“One of the most important conclusions which can be drawn from the study of history is that government is the most effective cause of the character of peoples; that the virtues or the vices of nations, their energy or their weakness, their talents, their enlightenment or their ignorance, are hardly ever the consequence of climate or of the qualities of the particular race, but are the work of the laws; that nature has given all to everyone, while government preserves or destroys, in the men subjected to it, those qualities which originally constituted the common heritage of the human race.” In Italy there occurred no changes either in climate or in race (The influx of the barbarians was too insignificant to alter the latter’s quality): “Nature was the same for Italians of all ages; only governments changed – and these changes always preceded or accompanied changes in the national character.”
In this way Sismondi contested the doctrine which made the historical fate of peoples depend only on geographical environment.  His objections are not unfounded. In fact, geography is far from explaining everything in history, just because the latter is history, i.e., because, in Sismondi’s words, governments change in spite of the fact that geographical environment remains unchanged. But this in passing: we are interested here in quite a different question.
The reader has probably already noticed that, comparing the unchanging character of geographical environment with the changeability of the historical destinies of peoples, Sismondi links these destinies with one main factor – “government”, i.e., with the political institutions of the given country. The character of a people is entirely determined by the character of the government. True, having stated this proposition categorically, Sismondi immediately and very essentially modifies it: political changes, he says, preceded changes of the national character or accompanied them. Here the character of the government appears to be rather determined by the character of the people. But in this case the historical philosophy of Sismondi encounters the contradiction with which we are already familiar, and which confused the French writers of the Enlightenment: the manners of a given people depend on its constitution; the constitution depends on their manners. Sismondi was just as little able to solve this contradiction as the writers of the Enlightenment: he was forced to found his arguments now upon one, now upon the other branch of this antinomy. But be that as it may, having once decided on one of them – namely that which proclaims that the character of a people depends on its government – he attributed to the conception of government an exaggeratedly wide meaning: in his eyes it embraced absolutely all the qualities of the given social environment, all the peculiarities of the social relations concerned. It would be more exact to say that in his view absolutely all the qualities of the social environment concerned were the work of “government”, the result of the constitution. This is the point of view of the eighteenth century. When the French materialists wanted briefly and strongly to express their conviction of the omnipotent influence of environment on man, they used to say: c’est la legislation qui fait tout (everything depends on legislation). But when they spoke of legislation, they had in mind almost exclusively political legislation, the system of government. Among the works of the famous Jean-Baptiste Vico there is a little article entitled Essay of a System of Jurisprudence, in Which the Civil Law of the Romans Is Explained by Their Political Revolutions.  Although this Essay was written at the very beginning of the eighteenth century, nevertheless the view it expresses on the relationship between civil law and the system of government prevailed up to the French Restoration. The writers of the Enlightenment reduced everything to “politics”.
But the political activity of the “legislator” is in any event a conscious activity, although naturally not always expedient. The conscious activity of man depends on his “opinions”. In this way the French writers of the Enlightenment without noticing it themselves returned to the idea of the omnipotence of opinions, even in those cases when they desired to emphasise the idea of the omnipotence of environment.
Sismondi was still adopting the view-point of the eighteenth century.  Younger French historians were already holding different views.
The course and outcome of the French Revolution, with its surprises that nonplussed the most “enlightened” thinkers, proved a refutation, graphic to the highest degree, of the idea that opinions were omnipotent. Then many became quite disillusioned in the power of “reason while others who did not give way to disillusionment began all the more to incline to acceptance of the idea of the omnipotence of environment, and to studying the course of its development. But at the time of the Restoration environment too began to be examined from a new point of view: Great historic events had made such a mock, both of “legislators” and of political constitutions, that now it already seemed strange to make dependent on the latter, as a basic factor, all the qualities of a particular social environment. Now political constitutions began to be considered as something derivative, as a consequence and not as a cause.
