Home  »  Joseph Joubert A Selection from His Thoughts  »  Of Governments and Constitutions

Joseph Joubert (1754–1824). Joubert: A Selection from His Thoughts. 1899.

Chapter XIII.

Of Governments and Constitutions

[1]POLITICS are the art of knowing and leading the multitude, or the majority; its glory is to lead them, not where they wish, but where they ought to go.

[2]Those who wish to govern, like a republic, those who wish to be well governed, like nothing but monarchy.

[3]To place power where force is not, and to provide force with counterpoise—there is the secret of the political world. The more moral power or force there is in a state to counterbalance actual or physical force, the more skilfully is that state constituted. There is no art, no balance, no political beauty in a country where force and power are found in the same hands, that is to say, in the hands of the majority. Thus the history of democracies has neither brilliance nor interest until force has been actually displaced by the ascendency of some good man over the movements of the multitude, which alone is strong in itself, and without fiction. Fiction!—it is wanted everywhere. Politics themselves are a kind of poetry.

[4]Whatever we may do, power is everywhere one, necessarily, inevitably, indispensably one, and that one—a man. It is not worth while to torment ourselves as we do, to give this unit a deceptive appearance of multiplicity.

[5]Do not disgust kings with their part, for it is a necessary one.

[6]It is because the masters placed over us are the equals of their subordinates, that they need to be surrounded with pomp. In all things, kings must be adorned, both for their own benefit and for ours.

[7]As a savage will sacrifice his whole subsistence to his hunger, the despot sacrifices his authority to his love of power; his reign devours the reign of his successors.

[8]Governments are things that establish themselves; they are not made, they make themselves. They may be strengthened and given consistency, but not being. Let us be well-assured that no government can be an affair of choice; it is almost always an affair of necessity.

[9]In matters of government, justice must always be the goal; it need not always have been the starting-point. What may console us, and reconcile us to this, is the consideration of a sad truth, which need rarely be called to mind, but which must be known;—that in all places, and in all times, every political organism has begun with some injustice; and good laws, among all peoples, have begun by consolidating that which already existed.

[10]Let time be your example; it destroys everything slowly; it undermines, wears out, uproots, detaches, and never tears away.

[11]To talk of nothing but prosperity and commerce is to talk like a merchant, and not like a philosopher. To aim only at the enriching of nations is to act like a banker, but not like a legislator.

[12]There is an impulse towards novelty—the daughter of time—which leads to development; there is another—the daughter of men—daughter of passion and caprice, which disturbs everything, confuses everything, and allows nothing to complete itself and to last. It does away with all antiquity; it is the mother of disorder, ruin, and misfortune.

[13]If we impose some disabilities upon men without property, we do not necessarily hold that they are less inclined to love goodness, or their country; this opinion would do riches too much honour; but every one may convince himself by his personal experience that the man who is exposed to the waves of fate and the gusts of chance is less master of himself, and runs risks of exaggeration; because he has neither happiness nor leisure enough for calm thought and the regulation of his feelings and ideas. He is less wise, not by his own fault, but by fault of his condition. It is for this reason alone that we may, until that condition be changed, refuse the administration of public affairs to him who has not had personal affairs to handle.

[14]Submit to your own nature; if it means you to be mediocre, be mediocre. Yield to those wiser than you, adopt their opinions, and do not trouble the world, since you cannot govern it.

[15]We easily tolerate an authority that we hope one day to exercise ourselves.

[16]The great men of certain periods and certain circumstances are only men more strongly possessed than their fellows by the dominant opinion, the opinion that all wish to see prevail.

[17]All conquerors have had something coarse in their views, their genius, and their character.