Jean-Paul Marat 1791

Illusion of the Blind Multitude on the Supposed Excellence of the Constitution

Source: L'Ami du Peuple No 334, January 8, 1791;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

The public’s infatuation with the constitution is the fashionable folly of the moment. There’s no way to be surprised by this; it’s a thing absolutely new among us, and for this alone it can’t fail to seduce light and frivolous men , equally incapable of seizing its defects and of calculating its ill effects. How could it fail to infatuate the French, of all people in the world the least reflective?

To this fury for novelty should be added the pitfalls of vanity. When it enters the head of a people who have broken their chains, nothing in the world is more apt to flatter self-love than the idea of an indefinite freedom supported by the supreme power, and one can conceive just how far the enthusiasm of limited but honest citizens for the new order of things can be carried. And it’s not that the scoundrels at the head of affairs haven’t taken pains to inspire this infatuation. What strings haven’t they played on with this end in sight?

In the first place, a mass of bought-off pens have represented the constitution as the most sublime work ever given birth to by the human spirit; as an eternal monument to wisdom and virtue, as the infallible guarantor of the nation’s happiness. These pompous elegies have been circulated throughout the empire, while no occasion has been missed to flatter the self-love of the people by presenting to it a false image of its strength and its freedom, at the very moment when new chains are being forged for it. Credulous Parisians! Remember the inscriptions that decorated the altar of the Fatherland the day of the military federation. It said to the people: You are the sovereign. You are also the legislator. The law is still against you. And the blind multitude, puffed up with vanity, didn’t see that this whole foolish apparatus had no other goal than that of metamorphosing the soldiers of the Fatherland into satellites of the executive power, and to chain them to the maintaining of the evil decrees that returned authority to the hands of the prince.

In the midst of the cries of enthusiasm that filled the air the voice of the Friend of the People vainly spoke out to reveal the trap and recall you to wisdom. What he said to you then – and what he said a hundred times – I repeat to you today: the constitution is a failure, a complete failure and so completely failed that it forms the most dreadful of governments, for in the last analysis it is nothing but an administration of royal commissioners still connected to the noblesse de la robe and followed by armed satellites, i.e., a true military and noble despotism.