“The majority of writers, scholars, historians or publicists”, says Guizot in his Essais sur l’histoire de France,  “have attempted to explain the condition of society, the degree or the nature of its civilisation, by its political institutions. It would be wiser to begin with the study of society itself, in order to learn and understand its political institutions. Before becoming a cause, institutions are a consequence; society creates them before it begins to change under their influence; and instead of judging the condition of a people from the system or the forms of its government, we must first of all investigate the condition of the people, in order to judge what should be and what could be its government.... Society, its composition, the mode of life of individual persons in keeping with their social position, the relations of various classes of persons, in a word, the civil condition of men (l’etat des personnes) – such, without doubt, is the first question which attracts the attention of the historian who desires to know how peoples lived, and of the publicist who desires to know how they were governed.” 
This view is directly opposed to the view of Vice. The latter explained the history of civil law by political revolutions. Guizot explains the political order by civil conditions, i.e., by civil law. But the French historian goes even further in his analysis of “social composition”. He states that, among all the peoples who appeared on the historical arena after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the “civil condition” of men was closely connected with agrarian relations (etat des terres), and therefore the study of their agrarian relations must precede the study of their civil condition. “In order to understand political institutions, we must study the various strata existing in society and their mutual relationships. In order to understand these various social strata, we must know the nature and the relations of landed property.”  It is from this point of view that Guizot studies the history of France under the first two dynasties. He presents it as the history of the struggle of various social strata at the time. In his history of the English Revolution he makes a new step forward, representing this event as the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy, and tacitly recognising in this way that to explain the political life of a particular country it is necessary to study not only its agrarian relations, but also all its property relations in general. 
Such a view of the political history of Europe was far from being the exclusive property of Guizot at that time. It was shared by many other historians, among whom we shall refer to Augustin Thierry and Mignet.
In his Vues des revolutions d’Angleterre Thierry represents the history of the English revolutions as the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy. “Everyone whose ancestors were numbered among the conquerors of England,” he writes of the first Revolution, “left his castle and journeyed to the royal camp, where he took up a position appropriate to his rank. The inhabitants of the towns and ports flocked to the opposite camp. Then it might have been said that the armies were gathering, one in the name of idleness and authority, the other in the name of labour and liberty. All idlers, whatever their origin, all those who sought in life only enjoyment, secured without labour, rallied under the royal banner, defending interests similar to their own interests; and on the contrary, those of the descendants of the former conquerors who were then engaged in industry joined the Party of the Commons.” 
The religious movement of the time was, in Thierry’s opinion, only the reflection of positive lay interests. “On both sides the war was waged for positive interests. Everything else was external or a pretext. The men who defended the cause of the subjects were for the most part Presbyterians, i.e., they desired no subjection even in religion. Those who adhered to the opposite party belonged to the Anglican or the Catholic faith; this was because, even in the religious sphere, they strove for authority and for the imposition of taxes on men.” Thierry quotes in this connection the following words of Fox in his History of the Reign of James II: “The Whigs considered all religious opinions with a view to politics ... Even in their hatred to popery, [they] did not so much regard the superstition, or imputed idolatry of that unpopular sect, as its tendency to establish arbitrary power in the state.” 
In Mignet’s opinion, “the movement of society is determined by the dominating interests. Amid various obstacles, this movement strives towards its end, halts once that end has been reached, and yields place to another movement which at first is imperceptible, and becomes apparent only when it becomes predominant. Such was the course of development of feudalism. Feudalism existed in the needs of man while it yet did not exist in fact – the first epoch; in the second epoch it existed in fact, gradually ceasing to correspond to men’s needs, wherefore there came to an end, ultimately, its existence in fact. Not a single revolution has yet taken place in any other way.” 
In his history of the French Revolution, Mignet regards events precisely from this point of view of the “needs” of various social classes. The struggle of these classes is, in his opinion, the mainspring of political events. Naturally, such a view could not be to the taste of eclectics, even in those good old times when their brains worked much more than they do nowadays. The eclectics reproached the partisans of the new historical theories with fatalism, with prejudice in favour of a system (esprit de systeme). As always happens in such cases, the eclectics did not notice at all the really weak sides of the new theories, but in return with the greater energy attacked their unquestionably strong sides. However, this is as old as the world itself, and is therefore of little interest. Much more interesting is the circumstance that these new views were defended by the Saint-Simonist Bazard, one of the most brilliant representatives of the socialism of that day.
