To return to the old way is out of the question: the old faith is shattered, and so an explanation must be found of the meaning of power.

Napoleon commanded an army to be raised, and to march out to war. This conception is so familiar to us, we are so accustomed to this idea that the question why six hundred thousand men go out to fight when Napoleon utters certain words seems meaningless to us. He had the power, and so the commands he gave were carried out.

This answer is completely satisfactory if we believe that power has been given him from God. But as soon as we do not accept that, it is essential to define what this power is of one man over others.

This power cannot be that direct power of the physical ascendency of a strong creature over a weak one, that ascendency based on the application or the threat of the application of physical force—like the power of Hercules. Nor can it be based on the ascendency of moral force, as in the simplicity of their hearts several historians suppose, maintaining that the leading historical figures are heroes—that is, men endowed with a special force of soul and mind called genius. This power cannot be based on the ascendency of moral force; for, to say nothing of historical heroes, like Napoleon, concerning whose moral qualities opinions greatly differ, history proves to us that neither Louis XI. nor Metternich, who governed millions of men, had any marked characteristics of moral force, but that they were, on the contrary, in most respects morally weaker than any one of the millions of men they governed.

If the source of power lies not in the physical and not in the moral characteristics of the person possessing it, it is evident that the source of this power must be found outside the person—in those relations in which the person possessing the power stands to the masses.

That is precisely how power is interpreted by the science of law, that cash bank of history, that undertakes to change the historical token money of power for sterling gold.

Power is the combined wills of the masses, transferred by their expressed or tacit consent to the rulers chosen by the masses.

In the domain of the science of law, made up of arguments on how a state and power ought to be constructed, if it were possible to construct it, all this is very clear; but in its application to history this definition of power calls for elucidation.

The science of law regards the state and power, as the ancients regarded fire, as something positively existing. But for history the state and power are merely phenomena, just as for the physical science of today fire is not an element, but a phenomenon.

From this fundamental difference in the point of view of history and of the science of law, it comes to pass that the science of law can discuss in detail how in the scientific writer’s opinion power should be organised, and what is power, existing immovable outside the conditions of time; but to historical questions as to the significance of power, undergoing visible transformation in time, it can give no answer.

If power is the combined will of the masses transferred to their rulers, is Pugatchov a representative of the will of the masses? If he is not, how then is Napoleon I. such a representative? Why is it that Napoleon III., when he was seized at Boulogne, was a criminal, and afterwards those who had been seized by him were criminals?

  By PanEris using Melati.

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