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Liberalism under Siege: The Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires.

Liberalism under Siege: The Political Thought of the French Doctrinaires, by Aurelian Craiutu. Lanham, MD: Oxford Lexington Books, 2003, 337 pp., $80.00 hardcover, $26.95 paper.

In Paris, during the first half of the nineteenth century--a time and place of great political debates--a half-dozen or so politically engaged writers and university lecturers sought a "middle way" between ideological extremes. As leaders in government and administration during the Bourbon Restorations (1814-1830) and the July Monarchy (1830-1848), their legislative power matched their immense intellectual influence. These were the French Doctrinaires. In Liberalism under Siege, Aurelian Craiutu has recovered their story--and the significant contribution of their political science to French institutional and ideational development.

As Professor Craiutu shows, Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard, Charles de Remusat, Prosper de Barante, Victor de Broglie, Hercule de Serre, and Francois Guizot and others who comprised this loosely affiliated group of thinkers were the "founding fathers" of many modern French institutions. Never a political party and, indeed, hardly "doctrinaire" in insisting that general principles be adapted to specific circumstances, these luminaries held elected and appointed offices as well as important academic posts. Their circle encompassed the world of Madame de Stael; their social science methodology laid the foundation for Alexis de Tocqueville's great studies of democracy and revolution. Professor Craiutu's examination of the Doctrinaires' social theory and political practice is of interest to scholars of contemporary democratization movements and students of comparative federalism. Scholars of institutional development, likewise, will find in this case study a clear demonstration of political learning and institutional adaptation. Of perhaps greatest benefit to readers of Publius is Professor Craiutu's insight into the development of Doctrinaire political principles--a new science of politics elaborated by Tocqueville--which included ideas about limited authority, decentralization, and the balance of powers drawn from a careful analysis of Western political thought and practice.

In an effort to confront the meaning of the French Revolution, Guizot (who turns out to be the narrative's primary protagonist) and other Doctrinaires turned to history. Guizot linked the meta- and mesolevel structures of events to an emerging microanalysis of individual choice, resulting in a profound analysis of political culture, habits of thought, and political development. Although the structures of history did not dictate the institutional trajectory of a people, significant tensions within a given political culture--say, between rights of conscience or principles of individual reason and principles of authority--seemed to propel innovations in predictable directions. This understanding of such motive forces (and the place of individual choice within their bounds) served as the linchpin of Guizot's institutional analysis and political theory. Institutional theory, thus, had at its core an analysis of social experience. Experience, moreover, suggested that not all "progress" was "progressive." (After all, the Doctrinaires had witnessed a postrevolution "return to stability" by route of empire, with conquests to "liberate" Europe and, to commemorate the conquering emperor, the reconstitution of the Western calendar.) Thus, the Doctrinaires resisted factions, which they believed, on one hand, threatened to raze existing social foundations and, on the other, sought a return of monarchical absolutism. In a clearly written exposition of Guizot's social science methodology, Liberalism under Siege details the resulting revolutionary understanding of sovereignty, "publicity" (transparency in authoritative collective choice and action), and representative government.

From laws concerning the franchise and freedom of the press to legislation that established the French national primary education system, the Doctrinaires addressed the complex legacy of the French Revolution. Partisans of the principles of 1789, they, like other French liberals, opposed absolutism--in their day represented by ultra-royalist reactionaries--and denounced the Terror. Their hope was to bring an apparently unending revolution to its conclusion in republican government. In working toward their conception of this end, the Doctrinaires also found themselves at odds with many liberals. They did not support a broad extension of the franchise or, indeed, many other democratic measures, fearing that democracy, without the proper institutional and ideational foundation, invited the rise of a paternalistic state, even empire. As Professor Craiutu points out, their liberal theory emphasized "cultivating a society of responsible agents," an aim that focused on institutions designed to encourage individuals to develop "proper capacities for moral and personal autonomy" (p. 283). Although not "anti-individualist," they believed that the purposes of government exceeded its use as an instrument to encourage the material pursuits of individuals.

Professor Craiutu is at his best in showing his readers why it is important for contemporary scholars to look beyond the individualist strain of liberal theory to other, currently lesser known forms in, as he calls it, a "multivocal system of ideas, discourses, practices, and institutions" (p. 288). In particular, the discussion of the "sovereignty of reason" (chapter 5) skillfully details the Doctrinaires' critique of antecedent notions of sovereignty from Bodin to Rousseau, presenting an exceptionally clear analysis of the philosophical and practical tension in these thinkers' accounts of reason and will. As the political stakes of conceptualizing sovereignty as a right granted to an individual or collective body become clear, the reader is presented with Guizot's approach to the problem of unlimited power. En route to an alternative formulation, Guizot offered several distinctions, including democracy understood as a social condition and political democracy as popular sovereignty, as well as the sovereignty of right and the "sovereignty of reason." The latter, sovereignty of reason, will strike a chord with students of the covenant and federal constitutionalism made familiar in works by Donald Lutz and the late Daniel Elazar. For Guizot, a Reformed Protestant, sovereignty of right could never be granted, but those who exercised political power could hold a "de facto" sovereignty on the condition that they demonstrate publicly "the conformity of their actions to the precepts of reason, truth, and justice" (p. 130). In this regard, the sovereignty of the people must be exercised within an institutional framework that would not only mitigate the "sovereignty of number," majoritarianism, but also encourage effective discourse and ensure the transparency of public reflection and choice. Professor Craiutu skillfully intertwines an analysis of the practical and philosophical basis of representative government with the battles of those who would put a new democracy on firm footing, producing a power argument for the "middle way" in a theory and practice of liberal politics.

Barbara Allen

Carleton College
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Author:Allen, Barbara
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2005
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