Bazard did not consider Mignet’s book on the French Revolution to be flawless. Its defect was, in his eyes, that among other thing; it represented the event it described as a separate fact, standing without any connection with “that long chain of efforts which, having overthrown the old social order, was to facilitate the establishment of the new regime”. But the book also has unquestionable merits. “The author has set himself the task of characterising those parties which, one after the other, direct the revolution, of revealing the connection of these parties with various social classes, of displaying what particular chain of events places them one after the other at the head of the movement, and how finally they disappear.” That same “spirit of system and fatalism”, which the eclectics put forward as a reproach against the historians of the new tendency, advantageously distinguishes, in Bazard’s opinion, the work of Guizot and Mignet from the works “of literary historians (i.e., historians concerned only for beauty of style) who, in spite of their number, have not moved historical science forward one step since the eighteenth century”. 
If Augustin Thierry, Guizot or Mignet had been asked, do the manners of a people create its constitution, or, on the contrary, does its constitution create its manners, each of them would have replied that, however great and however unquestionable is the interaction of the manners of a people and its constitution, in the last analysis, both owe their existence to a third factor, lying deeper – “the civil condition of men, their property relations”.
In this way the contradiction which confused the philosophers of the eighteenth century would have been solved, and every impartial person would recognise that Bazard was right in saying that science had made a step forward, in the person of the representatives of the new views on history.
But we know already that the contradiction mentioned is only a particular case of the fundamental contradiction of the views on society held in the eighteenth century: (1) man with all his thoughts and feelings is the product of environment; (2) environment is the creation of man, the product of his “opinions”. Can it be said that the new views on history had resolved this fundamental contradiction of French materialism? Let us examine how the French historians of the Restoration explained the origin of that civil condition, those property relations, the close study of which alone could, in their opinion, provide the key to the understanding of historical events.
The property relations of men belong to the sphere of their legal relations; property is first of all a legal institution. To say that the key to understanding historical phenomena must he sought in the property relations of men means saying that this key lies in institutions of law. But whence do these institutions come? Guizot says quite rightly that political constitutions were a consequence before they became a cause; that society first created them and then began to change under their influence. But cannot the same be said of property relations? Were not they in their turn a consequence before they became a cause? Did not society have first to create them before it could experience their decisive influence on itself?
To these quite reasonable questions Guizot gives highly unsatisfactory replies.
The civil condition of the peoples who appeared on the historical arena after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was in the closest causal connection with landownership  : the relation of man to the land determined his social position. Throughout the epoch of feudalism, all institutions of society were determined in the last analysis by agrarian relations. As for those relations they, in the words of the same Guizot, “at first, during the first period after the invasion of the barbarians”, were determined by the social position of the landowner: “the land he occupied acquired this or that character, according to the degree of strength of the landowner.”  But what then determined the social position of the landowner? What determined “at first, during the first period after the invasion of the barbarians” the greater or lesser degree of liberty, the greater or lesser degree of power of the landowner? Was it previous political relations among the barbarian conquerors? But Guizot has already told us that political relations are a consequence and not a cause. In order to understand the political life of the barbarians in the epoch preceding the fall of the Roman Empire we should have, according to the advice of our author, to study their civil condition, their social order, the relations of various classes in their midst, and so forth; and such a study would once again bring us to the question of what determines the property relations of men, what creates the forms of property existing in a given society. And it is obvious that we should gain nothing if, in order to explain the position of various classes in society, we began referring to the relative degrees of their freedom and power. This would be not a reply, but a repetition of the question in a new form, with some details.
The question of the origin of property relations is hardly likely even to have arisen in Guizot’s mind in the shape of a scientific problem, strictly and accurately formulated. We have seen that it was quite impossible for him not to have taken account of the question, but the very confusion of the replies which he gave to it bears witness to the unclarity with which he conceived it. In the last analysis the development of forms of property was explained by Guizot by exceptionally vague reference to human nature. It is not surprising that this historian, whom the eclectics accused of excessively systematic views, himself turned out to be no mean eclectic, for example in his works on the history of civilisation.
