ON REVOLUTION AND DEMOCRACY. ALEXIS DE TOCQUEVILLE'S NEW SCIENCE OF POLITICS
The French aristocrat does not consider the greatest political issue of modernity – the problem of democracy – as a specific system of government, but instead looks at it from the perspective of its characteristic social formation. In doing so, he breaks with the classical philosophy of politics, such as exemplified by Plato or Aristotle, focused exclusively on the first understanding mentioned above. He believes that neither Republic nor Politics provide a key that would allow us to adequately understand and describe the phenomenon of modern democracy. Tocqueville (as we know from his other writings) acknowledges the greatness of the ancient Greeks, but at the same time remains convinced that a new cognitive perspective is necessary to understand politics – at least such we know it after 1789. Those who wish to write about it looking only 'from above,' i.e. from the perspective of the system of governance, fail to understand its very essence. As Alexis de Tocqueville argues, politics is better approached 'from below,' i.e. when thought of in terms of the dominant social formation and the ties that bind the society members. There is much to support the validity of his view. The starting point of politics is, after all, the fact of human multiplicity and multifariousness.
SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, OR TOCQUEVILLE AND QUINET ON THE REVOLUTION
If one were to try to find one distinctive feature common to both Tocqueville and Quinet, it would certainly be their love of liberty, perceived as the most important value gained by the Revolution and democracy. Both Tocqueville and Quinet are liberals and democrats, though each in his own way. For Quinet, the son of a rank-and-file clerk of the Revolutionary administration, freedom is a kind of moral experience, and democracy – his natural environment. For Tocqueville – a descendant of the Breton aristocracy whose entire family tradition made him inclined to be loyal to the ancien régime – democracy and freedom are the objects of a youthful conversion, but at the same time of a constantly renewed critical analysis. Both Quinet and Tocqueville thus epitomise the great turn that – thanks above all to the experience of the Revolution – has taken place in the way we understand democracy: from seeing it as merely one of many political systems, treated (following the example of the reluctant ancient classics) rather suspiciously, to recognising it as something unique, as the inevitable point of arrival of Western civilisation, as – in the words of Pierre Manent – “our political destiny” and the only sensible political goal.
AUGUSTIN COCHIN AND THE SOCIOLOGY OF THE REVOLUTIONARY MACHINE
In September 1914, in the course of fighting on the Somme, Cochin was wounded in the arm and jaw. The following June, after a long and painful convalescence, he asked to be allowed to return to the front line. Over the following months, he was injured three times. Despite his bad health, on 26 February 1916 he took part in the famous Battle of Verdun, from which he also did not emerge unscathed. This time his shoulder suffered. Just a few days later he was back leading his unit. Finally, on 8 July 1916, during the ensuing fighting on the Somme, he was shot in the neck. Rumour has it that just before he died, he was praying together with another soldier who ran up to him. After he had finished praying, he is supposed to have told him: “And now let me think.” The persistence that Auguste Cochin showed in battle accompanied him in his research. Dazzled by the uniformity of the notebooks, bewildered by the repetition of nearly identical grievances and wishes, appalled by the sameness of the political formulations that preceded the Revolution, Cochin, following Taine's method, threw himself into archival research. From 1904 to 1908, he visited the archives of Brittany. He wanted to understand how ideas that had been developed by a handful of literati in Parisian salons and associations celebrating equality and Reason, could be adopted – without any attempt to adapt their content and tone to the local situation – in the French countryside. He wanted to know how the revolutionary machine – seen from a peripheral perspective – works, and what is the source of its ability to subordinate the individual and the personal to the aims of an anonymous centre.
MICKIEWICZ IN THE ACADEMIA, MICKIEWICZ IN HELL, OR A ROMANTIC QUID PRO QUO
We know quite a lot about Mickiewicz's relationship with Edgar Quinet thanks to surviving letters and witness accounts, but the question of who influenced or truly inspired whom remains contentious. In his pamphlet La trilogie du Collège de France: Mickiewicz, Michelet, Quinet (1924), the poet's son, Wladyslaw Mickiewicz, mainly focused on glorifying his father, claims that Mickiewicz's influence is “evident” not only in Christianity and the French Revolution, where Quinet is allegedly using the language of Towiański, but also, or perhaps above all, in the French historian's general attitude. “His spiritualism was more profound than Michelet's; moreover, the influence of my father and his wife contributed to his not succumbing to the bizarre, and typical for the 18th century, infatuation with pagan antiquity.” Contemporary scholars are decidedly more cautious: according to the eminent Harvard Slavist Victor Weintraub, who has perhaps delved most deeply into the matter, this is an instance of a bilateral quid pro quo: Mickiewicz, interested in certain elements of Quinet's views and rhetoric – especially relating to religion or, more specifically, Christianity – recognised him at one point as a possible French connection in the “sacred cause” of spreading the thought of Andrzej Towiański, although Quinet, averse to all forms of piety and evolving towards liberal secularism, was poorly suited for this position. At the same time, Quinet, undoubtedly fascinated by the figure of Mickiewicz, tried to make of him an ally in the fight against the Catholic Church, which he sincerely detested, even though the author of Dziady [Forefather's Eve], with all his infatuation for Towiański's mysticism, never went so far as to resent Catholicism.