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Craiutu, Aurelian. A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830.

CRAIUTU, Aurelian. A Virtue for Courageous Minds: Moderation in French Political Thought, 1748-1830. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. xxi + 338. Cloth, $49.50--Aurelian Craiutu's Virtue for Courageous Minds is a rich and timely book. The first of four promised volumes, it is a detailed study of the virtue of political moderation as it appears in the works of Montesquieu, the monarchiens, Joseph Necker, Mme. Germain de Stael, and Benjamin Constant. Using the concept of moderation as an organizing principle is an interesting approach, and the book is sure to profit expert and novice alike.

Craiutu aims to justify the claim that moderation is the quintessential political virtue. He approaches this through a series of case studies--analyses of how political moderation was conceived during this tunmltuous time in French history. Craiutu focuses on four "meta-narratives": (1) the transition of moderation from an individual's virtue to an institutional structure that upholds individual liberty; (2) the correlation (suggestive of a connection) between moderation and institutional/constitutional complexity; (3) moderation as a balancing between extremes; and (4) the eclectic nature of moderation. From these he draws five conclusions (which are broken into ten easy to remember slogans in the book's epilogue): (A) that moderation has an intrinsic political orientation and set of political values closely connected with constitutionalism, rooted in skepticism, and opposed to the "politics of faith"; (B) that moderation is a superior form of civility and opposed to "monist politics"; (C) that moderation is a difficult political virtue requiring a great deal of courage to pursue; (D) that moderation is not right for everyone or at all times, which has as a lemma that one must carefully determine when and how it can be best used as a guiding political principle; and (E) that moderation has a high cost and often radicals beat out their moderate rivals despite moderation's intrinsic superiority.

The book's argument takes off in the second chapter where Craiutu turns to Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws. He uses Montesquieu's claim that "the spirit of moderation ought to be that of the legislator" as an interpretative lens and argues that in Spirit, moderation is transformed from an individual's character trait and virtue to an institutional trait based on organizational complexity. Craiutu sees this in Montesquieu's commitments to mixed government and his conception of the separation of powers. Unfortunately, absent more analysis and analytic clarity with regard to what political moderation is and what it is not, it was difficult for me to see a distinctive commitment to political moderation at work here rather than a contextually-based expression of prudence.

The third chapter is devoted to the monarchiens, who advocated bicameralism and the absolute royal veto during the early stages of the French Revolution. The case of the monarchiens most strongly suggests conclusions A, C, D, and E. I found that the most intriguing aspect of the monarchiens' case was that they were not conservative defenders of the status quo, but rather "revolutionary spirits attempting to build a moderate government on the ruins of the Old Regime."

The second part of the book, comprised of chapters four through six, addresses the Revolution's impact on the concept of political moderation. Chapter four concerns Necker's neglected constitutionalism, which emphasized the importance of an executive proportional and equipotent to the legislature. Chapter five concerns de Stall's embrace of republicanism, her rejection of political fanaticism, and her life-long aim of establishing a moderate party in France. And chapter six concerns Constant's "neutral power," overseeing the exercise of political authority within a constitutional government. As Craiutu acknowledges, Constant is the most difficult to square with his overall thesis because of his vociferous support of republicanism in the late 1790s and his support of Napoleon's dictatorship. But perhaps the case of Constant is best understood as exemplifying the lemma to conclusion D, that one must carefully determine when and how moderation is to be used as a guiding political principle. In any case, in each of the three case studies, all five of Craiutu's conclusions are implied, though, to me, the clearest seem to be A and D. It seems to me, however, that Craiutu appears to have overlooked the possible role that being an "outsider"--that being Protestant in an overwhelmingly Catholic society, as each of these thinkers were--played in shaping their commitment to moderation as a political virtue, and I wonder just how much that affects his thesis.

More philosophically minded readers may find that Craiutu's historical approach is not to their liking. I must admit that the connection Craiutu wishes to draw between the historical case studies and the justification of his bold normative claim is not as evident as it could or should be because of the relative lack of analytic clarity regarding political moderation. But that should not detract from the rich historical feast and fascinating interpretation of moderate French political thought that Craiutu provides us with in this wonderful book.--Benjamin Hill, The University of Western Ontario
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Author:Hill, Benjamin
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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