Augustin Thierry, who examined the struggle of religious sects and political parties from the view-point of the “positive interests” of various social classes and passionately sympathised with the struggle of the third estate against the aristocracy, explained the origin of these classes and ranks in conquest. “Tout cela date d’une conquete; il y a une conquete la-dessous” (all this dates from a conquest; there’s a conquest at the bottom of it), he says of class and estate relations among the modern peoples, which are exclusively the subject of his writing. He incessantly developed this idea in various ways, both in his articles and in his later learned works. But apart from the fact that “conquest” – an international political act – returned Thierry to the point of view of the eighteenth century, which explained all social life by the activity of the legislator, i.e., of political authority, every fact of conquest inevitably arouses the question: why were its social consequences these, and not those? Before the invasion of the German barbarians Gaul had already lived through a Roman conquest. The social consequences of that conquest were very different from those which were produced by the German conquest. The social consequences of the conquest of China by the Mongols very little resembled those of the conquest of England by the Normans. Whence do such differences come? To say that they are determined by differences in the social structure of the various peoples which come into conflict at different times means to say nothing, because what determines that social structure remains unknown. To refer in this question to some previous conquests means moving in a vicious circle. However many the conquests you enumerate, you will nevertheless arrive in the long run at the inevitable conclusion that in the social life of peoples, there is some X, some unknown factor, which is not only not determined by conquests, but which on the contrary itself conditions the consequences of conquests and even frequently, perhaps always, the conquests themselves, and is the fundamental reason for international conflicts. Thierry in his History of the Conquest of England by the Normans himself points out, on the basis of old monuments, the motives which guided the Anglo-Saxons in their desperate struggle for their independence “We must fight,” said one of the earls, “whatever may be the danger to us; for what we have to consider is not whether we shall accept and receive a new lord ... The case is quite otherwise. The Duke of Normandy has given our lands to his barons, to his knights and to all his men, the greater part of whom have already done homage to him for them: they will all look for their gift if their duke become our king; and he himself will be bound to deliver up to them our lands, our wives and our daughters: all this is promised to them beforehand. They come, not only to ruin us, but to ruin our descendants also, and to take from us the country of our ancestors,” etc. On his part, William the Conqueror said to his companions: “Fight well and put all to death; for if we conquer we shall all be rich. What I gain, you will gain; if I conquer, you will conquer; if I take this land, you shall have it.”  Here it is abundantly clear that the conquest was not an end in itself, and that “beneath it” lay certain “positive” i.e., economic interests. The question is, what gave those interests the form which they then had? Why was it that both natives and conquerors were inclined precisely to the feudal system of landownership, and not to any other? “Conquests” explain nothing in this case.
In Thierry’s Histoire du tiers etat, and in all his sketches of the internal history of France and England, we have already a fairly full picture of the historical advance of the bourgeoisie. It is sufficient to study even this picture to see how unsatisfactory is the view which makes dependent on conquest the origin and development of a given social system: that development progressed quite at variance with the interests and wishes of the feudal aristocracy, i.e., the conquerors and their descendants.
It can be said without any exaggeration that in his historical researches Thierry himself did much to refute his own views on the historical role of conquests. 
In Mignet we find the same confusion. He speaks of the influence of landownership on political forms. But what the forms of landownership depend on, why they develop in this or that direction, this Mignet does not know. In the last analysis he, too, makes forms of landownership depend on conquest. 
He senses that it is not abstract conceptions such as “conquerors” and “conquered”, but people possessing living flesh, having definite rights and social relations that we are dealing with in the history of international conflicts; but here, too, his analysis does not go very far. “When two peoples living on the same soil mingle,” he says, “they lose their weak sides and communicate their strong sides to each other. 
This is not profound, nor is it quite clear.
Faced with the question of the origin of property relations, each of the French historians of the time of the Restoration whom we have mentioned would probably have attempted, like Guizot, to escape from the difficulty with the help of more or less ingenious references to “human nature”.
The view of “human nature” as the highest authority which decides all “knotty cases” in the sphere of law, morality, politics and economics, was inherited in its entirety by the writers of the nineteenth century from the writers of the Enlightenment of the previous century.
If man, when he appears in the world, does not bring with him a prepared store of innate “practical ideas”; if virtue is respected, not because it is innate in people, but because it is useful, as Locke asserted; if the principle of social utility is the highest law, as Helvetius said; if man is the measure of things wherever there is a question of mutual human relations-then it is quite natural to draw the conclusion that the nature of man is the view-point from which we should assess given relations as being useful or harmful, rational or irrational. It was from this standpoint that the writers of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century discussed both the social order then existing and the reforms which they thought desirable. Human nature was for them the most important argument in their discussions with their opponents. How great in their eyes was the importance of this argument is shown excellently, for example, by the following observation of Condorcet: “The ideas of justice and law take shape invariably in an identical form among all beings gifted with the capacity of sensation and of acquiring ideas. Therefore they will be identical.” True, it happens that people distort them (les alterent). “But every man who thinks correctly will just as inevitably arrive at certain ideas in morality as in mathematics. These ideas are the necessary outcome of the irrefutable truth that men are perceptive and rational beings.” In reality the views on society of the French writers of the Enlightenment were not deduced, of course, from this more than meagre truth, but were suggested to them by their environment. The “man” whom they had in view was distinguished not only by his capacity to perceive and think: his “nature” demanded a definite bourgeois system of society (the works of Holbach included just those demands which later were put into effect by the Constituent Assembly). His “nature” prescribed free trade, non-interference of the state in the property relations of citizens (laissez faire, laissez passer!),  etc., etc. The writers of the Enlightenment looked on human nature through the prism of particular social needs and relations. But they did not suspect that history had put some prism before their eyes. They imagined that through their lips “human nature” itself was speaking, understood and assessed at its true value at last, by the enlightened representatives of humanity.
Not all the writers of the eighteenth century had an identical conception of human nature. Sometimes they differed very strongly among themselves on this subject. But all of them were equally convinced that a correct view of that nature alone could provide the key to the explanation of social phenomena.
We said earlier that many French writers of the Enlightenment had already noticed a certain conformity to law in the development of human reason. They were led to the idea of this conformity to law first and foremost by the history of literature: “what people,” they ask, “was not first a poet and only then a thinker?”  But how is such succession to be explained? By the needs of society, which determine the development of language itself, replied the philosophers. “The art of speech, like all other arts, is the fruit of social needs and interests,” asserted the Abbe Arnaud, in the address just mentioned in a footnote. Social needs change, and therefore there changes also the course of development of the “arts”. But what determines social needs? Social needs, the needs of men who compose society, are determined by the nature of man. Consequently it is in that nature that we must seek the explanation of this, and not that, course of intellectual development.
In order to play the part of the highest criterion, human nature obviously had to be considered as fixed once for all, as invariable. The writers of the Enlightenment did in fact regard it as such as the reader could see from the words of Condorcet quoted above. But if human nature is invariable, how then can it serve to explain the course of the intellectual or social development of mankind? What is the process of any development? A series of changes. Can those changes be explained with the help of something that is invariable, that is fixed once for all? Is this the reason why a variable magnitude changes, that a constant magnitude remains unchanged? The writers of the Enlightenment realised that this could not be so, and in order to get out of their difficulty they pointed out that the constant magnitude itself proves to be variable, within certain limits. Man goes through different ages: childhood, youth, maturity and so forth. At these various ages his needs are not identical: “In his childhood man has only his feelings, his imagination and memory: he seeks only to be amused and requires only songs and stories. The age of passions succeeds: the soul requires to be moved and agitated. Then the intelligence extends and reason grows stronger: both these faculties in their turn require exercise, and their activity extends to everything that is capable of arousing curiosity.”
Thus develops the individual man: these changes are conditioned by his nature; and just because they are in his nature, they are to be noticed in the spiritual development of all mankind. It is by these changes that is to be explained the circumstance that peoples begin with epics and end with philosophy. 
It is easy to see that “explanations” of this kind, which did not explain anything at all, only imbued the description of the course of intellectual development of man with a certain picturesqueness (simile always sets off more vividly the quality of the object being described). It is easy to see likewise that, in giving explanations of this kind, the thinkers of the eighteenth century were moving round the above-mentioned vicious circle: environment creates man, man creates environment. For in effect, on the one hand, it appeared that the intellectual development of mankind, i.e., in other words the development of human nature, was due to social needs, and on the other it turned out that the development of social needs is to be explained by the development of human nature.
Thus we see that the French historians of the Restoration also failed to eliminate this contradiction: it only took a new form with them.
 Histoire des Republiques italiennes du moyen age, Paris, t. I, Introduction, pp.v-vi.
 We translate the title of the article from the French, and hasten to remark in so doing that the article itself is known to us only from certain French extracts. We were unable to discover the original Italian text, as it was printed, so far as we know, only in one edition of Vico’s works (1818); it is already missing from the Milan edition in six volumes of 1835. However what is important in the present case is not how Vice performed the task he had set himself, but what task it was.
We shall incidentally anticipate here one reproach which shrewd critics will probably hasten to level at us: “You indiscriminately make use of the term ‘writers of the Enlightenment’ and ‘materialists’, yet far from all the ‘Enlighteners’ were materialists; many of them, for example Voltaire, vigorously combated the materialists.” This is so; but on the other hand Hegel demonstrated long ago that the writers of the Enlightenment who rose up against materialism were themselves only inconsistent materialists.
 He began working at the history of the Italian Republics in 1796.
 First edition appeared in 1821.
 Essais (dixieme edition). Paris. 1860, pp.73-74.
 Ibid., pp.75-76.
 The struggle of religious and political parties in England in the seventeenth century “was a screen for the social question, the struggle of various classes for power and influence. True, in England these classes were not so sharply delimited and not so hostile to one another as in other countries. The people had not forgotten that powerful barons had fought not only for their own but for the people’s liberty. The country gentlemen and the town bourgeois for three centuries sat together in parliament in the name of the English Commons. But during the last century great changes had taken place in the relative strength of the various classes of society, which had not been accompanied by corresponding changes in the political system ... The bourgeoisie, country gentry, farmers and small landowners, very numerous at that time, had not an influence on the course of public affairs proportionate to their importance in the country. They had grown, but not been elevated. Hence in this stratum, as in other strata lying below it, there appeared a proud and mighty spirit of ambition, ready to seize upon the first pretext it met to burst forth”. Discours sur l’histoire de la revolution d’Angleterre ,Berlin, 1850, pp.9-10. Compare the same author’s entire six volumes relating to the history of the first English Revolution, and the sketches of the life of various public figures of that time. Guizot there rarely abandons the viewpoint of the struggle of classes.
 Dix ans d’etudes historiques, the sixth volume of Thierry’s Complete Works (10th ed.), p.66.
 [London, 1808, p.275].
 De la feodalite des institutions de St.-Louis et de de l’influence de la legislation de ce prince, Paris. 1822, pp.76-77.
 Considerations sur l’histoire in Le Producteur, Part IV.
 That is, with modern peoples only? This restriction is all the more Strange that already Greek and Roman writers had seen the close connection between the civil and political life of their countries, and agrarian relations. However, this strange limitation did not prevent Guizot making the fall of the Roman Empire depend upon its state economy. See his first “Essay”: Du regime municipal dans l’empire romain au V-me siecle de l’ere chretienne.
 That is, landownership bore this or that legal character, or in other words its possession involved a greater or lesser degree of dependence, according to the strength and liberty of the landowner (loc. cit., p.75).
 Histoire de la conquete, etc., Paris, t.I, pp.296 et 300.
 It is interesting that the Saint-Simonists already saw this weak side of the historical views of Thierry. Thus, Bazard, in the article quoted earlier, remarks that conquest in reality exercised much less influence on the development of European society than Thierry thought. “Everyone understanding the laws of development of humanity sees that the role of conquest is quite subordinate.” But in this case Thierry is closer to the views of his former teacher Saint-Simon than is Bazard: Saint-Simon examines the history of Western Europe from the fifteenth century from the view-point of the development of economic relations, but explains the social order of the Middle Ages merely as the product of conquest.
 De la feodalite, p.50.
 Ibid., p.212.
 True, not always. Sometimes, in the name of the same nature, the philosophers advised the legislator “to smooth out the inequalities of property”. This was one of the numerous contradictions of the French writers of the Enlightenment. But we are not concerned with this here. What is important for us is the fact that the abstract “nature of man” was in every given case an argument in favour of the quite concrete aspirations of a definite stratum of society, and moreover, of bourgeois society.
 Grimm, Correspondance Litteraire for August, 1774. In putting this question, Grimm only repeats the idea of the Abbe Amaud, which the latter developed in a discourse pronounced by him at the French Academy.
 Suard, loc. cit., p.383.
Last updated on 28.12.2004